Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cycling Santa 2014

The weather forecast was good for this weekend ... but that forecast was far more optimistic than the reality. I didn't have anything else to do, however, so I spent the morning test-riding a possible route for a new populaire that I plan to submit to RUSA. The route was good in that in took me to Marcy Jo's at the mid-point for a cinnamon roll and a couple of cups of coffee (and I needed the heat of that coffee by then). It was not good in that one of the roads is too busy. Back to the drawing board.

I got home just after noon, and decided to ride into Franklin for lunch. Since the "Dickens of a Christmas" celebration is there this weekend and I had put together the Santa Bike early this week, I decided to go in Holiday Garb.

I've done the Cycling Santa thing for a few years now, but for this year I bought some red tights. They don't quite match my red wool jersey, and somehow make me look fat (or maybe it's my fat that makes me look fat), but they do add that certain panache to the outfit.

I've also got new bling ... er, blink ... on the Salsa this year:

Bright red and brilliantly blinking, I took my usual route into town. On the way, there were a lot of cars heading towards Leiper's Fork for the Christmas Parade there, and lots of folks waved at me and a couple honked their horns in a nice way. Don't ask me what differentiates a "nice" honk from an obnoxious honk ... you just know.

In downtown Franklin, the celebration was in full swing. People were walking around dressed like 19th century Londoners, and one fellow was riding a penny farthing. There were food trucks and stages with singers and dancers and vendor tents with all kinds of goods. So many people had come to the festival that all of the street parking was taken up for at least one mile outside of town.

I wandered a bit, answering questions about my outfit and my bike, then grabbed a bagel sandwich and watched some kids from a local high school sing carols. One of the tents was roasting cinnamon-and-sugar coated nuts, and the smell drew me over. But the line was too long, so I moved on.

My ride back was pretty much the same as the ride in, with lots of folks waving and some kids at the skate park yelling "Merry Christmas" as I passed. The sun that was supposed to come out in the afternoon had not yet materialized, and I was fairly chilled when I finally got back home.

I love doing the Cycling Santa thing. It's fun, and it makes for a pleasantly paced ride. My hope is that it also helps to personalize cyclists to the often impatient drivers out there, so that they take a little more care in sharing the road with us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 10,000-Mile Gorilla

It's so easy to chase miles.

You start by keeping a ride diary ... just something to help you track progress towards goals -- usually weight or a big event. "I'm going to get under 180 pounds by the end of February." "I need to do two sets of Intervals and one long Tempo ride this week, then taper next week." "If I hope to have fun on that tour at the end of the summer, I'd better continue doing at least one five-hour-plus ride every week until then."

My diary is simple. Every morning, I write down my resting heart rate when I wake up, and what I weigh before I get in the shower. When I come in from a ride, I write down the number of miles (rounded up or down) and the moving time (rounded to the nearest quarter-hour). At the top there's the goal for each week, and at the bottom right there's the weekly and year-to-date totals. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

You look at the weight and say, "Better cut down on the post-ride chips and salsa." You look at Saturday's goal and you decide to skip the Thursday night ride so your legs will have some snap. But the thing that you look at the most is that big number in the bottom right.

YTD Total.

It didn't used to be a big deal in winter. "You'll catch up when it warms up," you say Sunday night after barely logging 100 miles for the week. But it's there ... lurking in the cold dark ... waiting.

The 10,000-Mile Gorilla.

I've ridden 10,000 miles every year since 2008, except 2011 when I only rode 9,700 and I compensated for that year by doing over 11,000 in 2012. It's gotten to be the number by which I fend off the inevitable -- the county line of health, if you will. As long as I continue to sprint over that county line every year, I will be ...




We are numbers-driven creatures. You are asked to grade everything from how well your waiter did to the pain in your shoulder on a scale of 1-to-10. The media targets us based on age and income, and the world judges us based on weight and skin color. I'm in a key demographic for retirement properties and reverse mortgages and home security systems. If the center seat on an airplane is open next to me, it is now one of the first to go ... although, back in my fat days, that was not the case.

And I'm not complaining about that, for the most part. The marketing is smart business and the prejudice is ingrained reactions that will hopefully erode with each generation. Thanks to demographics nobody tries to sell me a clothing-optional single's getaway at Sandals Resort, although I am getting tired of the robocalls offering me free monitoring on my security system for a year. And, while I like to think that I wouldn't care about the race of the person next to me on the Southwest flight to Tampa, I probably will try to avoid the center seat bookended by fatties.

Once you acknowledge the absolute power inherent in numbers, however, you see why I have to stop fighting the 10,000-Mile Gorilla. Because the fact is that I am 55 years old, and the Gorilla is ageless. So, sooner or later he is going to win.

Just not this year.

I hit 10,000 miles on a club ride Saturday. It was a windy day, chilly at first but warming up to near 60 in the afternoon. That's what the average high in middle Tennessee is supposed to be this time of year, but we haven't been hitting that lately. So I was glad to have knocked out the Gorilla early this year.

But what a fight it was ...

There were a lot of frigid rides last winter. Then there was the soggy 300K at the end of March where I DNF'd and short-cutted my way home. April saw back-to-back 400Ks, and then in May I came to my senses on a 600K and decided to stop randonneuring. The result of all of this was that I had enough miles in the training diary to almost cruise through the rest of year.

But there's a funny thing about those miles since I stopped randonneuring:

  • They've been more fun. While not every mile has been good, I don't force myself to go out on a ride just because I need to train or I need that brevet to qualify for some grand randonnee or an award. I ride, for the most part, because I want to.
  • They're less adventurous. Regular readers may have noticed a decline in the number of blog posts. Primarily, that's because I haven't been doing many rides that are worthy of a blog post.
So I write about the Italy trip, or a ride from coffee shop to coffee shop. These rides are more fun, and I see beautiful stuff, but they are not Epic. There's been no 300Ks or 400Ks or 600Ks or 1200Ks.

No number rides.

And so I can't quantify these rides, or even put them in my training diary as Goal Events. Instead, the Goal for most Saturdays is "Ride." If the weather is great and somebody's interested, I'll go do a 200K. If the morning is cold or wet, I'll wait and ride something fun in the afternoon.

If I feel like it.

So this may be the last year that I defeat the 10,000-Mile Gorilla. If it is, I'd like to think that it's because I retired while I was still the champ.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Mugged

During the summer, I kept promising myself a fun slower ride with stops for coffee. I got to do that somewhat in June in Washington, mostly because they celebrate coffee enough that there are all of these espresso joints on the main cycling routes. But Nashville has lots of good coffee brewers, too, and I knew that it would be relatively easy to put together a route that would hit those places. Saturday, some friends were planning a short mid-day ride that would include a good coffee shop, so I decided to book-end it with a few miles and more caffeine.

It had been cold all week and Saturday was no different. Since the group was not starting their ride until 11, I waited around the house until 9 am when the temperature was finally above freezing. Then, with my travel mug on Sparkeltini still half-full of that morning's french-pressed Zaragoza, I rode the five miles to Westhaven and High-Brow Brew.

It's very nice to have a place with great coffee this close to my house. They've also got some tasty pastries, but I've been eating too much of that stuff lately. My travel mug re-filled, I hit the road.

Del Rio Pike was remarkably empty for a Saturday morning ... either everyone was hibernating for the day or they had already gotten to the mall. The peak leaves had fallen, of course, but there were still lots of oak leaves hanging on. Next week's forecast polar vortex will probably knock them loose, getting everyone out with their rakes, blowers, and mulching mowers.

For as long as I have lived here, Old Natchez Road has been a minefield of potholes and crappy pavement. This past summer, they rebuilt a couple of the bridges and then repaved the road. As much running and cycling traffic as it gets, I really wish that they had a multi-use trail, bike lane, or at least more of a shoulder on it. But it was nice enough being able to ride that way Saturday not having to constantly dodge punji pits.

They weren't quite done with Old Natchez past Moran, but it looks as if they will be by next weekend. Until then, a quarter mile of the old pavement was a nice reminder of how good things are now.

I went up Vaughn and over Old Hickory Boulevard into the park. Time was getting tight, but a bike ride through the park is always nice.

The golds there had burnished into a coppery vibe, tinged with hints of verdigris tarnish. The leaves on the road were still golden and supple, not yet desiccated and crackling into dust but no longer wet enough to go slippy under bicycle tires. I didn't see any other cyclists, but there were plenty of bundled-up walkers with dogs.

The hills and walkers in the park kept my speed down, and I barely got to the Starbuck's in Belle Meade before 11. Everyone there was ready to ride, so I didn't get coffee there then. Fortunately, I still had some of the good stuff from High-Brow, so this was not a problem.

The route was a compilation of multi-use trails, bike lanes, and calm roads. We got to ride a few miles on a multi-use trail on top of the berm running along the narrows of the Cumberland River past the Nashville Metro Center, and then went by the edge of Germantown and the Nashville Jazz Workshop. Somehow, we emerged in downtown, riding by government offices, honky-tonks, and the Music City Star train station before we arrived at our next coffee stop, Crema.

I got my cup refilled with some El Salvador drip, and RandoGirl got a latte. After 40 miles, I now felt that I deserved a chocolate croissant.

We took a different route back, going by some of the renovated condos along the river before taking the pedestrian bridge and climbing back up Demonbreun and down Music Row. We skirted the edge of Sylvan Park before getting onto busier West End Avenue at the end.

After getting a cup of Starbuck's coffee and kissing RandoGirl goodbye, I started back towards home. The day had warmed up a bit, and I was riding much harder than I had with the group. After crossing back over Old Hickory on the bike lane on Hillsborough Road, I stopped to take off my jacket, glove liners, and head tube. This left me cool enough that I was able to push the pace for the rest of my ride, but strained the limits of the pockets of my wool jersey.

I kept to the bike lanes on Hillsborough Road all the way into downtown Franklin. By now, I was ready for another cup of coffee.

Frothy Monkey is a little further from the house than High-Brow Brew, but the coffee is almost as good. Also, I was ready for some real food now.

By the time I left there, the day was starting to cool down again. I took some of the bulk out of one my pockets by pulling out my glove liners, and that was enough to get me home. Somehow, I had managed to get in a nice 75-mile day with a decent workout, but still stop and smell the coffee.

That made this a long ride with all of the perks.

Ha-ha. I kill myself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Take (a Bike Ride to) a Hike

The Harpeth Bike Club had it's Fall Hiking Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and RandoGirl and I had signed up for this almost a year ago. Since this year the outing was at Cloudland Canyon State Park and less than 200 miles from home, I decided it was a good overnight light-touring opportunity to ride down there. Tom Finegan came with me.

We started on Thursday morning with a stiff crosswind out of the West. About 30 miles in, we turned East towards Marcy Jo's and lunch, and the going was much easier.

When we got to Marcy Jo's, I discovered that I had forgotten my wallet. Fortunately, Tom was there so he could pay for my lunch ... and dinner that night, breakfast the next day, lunch, and so forth. We had a great burger and continued East.

Our route the first day was pretty flat, so we got to our hotel in Tullahoma about 3:30. We checked in, and then walked down to Applebee's for dinner. It was still early, so we walked the other way to the movie theater to watch "Interstellar." By the time we left, the wind had eased but it was quite cold out.

Friday we were on the road just after 7:30 am, wearing all of the bike clothes that we had. Somehow, the wind had shifted to the Northeast, so it kept coming around as a headwind for much of the day.

The first 35 miles were still flat, but then we approached the ridge up to Monteagle.

We took Roarke's Cove Road up to Sewanee. I had not been this way for a while, and it was nice to see that they finally did something with those old junker cars on the steep turn.

Eventually, I got to the top and took a break. The bike handled very nicely, even with the extra few pounds of clothing and toiletries. I think that it might be possible to do an even longer fast tour with just the Revelate Viscacha, so long as you stayed in hotels and did laundry every other night.

We grabbed a quick second breakfast in Sewanee ... or what should have been a quick second breakfast if they hadn't messed up my order ... then headed down TN-156 towards South Pittsburgh. From there, we climbed Sand Mountain into Alabama, then crossed quickly back into Georgia to descend into Trenton. After getting a burger and fries at Wendy's, we then climbed up on to Lookout Mountain and went into the park. It had been a 95-mile day with a lot of climbing, and I was very glad to find RandoGirl in our cabin and take it easier for the rest of the evening.

The next day we hiked. There were lots of pretty trees.


Friends photobombing.




(I am scared of views.)


Jams (that's me playing the box drum)..


And Panoramas..

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Arrivederci, Auf Wiedersehen, and Hope to See You Again Soon

We needed to be out of the villa about noon on Saturday, but I needed one more ride to say good-bye. It's a thing that I do ... I can't really explain it. But it's got to be just me and the road and the place.

It was overcast and cool when I got to the little coffee shop in Pienza at 8 am. After a quick cappuccino and chocolate croissant, I took the road towards Montelpulciano -- a new one for me -- and soon found myself rolling along an undulating foggy ridge.

Time was short, so I didn't stay long in Montelpulciano (sad to say, I never made it into the old part of town). I took the usual quiet road to Montichiello, once again loving that winding descent.

Back at the villa, I took the pedals and saddle off of my bike, quickly showered, changed, and packed, and eight of us were in the van heading for Florence just after 11 am. We dropped Joyce, Steve, Jill, and Bobby there, and then Tom, Cathie, RandoGirl, and I drove on to Bologna. After finding our hotel and giving the van back to Silvia from BikeRentalsPlus, the four of us sat on the balcony to enjoy the views of the city ...

... and to decompress while again ensuring that our luggage was not overweight.

The Mortadello Festival was going on, so after changing for dinner we strolled around town and sampled free baloney. Oscar Meyer did not have a booth.

It started to rain, so we ducked into some shops and then headed to a restaurant. We had planned to eat about 7:30, but discovered that nobody in Bologna eats before 8 pm. Apparently, you just sit around drinking with friends until then. Little did we know that we had been doing it right all along.

After dinner, we dodged the rain back to the hotel and turned in for the night. Much as I had enjoyed the villa, I must admit that I enjoyed the hotel bed a lot ... I think that it is the nature of antique beds to creak any time that you roll over in them, but those of us that sleep lightly find that distracting. We slept in on Sunday, then went downstairs to have breakfast with Tom and Cathie before arranging a car for the airport.

From there, the trip back was a chore. Bologna to Munich to Washington-Dulles (where you have to grab your bags, go through customs, re-check your bags, and pass through security again) to Nashville. We were all pretty much brain-dead when Tom's son picked us up, and somehow RandoGirl and I made it home.

All of the Tuscany Badasses have begun planning the next trip, of course. Some have flight information for Italy, others are talking about the south of France, and I've decided that next time we need to get a BikeRentalsPlus tour guide to help us find our way. Maybe by then, RandoGirl and I will have retired and we can find some other way to get to Italy, too. Perhaps catch a ride on a cruise ship going from an American market into the Mediterranean.

If I could find a way to bike there, however ... now that would be the perfect trip!

Finally, Bici

As bleary as Saturday night had been, Sunday morning the world snapped into focus. Maybe it was randonneuring experience enabling me to better handle sleep-deprivation, but more likely it was the prospect of riding bikes to new places with good friends in near-perfect weather.

And I'm not exaggerating, here -- the weather was honestly perfect. The mornings were just cool enough for a light jacket or arm warmers, and the afternoons warmed up sufficient to make you feel great moving fast on a bicycle. The sun shone bright most of the day, with perfect clouds to make it pretty and turn the sunsets into purplish rose blossoms of prismatic spectacle.

The Badasses fell almost immediately into a rhythm. Some of us got up at sunrise, so that coffee was percolating and things moving as others arose. A group had gone out for groceries the night before, so we had enough to feed the gang. We all had lovely rooms with private baths, but spent most of our time in the many spacious common areas in which we could share stories, food, and drinks.

For our first day, most of us decided to ride together to Radicofani. This town is dominated by an ancient fort (which, of course, was on top of the hill overlooking the town), but was still a fairly flat ride from our villa.

BikeRentalsPlus had provided us with a set of routes, all of which began and ended at our villa. They gave us a wide array of options, with rides from 20 to 60 miles in length. Some routes had "only" 1000 feet of climbing while others had almost 5000 feet. The company supplied these routes on printed maps with the roads highlighted, and had also sent us links to the routes on

I had loaded the files into my Garmin, but my Garmin did its usual flaky thing all week by regularly trying to reroute me onto dirt roads. We also found the maps hard to follow at first, although we soon discovered that the trick was to just look for the road going to the next town indicated. These challenges, however, set up a little bit of worry in everyone's minds on that first day, as we cautiously made our way towards Radicofani.

Soon, we were in the town. We ended up separating as we each worked our way up to the fort, and I started to ride my bike up a gravel road that turned very steep (Tom Finegan made it all the way ... the show-off). After touring the fort, we went back into town for lunch. A few of us ate at an excellent restaurant full of locals, and then we rode back to the villa in time to catch the sunset.

Monday, we all went to Castiglione del Lago, a beautiful city on the edge of Lake Trasimeno. This was a longer route, but most of it was flatter once you got away from Montichiello and neighboring Montelpulciano. We started the day by riding into Montichiello for cappuccino and pastries, then began the long climb on the twisting road out of town.

In Montelpulciano, we stalled for a bit as we tried to pick the right road -- they all headed downhill, and we didn't want to have to retrace that road -- but were soon headed in the right direction. We stopped at a small grocery in Acquaviva, where the owner was kind enough to let us use her bathroom, then rolled on east. In Castiglione del Lago, we finally caught up to Rick Weisner, who had left before us, and we eventually found the right road to the lake.

Since we needed to ride back, we didn't really have time to explore the town itself. But we did have time for a big meal at a really funky-looking restaurant overlooking the lake.

The route was an out-and-back, but Tom and Cathie Finegan had found an alternative to keep things interesting ... and hillier. Some folks went straight back, and some of us took Tom and Cathie's option. Eventually, we all ended up on the same road, and I had a blast zipping down the steep curvy road at the end. That night, we all descended upon the small restaurant in Montichiello where a few of us had dined Saturday night. Maybe it was because we had ridden more miles and felt that we earned it, but the food tasted even better.

Tuesday we had groups doing different things, with some folks going to Pienza and then Bagno Vignoni, and some of us doing a hard loop ride up to Montalcino and beyond.

Tom Finegan and I went out first, going up through Pienza and then down to San Quirico d'Orcia. There, we got confused and started down a road whose sign said "Torrenieri," with another sign that said "Strada Chiusa." It was a very nice and quiet road, however, and seemed to be going the right way. Then, we found out that "Strada Chiusa" means "Road Closed."

This, however, was a "good" closed road ... meaning, it was impassable to cars but fine for bicycles. We proceeded to use this road regularly throughout the week, since it had a fun descent followed by a quiet winding climb, and took us right into Torrenieri. From there, it was easy to turn left to get to the climb up to Montalcino, or turn right for the long straight road towards Sienna.

When Tom and I arrived in Montalcino, we found Connie and Jill at a gas station. We joined up with them to ride to town and then up and over to the descent down to Castelnuovo Dell'Abate. There, we crossed the river to begin an even longer, harder climb heading towards Castiglione d'Orcia and Bagno Vignoni. Originally, we had planned to join the other riders there, but got text messages that indicated that they had moved on to Pienza for lunch. (It turns out that RandoGirl was still there when we went by.) We headed back to the villa to eat all of the food that we could find, since we were tired and hungry by then.

That evening, we went to another restaurant in Montichiello, dining on a lovely terrace. The food was great, but the weather chilly, and we all decided that we liked "the other Montichiello place" better.

Wednesday we all wanted to go to Sienna, but that was almost 50 miles each way. Originally, I planned to bike there and back, but Tuesday's ride had pulled something in my back and I opted to just go one way and do some strategic "piazza-sitting" in town. We came up with a plan for six of us to bike to Sienna, while the rest either took cars or the van there. Four would bring bikes in the van with them to Sienna and bike back, while the six who biked there loaded their bikes onto the van and drove back.

The plan had a lot of moving parts and interdependencies, so I set a strict departure time of 8 am. We almost left on time, going the flatter way to San Quirico d'Orcia and down the "closed" road.

The roads stayed fairly flat from Torrinieri and up to Asciano, with regular bumps for each old town. The six of us had no difficulty staying together, with Steve and Joyce on the tandem often pulling into the wind and getting ahead on the downhills, while the rest of us soon closed the gaps on the climbs.

We arrived in Sienna just after noon as planned, in spite of one flat on the outskirts of town. There was a little confusion locating the right road up into the old town, but we soon found everyone at the Roma Gate. We then loaded the bikes onto the van, changed clothes, and went back to the city to eat lunch. The folks who were biking back did the same steps in reverse, and then headed out to do the route in reverse.

After lunch, some of us did some shopping and hung out in the huge Sienna piazza. Others climbed the tower there to take in the views of the ancient city. I found a bakery, and got cookies with my cappuccino.

Steve, Joyce, RandoGirl, and I got a little lost heading back to Roma Gate to meet everyone, spending a few miles walking outside of the city on the busy main road, but eventually we were all together again. Unfortunately, the four riders who had opted to bike back had taken a very wrong turn and subsequently run out of daylight, and we needed to stop in Asciano to collect them. It made for some frantic and frustrating moments, and forced us to drive some narrow dark roads for a bit with a lot of bikes on the roof, but it all ended up okay. I chalked it up to a "learning lesson" when it came to rides with that many moving parts.

Thursday, RandoGirl and I wanted some "us" time. The two of us went up to Pienza fairly early, passing an Austrian cyclist on the way. In the main piazza in front of the old church there, we found him again and joined him and his friends for coffee and pasties.

RandoGirl and I then followed the route that Tom and I had used two days earlier, passing through Quirico d'Orcia again, taking the "closed" road to Torrinieri, and then going up to Montalcino. Amazingly, at the same gas station, we once again found all of our friends. This time, we just rode into Montalcino and had lunch.

While everyone else stayed to explore Montalcino, RandoGirl and I retraced our route back to San Quirico d'Orcia. From there, we took the flatter road back towards Bagno Vignoni, then up to the villa. On the way, we stopped at a farm and bought two packages of fresh pasta, which we put into our bike bags along with the two boxes of cookies we had bought in Montalcino. This all went into the huge dinner that everyone worked to fix that night in the villa.

Friday, the plan was another ride ending in the baths at Bagno Vignoni. Connie Weisner and I decided that the baths would be more restorative if we were in pain, so we left very early and rode to Cortona. The middle part of the route was fairly flat, but both ends had a ton of climbing.

Fortunately, Connie is a good climber and didn't mind pulling me along. We stopped in town for a quick sandwich, talking to some cycling tourists who were staying there and a lady from Colombia who told us far too much about her German husband. Then, we hammered our way back to the villa, arriving as planned about 1:30, where we immediately dipped our tired legs in the cold swimming pool. Connie's husband, Rick, had just gotten back from his ride, so the three of us then piled into their rental car and went to the baths.

After a long soak, we returned to the villa and started drinking again. We knew that this was our last full day there, and the sunset was bittersweet. Somehow, we had also accumulated far too many bottles of wine, and so set ourselves to the task of ensuring that our luggage did not exceed the airline limits.

Most of us had reservations at our favorite Montichiello restaurant, while some went into Pienza for a Frank Zappa tribute band consisting of guitar and bass clarinet. Remarkably we all found something new to fall in love with. Those of us at the restaurant even had dessert -- a first there -- and decided that we had really been missing out on something.

Next Blog: Heading home ...