11 November 2006

Adventure Travel

Last entry, end of August. Where has my cycling been? Well, I did manage to keep riding until a month ago. Literally, not even on a bike in 4 weeks. One ride with a partner - I'll have to go back and write that one up - and an IHOP subsitute for the Saturday morning ride with the Wheaton guys: these are the only remaining highlights of a season that seems to have gone out not with a bang but a whimper. I just need 25 miles to reach a 3500-mile season. That should not have been so hard. Oh well, I guess it isn't over until it's over.

Oh yeah, and I also have a new bike. There's a story to write up. How far my mind is from all this, if I haven't even written up my sweet new wheels. A second bike, by the way, not just a new one. No, my beloved Trek 520 and I still have many more miles to go before either of us sleeps. I trust.

But today's post is adventure of the non-cycling travel variety. Italy!

Karen and I went to see Kathryn, who is studying there this fall semester. That is the sole reason we squeezed an overseas trip into a busy autumn. The time we had there was carefully planned to not try to do too much in our limited time. The result? We had a great time, and are eager to return for a longer, more relaxed and perhaps more adventurous visit.

Orvieto - the city in which Kathryn lives and studies. It is a medieval city literally set on a hill. The train from Rome drops passengers at the base of the hill, and a cog train moves them up to the old town. We arrived in Rome's airport (Fumicino) at sunset, then were on trains in the dark to Orvieto. So it was a glorious surprise to walk back to the walls of the city, and look out over the beautiful Umbrian hills. Ancient stone walls, narrow windy European streets, blue and sunny sky ... though cold, we were really in Italy!
Florence - we enjoyed walking the city, the Uffizi galleries, Ponte Vecchio, walking, late dinners, Fiesole at night (overlooking Florence twinkling in the valley), walking, gypsy musicians in the Piazza della Repubblica. And our hosts at the Villa la Sosta; a real villa with gardens, a big old iron gate, and everything.
Pisa and Lucca - Saturday's day trip was surprising at every turn. Pisa meant a long walk through an interesting town and a couple of hours on the piazza with the duomo, the baptistery, and of course that old leaning tower. Back to the train and on to Lucca (bithplace of Giacommo Puccini), and we wished we had given ourselves more time here. Oh well, another visit.
Rome - after dropping Kathryn back at Orvieto on Sunday, we arrived in Rome with a couple of daylight hours left. We got to our amazing B&B (a real surprise for us), walked to Castel san Angelo and St. Peter's Square and Piazza Novanno - where we saw the most amazing street performer ever. The next day we forewent the museum options, and instead walked from San Giovanni in Laterano, by the Colliseum, through the Forum (via the via Sacra), on to Tivoli Fountain, and wandered back to Piazza Novanna - where we bought our first ever piece of original art: an oil painting of a scene in Rome.
Meals - late, leisurely, and delicious. Most days ended with a meal-ending espresso and a 20+ minute walk back to our lodging. That's life!
Kathryn - we were so proud of Kathryn. She is relaxed, knows enough Italian to help us all navigate well (shops, getting around, menus, manners, etc.), and was just all-around fun to be with. Thanks, Kathryn!

The three of us on Ponte Vecchio, Florence, 3 novembre 2006

28 August 2006

Nice and Easy

It's endemic that a big day such as kicked off my August cycling (see post) just makes me want more of such days. Sure, I whined on the ride. But it wasn't long - maybe bed-time that day - before I was thinking of ... well, maybe not longer days but more long days. Long days in the saddle. This lunacy was abetted by the arrival of the recent American Randonneur, with stories of brevets, fleches, and 1200k rides.

The reality is that the week following The Longest Day I had to scramble to get in my weekly 100 miles. The following week, I did not reach 100. My cycling miles accumulate from Saturday through Friday. I figure that on a good week I'll get in 2 long-ish rides, so let one count for the start of the week, and the other bat cleanup, so to speak and to mix metaphors. A good Saturday ride this time of year will be 60-70 miles with the Wheaton guys (I've missed all of their century Saturdays). A Friday ride will normally be solo; only one this summer was a full century (see post), and now with the changing season and its consequent changing work challenges I'll probably not see another solo century Friday this season.

Still, for all that, I have to say that pleasant cycling does not require long hours, fast miles, or new routes. One day last week I had the rare occasion of riding with my brother Ron, working in town for a couple of weeks and we both knocked off work for the afternoon to ride and then enjoy supper with the family. We took a tried-and-true Illinois Prairie Path route: the Geneva Spur from east to west, pausing at the river, gliding into downtown Geneva and the park there by Mill Race Inn, then home again. The leisurely steady pace, beautiful weather, and brotherly conversation ... surely cycling is also at its best on days like this!

10 August 2006

The Longest Day

My original, solo, plan was to ride sunrise to sundown, with the wind at my back. Granted that is practically impossible because even here in the Midwest most roads have some variation to them. And what if the wind were, for example, SSE? Well, you get the idea. I would ride basically one direction and if I needed to change direction (say, for traffic or a T-intersection) I would let the wind determine my course. Anything to spend the entire day on a bike without riding into the wind. The day would end with a family member driving to collect me wherever I ended up.

For the past week I’ve been checking the weather for temperature, precipitation and Of Course wind direction. I’ve been looking at maps to get a general sense of route – it was looking like either generally west (ENE winds) or generally north (SSE).

That was the original, solo, plan for this Wednesday. And it is still a dandy plan. But I made the mistake of mentioning it to one of the Saturday morning ride guys. Who also thought it was a good idea and if he could work it out for Wednesday, could he come along? Well, I like to ride with others at least as much as riding alone, and he is a lot of fun to ride with … if a bit strong for my riding style. OK, we agreed, if he can work it out he’ll let me know Monday and we’ll confirm Tuesday afternoon and get started at sunrise Wednesday.

But Tuesday afternoon, the plan began to change: could we leave at 7 instead of sunrise? Wife’s gone and I gotta walk the dog. (No problem, I could still get in an hour or more before we start together.) And do we really want to bother to have someone pick us up? The wind isn’t supposed to be that strong, it won’t be that bad, and we can still be gone all day. Why don’t we ride up … you get the idea. And I caved. There is something about riding with others, and I ought to have just kept my idea to myself if I wanted to go solo.

Wednesday’s solo ride would have begun at 5:55am, headed west (ESE wind). Sometime mid-morning the wind shifted pretty much to the south, so I would have gone north, ending up somewhere in lower central Wisconsin. The day was beautiful, sunny, and in the low/mid 80s. Gotta get that ride in some day!

Wednesday’s ride turned out to be the longest ride of my life, and for sheer distance and time the highlight ride of my season. If you’ve read earlier posts, this was the success last year’s trip to Champaign could have been!

I was nearly ready to go at sunrise, but had failed the night before to re-set my cyclo-computer. Since we were going to ride the Prairie Path (etc.) I had changed out the narrow road tires for my touring tires, first rotating them as I do every 1,000 miles. So at 5:55 as I was rolling out the drive I remembered that and had to pull in and change the computer. Well, OK, so it was 6:00 when I began. I did some of my West Chicago loops, returned to the house after about 45 minutes to check air pressure and down a small sport drink. By 7:00 I was at “my” intersection on the Prairie Path waiting. And waiting. Cell phone in hand, I was also thinking that if I hadn’t agreed to this I would be west of Batavia already! And well on my way out of suburban traffic, into the central Illinois farmland. But before 7:15 there he was and we were on our way.

The rest is an odd mix of ho-hum been-there, and a blur of unfamiliar roads with no navigation landmarks. And of course no map. Prairie Path to Fox River Trail to McHenry County Trail (fuel stop in Algonquin) to Ringwood, IL. Then roads into Richmond, IL (fuel stop with pizza slices!). Riding west of Richmond on Broadway (the way I had last come into Illinois from Lake Geneva) we picked up the cues that would guide our meandering for the next several hours. Freshly painted “W”s with arrows marked next week’s rides of Lon Haldeman’s Wisconsin Cycling Camp (http://www.pactour.com/six.html). Tav is a long-time Haldeman friend and participant of many of his camps and rides, and we were now entering terra cognita for him. The route took us into Hebron, IL (stop for Green River phosphates, mmm).

The next part of our ride was both tantalizing and frustrating. With the exception of Fontana, WI, and its killer hill coming out, we kept seeing water towers, but not entering towns. We managed to avoid Lake Geneva and Delavan. Now, this is something my original, solo, plan would not have done … I had looked forward to riding through towns as much as possible. County roads continued to stretch out, one after another, all over the Wisconsin farmland, and I honestly cannot say where exactly we were. Tav is pretty sure we saw the (a) Beloit water tower; if so we were farther west than either of us anticipated. And at that point we determined to return to Illinois, to the McHenry Country Trail, and ultimately get home around dinner time. Not to mention that our fuel was running low, it was the height of the afternoon, and Of Course we found ourselves riding alternately Into the Wind, at with the wind at a pretty significant right angle. Not the day I had dreamed of. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves in Capron, IL, where we again refueled. (Whoa! I just looked that up on Google maps and realize we were not far east of Rockford at that point. Cool!) My mileage had just hit 110 … clearly this was going to be “my longest ride ever.”

Finally at one point we stopped and Tav got a sense from a young mom where we were and how far from the Trail. Now the bloodhounds were back on the scent, and about 10 miles later we were re-fueling in Crystal Lake, IL. At the height of rush hour. On U.S. 14. But to change the metaphor, we could smell the barn and would end the ride at about sunset. We refueled, and on top of my exercise-induced asthma I could not hardly stand to take another swig of Gatorade or eat a sweet item. So it was cold water and salty snacks, and a prayer for strength.

Fuel stops are awesome. Unless one is dehydrated or well on the way to dehydration, even a 5-minute stop to eat and drink (and, well … you know) re-energizes. Now, the longer you go on a ride, the shorter this effect lasts. But it is a beautiful thing. And with this last stop, as I say, we knew that once we got off U.S. 14 we would sail, just sail home along The Path.

Well, let me cut to the chase. We did just that, though our sailing home was with sails somewhat diminished from our ride out over the same terrain. I know Tav could have ridden all night (hey, he’s done it many times in extreme rides), and he had been holding back all day to accommodate my more relaxed speed and style. But hey, this was supposed to be “my ride,” and if I had to ride into the wind half the day I guess I didn’t care if he had to change his style. Plus, he’s so darned good natured. And as he says, “it’s not about the miles, it’s the time in the saddle.” And we got plenty. On the last stretch, coming out of South Elgin on the IPP, a young buck on a mountain bike passed us as we walked our bikes across soft sand. Well, that was too much for Tav’s pent-up competitiveness. It wasn’t long before he just had to turn on the magic weapon and catch this guy; and as they rode together quite a way the young man asked, “so how far have you guys ridden today?” To which Tav replied, “it’s not about the miles, it’s the time in the saddle. But we’ve been 200 miles today.” I’m pretty sure he said 200 … which is actually low for the kilometers we covered, but a bit high for the miles J I’m not sure he was believed, but we decided that we’d tell the Saturday morning boys that we covered 209 for the day. 210 seemed too tidy and unrealistic. They would all believe it of Tav; and maybe just maybe they’d believe I could draft along on such a ride.

Evening moved in, and finally we saw that little bit of light at the end of the tree tunnel leading to “my intersection” of the IPP in Winfield. Parting ways, I ended at home at 7:47pm, about 20 minutes shy of sunset. 175.9 miles for the day, my longest ever, and surely a distance not to be exceeded or matched again this year. But I’m telling people it was 176 miles… 175.9 seems a bit too fixated on distance, and after all I should get at least .1 mile credit from riding into the wind!

08 August 2006

Adventure of a Different Sort!

Today's post is copied from an email sent on Sunday, 6 August. Enjoy!

Rule Number One: "never shout 'fire!' in a crowded email ...

Excitement last night at Chez Winfield. Karen and I had been out with friends, Kathryn was in the city on a date, Patrick out with a friend, and we expected Andrew and some friends from campus after the late show at Second City.

So of course, we went to bed at our accustomed (early) hour. Expecting lots of interruptions we left Truman out of his crate. Everyone knows how to get him in and so we left him in the role of watch dog. Somewhere around 11:30 he woke us with a bark ['that must be Kathryn'] followed a few seconds later by the smoke detector. It wasn't Kathryn, it was smoke. At first we didn't know that because we'd never heard our upstairs alarm.

Out the bedroom door, and down the stairs. Karen (the one with the head on her shoulders) grabbed the wireless house phone and took Truman out on the porch, while I ran to the basement. Why the basement? I had replaced a fan switch in the afternoon, and though all worked well and there had been no circuit breaker problems, I was sure that my electrical work was on fire!

But it wasn't. In fact the main floor and basement were free of smell and smoke, so did I join Karen outside? No. I ran back upstairs, looked in the hallway bathroom - which of course we had both run past - to find the cover of the bathroom exhaust fan burning on the toilet seat. I blew that out (yea! for long-forgotten trombone breath!) Above it a smouldering hole with 2 small pin-pricks of flame.

Now I joined Karen outside and she was already talking to 9-1-1. Was there flame? Yes! Where, etc., and we were out the door. But not before I ran back up one more time and found the circle of the fan in full flame. OK, now I was both convinced and starting to get realistic about what we were facing.

By the time we were all 3 in the front yard, Truman on a leash (I tell you, Karen can keep her wits about her when everyone in the family loses theirs), the nice young police officer arrived. And we heard the first of the sirens. SirenS, because 4 towns sent trucks. A quiet night in the far west suburbs, I guess. Winfield of course, but also West Chicago, Carol Stream and Wheaton. I guess where we live in such close proximity to all those FPDs, we're pretty well covered. That's good to know!

Long story short: they pulled the firehose in, but didn't need to use it. [That's when Karen started to really worry. Now it was my turn to appear rational. I was sure that if they were going to use it, there would be a lot more hurry and more spoken commands. It seemed precautionary to me, and not crisis.] Lots of in and out, and we ended up with a big hole in our bathroom ceiling, some charred ceiling joists - yes, some wood had actually caught fire - and lost a lot of insulation. The fire crew even hauled out all that trash, leaving just a little, really, for us to vacuum and clean up.

Patrick came in a bit after midnight, while the Winfield firemen were still there. [The other districts had left, trying not to appear too disappointed :~)] So he helped keep Truman while Karen and I finished up with the outstanding crew chief and started to clean. Kathryn came in a bit after 1:30, just after we finally got back in bed. Andrew and his friends came in around 2:30. Of Course the dog was on high alert all night, so we did not get much sleep, with him barking at just about everything. By the way, he had been great on the leash with the firemen and all. Very patient and alert.

Basically, the fan probably shorted out and caught on fire. It tripped a circuit breaker, so part of our upstairs is without power until we get an electrician out. I ran some judicious extension cables and multiple outlets so we could use our bedroom and master bath. But that's all that was affected: 2 baths and bedroom. We had the house open all night, and there's really just the rooms without power that still smell a bit like smoke. I don't think we're going to lose anything to smoke damage anyway. Though I wouldn't mind getting a couple of new suits out of it ...

We are thanking God for "9-1-1" that works, for mercy that the fire did not start while all of us were away, and that we are getting by with so little damage and inconvenience.

29 July 2006

Easy Does It

A long-overdue excursion, planned quickly for the only weekend that would work, resulted in 2 days of riding with Kathryn. The hottest weekend of riding I've ever done, I'm sure, but it has been a long time since I've logged miles with the kid. "Back in the day" she did the occasional day trip - I think our longest was 58 miles up by Walker, MN (near Big Rapids) during a family vacation at a friend's cabin. Before her hyperactive social life kicked in, Kathryn asked me "are there any girl bike racers?" Those were the days.

But this weekend were the days, too. Kathryn seemed to really want to do a camp and ride trip. It was typically easy to convince me! We agreed to ride on trails, and I thought the Hennepin Canal trail would be good. I'd been on part of it 4 years ago on a solo trip. And riding alongside water is always interesting. Traffic is not an issue, and there's generally some interesting wildlife.

We camped in Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park - a beautiful little state park with shady tent camping and clean shower buildings. The Park is about 20 miles from the Hennepin Canal visitors center. I would like to return to the park and actually spend time exploring there ... on foot. We did experience a unique feature of the park: a nice little restaurant with good meals and an affordable menu. Now, normally "camping" to me implies campfire or at least camp stove cooking. But Karen had convinced us that with the forecast heat, we might not want to hover over either stove or fire for supper. Well, we didn't need much convincing - it doesn't take much to get me to spend money on food. Or take life easy.

We arrived at the State Park by 9AM Friday, quickly found and set up a camp site, then changed into our cycling clothes and headed to Sheffield and the HC Visitors Center. Our ride on Friday was simple: head east to Bureau, the east end of the canal trail. We had trail snacks, PBJ sandwiches, gatorade and water. And by the time we rolled out (10:30AM) the temperature was nearly 90. Canals being what they are, the water doesn't move much, and it isn't very deep, so there was really no relief to speak of from the water. But there's plenty of shade along the towpath/bike trail, and every 2-3 miles a picnic table/firepit rest area (camp site), most with some shade.

We lingered at the 11 mile mark, half way to Bureau. We continued on the Bureau, where the trail unceremoniously ends, with a simple sign and a little bridge across the petered out canal into a scruffy park. Bureau itself is the closest to a ghost town of anything I've ridden a bike into, so we turned back to find a shady rest stop. You may notice that in describing these stops I left out an important feature. That's because none had it: "it" is water. Nice (clean, new, maintained) outhouses. Mowed grass. Access from both the trail and local roads. No Water. This would be a problem.

But before it was a problem, as we left this site, I realized my rear tire was low in air pressure. Like, slow leak low, and not something I could ignore. I'm happy to report that I had my quickest, most successful tire repair on this bike. (Perhaps some time I will detail my challenging relationship with tire repairs on my Trek 520.) So, with that minor inconvenience and major success behind us, we were back on the path. It wasn't long before Water because our major issue.

I thought I had brought plenty. 4 bottles on my bike, 2 in my bags, and 1 on Kathryn's bike. And, I was sure, there would be water at these camp sites. 4 years ago, I seemed to recall, when I spent the night at one of these canal-side sites, there was a water pump. But we found exactly none. And the canal, at least this leg of it, does not go through towns. Just ends in a ghost town. So we began to slow down, and ration water.

Slow down. Yes, the other thing about the canal is the series of locks through which barges moved. We rode out with the locks emptying to the east. Ummm, that meant we would ride ever so slightly but inexorably Uphill on our return. Notso bad, except that also happened to mean, on this particular Friday well in the 90's by now, riding into a subtle but persistent WSW wind.

Prudence and patience brought us back to the Visitors Center, where the kindly and informative Ranger noted that we did not look as fresh as when we had started, some 4+ hours earlier! OK, so we lingered a bit over the exhibits. And tried to drain the drinking fountain. And wondered if maybe we didn't need to use the air-conditioned bathroom just one more time. The only thing that got me out of there was Karen's voice in my head, "I will only ride if there's ice cream at the end."

"Kathryn, let's find a DQ!" So we did, by driving just a bit out of our way back to the camp ground. There we were thrilled to learn for ourselves just how clean and pleasant the shower building was. And after an hour or so of reading, we walked across the camping area to the charming restaurant overlooking the lake. A nice conclusion to a hot ride!

Day One: 44 miles, 3 hours 36 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed. Not my greatest stats (by a long shot), but My Favorite Ride of the Year. Great blue herons, white egrets, a box turtle, and a care-free white-tailed doe. And there's nothing like riding with your kids, even (especially?) when they are 21!

Today we had a leisurely but early start, with a cold breakfast from the cooler. Then we filled the bottles with more gatorade and cold water from home (it had been our frozen jug in the ice chest). Today's ride was chosen by Kathryn. We learned that riding west on the canal trail, and returning east, would still mean we would end the ride "uphill." And that the feeder canal (it comes from the north and provides water that flows east to the Illinois River, west to the Mississippi) would take us uphill first, and down on the return. That seemed to be a no-brainer.

So we drove to the junction of the canals. And there was my camp site from 4 years before. And there, too, was the proof of my memory. There WAS a water pump at this location. Just at none of the others, I guess. (It was then I realized how providential was my night there 4 years ago. Another story.) Today it was already 90 when we began at 8:40AM. But we were well covered, and decided we didn't need to get as far as Rock Falls, the northern terminus of the feeder canal. (It takes its water from the Rock River.) But if we did go the distance, we would be in Rock Falls, a town which I know for sure is alive and has places to fill water bottles and buy doughnuts ... oh yeah, and gatorade.

OK, so this canal runs north and south. That gives two options for the tow path/bike trail: the east side or the west side of the canal. I'm sure it was a simple coin toss. The west side won, so we rode in full sunshine, longingly noting the extensive shade on the other side. The side which, if we were riding horses, we'd be on. Rarely did the west side trees hang over enough offer mid-morning shade. More rarely still were the east side trees tall enough to cast shade across the canal. Hot. And still. Still hot.

Aside from that, the feeder canal is much healthier looking and smelling, and there are quite a few homes along it, with little private docks and everything. It must make a nice ride to Rock Falls. Except that about half-way there, headed north, the surface turns from good solid gravel to soft sand/dirt, which made it very difficult and for me (with clip-in shoes and narrower, though not road, tires) dangerous. Well heck, it was hot anyway, and we'd decided to turn back at 15 miles, so we gave the last mile us for a loss, stopped in a shady area (the only rest area on this spur) and prepared to return. The irony of that is that it was at this point that the west side was becoming genuinely shady. Oh well! And the shade did make a big difference.

So after only 14 miles out, we turned back ... again, into the wind. But at least it was with the downward flow of the canal, so there was some comfort in that, even if we couldn't actually tell the difference unless we watched the water! But with a shorter trip, we at least had enough liquid to get us back to the car. Did I mention it was Hot?!?

Today's ride: 27 miles, 2 hours 27 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed - interestingly, the same AVS as yesterday.

Back at the campground, we ate a sandwich and finished off some trail mix, drank some more o dat ice cold water from home, then packed and struck the tent. With our camp site cleared, we were off to the showers to drive home in clean attire and refreshed spirits. Oh yes, after a quick stop to pick up Culvers. I mean ... I don't eat to ride, I ride to eat!

It was a real treat to spend time with Kathryn, one-on-one. And I am glad to find that I do not require speed or distance to enjoy a ride. And glad to learn that even when "Easy does it," there is still some adventure in cycling!

21 July 2006

Calculation: a good thing

So I did my solo century ride, the day following my last post. (I've been busy, OK? It takes a while to find the time to write. I know, I know: write less and you can write more often. Got it.)

And thanks to that gmap.pedometer, my ride came in right on the money. Well, the charted route is something like 99 miles, and my odometer reading was 100.6. Chalk this up to: (a) my cycle computer being off by a tad; (b) the inevitable little detours -- for example, hitting the St. Charles Citgo mini-mart because I forgot to take edible fuel -- (c) both of the above?

Anyway, here's the link to my solo century loop, from home: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=286025

A couple of notes:
* Burr Road between Dean and Silver Glen is marked (in both directions): "cyclists caution next 2 miles." I've never been sure if that was a warning to drivers or cyclists ... but doing this on a Friday morning, I am now convinced. It is a warning to cyclists. Not really scary scary, but 2 pretty intense miles with no real shoulder. At least it has a nice even edge with a clear white line. But, golly!
* The little stretch of Sauber Road (mile 30) is gravel. No big deal, and it's short, but there it is.
* Co. Hwy. 56 (Ramm Road?) west of Co. Hwy. 1 9about mile 33.75) is dirt or very regularly very worn asphalt. I turned back to go down CH 1 to Old State Road.
* Old State Road, west of Co. Hwy. 1 is gravel. Or at least it was the day I rode. I stayed on the county road and went into Sycamore on the Great Western Trail. This kept me from having a day completely off trail. Also, when I got to the edge of Sycamore, Old State Road was beautiful new blacktop. Maybe they just hadn't gotten the whole way yet. I wouldn't rule it out another time.
* Bummer: the Sycamore bakery (my whole point of taking in Sycamore now and again) was closed for the week.
* After a Subway stop in Hinckley, things got a little touch and go with the route. Google map looks for all the world like one can make an easy connection out of town. Warning: one cannot. At least, I could not. Slater to Oak, no problem. But I sure couldn't make a connection south out of town from that intersection. Maybe I missed something. But it turned out just as well. As I'll explain shortly.
* I left Hinckley on Sandwich Rd., and as I passed Jericho Rd. I wondered if that wouldn't make sense to take. But my route was Bastian Road, so I soldiered on. For your information, Bastian Rd. is a dirt road, and so is Greenacre, which Bastian becomes. This intersects with Co. Hwy. 24 which is ... drumroll, please ... Jericho Rd.! A perfectly well made black top road. That would have been a nice alternate route, and one I will take next time. (By the way, it is not marked CH 24, just Jericho Rd. But that is not clear on Google maps.)
* My last bit of uncertainty. With those unexpected bits coming out of Hinckley, I was not very confident of my direction when I got to Granart Rd. Bear in mind, the sun was not out all day, and these roads do a little bit of turning. So my last panic was, "which way do I go?" I was in no shape to have to back-track, and that against the wind. So, anyway, I did make the correct turn (it's left, by the way); but didn't really know it was until I could see the buildings that I was sure marked the intersection I always see from the south, coming up Dugan Rd. From there, the ride was familiar (though backwards) from many a Saturday morning group ride.

So, there's a day made good by calculation. An old dog, a new trick.

09 July 2006

Don't Estimate, Calculate!

I was recently out for a solo day trip. Well, it was to have been a day trip - a solo century. But with one thing and another, the ride started later than I would have hoped, and I had something I had to be back for. And not just present, but pleasant, so my loop had to be shortened.

Now, here's the problem: I planned the route, but I did not calculate the miles. So when I shortened it, I had really no clear idea how many fewer miles it would be. Let's say ... 15? Sure, that sounds good. It will be an 85-mile ride on a beautiful quiet Saturday morning. At mile 80, when I was still well over 10 miles from home, I was losing steam and worried about the clock. Then a couple from ABD rolled up beside me on a tandem. They lifted my spirits with conversation, and they pulled me a bit, too, into the wind; so that the last 13 miles were among the most enjoyable of a long ride. A good ending to a poorly planned trip. "Don't estimate, calculate!"

Which puts me in mind of last summer's most awesome adventure.

Son Andrew was working in Champaign, IL, instead of being home for the summer. Well, it seemed to me the perfect opportunity - I would ride solo on a Friday, Karen would drive down after work, we would meet at about the same time and have dinner with Andrew, then drive back. Pick a date, check the weather, make a plan. Use Google maps to chart the course. Stock up on all that is needed for a long (but not overnight) trip. Then "casually" mention it to potentially interested others. Or work it into conversations: 'oh, sorry, can't ... I'll be cycling to Champaign that day.' 'Thanks, no, I'll be recovering from a ride to Champaign the day before.' That sort of thing. A common response, of course, was 'How far is that?' But some replied, 'That must be 130 miles!' To which I replied, 'Yeah, I think so. But I've done farther in a day.' (My farthest ride previously had been 135. But that's another Awesome Adventure.)

You know, Google maps is great. Great for navigating and planning. But for figuring out distances? I don't have time for that on-screen. Yeah, that looks like about 2 inches, so it must be about x miles. So I blythely set out for a pleasant, long, pleasantly long day trip from Winfield to Champaign, Illinois. It was an August Friday, during a very welcome break in that hot summer's weather: low 80s predicted in Winfield and in Champaign; light winds out of the northwest (in other words, practically blowing me to my destination). What could be finer?

Of course, the start time was relaxed to begin with, but I did leave later than I had hoped. This always happens. Some of that is trying to be a family man. Some of it is practical: do I really want to be on any street or road in the greater Chicagoland area while most people are driving to work? But hey, I had the whole day ahead of me, a pocket full of Google map snippets and route cues. I had a handlebar bag full of goodies, munchies, and liquids, a few bucks in my wallet, and a pleasant sunny day to ride.

First hitch: Google maps does not know that this one road does not in fact cross the Illinois River east of Morris. In fact, one must go either east to Minooka, or west to Morris, to get a bridge across (apparently equidistant options; and thank God that I also had an Illinois road map with me!), then ride back to pick up the route because of course one doesn't want to ride numbered highways any more than necessary.

Second hitch: Golly, the low 80s feels a lot warmer than you'd think after about 85 miles of riding without shade. But there is a shade tree, and lunch must be pretty close at hand. That was in Gardner, where the nice folks in the Casey's General Store were pretty gol darned amazed that someone would ride so far in a single day. If they only knew ...

Third hitch: Remember that I "estimated" the trip to be "about 130 miles?" Well at exactly 130 miles I was chased by a large, friendly, determined, did I say large German Shepherd farm dog. You can tell a dog's intentions and character. Earlier in the summer I had been chased (near Bloomington, IL) by a rather angry dog whom had he caught me I think might have ended my cycling for the summer or for life. But this good old boy (did I mention he was BIG?) was of a different sort. Still, I did not want to be caught, and he eventually gave up. That was mile 130 ... and I realized I had no idea how many more miles - nor how many more dogs - were to come. And if dogs, could I outrace them? Sure, I now had boat loads of adrenalin, but ...

I had my maps and my cue sheets, and they brought me into Champaign. I had my timing, and if the trip had been "only 130 miles" I would have come in early. When I finally saw a sign indicating miles to Champaign, I called Andrew to say when I thought I'd be there. And good news, Karen was not yet there, so I wasn't technically going to be late! [By the way, cell phones are the greatest new technology to accompany bicycling. GPS? OK, but unless it also has OnStar, what good will that do me?] And so I slogged my way into Champaign - 140 miles, 150 miles, 160 miles - until meeting Andrew and Karen at the Newman Foundation Center Housing. 161.5 miles. A new personal best, and I only felt like beef jerky.

Those last 30 miles had produced exactly one (1) place to replenish fuel: a vending machine with bottled water! (Only later did I realize it would have been not only OK, but clever, to drink a Coke, then the water, and not just water.) But I filled up my water bottle at Andrew's dorm room sink. I lingered in the dorm shower. I drank some more water. I dressed and we loaded the bike on the car and drove to the Olive Garden. I had been fantasizing about the Olive Garden during the last 40 or more miles, back when I thought it might be the last 10 or so miles. We had to wait, of course, and at our request they brought me a big tall glass of ice water. Mmm, that was good. Then another when we were seated, ordering, and waiting. While waiting, I excused myself to the washroom. When the salad came I poked at it. (I normally devour those things.) By the time the main dish came I was shaking so badly my chest hurt. Oh oh, something not quite right here. Even I could figure that out.

Andrew went to ask directions to an ER or urgent care center. [Humorous side note: the hostess was worried the food had made me sick. Hmmm ... ] They packaged up our meals - nice way to wreck dinner, Dad! - and found a place to take me in. Man, that ER blanket they wrapped me in was comfortable and warm. And everyone there was so nice. And no, I did not need medicine or any kind of physical treatment. I was dehydrated, but not severely so. The prescription: stop and buy a large bottle of Gatorade, then go home to bed. Oh, and by the way, spend the next 4 months dealing with ER insurance matters and this whole trip just cost about $200. And while you're at it, try to get Karen to feel real comfortable about me taking a long solo bike trip of any kind for the next 10 years.

So, the moral of the story is the title of the story: don't estimate, calculate! Of course if I had, I would not have even begun the daytrip. And I wouldn't have a great story to tell on myself. Now it goes something like this: 'My longest day trip? 160 miles. It ended in the emergency room.'

Tomorrow I hope to do a solo century ride on a vacation Monday. Thanks to Gmaps pedometer ( http://www.gmap-pedometer.com) I have mapped a loop that is supposed to be exactly 99 miles from and to my home. Given my track record, it shouldn't be more than ... oh, say, 116!

25 June 2006

Someone Else's Fiction

A younger friend began bicycle touring last summer. He has a young family - a bit older than my kids were when I took my first trip, but still at the age where a wife and mother might reasonably ask "do you have to?" So anyway, we had lunch recently just to talk cycling and touring. I wondered what brought about this new passion. (His first trip was a hoot ... totally unprepared for the realities of touring; but by the end of summer he was fully equipped and making road repairs.)

It was a novel brought it on. Which in itself is very cool. So, as I really dig cycling literature, I took the name and author. This week I had occasion to do a day-long round-trip to Seattle, on which I took "The Memory of Running" by Ron McLarty. It was a rare day, to read an entire novel. And it was a rare novel - beautiful, sad, sadly beautiful, and compelling.

Smithy Ide narrates the story of his bike ride across the country - Rhode Island to New York City to Los Angeles. If that alone is enough to pique your interest, read no farther. [except maybe to check out the caveats below] I mean, hey! it was enough for me.

I don't think it will spoil the plot to say that the book starts almost unbearably sad, as the 40-something loser Smithy loses both his parents in an auto accident. As the story unfolds we also meet Bethany, his long-lost sister - who is in many ways the focus of his entire family history. Mental illness and tragedy mark the Ide family history. As Smithy reels from all this he finds his old Raleigh 3-speed, rides off drunk, wakes up the next morning at his old fishing hole, and through the rest of the story never returns home. I don't think that spoils anything for those who may want to read this.

As Smithy makes his way across country, he unfolds the family history which is really Bethany's story. The story is almost unbearably sad, yet with some episodes and descriptions that made me laugh out loud. Most touchingly, his encounters with people are generally filled with grace and surprising goodness. Sure, bad things happen, but here's the general thrust of his portrait of America:
"Lots of people, though. Most don't steal."
"Most people are really nice," I said.
"Most people are the best," she said, with a wonderul smile.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've been bowled over by a novel. If you like cycling literature, don't fail to look up this one. [There, now that sounds like a grade school book report!]

A couple of fun things about the novel:
* Smithy is short for Smithson Ide. It sounds like a name I'd make up from a freeway exit sign.
* Caveats - there are disturbing images of mental illness, and some pretty rough language. Not surprisingly, a lot of the language is in the episodes of mental illness. There's a segment of disgusting car sex which I would like to not have read. Just so you know.
* As previously stated, though, it's been a long time since I've been bowled over by a novel.

Cycling literature. When you can't ride ... read about riding!

10 June 2006

Did I mention Dane County?

I guess my blogging frequency indicates a paucity of Awesome Adventures. Well, they would not be Awesome if they were frequent, would they? Today's blog is a look back at a genuinely Awesome Adventure ... perhaps one of the first that I reported to my family of origin under that heading. It goes way back to my previous bike, to son Andrew as a 14-year-old, and to my first experience with Dane County.

I believe I mentioned before: I hate Dane County. That is to say, it is a lovely county, bicycle friendly enough, but very hilly and the reason I "hate it" is that I do not train for hills. So there you have my confession; it's my weakness that brings out this fear and loathing.

It was the year 2000. Two years earlier, Andrew had casually asked one day, "Dad, do you think when I'm 16, we could make a bike trip to Minnesota?" You can imagine that this question was like a dream come true ... one of my kids, wanting to ride with me, and a long way, too! At the time he was still very much missing MN and his friends there, so I was under no illusions that spending time with me, on a bike, was any strong factor. But still ... My reply, "Why wait until then? I think we could do it when you're 14." "Really?" And so - in my mind, at least - it was settled. Fast forward about 2 years, and one day it dawns on Karen and me that Andrew has completely forgotten that exchange, and thinks The Great MN Bike Trip is all my idea, and that he is just doing me a favor by agreeing to go. Total non-recall. And (if you've had teenaged boys, this goes without saying) at best a grudging acceptance that this is probably going to happen or else Dad will get all in a snit for the summer.

So it was without any genuinely adequate preparation that Andrew rolled out of our driveway with me on an overcast morning, June 26, 2000. Yes, we had rain off-and-on that day. But it was a good start, and we ended up late that afternoon at Big Foot Beach State Park, Lake Geneva, WI. Days One and Two are definitely part of this Awesome Adventure, but it is Day Three that ties this post to the last ... Dane County Day.

Most of Day Three was spent cycling the hills in Dane County. Interesting in perspective: I doubt any of the hills that day were as challenging as the ones on my April brevet (see "A Fresh Start" my last entry). We began that morning from New Glarus Woods State Park, and rode up the western part of the county, through Mazomanie and Sauk City, and ended up in Reedsburg for the night.

A common theme - maybe this is what makes them Adventures - is my rather careless attention to details. See, a bike trip's distances should be calculated, not estimated. I am an estimator. This is a problem. I'm sure Day Three was way too long to consider at all practical. I put it at "about 80." Regardless the actual miles, it was the hills done us in. Oh, and later, the wind and rain. Funny, though: re-reading my trip log, I hardly mention the hills at all. I remember them, and I remember being personally challenged (even rolling hills, with 35 pounds of gear, are challenging) and I remember waiting for Andrew a lot at the tops of hills.

But none of that appears in my log, from which I now write, fleshing out a bit as I go:
"A very though, long day" - Wednesday, June 28, 2000
62 miles via Wisconsin Bikeways - 6 hours, 10.5mph average speed
Part I: A tough, rainy ride via lettered County Roads, New Glarus to Blue Mounds. The bike path out of New Glarus Woods State Park is a heady descent; I coasted 7 miles without a single pedal stroke - could have gone much farther on a dry day (i.e. without needing to use brakes). New Glarus terminus to this path brought us to a bakery breakfast and search for cash. [3 banks, 3 strikes ... we moved on] En route to Blue Mounds we stopped in Daleyville to fix Andrew's leaking rear tire; we fixed my rear flat in Blue Mounds - twice. Fueled on Pringles, beef sticks, apples and raisins at the mini-mart that serves town. Noted that Daleyville was the gas station/grocery plus 4 bars!
Part II: County F up out of town, but then a glorious long lovely (now sunny) descent into Pleasant Valley. Not less than 5 miles of downhill/flat before the first rolling hill. This characterized the entire second segment as far as Mazonamie. [Not noted in my log, but pretty clear in my memory - Andrew quickly tired of my tired joke, saying "Mazonamie" like the Muppets' "Menomanah."] A slow leak in my rear tire called for a third repair, then a fourth, at which the valve stem broke. Then God gave us a wonderful gift: 1) Andrew proved to be a great help trouble-shooting (ideas for finding a tube and offers of how he could help make it work); 2) Hardware Hank, the only likely place in town, did NOT have a suitable tube, but DID have a cashier who was an avid young cyclist. And though he also did not have the correct tube, he got in the phone with "Aunt Debbie," who did. Debbie and her sister ("Hanks" mother; isn't it sad that I do not have this boy's name?) are also avid cyclists. Debbie brought the tube over and gave it to us, and would not accept money for it, just telling me "pass it on." (This preceded the movie Pay It Forward.) Having lost 2 hours in Mazonamie - lost but rewarded, really, and rewarding - we were back on our at 5 pm! The valley ride continued into Sauk City -- at which point I believe we were out of Dane County.
Part III: Water stop in Sauk City, and a sudden cooling and clouding/winds. Heading west out of town, it was back on with the rain gear, and a cold long wet ride ahead. At 60 miles (10 out of Sauk City) there we were recovering under a spreading oak tree in front of a farmhouse. It was really pouring, and I have to admit, even I was sick of riding. What a day. A construction worker in a Grand Prix came along and offered us a lift into Reedsburg. You know, I don't think we had anything to prove, so we gladly accepted. We would never have made it before dark. And this way we got a "thrilling" ride into our destination. I am content to call it a joy ride. I don't the guy had been drinking; I think he just naturally drove like a maniac. Our two bikes hanging out of his trunk, Andrew squeezed in the back seat with all our wet gear. "Angels unawares" - yeah, well we don't really know that angels might not get a kick out of appearing like that! Kindly Joe Laborer dropped us off near downtown Reedsburg, and we cycled up the main strip to find a motel. No tenting for us after this day! And ... this is the payoff on days like that ... there is was: a Super-8 with a Pizza Hut across the road and a laundromat two doors down. Score!God is good. We were warm, dry, clean, and full. And had cable TV to boot.

So, funny that with all that in the day, all I could think of this spring in Dane County was the lousy hills. Beautiful, spacious, rolling Dane County. Well ... guess I'd better get out there and work on hills so I can go back and really enjoy it!

08 May 2006

A fresh start!

Awesome Adventures
OK, well it's not like I haven't had any Awesome Adventures since February 2005. I just sort of, well, forgot that I had a blog at all. A blogging Luddite ...

No, don't worry, I won't catch up all the Awesome Adventures from the past 15 months. But to keep to the theme, a little background...

For my "significant birthday" (let's just say I am now on the back side of middle aged) Karen, my wife, bought me a slot in the 10-week, twice per week, cycling winter boot camp from Athletes by Design. The boot camp was held at the bike shop in our neighborhood, which by the way is an excellent shop in all respects (Prairie Path Cycles). Little did she know (or did she?) that this would not only improve my cycling skills, but increase my already appreciable appetite for road riding. I can't say that it has made me a racer, or even convinced me that I could/should race. But golly ...

So I hit the road with a newly-developed capacity, early in March. The boot camp ran mid-November to late January; I changed out my training tire for real tires ASAP and got in a couple of token rides in the neighborhood in January and February. By early March the circles were getting larger, and the routes longer. And I picked back up the Saturday morning ride out of Wheaton (more on that another time), and the occasional ABD ride (and on those, too).

Two of the distance riders from Saturday morning invited me along to my first ever RUSA "brevet." Someone help me, I may be hooked on extreme long distance riding! For information on what it means to be a Randonneur, go to http://www.rusa.org/ and see more than you're really interested in. The great folks at Great Lakes Randonneurs ran an excellent event, my first official 200K ride.

Yes, I've ridden farther in a day (and lived to tell about it; indeed, lived to regret it, but that's another Awesome Adventure). But not in an official ride. Math is not my forte, but I believe 200K would equal something like 125 miles. So our 127.9 miles on April 28 was above and beyond. I will say the following: (a) I never rode so far so early in the season, (b) I never rode so many hills in 128 miles (man, I hate Dane County, WI, on a bike), (c) I never rode so far with such stronger riders - thanks, Tav and John for pulling me in the last couple of hours! - and (d) I never got a medal for a ride before!

Tav and John picked me up at 6 AM in Tav's Ford 350 King Ranch pickup, complete with a 3-bike in-bed bike rack, and roomy back seat full of gear and a comfy seat for the 3rd passenger. The neighborhood Dunkin Donuts made a quick stop for a muffin and a cuppa (ah, only on a major ride day ...), then we tore up the roads to Delavan, WI, arriving barely/hardly just in the nick of time for the 8:00 start. OK, so we started at 8:05 - and just as we were rolling out of the Super 8 parking lot I realized my computer was not registering. Oh well, the route cue sheets have all the mileage information, and I could get the average speed at day's end from John or Tav. It wasn't long before we were passing some of the on-time starters; and Tav was coming across people he knows from earlier distance rides. He would linger and jaw, then rocket up to John and me and push our speed. Well, it made for an interesting start.

Brevets are a set course, with designated stops (controles) at which riders must have their brevet cards stamped by an official (in this case, the cashiers of mini-marts). Riders may get stamped and then charge ahead, but most take the controle as an opportunity to stretch, relieve and refuel. Our first leg took us through Milton to the controle at Edgerton. By then we were in Dane County. Man, I hate Dane County ... at least, I hate riding the hills of Dane County; there are plenty of them, at least as a flatlander it feels like there are many of them. The second controle was in Sun Prairie; it was also the turn-around point, at about 65 miles. At this mini-mart we took a bit longer, ate more food, but finally had to get back on the bikes for the return legs. Back through Dane County (I still need to look at a map to see how we managed to only ride through 3 towns in these 128 miles) -- and hey, how did those hills get longer, steeper, and nastier? By the time we hit our final controle (the same mini-mart in Edgerton), I was already clearly in need of the stronger riders I came with.

If you haven't experienced drafting on a bicylce, you've really missed a marvel of natural physics. Riding into the wind, or even cross-winds, you position yourself just so - behind, beside, or at some rear angle from the rider immediately in front of you - and when you get it right you not only experience a relief from the wind, but automatically pick up an ease and energy in your own riding. It is amazing. Now, the ideal is that when a group rides into the wind - and did we ever on those final 30 miles - everyone takes turns at the front, taking the brunt of the wind so others can save their strength; then you slip to the back and let others pull you along. Well, sadly, by the final control it was all too obvious that Chuck was not going to be much help at the head of our line of 3. Thanks, John and Tav, for pulling me along, and for moderating your speed to accommodate my weakness. There's a life lesson in that.

We passed individuals, giving them a chance at our rear wheel, and a couple of small groups. And we more or less plodded along to finish the ride in about 8 hours, 7 minutes total elapsed time. Our general tail-wind got us to the far point in just over 3 hours (yeah, averaged just above 20 MPH going out); not so impressive getting back, as some of those hills dragged us into the single digit MPH, and the strong winds (20 something MPH headwinds) kept us ... well, under 2o MPH on the return!

If it hadn't been for the distance, the hills, and the wind ... the rain would not have been so bad. Yes, we had rain for the final 2 hours. And seriously, at least it was not a soaking rain. Rolling in at the finish, checking in, getting into dry clothes: these were significant accomplishments! A quick trip to McDs (another ride-day anomaly) supplemented my post-ride feed-bag of a PB sandwich, trail mix, sport drink and water. A comfortable, warm and dry ride home delivered me in time to clean up and arrive at the end of the first buffet line at a special dinner. I was supposed to be witty and charming for this dinner ... but I think most talk turned out to be more about cycling!

Long before the end of the brevet, I had decided not to attempt the next rides in the series: 300K, 400K, 600K. And certainly not the 1000 or 1200K rides for which these qualify idiots like myself. But after a good night's sleep, and while reading some stories of those who have finished the classic Paris-Brest-Paris ride (http://www.rusa.org/pbp.html) I now find myself wondering ... could I?