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.