28 December 2009

That's what I'm talking about

Christmas, and a slew of new books. Even discounting duplicate gift books (thanks, boys!), nearly all the titles are about cycling adventures. Some good winter reading ahead ... a season when (a) I'm only riding indoors to begin with, and (b) I'm preparing for a different kind of adventure altogether.

Ha, just thinking of Violet, in "It's a Wonderful Life," asking George Bailey if he doesn't want to do more than just read about adventure. Well, yes, there is that danger, of settling for the adventures of others. So, I hope that reading tales of international, not to say extreme, cycling travel - new and old - will inspire rather than simply substitute.

But today's book is an adventure of another sort. Or of another sport, anyway.

For my birthday I received Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The gift was inspired, no doubt, by my registering for my first marathon [about this, much more in the coming weeks] and my delight in being introduced to Murakami this past summer. I'd heard the name for a long time, with a son and some friends already huge fans. Preparing for a trip to Portland in July, I could not get from the library the typical "hot" titles. (Turns out, this is a problem at libraries all over the place. Apparently to read Murakami, one must buy the books or be a very patient library patron.) So, what I chose in the end was his first international best-seller, A Wild Sheep Chase. I'll leave the waxing eloquent about Murakami to others. Sufficient here to say - I was hooked on this fascinating author.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running came to me after I registered for the Big Sur International Marathon, but before I began actual training for it. It is inspiring, but not only for running. I would actually say, not primarily for running or maybe even not inspiring to me as a new runner. It's a good, gentle, humble memoir of a fascinating life ... written by a man who is downplaying his fascinating life. As a runner, he has completed many marathons and a few triathalons as well. (It's a demonstration of my commitment to cycling, I suppose, that when he writes about the cycling part of triathalons, my interest is tweaked even higher, and that I find myself taking issue with his personal preference for running over the bike!)

I'll certainly re-read this, and probably before April 25, when I run my first marathon. The combination of beautiful writing (the novelist), the simple lessons of sport (the athlete), and the perspective of a cosmopolitan from Asia (the world traveler/teacher) made this the best read of the fall for me ... and the quickest, too!

19 December 2009

And now it is winter

It's been a long time since I posted here. The cycling season ground down - too slow, and too soon. My outdoor miles squeaked just over 2,300. OK for a pedestrian, but far fewer than I like, and definitely undeserving of the name "cyclist." (A term which I have stopped accepting for myself, and never use!)

One way I've kept visiting this site is a little tally of "most recent rides/runs." Yep, runs. More on that later.

Busy, busy, busy. But with the little bit of cycling that ended the fall, I did enjoy some interesting cycling reading. Which, come to think of it, maybe I should have put off until a day like today - 3 inches of new-fallen snow, beginning to look a lot like Christmas - and ridden instead!

Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes (OSU Press, 2008) is subtitled "How Cyclists are Changing American Cities." Mapes is senior political reporter for The Oregonian. He is an active cyclist (commuter and advocate). Through the book he explores the cycling culture of leading bike-friendly cities, Amsterdam, and cities where the culture is changing toward bike friendliness. Along the way he talks to, and rides with, bicycle advocates (extremists and pragmatists), politicians (my favorite, no doubt from my decade-plus sojourn in MN, is congressman Jim Oberstar, D MN - or, technically DFL, MN), city planners (both established and working on it), and everyday riders (powerful and hoi polloi). He commuted with people in his home town, and in Manhattan; he rode in more than one Critical Mass ride; he traveled to Holland and Denmark to see what they have done to shake free of the automobile, and how it those efforts are paying off.

Adding to my pleasure with Pedaling Revolutionwas reading it while on a trip to Portland, OR, my favorite cycling city, Mapes' home town, and a highly rated cycling mecca.

I am recommending the book to all who take cycling seriously, who are interested in urban planning, who love pedestrians, who endorse human-scale civil engineering, and who dare to think something can be done at the individual and community level to make a dent in our ecological jeopardy. It is engagingly written, and - this is a non-activist writing here - has been more succsessful than anything I've read to nudge me toward taking part in local and regional cycling issues.

Now, if I can just get out and ride!!

01 September 2009

Awesome Virginia Adventure

It is my first grown up one-on-one with my youngest. A newly minted 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Andrew is working for the Army this summer, waiting for his final two training courses before taking up his duties as a supply officer, and his post (Fort Knox). A Southwest Airlines voucher with a ticking deadline, and an urgent need to get in a bit more vacation, and an opening in Andrew's schedule, came together for a great 3-day trip to the South.

I arrived in Norfolk, just barely ahead of the convergence of 3 storm fronts - a tropical storm coming up the coast, rain from north Georgia, and the Great Lakes storm system that I left ahead of from Midway. So I deplaned in sunshine and wind, and ended up driving in or through heavy rain and thunderstorms - north out of Norfolk past Williamsburg and Jamestown, around the bay toward Richmond. When I arrived at the hotel, just outside Petersburg, it was hot, muggy, and with some vestige of storm remaining. We chose to stay indoors for the night!

The hotel sports bar had a pretty decent sandwich option, so Andrew and I sat down with Lt. Diaz, and I got an earful about Army life. It got late, and I headed off to bed after we agreed to meet at the hotel breakfast the next morning.

Though hot, the breakfast was standard complimentary hotel fare. Solid calories for the start of the day. Fueled, we set out for my introduction to Fort Lee. Andrew had collected me from my room, with a map in hand and questions about what I wanted to see. Two things struck me kind of funny - 1) that he didn't have something that he particularly wanted to show me [to be fair, the building he reports to each day was closed on Saturday], and 2) that the map he had was from the hotel's rack of brochures with local information. So much for high level of security. Andrew had collected me from my room, with a map in hand and questions about what I wanted to see. Two things struck me kind of funny - 1) that he didn't have something that he particularly wanted to show me [to be fair, the building he reports to each day was closed on Saturday], and 2) that the map he had was from the hotel's rack of brochures with local information. So much for high level of security.

I can't say I've ever been on an Army base, so obviously I had no point of reference for what I would see. Aside from checking our ID at the front gate - well, OK, back up ... apart from having to stop at a front gate, this base, at least, is pretty much like an expansive college campus. And what do I know? These days, maybe there are college campuses that have all traffic stop at front gates, and check IDs. Beyond the gate, nicely kept blacktop roads, with a wide assortment of diverse building types and uses. And while the base is laid out clearly, I was surprised that it isn't in a grid pattern.

Some of the buildings are quite new and modern. A few are very strictly functional in appearance. I had asked, tongue in cheek, about getting into the officers' club - and got the recent history of that institution as my answer about why we wouldn't be popping in there. But I really did want to see the PX, so we went there, and I bought a couple of small items. Yeah, it isn't what I thought from TV shows and movies; it is a lot like an American big box store. Which, of course, it is, in spades.

We also spent time in the Quartermasters Museum. Andrew is in the quartermaster corps, and Fort Lee is the HQ for that branch. I learned more than I imagined in this small museum ... interesting, well designed, and I left with a much greater sense of what A. might be doing over the next four years.

Adjacent to Fort Lee is the Petersburg Battlefield national monument. The nearby city of Petersburg was laid seige to in 1864, and it lasted for something like 9 months, into 1865. The fields in the area still have evidence of siege works, trench warfare, etc. And the battleground monument is very nicely kept and signed. I knew I'd be in Civil War land, of course, but visiting a site like this was not on my radar when we planned this visit. Bonus!

Later on Saturday, we drove up to Richmond. I like to drive, and to explore while driving. That doesn't always make passengers comfortable, and it isn't always a good idea in unfamiliar cities. My basic assumption about river towns like Richmond (Appotomax) is that the higher up the bank, the nicer the neighborhoods. Well, in Richmond at least it still matters which side of the river, and which side of the expressway! We saw plenty of the seedy side of town before finally stumbling into, first the modern rich part of town, then later ante-bellum Richmond. Would that I had found ante-bellum - indeed, Colonial! - Richmond first. I think we would have walked a bit. Evidence that we were in Patrick Henry territory there.

Before sunset Andrew and I set out for a short run, back in the battlefield park. The sun set on our approximately 3-mile run, complete with a large herd of deer grazing at the remains of "Fort Stedman." (The number and close proximity of the various "forts" of this battle area was a huge surprise to me. I am obviously ill-educated historically and militarily!)

Saturday ended with us sharing a college-guys supper/snack in Andrew's room, watching Muppet Show episodes on his computer. And I can't say just how nice and satisfying that was!

Sunday was relaxed, though clouded (metaphorically) by the return trip, memory of the terrible traffic getting out of Norfolk, and wondering if I would not in fact be as well off (and happier) taking the apparently longer, more rural route back to Norfolk Airport. As Andrew still has a college-like sleeping pattern, I had ample time to read, have breakfast, pack and relax before we hit the road.

We drove into Petersburg, and again I felt like this is a town worth coming back to and exploring. Very ante-bellum, and a river-town to boot! Not a lot to see, and not all that is seen is worth looking at. But I would go back. On our drive back to the hotel, we got off the highway and on to the Siege of Petersburg Battleground national monument. We had walked on these grounds, and run on these roads; on Sunday we did the tourist thing by paying money to drive the route and stop in at the various vestiges of those months of seige, advance, and retreat. Really, the area is eminently walkable for anyone in reasonably good health and lots of time. On bikes, it could be a splendid outing. In a car it was just right for the time we had.

I learned more about the waging of the Civil War, during the hour or so we spent here, than all the reading I remember growing up. (And that may just be as much as saying that either I didn't do that much reading about the War, or that I just don't remember it!) Thanks for your patience with a nerdy Dad, Andrew! But honestly, it was a treat to tour this area with a military man who has an interest and sense of history. Enjoyable and informative.

Lunch was the last stop before Norfolk International. While we might have eaten anywhere - as you can imagine, near a military base there are many options - Andrew and I easily agreed on Ruby Tuesday's. Only on our way out did I find out that it is a favorite with the young 2nd Lts., because the wait staff is primarily pretty, young girls! OK, so the food was "OK" too. And after hotel complementary breakfasts, quick carry out meals, and a college guy in-room supper, it was nice to sit down and be served. Even more nice to feel that I could actually treat our young officer to something special.

I did take the non-expressway route back to Norfolk. It was a pleasant, easy, interesting drive which left me plenty of time to return the rental and get settled in the airport. Among my regrets upon leaving, as I drove (and still), the main one is that there is little likelihood that Andrew's career will give me more opportunity to return to Fort Lee, Petersburg, and Richmond! Or for Karen to see it. Andrew will return for his final training as a supply officer, then be based elsewhere. I guess it is possible that with the Quartermaster Corps he could get reassigned to Lee, their headquarters. I hope so ... I'd like to return!


Well, I reached a seasonal goal yesterday - 2,000 miles.

On the down side, it was my goal for the 4th of July.

31 August 2009


Today, out on a solo ride, I glanced down at my computer and saw that I had reached 33.3 miles. That's not particularly noteworthy, as I had limited time to ride today, but wanted to reach 36 miles. (To hit a round-figure season to date total.) So, I was keeping an eye on distance.

But it reminded me of a week early in the season. Twice that week (April or May), on separate rides, I happened to look down at my computer, which was running in "time elapsed" mode, and just happened to catch the time -2:22.22. The first time I thought, "wow, that's cool! How likely is that?" But the next time, later the same week, again I saw it - 2:22.22. And that time it was just a bit freaky.

Numbers. They keep us going.

21 August 2009

Summer in the City

I would be hard-pressed to say what kind of cycling is my favorite. Sprints and any kind of racing would clearly not be at the top of my list. But beyond that, any time on a bike is enjoyable and satisfying. Sometimes, more in memory than in the moment, but most of the time it's just good to be out.

Still, I'd have to say that any time shared with one of my grown kids, riding, rates right at the top. This was true when they were younger, too, and I have been gratified to hear that some of their good memories are of our riding or hiking together. Lately, getting to ride with one of them is all too rare. So last Friday was a special treat. (To the kids who didn't ride ... this post might just as well have been about a ride with you. It just happens to be about her!)

I typically take Fridays off from the office, and during the season I often ride - maybe a short 25-30 with a friend, or occasionally the longer solo ride, like the solo century of a few weeks ago. (Which I see now I haven't written about.) Last Friday was special because it was with my daughter, it was most of the day, and it was in Chicago. Never mind that it was hot (but not beastly) and windy (it was windy), and that my computer completely malfunctioned. This was to be a casual but purposeful ride, with Kathryn taking the lead on the Chicago portion, and me riding a route and an environment that was completely unknown to me.

My ride began with a 30 mile leg to our rendezvous at Damen and Augusta, on the near west side of Chicago. The Grand Illinois Trail has a helpful route to get into the city from the west suburbs, which I have now used a half-dozen times. I'm sure there are other ways, and indeed if I were to take my road bike instead of my touring/commuting wheels, I'd have to look for an alternate. But thanks to the Illinois Prairie Path, it is fairly easy, direct, and timely to work through the west suburbs from Winfield through Maywood.

I actually stayed off the IPP through Glen Ellyn. Leaving during the morning commute, it was ironically quicker to stay on streets than to navigate all the trail crossings parallel to the commuter rail line. Plus, it's a nice spin through Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, entirely residential and past the Glen Oaks Country Club, where the Path intersects Hill St. Roll into Lombard on the Path, and stay on it all the way to 5th Ave. in Maywood.

Or, rather, these days, to one of the numbered Aves. in Maywood. Fifth is torn up. First is impossible to ride safely. Turns out Second does not cross Madison, and what you want to do is get on a N-bound street that takes you safely to Washington on the east side of Maywood. A few short blocks on Washington and you are in River Forest. The GIT has signage up to get you off Washington, under the commuter tracks, cross Lake St. and Chicago Ave., to Augusta.

Augusta is a lesser-known but classic urban street. It runs straight as an arrow from its western terminus in River Forest, until it ends at Milwaukee Ave in Chicago. If continuing to the Lake, it's a quick (and kind of breath-taking) jog to Chicago Ave., then marked bike lane and route to the lake. Anyway, cycling Augusta west to east is a visual sociology lesson: River Forest, Oak Park, the Austin neighborhood, eventually Humboldt Park, and then the near west side. Houses change, cars change, the parkway changes, the color of people changes. One thing is consistent, though - and now this summer I have ridden this route 3 times - and that is that it is a safe route, from one end to the other. Safe in the sense that people seem used to seeing cyclists, and I have not felt out of place nor unwelcome. Safe in the sense that the GIT trail markers make it clear that cyclists are likely, even expected along here. Safe at a certain point in Chicago when there is an excellent, generous bike lane. But even without that, this is a cycling street.

You have to get used to stop lights, and you'd better be prepared to stop at them.

Kathryn was waiting for me at Damen and Augusta, and had charted the next 9+ miles of our ride. We headed for the North Branch Trail (Chicago River) by way of Damen (north), Elston (northwest) to Milwaukee (I don't know, I guess NNW?) to a trail-head. Very clear marked lanes for bikes the whole way, and some of the way the lane was very generous indeed, with ample width for parking on the right side.

I don't know when it happened, but my daughter is an animal rider. She is strong! I was also glad to see how wisely she navigated traffic situations, used the lane, held to her rights but did not take dumb risks. It was nice to be able to relax with a good rider. And strong! I realized that I was sort of taking advantage of that, and had to push myself to take the lead into the wind and let her draft a bit. That is an unfamiliar cycling skill for her, and unfortunately this was probably not the best route, certainly not at this time of day, to work it out. I hope I helped a bit, anyway.

The North Branch Trail is a beautiful forest preserve section hugging the Chicago River. We ended up doing about 15 miles on it, which included at our northern turn-around a stop for the sandwich lunch Kathryn had packed. She thought of everything!

On the way back to our meeting point, we hit a section of Elston that coincided with the Muslim call to Friday prayer, and saw a neighborhood come alive very interestingly. Unfortunately, this was also the most challenging traffic situation we got into as well. Where in the world did all the traffic come from? And who knew how many stupid people drive BMWs?

Back at Damen and Augusta we effected a swap - Kathryn emptied her full water bottle into my empty one (leaving her with a half-bottle and ten minutes of riding, and me with 2 full ones for 2 hours), and I let her take some of my Albuterol. (We both have exercise induced asthma.) A fair swap. Then it was home and on to work for her, while I slogged west, "alone again, naturally," into the S/SSW wind.

For some reason I had not started with a bottle of sport drink in the morning. 2 bottles of water, that's OK. But by 1:30 in the afternoon, it was clear that I ought to have had that fuel, early on if not throughout the ride. I began to ride with a single destination in mind - a park in Hillside (I think) with a PowerAde vending machine. My water was going fast - it was hot and windy - but as I got to this park, a mother and son were just rolling away from the magic pavillion ... "the machine isn't working." What!?!

At this point of the IPP, there are not path-side businesses. Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, the Path rolls past lots of places to stop and buy. Villa Park, things are close, but I don't know of a convenience store. I think I did choose to bypass a 7-11, but now can't remember where I saw that. The old train depot in Villa Park is now a museum, and also sells "ice cold pop and water." I stopped for a can of Mist, sat in the shade and downed it. It helped, more than water alone would have, but failed to revive. I was now maybe 8-9 miles from home, and wondering if I'd have to stop in Glen Ellyn or Wheaton.

So I did stay on the Path through G.E. In addition to the prospect of getting re-fueled, there is the virtue of a flat route, which the streets that I took in the morning are not. Stopping and shopping seemed like too much trouble. (Which, by the way, is another sign that I was beginning to be seriously in trouble, as to hydration and fuel. Dumb reasoning is a bad sign. It's just that, with me, it's hard to know if it's natural or extremity-induced.) Ah, but there is always Tates. Yeah, that's it, Tate's.

Tate's is Wheaton's authentic ice cream parlor. Just across the tracks from the IPP as it rolls through downtown; and on the right side of the tracks to get me home anyway. What a relief to stop and get a large, very chocolaty cone, sit in partial shade, and indulge myself. Hey, cycling IS self-indulgence, coming and going; it is for me a good reason for rewards, and its own reward. Tate's gave me the courage and strength to ride the last 3 miles home. Hey, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Without a computer, I was stuck with an estimate for my in/out miles, Kathryn's planning on the street route, and a pretty accurate appraisal of the trail mileage. That evening I got on Map My Ride for the first time, and found that my in/out estimate was pretty close. (To be fair, I had ridden this section before, and some memory still works.) So, the final mileage for me was 91 - and I am sticking with that! 31 of those with Kathryn, and those are perhaps my favorite 31 miles of the summer.

Who's next?

07 August 2009


I am not a runner.

But the other night at supper I casually approached my Karen about a kooky idea that is rolling around in the thing that passes for my brain. A work colleague - a real runner - off-handedly asked if I would consider training for and running a fabulous marathon he was considering.

In spite of my protests to the contrary, since running my first 5k, two months ago, I have been musing on the idea of seeing whether and how far I could push this running thing. Priority One is - how can I do this without taking time away from the bicycle. Well, sadly, this summer that is hardly the issue it has been previously. I'm just barely getting in 100 miles per week (sometimes more, often less), and all the miles I get each week are generally from only 2 rides. So ... if I run in the mornings before work, when I'm not cycling anyway, then I can test the running bug without giving up the level of cycling that this summer holds for me.

Fair enough. But a marathon? There is very little that could entice me, and I thought those enticements might just win my Karen over to the idea. IF an event took us someplace nice, and IF it meant being able to see one of our grown kids, THEN - just maybe - between the two of us we could sort this out.

The Big Sur Marathon is, obviously, on the California coast. That's someplace nice. Our oldest son lives in San Jose, just up the road; that's draw #2. The big question is - can I determine by the registration opening date (9/9) whether I could reasonably prepare for this?

About a month after my first-ever 5k, I was visiting the old family farm, without a bike, and on Saturday morning I got up and ran the delightful, dirt, quiet country roads near the farmhouse. 31 minutes - I have no idea how far - was the longest run I have ever taken. It felt good. It was after that quick trip that I raised the question with my patient wife.

"Linda thinks you migh be compulsive about exercise." What? What does Karen's assistant know about me and exercise. Ah, except, that is, what Karen tells her. Oh, so is Linda reaching that conclusion on her own from the anecdotes Karen tells at work? Or, does Karen think I may be compulsive about exercise? Curious.

Well, and I may well be. I only learned at age 50 that I do have a competitive streak. That was new information for me during my first ABD Cycling Boot Camp. (if you click this link, scroll down to the Boot Camp video) And it does matter to me that I get exercise. I do get antsy and crabby and frustrated when I go a week or more without cycling. It is important to me that after growing up obese, I keep my weight down. Guilty as charged!

Anyway, the bottom line is that I am testing the running hypothesis. Last week, in another city, without my bike, I ran 4 of the 5 days I was there. (I did rent a bike on day 4, and again felt - as I always do - that this is where I am at home, on a bike!) The runs felt good, and again I have no idea how far I ran each day, but ran about 30 minutes the first day, 24 minutes two days in a row, and after the cycling day, ran 31 minutes. This week, a home project has kept me off the bike ... so one morning I got up and ran 5k in the neighborhood. And yep, so far so good.

I will use the rest of August to test some longer runs, keep talking with my trusted Karen, and decide whether to register for what is probably the most beautiful marathon imaginable - and arguablly the most difficult in the U.S. Certainly not where one should have their first (maybe only!) marathon!

The elegance of this idea is that the Big Sur runs at the end of April. Which can mean that I should finish this cycling season with running as my cross-training. Then in the winter, during Boot Camp, cycling becomes my cross-training for the marathon. It will mean a slower start to spring miles on the bike ... but: CA and my son Chris! Sounds great.

21 July 2009

Bike Trip, Intercepted

Long overdue to tell "the rest of the story" ...

So, after Tom got off in an ambulance, I rode into Richmond, downed a 12-inch Subway, then turned around and headed home by the same route. It was a beautiful day, though hot hot hot, and the wind was out of my sails, so to speak. And I had plenty of time - all afternoon, in fact - to get home.

I got off the bike and into the shade at that road-side/path-straddling park in Crystal Lake. Ate (of course!) and refilled all my water supply: 2 bottles and a Camelback. Next stop - DQ! We must set goals.

When I rolled back on to the Prairie Path, Elgin Spur, the final leg of my sober ride home, I saw just a little way ahead of me, a fellow on a fully-loaded touring bike. I mean "fully loaded." Rear and front panniers, handlebar bag, tenting gear, the works. He had obviously seen me as well, with his mirror, and pulled over to greet me.

"Taro" (his real name) is a student at one of the SUNY campuses, north of NYC. He will graduate in December, and had planned his U.S. adventure for the summer before his final semester. About 5 weeks before I met him on the IPP, he had flown his bike and gear from NY to LA, and was riding cross country back to his campus! That morning he had left Rockford, IL.

It made my day, and my little annual trips, kind of inconsequential - the ride parts, not the accident that preceded this accidental encounter. And I have dreamt of a cross-continent ride all my adult life. So this was fun, to chat up someone who was livin the dream, and still smiling!

Taro was riding through Chicago so he could stay over a few days with a Japanese friend who lives on the north side. It was now around 4:00 or so.
"Are you planning to ride into the city today?"
"No, I will ride in tomorrow."
"Where will you stay tonight?"
Wheaton?? No one just stays in Wheaton!
"Oh, do you have a friend, or know someone in Wheaton?"
"Umm ... do you have plans for a place to stay?"
In case the reader does not know ... there is no place in Wheaton to rent a room, and no camp ground.
"Well, would you like to stay with my wife and me - in Wheaton?"

And so it was that Taro arrived at our home (OK, technically we are in Winfield). It was a kick to be able to offer him supper, a shower, a good bed, the chance to do laundry, internet access. Throwing together a vegetarian (but not vegan) dinner was a creative adjustment on Karen's part, but that was awfully good too at the end of this strange day.

After supper Taro had to work out his trip into Chicago. Well, I've done this a couple of times on the bike, and the Grand Illinois Trail actually makes it a fairly clear proposition from the IPP. And since I already had the next day (Thursday) off from work, I volunteered to ride into the city with him. He eagerly accepted, and we sorted out our departure time before going to bed.

Oh yes, but first he wondered how he was going to ride east out of Chicago. And there, I could be no help to him at all. I tried to help him navigate where he might want to ride into Indiana, and ride through the western/urban part of that state. But it was all a guess as to where he would have good roads and safe traffic. (Like, nowhere??) In the end we agreed that his days at his friend's apartment would provide time to work this out.

Turns out much of his trip was like that. He got advice from people, he went online to find maps, read blogs, etc. He had "a plan" but not all the particulars. And that seemed kind of fun, too!

After breakfast and after Karen got off to work, Taro and I headed into Chicago. the GIT has a good cue sheet with directions from Maywood (the eastern terminus of the IPP) to the lakefront. And the streets along this route have the GIT logo marker. The primary east-west street, Augusta, begins in River Forest (at least, that's where you get on it on this route) and is a straight line east through Oak Park and the west side of Chicago, ending at Milwaukee Ave. Primarily residential (with all that means when you think about the neighborhoods it goes through!), it is a safe route and people are obviously accustomed to seeing cyclists on it.

I called my daughter, who had just got her own new bike, and she met us at Augusta and Damen. I introduced her to Taro, we three chatted a bit, then we said goodbye. Taro rode north on that excellent Damen Ave. bike lane, which would take him all the way to Irving Park Rd., to within a block of his friend's. Kathryn and I rode on into downtown and met brother/son Pat for lunch. Later I boarded the Metra train with my bike ... and ended my interrupted cycling weekend back in Wheaton, riding home on the Prairie Path.

End of story.

Except - I was pleased to see on Sunday night, that Taro had actually taken the time to "friend" me on Facebook. I had asked him to do so so we could track the rest of his trip. But then imagine my alarm when I saw his first status: "OMG My bike is stolen!!" We were frantic. Was Taro still in Chicago, with his friend? Or was he stuck somewhere in Indiana? For someone in transit (without an iPhone), Facebook is not a quick form of communication. It was 2 or 3 days before we learned that he was still in Chicago, that he was able to buy a new bike, and was going to continue his trip. The last I heard, Taro was in Ohio, had a plan to arrive in Albany, NY and see friends. And may be back in his university town now, for all I know.

One final note about Taro. He had planned, before this trip, to return to Japan for graduate study. But he said, he is reconsidering. He said so many people on this cycling trip had been so kind to him; he was thinking that he would like to find work, and be someone who could extend - pass on - that kindness to others. Isn't that interesting? Well done, America!

27 June 2009

Bike Trip, Interrupted

My friend Tom has had more adventure in his life than I will in mine, no matter how long I live. But he has never been bicycle camping. And this spring we hatched an idea to take a 3-day trip together. My job was to plan the route, and whenever we talked about the trip, I also shared little tips and ideas I've picked up along the way. I travel light (but not technically "ultra light"), love to eat (hey, I ride to eat), and really just take my time when I tour.

My Saturday morning guys probably think I just take my time whenever I'm out! But that's another issue altogether.

Tom was pretty excited about the trip, and as Wednesday approached this week, he had his bike out - with his Bob trailer fully loaded, then repacked, and out again. When we talked on the phone Tuesday night, he had re-packed twice already. After we hung up, he re-packed again. And we agreed he would be at my place at 5:30am Wednesday.

5:30 was important for a couple of reasons - get out of the west subs before traffic got bad, and also to get a drop on the forecast heat for the day. With an early start on a 65-mile trip, we could be in Lake Geneva before the heat of the day, set up camp, and either swim or sit in the shade. A great start to our 3-day adventure!

Naturally, I was "not quite ready" when Tom rolled up at the exact time he said he would. To be fair, I was pretty close and we left much closer to the announced start time than I ever do when taking a solo trip. Hey, I've missed my own private start time by as much as 3 hours! So, rolling out by 5:45 was good for me. And Tom, being Tom, was characteristically cheerful about it. After all, we had all day ahead of us!

Our first day's route was on path and trail until the last 12 or so miles. Illinois Prairie Path, Elgin Spur, to Fox River Trail north to McHenry County Trail, to Richmond - at the border of Wisconsin. A couple of roads would take us into Wisconsin and up a few miles to Big Foot Beach State Park. A simple start to a "local" trip that would continue on Thursday, entirely on road, through Walworth (a great breakfast spot I recall from a trip with my son 9 years ago), through Beloit, around Rockford, and down to Lowden State Park in Oregon, IL. Day 3 would bring us due east through Sycamore (with the obligatory stop at Elleson's Bakery), the Great Western Trail, and home by whatever route then took our fancy.

Food. A bike trip, in my view, is almost entirely about the food. I love to plan the route, and I do really enjoy camping. But it's the food - what do I carry? Where will I eat? How will I prepare an evening meal in a camp-site? We agreed that the simple way to start the day is to have a breakfast bar or something simple in camp, then stop for a real breakfast - diner or breakfast restaurant is ideal. Then, during the day, you're always eating anyway, and will probably finish the ride early- or mid-afternoon. Supper then becomes the big question of the day: to fix in camp, or to camp where you can ride into town for a meal, or can you carry-out supper on the way to the campground?

Our first stop, and first food, was a Panera in Crystal Lake. It is right off the trail, across the highway, and if it wasn't there we could have got a good cup and breakfast option at the Caribou across the street. We were pointed to Panera by a couple of moms who were out for their morning 20 miles - trying to get home before their pre-teens woke up on this warm summer morning. Tom is a racer, and it turns out that I am more competitive than I want to admit. These gals had stopped to ask about our tour, expressed their wish that they hope to be able to do the same some time, then moved on. It wasn't long before Tom asked me "well, are we ready to pick our pace back up?" I knew exactly what he meant. We had no intention of letting these women stay ahead of us! And they might have, too. Because at every traffic-congested trail crossing we had to wait for, they rolled up behind us. We would move on, and they would catch up. Well, we're glad they did as we got into Crystal Lake (where they were, mercifully, ending their ride) because they pointed us to breakfast at Panera!

Let me just say here that even though these women did catch up to us all along those 10 miles, (a) they weren't hauling an additional 25-30 pounds of gear; (b) they weren't rationing their resources for a full 65 miles in the hottest day of the year to date; and (c) if we'd wanted to we could have gone faster. I'm fairly certain we could have beat them in a fair race. Well ... Tom could have, for sure.

Coffee and what normally would have been a decadent morning pastry, at a patio table in the shade of the building - a chance to sit and enjoy the morning and anticipate the next leg of our trip. Soon we were back on the trail and within minutes making our way through the hilliest, prettiest, surprisingest couple of miles - Sterne's Woods Park. And that is the only hill worth noting on this leg of the trip.

We enjoyed the nice smooth McHenry County Trail all the way through McHenry. As we approached Ringwood [cue ominous chord] I told Tom [foreshadowing] "this next section is the least kept-up part of the entire path to Wisconsin." It didn't take long for Tom to see what I meant, and it didn't take long for me to see that this segment was in worse shape than usual.

The night before, on our final planning phone call, we were going through some last minute things each of us had thought of. As for the simple contents of a wallet on a tour, I said "and of course your insurance card." "Oh, really?" "Well, you know just in case." Said Tom, "I would not have thought of that." To which my all too knowing honest reply was "that's because you've never ended a day trip in the emergency room."

Now I have to say that, for a change, what happened next is not my fault. I have caused my own accidents, and I have caused the serious injury of a friend. But this time "it's not my fault!" Still ...
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
That dear repose for limbs with travel tired.
But then begins the jury in my head,
To work my guilt, when body's work's expired.

(apologies to Wm. Shakespeare!)

It was my route plan (never mind it is the most direct and hassle free - well, now I'd have to say specifically traffic-free).
I could have pushed a move on to the highway (but the shade seemed more important to us than a smooth surface).
I think I had an expectation of invincibility about this trip. Tom is a crack bike mechanic, so I'd never felt so confident about potential bike problems. And he is a retired firefighter/medic, so that made Karen feel more comfortable about me going out.

Well, the path from Ringwood north to Richmond is generally lousy. But now it has big patches of sand - not dirt, not crushed limestone - soft and velocity halting like beach sand. Not like the part of the beach that gets the tides, the other part that you can't run in. We hit the first few patches and had to walk our bikes through some. So we were carefully picking our way through this dry quagmire. Suddenly - but not, I really must point out, swiftly or speedily - Tom hit a patch that was also in shade. That is, difficult to see until he was in it. He went down, and went down hard. In my opinion, this agile rider was "thrown" as much by the weight of the trailer as the surprise instability and sudden unplanned stop. He hit hard, on his left side, and his bike slid to the right, wheels facing right across the path. We had been more or less side-by-side; I guess I must have been a bit behind because I saw him go down and I ended up hitting/going over his front tire, and going down with my bike in the grassy berm.

I'm no medic, but it was clear Tom was in trouble. Tom is a medic, and he knew just what kind of trouble he was in. He never lost consciousness, but his eyes were closed and before he opened them he said, "I broke the collarbone." That was trouble, but I saw blood on his legs and knee, and when the helmet was off we saw there was blood on the scalp, too.

Two years ago, Tom was battling throat cancer. Among the side effects of the cancer treatment, his blood is complicated to keep in proper balance, some where between "will he get a clot" and "will he be able to stop bleeding"? The next few minutes were given to self-assessment, bike-assessment, and situation-assessment. It took just a little while to get Tom's bike rolling again. He already knew what was going on with his injuries. The way out of the situation was arguable.

Now, the women who have heard this story seem to agree. If I ask "do you want me to call 911" and Tom says "no, not yet" - then, if I'm a woman I go ahead and call, and later if Tom is a woman she thanks me for it. But given the genders we've been dealt, I just naturally figure, hey, Tom's a medic and I'm just this dumb guy, and if he says we can walk out of this, then ... why not?

Our walk was somewhere between 1 and 1.5 miles. Ringwood is tiny, and sleepy, and so unlikely to have any services that I proposed we keep on toward Richmond. We managed the bikes -- I tried to push them both myself, and on a street, this would have worked. In the sand, no way. So we traded bikes - mine no less heavy, but his trailer made the pushing more cumbersome. We walked. There's a bench in the shade, would you like to stop? No, my legs will seize up. Is that a road sign up ahead? Sure looks like it. And so, it turns out, it was.

And who should be driving down the road as we came to the intersection? A County Conservation Officer (named Tom). And he, though burly, manly, and good natured, called 911 without permission! The next to arrive was a Conservation Police officer. Soon the county ambulance, followed by a couple of sheriff cars. These guys were impressed with Tom's presence of mind - self-diagnosis, sense of humor, the long walk to the road - and dealt with him very personally and professionally. It wasn't long before they had him into the ambulance; Officer Tom and I had his bike and trailer loaded in the county truck (to be taken to a locked warehouse for retrieval later); my story and information were taken down; and they were on their way.
There's so much to say about the rest of the day - I'll save that for another post. The important part is that Tom's clavicle was broken into 4 pieces. (As he says, "my collarbone wasn't broken, it was shattered.") He was treated at McHenry County Hospital, picked up by his wife Carol, collected the bike and trailer, and went directly to his own doctor to begin to sort out the situation with his blood. He was sent immediately to Elmhurst Hospital, admitted to the oncology ward, and then began treatment and monitoring of his blood.
Pardon this very personal observation, and take it only for what it says: Tom is a stud. To see him in a hospital bed in nothing but his running shorts, is to see a man ready to audition for a Tarzan movie! Scabs and scrapes all along the left side, from his temple to his calves, his is a fit form with nice muscle definition and ample evidence that here is a guy who has taken excellent care of himself. But the really truly special feature of Tom in a hospital bed is to see that indomitable spirit, tempered by an impish good humor, his care for those who are visiting him, and his trust in God. These things I knew about Tom ... I didn't need this accident to learn them. But it's great to see it, anyway.
And the aftermath? Well, there's some question (no, I won't call it a dispute) about how long the doctor has taken away Tom's cycling privileges. But he did say, "well, we'll just have to go again next year." And so, I have no doubt, we shall.

22 June 2009

First Century

Last Saturday our gang went out early, and most of us rode our first century of the season.

I have to stop and say, I think for all who went out from Winfield Saturday, it was our first century. But one of us, Jon B., was conspicuously absent. Jon has ridden randonneur brevets of 200k and 400k lengths this year. And at least on of his own solo centuries. Saturday he was absent - in Michigan with the annual "24-hour challenge" ... where he rode an astonishing 427 miles, unsupported, in 24 hours. I can hardly wait to hear the account. Good on ya, Jonny!

The rest of us slackers rolled out of the Prairie Trail Center at 6am. Reliable route master, Jim H., had staked out a route that took us out through Fermi Lab in Batavia, through Sugar Grove, then west and north into DeKalb - home of Northern Illinois University. We took a modified route back through Elburn and Batavia, then back to our starting block by way of Fermi.

It was the first Saturday morning that we could meet and leave in short sleeves. A few weeks ago I had made the rash statement that "our first ride we can do in short sleeves, I am buying bagels for everyone." There is an excellent bagel shop in this shopping strip, and it was no lame offer. Cold Saturdays continued way too long this spring.

But this was an excellent morning, nearly 70 degrees already at 6am. The wind was mild (that would change) out of the WNW (that would change, too). We rolled out, fell into our Fermi stretch, and were west of Randall Rd. in under an hour. Long before we got to Sugar Grove, we were truly quite warm, the wind was directly out of the west, we were under 2 hours, and hungry. The BP station along Rte. 47 is our Sugar Grove stop, just under 30 miles from Winfield.

Then things got ... well, challenging for me at least. As long as we were headed west, into the wind, the peleton worked. Most guys took turns, and we kept a decent pace. When we headed north, though, it was hard to find a drafting position more than 1 or 2 spots behind the lead. The wind was getting fairly strong, and the crosswind made the going tough because we could not spread out over the whole lane for a group of 7 riders to get some relief. (If there is a west wind, and you're headed north, you get a little relief - a little drafting - by riding behind and a little to the right of the rider in front of you. This works well on a moderately used country road, for 2 - 4 riders; they can spread across, say, half a lane, and close ranks as needed for car traffic. But 7 riders won't fit safely. At least, not the way we play it. Maybe the pros ride more tightly.) I took the first or second pull on this northerly road, and stayed up too long. I was bushed, and could not catch the draft enough to recover. This wasn't going to be good.

There was a convenient spot where it just seemed right to propose that I could take this road east and head home, solo, and not slow down the group. (Or, as I have, just whine about being left behind.) I might be able to continue until the next good east-bound road. Sure, I'll try that. Meanwhile, Jim got word up the line ... moderate the pace so the weakest link doesn't have to drop out. Well, of course he was kinder than that, and so was the group. I was humbled and thankful to be drawn in and rescued, and before we got to DeKalb I had recovered. I learn a lot from these guys.

The stop in DeKalb was at the nicest gas station/convenience store stop I've been to. I've never ridden to DeKalb, though this group goes out at least a couple of times each year. I've just never been able to ride those days. This stop has shade, and a grassy spot. Real nice. Most of us were sick of the sweeter fuels we get on shorter rides, so we got sandwiches and chips, and replenished our drinks. And savored the ride home, with the wind still directly out of the west, and the long pulls on east-bound roads.

And so it was. Our average speed out was just over 16.5mph. Our final average speed back home was closer to 18mph. We had a few break ups of the peleton - one person or another struggling on a hill or with digestion. For a change, it wasn't always me. I've learned from these guys ... the honor of holding back a bit, letting someone catch up, then helping pull them into the group. Riding is a gentleman's sport. At least, the way I'm learning it. We had one more stop, and surprisingly not back in Batavia (another regular stop for us) but an emergency stop at a public golf course club house. That was a bit annoying at first, until I realized that (a) of course it was very well timed for the rider struggling the most (for a change, not me) and (b) since my exercise asthma inhaler was about to expire - it's good for 6 hours - this stop allowed some time for it to kick in while at rest. Thank the Lord for little lovely providences.

The rest of the ride was a familiar route, and we got home pretty much intact. With a couple of exceptions, we did have bagels together to celebrate the warmth, our first century, and my wedding anniversary weekend married to a lovely lady who encourages my cycling. Thanks, Karen! Home by 1pm, 7 hours after the ride began, about 5:45 of those being actual pedaling time.

My first century, this year. Now I'm on to a 3-day trip, covering about 215 miles. Onward!

15 June 2009

I am not a runner

I'm behind with a couple of cycling events/stories. But this weekend I had an "adventure" of a very different sort. "I am not a runner, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." (to paraphrase Dickens) And I would not naturally show up for a 5k event unless it was required of me, for some reason.

This Saturday, it was indeed "required" of me, to show up in support of an excellent event that raises money for camp scholarships for disabled people and their families. STARS is an extraordinary ministry of my church, and as a staff person, the 5k run and fitness walk each June is one of my command appearances. I don't have to run, but I have to show up.

Last year, for the first time, I went one step beyond "showing up." I registered and walked the 5k route. And man, did that make me feel old! This year I determined that I was going to run, or at least lope. Maybe even just show up and knock myself out. Why take time away from cycling to get ready for a run that I won't enjoy, won't do again for at least a year, and which in any case was sort of imposed on me. Such is the true measure of my ignominy.

I have run, for exercise, off an on, more off than on, and not at all recently. I simply won't run when I am above a certain weight - it's too hard on my knees. But when I dropped below that weight a couple of weeks ago (on yet another diet) it occured to me that I could at least prepare to run, since I was going to be there anyway. But no, I would not overdo it, and would not take it too seriously. I am not a runner.

Training Week = Race Week
Monday - .9 miles. This is the distance of the loop that is my suburban neighborhood. Roughly a square, with its highest point at the top of my block, a long slope south, and along flat west and north, then a short incline to the top again.
Tuesday - 1.8 miles. Two laps.
Wednesday - 2.7 miles. You do the math.
Thursday - 3 neighborhood laps plus the block I live on, which happens to be .5 miles round. A perfect 3.2 mile run, which is as close to 5k as I can make it.
Friday - rest day. With my daughter I walked the race route, to get a sense of its contour and to see what 5k looks like all spread out, not in laps.

By Friday I was sore in my thighs especially, and while walking was easy enough, a lot of other things made me feel it. That afternoon, tired of not being on the bike, I decided to do a light spin, using a familiar bike club route. Keep it in the middle chain ring, nice steady cadence, and not pushing it. That worked well until about mile 7.5, when this guy pulled out of his neighborhood on a beautiful Merlin bike, and fell in behind me. He looked serious, and my latent competitiveness kicked in. I went into my large chain ring, and my cadence picked up just a bit. "This is stupid," I told myself. I had nothing to prove to this guy, and I should stick to my purposes.

He followed me to our first turn. I pointed out road hazards, and he called out "car back." At the turn, he followed, then took the lead. We continued on the same course, with just a few words between us, alternating lead and draft quite naturally and seamlessly. It was, simply, natural and delightful. Twelve miles later, our route diverged, and I returned to my original pace and plan. "That was probably dumber than I wanted it to be." My casual ride turned out to be 27 miles, nearly half of them in the large chain ring and in fear of being bested by a stranger.

Back home, I cleaned up, then rode my touring bike to the church for the Friday night part of the weekend events. So my day off included about 35 miles on the bike ... not all of them as relaxed as I had planned. But as I went to bed Friday, I realized that all the soreness had left the legs, and I had a great sleep.

Saturday morning I woke to rain. I walked the dog in rain. I gave up the idea of riding to church as my warm-up, for the rain. I changed my running kit for the rain. And at about 7:55, I stepped into the crowd of runners, in the rain, and waited for the gun. (Was there a gun? Now I don't really know. I'll be disappointed to know there was not a starting gun. There were church bells pealing though, and that is also pretty cool.)

I managed the first quarter mile or more without tripping over children or causing better runners to stumble. I had gotten some pretty sound advice from seasoned runners, so I was more alert than would be natural for me, to the dangers of the starting mob. Also to try to remember my pace and to watch the time at the minute marker, to check myself. Thursday's run in the neighborhood was about an 8-minute mile pace, for a time of 26:04. That would be my goal on this run.

At the 1-mile mark, 7:34. Oops, try to moderate. At the two-mile mark, 15:10. OK, but that's not much better. Somewhere in there I began to wonder if I'd have to really slow down, or even walk a bit. Memories of Cycling Boot Camp kept me moving. The 3-mile mark did not have a clock, and by then the finish line was in view ... up the final little incline. When I finally saw the finish clock, it was in the final seconds of minute 23. Oh man! Could I have come in under 23 minutes? Well, at that point I had only what it took to keep that pace and finish. Not even enough to help remove tag from my bib number.

And then, I was done. My first organized run of any kind. I am still saying, "not again until next year." But there is that little part of me - it comes out about a day after each challenging cycling event - that says, well I could work a little running into my routine. If only to run with son Andrew when he's home. Such is the fitness sickness.

Time: 24:05
Pace: 7:46/m
Overall: 74/343
Age Category (50-54/male): 5/12

16 May 2009


It was to be a short ride, and with 4 guys it was going pretty well. Enough NW wind to require shared pulls on the way out, but not so stiff as last week's rough go. I had to be home mid-morning, because it is a fabulous family weekend. So the route would take us north and west into St. Charles, then head south and east - the idea being to catch a tail wind home.

At what turned out to be almost exactly half-way, I had a spectacular crash. Now, if a really good crash requires injuries, hospitalization, blood, and the anxiety of the peleton ... well, then it wasn't all that spectacular. But for me, it was. And I hope it is the most spectacular crash I ever have!

We were south-bound, at a pretty good pace, along IL rte 25 in Geneva/Batavia, just south of the Geneva Spur crossing. I was at the back, and calling out "car back" as appropriate along this stretch. Traffic was fairly light, so when I called out "car back" I wasn't in a big rush to move over. I slowed a bit and moved, but moved too soon, and connected with Jim's rear wheel.

This has been a pretty good year in that regard. A couple of years ago I was always bumping someone's wheel, then gyrating back into control. The physics of the thing are that it is the cyclist in back, doing the bumping, who will go down. Sure, it is disconcerting for the guy being bumped ... and I have taken some fair ribbing for this. I tend to ride too close.

Jim said, later, that not only did he feel the bump, but felt the pressure of our tires in contact. Yeah, I got that, too. I swerved, dipped, and this time could not pull back and stay on course. Knowing the car was behind and approaching, I shouted - now, what good did that do?? - and went down. The bike slid left from under me, and I landed on my right side. Slid. Saw the curb approach, and somehow rolled up and over the curb without breaking anything.

I say "somehow" - let me be more specific: God was good to me, and aside from some road rash and a little plastic, my bike and I are no worse for wear. I'll be sore a while, and cautious a while longer yet. But that road, that car, that curb ... I thank God that I am sitting here practically pain free on the same day!

Damage report: pretty impressive knee scrape; great rash which only my wife and I will see (which, since my shorts didn't tear, stayed nice and clean through the ride), a small piece of plastic missing from my STI shifter hood, a little scrape on the bike. I did not hit my head, and none of my clothes tore.

So, I hope I can say "OK, now I've crashed." But I won't count on that. My experience tells me otherwise. For today, at least, it turned out OK and hopefully I will always be able to look back on it as "the worst."

09 May 2009

Somewhere between Oz and Pooh Corners

It was a very blustery day - that's the Pooh.
And we may have seen Dorothy and Toto ... on today's very windy ride.
6am start from Prairie Trail Center, with winds WNW/NW in the mid-20s mph, with gusts. And I mean gusts.

5 of us rode south and west to Sugar Grove, where at about 27 miles of riding our avg. speed was 15.3mph. That's down about 1.5 from a normal ride to Sugar Grove. After our pit stop at the BP station, we took our loop west and north, noting as we did that those winds did seem to be shifting. Was our WNW "ace in the hole" going to let us down on the return? Well, suffice to say when we returned .com said winds were NNW. We knew it! At least they had not - yet - turned east! Also the winds were down in the teens, with gusts up to 25. Hey, that's practically nothing!

We all took our turn pulling into the wind. Mine, I must say, was short, and probably the least necessary, being part of our roll through Batavia. Jon and Randy - clearly our strongest riders - did the lions' shares. My best pull was on the return leg, coming out of Kaneville, and I guess it was ... well, someone has to be in front. I set a pace of about 21-22 mph with the wind at our back and side. Pretty exhilarating especially after the last longish slog heading due north.

So, for me, 2 rides this week, totaling 110 miles. I still need to be on the bike for short rides throughout the week if I am going to really enjoy the Saturday rides. Today was nice, though ... afterwards, sure, but most of the time during as well.

08 May 2009

Rough Grooved Surface

As Dave Barry used to say, "that would be a great name for a rock band" ...

But as a sign on a familiar bike ride, it is not so welcome.

Fabyan Parkway, west of Batavia is torn up for re-surfacing. With any luck, in a couple of weeks this will be the nicest new road in Kane County!.

44 miles today with friend Fred. Good stuff!

30 April 2009

Vacation rides

I am vacationing at home this week. Two and a half days completely disconnected from the office - no work email or phone calls. It is a mental health week. Long overdue, even if undeserved. My goals for the days were simple: get some yard work done, and ride my bike. Or, bikes, as things turned out.

Planting new bushes, transplanting a great old bush, and planting a tree - this was my home task. Mowing, of course, and starting a compost pile. And if time and weather cooperated, to reinstall a stone pad where we step off the deck. I got in 3 new bushes, moved an old one, tore out another old one, bought 2 more bushes, set the tree but haven't got it in the ground yet, had mulch and topsoil delivered, and finally tackled the out of control lawns. Second mowing of the season, but you'd hardly know it; the grass is outrageous in this cool spring with alternating sun and rain.

I did not get it all done, but enough to feel that the time was worth it, and enough to please my Karen. Success!

Tuesday I did all the gardening I needed to, then with a bright sun and few clouds, hit the road. I decided I would go through Fermi Lab and Batavia to Johnson's Mound, then decide if I wanted to head farther west. I wanted to cover 50 miles at least; the Mound out-and-back gives me about 43. The wind was ENE, and reportedly about 17mph. Was I willing to get farther west, and a little south, to add miles?

Even knowing the wind is at my back, I am so easily lulled into thinking "well, this won't be so bad." Well, actually, it kind of was. Johnson's Mound is mile 22 from my place. At mile 30 I was at the intersection of Dauberman Rd. and Harter Rd., somewhere between Elburn and Kaneville. Exactly 30 miles, and I turned east. The haul down Dauberman provided ample warning. That wind was definitely more E than N, more E even than NE. Clearly ENE and then some. Well, I was committed, so I hunkered down and began the long slog home. Oh, and by then the sun was under cover ... and it never did peek out again. So my adequate attire was less so; and my body heat barely compensating for the right kit.

Kaneville - to stop, or not to stop at the general store? No, it was too soon after the J's.M. pit stop. Press on down Main St. Just before the Marklund Home I pulled over at a park driveway to finish a power bar and take a rest from the headwind. Another stop option is the BP station at McKee and Randall. But there again, it seemed wiser to press on. The wind was getting any better, and unlikely to.

I did pull into the Batavia Prairie Path store. It was warm, out of the wind, and had Power Gel. So a brief chat with Joe and Mike, and a little rest for the legs and back, and I was in it for the last hour home. Back through Fermi, where I saw the largest, healthiest coyote ever, and onward always onward home.

In the second half of the ride I lost about 1mph of average speed, compared to the first 30 miles. So I guess that's not so bad. And I still had something left to mow the front lawn.

But it was hard to stay awake in class after supper!

Wednesday was altogether different. It had rained during the night, so my plan to do a long Prairie Path ride had to change. I was not about to go out to the Fox River on another wet, bumpy, sticky path ... not this day. So I decided to drive to the Fox River Trail and ride (almost entirely) off road but on pavement.

Mind you, sometimes pavement is no better than the crushed rock trails. When it cracks and buckles, it doesn't get fixed each year. The limestone at least can be graded and repacked. Still, in rainy season, the FRT is a good path option, and I'm getting to the place where I find it more and more difficult to ride the roads alone. Safety (and visibilty) in numbers.

Fox River Trail from Clark Island in Batavia, south into Aurora (Illinois St.), then north through Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, South Elgin. A path closing kept me from rolling into Elgin. (Yes, yes, I could have got on the streets and gone around it. "It" being a path washout at the S. Elgin underpass where the Elgin spur meets the FRT.) Instead, I went back south and got off the trail at the park that begins the Silver Glen/Randall trail. I had done that loop about a week ago, and knew this would give me the mileage I was after.

I wanted to go at least 43 miles (would make my vacation total = 100) up to 52 miles (would bring my season road miles to a nice round number). It's a nice little path, nearly all paved, that takes one away from the river, up to Silver Glen Rd. at IL Rte. 31. Down Silver Glen - which also has a nice new paved shoulder, but also this path ... which of course is neither new nor now particularly nice) to Randall Rd. The path along Randall is both nice and newish, and it deposits one (heading south) in Leroy Oakes Park at the west side of St. Charles. Sure, it's hard to deny that by taking this circuit I avoided the big hill coming off the river, on the FRT. But it's not without its benefits, either. From Leroy Oakes into St. Charles to ... Starbucks! And then a few more miles south to Clark Island.

Total miles = 44. One goal met, and again I had enough left to (a) go back to the nursery for 2 new bushes, (b) clear the mess from the project, (c) mow the back yard and start the compost pile, (d) tidy up some of the yard mess that is waiting for free pick-up day next week.

This morning's rain keeps me indoors at the end of this brief vacation. Which actually suits me fine. I go back into the office relaxed, with some significant work done around home, 2 adequate rides, and ready to meet the boat load of emails that I know are waiting for me. Bring 'em on!

29 April 2009

Out of my league

For years I have enjoyed riding with a bunch of guys on Saturday mornings. In June 2004 - my last ride before spending the summer in England - I wasn't sure I'd ever really be able to really keep up. They were kind to include me, and Jim in particular made sure that I was not dropped; and at the same time he "coached" me along with some riding tips. I didn't see the group again until spring 2005.

At the end of that season, I was starting to feel that maybe it was the machine that was holding me back. Everyone else was on a true road bike, while I was pushing my sweet steel Trek 520 touring bike. A great bike, perfect for what it is, but hardly competitive with the carbon wonders the other guys ride. That fall my Karen signed me up for the first ever offering of ABD's Boot Camp - it was my 50th birthday present.

So in the spring of 2006 I was in much better condition, and really enjoying riding. Friend Tom loaned me a set of racing wheels with narrow tires (700x23 compared to the 28's I run on the Trek); that helped quite a bit. I did my first Randonneuring 200k ride. I did the distance on Saturdays and even started to take my turn at the head of the line. But the matter of the machine still plagued me. When that fall's Prairie Path sale came around, my Karen bought me the road bike I now currently ride most, the Lemond Alpe d'Huez. Sweet.

I never thought I'd own two good bikes. What an extravagance!

Spring 2007 - after another Boot Camp winter, I hit the road and find ... asthma! Weird. Adult-onset asthma, which took a few weeks to diagnose, and about a month to get in control. That took me out of the 2007 randonneuring event. But by May I was back at Saturday rides and recovering from a slow start to the road season.

By the end of the 2008 season, I was beginning to lag. My last Saturday rides were poor showings, and I realized (a) I wasn't paying enough attention to nutrition, and (b) some weeks I only rode on Saturdays, so my base miles weren't sufficient. In other words, I couldn't keep up on Saturdays because I wasn't riding enough the rest of the week.

I've come off another Boot Camp season, and even did an indoor time trial at the end of the season. The training tire came off, spring refused to come truly and conclusively, Easter loomed (church music, and the church year, is my job), and by the time we started riding Saturday mornings, I had lost whatever stamina the Boot Camp had built up. In short, I felt like I was riding in 2004 again. Bummer.

I've already whined about being dropped a month ago. Two weeks ago I went out again, and this time the guys really did try to keep me going. But it was pretty pathetic. I would lag behind on the smallest hills, fail to keep up when the pace got going (even there were no real sprints), and my legs felt like sandbags. This wasn't good, and wasn't going to get better. So I finally just told the guys to go ahead and I "limped" home. Disappointing.

And on the way it occurred to me ... These guys are out of my league. That is a bummer conclusion, because I have enjoyed the riding, the camaraderie, and the challenge. Saturday mornings are when I've learned to ride in a group, and this group began to build some of my general road skills. I've got to the point where I hardly enjoy cycling alone ... and until 2005, practially all of my annual miles were solo.

So now my strategy is to ride alone and re-build my base miles. I have to get in at least 100 miles a week to just stay viable anyway, and probably need that many miles not counting Saturday in order to qualify for this group. I don't know if I'll get out this week, but I do know that if I can't keep up on my next Saturday morning group ride, I am going to have to reconsider how to keep up this sport.

28 March 2009


2nd Saturday of spring, my 2nd Saturday ride. The 3rd ride for some of the usual suspects, but a few of us in this group were otherwise engaged in the indoor time trial 2 weeks ago. Ah, but last week ... last week was the first full day of spring. We set a 9am start time (late for us) in order to get a few degrees up. And we had a fantastic 40+ miles.

It did not look good for a ride this weekend. All the good weather had come early in the week, and reports for today were not promising. But late in the day Friday it looked like we might just get in a couple of hours before the nasty stuff. Yes, it would be cold (32-33 degrees), but some sun and the roads would be dry.

Bundled up, we met in the Prairie Trail parking lot, as usual, and were on the way a couple of minutes past 8. Now, I needed to be back by 11, and that set the limit - perhaps a bit lower than the group would have chosen. I also had a phone call just before we took off: trouble at work. Then about 8 miles into the ride, another call: reporting in trouble at work. For this call, the group chose to wait for me, for which I was thankful. Jonny even hung back and helped me catch up, and we found the group ready to enter Army Trail road headed west.

It was cold this morning, with a pretty stiff NNE wind. Which is to say ... a day you want to stay together especially when heading north and east. And a group of 6 should provide lots of support for a long pull back east through Fermi Lab on today's loop. Straight into the cold wind, this pretty strong group was just managing about 15mph on the road that cuts across Fermi. Short pulls, and when I got to the fore I knew why.

When I slipped to the back, I quickly lost my place off the back, and had to really scramble to catch back up. I even called out for help ... which I have never done before, and maybe it isn't done, but in any case it was calling into the wind and wasn't heard. Just as I caught Fred's wheel, "car back!" brought the paceline into single file ... and me then back out of the draft and into the wind. Car past, the line spread again across the lane and everyone was covered - except me. Then the guy who followed me up front slipped back - into the space I should have occupied, and very distinctly noticing where I was. And that was pretty much that.

There I was, about 8 miles from home, with my "friends" slipping away in front of my eyes. Heck, I could even see the next change or two on the draft line. But before long, they were long gone. There was no way I was going to catch them. When I got to Mack Rd. and Rte. 59, I saw whoever was now in back cross the highway as the light turned red. It's a long light, and I was pretty far behind it anyway. I never saw them again.

Except JB, who, returning to his home in Batavia, called out as he passed by "character building." It was at this point that I wished I had the colorful expletives that somehow seemed so apt.

I had the whole long ride home, alone, into the wind. On the one hand, actually I managed quite well, thank you. On the other hand, though, while I have fallen behind with this group in the past, and have even told them "go ahead, I can get home on my own," this time it just seemed rude. What? They couldn't slow down just a bit to let me catch up and catch my wind? All 5 guys were heedless enough to just let me slog out this ride? Honestly, cutting 1mph for about 5 mintues would have done it, early on. It isn't like the group was unaware of the challenges - it was all we talked about before we set out.

So, here I am at the end of the day, and finding myself still really peaved. First, feeling like a weak rider. Second, feeling like I may not be regarded in this group. Then, thinking that maybe this isn't the friendly ride I've convinced myself it has been. And finally, just mad that any of this matters to me.

Next Saturday I can't ride due to a family commitment. Maybe in 2 weeks' time I will have calmed down to enjoy the group again. They have been, after all, my cycling lifeline. But honestly, dropped? Ouch.

27 March 2009


I don't race.

During the winter I ride indoors with my club, in twice-weekly Boot Camp sessions. These are coached workouts to develop strength and endurance, to keep more or less in shape and to be ready to hit the road already fit early in the season. I live by them.

But if I had to ride like that every time I got on a bike? Honestly, I'd probably find another way to exercise and spend my money!

But, racing is something ABD does a lot, and well. And for all my whining, my first Boot Camp showed we to be way more competitive than I ever thought. OK, so I don't want to train to race, but I also don't want to be a slacker, and if I can come in at or near the top ... even in the fairly artificial realm of the CompuTrainer. Well, so maybe that is the way I roll?

My - very genuine - excuse to not race is that nearly every race happens on Sunday. That can be a legit "day of rest" activity, but with my work, it just isn't going to happen. But ABD's annual Indoor Time Trial Series includes one Saturday race each year. This was my third time to test my mettle.

There are 2 course profiles for the TT series: flat and rolling. Both courses are 10k in length. Naturally, the Saturday event is always the hilly one. That's the one I ride. Both previous outings on this course (remember, I do this once a year) have resulted in times over 18 minutes. Because I don't race, I don't keep records. It's amazing to me how guys keep mental track of their times, not just from race to race, but from season to season. Like any sport, cycling at some point is statistics! My goal this year was to break the 18-minute mark.

The Boot Camp series this winter has been particularly satisfying. Not "oh my gosh, you should go pro" satisfying, but "hey, maybe I should try this" satisfying. Several BC riders have encouraged me along that way. OK, so I show up on Saturday and try to give it a good shot - maybe even my best shot? I have nothing to lose, and riding in a duffer category (Citizens Men, 50+) I don't need to compare myself to the serious guys.

Short report: 10k, rolling course, 17:51.58.
Final result: 6th of 14 in my category, highest ABD rider in my category but not of course in my age group.
It is a respectable time, but not so good as to make me think "if I work at this I could be a contender." So, that seems about right.

And now at least I know why it is called a Time "trial."

03 January 2009

A story that will stick

This is my 4th year of Boot Camp workouts, put on and coached by ABD at the Prairie Path shops in Winfield ("my" shop) and Batavia. My Karen bought me my first season, a fitting gift for my 50th birthday. This season (fall/winter 2008-09) is my 2nd 2-session Boot Camp - now at my own expense and worth every dollar; even the parts I hate are worth it.

Man, if I had to ride like that every time I got on a bike, I really don't think I'd keep cycling. That is definitely why I do not race. But it makes me a better rider, and it keeps my weight down during the winter. And it is good to hang with other - almost all better - riders.

This season began with a whole series of missed sessions. We ride 2 sessions per week, and in the 1st 3 weeks I missed 5 sessions, including all 3 Monday nights. I managed a couple of make-ups, but it was nearly half-way into the season before I had my first Monday night ride.

We get to the shop early, set up the bike on CompuTrainers, warm up a bit and then our bikes are calibrated for the workout. An official timed progressive warm-up precedes the coached workout, which lasts 50 minutes to an hour or so. Then we cool down before dismounting, toweling off, changing, and heading home. The 7:00pm session thus begins any time after 6:30 and ends around 8:15/30 or so.

So, on my first Monday night I finally slumped off the bike and waited my turn to use the washroom. As I did all last year, I would towel down and change into street clothes before packing up the bike and driving home. [cue ominous chord]

We all have little things we do, habits or whatever - admit it, you do, too! When I leave the washroom in the bike shop (it opens up on to the workout area), I put my hand on the doorknob, then hit the light as I open the door. Imagine my surprise when the door opened up to a dark and vacated shop!
"Hello? Hello!?!"
Then I noticed that there was a single small light blinking, and a count-down beep. Yep, the alarm had been set. I was in the dark across the shop from my coat (and car keys), shoes, and bike. The bike I could leave overnight, I could probably get home without my coat or car keys, but not without my shoes. Between me and my stuff ... empty trainers, cords, cables, and who knows what all. It was dark, I tell you!

So, I carefully made my way across the floor, hoping that I could get out the back door before the alarm system kicked in. No such luck. Light and beep cut off just as I got to my stuff, and well - there I was: locked inside the best bike shop in the land.

Now what to do? I don't have numbers for anyone at the shop, on my cell phone. Do I call home and have Karen help me sort it out? Well, I reasoned (naively, or rather, actually knowing this wasn't going to work) maybe I can still slip out the front door. If nothing else, someone would show up!

But not before the ear-splitting security alarm. OK, so now at least a policeman will arrive, right? But first, the phone rang:
ME: "Prairie Path Cycles" (play it cool and give it your best professional phone voice)
HER: This is ADT security. We show your alarm has been activated.
ME: Yeah, um, I got locked inside the shop.
HER: Do you have the code, can you re-set it?
"No, I'm not an employee, I'm a customer!"
"Oh my God. OK, well I'll make some calls.

Which she did. Meanwhile, I saw the police car enter the strip mall parking lot, circle, and then park outside the shop. The officer stayed in the car, doing whatever officers do when they arrive at a crime scene, alone. I made my way to the door, so he could see me when he got out of the car. No need for him to wonder if someone is hiding out in there. Then, the phone again.

"Prairie Path Cycles" (always the professional)
"This is ADT again. I've called MaryLee. Someone should be there within 10 minutes. And, I'm sorry, but I did have to call the police as well."
"Yes, he is here already."
"OK, well, sit tight and someone will be along."

By now the policeman had come to the door, saw me, and it was clear that he had a good idea what was going on. He was already laughing! Within moments, Rob - who had coached the workout and closed up the shop - also arrived. He was both apologetic (unnecessarily) and laughing (appropriately). This episode is apparently the proof that the washroom light is not controlled by the shop master switch. Either that or Rob hit the shop lights at just the moment I turned out the bathroom light. It could happen. The police guy was cool about it all, I was soon out the door, Rob locked back up and within moments we were both home. (Turns out Rob lives just a few doors down on the other side of my street!)

I walked into my living room and Karen asked, "did you fall off your bike tonight?" (It's one of our running jokes.) No, but let me tell you ...
The shop is closed on Tuesday. [note to burglars the alarm works, so don't try it], so it was Wednesday before I could get back to the shop and check on some lingering concerns I had. I wasn't in the door yet when MaryLee saw me and she was laughing out loud before I opened the door. It is a great story, and really has taken on legs. My main concern at that point was whether the shop would be charged for a false alarm with the police. Apparently not, and apparently Winfield is in the minority in this regard. Thank you, Winfield!

By the time I got to my Thursday morning workout, the story had made the rounds of the bike club, and I have taken some friendly ribbing since then. For a quiet club member with a low ride/race visibility, it has sort of ratcheted up profile. As in the jokes and questions and "oh, you're the guy ..."

Jump right in

So, I really enjoy belonging to ABD, a great bike club. I wish I were more involved - I do the occasional club ride, try to stay in shape with the winter boot camp workouts, help out with the Winfield Criterium, and enjoy hanging out at an awesome bike shop. But I don't race, and as many of the club activities are race-related - um, as in bicycle racing - (and that almost always means, on Sunday) I don't get to socials much.

Given all that, it was a gas to host the club's annual New Years Day Ride and Party. The social begins with a club ride at Noon on January 1. The ideal is to ride 1 mile for every degree above zero (F.). In practice, it seems that is debated and rarely achieved! With an overcast morning in the mid-20sF, and wind-chill much closer to zero, we spent some time debating our options. How about 1 minute for every degree? (Too short to bother suiting up, really.) Other ideas surfaced, but we finally decided to do the Monday night "revovery ride" route, which leaves from the Winfield bike shop and covers about 22 miles. The roads were pretty clear, with perhaps more pot-holes than in the summer, there was no precipitation, but a pretty stiff south wind.

Isn't a south wind supposed to warm things up in the Midwest? It sure didn't help, though to be fair at least it wasn't a north wind. And also to be fair, with a few clear days after an amazing rain washed the streets earlier in the week, road crews had filled in quite a few pot-holes. Except for the cold, this would be a pretty "normal" casual club ride.

Back at the house, hot cider was ready and welcome, chili was on the stove, food had accumulated - brought by the riders who had come before Noon, and by later-arriving club members and family who decided (sure, you could say "wisely") not to ride. Amazing chili with all the toppings, taco dips, corn-bread, bread sticks, hummus - not to mention beverages and libations - preceded an excellent array of sweets, chocolate nicely predominating. Cyclists love to eat. And to eat with people you've just ridden with ... that is the best reward of the sport.

The obligatory race videos ran on the TV, groups of cycling enthusiasts (somehow "cycling nerds" doesn't seem quite right) discussed the ride, riding, gear, racing, and riders. Characteristically, even the trash talk was more encouraging than dispiriting. Then there were the more generally social groupings as well, the cycling spouses who - who knows how? - have other things to talk about.

It was a splendid afternoon: a start on the year's road miles, a casual but energizing club ride, great food and camaraderie. Yeah, I think this is the year to get more involved with ABD.

But racing? I don't know ...