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.