Moving On

The original purpose behind The Fourteen Percent Ride has long since been fulfilled. So, I've decided that Mighty Proud will be the last posting. It just seems right.

But, don't worry. Or maybe you should. In any event, I plan to continue. I'll keep riding. And writing. Click here to come along in my new blog ~ The Long White Line. <-- check it out!

Thanks

As I've ridden for the last two years, I've picked up on the fact that Shirley, my darling wife, has been more worried about my safety than impressed with my "accomplishments." How do I know this? Well, when I'd come back and tell her, for example, that I'd hit 53.6 mph going down FO, she'd reply, "I don't want to hear it." Being the sensitive sort I figured out, after many such comments, that just maybe we were not on the same page here. But last week, she told me that she would "greatly reduce her focus on the 'fear for my safety' issue." We talked about the tour, looked at some maps, researched nutrition suggestions on the internet, and so on, just enjoying the idea of the ride. How nice is that? Thank you, Shirley!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chocolate Milk and Doughnuts

On Saturday I stopped wondering if I was ever going to ride again this year and just got on the bike and took off. Conditions were perfect for a quick run down to Stoddard ~ cold drizzle with the promise of a transition to sleet then snow. The roads were wet, but actually clear of ice and snow all the way to the guardrails. In spite of the conditions, it felt good riding along the river again, although the fog kept the Minnesota side vistas from prying Wisconsin eyes. Being obstreperous because the Packers are having a better year than the Vikings, I suppose. Boldly pedaling right through Stoddard, I headed out on Highway 162. About five miles out I turned around and came back, now riding in a pretty steady rain.

Upon getting off the bike at the Stoddard Kwik Trip, I saw that the back end of my saddle was buried in mud. Not dirty. Not covered with mud. Buried. As for my own personal backside, I couldn’t see it, but I was pretty sure what was going on. But I did not let this stop me from going in and getting my riding reward – a small bottle of chocolate milk and a doughnut. Being so fortified, I headed back towards La Crosse. It was only about a mile into this last leg when I noticed just how very cold it had become. The ride so far had been more comfortable than I had any right to expect, but that quickly became but a memory. I was wet, riding into the wind and now getting pelted alternately by rain and sleet…that pink band on the weather maps that they sometimes call a "wintry mix."

I returned and deposited my clothes directly into the washing machine, started it up and took a long hot shower. A wet, dirty, cold, rainy, sleety ride of 30.8 miles. All of that, just for chocolate milk and a doughnut? You bet! Was it worth it? Yes it was!

4,843 miles of highway have now rolled under my seat in 2007. My 5,000 mile goal only 157 miles away. So near. Yet so far…the promise of six to ten inches of snow tonight not boding well for the next few days at least.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

THWUMP

THWUMP!!!!! That’s the sound of nature throwing down the gauntlet, saying, “Let’s see you make your 5,000 mile goal now.” At about 3 a.m. a significant amount of snow packed up and left the roof, sliding down the steep slope for the short trip to the driveway where it made its sudden and noisy stop. When I officially got up a few hours later, I found, to no one’s surprise, that the snow did not limit itself to falling only on, then from, rooftops. Streets and sidewalks were also targeted. After the cycle of snow, warming, rain and sleet, cooling, and a little more snow, the streets have become pretty unfriendly to bicycles.

Now according to Frazz, there is no such thing as weather too bad for a ride, only a poor choice of clothing. But warm clothing won’t help keep your wheels below the handlebars on an icy road. So the Trek is, for the moment, a bicycle-in-waiting. There is still time. If the weather cooperates. But this is Wisconsin. And it is December.

It isn’t just snowing here, either. Remember the reason for this blog? The Seattle to Missoula ride. I checked in at the Washington state DOT web site after reading headlines about Stevens Pass and portions of US 2 being closed. I found an interesting picture from the Tumwater Canyon area, just west of Leavenworth. This is where we had a wonderful lunch stop site with the opportunity to observe the nesting ospreys. Below are two pictures…one that I took in June and the other from the DOT site showing, I think, very nearly the same stretch of road just a couple of days ago:


Tumwater Canyon, June


Tumwater Canyon, December

What a difference six months makes!

So here I sit, frozen as it were, at 4,812.2 miles, wondering how I’ll get the 187.8 needed to reach 5,000.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful

For as long as I can remember, one of Atlanta's Thanksgiving traditions has been sportswriter Furman Bisher’s column on things he is thankful for. As he notes, there is “a bit of whimsy” in his list, but in the end, he succeeds in showing you that you can be thankful for just about anything. His 2007 column can be found here for a while. After reading it, I thought I’d give list-making a try. As it is with Mr. Bisher’s, the list not complete, just representative.

I’m thankful for our family's visit to Atlanta. And, that I did not spill the beans to Shirley, who was truly surprised at their appearance.

I’m thankful that I got to see the Georgia Tech basketball team beat Notre Dame. But not so thrilled at the Falcons’ miserable showing against the Colts. And how 'bout them Packers?!

I'm thankful that my sore throat isn't any worse than it is. I needed to be in top form to keep up with my grandsons at the zoo.

I'm thankful that I'll able to watch Saturday’s Georgia – Georgia Tech game with Dan and Wendell although I doubt it will have a good outcome for Jackets' fans. Update: It didn't. Have a good outcome. 31-17 Georgia.

I’m thankful that those who couldn't be in Atlanta made it to Illinois for Thanksgiving with their family; and, a little sad at the same time, that they are not here.

I’m thankful for Shirley and for the time we have had in Cincinnati and Atlanta.

I’m thankful for Atlanta’s November weather with breezes to rustle the pine straw that is everywhere around here.

I’m thankful for bicycles. And Bag Balm.

I’m thankful for good friends.

I’m thankful for the big family gathering at Ann’s. I miss Glenora’s rolls, but I am thankful that Shirley discovered the Kings Hawaiian Sweet Dinner Rolls as a replacement.

I am thankful for the challenge of missions trips. For being able to make a difference.

I am thankful for being able to sit in a Waffle House where the waitress calls you sweetheart and you can get real grits. And thankful too that the local Dunkin' Donuts has a drive-through.

And I’m usually just thankful that I’m here. Wherever here is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Bike

I had entertained the idea of shipping or carrying my Trek here to Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holidays. Spending 4 days at the Missionary Convention in Cincinnati was a complicating factor as was the fact that we are staying in a hotel near Shirley's parents' home. So, I opted out. But, this is not to say I didn't have a plan for riding. I would just get a bike for the stay in Georgia. Here it is:



Nice, huh? Some time ago, I wrote about how I rode and rode and, after thousands of miles in the seat, still found myself at home in La Crosse. Well, this is a whole new level of getting nowhere on a bike. Then there is the scenery. While at home, I can ride along the Mississippi River, the stretch from La Crosse to Stoddard being as scenic as it gets. Here, I have water too look at too:



Oh well, I suppose it is better than not riding at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eschewing

My mission now is to ride 5,000 miles this year. It will take some extra effort. And good planning. I know, for example, that there are 48 days left this year. Taking into account planned trips and holidays, I think I have at most 28 days of riding left. Needing 263.8 miles to reach my goal, I figure that’s 9.5 miles per day. Doable, but not a slam dunk. Or whatever the bicycling equivalent of a sure thing is.

Part of the plan for chewing up the miles is eschewing the hills*. Riding down the river to Stoddard gives me 20 miles in a bit over an hour. Riding up Bliss road or County K and I can only count on 14 or 15 miles in the same amount of time. So, I’ve taken several tours downriver (and back) these last two weeks. This includes a 57 mile ride down past Victory, Wisconsin last weekend.

Eschewing to chew.

Total for the year is 4,736.2 miles.

* Just to show the hills I haven’t forgotten them, I have ridden up Bliss Road twice this week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Soaring

Did I mention that I love to travel? And to fly? Even these days when air travel has become so much of a hassle, I enjoy the sum of the experiences that make up the journey. So it was on this trip to Palm Springs. Because of the near last-minute decision to come, my routing was through Chicago AND San Francisco. Without being able to tell you exactly why, I appreciated the chance to go through SFO. I had been here before, but in the time before children. That was a long time ago. Changing from the American Airlines flight to the Alaska Airlines service to PSP took me through the vacant Terminal 2 building. It was eerie -- a long curving passage past maybe one hundred identical empty ticket counters and large, open spaces where people once (and would again, after the renovation) funneled into the departure gate area. I was on a trek that not too many people need to make, it seems. In the ten minute transit from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, I met only two people going the other way and saw one family using the big empty space for their young children to de-energize as they took long laps.

As interesting as this was, it was not the part of the journey out here that was most memorable. That distinction belongs to the short flight from La Crosse to Chicago. We took off on an overcast morning and were quickly into the clouds. It wasn't long, however, before we broke through the first layer and were skimming along the gray-white cotton balls of the cloud tops with the slate gray underside of the layer above us. The sun came up and shone through the opening between the layers, lighting up the top of the lower layer like a bed of glowing coals. The light in the cloud gap to the east then turned from a dim gray haze to a brilliant display of orange and pink. It is an amazing thing to fly. Just amazing. Do I love it? Yes I Do!

Biking? Well,being here in Palm Springs offers no opportunity for riding so I might as well write about the trip, don't you think? But there was that ride in Washington state. Up Stephens Pass. Into the clouds. Soaring of a different ilk, but soaring just the same. So, we have a theme at least.

I did get in 54.1 miles since last Tuesday and now am looking at 493.6 miles to go to reach my goal of 5,000 in 2007.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fashion Sense

Recently I noted that Fashion for Engineers was in the top ten list of shortest books ever written. I'm guessing that Fashion for Year 'Round Riding in Wisconsin is one of the longest. How do you dress for success in the upper midwest? Glad you asked. The slide show running below illustrates some of the principles.



Warm Weather Wear
Here we see the basics - shorts, lightweight jersey, short socks, and cool fingerless gloves. Shoes of course. And the helmet. There is always a helmet. Rain or shine, hot or cold. I repeat. There is ALWAYS a helmet.

Cool Weather Wear
It starts to get complicated now. Shorts, jersey, shoes and helmet are the base. Some cool weather additions to the well dressed rider's wardrobe are a lightweight, windproof jacket, heavier gloves with thin glove liners for even cooler days. The socks are a little heavier and go over the ankle. Leg warmers that are held up by the shorts are easy to remove and stash in a jersey pocket. The cap is more important to those of us who lack the natural insulation. Also shown are toe covers for the regular biking shoes and ear covers (the triangles) that velcro on to the helmet straps. It is not unusual to wear most of what you see in the picture at the start of the ride, with outer layers shed as you and the weather warm up.

Cold Weather Wear
Getting enough clothing between you and the wind is the issue when Wisconsin winter kicks in. We now have a base layer under the jersey. The one shown in the picture has a hood and sleeves that extend down to the knuckles with a hole for the thumb to keep the sleeve from walking up your arm. The jersey goes on next then a much heavier jacket. Tights, regular or fleece, go over the shorts and smart wool socks (not shown). Shoes are replaced with high-top riding boots and chemical foot warmers are a must. Full finger gloves over the liners for cold days or the "lobster" glove-mitten for COLD days. I usually wear the black cap under my helmet which now is also fitted with a cover ( the black and yellow piece at the right shoulder in the picture). Ear muffs round out the outfit.

As the weather gets cooler, you really don't need to ride as much - I'm sure that getting dressed and undressed through all of the layers burns the equivalent of a few miles worth of calories. And I think you see from this display why the spare no expense directive is not hard to follow.

Four rides last week netted me 103.6 miles. Total for the year is 4,452.3 miles.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Breaking News

Interrupting the pattern of Tuesday posts and posts about (more or less) biking, this very special announcement. Shirley and I now have our fourth grandchild and first granddaughter. She was born on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 6:38 p.m. Baby and proud parents are doing fine. Her arrival creates a few more family connections, of course - a new sister for two grandsons and a new cousin for another. Quite an accomplishment for a 7 pound, 5 ounce 18 1/2 inch baby, wouldn't you say? Tomorrow we drive up for a visit. I'll come home in the evening and Shirley will stay for a few days to help out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mystery, Reprise

Let's go back to London for a look at something totally unrelated to riding. Except that I found another Mystery Spot. You might recall the May 31 posting entitled Mystery, discussing the fascinating subject of Mystery Spots in the U.S. and, in particular, a few encountered during rides around the Coulee Region. Unlike the highway anomalies cited in the aforementioned post, I have video evidence of this English mystery...

Art at the British Library in London

How did the artist do this??? Answer next week. If you think you know, leave a comment.

I did ride this week, by the way; 116.4 miles, sitting now at a mere 651.3 miles shy of 5,000.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It Was a Lark!

There's nothing like a relaxing ride with which to start a nice Saturday morning. And it was nothing at all like a relaxing ride that we took last Saturday. More like an 83 mile sprint, in my estimation. Riding with Bill - sort of - it was a 4 hour 30 minute dash to Pepin, Wisconsin. We started off crossing the Mississippi River at La Crosse then climbing Apple Blossom Drive in La Crescent, Minnesota. Our first stop was Winona, 26 miles to the north, which is, of course, why we spent the next hour riding west. We did not go to Rochester, but I could sense it just over the next rise. If you look at a map, you'll see that the Mississippi River follows a northwesterly track as it separates Minnesota and Wisconsin so riding west is a necessary condition of arriving in Winona.

Leaving Winona we set our sights on Wabasha, Minnesota. Now we were riding the shoulder of the four-lane Highway 61 with a pretty good breeze pushing us along. About five miles from Wabasha, I caught up with Bill who was sitting on his bike, waiting. He pointed to a building across the highway, asked if I'd ever been there. What I noticed was a sign promising Ice Cream and Road Food (I did not ask). No, I'd not been here so we crossed the highway (carefully, of course), me thinking we were going in for something unique in the way of ice cream or that I would learn something about road food. I was to find out, however, that the cafe was just part of Lark Toys, a marvelous store featuring handmade wooden toys, a toy museum of sorts and a magnificent, working carousel. The owner of the shop had carved all of the animals on the ride and they were wonderful. Intricate, colorful, fanciful and part of a working carousel. I brought Shirley here on Sunday and we watched a group of excited youngsters riding the aniamls and their imaginations around and around to the tune of On Wisconsin. Click on the link to check out Lark Toys.

Leaving Lark, we crossed back into Wisconsin at Wabasha, rode through Nelson, Wisconsin and were sooner than I had expected at our destination: Pepin, Wisconsin. The plan was to meet Shirley and Eileen, who were driving up, for lunch at the Harbor View Cafe. We had a chance to unwind from the ride while waiting for them to arrive, after which we enjoyed an excellent lunch. We know the halibut was good, as three of us ordered the same meal. We'll just have to go back to sample more of the menu, which is written on a blackboard and changes daily.

The bikes were packed into the back of the car for the drive home. Eighty three miles in four and a half hours. A Lark.

Several rides this week bring my 2007 total to 4252.8 miles. Now, only 747.2 to go!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Observations Along the River Road

Okay, it isn’t Tuesday but here’s a Tuesday post. Live with it! The frequency of posting to the Blog is looking a lot like my riding frequency since just before the London / Salt Lake City trips – infrequent. But things are getting better; I’ve put in 245 miles in the last 7 days of riding.

The last few rides have taken me along the river, south to Stoddard. This for the first time since the flooding (see the August 28, 2007 posting, “Forty Days and Forty Nights?”). The highway is in great shape, but there are several mudslide scars on the hillside. It is quite impressive, the clean sweep made by the cascading mud. Swaths carved out of the otherwise tree-lined slopes, extending from the highway all the way to the top of the bluffs.

You can ride the same roads over and over but you’ll still get to see something different if you keep your eyes open. In addition to the remnants of the flood damage, there have been, once again, snakes. All over the road south of Goose Island. All but one gone to that place snakes go after they have been flattened on the roadway.

How am I doing on my 2007 goal of 5,000 miles? Well, as of today, I have 4,115 miles and a plan to do about 90 on Saturday. I just might make it. And then again, maybe I won’t.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A London Tale

On the list of the ten shortest books ever written is Fashion for Engineers. So I guess that qualifies me as much as anyone to provide fashion commentaries. With that pre-disclaimer, let’s get on with it.

Walking around London this afternoon, I noticed quite a few bikes, more so, I think, than in previous visits to this rather amazing city. A few years ago, a Congestion Charge was instituted for any car driving in central London. One benefit of this is that us foreigners now know precisely when we are passing into central London since EVERY street is marked with a sign having a distinctive white C on a red background at the point where it crosses this heretofore invisible boundary. The standard daily charge is 8 Pounds or about $16. That’s EVERY DAY. Right there you have 80 good reasons per week to ride your bike here. There are, of course, the million or so other reasons to not ride here: all of the cars, taxis and buses that pack the streets.


Another thing I've noticed in my travels around town is that the concept of London fashion is clearly an oxymoron*. It looks like grab-your-clothes-in-the-dark is the rule of the day. Casual doesn’t begin to describe it. This spills over to bikers. They wear everything. T-shirts, baggy shorts, flip-flops. But not helmets. My non-scientific study puts the number of helmet wearers at less than 10%.

As for the bikes, there is quite the variety of these, too. Mostly sturdy ones as befits the rough roads around town. And there are a few road bikes, some of the small city cycles and even a track bike or two. See the slide show at the end of this post for pictures of just a few of the bikes and bikers.

I know I’d never ride around here. It is bad enough as a pedestrian from the keep-to-the-right school, trying to avoid being run down from behind by the keep-lefters. As you might guess, there has been no riding at all since last Tuesday. And there will be none between now and next Tuesday, either. There will be a lot to catch up on when the traveling is done.

Cheerio!

* Don't think that I am down on London. Shirley and I were here on THE September 11 and spent an extra 5 days waiting for our flight back home. We were treated wonderfully and have nothing but good memories of the people we have met here, before, during and after our September 11 experience. This September 11 was no exception.

Bikes in London...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Another Moving Experience

A few years ago, I said that I had helped a daughter move for the last time. This weekend, we helped family move from Illinois to Minnesota. THIS was the last time! And I mean it! Unless, of course, one of the girls needs help for their next move. Oh, well.

Many thanks to Joe and John for helping load the truck here on Saturday. This is when we finally got all of daughter #2’s stuff out of the crawl space and started to put all of our stuff in its place. Natural cycles at work. It was a good weekend and we enjoyed the time spent with daughters, sons in law and grandsons. Son-in-law #2's parents and his sister and her boyfriend did much driving (Tom drove the truck) and hauling, too. On Saturday evening we all descended on a Chipotle’s, taking over an entire section to enjoy a meal and to relax after what had been a very eventful weekend.

Biking? Well, I unloaded two bikes from the truck. And, Monday I took off on a 56 mile, 5 climb ride. It was hot, but all-in-all a great day to be out on the roads. Three rides since last Tuesday, for a total of 120.6 miles and 7,109 feet of climbing. I’m now up to 3,869.4 miles for the year. Only 1,130.6 miles to go to get to the 5,000 mile target!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Forty Days and Forty Nights?

If you hang around long enough you’ll find that no matter where you live, you are in a flood plain. Just ask Noah. It has rained here for more than two weeks and there has been serious damage done to homes and roads. It has affected my riding; many of the routes I regularly ride, especially to the south, are now closed, the washed out roadways being repaired. That’s not so important of course. Many people are working to put lives back together, too many after suffering the loss of loved ones in the major storm that appeared on their doorsteps during the night of August 18.

To check out the latest slide show on the flood and recovery at the La Crosse Tribune’s web site, click here.

I did get some riding in since last Tuesday: 141.2 miles with 6,303 feet of climbing. Not much, I know, but I’ve now gotten to within 1,252.1 miles of my 5,000 mile goal. Ride on…

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rhymes with Orange...

What a week. No riding. Not one bit. Work, work, work. We had a visitor from the UK on Monday and Tuesday. All about a project for CFD analysis of screw compressors. This is really exciting stuff, trust me. But it is a lot of work. And, we HAD to go out to the Freighthouse on Monday and Piggy's on Tuesday. What a grind. Then a meeting on Wednesday night for the Dominican Republic mission.

Thursday finally arrives – let the riding begin. But it rained. And rained and rained and rained. Throughout the weekend. Some serious water causing considerable damage in the area. A wild ride through the week, but not the kind of riding I'd hoped for.

A week that started with food and ended in a flood. It is during times like this that I do some serious thinking, pondering issues such as "Why do food and flood not rhyme?" Throw good into the mix and you have a real conundrum.

I wonder, what rhymes with conundrum?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I Brake for Rust

There has been a new twist in my riding lately. Shirley’s artistic pursuits have led her in some interesting if not unusual directions. Rust is one of her primary mediums. She has a rusting operation going on under our deck – if a piece of metal doesn’t have the good sense to rust naturally, she’ll help it along. As of late, I’ve facilitated this behavior by collecting rusty detritus encountered on my rides. There is a lot of that stuff and I stop and pick up pieces that will fit in one of my jersey pockets. The picture below is one of my recent finds. Last weekend, I saw a really large piece, too much to tote. So, upon returning home, we got in the car and took a ride in the country, recovering the artistically oxidized metal plate.


Rust is OK as art, but not on a bike chain. I clean my bikes regularly. When riding in the rain, as happened a week ago, the running gear gets particularly gritty and a good cleaning is necessary. The picture shows me hard at work on the Trek. The bike stand is a hand-me-down from Bill and the rolling bicycle shop on the left was a surprise from Shirley. I guess it takes a village to take care of a bike…as well as all of that homeless rust.


Progress since last Tuesday: 115.1 miles and 6,376 feet of climbing. Total for the year stands at 3,607.6 miles, leaving 1,392.4 miles to go for a 5K year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Shall We Dance?

Did you know that you can dance on a bike? You need rhythm, balance and a nimble-footed partner. Last Saturday, at the start of the County X climb, it all came together. My rhythm and balance are legendary, of course. And my partner on this cool and soon to be rainy day? A rather large cow, her color a blend of copper and rust. Just after I'd settled in to a lower gear to start up the hill, she ambled onto the road about ten feet ahead of me. She looked over her shoulder, taking in my bright yellow jersey, new silver shoes, white helmet and laser-bronze Technically Cool* glasses. Her reaction was reminiscent of the young Ugandans* when they saw me, their first mzungu*: wide eyes, a bit of panic in the look and feet ready to beat a hasty retreat.

Our dance started as she tip-toed, if you can picture that step from a 1,200 pound cow, across the road. I moved in the opposite direction to go around. A fence, however, blocked her retreat to the safety of the field, so she clip-clopped back to the side from where she started. I countered, moving now to the right. But, being farther up the road, she encountered another fence, so back she went, a little more frantic now. I followed her lead by going left across the road and slowing a bit to provide a little more space between us. So it went. A bovine two-step. Or four-step in this case, I suppose. Our dance continued until she finally found an opening providing an escape from the multi-colored threat rolling along behind her. A "mooving" experience for us both, to be sure.

Bill saw it all in reverse in his mirror. His laugh rolled down the hill. It was one of relief, I know. It could have been him.

* click on the links for information on technical coo-ality (I made that up), the Uganda trip (an earlier post in this blog), and mzungu (did not make that up) :-)

Oh yes, the riding. That is what this is about after all. Since last Tuesday, I've accumulated 155.2 miles and 8,450 feet of climbing. Total for the year is 3492.5 miles leaving a mere 1507.5 miles to go for 5,000. And,for the first time in over a year, I had a flat. As this update is being written on Wednesday after the ride, I can report a second flat. Not a good trend...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Patterns

Detecting a pattern here? Well, think "Tuesday." I've had so much fun writing about riding that I guess I'll just keep on going. But, only once a week. There has been some progress on the Spare no Expense front. I did get that new computer that records climb data. Now I'll know how tall the rides are, not just how long.

There are new pedals and cleats in a box, waiting for the new shoes to arrive. Yep. Now I have everything I'll ever need. But there is that new... I think I'm detecting another pattern.

As for some of the comments on recent posts. Yes, I'm crazy, that's been established. But I'm still thinking about riding around and through Glacier National Park. Sort of re-certifying my craziness, something to do every year. It was mostly guys at the presentation, although Helen, Paul's wife, came to watch. I wore the shoes, my Georgia Tech jersey. And the shorts.

Oh, riding the bike. I've put in 224.1 miles since last Tuesday and am now at 3337.3 miles for the year. Only 1667.2 miles to go for 5,000. And according to the new computer, I've climbed 9,764 feet. Another statistic to chart. Do have all of the data in an Excel worksheet? Yes I do.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be...

Ithaca, New York. I'm here on a business trip. I'm not in Sparta, but that's where the Coast to Coast tour is tonight. Plans were to ride over and visit, but it is not to be. I called Carol (tour leader) and she informed me that "we've had some adventures since you and Bill left us in Missoula." So, adventures missed. And the tour too*. But Ithaca is a pleasant college town (Cornell University) with nasty hills all over. I found myself assessing the landscape as if I was going to jump on a bike and ride.

Not riding. But... a new computer, road shoes and pedals are on order. Actually, according to my emails, most are on the way. No riding since Sunday due to the trip to NY, but I'm up to 3,113.2 miles for the year after riding 135.6 miles last weekend.

* missed

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nine For, Fifteen Against

Nine for, 15 against (or don't care or didn't pay attention to the question). That's the result of the poll for my presentation today, a brown-bag session at work where I'll show some pictures and talk about the trip. The question, "should I wear the tights and jersey for the presentation or not?" What will I do? You’ll have to wait to find out.

In addition to a little (very little) preparation for today’s "big event," I have ridden about 275 miles since returning from the tour. This brings my total riding for 2007 to 2,950 miles.

I've decided to set some goals for the rest of the year, the pull of getting ready for the tour having passed. First, go at least 5,000 miles. Twenty-one centuries between now and December 31 and I'm there! Also, I want to find a ride for next year. Right now I'm thinking about Cycle America’s Glacier National Park ride, but I'll study the options and see what happens. Bill? Well, he's off to Switzerland in mid-August. A practically perfect opportunity as he and a few others will scout out routes for a ride around Switzerland tour next year. Awesome.

Oh, about the "spare no expense" facet of riding. Larry, one of the riders on the tour, had this really great computer. It not only tracked the standard speed, distance and ride time metrics but logged details of the climbing. He had a profile of our ride across Thompson Pass and the computer stored total climbing and the average and maximum grades. I saw something like this in one of the many catalogs I get now. You can even download the data to your laptop. How cool is that. AND, I'm looking for a good pair of road shoes and pedals. After that, I'll have everything I need. And if you believe that…

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Home Again

Sunday, June 24
Missoula to La Crosse

Getaway day starts with a fine breakfast at the McDonalds near the hotel. It is a laid back morning, nothing at all like the previous seven days where we were up early, packing up tents and setting out on the bikes. One trick is for me to stop eating as if I were going to be burning mega calories. This is not easy. Quesadillas and steak last night, biscuits this morning and now, at the airport, hamburger and fries for lunch.

As badly as the trip started (see the June 14 Cancelled posting) it promises to end on a better note. The flight from Missoula to Minneapolis is on time. That in itself is unusual these days, but what happens next is even more so. Our checked bags are out on the carousel within minutes of our arrival. We no sooner collect them than the door to the Oversized Bags collection area opens and our bikes are wheeled out. We were on our way in less than 10 minutes. It was a bit of an adventure getting bags and bikes to the hotel shuttle pickup site. We had to negotiate two elevators, each of which were only slightly larger than us and our collected load. But, we made it, only once dropping the clumsy bike cases off of the cart.

Another McDonalds meal as we start the drive home, which doesn't take long at all. The speed limit is ?? somewhere. I think. Well, maybe not.

Home. Shirley comes out of through the garage. It is good to see her. Bags are unloaded and unceremoniously deposited on the floor in the garage. Later, I read my journal to Shirley. She's heard much of this as I had called her several times a day during the tour. I discover she has kept a not-on-a-bike-ride journal which she shares with me. I miss being on the road, but it is good to be home.

What next? I've discovered that I've enjoyed writing the blog about the preparation and ride. Not as much as I've enjoyed actually doing the things I've written about, but it has been a lot of fun doing this. I have a plan for another couple of posts, then have to decide how to end it. Any suggestions?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Transition

Saturday, June 23
Missoula

I got off of my bike, leaned it against the Penske truck and helped Dan unload the bike boxes. In just a few short minutes, I'd gone from a rider to a civilian. It took some negotiations to arrange for transportation to the hotel where we would stay tonight - Dan needed to get it all straight with Carol, who was riding one of the sag wagons still out on the highway. Everything gets sorted out and Dan even gets DC (Cycle America staff) to ride along, enticing him with the promise of a stop at the Missoula REI. Bikes are disassembled and boxed and we are ready to leave. Not a lot of goodbyes, as only a few of the riders are in yet. We leave the tour, riding in one of the two vans.

How do you mitigate the effects of pasta withdrawal? Beef! The desk clerk at the hotel tells us that The Depot has the best steaks in town. This recommendation is seconded by the cab driver who picks us up a few minutes later. When we arrive, we find that they do not open for about an hour, but the staff suggests that we might like to wait at The Iron Horse, located about three blocks away. This sounds like an excellent idea. We go and decide maybe we should ease into the steak with some quesadillas. Sort of like stretching before the ride. We apply ourselves diligently to this task and leave ready to tackle the heavy lifting of real meat.

The Depot is one of those dark wood, low light establishments. There is a really interesting painting used over and over in the restaurant; I see it on the walls, the menus. A cowboy painting with bold colors. I like the effect, very much*.

We finish out this last day of the tour with good beef and good conversation. Getting back into the multi-tasking mode, I decide this dinner should also be a celebration of Bill's birthday, which was one week earlier, the day we flew into Seattle to start the tour. A fitting end to a day of transition.

* I find out later the painting is one of a collection gathered by the owner of The Depot, all of which have been done by artist Larry Pirnie. See some of the collection by clicking here.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Paradise

Saturday, June 23
Thompson Falls to Missoula

I rode through Paradise today. And the other place. Sort of like every day of the ride (except for the Spokane to Kellogg leg), where there were relatively easy stretches and then some hard parts. Today had one of the easier easy parts. And one of the harder hard ones.

Here it is, the last day...

After six days of riding, 515 miles on the road, we come to the longest ride of the Northwest Sampler tour. An entire week without ever seeing the sun set. Every day with nothing to do but get ready to ride, ride and recover from the ride. Do it one more time and the tour is over. As “momentous” as this day is, I do not recall thinking anything different on this morning as I rolled up the tent for the last time, hauled the bags up into the back of the Penske truck and rode off to the Elks club for breakfast. It is a another day to ride.

And what a ride it was. Once again we are treated to spectacular scenery as we ride along Montana 200. About 10 miles out of Thompson Falls, rocky hills come down and hug the road. The sign up ahead says “Watch for bighorn sheep. Next 12 miles.” And I did. But there were none to be seen on this morning. Still, a nice ride and I notice that the pace is pretty fast. The road is flat to gently rolling and there is a nice tailwind. The miles roll by as I ride on, looking up and to my left from time to time in hopes of spotting one of the aforementioned bighorns.

Along the way, we ride through Eddy and Wild Horse. The valley widens and the hills are now a mile or two away, ranches taking up residence in the grassy plains. At the 31 mile mark, we come to the water stop. It is Paradise. Paradise, Montana. So, this is what it is like. Not bad.

The wind continues to push and we arrive at the picnic stop in Dixon. My computer tells me I have averaged 19.2 mph over this first 57.5 miles of the ride. We are at a small park and it does not take long for one of the locals to come up and check things out - a slow moving black lab who, before this day is over, will be in his own handout paradise. The Dixon Senior Center is behind the park. It is a social club and there is a rummage sale going on. Apparently this is Sale Day in Montana as there have been signs everywhere. I go in and ask about using the facilities. The ladies watching the wares say that they do not think the Dixon seniors will mind; in fact, they tell me I can let Michelle know that she can direct the riders in as they arrive. A welcome invitation it is.


We have 7 miles of riding to get to the next turn on the route sheet where highway 200 comes together with highway 93, the route between Missoula and Glacier National Park. We are not in Paradise anymore, Toto. This is without doubt the most bicycle hostile route of the trip. It is a very busy two-lane highway, with heavy, fast moving traffic, much of it motor homes or trucks pulling trailers. The shoulder is wide, but there is a nearly continuous rumble strip just outside the white line. This means you have to ride the line and expose yourself to the traffic or ride in the debris field that is on the other side of the strip. We are on this road only briefly when Bill gets a flat. It promises to be a long stretch.

It is getting warmer, there is not so much a push from the wind anymore and the scenery is a bit less interesting. Cars whizzing by and the continuous grind trying to negotiate the rumble strip add to the grief. Then it gets hard. The road begins to rise. It isn’t much, but I really start to drag. There is a “good downhill” listed on the route sheet, but it is still 8 miles away. One of the least pleasant hours of the whole tour was spent on this section of Highways 200 and 93.

The highway eventually flattens out a bit. Then, it expands to four lanes and I can see the transition to a downhill grade up ahead. We met a self-supporting biker when Bill was fixing his flat. He told us that the descent into Missoula was a 40 mph downhill. I start down and the riding is easier. But it is hardly 40 mph. About half that actually. Still, it is a big improvement.

Then I see it. The road ahead just disappears over the edge at the start of the real descent. As I go over, I’m looking down a steep drop with the road sweeping around to the right. I do not think that this descent was all that much steeper than others on the trip, but it looked really nasty. Maybe it was the accumulated difficulty of the last few hours, the thought of dealing with traffic, not knowing what the hill looked like around that curve. But, it was there, between me and Missoula, so over I went. How was it? Nerve wracking. Not Paradise, to be sure. More like, … well, you know. Rolling around the first big curve, the descent continues unabated towards another big bend, this to the left. After that, I’m looking down a long stretch with the road continuing to cascade down the hill. I am still dropping at over 40 mph, but at least I could see the bottom and feel a little better. When I reach the flatter section, I realized that I was able to make the entire descent without having a single car or truck come up behind me. A little bit of Paradise, maybe.

There were a couple of navigational incidents in the last 12 miles, but eventually I was following the yellow arrows on a grand tour of the University of Montana campus. Pulling up into the parking lot at the dorm, I think, “I did it!” As I’ve said, you are allowed these moments on rides so I allowed myself to celebrate. Quietly.

“I did it!” *

Today’s ride ~ 104.5 miles
Trip total ~ 619.2 miles
Ride time ~ 5 hours 55 minutes

* Lest you get too impressed, there were 33 other riders who made it to Missoula. Thirty one of them kept going and 26 of them plan to ride until they dip their front wheels in the harbor at Boston. Now THAT's impressive.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

So if I have to explain the posting today, it really isn't wordless. We'll call it Not so Many Words This Time, then. The slide show has pictures from our overnight, picnic and water stops. Except for the moose. He's there because it was cool to see a moose. Check in tommorrow (July 5) for the account of the last day of the ride.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Riding High

Friday, June 22
Kellogg, Idaho to Thompson Falls, Montana

Kellogg, Idaho is home to the world’s longest gondola, if you believe the sign at the boarding station. You can ride up to the top of one of the mountains that surround the town and come back again. You end up having gone nowhere, but with, I am sure, a lot of oohs and aahs along the way. And maybe a few shivers, depending on your attitude about altitude. It isn’t the destination, it’s the journey. It makes me think of the training I did. Two thousand miles and on the day before leaving for this trip I was still in La Crosse. But it was quite a journey in those two months that I rode. Two bikes, all the hills and rides along the river. Now, on this journey, one with a destination - Missoula, Montana - I am having the time of my life. Every mile something new. Well, there were those few endless stretches in the high plains, but even they have their place in the patchwork of experiences that make up the journey. This was a journey I had sought, worked for. Wanting the experience of long rides, big climbs, new landscapes. It has not disappointed.

After taking four and one half days to ride across Washington and get into Idaho, we will cross the Montana state line at about the two-thirds point in today’s short ride. When I wrote this in my paper journal, it struck me that in a matter of just a few days, 69 miles had become a short ride.

In spite of the pace of yesterday’s ride, I feel very good upon arising early on this Friday morning. We backtrack on the bike trail for about 7 miles then head off to the northeast on River Road. This is another of the several nice rides on winding roads and rivers. We are making our way towards Thompson Pass. On the route sheet, I read, at the 42.6 mile mark, "Long Climb 1 1/2 miles 9%." I'm not up on grades. We apparently did some 6%'s earlier, but I can't really picture 9%. Well, actually I can and it is not too pretty. We stop briefly at a Husky service station and get chilled Starbucks Frappuccinos. The guy holding down the fort tells us about the fishing in the nearby river - cutthroat trout. I can see it now: fishermen pull up in a rugged four wheel drive, saunter into the store and come out loaded with six packs of caramel latte coolers. A day in the wilderness.

Off we go, soon to turn off onto Thompson Pass Road. Just another spectacluar ride in the Idaho panhandle. It is 14 miles to the 9% climb, but the climbing starts much sooner. First 2% then 4%, up to 6% (yes, I'm guessing). Finally the road takes a sharp turn to the right and THE climb begins. I pedal along in low gear. It is not easy, but not, on the other hand, nearly as hard as I had expected either. Near the top of the pass, I am riding from one marker to the next (reflectors at 0.05 mile intervals), but it is clear now that I will make it to the pass, this one topping out at about 5,000 feet. And so I do. The picnic stop is set up in the parking lot of the overlook. Michelle is cooking sausages to go along with the rest of the generous lunch goodies.

You can look down on the road that you have just ridden up. It looks far away. It is far away. This is where you are allowed to pause and reflect, "I just rode up that road on a bike!" It feels good to sit on the rock in the warm sun and enjoy the achievement.


Soon it is time to go. Another long, tense downhill. Not terribly steep - about 35 mph for the most part, but it goes on and on. Once down to the lower levels, I ride through a few "towns," but it is mostly forested hills. Turning onto highway 200, I am greeted by a sign that says Thompson Falls. Montana. I never saw a Welcome to Montana sign and wonder when the border crossing actually happened. Several other riders commented later that they did not notice any acknowledgement of the Idaho-Montana border either.

After setting up our tents, we decide to walk back into town for the afternoon refreshment. We meet one of the local residents on the sidewalk and, being the observant sort, he notices that we are "not from around here," as he puts it. Wonder how he could tell? I say we are biking through and he says, "I ride a Harley myself. But, there's nothing wrong with a good Honda or Yamaha." "Bicycles," I tell him. "Oh. I'm not much for riding them." I never would have guessed. Later he tells us that he owns a town on the road back towards Thompson Pass. "It's just something I do," he says, as if this explains everything.

We have some transportation issues to deal with which end up in us having to walk back to the school to get a ride to dinner at the local Elks club, about two miles on the other side of town.

Today's ride ~ 69.6 miles
Trip total ~ 514.7 miles
Ride time ~ 4 hours 41 minutes

Monday, July 2, 2007

Missing the Mark; and Hitting It

Thursday, June 21
Spokane to Kellogg, Idaho

One of the things I learned about this bicycle touring thing is that you need to be able to follow the marks, the yellow arrows painted on the road by the routers. Sure, there was the Route Sheet, but it had 20 or 30 separate instructions and I do not have a photographic memory. I’d look at it, try to anticipate the route, but it was finding those arrows that was the real key to success. Missing one was a recipe for, well, an unexpected adventure. Just ask Roy. He missed a turn at Coeur D’Alene Lake and ended up in Plummer, Idaho. The picnic stop was in Harrison. Harrison is not too near Plummer. But, all’s well that ends well. Roy actually became a celebrity in Plummer. The tribal police force took him in, arranged for a lunch, took pictures with him and gave him a departmental shoulder patch. And, Carol went and got him back on track for the remainder of the ride.

Today we cross the state line and work our way to Kellogg, Idaho. And we had a decision to make right away. The food services at Gonzaga were prepared to have our breakfast ready at 7:30 a.m. This was halfway through the morning! Bill suggests and I agree that we will leave early and get our own breakfast. We stick to this plan even after an agreement is negotiated to have the breakfast ready at 6:30. So, around 6, we take off. Somewhere in southeastern Spokane, we pull into a bakery and have breakfast with good, strong coffee, fruit and pastry. Bill had quiche. Isn’t there something about “REAL men…?”

Then, we head out on our third straight long ride. It isn’t long before we get out of town and into a valley where we meet, head on, a stiff wind. This is not looking good at all. We struggle on and, to my relief, the wind dies down a bit. Out in open country, we ride along again on rolling hills under a generally clear sky. Once, out of nowhere, I feel rain drops. There are no clouds nearby, so I surmise that this is rain that has blown in from Seattle. It does not last long and we ride on. After the first water stop, we come to a collection of signs on the side of the road…”Idaho State Line” and “Entering Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation.” Yet another milestone.

We push on, past the Casino and along a fairly busy highway. I’m still feeling pretty good, pedaling along, watching the tenths click off on my computer. In the groove, I guess. Then I hear something behind me. I look in my mirror and see Bill pumping furiously, calling to me, “Jack, you missed the mark!” I’d been ahead of him for a while and when I went past the turn, he had to find the extra gear to get close enough to hail me down. He said later that he had called several times and if I hadn’t noticed him this time, he’d have let me go. Wonder where I would have ended up?

Back on track, we negotiate about six miles of rollers that seem to get progressively higher as we go. Then, we turn and start a descent, now in a thick forest. We bump over the first of two cattle guards marked on the route sheet. This one surprises us and our passing is at high speed. Thankfully, it is a smooth “crossing.” A few more turns and suddenly we are treated to a magnificent view of Coeur D’Alene Lake below us. It is an absolutely breathtaking sight.

We wind our way down the road and at lake level, get on the wide paved bike path that will take us the remaining 48 miles to Kellogg. This is a “Rails to Trails” project and soon after we get onto the path, we cross a picturesque railroad bridge. The path is very cleverly stepped on the climb to the high point and again on the other side, the descent for us.

The path winds around the lake and we slow down, take in the wildflowers, trees, and panoramic views across the water. It is a great ride. We are soon in Harrison, having lunch at a small city park looking out over the lake. There is an espresso bar across the street, and I look forward to a midday coffee after lunch. It was, alas, not to be. When I went over, I found the shop to be closed. Oh, well. And, it was off again to finish the ride to Kellogg.

The general idea was to ride an easy pace through this beautiful countryside. I went out at a comfortable pace and soon found myself far ahead of Bill and Craig. Looking at the computer, I see I’m going along at a 22 mph clip. We stop at one point to photograph a young moose just off the side of the trail. Bill says, “This isn’t a time trial.” I reply, “I know. But, I have never, ever felt this good on a bike.” I just have to go. And go. I’m enjoying the view; I don’t feel like I’m working hard; I’m just going. It was an amazing, and heretofore never experienced sensation.

I go on, clicking off the miles. At about ten miles from Kellogg, I began to realize that Neil and Kimmarie, who were at the lunch stop when we left, had not passed me yet. I was on track to be first to arrive at the school in Kellogg. I tell myself that this is not important. Just enjoy the ride. But at five miles out, I finally decided I want to be the first in. If I am, I know, it is only because Neil and Kimmarie took a really long lunch. Still, I was now set on getting in ahead of the rest of the tour. I had slowed down a bit, settling into what seemed to be a very easy pace, but still making good time. Then, a surprise.

As I entered Kellogg I looked in my mirror and saw Bill and Craig, very close and closing. As I said earlier, this ride was in general not a competition for me. But at this particular point, it was. For the next mile, anyway. So, I stood up and picked up my speed. I heard Bill holler, “Jack…” but on the now fairly narrow and winding bike path, he had to fall back. He said later that he was going to say as he went past, “Don’t mess with the peloton.” But, surprisingly, I still had some legs left and sprinted to the end of the bike path. Just a few blocks from the school now, we rode in together.

There’s no explaining why I felt so good, all the way to the end of today’s 96.4 mile leg. Nor can I explain how it felt. It was just a really good feeling.

As I’ve said, there was much to learn about riding. Bill tells me as we are setting up our tents that the first in buys. I’m sure he isn’t just making up the rules as we go…

Today’s ride ~ 96.4 miles
Trip total ~ 445.1 miles
Ride time today ~ 5 hours 51 minutes

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Wednesday, June 20
Electric City to Spokane

I would call Shirley from the road, several times a day; this to share my excitement, let her know how things were going. During one conversation she asked me what time it got dark out here in the Pacific Northwest. I replied, “I don’t have a clue.” It’s true. I was asleep before nautical twilight. Well, before civil twilight. Actually, it was before sunset. Even at the end of the longest day, I felt pretty good after a shower and our mid afternoon refreshment, but once dinner and the evening meeting were over, it was time to go to bed. And sleep. Very well.

It was the second long ride of the tour, 94.4 miles it turned out. It started with, you guessed it, a 3 mile climb. Just out of the town of Grand Coulee where we had breakfast at the same restaurant that served us the latest of our string of lasagna dinners the night before, we found ourselves above the backside of Grand Coulee dam. Even from this vantage point, where you could not see its height or expanse, it is an impressive structure.

Shortly after this we start the climb. When I reached the top, I realized that this was the best climb I’d ever done. How do I measure this? Bill did not go by me on the way up. He is a very good rider and a really, really good climber. I gauge my climbs by how long he has to wait at the top for me to arrive. This has never happened before, didn’t happen again on the tour and might well never happen again. So, it was a good climb to be sure.

It wasn’t long after we gained the top that Bill broke the cable for the rear-wheel gears. Stuck with only the three chain ring options, he rode for nearly thirty miles, luckily a section of rolling hills with no long, steep climbs. At the picnic stop Niall, the tour mechanic, had a new cable installed before Bill was through with his sandwich. Knowing that the “sag wagons” were cruising the course and that we had a fully equipped mechanic made for some peace of mind as we rode the open road.

One good climb does not a good ride make. As we turned to a more easterly direction, we met a headwind. This and the long stretch of rolling hills slowed me down and I was glad for the lunch break. Still, it was a pretty stretch of road. At one point there was this amazing expanse of green near the road with another field of dazzling yellow farther back.

It went better after eating and resting a bit and I was off for Spokane. Along the way Neil, the Irish riding machine, went by me. He goes by everyone. An amazing rider. Shortly thereafter I look up just in time to see him take a tumble off to the right of the shoulder. When I get to the scene of the accident, he is up, looking at his bike. He says he’s OK, that he had a momentary lapse in attention and got into the sand off of the shoulder. “Happens all the time,” he says. I know why, too. When this happens to me -- when I start drifting to the edge of the shoulder -- I have time to assess the situation, ponder a few alternative courses of action, choose one and execute it. Neil, on the other hand, at the speed he rides, has very little time to react.

Getting into Spokane means riding on a very nice bike trail for a while. Then, it is a tour of the western end of the city before finally rolling in to the Gonzaga University campus where we have dorm rooms for the night. Rooms! With beds! And “bed-wetter” mattresses as Carol would note later. They were covered in a plastic material that, in addition to Carol’s view of their primary function, served to make them very warm to sleep on in the non air-conditioned rooms.

We have plans to go out with Bill’s friends Rex and Susan. Rex picks us up at the dorm and on the way to his home we discuss dinner options. “Anything except pasta or potatoes,” Bill suggests. I discover that these are real friends when later, Susan suggests that we dine on spaghetti. Bill tells her we have opted for pasta-free dining tonight. She laughs and suggest that we’d best be on our way to the brew pub for hamburgers, then. We didn’t do so well on the potato thing, however. French fries, a necessary accompaniment to the hamburgers, you know.

Back to the plastic beds which provided, in spite of the above mentioned issues, a good night’s sleep.

Today’s ride ~ 94.4 miles
Trip total ~ 348.7 miles
Ride time today ~ 6 hours 49 minutes

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Songfest

There are some constants in a long ride, I discovered. One is the white line along the side of the road. The following can be sung, I think, to the tune of I Walk the Line, which you can hear here

I keep a close watch on this pace of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I watch the road that glides beneath my wheels
I ride the line, the long white line

From Seattle to Skykomish in the rain
Stevens Pass, three thousand feet to gain
Wenatchee to the great Grand Coulee dam
I ride the line, the long white line

To Spokane and Kellogg, Idaho
Up Thompson Pass to Montana we do go
Thompson Falls and to Missoula town
I ride the line, the long white line

Many wonders on this ride I see
Western Highways 2 to 93
One more mile in a new place I will be
I ride the line, the long white line

I kept a close watch on that pace of mine
I kept my eyes wide open all the time
I watched the road that slid beneath my wheels
I rode the line, the long white line

Stories from the ride continue tomorrow...

See Johnny Cash sing I Walk the Line by clicking here

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Long One (Ride and Posting!)

Tuesday, June 19
Wenatchee to Electric City

What is the most common form of road kill out here? By my count, it is the bungee snake. Usually found hanging on to tarpaulins covering cargo on car tops, truck beds or trailers, you see them all over the shoulders. I guess they can only hang on for just so long and then have to give it up. You do see a lot more of the thin, multi-colored ones than the more sturdy black genus of this family of fauna. Natural selection at work.

Today was to be the first long ride on the Washington plains. Which it was. After the 7 mile, 6% climb 24 miles out of Wenatchee. It is a ride on the HIGH plains. A detail not explained until last night’s route briefing. But again, the climb is not so terribly difficult and is much different from yesterdays. Now we are pedaling up a dry valley. Lots of rocks, not too much vegetation. It is warm, but early enough to not be really hot. The road winds around the valley walls with great views down and then up on the other side. I catch up to Carol (Cycle America tour leader) part way up. She has a skull hanging from her handlebars. Not one of our riders, but what we decide later is probably a pronghorn.

After the climb the road drops back down into Waterville, the first quarter-point water station. I Gatorade up as the next 18 miles is described on the route sheet as “Rolling hills. Scarce shade. No Services." And that is a pretty good description. It was interesting and again much different from the last two days where we had tall forests, mountains and roiling rivers. Along one stretch I saw a number of dust devils. Most were small whirlwinds, but one larger one seemed to have aspirations of becoming a tornado. A mini-van had stopped on the side of the road and a young boy was videotaping this dance of dust in the empty field.

My chain came off as I downshifted to go up on the one of the many rollers. It went back on easily, but a few minutes later I picked up a piece of wire which became stuck in my rear derailleur. It was a pretty hefty wire and I was beginning to wonder if I could get it out. As I was fooling around with this, I could see our Penske luggage truck approaching. I decided to flag it down (you raise your hand in the air and make a fist to ask for assistance) to see if they had some wire cutters. But I was too late and they did not see the signal. However, it only took a few more seconds of maneuvering the wire before it dropped out. These two events were to be the only mechanical issues I had on the entire 620 mile ride. Not a single flat, broken cable. Nothing. I never, ever expected that.

After lunch we come quickly to a four mile descent. A Grand Canyonesque hole in the high plains. A spectacular ride down into a valley that looked to have been carved by eons of rushing water, but which was now bone dry.

Being a hole such as it was, you can probably guess what comes next. A four mile climb. That’s what the route sheet said. However, after climbing out of the canyon, the road rolled along, with each "up" being higher than the preceding "down," so it was net climbing for many miles. The road finally levels off and I am riding again in the high plains. These long, relatively flat sections were some of the harder parts of the ride. A big part of that was mental, as you ride for an hour, look around and nothing has changed. The only real sign of progress is the mileage reading on your computer.

About 15 miles of this and I come up on another descent, this time into Coulee City, the second water stop. There is a lake up ahead, trapped behind Chief Joseph dam. Dropping down to lake level, the road goes across a low earthen embankment called Dry Falls dam. I think, “So this is where all of the dry that fills the canyons comes from.” The route sheet had BEACH! Noted at the water stop which was in a community park. The geese in the area apparently knew about the beach too. It was best to not walk too close to the water. I do not think anyone took a dip before heading out for the last 26 miles of the ride.

Leaving Coulee City, the route turns off onto Washington Highway 155, the road to Grand Coulee dam. Soon, I am riding along Banks Lake, the water to my left and towering rock cliffs on the right. The road is flat, the wind is pushing and I had recovered a bit at the water stop. This was good riding. Even the 2 mile climb that came out of nowhere wasn’t a problem. And it was followed by a two mile descent on the other side.

At 2:30 p.m., after 99.4 miles, I pull into Sunbanks Resort and Campground, just outside of Electric City, having ridden just over 7 hours, the longest day of riding for the entire week. Bill has already found a good campsite up against the trees. He procures refreshment while I shower. A long, interesting ride.

Today’s ride ~ 99.4 miles
Trip total ~ 254.3 miles
Ride time today ~ 7 hours 9 minutes

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Updates

I've added some pictures to the posts from the last three days...check them out!

Firsts

Monday, June 18
Skykomish to Wenatchee

You only get to do something for the first time once. This trip provided an above average number of chances for firsts for me. First organized tour, first seven-days-in-a-row-of-riding in a week, first Cascade Mountains espresso stand, and so on. Today, my very first mountain pass. We are to leave Skykomish and climb up over the 4,061 foot Stevens Pass. Not a giant pass, as mountain passes go. But my first. We had about 3,100 feet of climbing from Skykomish - a surprise as I had thought the town was farther up than it was. While we had done 2,000 feet of climbing yesterday (according to the info on the queue sheet) our net altitude gain was only 940 feet.

Skykomish has apparently moved 600 feet up the hill. Yesterday's queue sheet said we would end our ride in the town at an altitude of 940 feet. Today's sheet says we start our ride in Skykomish at an altitude of 1,000 feet. I must have slept well last night - I did not notice the jump.

We set out on a misty, but not rainy, morning, still cool enough for tights and a jacket. After a short ride on Highway 2, a road we would get to know well, we turned off onto Iron Goat Trail. This was a great loop through the rain forest. About a mile in we go over a bridge spanning a swift running stream just below a waterfall. Wow.

We leave Iron Goat a bit farther up the mountain and begin the 7 mile climb to the top on Highway 2. The climb is not as hard as some around La Crosse; while longer, it is not so steep. To my left, the land falls away while to my right it rises with a rocky face. About 3/4's of the way up, the road bends to the right. Looking up ahead, I see a very dark cloud in the mist and wonder if I am about to get dumped on. Soon I can see that this dark spot is not a cloud, rather a large mountain on the other side of the cut to my left. The mist clears some more and I see a stream literally falling down the steep face. I stop, extract my camera from the little bag on the bar in front of me. I'm just in time to snap a picture of the mist as it closes in and obscures my view. This happens one more time, but the third time that the low clouds moved away I had a spectacular view of the mountain and got several good pictures, like the one below.

I continued the climb and soon a building came into view up ahead. While I thought it might be the top of the pass, the climb had not seemed as hard as I expected and was ready for for more uphill. But, it was in fact the top and I was soon standing under the Stevens Pass sign with Philip taking my picture. First mountain pass.

The result of climbing is the need to descend. It was cool and damp as I started down the eastern slope. And it started to sleet. This was not looking good. But it stopped as quickly as it started. I like descents - the ones around La Crosse anyway as that had been, until now, the sum total of my experience. But this was different. Not as steep, but long. Down, down down. It was harder than I thought it would be and on this descent, cold. So cold, the muscles in my abdomen started to cramp up. I tried to relax and just go with the flow. Once down, it was a nice ride to the picnic stop. And the picnic stop was in a great location, a roadside rest stop right on a swift moving river. Across the water we spot an osprey nested on the top of a dead tree.

The ride carries us through Leavenworth (no, not THAT Leavenworth), a town built to look like a Bavarian village then to Cashmere. After Cashmere, we get a little lost and backtrack about a mile. We are looking for Pioneer Road which changes to Easy Street when it crosses the highway. A pickup truck comes up to the stop sign where we are parked and we ask the driver if he knows where Easy Street is. He says, "If I knew where it was, I'd be on it right now." We meet Philip and the other Jack and talk things over, deciding finally that we were on the right track after all. We go back and eventually find the turn and continue on.

We finally make Wenatchee and choose a campsite near the school building to get some afternoon shade. Then, we get on the bikes and head into town, in search of new tire pumps and refreshment. We find both.

Dinner and a meeting in the school cafeteria then I go out and watch a baseball game at the diamond adjacent to where we are camping. After a couple of innings, I go up to the tent and watch the game from there. I close my eyes once and when I open them, the field is empty, players and spectators nowhere to be seen. I figure it is time to zip up the flaps, get in my sleeping bag and call it a day.

Today’s ride ~ 78.2 miles
Trip total ~ 149.3 miles
Ride time today ~ 5 hours 17 minutes

We added 5.6 miles and 33 minutes of riding as we tooled around Wenatchee. I did not ride an inch that I didn't count in the mileage, so it is now 154.9 miles on the trip.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bigfoot Country

Sunday, June 17
Marysville to Skykomish

Part way through today's ride, I come to a walk-up/drive-through (and now bike-up) espresso stand on the highway up into the Cascades. This place is all right. There is a large wooden carving of Bigfoot there - the Harry and the Hendersons version, anyway. Part of the movie was filmed here. There is a sign in the picnic park adjacent to the coffee stand: Pet Area. I think Bigfoot put it there.

It had rained off and on, mostly on, all night and it was cool and damp when we got up about 5 a.m. Tights and jackets were in order. The ride started with a short jaunt to the restaurant for breakfast followed by a 10 mile ride south and west to Everett where we dipped our rear tires in Tulalip Bay before we headed east. (Read about the Tulalip Indian tribes by clicking here). The rain came and went as we rode out of town. We ride through Everett, Snohomish, Monroe and Sultan before lunch, getting farther and farther from the cityscapes. Lunch was just past Sultan and there was quite the spread. It was 36 miles into the ride and it felt good to get to get off the bike and eat. However, it did not take long to start feeling really chilly, so it was back on the road. One of the hardest parts of any ride are the first 2 miles after a 20 minute stop on a cool day. It is tough to get limbered up again.

Shortly after leaving the picnic stop (PS on the queue sheets) we go through Startup, Washington and, not too surprisingly, start the trip up into the Cascades. After Startup, we pass through Gold Bar then Baring. Baring is the second H2O stop, where we find water coolers and two canisters of powdered Gatorade. We are now climbing gradually and there are lush forests and rushing rivers. It is raining and I'm wet, but I could not be enjoying the experience any more than I am. It is just great.

It was in this stretch that I had gotten ahead of Bill, something that doesn't happen too often. So far ahead, in fact, that I could not see him on the few longer, straight stretches of road here in the foothills of the Cascades. I kept going, climbing more now until I reached the aforementioned espresso stand. Here, I clean off some of the muck from the bike, use the facilities (Port-a-potties we saw all during the trip were called Honey Pots. Cute.) and get a cup of espresso, all the while sneaking peeks down the hill for any sign of Bill. A mini-van pulls up and the driver says that if I'm looking for a rider in a yellow jacket then he was working on his bike, but would probably be along soon. I was relieved, figuring it wasn't any worse than a flat. Soon I see a yellow-jacketed rider coming up the hill; it is Philip, not Bill. We chat for a bit and he continues on. Finally, Bill pulls into the parking lot. A flat (which isn't too big a deal) stopped him. But then the problems started. First, he had only one tube and the repair failed soon after it was installed. I don't have a clear memory of the sequence of events, but it involved one of the other riders, a second tube, a failure of Bill's pump to inflate the tire prompting said other rider to offer use of his CO2 inflator and a realization that the rear tire was not in good shape, a worn through spot probably pinching the tube and causing the flats. Everything seemed in order and we rode on together. A short while later Bill’s tire softened. I used my pump to reinflate it and we rode on. Just a couple of miles from Skykomish, the tire was pretty flat again and I attached my pump, but to no avail. I could not get any air in and succeeded only in releasing much of the little pressure left. After a brief discussion, we decide I'll take off for Skykomish and Bill will walk. I expect to get a pump and come back. It is a short ride to the school which will serve as our overnight home. I cannot find a frame pump to carry back so I mount up to ride back and walk with Bill. Just then, Kathleen and Larry roll in and tell me Bill has gotten a ride; he pulls in just a few minutes later. A lady out walking her dogs near where we parted saw the situation and offered to carry Bill and his bike the remaining 2 miles into town.

Skykomish is a very small town just west of an 8 mile rail tunnel built in the 1920's. The railroad was the town's economy, but in recent years it has moved its operations farther west. It left a lot of the town saturated in fuel oil and the cleanup has only just begun. It was "indoor camping" tonight where we had the gym to roll out our sleeping bags. Some of us pitched tents in the hallways to allow them to dry. Having done that, it seemed logical to sleep in them. So, when the time came, some of us did. Dinner was served in the school cafeteria by the local Lions Club and we got a lesson on town history after the meal. That was very interesting, but the only time during the trip where this was offered. A folk-rock band entertained us after our meeting and we learned that the multi-talented Victoria (Cycle America staff) could also play the bass guitar. To bed early, to reflect on a truly amazing day for me.

Today’s ride ~ 71.1 miles
Trip total ~ 71.1 miles
Ride time today ~ 4 hours 40 minutes

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What Am I Doing Here?

Saturday, June 16
Minneapolis to Marysville, Washington

Have you ever washed your hands in a lavatory in England? My experience has been that there are sinks there with dual water controls and a single spout where, when you place your hands under it, you feel not a flow of warm water but two distinctly different streams, one quite cold and the other hot. No mixing out to an average at all. That’s kind of how I felt about the ride. On one hand, I was confident. A lot of miles and a lot of hills around La Crosse should have me ready. On the other hand, there were so many things I had not done…over 600 miles in one week, 7 straight days of riding, multiple near 100 mile days including 3 in a row. And mountains. Not bluffs. Mountains. Hot and cold. Equal measures of confidence and apprehension.

As we descend into Seattle the pilot reports broken clouds. I didn’t know they were that fragile. He manages to manuever through them with no damage to the plane, however. We get our bags and bikes and wait for the Cycle America transportation. It shows up at more or less the appointed time although we do have a bit of a wait for others arriving on different flights. Here I am, sitting in the second row of the van, surrounded by people (who I would later learn were “tour junkies”) on their third or seventh or whatever cycling tour. Three ladies are sharing experiences. One cannot remember how many marathons she has run; another has done several triathlons, including the Ironman in Hawaii. The third is apparently just warming up by riding from Seattle to Boston. In January she plans a big ride: Cairo to Johannesburg. Africa. The thought runs through my mind, “What am I doing here?” Well, I think, I’m here to have fun, to see a good part of the Pacific Northwest and to find out what I can do on a big ride.

We reassemble our bikes and set up the tents at Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington, about 45 miles north of the Seattle airport. After signing in, we take the vans into town for dinner at a local restaurant. Our first lasagna meal. It will not be our last. It is Strawberry Festival time in Marysville and there is a big parade. We thought everyone had come out to welcome us and see us off on our big adventure. Oh well. Later, an organizational meeting in the gym where we meet each other and the staff. The routers describe tomorrow's ride and hand out the first of our 7 queue sheets, detailing the route. Something else to learn. Then, to the tents. I wake up during the night to the sound of rain tip-tapping on my tent. It doesn’t matter. I’m ready to ride.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ending the Suspense

Fearing that the suspense may be too much for some readers, I'll reveal that yes, I did make it through the seven days of the Northwest Sampler tour. Six hundred twenty miles in 7 days; 41 hours on the seat. From Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington to the University of Montana campus in Missoula. The one word summary: Awesome! Details to come. I'm still working on how to describe each day, share the experiences, explain the feelings.

What do you do after you return from 7 days on a bicycle? Laundry. I have the second load of clothes in the wash now. I pity the TSA checked luggage inspector who opened up the bag where I had my cycling clothes stashed. He earned his pay yesterday. The bike is next. Clean it. Reassemble it. Get it ready to ride again. Yes, I'll ride again soon. And I am already looking at a tour for next year. Awesome.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Did I Make It?

Were the climbs and descents of the mountain passes and the long rides in the high plains too much? Or did the 2,050 miles of training pay off? The answers will be revealed in the next week (or so). Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Going, going, ....

Almost gone. This is the last posting before the ride, From now on, I'll be writing in my journal. That's it to the right. I do not plan to add to the blog during the ride, but will add one posting for each day of the trip in the week or so after I return.

There is a new link in the "Some Links..." section on the sidebar. It is a live (updated once each 5 minutes) view of Stevens Pass, where we will go "over the top" of the Cascades sometime on Monday.

Thanks for working through the training with me. I hope you enjoy the ride too. Me, I'm looking forward to it with much anticipation and more than a little apprehension.

Tracking Tools

Here are maps of our ride. I'm not sure of the exact highways we will use -- we get briefed every evening about the next day's ride but have no information of the specifics now.