Saturday, October 15, 2011

Caprock Canyon Rail Trail - The Trail of Flats

My tires rubbed and squeaked against the frame of the bike and every turn of the pedals required effort.  That's usually the case when both tires are flat and the bike is gussied up with panniers, hauling a trailer, and loaded with around 50 pounds of camping gear.  The wet sand was soft beneath the tires, offering only resistance, and as the incline of the road grew steeper I had to get off the bike and push it up the remainder of the hill.  It doesn't matter how you get there so long as you keep going.

Dirt road and trail head.  That little speck is Dan after he rode right past the trail entrance.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The end and the beginning

Jon's post does a terrific job of capturing the last ride of the "From Hell and Back Tour".  None of us realized how beat we were until we reached the 78 mile rest stop.  Walking through I saw the army cots laid out and I thought, "Wow, how nice of them to give us a place to lay down and rest."  I was about to take advantage when I saw the IV bags strung out across a clothesline, M*A*S*H style - all that was missing was Hawkeye and Hotlips.  This was the tipping point for the ride.  Only 22 miles left, but heat stroke was close for us all and made it feel like 40 miles.

We stopped at the 97 mile break, too weary to realize the 98 mile free beer stop was just down the hill.  Much to Jason's disappointment, we skipped the free beer this year.  What most people don't realize is the ride is actually about 103 miles, so free beer at mile 98 means 5 miles of foam in your gut as you push through the 106* heat.  Add the obligatory brat and baked beans to that and you get the picture.  Besides, better beer and food was waiting for us just up the road at the finish line.

The last beer stop on the FHAB Tour
I've ridden close to 2,900 miles in the last year, over 1,300 which were for the tour (the rest were a culmination of shorter training rides, rides with the kids, commuting to work, etc. - surprising how fast 25 mile rides add up).  The list on the right captures all the rides and the people joined in on the way.  In the Century Club Jon picked up 7 rides and 700+ miles, Jason 4 rides and 400+ miles.  

Jon and I struck out on this deranged journey together.  It started on a training ride around White Rock last year when the cracked idea popped in my head that if you end capped something with the HH100 on either side it would be "from hell and back".  It had such a nice ring to it!  Then I thought, "Hey, we could ride a century every month in between.  It would be difficult, but we could do it!"  Certainly dehydration and mild heat exhaustion were taking their effects at this point - I hadn't ridden a single century in my life but I was already thinking of riding 13 more.

Lying on the picnic tables at the White Rock trail head, I tried to sell my idea around.  Jon was the only one that bit, saying, "This sounds like a really bad idea... let's do it!"  Everyone else thought it was insanity, which proved it was probably the best idea ever!  With everything based on a cool idea for a name and absolutely no planning, we agreed to go for it.  

Jon didn't complete the FHAB Tour, but he made an impressive showing.  Foot surgery in the fall put him out for a while, then we both got off track between bad weather, family obligations, and the like.  It was hard as hell for me to get caught back up, leading to one stretch of 4 centuries 4 weeks in a row.  Brutal.

It's the end of the FHAB Tour, but not the end of Thirteen Centuries for us.  We've tossed some ideas around like a heading up a school bike club or a charity bike garage to fix up and donate bikes to folks that can't afford ones.  What will come of it?  Too soon to tell just yet, but we'll certainly come up with a challenge that will be hard as hell with an uncertain outcome.

Meanwhile, I'm going to spend more time riding with my own kids.  Aiden rode his first organized ride, stomping down 25 miles of the HH100 with Josh and Dad.  Kellan is not far behind, he rode 16 miles a few weeks ago, and Azure is doing great learning to ride without training wheels.  

Aiden's first organized ride, 25 miles at the Hotter  'N Hell
Thirteen Centuries rolls onward, more to come.

Back to Hell

We took off in to the morning darkness with wheels whirring softly on the pavement.  The lights on our bikes did little to illuminate our way and we picked our path by feel and avoidance of the specter outlines of people and bikes and road.  The Hotter N Hell started at 6am this year, an hour earlier than normal, which was probably the saving grace for hundreds of riders, ourselves included. By the time we got to the start line the riders were already passing through and we joined in to the mass of wheels and gears.

The beginning of the ride was a dream world.  Hundreds of blinking and flashing red lights stretched to the horizon like a bizarre Christmas parade.  The mass of riders moved in disjointed harmony, moving in the same direction yet unsynchronized, an amateur ballet, a flock of birds that knew the rules but couldn't react in time, complete with otherworldly calls in the darkness of "CARRUP!" and "SLOWI-SLO-OH-OWING!" echoing back down the line and barely audible "onyerleft".  It was harrowing, yet magical.  Perhaps the real magic of the morning was the 75*F temperature, a purely blissful twist against the typically blistering days.  But dreams always end and fade away.

The sun broke against the sky and dispelled the tranquility of coolness.  It stayed reasonable while the sun stayed low.  We divined the time as much from the position of the sun as from the jetsam on the road:  at first there were the lights that had rattled loose from handlebars and shone like beacons on the still dark road; then we crunched over sunglasses that had slipped from sweaty hands as the dawn gave way to daylight; and the innumerable water bottles that counted away the miles, many at first and then lessening through out the day.

That relentless sun soon turned our dream world in to a convection oven.  There is no escaping the heat.  The road simultaneously absorbs and radiates the energy back on to all who dare traverse it.  The breeze blows hot on overheated faces and offers no relief.  At best, standing quietly under a shady grove of trees will minimize the rate of heat exhaustion but even that is still borrowed time.  The organizers of this year's ride wisely had triage units at the rest stops ready to recuperate those who lost the battle against the sun.  Arrays of cots rested below clothes lines that supported chilled intravenous bags and weary riders waited as the fluids worked in to their bodies.

We passed through Hell's Gate at 10am with the temperature already climbing to the triple digits.  Riding in these circumstances requires a careful compromise, riding on a razor's edge between an aggressive pace that will bring on dangerous exhaustion versus an easy pace that lets the body bake for too long.  Merely being present means that the riders are continuously heating up and losing moisture at an unrecoverable rate and the only way to finish is to find that balance of effort versus ease.  In some ways it is harder than a steep climb up a mountain because there a rider can rest and then resume the climb when a little energy has returned to legs and lungs.  In the cruel heat of the day, there is no recovery and the countdown clock to heat stroke is always ticking.

We kept the pace and eventually crossed the finish line.  To minimize our total time, we skipped rest stops unless we were out of liquids, which happened several times during the day. Consider that we all carry three liter hydration bags in addition to water bottles and that gives an idea of the heat.  We saw trailer loads of bikes and riders who had been picked up from the side of the road where they'd given up hope of finishing under their own power.  Hell is always open and it had claimed those souls.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chaparral Trail

The morning after my aborted attempt I decided to try a route from Plano out to Farmersville.  I started near Collin Creek Mall at about 4:30 in the morning.  This time I borrowed Jon's powerful headlight that straps to your helmet.  It was a good thing to, it kept me upright at least once.  On the Chisholm Trail a section floods during storms and gets coated with a thick layer of mud - something I would have missed with out a strong headlight.  Luckily I caught sight of it just before and was able to maintain my track without a spill.  It would have been a mess for sure, 2 inches of Texas clay silt.

A short while after getting into Lucas I started looking for the sun to rise in front of me... but I realized dawn was coming up to my left, which made no sense since my route was due east.  A quick check of the GPS showed me  coming into Murphy, about 6 miles south of where I wanted to be.  The road in Lucas curved south, I should have made a left on to stay on Lucas Rd., a fact that isn't apparent unless you zoom in on the intersection.  I turned back around and made it to Lake Lavon just in time for the actual sunrise.

Sunrise, Lake Lavon at Lucas Rd.
The route to Farmersville took me on a section of 380, which is unfortunate for a couple of reasons.  First, highways tend to be hillier with long loping rises.  Second, traffic in general is less forgiving.  Thankfully, the shoulder was pretty clean and smooth, not a lot of debris and road trash.  Nails and glass are always the biggest concern.  

The first few miles of the Chaparral Trail are paved, which was very nice.  It does, however, come to an abrupt end, turning to crushed gravel.  The sites I read before hand described it as crushed stone, which I equated to the crushed limestone similar to the Lake Mineral Wells and Trinity trailways.  It's actually more jeep trail with some construction grade crushed stone and a mix of whatever the bulldozer churned up.  After about 3 miles of that I turned back on the outskirts of Merit.  The skinny tires on the cross bike give me a little better traction than a road bike, but no cushion, so it was a fun yet exhausting part of the trip.  I was a good thing I took the wrong turn in Lucas since I was cutting the trail portion short.  

The trail itself was pleasant.  Very good tree cover, lots of shade, some interesting architecture in a few old bridges.  Absolutely a mountain bike trail though.  Something to try again at a later date.

Coming back in the daylight brought much heavier traffic.  It also let me see the rolling hills I rode on the way out.  Funny that seeing them makes it much worse.  Cranking up them in the dark you can't see the very far ahead, in the daylight you can watch that hill stretch on forever into the horizon.  Defeats you before it's even started.

The end brought breakfast at Poor Richards.  Three eggs, 2 orders of hash, chicken fried chicken, and biscuits and gravy.  A good end to a good ride.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Century Aborted

The forecast pretty much sums it up.  Rode almost to the White Rock trail head before I turned back.  I thought I could out run some, rain was pretty light at first, but then lightning started flashing on all sides.  That, and hearing cars spinning their tires on the slick pavement, clinched it for me.  Rain really opened up the last 3 miles back and it is still pouring.  Maybe tomorrow - back to bed for now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Night Rider

I don't typically advocate riding at night, though I've found myself out in the wee hours of the morning quite often.  At 4 or 5 am Sunday morning, traffic is almost non-existent, and I am pretty confident my blinky lights are very visible from a distance.  Traffic, however, isn't the only concern in the lack of light.

This little obstacle looked quite different at 4:40am and nearly wrecked my ride only 10 minutes in.
Just 10 minutes in to my ride, at 4:40 am, I almost ate it when I tried to divert around what looked like a box on the trail.  The 4 inch black water pipe was invisible until I was right on it - I went off trail to the right (left in the photo since I was going the other way) and luckily didn't ditch.  Not 5 minutes after that a rabbit tried to attack my bike.  He was on the road side of the trail hanging out and heard me approaching.  His little ears went alert and his head twitched.  I thought he was going to tough it out, but right when I cut him off from the woods he lunged for safety directly into my front wheel.  Poor little guy bounced up into my pedal before somehow launching himself between my wheels and skittering to woods.

Another interesting sighting came near the tail end of Gateway Park in Fort Worth.  Something giant cut out a few feet in front of me and ran across the field on the west end of the park.  (Well, at least giant for 5:30 in the morning...)  Based on it's size and speed, I can only assume it was a bobcat since they are often sighted in the area.

Bobcat in the wild at River Legacy Park, not far from where I spotted one (photo from
Creatures and critters are out hunting and doing their thing and aren't prepared for you to come up that fast and they startle easily, usually when you are right on top of them, creating a problem for rider and critter alike.  This trip I counted 2 possum, 1 raccoon, 1 bobcat, 5 or 6 or more rabbits, and countless other things at I heard rushing into the brush unseen.

Another problem with trails at night is just general visibility.  Even familiar trails can present dangers like the hydrant hose above, but get on an unfamiliar trail and it is down right dangerous.  River Legacy, Quanah, and Gateway park all had winding trails through the woods with dense tree cover not even letting the starlight through.  My headlight is average and mounts to my bike, so it is difficult to anticipate a turn since your wheel isn't pointed that direction yet.  Coming into a corner you get a great shot of the trees straight ahead but nothing of the trail itself.  I found myself wagging my handle bars to get a glimpse of the the curves before it was too late.  Parts of Gateway Park trail were under construction and I nearly ran into a fence blocking it off.  I came around a corner pretty fast and as my light caught up to the trail the fence jumped right out at me.

The main river trail was very nice.  There is a paved trail that runs the full length on one side and a crushed limestone trail that parallels on both sides of the river.  That was nice since many of the runners chose the crushed limestone, it helped break up the traffic some.  I took an unpaved leg up to the Naval Air Station.  The crushed limestone rides nice, not bumpy or jittery.  It is messy, though, my water bottles were covered in a layer of grit.  I had to spit water from my Camelbak onto one to down some Cytomax with getting a mouthful of chalky mess.  It wouldn't have been pleasant if I hadn't had something to rinse them with first.  Regardless, I'd take the crushed limestone over Texas highway chip-seal any day!

Chipseal vs. crushed limestone

Natural falls near the Naval Air Station
I stopped for sunrise at 6:15 and had a nice juxtaposition of downtown FW to the west and river wilderness to the east.

Sunrise on the Trinity.

Downtown Fort Worth
What you can't see in the photo is the other side of the river is paved.  I missed the first dam bridge and ended up riding the crushed limestone side for several miles right from the start.  Not having been on the trail before, I just assumed parts of it would be unpaved so I went with it.  Just another hazard of riding at night.

The dam bridge that continues the paved trail - not so visible in the dark.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Open letter to Scott Friedman on his commercial about cycling in Texas

Link to commercial:

Dear Scott,

I recently saw your commercial on NBC Universal Sports on the joy of cycling in Texas.  As a fellow cyclist, I'm glad to see coverage of this activity in the media.  In my years of cycling in this great state I have had multiple encounters with drivers who are unaware of the law with regards to the use of bicycles on roadways.  These drivers create hostile and dangerous situations on the roads with everything from honking,  verbal assaults, objects thrown from the car, and even speeding up and swerving around close enough to me that I have feared for my life.  I have heard from many other cyclists who have had similar encounters.

Thankfully, for every ignorant driver there are hundreds more who are polite and courteous.  However, this is a matter that I feel needs attention at a high level by public outreach to a broad audience.  Is there any chance you could do a follow up to your commercial that promotes a message of "share the road" or even a news segment on the rights and regulations of cycling in Texas?  That sort of coverage would be very welcome from the cycling community.   


End of the Line Century

White Rock via Frisco is probably not the way most people would get there from Farmers Branch.

I left the house at about 4am to try and escape the heat.  There was a slight breeze most of the day, but not bad enough to be detrimental to speed or energy.  And that early on a Sunday traffic is almost non-existent.  It was my most pleasant century to date, without a doubt.  I've learned to pace myself much better using my heart rate monitor and not having the sun beat down on you makes a huge difference.  

I looped the lake twice and took it to the end of the Santa Fe Trail.  I don't know why, but I envisioned an urban hip little downtown area with a few shops.  Eateries.  Coffee shops.  Maybe a small park.  A historic site.  Heck, even a historic marker.  I mean, really, this four mile stretch of nice paved trail has to be taking people somewhere...

An ungraceful end to the Santa Fe Trail
Or I guess not.  Some graffitied signs, a field, a few industrial "businesses" housed in corrugated tin buildings with junkyard dogs, and a literal end to the concrete is all there is.  Not even a nice little round-about or a water fountain to look forward to.  At least it was a shady spot to eat my PB&H before heading back in.

Speaking of dogs, on the way back I ran across two that were hanging out on the trail.  Luckily, after our experience on Cow Creek, Jason picked pepper spray for everybody, and I had just attached it to my handle bars with a fat rubber band.  They didn't look like the friendly type, so I ripped the spray off my bars and readied it, a little concerned with the limited space to maneuver on the trail, and charged forward to their position.  Surprisingly, they were more startled and wary of me, both jumped back a little as I zipped past.  Crisis averted and pepper spray put away.

After my second loop of the lake, I headed back home and did a few miles with the kids to finish out the century.  The heat was really starting around that time and I very glad to be done with the ride rather than right in the middle of it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Open letter to Kenny Marchant, Kay Hutchinson, and John Cornyn: please support federal funding for bicycling

I just received an email from People for Bikes, an organization that advocates for cycling.  This is the opening paragraph of that email:
Today, Congressman John Mica of Florida, Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, outlined his plans for the new transportation bill and called for the elimination of dedicated funding for biking and walking programs, which he suggested, “do not serve a federal purpose.”
Please take a moment to write to your representatives and ask that they continue to support federal funding for bicycling infrastructure.  People for Bikes has made it easy for you - click on this link to get started.

My open letter to Kenny Marchant, Kay Hutchinson, and John Cornyn: please support federal funding for bicycling.

Please support continuing, dedicated funding for bicycling and walking programs in the next federal transportation bill. 
I personally ride my bicycle around my neighborhood, to the store, to work, and just for fun and exercise.  I have ridden all over North Texas as well as multiple other states in this great nation and it would be a great loss to me personally as well as the country to lose federal funding for bicycling as a mode of transportation.
Americans face problems of dependence on fossil fuels (both domestic and foreign), rising gas prices, rising rates of obesity, pollution that produces smog in our cities and ultimately contributes to greenhouse gasses and global warming.  An easy, simple, and clear solution is available for all of these issues:  replace driving a car with riding a bicycle as often as possible.
Bicycles are much smaller than most cars and that allows many more people to use the road simultaneously.
In my experience, cyclists are helpful and friendly, often stopping to help each other out with a flat tire.  How often do drivers do that?  Cycling keeps transportation human:  the other person is clearly visible and we see each other as a person riding a bike, not just another car on the road.  That difference is subtle but important. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Check your patch kits

I got a flat on a ride a few weeks ago.  No big deal as I carry a patch kit and pump.  However, when I pulled out the rubber cement vulcanizing fluid* from the patch kit it was like it had evaporated - there was nothing in the tube - even though I had never used it before.  It must have dried out or leaked over time.  Good thing I had a spare tube as well otherwise I would have had to make a pleading phone call.

Awhile later, I went to patch up the tube.  I pulled out another patch kit and it was the same situation - the  rubber cement vulcanizing fluid was dried out, as well as the patches themselves were not very pliable.

As far as I can tell, there's no "best used before" date on these kits.  You might want to write the purchase date on them and then toss them after some time (maybe a year? 6 months?  who knows).

* Note that "rubber cement" is not the same thing as "vulcanizing" fluid.  Vulcanization means that the two layers of rubber are actually chemically bonded.  Regular rubber cement (depending on the formula) may simply stick the two layers together without vulcanizing them.

It's a sickness

"Hey, we should ride to Mineral Wells and camp out!"
"That sounds like a terrible idea."
"I know, let's do it!"

I lugged this banana almost 100 miles through heat and hell.
It started off as a perfectly ripe, yummy looking banana.
Now it's all brown, beaten, abused, mushy, and destroyed by the heat.
It's a metaphor for this ride.

You know how some things seem like a good idea at the time?  This didn't even sound like a good idea when it was proposed.  And yet, somehow I found myself sitting under a tree, somewhere in the middle of nowhere god-forsaken small town Texas in the 102*F heat with Dan laying down on his back, sunglasses on, trying to get his heart rate and body temperature back within normal human limits.  I kept an eye on him to make sure he was still breathing. The other eye watched the sweat roll down my arms, the ants wandering in the grass, and the incomplete shade of the tree slowly crawling away and the death rays of the sun edging nearer my skin.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, en media res as it were.  The day actually started off well.  We left a little later than planned, but got on the road when it was still a balmy 85*F outside.

Dan all fresh and ready to ride, blissfully unaware of the torture this day will hold
The first 16 miles were great.  We were on familiar roads and trails and the miles just clicked by.  We even stopped in a historical park and got a quick history lesson before setting out again.

This will be a great MUT once it's finished.

End of the MUT, on to narrow sidewalks. We diverted to the road shortly after this.
We passed by the Tarantula Train, which is a vintage train that goes between downtown Grapevine and the Fort Worth Stockyards.  It's a great way to get from one place to another really slowly.  One day I want to race the train on my bike - it will be a close call.

The Tarantula Train.  Just like a bicycle, it doesn't have air conditioning either.  Ask me how I know.
A roundabout!  This was the last fun thing we did.
As we cruised down the road, riding side by side, a gray corvette gunned his engine and buzzed Dan so close that I was seriously concerned about a wreck.  Any closer and he would have taken Dan out with his mirror.  Normally, I blow off rude drivers and go on about my ride, but Dan and I simultaneously shot him a one finger salute.  I'm not saying it's the right thing to do, but it was my immediate reaction.  Then, the guy pulled in front of us and literally stopped in the lane.  This is not a good position to be in.  I doubt he'd scratch his fancy paint job, but any car can easily back over a cyclist and be gone in a flash.  The driver yelled that we were breaking the law and had to ride single file.  I've learned that you can't reason with stupid, so I started memorizing his license plate.  Dan was more optimistic about this jerk's mental capacity and tried to explain the law.  (I'm using "explain" loosely here).  I pulled out my phone and yelled that I'm calling the cops, at which point he drove off.  I reported the whole incident to the local police.  I know that nothing will come of it and that this guy will keep harassing cyclists until someone gets hurt, but I want to make sure there's a record of his misdeeds.  There really, really, really needs to be more cycling advocacy and education in the USA in general and in this area in particular.

That incident really took a chunk of time that would have been better spent riding.  By this point, the mercury had climbed from "stay inside and enjoy a nice glass of iced tea", past "hell's antechamber" and straight in to "immediate concern for health and well being because you physically can't consume enough liquid to stay hydrated".  Of course, we then got stuck at a train crossing waiting for the world's longest train to move at about 1 mph.  We blame this on that jerk in the corvette.  If not for him, we probably would have made this crossing.  It took so long we actually cut out of traffic and took shade next to a building.

This took awhile.
We eventually got through, and then it was on to chip seal, rolling hills, and more heat.  Thankfully the wind wasn't too bad.

It's even hotter than it looks!

We should have stopped for a swim to cool off.  Or possibly boil ourselves.
Not much to report for awhile other than fairly frequent stops to cool down as much as possible, check the map, suck down a bottle of water, and then keep on trekking.  We eventually reached a gas station and stopped to resupply.  We bought 2 gallons of water and a bag of ice.  The water all but disappeared in to our camelbaks and water bottles and what little remained was chugged and dumped on our heads.  We took the ice and dumped it down our jerseys and shorts and held it on our heads and necks.

He looks happy because he has ice in his shorts

Salty carbs!

Here's a word problem:  a cyclist takes off from a gas station headed west toward Mineral Wells at an average velocity of 15 mph.  He has ice in his jersey and stuffed in to the vents of his helmet.  The ambient temperature is "bake a potato on the sidewalk", the terrain is rolling, and the surface is chip seal.  How long does it take for all the ice to melt?

The answer is about 5 miles.

As soon as we hit something resembling civilization we took refuge under a tree.  There was serious consideration about calling in the SAG wagon.  25 miles remained between us and our campsite.  We both had some degree of heat exhaustion and Dan looked ready to call it quits.  We stayed in the relative cool of that tree for a good 20 minutes before summoning up the willpower (or stupidity) to press on.

He's alive.  I checked.
Somehow, somehow, we made it to the Mineral Wells Trailway.  It's a really fun rail-trail that's hard pack dirt with a light layer of pea gravel on top.  Our road bikes handled surprisingly well, though I had at least one scary moment when my front tire hit some deeper gravel.  I've done this trail several times as part of a loaded-touring overnight camping trip.  But, I had the good sense to do it in the fall.  The trees provided some shade but it was still ridiculously hot.  Surprisingly, we didn't see anyone else on the trail.

Mineral Wells Trailway

Salt stains like this are a good indication that you are sweating too much

90 miles in to a hell ride this seems like an excellent way to park a bike

We finally made it to camp.  Dad was already there, and after sitting for a few minutes we hit the park showers and went to dinner.  We devoured the majority of an enormous ribeye steak, a double helping of chicken fried steak, fries, a whole sample platter of appetizers, and salads.  I had previously sworn off fried food after a ride, but this hit the spot pretty well.

Made it!

Dad wondering at what point in our upbringing did we decide that things like this were worthwhile activities

We slept under the stars that night beneath a moonless sky.  This was part of the bad idea from the beginning - sleeping outside in the 80*F heat after riding all day!  I woke up frequently, sweating on my ground pad, gulping more sports drink to stay hydrated in the dark.  It wasn't comfortable, but it was a fitting end to the day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

2011 Tour de France

The 2011 Tour de France started on July 2.  You can watch it live on the net - check for websites that carry it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hell No You Crazy Bastard

I'm still planning the Mineral Wells trip, my 4th century in as many weeks, and trying to goad others in to it as well.  Jason's response was, "Hell no you crazy bastard, I still hurt everywhere from Saturday."  Jon is falling somewhere between "hell no you crazy bastard" and "maybe".  Success!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It Came Out the Wrong End

The alternate title to this post is "Yelling Into the Wind, Part 2", but the above title has better comedic value.

So it was back to Waxahachie this past weekend.  Of course the weather the entire week leading up to it was nice and calm, but Saturday the winds kicked up just for us.  Another day of stiff south winds blowing in our face.

Ride started with a deceptively easy leg to the northwest.  The wind was at our backs and gave us a nice boost. Off the start we hung with the lead group for about 3 or 4 miles, pushing 25mph.  I noticed Jon lagging a bit, his first real ride in about 4 weeks, and my legs were screaming as well (I had spent 3 hours the previous day in a half squat fixing a machine at work so my quads were killing me).  He and I started slowing and Jason was off trying to catch the leader.

Jon and I caught up to Jason at the 3rd rest stop after he gave up keeping with the lead group.  That was just in time to roll together in the longest south stretch into the wind.  There were 1,375' of climbing, and from my estimates on the climb charts, nearly 1,000' of that were in the first 50 miles.  It's really nothing compared to the real mountain climbs, but for a trio of flatlanders pushing hard into the wind, it was a lot.  Leading up to the 51 mile rest stop was a nice 275' climb.  The 3 of us struggled hard up that 5 mile stretch.

When we arrived at the 65 mile stop we learned about 70 100 milers were in front of us and about 30 behind us.  Leaving there gave us 7 miles of strong crosswind before we turned north again. Interesting, not long after we left Frost, Jason really started falling behind.  His strong start caught up to him in a hard way.  Heat stroke and dehydration were setting in.  Luckily for everyone we were on the easier part of the ride so our energy output was able to be way down.  We took it slow and rolled in.

At one point, probably around mile 75 or so, a couple aggressive farm dogs came after us.  Jon, in the lead, sprayed them with water from his bottle, to little effect.  Jason, pulling up the rear, got his pepper spray ready and hit one of them good.  That lead to the purchase of a bulk supply of pepper spray for literally everyone in the family.  Not long after that, Jon was suckered into a lemonade stand for the world's smallest cups of lemonade.  I'm not kidding.  We each got a dixie cup half full of lemonade.  But it was cute, the two girls, probably around 5 and 8, squealed with glee when Jon handed over $1 for the three cups and told them to keep the change.

Rolling into Waxahachie Jason was really dragging.  Despite downing several liters of water and gatorade, his dehydration and heat exhaustion wasn't any better.  When we get back to the high school where it all started, Jason bee-lines for the port-a-potty moaning about a number 2.  When he finally stumbles back out, Jon asks him how it was.   Jason's reply: "It came out the wrong end."  Those several liters of fluids he had been drinking weren't absorbing, they were just sloshing around in his stomach and eventually just came right back up.

Jason, front, pre-dehydration, and Jon behind
We ate some dinner at the Catfish Plantation.  The fried sweet potatoes were awesome.  Driving home I decided to take a little nap.  I probably should have let Jon drive before I did that.  We were chatting away about something and literally in a split second I was out.  Luckily nothing happened, I pulled off at the next exit and let Jon bring us in.

All told, I think it was a great ride.  There was one point at about mile 25 that had a terrific downhill.  The last 18 miles were very scenic as well.  There were some really nice shady winding roads leading up to the last rest stop.  Despite it being pretty tough with the wind, and taking a lot longer than we planned, it was good.  Up next, 100 miles to Mineral Wells and camping.

Cow Creek brutality ride

This past weekend we rode the Cow Creek Classic.  It starts and ends in Waxahachie, Texas, and makes a 101 mile loop that will bring a tear to your eye.... if you aren't so dehydrated that you can still cry.

One might take a look at the ride information and see that it's hosted by a Rotary club, that it will be going through back roads and small towns, and see the sky banner being pulled through the sky, and think to one's self, "my this will be a wonderful ride!".  But one would be ever so deceived and wrong!

101 miles of 20+ mph wind, 90*F and up temperatures, rolling hills, and chip seal.  It was brutal.

The ride kicked off at 7:30am.  It was about 83*F and already windy.  Jason took off with a paceline of faster riders and we didn't see him again for awhile.

We followed a freeway for a bit, but as soon as we turned off the wind was in our face and the pavement turned to chip seal.  We debated with other riders which is worse.  My conclusion is that the chipseal is worse because not only does it slow you down, it also rattles the bike and transmits the rough ride directly to your "undercarriage" (as one rider phrased it).

We caught up with Jason at this rest stop and kept on moving.  Check out his improvised drag parachute he made out of his bib number.

And here's a shot of Dan taken over my shoulder.

As we rode on, our average speed kept going down and our rest breaks became more frequent and lasted a little longer each time.  This is definitely not the way to travel.  Jason was showing signs of heat exhaustion so we kept the pace easy.  We really dogged it in to the end.  We were so long out that the staff was packing up the finish line refreshment stand by the time we got there.  No glory in this ride other than to be done with it.

Almost at the finish line.  We stopped for a photo at this historic bridge.

Peanut Butter

I seem to have pretty good luck with PB&H sandwiches.  In fact, I haven't really used any energy gels since I started using them.  I noticed with gels I was downing them like crazy and getting a quick boost that would die.  I think the bread provides a little longer lasting energy, holds the honey and lets it absorb just a little slower.  Plus the PB has some protein, around 5g per sandwich, which is essential for endurance activities and really important for recovery.
5 PB&Honeys for the Cow Creek Country Classic
Plus the bread provides a convenient carrier.  As Josh demonstrates below, carrying peanut butter in a bag is an easy way to transport it. Eating it from said bag is an interesting proposition.

Mmmmmm.... peanut butttterrrr

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yelling Into the Wind

I rode my bike to Italy!  Okay... it was Italy, Texas, but it was still a heck of a ride.

I had a great theory.  In Texas the prevailing wind is typically from the south, but it usually doesn't get bad until the sun is starting to come up.  Faced with a 60 plus mile ride to the south, I decided to trek out at 3:30 in the morning to beat the wind.  I woke up at 3am, bags packed, 4 PB and honey on white sandwiches ready to rock.  For breakfast I had my usual of grits and brown sugar and this time a PB&H to start the day.  I downed a gatorade from the fridge, loaded my water and Cytomax, and rolled into my drive way.  A blast of heat hit me, the temp held  90 overnight until midnight before dropping all the way to 80 when I started out.

I checked my lights and threw my leg over the seat, turning south out of my neighborhood.  Unfortunately my theory was bunk, I was greeted by a steady breeze from the moment I started rolling.  There was a sustained 17mph wind in my face the whole time, with heavy gusts 25-32mph.

There was only one section of my ride I wasn't looking forward to on the edge of a rougher south Dallas neighborhood.  I figured at 4:30am most troublemakers would be passed out and there was little to worry about.  In fact, sketchiest part of the ride was just before then as I came up to the Mockingbird bridge over the Trinity.  It's mostly warehouse district there, save one all night adult establishment that seemed to have a lot of patrons and stood right before the bridge.  Combine that with some narrowed lanes due to construction and a long straight bridge that invites speeding, and it's really the only place I was nervous.

The Oak Cliff part of Dallas brought on some challenging rolling hills and mostly deserted, but well lit streets.  Desoto was the biggest surprise, Cockrell Hill turned into a nice winding lane through some awesome mansions.  It was a very nice ride all the way into Ovilla, which looks like a small country town.  Not the big big deserted main street that a Texas highway cuts through and forgets, but a little country lane that winds through a few shops.  It was a great place to notice the sun rising.

It was also about the time I contemplated giving up.

This was a tough ride.  I was about 30 miles in, and the wind was just painful.  I knew at that point there was no way I would make the start of the ride in Italy.  I sent Jason a text and told him to meet me in Waxahachie at 7 so I could ride with him to the start line.

Unfortunately, he was stuck at an emergency at work, so I pushed on to Italy.  It turns out the second cool part of the ride was just ahead on the Waxahachie Creek Trail.  It's about 5 miles of paved trail, similar to the White Rock Trail.  It's a little more twisty and curvy, so not really a high speed bike trail, but good for a gentle ride.  I took the historic Rogers Street Bridge across to Hwy 77 for the final 15 mile jaunt into Italy.

This was perhaps the hardest part of the trip, big hills running parallel to I-35 with the relentless headwind pushing me back.  I could only laugh as I crested one giant hill and started down the backside - the wind was blowing so hard I could only get up to 15mph while pedaling downhill!  At one point, thinking I had to only be a mile or two from Italy, I almost lost it when I came up on a sign that said 6 miles to go.

Somehow I pushed on, showing up about 8:30.  It was right at 60 miles on my computer and it showed my average speed as 12.5mph.  5 hours to go 60 miles.  Ridiculous.  Demoralizing.  I was planning on an easy pace of 15mph and contemplating pushing a little harder so I could rest a little longer before the final ride.  No such luck.

When I met up with Jason my energy lifted a little, it's always nice to have a companion on a long ride.  I refueled with a PB&H and filled my water bottles, then we struck out an the 40 mile course 45 minutes after the official 8am start time.  The first 6 miles weren't bad, heading generally east with the wind at our right side.  I had hopes that maybe the worst of it was over, that is until we turned south again on FM55.  That turn met us with another 20 miles of 20mph winds in our face.  Pushing your hardest to eke out 6mph up a hill really makes your efforts feel futile.  There were several times I almost lost it since the wind was coming at a bit of an angle trying its hardest to blow us over.  I needed a few stops on that side of the loop, I was going on 7 hours in and it was really catching up to me.

At 75 miles in (15 for Jason) we stopped at the top of a hill, I know I was really looking beat.  Jason turned to me and asked if I wanted to SAG it in.  As appealing as a long rest and and a ride back sounded, I just thought, "No way!  I'm 75 miles in, 75% done, quitting now would be ridiculous!"

It was a good thing to.  We hit the rest stop at mile 21 and then once we turned north again, at mile 24 on the course (84 for me!), we really started to cruise.  We easily held  20mph for most of that section.  It was really funny to me that Jason and I were by far the last people to start the course (well, us and one other guy from Fort Worth - though his accent was more Gomer Pyle), yet we consistently plowed past folks, even into the wind.  I was shocked to find people at the first rest stop and even more at the second.  We started 45 minutes late!  Once we turned north we just hauled, it was a great feeling.  We pushed right through the last rest stop at 31 miles (92 for me!), it was still swamped with people. I'm sure a lot of people were on the 50 and 63 mile loops so we were probably catching them, but the fact that I was on 90+ and passing them was amazing, especially after the ride I had.  I cooled off the last few miles and kept it around 15-18mph, a nice easy pace to roll in on.

Back at the finish line we had an icy cone and found the showers.  I didn't enjoy the irony of the beer we had in the parking lot until I noticed today that one of the main benefactors of the event was MADD.  Jason drove back and we stopped at The Mecca for a few plates of fried food.  Something about chicken fried steak, eggs and hash browns sounded terrific.  Somewhat surreal, zoning in and out a little from exhaustion and still feeling the thrum of the wind, it still hit the spot.  

After 85 miles of a 20mph headwind I came home and crashed on the couch while the kids watched reruns of The Muppet Show on DVD.  I'd stir occasionally when Animal would scream onto set.  

On the ride I was thinking it was probably my least favorite century so far.  It was certainly the most challenging mentally, and the first where I seriously considered throwing in the towel., and there were several reasonable places to do so where everyone would have said, "Yeah, I don't blame you."  I knew I could have pushed just a little harder and shortened my time, but it would have killed me in the end.  The hard part was knowing the wind was destroying my speed.  I resigned myself early in the ride to just living with it and not being pissed off.  In the end, there was nothing I could do about it.  I had two choices: give up and go home, or figure out how to deal with it.  While it was crazy hard, and consistently grueling, yelling into the wind does no good and it's pretty cool to say that I rode to Italy.

I just found this post that sums up my experience.  The guy destroys his bike in a fall on the Tour de France and tears himself up in the process, stitches and broken ribs, etc.  The SAG wagon pulls up and asks "Do you want to just get in?"  He says, "Oh no, I don't need YOU!" and then relates "But there I am with blood spurting out of my left elbow and no bike."  He eventually catches up to his team by riding a junior bike (awesome photo of him riding a tiny yellow bike in the post) and gets his own spare bike.  The best part is he relates it all to a story about Conan the Barbarian, surrounded in a village by an army of thousands and his reaction is "Oh man, it's going to take days to kill all these people!"

It's not a matter of "if" I can do it, it's a matter of "how".  This started as a journey that would be "hard as hell with an uncertain outcome".  A year ago I would not have thought I would be 700 miles into this adventure, and now I'm contemplating whether I should ride or drive to Waxahachie next weekend for the Cow Creek Country Classic.  That will be 3 centuries in a row with a 4th planned the week after.  Hoping I'll be recovered enough to push through!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Collin Classic

One more bib on the wall!  I did this as another split ride, partly on an official ride route and partly my own route to make up the balance of a century.  

I started out a little later from my house than I wanted, leaving about 5:10am.  I was a bit nervous because I was trying out some new roads I had never been on for the route to McKinney North HS.  The Preston Ridge Trail turned out to be pretty nice, my only complaint would be the number of small roads to cross.  I was able to keep a pretty good pace, though, and it was a pretty smooth ride.  Probably overall better than street riding with traffic lights, potholes and rough pavement.

A big surprise was Coit turning into a county road between Eldorado and 380.  The first part was dirt, which was relatively smooth riding, but also full of ruts and dips and loose areas.  The second half was graded gravel, which was nice and flat, but a very rough ride.  I'd take the dirt road over that any day.

I made it to 380 and turned east, pretty pleased with my overall time, when about 2 miles in I caught a roofing nail in my rear tire.  It tore it up pretty bad, punching the tube about 5 times all in the same area.  I figured I would try a patch first and switch the tube at the start line if it didn't work.  I snapped the tire off and smeared the tube with some glue.  While it was drying I contemplated which was worse: the dog across the field that looked like it really wanted to, and could, jump its fence to check me out or the jerks that thought it was fun to speed up while zipping past me.

Patch and dog in place, I made it to the start gate in plenty of time and without further incidents.  The 32 mile route of the Collin Classic was a nice scenic tour east of 75.  My only complaint was the start being all at once.  It was a mass of people and the first 3 miles I don't think we got above 10 mph.  Once we broke from the crowd it was a terrific ride with some decent hills.  Josh and I stopped at the second rest stop at a church.  I was a little irritated when a guy tried to tract me, it was just inappropriate.  I'm hot, soaked with sweat, and some guy is handing me religious lit instead of ice water.  Whatever, the rest of the volunteers were great.

We took our time on the hills going back in, I've been working hard to keep my HR under 170 and Josh has a bum knee.  Caught up with Jason and had a beer back at the finish line before continuing my solo trek south.  I took a bit of a different route home, which was good and bad.  It was a lot hillier!  Hardin had some major hills going through giant house country club land, and going west on Stacy/Main was no better, lots of rolling hills.  

I took a break at my friend John Richardson's house, near CCCC, and caught up with them for a while.  It was a needed break after battling the south wind and hills for 90 minutes, and good to catch up with friends at the same time.  The remainder of the trip was uneventful and slow.  The south wind was brutal as usual, really wear you down.  I developed a terrible cramp in my left foot when I was on Arapaho at 98 miles in.  I ended somewhere around 107 total miles, my longest ride to date.  

Total I consumed about 10 to 12 liters of water and energy drinks.  The heat really saps it from you.  I have a food formula that really seems to work.  I start with Malt-o-meal or grits, 1.5 servings, with a healthy dose of brown sugar and two slices of white toast.  On the ride I take 3 PB and honey on white sandwiches and a few things of homemade energy gel.  I go through a couple liters of Cytomax/Gatorade in addition to straight water.  That combined with keeping my HR lower seems to have really improved my recovery time.  

Oh, and that flat tire - well it held all the way home.  Went to move my bike the next day and it was dead flat.  Maybe it was just sad it wasn't rolling anymore.