Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Six and a Halfth Annual Trash Boat Regatta was promoted more effectively than the previous five and a half regattas combined.
I really didn't contribute to building the HMS Safety Third beyond printing the cards, proper business cards with thermographically raised ink, that read 'SAFETY THIRD.'
To my eye, the boat was basically already built, the boat being the HMS Detour downsized to the HMS Street Closed, repurposed to be the HMS Safety Third. It's a big sucker as trashboats go, made from the lid to a hot tub and some other large chunks of foam found in the East Bottoms.
A purist's trashboat carries one person and the bike they tow the boat with.
Even trimmed down, the HMS Safety Third seats seven plus two bikes and a trailer with room to regret inviting an eighth friend. It's a cruise ship of a trashboat, really.
I took Mo and three other guest riders by car to Kaw Point for the launch and when I got there, well, wow. I had trouble finding a parking spot—this for an event that has sometimes included total participation that could fit on the HMS Safety Third.
There was fire department stuff there, too, they were launching two jet boats full of helmeted firefighters ready to save us foolish trashboaters.
I spotted Michelle, the genius behind the Trashboat Regatta, and her son Thorvall Stonecrusher III, and said, 'Wow, this is a...'
'This is a proper five ring circus,' she finished. I asked about the firefighters because, really, we've done this a few times before. Five and a half times, the half being when the river was at flood stage and Joel and Michelle let us take turns rowing their trashboats on Big Eleven Lake rather than risk our lives on the Missouri River. Or maybe the half was the time they had a second regatta in September and everyone froze their asses off and some of us (on the HMS Street Closed) learned to stay away from the discharge at the water treatment plant just past Kaw Point. Anyway, there was a half.
In fairness, she'd made the Kansas City Scar, the Pitch, Ink, KCUR, and a couple of TV news stations prior to the event. She'd pimped it at the Maker's Fair, someone had contributed a banner and some slickly produced cards promoting the event, and then there was the whole social media thing.
Once someone has seen a trashboat regatta, they naturally want to participate. That's how me and Corinna got into it, we went out on Joel and Michelle's boats on Big Eleven Lake and were both like, 'can't not do this!'
So anyway, we've been down the river a few times and it's not far and it's not fast and there's not a bunch of steamboats about to run your Tom Sawyer ass over, so I didn't see the need for the fire department. But Michelle said she was glad they were providing escort instead of just trying to stop the event in the interest of public safety which, I gathered, might have been the other way they could have played it. Which again, sounded ridunculous to me since we've done this before with nothing more than a beer-laden kayak for escort.
The river was, I have to admit, high this year if not quite at flood stage. We lashed the bikes on and hopped aboard and joined the largest flotilla of garbage the city has yet launched. It was glorious.
Then we came to the first bridge pier, one that doesn't even support a bridge. I think it's from the Hannibal Bridge, built back in the 19th Century, but in any case by the time I knew we were going to hit it there wasn't anything to do but brace ourselves. It flung Corinna and Bryan off the boat when we hit, and the river did an amazing job of pinning the boat to the logs that were also trapped against the pier and made an honest attempt at prying the bikes loose from the side.
And there were the firefighters in their jet boat. Gawd was I glad to see those dudes. We'd have gotten off that pier eventually, but it would have been hard and we could have easily lost $3,000 to $4,000 worth of bikes and bike trailers (this was a Trek touring bike with a custom wheelset rocking Phil hubs, a B.O.B. trailer and a carbon fiber cross bike).
The firefighters got us all on the jet boat, then towed our raft off the log jam and we bot back on. I was embarrassed until we got to the next bridge and there were three boats stuck on its supports. I guess the river being up, it was extra important to steer towards the channel between the supports to avoid getting sucked into them.
So the regatta was a huge, smashing success largely thanks to all those firefighters who showed up to provide us with an escort I thought was absurdly unnecessary. I owe those dudes some beers, some cookies, some heirloom tomatoes, gonna have to make a care package up and deliver it. They kept a fun event fun when it could have been stressful and traumatic (and even dangerous, and it's not lost on me that I took my autistic teenage daughter on this boat) because some of us might have underestimated the power of the river just a bit.
And I bet next year we take junkier bikes along...
I think I'm going to have to build my own boat next year, though. Out of two-liter bottles, the kind soda comes in since I'm such a junkie for that stuff.
Something tells me the Trashboat Regatta is only going to get bigger. Not only was there all that pre-publicity but at least two TV news programs aired reports on it, one of them quoting Corinna heavily. Like I say, you can't see the Trashboat Regatta and not want to do the Trashboat Regatta, and more people than ever saw this one.
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
I rode my bike to work, and it was behaving a little oddly. I'd just replaced the chain, crank and cassette, then done that Century on the trail between Ottawa and Iola. I noticed on the trail in some of the gears it'd let me crank a few turns and then spring loose, like it wanted to change gears. I figured this was an adjustment issue and I'd take the bike back by Velo+ where I'd had all that done. I figured you replace the whole drivetrain of the bike, not to weird for something to be a little tweaky.
But on the way to work Monday morning, it was acting really weird. Like the sproing thing happened a lot, but also when I'd shift the biggest gear on the cassette, a rasping sound would happen like the bike was gasping for breath. Only in that gear, but I've never, ever heard a bike do that before.
So I messaged the shop and was told, bring it on in. Which I did by riding my bike out there after work. Way out of my way, a lot of the reason I've done the bulk of my bike business with Midwest Cyclery the past few years, they're on the way home from work. They're not the only shop that fits that description, but I've had such an overwhelmingly positive experience doing business there, I really don't think much about the other shops I could hit without going far out of the way.
But Velo+ has a lot going for it. It'd be my obvious choice if it were in Midtown or Waldo, and they're good enough to be worth the trip out to Lenexa sometimes. I used to ride out to Heartland on Tuesday nights for a bible study, and that's further out of the way (along the same routes), so I busted my butt to get to the shop by closing. It's only ten miles, really that shouldn't take an hour even for me, but it's ten miles through the heart of darkness that is Johnson County, Kansas. The bicycle infrastructure in JoCo is awesome where it exists, but where it doesn't, wow.
Since so few cyclists use bikes for transportation in this area, riders tend to stick to side streets and let the available roads and paths dictate their route. That doesn't work if you have a destination to make. I went down to 91st to get across 169 Highway, the 87th Street exchange that crosses both it and I-35 was designed, as far as I can tell, to be used for figure eight auto racing. One of the few places in town I'll actually take to the sidewalk and play pedestrian, and even then it's a nervy crossing.
91st ends at Quivira putting you at the bottom of a hump bridge with 40 mile per hour traffic for four lanes with concrete walls holding things nice and tight, so it's not much better. I gauged the traffic and decided that at other times of day I wouldn't have a problem riding in the lane here, but not at 5:45 on a Monday night. I took the sidewalk. Which led to an incredibly awkward descent through a maze designed, I think, to specifically punish anyone on a bike. Pedestrians, wheelchairs, motorized scooters will do fine on this, but I was tempted to throw my bike over the railing and then walk down and pick it up.
Oh, the mechanical issues, by the way, not as much on the ay to the shop. I found a twig sticking through my derailleur, probably picked up on the trail the other day, and when I removed it that grinding, rasping noise went away like a daily newspaper. The sproingy thing still happened, but not as much.
So I finally make it into the bike shop which I think should have technically closed its doors in my face, and what do you know but David can't get the bike to duplicate the issue. He even takes it for a test ride in the parking lot to try. Nothing. He asks me if it's when I'm shifting up or down into the gears it happens in and I honestly don't know, so he assigns me the homework of figuring that out. Unlikely, but possible, it's the spring in the derailleur gone bad. More likely, it's cables/housing gone sticky, which would be fine with me since I'd love to get another spacer under my handlebars and cable length has been the sole limitation the past couple of years.
David also noticed my brakes were soft. At least he thought they were soft, I just thought they were brakes. They stop me when I squeeze them, even in pretty crazy situations, and I weigh 275 lbs, my bike ways 42 without bags, and last I checked my standard issue bags weigh another 27. If you're into counting grams, dude, thats 156,000 grams. You wanna sell me some high performance part that will shave 400 grams off that 156,000 gram curb weight? Blow it out ass and then decontaminate the scale you use for selling drugs because that's the only venue where grams count for what you think they do.
David said I had long pull cables and short pull brakes, or maybe it was the other way around, but he suggested V brakes for me. I'd thought of upgrading to Paul touring/tandem cantilevers, there's brand awesomeness there and all that, but he was like, '$20 a wheel, cheap V's beat any canti's no matter the brand on them. It's a matter of mechanical advantage.'
I'm a skeptic, born that way, and David could tell I guess, so he grabbed a bike off the floor, said, 'Tell you what, this is about your size, go try it out. Have fun throwing yourself over the handlebars.'
He said it so glibly, I don't think he really thought it was possible. I know I didn't, or else I wouldn't have skidded the tires on my first pass, then doubled down on speed and grabbed a big handful of brakes. I thought if the back wheel came up I could let go, but by the time I realized the back wheel was coming up, I was fucking airborne. I thought, my collar bone! my helmet! David asked me if I was ready to get up and I wasn't even ready to take a full breath. Ouch.
He said, 'Don't worry about the bike,' and I was like, No worries, last thing on my mind was your bike.
A broken collarbone would be the hardest injury I'd likely come back from. My wife's brain injury inspired me to buy a super expensive MIPS-equipped helmet and after thinking of my body, the next thought was that I'd trashed my expensive lid.
My shoulder broke my fall, though. I can't find any sign of trauma on the helmet, but my shoulder is fucking useless. I have a big knot on my right thigh where I think I caught the handlebars, too. David offered me a ride home and I took a test ride in the parking lot to see and I think I might have been able to make it. But no guarantee, and if I got a mile away from the shop and wanted bailed out, I'd be phoning people and waiting. This was an offered ride, so I took it and I think that was smart.
Ice, drugs from the wife's last dental appointment, and personal grit allowed me to go to work today. I almost went for an x-Ray to make sure but it was too busy at work and based on what it feels like to breathe deeply, my best guess is if I broke anything it was ribs, and I don't know they can do much but tell me not to breathe so hard the next couple of weeks if that's the case.
Saturday, July 05, 2014
I returned to the Prairie Spirit Trail with my new chain, cassette and crank to redeem Sunday's Ride.
The trail was much drier and faster than on Sunday. Garnett had received almost two inches of rain the night before my first run at this, and while I've figured out that there are faster and slower sections of the trail (I think mainly based on where the traffic is, the loose parts I suspect get less bicycle traffic to compact them), it wasn't exactly fast.
The thing about a rail-to-trail ride, you're never coasting downhill so you're always working, but you're never cranking like you have to to get up a hill. You have to bring your own intensity if it's going to happen because the grade won't inspire it.
I was supposed to pick up Mo between five and six, so really I should have turned tail after my lunch at the Colony Diner. But I ran the numbers and I was going to get back to the car too early. I rode down to Carlyle and a bit beyond and something happened. I needed to take a dump. I know, TMI, but Carlyle was a horrible vault toilet I wasn't sure I wanted to spend much time on and I was really getting to feel the need. Iola, according to the map, had a 'modern toilet' at the trailhead. That turned out not to be quite true, but there is a Taco Bell right by the trailhead that does have a modern toilet.
To try and get back to my car on time, well, I hauled ass. I knew I was cutting it close, but not by how much. I thought I'd be back at my car at 4:00, it was actually 6:30. Yikes.
I stopped for water at Colony and a couple of old timers were hanging out on the porch offering me directions to the state mental hospital at Osawatamie if I was out on a bike, but the owner of the diner wasn't having it. She gets 40 to 70 of us every weekend in warm weather and for a town of 400 or so souls, that's like a Shriner convention coming every weekend through the summer. I told the geezers that rides like this were what keep me sane, but really, even if it wasn't, the business trail riders bring to the town probably make the difference about whether there's a diner for old timers to sit in front of at all.
Anyway, a good ride, just shy of 104 miles. I was late getting Mo for the fireworks but we still got downtown in plenty of time for the chaos. The city display is awesome, but all around the city was alive with people setting off their own fireworks. I think more so than in recent years, which while annoying after midnight, might be a sign the economy has come back.
Monday, June 30, 2014
I wanted to do a training ride since I signed up for a gravel grinder. I had originally thought to sign up for next year's Dirty Kanza, but in the meantime I got in on the Pony Express Gravel Dash in Marysville this September. Only 120 miles.
Only. My personal record, mileage in one day, is 109.87 miles. That was on paved roads and I only averaged 9.6 miles per hour. It was in town, too, so I wasn't touring fully loaded or anything like that. I had bad cramps and almost couldn't finish, plus that was a year before I got split open for double bypass surgery. My personal mileage record since that was in the fifties. So signing up for a 120 mile 'dash' on any surface is a bit of a stretch for me.
And it's on gravel. Gravel roads, which I have historically dismissed as being made out of the shit they're supposed to sweep off a proper road. I can't say I've ever been a fan of grinding out miles on gravel, but I guess I want a challenge.
Which brings us to today. I got up at 3:30 in the morning in hopes of being at the trailhead by sunrise. The Prairie Spirit Trail goes from Ottawa to Iola, Kansas. It's a rails-to-trails deal, so no big hills and it's a fine, crushed stone so I figured it'd actually be a little bit easier miles than the Pony Express promises to be, but the round trip would be right around a Century so I figured at least I'd know if I had 100 miles in my legs these days and get some practice riding on a non-asphalt surface.
For a traveling companion, I had a Barbie doll my daughter had decorated that I wanted to photograph. Em appointed her with tattoos and piercings and her shirt reads 'FUCK THIS SOCIETY.' I thought of her as Barbie Suicide, thinking she looked like the models on the Suicide Girls site who all seem to have the surname 'Suicide' but I'm told that's not enough of a household name for people to get it, so it just seems like I'm being a dick about actual suicide victims and survivors. So I guess she's Tattoo Barbie, or Rebel Barbie or Biker Bar Barbie or something like that. I strapped her to the top of my pannier for the ride, which I think in hindsight might have caused more strange looks than I normally get with just my pink helmet mohawk.
When I got to the trailhead, there were some dejected guys loading mountain bikes and camping gear into a car with Nebraska plates. They told me the trail wasn't in good shape, maybe hadn't been maintained. A mile in, they said, huge cobblestones they had trouble riding on at any speed. Trees over the trail, cobwebs, etc. They got off the trail and took gravel roads, and every time they tried to remount the trail it was the same. They camped in a train storm at a Methodist campground and got up in the middle of the night and rode back to their car.
Sounds challenging. But my friend Phil had been singing the praises of the Prairie Spirit trail and he's not a masochist, so I figured I'd give it a go. About a mile into the trail, I crossed a bridge with no railings on it (it's wide enough but felt creepy), and on the other side of that I went off a pretty big drop off into some gravel so huge and loose I could barely ride forward. My wheels sunk a couple inches into it and my tires spun out. I walked the bike a bit and tried again. By the fourth or fifth try, I was like This is getting old.
As far as I could tell, it was the same story for miles to come, and I could see why these guys weren't thrilled with the trail. You could probably ride on this shit with a Pugsley or a Krampus, but they'd struggled with mountain bikes and it wasn't happening at all with my Long Haul Trucker. I probably weigh half again what either of these guys do plus my 700x35 tires are skinnier and more prone to sink in.
I headed back the way I came, rode the levee a bit, then decided to explore Ottawa preparatory to gravel grinding some gravel roads around the area since I'd come this far. I stumbled on the actual Prairie Spirit Trail, which is not connected to the Prairie Spirit Trailhead, but is on the other side of downtown Ottawa. I think the trail the Nebraska boys were frustrated with is the Flint Hills Trail, and I suspect it's under construction: it would explain the lack of railings on that bridge and the drop off into the huge, loose rocks. That's probably the foundation for a layer of crushed stone.
Sorry those guys had such a rough go of it, I guess their perseverance didn't pay good dividends, if they'd given up a little easier they might have found the trail they sought.
So I was off, and it was a fine day for it even if it was almost two hours after I meant to be pointed toward Iola. I have a bad track record of heading out on epics late in the day: my first Century I didn't even get on the bike until something like 10:30 in the morning. I did Critical Mass the night before my first interstate tour, overslept and rode 108 miles with a mild hangover that didn't finish until ten at night. Really, the fact that I got up at 3:30 a.m., had the bike under me around 6:45, and had backtracked from the first trail, ridden a bit of levee and gotten on the trail to Iola around 8:00, that's remarkably early for me. Pretty sure it's the earliest start I've made without an organized event or being on time for work to prompt me.
Hydration is so important on these things, and I had two quarts of G2 Gatorade and two water bottles filled with homemade gatoradeish stuff (I used the salts from an isotonic saline nasal rinse with vitamin C chewables and a bit of evaporated cane juice) when I left. I picked up two more Gatorades at Princeton, had a big glass of water with my Chinese buffet lunch in Garnett (where I hit the watermelon and pineapple heavily), then grabbed two more Gatorades and a liter of Diet Coke on my way back through Princeton. I hoped I wouldn't cramp that night. It would be nice to not cramp after an 80 mile ride.
The Chinese joint in Garnett didn't have a bike rack, but you can always count on the gas company. They install more bike racks than any advocacy group or department of transportation ever thought about.
I did worry about Barbie's t-shirt causing an uproar with the locals, so I stuffed her in my pannier when I went in to eat. I didn't think of this at the gas stations, so if someone walked by my bike with a kid of the right age, well, sorry.
Did I say I rode only 80 miles? Yeah, I was going for a Century, but the further south I got the slower it got. There were stiff headwinds, but I figured those would even out on the return. The problem was I was riding through an area that had almost two inches of rain the night before. I kept thinking I was getting a flat, only to realize it was more loose, muddy stuff. About two hours after I thought I'd have hit Iola, I was only a bit past Welda, going downhill and working to make five miles per hour. I thought I probably had the stamina to make Iola and back, but I figured I'd get to the car around midnight and have to work the next day.
Turning around, the tailwind didn't help as much as the headwind seemed to hinder, but that's always the way it goes. I ground out the miles, getting a bit hypnotized by the trail I guess. It's pretty monotonous. Pretty, to be sure, and I saw lots of cool wildlife as it scurried out of my way. I saw a badger, some sort of rat-like thing, a red squirrel, a great blue heron, two turtles, several snakes, and shit-eating butterflies galore. No kidding, I'm guessing from the size it was deer scat, but there was a swarm of butterflies fluttering away from every turd I passed.
About five miles from my car, I was crossing a road and when I looked to my left I thought I saw cyclists coming. I did a double-take, and no, it was a couple of dogs in the road, when BAM!
There's not much in the way of hazards to navigation on the trail. It's pretty wide open. The trees form a canopy over much of it, and the tunnel is, like I say, a bit hypnotic. I managed to get distracted at the perfect moment to collide with the concrete filled post that's used to keep cars off the trail. My leg started swelling immediately but seemed to functional to be broken. My bike frame, I figured I'd fucked up another one of those, but I couldn't find any wrinkle in the tubes or fork, so I figured I'd managed to get off with just a contusion on my shin and an embarrassing moment. Tattooed Barbie thought it was hilarious.
Then I put a foot to the pedal to take off down the trail and the crank arm snapped clean off. I guess given the injury to my leg, probably the crank arm took the impact. Ever try to ride a bicycle with one pedal? It's pretty ugly even if you don't have a child's doll taunting you. I'm mostly grateful that I was five miles away from my car instead of 40. And that a crank is way, way cheaper than a frame. I learned that one the hard way.