Thursday, September 18, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
I haven't ridden Bike MS since 2010. The Kansas City ride changed routes and weekends. The route wasn't an issue, but the weekend was, it's a weekend that is eaten up by a freelance project, a regular one that pays its bill quickly that I've been doing for almost 20 years.
Clients like that don't grow on trees.
But my original plan to ride the Pony Express Gravel Dash wasn't working for me. At all. I wasn't able, on any of my training rides, to make the minimum speed to avoid getting swept by the first checkpoint. Plus, I wasn't digging riding on gravel and getting chased by farm dogs every mile or so.
Casting about for another ride the weekend I'd cleared for an epic ride, I found a century out of Newton, Kansas, Bike MS Wichita and Bike MS Ozarks.
No offense to Wichita, but that sounded flat and boring. Newton sounded moderately better, but I'm not sure the glaciers that made north Kansas' hills made it that far. The Ozarks, on the other hand, would be beautiful with fall colors just starting and lots of hills. Plus, the Ozarks ride offered a to and from, Clever to Joplin, where the Wichita offered a loop that doubled back to the start each day. The idea of ended up at the same place at the end of both days lacked romance to me, plus the Ozarks offered a century loop both days.
I've never done back-to-back centuries, and I was looking for a new challenge.
The Ozarks offer challenging hills, it turns out. I'm not sure any of the climbs were as long as a mile, but there was 3,000 feet or so of elevation to deal with.
Trashboat Regatta this year. It'd suck to lose $80 to a river, but it'd suck a lot more to lose $1400 or so.
I was originally going to camp both Friday and Saturday nights. But while I enjoy camping, I don't sleep nearly as well in a tent as I do in a bed. And I sleep with a CPAP (sleep apnea), so I need a 110 outlet wherever I pitch my tent. Clever, Missouri is a town of a bit over 2,000 people, and I worried that I wouldn't find a suitable camp site there or near there. I found a $57 motel room in south Springfield about 9 miles from Clever and took that.
A wise choice as I woke to rain. It would have sucked packing up wet camping gear and putting it on a truck to haul to Joplin and set up wet camping gear. Though it turned out in Joplin the camping area was on a soccer field with no outlets but we could sleep in the gymnasium where there were outlets. In other words, I needn't have packed a tent at all.
I rode hard. On Saturday I averaged 12.6 miles per hour—I normally average about 10. The rest stops were frequent, and I was focused on hydration to prevent the cramps I so often get on or after long rides so I stopped at each one and topped up my Camelbak, ate a bit, etc. After rest stop #7, I inquired about the century loop turn off and found out it had closed a half hour earlier. This surprised and upset me as it not only derailed my double-century plans, but last time I rode BikeMS I made the cut-off easily. But that route closed at 7:00 p.m. giving me a full twelve hours to cover the distance. To make life easier for the SAG staff, they'd shortened it to a 5:00 p.m. close, and necessarily moved the cutoff for the century back.
On Sunday I rode harder, spent less time at the rest stops and still didn't make the cutoff for the century. We had wicked headwinds on Sunday, which in addition to challenging hills dropped my average to 10.5 mph. I was a half hour late again.
The ride went through a lot of Amish country. Besides the usual wagons, I passed a passel of boys in their Sunday best on day 2, obviously on their way to church but stopping to stare at the passing cyclists like they'd never seen such a spectacle.
I also saw a miniature pony being used as a draught animal towing a little buggy with two kids in it.
And I met so many cool people. The social aspect of a ride like this is a lot of the selling point. You can ride along having a conversation and ten or twenty miles just fly by.
And I caught a cool image of a but riding on Vanessa's cycling computer. Vanessa was riding with her Dad kind of like the friend who recruited me for my first Bike MS back in 2009. She and her Dad slept next to me in the gym and we had a nice talk Saturday night. They're both really sweet people, I should have gotten last names so I could friend them on Facebook and whatnot.
There was a patch of gravel on the first day, wet gravel owing to the rain. Maybe a quarter mile to a half mile, and nothing about crossing it made me think I'd made the wrong decision about riding the Pony Express ride. It rained all night before it, I'd learned that from Facebook. I wouldn't have stood a chance on dry gravel, wet gravel is even slower.
I ended up with 93 miles for the first day (I poached a bit by riding upstream on the century loop from where it rejoined the regular route). I chickened out after a half hour for fear of meeting a SAG motorcycle or pickup while riding the wrong way. These are volunteers and I didn't want to piss them off. When I got to Joplin I realized I'd forgotten to pack some Vagisil (very handy for saddle soreness since it's 20% benzocaine—I keep thinking I should get them to make a private label version for cyclists. I picture an ad campaign with the slogan 'Not just for pussies'). I rode to a Walgreens and bought some, but then I worried I'd miss dinner if I went on to finish my century exploring Joplin. Rather than have to buy dinner in town, I went back to the school we were overnighting at. I figured keep my powder dry for a century on day two, though obviously that didn't work out. I only had 71 miles on Sunday.
And I won a deep freeze, some wine, and some dog-sitting in a raffle Saturday night. They must not have sold many tickets because I wasn't the only multiple winner. I gave the dog-sitting back because I don't live anywhere near the business that offered it. But I'm going to go down next weekend and get the deep freeze and wine (I didn't have a way to haul the freezer and the wine couldn't be brought on school property because of some stupid law). We'd been talking about getting a new deep freeze to replace the 50 year old one we have to bungee shut and which still leaks a lot, frosts up like crazy and probably runs up our electric bill something fierce.
All in all, though, I had a great time even if I didn't get my double century in. I was plenty sore the next few days from pushing the pace as much as I did, so the epic ride itch was scratched anyway. I'll probably do the Ozarks ride again next year.
I got lots of compliments on my helmet mohawk and bestickered bike. At lunch on Sunday someone commented about how it was the least diverse Bike MS they'd seen. I said I was doing my best. But no penny-farthings, no BMX bikes, no unicycles, and I was about the only touring bike in the field with my Long Haul Trucker. I saw one other plausible touring bike, though it had no racks. It did have a Brooks saddle, though. There was one recumbent.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I love an epic ride, and I wanted a challenge. I'd originally thought of signing up for next year's Dirty Kanza, a 200 mile gravel race that goes through the Flint Hills.
I'm on record as saying gravel roads are made of the shit you're supposed to sweep off a proper road, but like I say I wanted a challenge. And I wondered if part of my aversion to gravel was just a lack of experience on it. People seem to get seriously hooked on it, really enjoy getting out on these gravel roads.
So the Pony Express Gravel Dash presented itself to me at the perfect time: when I was thinking of Dirty Kanza, but this one had several advantages. It was in September, so no need to wait a whole year (but still some lead time for training); it was free of charge (to the first 100 riders to get a postcard in), and Velo+ was even supporting a team and offered me a spot, so I'd have support. And at 120 miles, it's easier for me to get my mind around—I've done nearly that distance before, although it was on pavement.
It's coming up here in two weeks, and while I've worked on riding distances and with greater intensity, I haven't spent nearly as much time on gravel roads as I felt like I should have. One thing and another seemed to thwart my efforts, and then I spent two long training rides on the Prairie Spirit Trail, which is sort of gravel-ish, but it's devoid of hills (trains don't climb hills) and the crushed rock is a far more predictable and rideable surface.
So today I got my bike on the car and took it out north of McClouth, KS. The terrain is similar to what's around Marysville, the glaciers definitely worked this part of Kansas over—if you think Kansas is flat I've got news for you.
I started with a little piece of minimum maintenance road, and it was actually the easiest riding of this outing. Old gravel, with grass growing up out of it, but well settled with no loose gravel piled up anywhere.
When I got on the 'maintained' gravel road, it got more difficult. The loose gravel tends to accumulate on the steeper slopes, which means it's tricky to control the bike going down steep hills (I fall with all the grace of a sack of hammers, so that's pretty nerve racking for me). Then on the climb that follows, when I hit the loose stuff my back wheel spins out and I wind up walking the bike up the hill.
To make things worse, I'm trying to maintain a 10 mph pace because they sweep the course of the event and if you can't make 10 mph you don't make the cut-off, don't get to finish. I know I can do the distance, could even make that pace on pavement, but walking a bike up a hill at 2 mph, even if you fly down the next side you've given up so much time on the climb it sucks your average down.
Then there's the farm dogs. Some of the people who live along these roads have this notion that big, scary dogs running loose is necessary for their protection. It's an idiotic notion, you're out in the middle of nowhere, so while help may be a long ways off, so is any real danger. I don't believe there are gangs of criminals staging random home invasions all over the countryside, and if they were they'd probably get their asses shot because the same people who let their dogs run free are also armed to the teeth as a rule.
I'd come prepared for dogs. Besides my usual pepper spray, I'd put several Milk Bones in my top-tube bag where I could reach them easily. I figured a Milk Bone can't blow back in my face like pepper spray, and throwing something at a dog is a pretty good way to get them to at least pause.
By the time I was five miles from the car I'd encountered five dogs. The last one didn't even bark, I was riding downhill in some fairly loose gravel, concentrating on staying upright when I felt his breath on the back of my leg and looked over my shoulder to see a very large brown dog. I snarled at him, largely out of a startle reflex, and I guess it was a convincing snarl because he did back off when that happened.
But I have some PTSD issues when it comes to getting chased by dogs (which I've related here in the past), and while I know that most dogs mean me no harm, it still causes a huge adrenaline dump for me.
I rode on a bit further and stopped to collect myself. A dog that doesn't bark is extra spooky to me because I figure if he's putting all his effort into the pursuit and none into barking, he probably actually means to attack. Maybe that's not true, and if he wanted to bite me, if he was close enough to huff on me he was close enough to bite. I started to continue on the ride and before I could go down another hill full of loose gravel, I realized something. I wasn't having any fun at all. I can't remember having less fun on a bike, ever, including riding hurt all the way home from Big Lake against epic headwinds.
I turned around and headed back to the car, which meant dealing with all five dogs again, but lord knows how many more waited had I continued on my way. I thought about just riding up and down that minimum maintenance stretch, but I was so disheartened I couldn't bring myself to do it, especially when I saw that thanks to all those walk-up-hills I'd only averaged 7.5 mph.
I haven't decided if I'm going to drop out of the Pony Express Gravel Dash or not. Vincent says he didn't get chased by any dogs on Dirty Kanza, and maybe with a hundred riders ahead of me to wear them out they wouldn't be as much of an issue. Also if I can find some riders I can ride with there's the safety in numbers thing. But a big part of me is feeling like the whole gravel grinding discipline is just a mistake for me. I don't do downhill mountain biking, I don't do trials riding, or bike polo, there's lots of stuff on bikes that doesn't seem to be for me. Maybe I'm a city cyclist at heart, more comfortable in traffic than in the boondocks. There's lots of challenges to be had riding on pavement in places where every mile doesn't feature a run-in with some hillbilly's dog.
Monday, August 18, 2014
I haven't blogged as much about the garden this year, I think that's in part because I found myself really burned out by gardening. Around the time I got the tomatoes transplanted and the peppers in grow bags, I started feeling the endless list of tasks as a burden rather than a joy.
I once heard the difference between children and adults is a child tells you all the things they 'get' to do, an adult frames it in terms of the things they 'have' to do.
Fortunately, Corinna has upped her gardening game (which was already at a pretty high level). Her brain injury after effects (bike crash followed a few months later by a car crash), she has times when her regular work gets overwhelming and the garden is an escape.
But while the chores of the garden haven't been so joyful for me this summer, I haven't burned out on the idea of an edible yard. We eat really well, tons of fresh vegetables, and relatively cheaply. There are expenses related to the garden, and I do know where to get cheap produce in this town, but even factoring in the water bill, ruining a tire on a truck borrowed to haul compost (free load of compost cost over $100 with that tire figured in), the occasional spray of pesticide (I use the pyrethrin stuff—those gray beetles wiping out my cucumbers two years in a row disabused me of the 'organic' fantasy), and so on, I bet we come out ahead long term.
And I think it's beautiful landscaping.
In fact, the other morning I was leaving to take Molly to school and I had to stop and take a picture of the front yard because it's so awesome.
I love, for instance, the way the squash planted along the edge of the driveway spills out into it. It's getting to be a little bit of a hassle, we have to keep training it back into itself because it wants to take over to where we couldn't get in and out of the garage or the rest of the yard, but it looks great.
And even parts of the yard that are out of control are out of control in a cool kind of way.
As an example, the back row of the Tomatosaurus Rex beds, the eight raised beds I built at the end of the driveway, originally intended to be all tomatoes (maxed out that'd be 48 plants), we never have quite gone all tomatoes there. Last year was three fourths tomatoes in that area, 36 plants with two beds given to other crops. This year, I thought I was cutting back on tomatoes. I think I preordered 24 plants, but then between one seed exchange, a couple of impulse add-ons, I put 31 back there. That left five stakes at the back edge by the rose bush.
Against my better judgement, I planted squash in those five spots to climb the tree stakes I drove into the ground last season to support monstrous indeterminate tomato vines. I say against my better judgment because squash are thugs in the garden. We have along that row a spaghetti squash vine which has climbed the fence and taken over a neighboring bed, climbed the rose bush and as with the pumpkin, muskmelon, cantaloupe, and acorn squash I planted along with it, never given up on strangling the tomatoes across the hall.
I say I'm burned out on gardening, but having ripe pie pumpkins in the kitchen waiting to be stuffed is pretty awesome. Between bouts of not wanting to go deal with the plants, I find myself scheming with Corinna for next year's garden. Well, not even 'next year' because there's the fall crops to think about and the stuff that can overwinter. And spinach, which is both a fall crop and an overwinterable one.
And as much as I know the garden is good for me nutritionally, it's also good for me in other ways. The physical activity required, sure, and there's the veggies on the table. But my arachnophobia, previously documented in these pages, well...
The thing about irrational fears, phobias, whatever you want to call it, knowing it's irrational doesn't really help. You just get to feel dumb on top of being afraid. Probably to Matilda's relief (I named the spider Matilda, it makes her less frightening), I'm not about to go handling her to face my fear. I'm not even about to pick the chard she's weaved her web between.
But knowing the spider is there, and being able to check back in on her from day to day, see some of the bugs she's eaten and whatnot, that helps me accept the fact that she's actually an ally in the garden.
Somebody once asked me about this whole edible yard thing, about whether we were 'preppers.' I don't have a TV, so I missed the reference, I learned later, to a TV show abut people who are planning for the End of Days (or something like that).
No, I'm not preparing for the end of days. How am I going to preserve the tomatoes three dozen plants throw off with no electricity? For that matter, what am I going to water in plants with in the absence of municipal water, given that I don't have a well on my property?
But then, I guess, we're better prepared to go a few weeks without gasoline, electricity, and so on, than the average American. Which means we're only a little pathetic on those fronts, as opposed to totally pathetic.