Monday, May 30, 2011

Glacial Drumlin Trail Ride

Friday night, Alex and I drove over to her sister and brother-in-law's, (Brooke and Anders), home in Illinois, and then we all drove to the Glacial Drumlin Trail between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, early Saturday morning. We got on the trail at Sullivan, a small burg roughly half-way between Milwaukee and the Mad City.

Having ridden more than a few rail-trails in Wisconsin and Michigan over the past few years, we expected this to be a decent ride. And it was. Most of the trail surface was crushed stone (quite smooth, even for my 28mm Continental Gatorskin tires). Some of the trail was asphalt, and very smooth (no roots had yet wrecked the suface). We headed to the east, with the plan being that we would ride all the way to the end of the trail in Milwaukee, then head back to Sullivan. The next day, Sunday, we planned to ride from Sullivan to Madison and back.

Sometimes, however rides don't always go according to plan, but experienced cyclists find ways to adapt, and even thrive in difficult circumstances.

Despite our slow pace, Alex's thighs were burning pretty badly after we had covered only about 15 miles. Anders, below, is trying to cheer her up. We decided that maybe we should turn back to Sullivan. After all, 30 miles for the day seems sufficient. The main thing we strive for on our bike journeys is to have fun, and mileage or speed are not important.

A stop in Dousman at Chamberlain's Flower and Ice Cream Shop on the way back seemed like the perfect way to infuse our bodies with calories. I had a chocolate malt made with Zanzibar Chocolate Ice Cream, a deep, dark brown ice cream made with 3 different African cocoa bean varieties. It was delicious! Alex was still tired, and her legs were still sore when we left, but she was in a much better mood.

A little farther down the road, Anders had gotten a phone call. I make fun of him sometimes because he's always seems to have phone calls. But he has a business, and many of his calls are important. This one, however, turned out to be a little more serious, as Alex apparently had an accident.

Alex had apparently done a face-plant on the asphalt not too long after we left the ice cream shop. Anders rode the next 5 miles to Sullivan and got in his truck to head back to Dousman, where we told Alex and Brooke to head back to. I rode back to see what the problem was.

I didn't take any photos, and won't describe the injuries, other than a bruised lip, many bruises and a scratched pair of glasses were among the more serious results of the accident. Apparently, Alex had squeezed the front brake lever too hard, and she went over the handlebars. I looked closely at her to make sure she was OK, and she was, then I turned my attention to her bike. Her left brake pad was almost 2/3 worn off, and rubber bits from the brake pad were all over the brake, fork, and on the lower down tube. The rim was bent quite severely at the point where one spoke was noticeably disfigured. I also noticed the front wheel was not seated all the way in the right dropout, which made the left side of the front wheel rub on the brake pad.

My guess is Alex had been riding all day on her bike this way. Her legs were sore by pedaling much harder than the rest of us. When she squeezed the left brake lever, my guess is the right brake shoe slipped inside the rim and may have grabbed some spoke nipples, causing the wheel to stop quickly.

Fortunately, there was an awesome bike shop in Dousman, The Bicycle Doctor Nordic Ski Shop. Even though they had just closed, the mechanic took a look at the bike, measured the spoke, and gave me a new one. He offered to put it in, but since I've built several wheels for myself, I wanted to put it in myself. He adjusted the brakes at no charge, and sent us on our way.

On the ride back to the hotel in Oconomowoc, I tried to help Alex feel better by showing her some photos of shooting stars I had taken along the way.

The next day started out extremely foggy, but Alex was feeling amazingly well. I had made sure she had some carbs and protein just as we got into the truck at Dousman to help her recover. Plus, she drank quite a bit of water Saturday night also.

On the trail on Sunday morning, she had very little pain in her legs. All was good!

I thought this was a very cool feature for the trail. Someone took pride and designed and built a beautiful bridge beneath a county road for us to enjoy. In these days of austerity, this is a monument to show that we can build nice things.

We saw many creatures on and along the trail. Most hopped, flew, or darted out of site before I could take a photo, but this guy was slow enough for me to capture (by photo only). There were many wetlands along the trail, which was good to see. But soon, I imagine there will be an abundant crop of mosquitoes, especially with all the rain we've been getting for the past two months.

We saw several deer (Red deer?) in this enclosure. I don't think they are the native white tailed deer - they look shorter, and their ears look wider. They seemed even more interested in us than we were in them.

Near Helenville, I saw this old barn. It was attached to two concrete silos, which looked like it may have been a grainery to load rail cars when trains used this path.

Someone had put together this brief history of Helenville, which preserves the stories of the people of this hamlet, which otherwise would be just a blip on the map.

A canopy of trees was common along the trail, but in other places the trail was open, allowing us to enjoy the Kettle Moraine region. This is beautiful country.

We headed back to Sullivan by noon, where we racked the bikes once again. Anders is showing off his handy work here.

Shortly after we got in the truck, the skies opened up and dumped rain on us. Brooke had been following the rain from Dubuque, and figured the rain would start sometime around noon, here. And she was right. While I'm not to hip on being connected to the web, especially when I'm biking, I appreciated Brooke's attention to the weather radar.

We went on a little excursion in the truck, and one of the stops was Aztalan State Park. When Alex and I lived in the Madison area, many moons ago, I had always wanted to get over here to see this park, but I never made it.

Unlike the history of Helenville, the stories of this village are lost. Nothing remains of the lives of the people who walked and played and farmed this ground but what little we can sift out of the soil.

Sacred ground. The mound behind this reconstructed palisade is a burial mound.

I hope all of you folks had a great Memorial Day weekend. We did!

Happy riding!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday Ride

After I got home from last weekend's brevet, I noticed some heavy streaking on my new Pasela TG tires. It's from the brake pads wearing, and the residue washing across the sidewalls as I cruised down those monster hills in southern Ohio.

I scrubbed the tires with dish soap and a brush, but couldn't get all of it off. I re-mounted the Conti Gatorskins, as I want to save the Paselas for the 600K brevet, coming up in two weeks.

I went on the club ride today, a 55-miler which left from the south end of Fort Wayne, headed southwest to Huntington, then back east through Ossian and then back north. Here's a photo of the group in happier times - a dandy tail wind which took us to the half-way point.

After the half-way point, a stout headwind from the southeast separated the speedsters from the randonneur (me). I was able to regroup with 6 others later in the ride, but I just don't have the speed these other guys have. Usually when Waterloo Matt shows up, the pace is way too fast for me. He is such a strong rider, and several of the other guys try to match his speed.

My training and randonneuring experience has prepared me to have fun in any bike situation, so even though I was dropped, I still had a great time. It is fun to ride with a group of people, but it's just fun to be out on the bike. Period.

The is the first day this year that felt like summer. Sun and warmth!

Happy riding!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Blue Ash 400K

Saturday was the Ohio Randonneurs 400K ride, which started in Blue Ash, OH, a quiet suburb in northeast Cincinnati. The start was warm - in the mid-60's, but damp. It had rained during the night, and the air was heavy with moisture.

There were 24 starters on this ride. I knew many of these folks from the previous two rides this spring. It's funny how you can get to know someone, not really by talking much, but by simply riding along side them for a long time. We left the hotel at 5:00 am sharp. Bonne Route!

We tore through the streets of Blue Ash, and were quickly in the country, descending steep hills at too fast a speed for me to feel comfortable. Fortunately, my new rear tire, a Pasela Tour Guard, punctured. Fffft, fffft, fffft the tire went as I quickly tried to get out of the way of the people behind me. I stopped by the road side, unsnapped the headlight, only to find that the noise was not from leaking air, but from the clear plastic covering on the Pasela tire stamp. It was coming partly off, and hitting either the seat stay or the rear brake as the tire rotated. I pulled it off, spun the tire, and all was good.

I worked my way down the rest of the hill, and was able to catch up to the riders in my speed range at the next hill. For some reason, I am always excited during the start of any group ride, and I was probably more excited for this ride than any other. I bombed up the hill, only to realize too late that it got much steeper as I climbed. Not having a triple chainring crank on this bike (my Trek), I had to jump off the bike when I couldn't breathe fast enough. A moment of panic set in as I thought I might either hyperventilate or pass out, or both. I walked to the top, with several other people, and we continued on.

Being a flat lander, I thought I could power up any hill. I quickly learned on this ride to shift into the lowest gear going up these steep hills. They are so long and so steep, and I don't have the leg strength or the lungs to ride like the Schlek brothers up these hills.

As the morning wore on, it became more damp, and began to mist heavily, which gradually turned into a light, steady rain. The route generally paralleled the Ohio River to the east. I left the camera in the bag for the first 100 miles, until after we left West Union, a very small town at the far eastern part of our route. There, it stopped raining and misting altogether.

Here's a photo of Paul, with whom I rode much of the first 120 or so miles. This was taken shortly after leaving West Union, heading back to Blue Ash. From Blue Ash, then we would head to the north, then back to Blue Ash to finish the 400K.

Over near West Union, there was very little crop land. Mostly pastureland. Some of the flatter fields, I think, must have been tobacco fields in the past, because I saw many tobacco barns.

Al and Ron on Chicken Hollow Road.

Paul had been having trouble with his left pedal working its way out of the crank arm. The first time he hand-tightened it as much as possible, then asked the cashier at the West Union controle for a wrench. She handed him a pair of Vise Grips, and he was able to crank it down tight.

I was enjoying riding with Paul, but I had to ride faster than him on the hills because of my smallest chain ring. If I had a smaller chain ring, I could have stayed in the saddle and ridden up more slowly. But these hills (especially the ones on Chicken Hollow Road) were so steep that I couldn't stay in the saddle and keep pedaling. I had to stand in order to maintain what little momentum I had. This meant I could climb the hills at 7 to 8 mph, and Paul was considerably slower. When I got to the intersection with US 68, I stopped to wait for Paul.

After what seemed to be a very long time, I thought I might head on up US 68. I looked back one last time. But no Paul.

Doug, Ron, and Al came up and said Paul had stopped at a farm to ask to borrow a wrench for his pedal. I decided to ride on and abandon Paul, which I felt bad about doing. I would want him to go on if it was me who was having trouble. I didn't have a wrench, so I couldn't do anything anyway.

Here's a photo of my trusty steed. I put a plastic bag over the Brooks. I bought a new, longer stem which allowed me to raise the handlebars even with the saddle.

This little goat-path of a road is Schwalle Road, and it was, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the ride.

There were trees, then pastures. I don't know how two cars pass on this road. But it was really cool, and I was a part of the countryside here.

The skies started to lighten as we got to the United Dairy Farmers (UDF) store in Georgetown. The worst of the climbing had been done for the day. What a relief!

I decided to head out by myself, ahead of Al, Ron, and Doug. There were a few other folks who got here before I did, and they were lounging inside. Being a newbie randonneur, I am wary about taking too long at any stop.

Just after I turned on Eden Road, the clouds left, and the sun came out. This is what Adam and Eve must have seen. Our leaves up north are still just coming out on the trees, and here is lush greenery everywhere.

I shed my rain jacket to absorb some rays on my nekked arms. I put new handlebars and a new, longer quill stem to help ease the suffering of my stiff neck. I'm glad I did this last week, because while my neck got pretty sore, my left shoulder didn't bother me as it had on the 200K and 300K rides.

Here's an old forage barn. Many barns were in disrepair, as they are most places in the midwest. Modern agriculture has no use for old barns. Today hay is baled into 600 lb round bales, or 1200 lb rectangular bales and is stored under what look like big picnic pavilions, or in big pole barns.

Here's an old tobacco barn. I didn't see any tobacco planted anywhere, and I think many of these old barns are used only for storing machinery. I don't know if tobacco is even grown in this area anymore.

As the sun started to settle in the west, it became overcast again. I rode through a lovely little valley on Round Bottom Road.

After this photo, the skies quickly clouded up and a storm unleashed buckets of rain. I made it back to the hotel which was the next controle, where I dried off and put on rain tights, a long-sleeved jersey, and my wind vest. Since the rain had stopped, I stowed the rain coat in the rack trunk, and headed off into the night, alone again.

Navigation became my chief concern at night. I had to focus more on the cue sheet at night, as I was really worried about getting lost in the dark. I didn't want to ride any more than I needed to. I did end up running off the course in two different spots. Fortunately on this last stretch I didn't get too far down the road before I realized I was off course. Each place I went off, I was able to find my way back to the place where I erred.

As I finally made it back to the hotel, a robin began to sing. A cheerful welcome to my arrival at last. I took a quick, hot shower, hit the bed, and zonked out.

The next morning at 9:00am, I had everything packed and headed out, but stopped when I saw Al loading his bike. We talked about the ride, how hilly it was, and how difficult. He was wondering why he was doing this. After all, he drove down from central Michigan to do this. I couldn't tell him why I was doing this either. It doesn't make sense to ride all day and all night. He had pre-registered for the 600K, but he said he wasn't sure he was coming back. I told him I wasn't sure either.

On the way home, I began to think about why I am doing these long rides. At first, it was to prove to myself that I could do a long ride. But this ride was different. It was much more difficult, and even though I didn't feel like quitting, I've been in other situations where I've quit after investing the smallest fraction of energy I put into this ride.

This time I was able to get a different perspective about the people and about the things most important to me. Spending a really long time in the saddle gives a you a great opportunity to get away from your worries. But the irony is that it gives you a really great opportunity to wallow in your worries - worries which you can do absolutely nothing about when you're a long way from home on a bike, in the middle of the night.

I left Blue Ash with a profound sense of gratitude for my wife and daughter, who have been very supportive of me spending large amounts of time away from them in order to train, and to come over to Ohio to do these rides.

Like Al said, these rides don't make sense. But, I bet he'll be at the 600K ride. I think I will be, too.

Happy riding!