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Category: cycling (Page 2 of 44)

now it’s getting really tough (#projectfemur)

The end of May has been very, very trying for me.

The weather has turned drop-dead gorgeous. Temperatures aren’t too high, the humidity hasn’t been too thick, and everybody is working out outdoors.

Except for me, that is.

And I’m really in a funk as a result.

It’s really gotten to me this weekend, as today was the Mountains of Misery century, something I’ve done almost every Memorial Day since 2007. It’s typically my first big event ride of the season, and this year it would’ve been the first long event of the year after a handful of road bike races.

But thanks to #projectfemur, I wasn’t there – and it’s crushing me.

I should’ve been out there, but I can’t.

There was a generous offer to head down with one of my friends and either volunteer or “coach” from the sidelines. But that wasn’t what I needed to do – it would’ve been just as tough, I think – perhaps even tougher.

I’ve been working really diligently with my PT to rebuild my strength and flexibility. But improvements are now very minute, less tangible, and less rewarding in the short run.

I realize I’m on my own path this summer, that I can’t gauge my performance against my cycling friends, and that I need to find the happiness where I can. But it’s proving far tougher than I expected.

As I fully expected, working out indoors is proving to be less than ideal. Sure, it is getting me back in shape, and helping to rebuild my flexibility. But I just don’t get the endorphin fix that I get from my outdoor bike rides. There’s a good reason that I steer clear of spin classes, and riding an indoor trainer is proving that, loud and clear.

To me, riding a bike indoors – whether on a spinning bike, an exercise bike, or a bike on a proper indoor trainer – is akin to substituting masturbation for sex (I know, graphic analogy, but as I’m being blunt…). It’s not the same, it provides little of the satisfaction or reward. I’ve not yet done any work on the Wahoo indoor trainer, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s still working out indoors. It’s having a fan blow on me while I physically go nowhere, instead of seeing actual distance pass under my tires, with the wind blowing through my hair, the birds chirping, and so forth.

That said, it’s my only option right now, so I need to suck up and deal.

Granted, the outdoor pools in DC have reopened (though only on weekends until mid-June – not overly useful for regular workouts just yet), and swimming laps will be something I can, and will, do. And I’ve had rowing recommended to me as a good way to keep in shape and address areas that cycling tends to miss (e.g. back and core muscles). So those things are in my future, for sure.

And there will be some hiking, once my leg is a little more stable and sure-footed. That’ll get me out with some of my cycling friends who also like to hike – a definite plus.

But that’s still a bit far off in the future. And I really, truly want to be on my bike, riding in the fresh air, getting the sun and the breeze, and being with my cycling friends in our “native territory,” so to speak.

And it’s not happening. It can’t right now, and there is no proper substitute.

I’m a bit angry with my hematologist for keeping me on the anticoagulant meds for a full, six-month course. If it wasn’t for that, I could commute by bike already. Even that would make life a lot better than it is now. I know it’s petty and a bit myopic, and that I’m being kept on the meds for a valid reason, but the voice that drives my motivation isn’t placated by that at all.

August can’t come soon enough.

And even then, will my riding be up to snuff? I know plenty of friends who I don’t ride with that often under normal circumstances (because my pace tends to be fast), and I’ll be able to ride with them. But when I ride with my normal crowd, I worry they will simply leave me in the dust, heaving for breath to catch up – or that they’ll spend half of the ride waiting for me to arrive.

That isn’t an appealing thought at all.

I know from past experience that I tend to bounce back well from injury, and tend to be stronger than I was before said injuries. But my femur break and surgery are far and away the worst injury I’ve ever experienced, so this is a great unknown. There is no precedent in my life experience for this kind of recovery, and I’m simply not sure what to expect.

Will I be stronger than I was pre-injury? Will I still be as capable of climbing the hills on my bike? Will I still ski with the same confidence and strength? I simply just don’t know.

And given I feel like I’m being left behind, like my improvement is going incredibly slowly, and my patience is razor-thin, having big unknowns in my life leaves me grasping at thin air to find some direction.

sprite has helped me as much as she can to try to keep my spirits up – she rocks. So have many of my friends, for which I’m grateful. But this is still a battle that is very much my own, and one that only I can tackle.

I need to find a way to right this ship and find something positive to go on. I need ideas, because I just don’t have any right now. The lows are outweighing the highs right now, and that needs to stop.

As I said: August can’t come soon enough.

Days since surgery: 134

it’s time to admit something (#projectfemur)

I’ve been treating the entire #projectfemur as a new, positive opportunity. While it’s been a challenge, I’m enjoying the work and trying to channel it into exploring new opportunities in all aspects of my life.

But I have to admit something, a thing that has bothered me for a while:

I miss my bike.

I miss being able to ride it.

I miss being able to even get it down off its storage rack in The Burrow.

As spring approaches, the weather will be perfect for rides all over the greater DC area. Spring is probably my favorite riding season in this area: cool mornings with pleasant afternoons and reasonable humidity. And while the roads show the scars of a hard winter, with tons of frost heaves and potholes on every conceivable paved surface, they are roads that I love to ride. Whether it’s a ride out of Bowie, Maryland, heading to Chesapeake Bay via lovely, gently rolling roads, or climbing the bigger rollers and hills in Loudoun County, Virginia, or zipping along with my friends during the upcoming “Downtown Breakaway” rides on Wednesdays here in DC, I miss all of it.

I miss the camaraderie of the Friday Coffee Club at Swing’s.

I miss my weekend rides with a crew of friends with whom I’ve shared many adventures on two wheels.

I’m missing the inaugural season of District Taco Cycling p/b BicycleSPACE. I was to be part of their roster for this season – another posse of great cycling friends.

I even miss my daily bike commute, even though I’m not yet back at work.

I miss the freedom of simply being able to hop on the bike and go somewhere – anywhere.

My physical therapist at Georgetown University Hospital happens to be a cyclist and a bike fitter – a happy coincidence, and definite luck of the draw. He knows my drive, my desire to get back on the bike and be stronger than ever. He wants me to start working out on a trainer or stationary bike sometime soon – though not soon enough for my desire to simply ride.

But the promise of getting back on the bike is real, and my goal of being stronger than ever is not unreasonable or unattainable. I know there will be some adjustments, but it’s a small price to pay to get back on my bike.

But right now, the bikes hang on their rack, taunting me every time I turn my gaze their way. They’ll get their cleaning, tune-up, re-fitting, and time back on the pavement.

I’m simply impatient. As Queen once mused, “I want it all – and I want it now!”

“In good time,” I keep telling myself.

In good time.

Days since surgery: 54

transitions (or trading shoes for boots)

This morning, I woke up and brewed coffee. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and toasted an English muffin. I then donned my cycling togs (longer layers, as it’s chilly outside, with wind in the forecast), packed a bag, topped off the bike’s tires, lubed the chain, loaded up the car, drove to Bowie to meet my friends.

In other words: it was a typical Saturday morning.

We rolled out from Allen Pond Park: Jonathan, Chris, Mark, Ed, and me. Our plan was to ride a smooth, off-season pace, no county line sprints, on a route that gently rolled down to Chesapeake Bay and back. The sky was streaked with cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, with a cool breeze from the northwest – it was a perfect day to ride.

As we rode, the conversation was fun, and everybody seemed to be in a fine mood. Our bikes all wheeled along quietly. We passed farms with horses, cattle, sheep, and weary farmers. One pasture had a girl flying a kite.

 Girl flying a kite

The halfway point was Sweet Sue’s, our usual break spot. The hot drinks were just so-so (the folks behind the counter just couldn’t pull a quality espresso shot), but the baked goods were up to their usual yummy standard.

Rolling north along the Chesapeake, we were spared the bad wind, and treated to myriad lovely views. The wind that was there was increasingly chilly, and the cloud cover became thicker the closer we got to our cars.

 

After we were done riding, I went by the local ski shop to pick up my new skis and old boots so I’ll be ready for my coaching duties, which should be starting in mid December (though I hope to ski next weekend while up north for the holiday). The excitement that coursed through my body and mind when I took hold of the new skis for the first time was infectious.

 Redsters

And tonight, there were snow flurries in DC. I went outside, giggled with glee, and danced a little dance of joy (not to worry, DC snow paranoids: it didn’t stick).

sprite in the snow
The transition from my summer sporting love to my winter sporting love is in motion – and today’s transition between the two worlds made it very clear to me. While the cycling shoes won’t be totally hung up for the winter – I’ll still ride a bit, and my bike commute won’t go away – my boots are going to be the go-to footwear for fun when the snow flies.

Winter is coming, and I’m prepared – and elated.

a question for the dc (and other) bicyclists

There has been a lot of discussion about bicycles and their place in the greater streetscape. I certainly have a lot to say about it, but don’t have a lot of time to write about it just now – gotta get a post up before midnight, y’know – so I ask for some discussion in the comments of this post (try and keep it there, as not all of my followers are on Facebook).

When I ride my bike in DC, I tend to take the lane, toward the center, and ride like a car should drive – i.e. I am a vehicular cyclist. I realize that not everybody can manage that pace, or is that confident on a bike where traffic abounds, much of it not entirely friendly toward cyclists.

Because of that, I’m not always a fan of bike lanes, cycletracks, and the like, as I feel most of these things don’t provide cyclists the exposure they need to develop their skills and to allow motorists to adapt to the presence of bicycles in the roadway. Yes, I will use some bike lanes and cycletracks, but just as often I’ll ride in the general traffic lanes, as I can make better time, ride faster, etc.

I realize this flies in the face of many of the bicycle advocates and activists in DC, who pine for more lanes, more sharrows, more cycletracks. I realize that these facilities provide a sense of safety to the hesitant, beginner, or ultra-casual cyclist, and that they can help build a vibrant cycling community.

But I seldom see them done correctly, as I’ve seen in Europe and other U.S. cities. Instead, things are done with compromised designs. For example, the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack is far too easily crossed by drivers, who make U-turns with little chance of penalty. The zebra barriers, installed on one block of this track, were installed so far out of spec that it’s comically easy for cars to U-turn over them without incident. Another example is the L Street cycletrack, with bollards that allow cars and delivery trucks to block it with ease.

Not to mention the 15th Street cycletrack that is seldom cleaned, or the multi-use path in Rock Creek Park that is so narrow and poorly paved that its safety is compromised to the point where there’s no safety advantage to using it along most of its length. These are bicycle facilities that are lacking in complete execution, compromised in many respects and doing a disservice to cyclists (and in the case of Rock Creek, pedestrians and equestrians).

And the bike lanes on narrower, one-way streets put the cyclist right in the “door zone” of parked cars. I recently found myself doored because of this – it’s not fun.

So I posit this: why build more of these half-baked facilities that send a mixed message to all road use communities? Isn’t it all just good money gone to waste?

My stance: either build bike facilities properly (e.g. install the zebra barriers on Penn to manufacturer’s specifications, build a curb to create a proper cycletrack on L Street), or concentrate on consistent enforcement of traffic laws for all road use groups.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification. I will explain more in the future – deadlines, y’know…

coffeeneuring 2013: will ride for coffee

For the third year in a row, Mary G. is hosting the “Coffeeneuring Challenge.” And for the first time, I’ve taken part.

And it was a ton of fun!

As my readers know, I participated in Mary’s “Errandonneuring Challenge” earlier this year (the posts are here. That was fun, but this was better. It was a good excuse to go bike riding with sprite, to explore areas both familiar and new, and to try some new-to-us coffee, tea, and chocolate shops.

Stop #1:
Date: 5 October
Destination: Orlean Store, Orlean, VA
Miles: 77.2 (Strava map)
Drink: hot coffee (with ice)

 

Notes: an impromptu ride with my usual riding buddies, leaving from Gainesville, VA, and rolling through Warrenton and Orleans, where our rest stop happened. They had fresh hot coffee, but it was toasty outside, and I wanted something cold. So I had the owners of the shop add some ice to my cup – all good! I love this little store, which seems to be finding its groove with the new owners.

Stop #2:
Date: 16 October
Destination: Ana Maria Chocolates, Peterborough, NH
Miles: 4.4 (Strava map)
Drink: hot chocolate w/whipped cream

 

Notes: sprite and I were on vacation in New Hampshire, so we decided to take our bikes from our campground at Monadnock State Park to the nearby town of Peterborough, a lovely little mill town with a vibrant arts scene. We rode on the Common Trail, one of over 60 miles of rail trails in southwestern New Hampshire. The trail was a tunnel of vibrant foliage. The cocoa was really decadent – exactly what you’d expect from a chocolatier. And as we were on vacation, we counted this as a weekday ride exception (per the rules of the challenge).

 

Stop #3:
Date: 19 October
Destination: Brewbakers Café, Keene, NH
Miles: 30.4 (Strava map)
Drink: pumpkin latté

 

Notes: rode from Gilson Pond Campground at Mt. Monadnock State Park to Keene, where I met up with sprite at the end of the Cheshire Rail Trail. We rode into town for the Pumpkin Festival, which was a treat: over 30,000 jack-o-lanterns were on display, all with real candles inside that were to be lit before 6pm, when the Guinness Book of World Records would officially certify this year’s display as the largest-ever display of lit pumpkins.

 

We stopped at two coffeehouses on Main Street: Prime Roast, where I bought some beans; and Brewbakers, where we both bought beverages. We both agreed that Prime Roast was probably the better place of the two. My pumpkin latté was just OK. Fortunately, we were able to drown our sorrows in hot cider, pumpkin soup, and other tasty treats from the Pumpkin Festival.

Stop #4:
Date: 20 October
Destination: Taste Budd’s at Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck, NY
Miles: 11.7 (Strava maps for leg 1 & leg 2)
Drink: latté and cocoa

 

Notes: after our time in New Hampshire, we visited old college friends, Erica and Eric, in the upper Hudson River Valley in New York. The four of us rode bikes from Red Hook to Rhinebeck to visit the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. We had a great time, with scenic riding both ways. I had two drinks from Taste Budd’s: a latté, and their sublime hot cocoa (made with their homemade chocolate ganache – mmmm).

Stop #5:
Date: 27 October
Destination: Bar di Bari, 14th and R Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 3.2 (Strava map)
Drink: latté

Notes: a new-to-us local joint, not far from our home, so we wove in a stop by Walgreen’s in West End to extend the distance. We rode fairly late in the day, and it was a bit chilly, yet we insisted on sitting outside. Our server was friendly and affable, and we wondered if she was a bit miffed that we wanted to be outside, while she was in short sleeves – brr! But the coffee, tea, and munchies were tasty, and the sunset down R Street was most beautiful.

Stop #6:
Date: 3 November
Destination: The Coffee Bar, 12th and S Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 2.6 (Strava map)
Drink: cardamom latté

Notes: sprite and I had both seen this place, yet we’d not paid a visit. The vibe here is relaxed and friendly, and the place is certainly popular with the neighborhood. Their cardamom latté is quite wonderful. Saw two Friday Coffee Club irregulars, Paul and Brook. I’d injured my left Achilles over the weekend, so this ride was extra mellow.

Stop #7:
Date: 9 November
Destination: Big Bear Café, 1st and R Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 5.3 (Strava map)
Drink: latté

Notes: my ankle still in rest-and-recovery mode, this was an easygoing ride. We first stopped at BicycleSPACE to shop for bike bags (sprite bought a lovely little handlebar bag), and Phil shared his homemade banana bread with us (splendid). We then rode up to Big Bear Café, another new-to-us place that we’d seen many times driving back into DC from points north and east. The place is quite nice, though the service was extremely slow, the cashier seeming to forget some of our orders. We weren’t in a hurry, but still, it was noticed. We sat outside until it became too chilly to bear.

Stop #8:
Date: 10 November
Destination: Port City Java, 7th and North Carolina Ave SE, Washington, DC
Miles: 9.0 (Strava maps for leg 1 & leg 2)
Drink: drip coffee

Notes: I went to Eastern Market to gather ballot petition signatures for my good friend, Charles Allen. Given I was stationed outside of Port City, a coffee was a must.

Stop #9:
Date: 17 November
Destination: Qualia Coffee, 3917 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 6.0 (Strava map)
Drink: drip coffee (hand pour) and bean buying (two bags, one full caf, the other decaf)

 

Notes: one final stab at Coffeeneuring, and another new-to-us place (though I’d had Joel’s beans before). The hot drinks were great, the butternut & blue cheese quiche was awesome, and the view from the front deck was relaxing.

 

A more complete set of photos from my Coffeeneuring adventures can be seen here.
All-in-all, this was a fun exercise. Thank you, Mary, for issuing the challenge!

weekending (wait – are we living in seattle?)

It was a grey, damp weekend here in DC. The predicted sun and warmth was tempered by drizzle, fog, clouds – something closer to the Pacific Northwest than the Mid-Atlantic. Such is November, I reckon. However, it was enjoyable:

  • Trekked with sprite to see the UConn women take on the University of Maryland Terps. It was #1 versus #7. #1 UConn won.
  • Went out to shop and dine at Franklin’s afterward – yum!
  • Got to sleep in Saturday morning – ahhhh….
  • Watched the two FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup races from Levi, Finland – one live (today), one on-demand (yesterday). Seeing the top racers in the world dice up the slalom courses was awesome.
  • Rode my bike twice today: one 42 mile ride to test out the Achilles (all OK), and one 6 mile coffeeneuring ride.
  • The latter ride was the 9th and final coffeeneuring outing for the 2013 contest.
  • Watched the final episodes of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) on Doctor Who.
  • Cooked soup with sweet potato greens we grew in our own garden (it was yummy).
  • Smiled a lot.

Tunnel of ginkgo foliage

How was your weekend?

so, about those more powerful bike lights…

One week ago, I talked about the problem of “bike ninjas.” And while I’m seeing more and more DC area cyclists starting to use lights, some of them could use something beyond the “bare minimum” lights: the low-power “be-seen” lights that are small and unobtrusive.

But it’s the same unobtrusiveness that makes them less capable for real utility. They have tiny beam patterns that don’t light up the tarmac – and, to be honest, they don’t make most cyclists truly visible to fellow road users.

Last year I graduated from a basic blinker to a more powerful bike light. That light (a CygoLite Pace 400, FYI) is small, self-contained, and has a powerful CREE LED to provide a maximum 400 lumens of light. It can blink, it has multiple brightness modes, has a long battery life, can be recharged via USB, and its electronics don’t interfere with my tiny Cateye Wireless bike computer.

This light has been quite good over the past year. Its battery life at maximum power is about 2 hours, but at lower intensity I’ve managed to get over 6 hours of constant burn. The lower power modes are good for urban cycling and areas where ambient light is somewhat plentiful. The high power lights up the road in an even pattern, showing all of the holes, debris, and other anomalies that could cause me trouble. The beam pattern also adheres to modern European standards – i.e. if set up properly, it won’t blind oncoming motorists.

It’s not without faults. The cover on the USB port isn’t easy to seat. The mount isn’t always stable without really wrenching down the thumbscrew. But that’s about it.

I like this light so much that I bought a CygoLite Urban 500 as a complementary light for my commutes. It is a simple light, with fewer modes and a non-changeable rechargeable battery, but it’s a little bit lighter in weight, has similar battery life, has a better USB port cover, and has a wonderful “steady-blink” setting that mixes a 400 lumen steady beam with an intermittent blink to make me more visible to motorists. I’ve only had this new light for a couple weeks, but I’m quite happy with it.

Note that I’ve tried neither of these lights as helmet-mounted units, though there is a helmet mount available for each. Right now, they mount on my handlebar. However, I’m exploring a helmet mount, as the increased utility of illuminating where you plan to ride is well worth consideration.

There are similar offerings from NiteRider, Light & Motion, Cateye, Lezyne, Serfas, and others. I love my CygoLites, but the others have their good points, too. The comprehensive comparison reviews from MTBR (2013 | 2014) are a good place to start, and the road.cc light guide has a wonderful side-by-side comparison tool.

So if you plan to ride a lot at night – especially where streetlights are scarce – invest in a high-quality headlight. And be sure to match it with a high-quality taillight, too. You can thank me later…

weekending (or how i didn’t ride long distance this week)

Two weekends ago, I went on two awesome bike rides – one in the Virginia hills, one closer to home. They were a ton of fun, but there was a pesky side effect: I strained my left Achilles tendon. My ankle was swollen, there was pain. Professionals advised me to curtail any high-intensity cycling. Commuting was fine, as were leisurely rides, but not anything close to my normal weekend riding.

But my weekend was chock full of good things:

  • Cooked a lovely Moraccan tagine for Friday dinner.
  • Watched an episode of Top Gear.
  • Discovered that Chuck is finally available on Netflix streaming (and added it to my instant queue).
  • Slept in on Saturday morning – it was luxurious!
  • Did a lovely coffeeneuring ride to Big Bear Café, a place new to sprite and me.
  • On that same ride, stopped by BicycleSpace, where sprite bought a lovely handlebar bag at a hefty discount, and I ogled cyclocross and cargo bikes.
  • Watched the CBS Sunday Morning reporters explain Twitter to the more senior audience that makes up a large percentage of said program’s viewership. (For the record, it was a good profile of Twitter and its founder, the weekend after the company’s IPO. But it still seemed like a “let’s explain the Tweetie to the old folk” story.)
  • Collected ballot qualification petition signatures for my good friend, Charles.
  • Went to the garden with sprite, where we picked all remaining tomato fruit, pulled the associated plants, and dug up quite a few potatoes (white and purple) and sweet potatoes.
  • Met the rest of the Liberty Mountain Race Team coaching staff at the first organizational meeting of the season. I’m coaching the U16 racers.
  • Watched an episode of Doctor Who (one of the last of the David Tennant episodes).
  • Followed that tense show with a more lighthearted episode of Psych.

For those counting: I only rode 14-or-so miles at a fairly mellow pace over the weekend, compared to my more typical 130-150 miles at a more intense pace. The ankle is healing, which is a wonderful thing.

Intrepid readers: how were your weekends? Post in the comments!

cycling log: 26 may 2013 (mountains of misery)

(Note: this is a post that has sat in draft mode since May. I’m finally finishing it as part of NaBloPoMo – enjoy!)

Activity: road cycling (special event)
Location: Newport, VA > New Castle, VA > Mountain Lake Resort, VA
Distance: 101.4 miles (two very steep climbs)
Duration: 5:44 (5:41 rolling time)
Weather: cool, crisp, sunny, breeze from south, 51-65 degrees
Climbing: 9,947′
Avg HR: 148 (max 181)
Type: aerobic

For me, Mountains of Misery is a rite of passage every Memorial Day. I participated in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2012, my adductor injury prevented me from riding.

But in 2013? I was back – and wanting to test myself.

Mountains of Misery isn’t a trifling ride. It starts out with a gradual, rolling uphill, one that is usually done at a fairly frenetic pace. A steep, technical descent at mile 25 leads to the town of New Castle, after which the road becomes more level, passing through a lovely, forested creek ravine.

From miles 45 to 57, there’s more valley riding, with more rollers and more pace pushing, because after a left turn, the road rises to Johns Creek pass, a climb that has ramps from 10 to 18 percent before its summit. A quick descent, and the riders are back on VA-42, rolling downhill toward the starting line in Newport.

Just before returning to the starting line, there is a hard right into Clover Hollow – the “lollipop loop,” shortened this year to avoid a particularly dangerous, shaded, pothole-filled descent. After this loop, there are more rollers (including a steep, 1.4 mile climb after a rail crossing) before the “main event” from miles 97 to 101: the climb to Mountain Lake on Doe Creek Road.

In past years, on the longer course, my best time was 6 hours, 17 minutes. Other years, I’d been in the 6:37 to 6:57 range. But last year, at Bridge-to-Bridge, I’d proven to myself that I could ride an event with minimal stoppage time and break the 6 hour barrier.

That was my goal going into Mountains of Misery this year, but there were doubts. I’d missed almost a month of training time due to family matters in Utah. Hilly training rides were quashed by rainy weather. My goal time for the ride was 6:05 (that’s what I submitted during my event registration), and deep down, I wanted to do a sub-six again.

Still, I wasn’t sure. Yes, I’d had a few good climbing rides heading into the event, but… well, I wasn’t really sure I’d pull it off.

At any rate, I was in the second starting wave – the one with the fastest century riders (wave one is the double metric riders – the guys going 126 miles) – so I knew it would be fast from the start.

But the pace wasn’t crazy from the beginning; rather, it rolled up to a nice, fast speed. While I wasn’t planning on being in the “pulling bunch,” I ended up toward the front for a long while, taking pulls with other speed demons, including my friends, Greg Gibson and Chris Ross, some racers from Leesburg, and a triathlete whose riding was vexing: fast on the flats and descents, dog slow on the ascents. He was a nice enough guy, but he was not consistent with the group.

I stayed with the lead group until the Johns Creek climb, where I fell about a minute behind the most lightweight climbers. Greg, Chris and I stopped at the summit to top off bottles and doff warm layers, then worked a tight, fast rotation along VA-42. We were soon joined by some of the Leesburg racers, and we flew toward the right turn that marks the start of the “lollipop loop.”

Our group kept motoring along, up to the high point of the loop, when Greg hit something in the road and flatted. He let out an audible expletive, but we kept rolling. We saw Jonathan ahead, falling off the back of his train (which also had Chris Zegal, another frequent riding friend, in its ranks), and lo – our “bogey” was spotted!

Chris, the Leesburg racers, and I all sped along the the rolling road along the “top” of the loop, then rocketed downhill. We caught Jonathan about a mile before the end of the loop, and he joined us for a short while before stopping for water at the aid station before the right turn back onto VA-42.

I was still feeling quite good, as was Chris, and Chris Zegal caught up to us (we must have passed him at the end-of-loop aid station), and together we rolled toward the base of the final climb to Mountain Lake. At the mile 96 aid station, Chris Ross stopped for water, while Zegal and I kept moving toward the big, final climb: a 4 mile long strain to Mountain Lake lodge, averaging over 12 percent grade for its duration.

We reached the final climb together, and Chris Z. slowly pulled away from me – he has worked on climbing this year, and it showed. I rode my own pace, and did well, neither falling too far behind Chris, nor being passed by many people along the way. At the mid-climb aid station, I asked for my usual refreshments – a glass of water dumped over my head, as well as a cup of Coke – and both were delivered with their usual, friendly, energetic gusto by the Virginia Tech cheerleading squad and some local Boy Scouts.

Still, the steepest part of the climb lay ahead.

And I kept going, pedal stroke after pedal stroke. I felt OK – not fresh, but not on the verge of cramp or wanting to stop. Left foot, right foot, keep breathing, smile, hum a peppy tune, focus ahead – all of it happened. I passed a couple folk who were having a tougher time with the hill, and Zegal’s advantage over me slowly dwindled.

As I entered the finish stretch, one of the fans along the side of the road yelled “stand and sprint!” I replied, “only if you want to see me crash and burn!” My legs were at the limit, close to cramp, but only 150 meters were left. I did increase my cadence, and upshifted as I spun out gears, and eventually crossed the finish line.

I looked at the clock: 5 hours, 44 minutes, well below my 6:05 goal time.

“Yesssss….”

The rest was a blur of activity, as the finish area usually is. The volunteers took my bike, handed me my duffel bag with clean clothes, and I quickly found my bottle of recovery drink – though the ice-cold bottle of water, handed to me by a veteran event volunteer, was like manna.

I cheered on my friends as they crossed the finish. Greg made up a ton of time and finished not long after me. Tim rode strong. Jonathan passed Chris Ross not long before the finish line. Nick and Mark also made their way up, up, up. For all, it was a hard ride, but a rewarding one in the end.

a safety tip for post-dst cycling in dc: no bike ninjas

Daylight Saving Time is over as of last weekend. For the majority of folks who are cycling commuters in the DC area, it’s dark by the time the office door closes at the end of the day.

And every year, the same thing occurs: a lot of cyclists hit the roads without lights, wearing the standard-DC-issue black jacket, on a bike that very likely has no reflectors on it.

These cyclists are bike ninjas.

Yehuda Moon bike ninja comic, copyright Rick Smith

Most of these folks ride as if it were daylight, and assume they can be seen. That isn’t the case. Dressed in black, and even with a few reflectors, they aren’t visible until too close for comfort – or for safety.

Last night, near Dupont Circle, I counted 40 commuter cyclists within a 15 minute period. Of these, only 17 had proper lighting in the front, as mandated by law. A few more than that had some sort of taillight. And most were dressed in dark, non-reflective, hard-to-see colors.

This is an easy problem to solve without spending a lot of money. Most people own some bright clothing, like a colorful shell or shirt. A basic reflective vest costs under $10. Reflective ankle straps that serve a dual purpose of keeping pants legs out of the bicycle drivetrain and create moving light points for drivers to see are cheap and come in myriad colors (including black, for those who want to keep their DC fashion cred).

And then there are lights. A basic set of front and rear blinking lights (i.e. “be seen” lights) runs around $15 dollars, weighs very little, and lets fellow road, trail, and sidewalk users know your presence as a cyclist. WABA and Bike Arlington even hand out free light sets that serve this basic purpose.

If you plan on riding on more poorly lit roads, trails, or paths, it’s worth investing in more heavy-duty “to see” lights – something I’ll discuss in a subsequent post. But a basic light set is simple, cheap, and effective, and takes care of the “bike ninja” issue.

Note: this “dressing brightly and carrying lights” argument can be transposed to folks who run at night, especially on multi-use paths (MUPs) like the W&OD and Capital Crescent Trails, where being tough to see can cause collisions between trail users.

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