Here are some activities I would like to do in 2017, along with training goals that will provide me the fitness to enjoy the experience. God willing, I’ll be able to write a post for each.
Activities I would like to do
March – Crew for three weeks of Pactour Desert Camp.
As a crew member, I’ll work half the days, ride my bike the other days, while enjoying the companionship of old and new cycling friends.
April – Ride the White Rim Road in Moab, Utah. The 100 mile loop, mostly dirt, winds along a plateau with scenic vistas of the Colorado and Green Rivers.
May – Ride the Chino Grinder, 104 miles of gravel and asphalt, with a bunch of climbing, from Prescott to Williams, AZ, and back.
September – Crew for the Pactour Southern Transcontinental, from San Diego to Savannah. As crew I’ll work half the days, and ride on alternate days. Working crew requires a much lower level of fitness than was needed for last year’s Northern. Nevertheless, I’ll enjoy the ride more if I’m in good shape.
TBD – Ride a bike tour with my son Mike in Maryland. I’ll let him make the plans for this adventure
Weight – Currently I weigh 150 lbs. Not terrible, but I’ve picked up a few pounds since returning from Boston last summer. To improve my power to weight ratio, I’d like to get my weight below 145, while adding a bit of muscle mass to my legs. That means trimming my waistline.
Miles – Like last year, I’m setting monthly goals. These include some fast miles, hopefully many slow miles, but nothing more specific. Strava will log my results.
One popular feature of Strava tells you when you ride a particular segment of a route faster than ever before. It also reports time compared to other riders who have ridden that segment. I’ve admonished friends who seem to be addicted to these stats. The PR quest is guaranteed to be a losing game. Eventually your age will catch up to your ability to keep going faster.
Late yesterday afternoon I set a new PR climbing Humboldt Mountain. Not by accident, I was going full bore. I warmed up riding to the base of the climb, hit my LT and stayed there from bottom to top. Not only did I set a PR, my time was shorter than several cycling buddies, all strong riders.
Actually, anyone who rides up Humboldt is strong. The grade steepens from 7% to 11% after the first half mile. The asphalt pavement has eroded and broken over years of neglect, leaving deep potholes with abrupt ridges and several stretches of dirt and gravel. The road ascends 1600 feet in 3 1/2 miles.
About the PR thing, I still think it’s stupid. Like playing in Vegas: keep playing long enough and lose.
About beating my buddies, also stupid. Makes no sense, but it’s in our genes. Or maybe it’s not stupid. Much better to enjoy healthy competitions and laugh about them instead of killing each other over desires for money or sex.
Better still, enjoy riding your bike slowly, stop and check out the geology, maybe take pictures.
According to the internet, a gravel bike is a cross cross bike – a cross between a cylo-cross bike and a road bike. I’m not sure exactly what that means. Read the internet.
My Gravel Bike
I spent a day shopping at five local shops, and selected a bike with a frame that fit me correctly, could be modified with clearance to mount 40mm tires, and a shop wrench who was competent to make the modifications. One of the shop guys spent an hour doing a complimentary bike fit, which set up the bike with a good starting configuration. Later, I raised the saddle to where it was supposed to be, flipped the stem so it felt more like a road bike, and switched to WTB Nano tubeless tires.
As of this writing, the bike fits me almost as well as my Davidson. It has a longer wheelbase, meaning it lumbers through turns, but has better stability on rough road. The tubeless tires running at 35 psi provide a softer ride over washboard and rocks.
I’m pretty sure OED hasn’t added this word to their tome of true words yet, because I just made it up. Gravelventure means taking your gravel bike somewhere you’ve never been before. Ideally, but not necessarily, a gravelventure includes some unpaved road. It’s okay to check out your route on Strava, rideWithGPS, or Google Earth, but not okay to drive it beforehand in your FWD. Sag support on a gravelventure is out of the question. Riding from home is a plus.
My First GravelventureS
I began exploring the local forest service roads near my house. Road conditions range from sandy smooth, to bumpy washboard, to rocky to impassible.
I rode with my buddy Brett Blanc (BB) from Tonto Hills, out the Seven Springs Road (AKA Arizona FR 24) to the 51 Ranch, which I never before knew existed. A week later, I rode Lone Ranger style out FR24, hooked a left on FR41, then another left onto FR17. When FR17 became unrideable, I carried my gravel bike half mile over a boulder field to the top of New River Mesa.
A week later BB and I climbed Humboldt Mountain under the light of a super moon. Although I had ridden that route several times before, this was my first and possibly only climb under a super moon.
Pretty obvious – ride your gravel bike somewhere, stay overnight. That means you have to carry some extra stuff. While camping out provides the ultimate freedom to stop anywhere, staying in a motel means you carry less stuff, get a shower, and don’t wake up the next morning with aches and pains from rocks rubbing your ribs.
My First Overnight Gravelventure
I rode from our home in Tonto Hills, AZ, south and east to the Superstition Wilderness, a mountainous region created by a resurgent volcano 25 million years ago. After riding the requisite 50 miles to escape the city, straight road became winding road. Office buildings gave way to towering spires, buttes and rock walls. Massive faces of dacite and welded tuff glowed in the golden afternoon sunlight, and most of the traffic vanished. Eventually the asphalt pavement turned to dirt and washboard, as I descended two miles into a box canyon formed by Fish Creek.
Ninety miles from the start I reached Apache Lake Resort, special only because it was there, a king size bed and restaurant in the middle of the wildness. The motel room was basic and I was the only customer eating in a spacious restaurant where the waitress served me draft amber bock in a plastic cup.
The following morning I found to be most enjoyable, foregoing coffee and breakfast to climb a couple thousand feet through the crisp morning air and riding fifteen miles before having breakfast in the saloon at Tortilla Flat.
I made a plan and created a route on Strava to ride 52 miles and climb 4000 feet riding through Joshua Tree National Park, which sits on the edge of the Mohave Desert in southern California. I started a slow climb from the north entrance. Before riding three miles, I had to slow down, get off my bike and just look. The Joshua Trees were doing Tai Chi.
Within another couple miles my rock nerd engaged. Stopping at the exhibits, I learned there are two basic types of rock in the park: Pinto Gneiss, a metamorphic rocked formed 1600 million years ago; and Monzogranite, an igneous rock that intruded on the gneiss 85 million years ago. Most of the gneiss has eroded, leaving a cornucopia of contacts that create a backdrop for the Joshua Trees.
So rode a mere 40, miles but touched the soul of the the place I was visiting. That’s bike touring.
Mount Mazama erupted violently 7700 years ago and formed a caldera. In the years that followed, 1900 feet of accumulated rainwater formed Crater Lake. I rate the 34 mile ride along the rim somewhere on my top ten list.
The road winds along the rim, up and down through forests of pine or hemlock, past unstable walls of andesite and dacite, and meadows of dry grass or granulated pumice.
Garmin reports total elevation gain was 3400 feet with a high point of 7800 feet on the east side of the lake.
After riding several days of Pac Tour three days on platform pedals and sandals, I was surprised to find I could ride nearly as well as when I was clipped in, both on flats and climbing long hills. The advantages of having my feet free might outweigh the few advantages of being clipped in. However, the first time I did a test ride on these pedals in a parking lot, I smacked my right shin with a pedal resulting in a two inch hematoma.
By clipless pedals, I mean pedals that don’t use toe clips and lock the shoe with special cleats to the pedal. Brands include Look, Shimano, and Speedplay. All these systems have significant disadvantages.
Riders who come to a sudden stop sometimes have difficulty removing the cleat from the pedal. Infrequent as this may be, I know two experienced riders who broke their hips with this type of fall, and I know many other people who have received minor injuries, or broken parts like deraileurs.
Riders are prone to knee and ankle injuries when their feet are locked to the pedals and the angle is not adjusted correctly.
Riders are prone to injury walking with some types of cleats on slippery floors.
Walking outside in cleats can get them clogged with dirt and grime.
Mythical Advantages of Clipless Pedals
Clipless pedals can allow an experienced rider to provide more power to the pedals under some circumstances. However, they do not provide most advantages for which they are credited.
Riders do not pedal in circles. Mostly they push down.
With few exceptions, riders almost never apply power by pulling up on pedals.
There is no evidence that clipless pedals are more efficient than platforms.
If platform pedals are better than clipless pedals for long rides, then I can ride flats and climb just as well and feel more comfortable walking around, because clipless pedals do not provide any advantage in power or efficiency.
On Bainbridge Island, I did a test ride wearing Asics GT-2000 running shoes on the small platform pedals shown in the top of the picture. I felt like my shoe was slipping off the outside of the pedal.
I tried the same shoes on the larger platform pedals and experienced no problems riding easy hills and flats. The first time I tried climbing Toe Jam Hill (average grade 17%) riding seated, I noticed a tendency to pull my foot off the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, but had no trouble correcting for this problem. I climbed the hill standing on my 34-28, then again seated using my 34-32. I was not riding hard, just checking to see if I felt comfortable. Strava reports my segment time as 3:10, 6 seconds longer than my PR.
Two days later, I climbed Toe Jam Hill harder on platform pedals, perceived effort maybe 90% of max, with the goal of beating my PR. Results: Strava reported 2:16, or 48 seconds less than my previous PR.
So far, limited evidence supports my hypothesis. My plan is to continue riding platforms for several days, including longer rides over different terrain. Also (groan) I suppose I should try Toe Jam again my Speedplay pedals with the goal of trying to beat my PR on platforms.
After winning the Race Across America several times, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo created a company called Pactour that runs fast tours across America. I rode my first Pactour from Redmond, WA to Virginia Beach, VA with my friend Anne Marie McSweeney in 2004. Between 2004 and 2011 I rode five more tours. Not having ridden a Pactour for five years, I decided to sign up for the Northern in 2016, going from my home in WA to Boston. The ride would cover 3,560 miles and 111,250 feet of climbing over 32 days of riding.
I created a simple training plan: ride a whole bunch of miles. Following are my monthly goals vs. actuals. I didn’t set any specific goals for climbing, because I knew I would do a lot of that anyway From January to June I climbed over 300,000 feet.
Month Jan Feb March April May June
Goal 200 400 600 800 1000 1200
Actual 330 650 749 813 1189 1295
Highlights of the Odyssey
A day before the official start, I left from my house on Bainbridge Island and rode 38 miles to Everett. I received a surprise escort by old friends and coworkers from Microsoft.
On Sunday, the first official day of the tour, we took the ferry from Mulkiteo to Whidbey Island, then rode 98 miles to Sedro Wooley, WA. The rolling hills of Whidbey Island are surprisingly tough. We climbed over 6,000 feet that first day. I find riding many short hills much tougher than long climbs, because they never allow me to find my steady climbing rhythm.
Next day we rode over the North Cascades Highway to Winthrop WA, 126 miles with over 8,000 feet of climbing. Because the weather was looking sketchy, I skipped the last two sag stops and made a beeline over Washington Pass and down into Mazama, where I finally got hit by rain. Nearly every other rider was smacked by cold rain and ice storms at the top of Washington Pass, and a treacherous descent into Eastern WA.
The following five days, from Winthrop to Thompson Falls, MT, were relatively short, about 100 miles each day, allowing the riders to “ease” into the tour.
Rolling hills in eastern WA, lake country of Northern Idaho and Montana, then rolling hills and farmland. East of Missoula we hit a moderate climb up a canyon to Anaconda Lakes, then descending into the town of Anaconda before entering Butte. Just after hitting the Great Plains in Columbia, MT, we headed south into the cowboy country of Wyoming.
On Day 12, we climbeb more than 8,000 feet over the Bighorn Mountains between Powell and Sheridan, WY. During the toughest twenty mile stretch, the grade inceased to 8%, then 10%, then 14%. After reaching the high point above 9,000 feet, we rode about 20 miles of rolling hills through alpine meadows before the long breathtaking descent into Sheridan.
Gillette, WY featured factories for coal and gas production. We passed train after train hauling coal to Seattle, where it is shipped to China. East of Gillette, we climbed into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where gold was discovered over 150 years ago, leading us to kick the natives out and carve
white faces into the stone. East of Rapid City, we rode through the Badlands, an ancient seabed carved by thousands of years of wind and water erosion into a stark landscape that disappear in another 5,000 years.
Through South Dakota, Minnesota,Wisconsin and Michigan we rode through endless acres of farmland – mostly corn and soybean. The wealth of this country’s heartland, the food we produce, is beyond my minds measure.
A car hit me while I was stopped at an intersection in Houston, Minnesota. The driver was turning left, cut the radius of the turn too short, driving into the lane where I was stopped and plowing into my front wheel. My bike and I rolled up over the hood of the vehicle, then off the side, and I smacked the pavement. The back of my helmet cracked, absorbing the impact, saving me from a serious head injury. Amazingly, I had no broken bones and my bike wasn’t wrecked. Aside form some minor scrapes, and a laceration where the chain wheel dug into my calf, my only injury was bruising and soft tissue damage in my left leg. It was seriously sore and swollen for about a week, preventing me from riding several days through Minnesota and Wisconsin. After that I started riding again, even though it’s still sore while I’m sitting here writing this blog.
From Michigan we crossed the border to ride through southern Ontario to Niagra Falls. Flat boring, not sure why anyone would want to live there.
The rolling hills and family farms of Upstate NY rekindled fond memories of when I used to live there forty years ago. Green mountains of Vermont gave me my last chance at extended climbing. I was riding in sandals on platform pedals encountering difficulty getting my cleat out of the left pedal with my injured knee. I was surprised to see how well I could ride and climb without my Speedplay cleats and pedals.
Massachussetts has the worst roads and nastiest drivers I’ve ever encountered. The state hasn’t changed since I lived there 35 years ago. Don’t ride a bike there. Better yet, don’t go there at all.
I rode Mavic Open Pro 32 spoke rims. These rims had 10,000 + miles before the ride. After the ride, rims are as good as when started. Of particular note, the front rim is still true after being impacted by a Ford Mustang in Minnesota.
I had two punctures during the entire trip. Tires were Roubaix Pro 700 x 23/25c. Tubes were Specialized Ultralight, inflated to 90 psi front, 100 psi rear. I weigh 140#, and my bike a other stuff weigh about 28#.
I rode the entire ride on the original set of tires. After the trip, the treads look fine, I’m not changing the tires.
I rode the entire trip on the same Shimano Ultegra 11 speed chain. At the end of the trip, there’s hardly any chain stretch – less than 1/8 inch for entire length of chain. I could continue riding the same chain, but changed it because it was so full of grime.
I rode SpeedPlay X2 Cleats, and broke a cleat about halfway through the trip. I did not lubricate the cleats. Lubrication may have helped, but also may have caused the cleat to pick up more dirt and grime. In general I would not recommend these cleats. I ride them because they provide a lot of float, and many years ago I found my knee felt better riding them, compared to SPD cleats.
I rode the last three days on platform pedals because, after getting hit by a car and hurting my knee, I was having difficulty getting my left cleat off the pedal. Amazingly, I found I could ride nearly as well on platform pedals and floppy sandals as I could with bike shoes and cleats. I would seriously consider riding my next Pactour on platform pedals.
My saddle was a Brooks Pro, which had a little more than 1000 miles of break in before the trip.
I used Asos Chamois Cream, which I applied to the chamois of my shorts each morning before starting to ride. That’s all I used – each sag stop had chamois cream available, which most riders used liberally. I had no problems with saddle sores. Each night, after washing my shorts in the sink and drying them with towels, I poured rubbing alcohol over the chamois, mainly for sanitation. It also helped the chamois to dry quickly.
I never used a laundromat, finding it took very little time to hand wash my shorts and jerseys in the motel sinks.
I found one of the greatest joys of this trip to be the experience of riding with 50 odd cyclists who share my passion for cycling. We considered our fanaticism to be normal.
Bob – Liberal Lawyer (retired) from Conneticutt, doing his second transcontinental. We enjoyed endless conversations ranging from politics, to the civil war, to politics, then World War II, American History, and oh yeah, more politics. I really wanted him to convince me that Trump has no chance to win the election in November.
Jonathan – Doctor from Australia, doing his gazillionth Pactour, was a locomotive. He dragged me and other riders through headwinds and into the lunch stop while telling funny stories.
Amy – Retired investment banker from Manhatten, a little spark plug of cheer and enthusiasm. She crashed, receiving a concussion on Day 7, went home to receive treatment, then returned to ride strong and finish the tour.
Brett – Lawyer from Arizona, probably my best buddy, also best buddy to half the other people on the trip. Strong, funny, half the time spewing bullshit and exagerations, and there to help as a true friend when anyone needed him. He took charge of the scene where I got whacked by the car, keeping the driver in the car, collecting important information before the police arrived. There’s another side to him that he didn’t talk about much, probably because he was on vacation. Jesus Christ is his savior.
NC Bob – retired programmer from North Carolina had dreamed about doing a transcontinental for twenty years.
Retta – wife of NC Bob, drove their car and volunteered as part of the lunch crew. We shared many conversations while I rode in her car for several days after my accident. She has a servant’s heart.
Terry and Louise – both really strong riders, were on their honeymoon. Terry won the 508 a few years ago. A couple years later, he came in third while riding a fixed gear. He also hunted all his own food for 15 years, using a bow and arrow, or scuba diving, built his own house and own bike. Super friendly people.
Rod – young skinny guy, enjoying his first PacTour.
Jon – Rod’s buddy, really strong, could do wheelies while climbing mountains.
Scott – Joined us for the last week of the tour. Only guy I know who actually completed the Strava Everest Challenge – that means riding the same hill over and over, to climb 29,000 feet in a day.
Bruce – from New Hampshire, CFO of a company that makes bird feeders.
Jack – Seventy year old retired musician, was good a reading the “spots off the page”. Currently living in Colorado, moved there after driving a motor home around the country for seven years. Made his own beer, roasted his own coffee beans, and rode umpteen PacTours.
Andrew – Another doc from Australia, rode the Elite as his first PacTour in 2008. Strong rider, always there for genuine help and encouragement.
Tom – From San Franscisco, created all the GPS routes we downloaded to our Garmins. Strong rider, usually riding near the front, often with a scowl on his face. I teased him that I knew he wasn’t a grumpy as he looked.
Lon and Susan – my heroes. Original winners of Raam, they’ve already done anything they ever expect from anyone else on the bike. For years they’ve been bring transcontinental experiences to ordinary people.
2) Get to know and enjoy the people. DONE – Probably my greatest joy of the journey
3) Finish the ride, not wanting it to be over. DONE – I felt really sad when the trip ended. I still miss seemingly endless days of riding, the simple life of few decisions, the experience of not just seeing, but feeling the country, the sun, rain, and wind, the bumps in the road, the smell of the air, the climbs and descents
4) Figure out what to do next in Life – Still working on this one…
I crawled out of bed at five AM the first morning of the year, having forgone any party to hit the sack at nine on New Year’s Eve. An hour later, I was hauling my bike out of the bike house, groping around in the dark to find my cold weather riding gear. A New Year’s Day ride was starting at 8 somewhere west of where I live – not sure exactly where, but I had a general idea. An hour later I was cruising down the hill, leaving the crisp clear air of Tonto Hills to ride in the stale air of Phoenix with a bunch of guys I didn’t know who were almost certainly faster than me.
This was the second annual NYD ride, organized by Timothy, of underground crit fame. A group of about 40 riders started out neutral on a flat course. After the first turn, they wound it up and spit me off the back. There was an A group, a B group, and a bunch of stragglers. I ended up chasing with 2 other guys, happy knowing there were still a bunch of riders behind us.
A little over a month ago, we adopted a dog from a Rescue group. Griffin is just over a year old, and fifty pounds of pure muscle. There’s no way I can run fast or far enough to give him the exercise he needs, so I put my fat tire to a new service. Today we did over eleven miles and Grif was running hard most of the time. I still haven’t found his limit.
I need to keep Grif on a leash because he has a ferocious instinct to go after prey of all kinds: rabbits, quayle, coyotes, bobcats, cars, other cyclists… if it runs he’ll bolt after it. (Hopefully some day we’ll train him not to chase.) After experimenting and biting the dust several times, I found that attaching the leash to the bike seat with a biner and a bike tube works pretty well. Because it’s attached to the most stable part of the bike, when Grif tries to bolt and pull, it’s easy to maintain speed and direction. I learned this when I was taught to do bumping drills on the track.