Monthly Archives: April 2009

Riders in the ‘hood


Some of the most pleasant training rides, if they can be so called, are those with friends and neighbors who meet on Sunday mornings in the driveway of Steve McReynolds in Mistletoe Heightsmha-bike-riders-2. The neighborhood, one of Fort Worth’s oldest, sits on high ground above the Fort Worth Zoo and near to downtown. It affords easy access to the city’s fine network of trails along the Trinity River.
Our group of cyclists, sometimes as few as three but occasionally as many as 10 or 12, includes riders of varying levels of fitness. So our Sunday rides are leisurely rambles of between 25 and 40 miles. They provide a nice aerobic workout, but they’re more a chance to socialize and catch up on neighborhood gossip. And any health benefit is probably neutralized by the post-ride burgers and beer.

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Transcendental Meditation on 2 wheels


hdoyleholmes“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jan.18, 1896, Scientific American magazine

Training for a long-distance bicycle ride can be a pain in the behind, literally and figuratively. Riding the same training routes day after day can be tedious and boring. On some days, as during this week in Texas, you welcome rain as an excuse not to train. And there are days when a BarcaLounger and a book simply might win out over a bicycle saddle.
But it’s absolutely essential to get in the miles. Unless you’re young and super fit, you can’t decide in May to start training for a ride like the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in June. You’d crap out on the high mountain passes, probably have a miserable week and never try such a ride again.
I’ve never been a “hammerhead,” one of those riders in color-coordinated Spandex who whiz by on the road, hunched low over the handlebars, eyes straight ahead, too focused to pass a word of greeting. They’re also the bicycle bores who, during downtime in the evening on multi-day rides, talk interminably of cadence and gear ratios, calorie intake and expenditure, heart rate, lactic acid buildup and other arcane workings of man and machine.
I view training as an essential, though not always pleasant, component to having a good time on the ride you’re training for. If you’re in such sorry shape that you can barely handle the task of getting from the day’s start to the camp site or motel at day’s end, you’re not likely to have enough energy to enjoy the rest of the evening. And that’s much of the fun on a long-distance ride – the camaraderie of shared experience, swapping stories with new best friends, the total relaxation that follows a day of pushing your body to its limits.
The Adventure Cycling Association sends out to those who sign up for one of its trips a booklet called “Before You Go: A Handbook for Adventure Cycling’s Self-Contained Tours.” It says: “For any tour, it is important to train prior to leaving; even with preparation, it is challenging to pedal a loaded bicycle day in and day out. Weather is unpredictable – you may find yourself riding through rainstorms, fighting headwinds, or cycling in oppressive heat. You may also be climbing passes or sharing the road with coal and/or logging trucks, depending on the tour your choose.”
So I train, like it or not. And sometimes, on a sparkling, windless day, when all the world seems to be bursting with life – like springtime in Texas – a training ride can be a glorious enterprise. It’s a way to recharge the batteries, clear the mind of worrisome thoughts and get right with the world – Transcendental Meditation on two wheels.
einstein-on-a-bikeAlbert Einstein is reported to have said of his theory of relativity: “I thought of that while riding my bike.” I’ve yet to have an Einsteinian brainstorm on a bicycle, but I have gotten an idea or two for this blog.

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Miles and miles of bike routes


finalposter1Snippets from the 2008 annual report of the Adventure Cycling Association in the April issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine:
— “In 2008 we expanded the Adventure Cycling Route Network to 38,158 total miles; the largest designated national bike network anywhere in the world (and the equivalent mileage of riding one-and-a-half times around the planet!).”
— “In October, after four years of hard work, the influential American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved a National Corridor Plan for an official U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS). Adventure Cycling was the lead partner in developing the corridor plan, providing organizing and cartographic services. Our staff even designed a striking new logo for the USBRS, which could become the largest official cycling network in the world. (Adventure Cycling’s network is the largest “unofficial” route system, to our knowledge.)”
— “In 2008, 940 riders traveled with Adventure Cycling, participating in 33 tours and classes. Together they pedaled more than 630,000 miles!”
— “2008 marked an all-time high with 44,489 members, including 7,011 new members, and 31 new Life Members. 1,000 members hailed from 46 countries outside the U.S., from Austria to Venezuela. We added over 30 new shop memberships (now 210 strong), while our 125 member clubs served over 57,000 individual members.”

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Blogging on a bike


phone-sign-2As noted in earlier posts, the main purpose of this blog will be to keep a record of a cross-country bicycle journey for my wife, three sons, other relatives and friends.
The question was how best to do it. Laptop? Blackberry, iPhone?
I’ve been following online the journey of a cyclist who is near the end of a transcontinental trip from San Diego to Charleston. I e-mailed him to find out how he was doing his postings. He replied that he was using a Blackberry Curve and typing with his thumbs to send regular e-mails to his wife. She then cleaned up the typos and posted the e-mails on his journal.
Laborious thumb-typing would probably eat up most of my downtime, and I doubt that my wife would have the time to decipher my typo-filled missives and post them on a blog. So I figured I’d need a small laptop with a real keyboard.
I already have a small laptop, a Dell Inspiron 700m, but the weight of the battery prohibits its use on a self-contained trip.
So I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini 9, an ultra-portable “netbook” with a nine-inch screen and a pretty good keyboard. It weighs only 2.2 pounds and will fit nicely into one of my panniers. It has a 16-gig, solid-state hard drive (like a built-in thumb drive) that should endure the jostling on the road better than a more capacious, mechanical drive. I also have a separate 16-gig thumb drive for additional storage.
The Mini 9 has a built-in webcam and microphone, so that I can use Skype to talk to my wife in Fort Worth and sons in Taipei, Denver and New York. And with my webcam and theirs, we can see each other.
The only problem is that I will have to rely on finding wi-fi hotspots, which are fairly common in populated areas, but might be as rare as waterspouts in the desert Southwest. I figure I can write journal entries during any downtime, and wait to send them until I find a wi-fi hotspot.

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Abducted by aliens?


alien-clipart-editedI considered doing this journey alone, but my wife and sons persuaded me otherwise. What if you’re hit by a truck? What if you get sick and can’t ride? What if you break down and are stranded in the Mojave Desert? What if you’re beaten and robbed? What if you’re abducted by aliens in New Mexico? All but the last, I guess, is a valid concern.
So I decided to sign up for a tour with Adventure Cycling Association, an organization founded in 1973 as Bike Centennial to organize a cross-country bicycle tour as a way to celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1976. For more than three decades, ACA has been mapping, organizing and leading rides across the country for touring cyclists, and they have a reputation for knowing what they’re doing. I’ve been a member for 15 years.
Once it was determined that I’d ride in company with others rather than go solo, I had to select a route and decide whether to go with a supported group (meaning that a vehicle accompanies the riders and hauls their gear) or to go self-contained (meaning that each rider carries his or her own gear on the bike).
Most of the guided tours offered by Adventure Cycling Association are self-contained. But the organization does offer a supported, 93-day tour along the classic TransAmerica Trail between Astoria, Ore., and Yorktown, Va., the route blazed in 1976 for the bicentennial. As I wrestled with justifying the added expense of a supported tour and dithered about signing up, the tour quickly filled its spaces for a May 16 start date from Virginia. So, on the Friday after last Thanksgiving, I signed up for ACA’s southern tier route this fall.
Riding alone, nevertheless, has a certain appeal. I rode solo and self-contained from Fort Worth to San Antonio – in 1998 and 1999 – with no problems other than a couple flats. I liked the freedom of having no fixed daily destination, and the people I met proved to be curious and friendly.
David Lamb, a longtime foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, made a solo, self-contained journey in 1994 from Alexandria, Va., to Santa Monica, Calif. In his book, Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America By Bicycle, he wrote of the many folks he met along the way:
“What seemed to intrigue them most was that I was making the journey alone. Didn’t I know the highways weren’t safe anymore? When I’d ask, ‘Well, is it safe around here?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, sure, you won’t have any problems here,’ I would reply, ‘That’s what they say everywhere I’ve been. So I figure my odds are pretty good of not running into trouble.’ Rather than being reassured, people often seemed disappointed that I didn’t have a prime-time horror story to share.”

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Fears and apprehensions


I’d be a fool if I didn’t harbor some fears and apprehensions as I contemplate a journey across the United States by bicycle.
I’m not a young man. If all goes well, I’ll celebrate my 67th birthday on Nov. 15, as we near the end of the trip on Nov. 21. I reckon we’d probably be in the Florida Panhandle at that time, with St. Augustine and the Atlantic Ocean about a week away.
Will I have the stamina to ride an average of 57 miles per day for more than two months? What if I fall sick? Flu, food poisoning, a debilitating cold? Fortunately, I’ve enjoyed good health and am seldom sick. But I don’t want to be the “old guy” who can’t keep up.
I also worry about a serious bike problem during one of those long stretches in the desert, many miles from a bike shop. The occasional flat is to be expected, even with puncture-resistant touring tires. But I’m not sure yet that I could fix a broken spoke.
I bought from Adventure Cycling Association an emergency spoke-repair kit, consisting of a Kevlar cord that can serve as a spoke until the wheel can be repaired and properly trued. Fortunately, my bike has top-of-the-line, 36-spoke touring wheels and in years of riding I’ve never broken a spoke. There’s always a first time.
Loneliness and the tedium of doing the same thing day after day could also be a factor. Although the group will consist of about 14 people, we will all ride at our own pace and many of us will probably be riding solo much of the time. Also, in a group of 14, one person with a bad attitude could spoil the journey for the rest.
My overriding hope is that, after talking for years about crossing the country by bike and getting psyched up and trained to do it, that I don’t wash out for health or other reasons in the early stages.

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Hazards on the highway


EH3541PErnest Hemingway lived a life filled with adventure, but I don’t believe he ever rode a bicycle across America. He, nevertheless, beautifully summed up the essence of such a journey in a passage of obscure provenance often cited by touring cyclists.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them,” Hemingway wrote. “Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
All of that is very true. But Hemingway might also have written of the less grand aspects of long-distance cycling. You get up close and personal with roadkill and scavenging buzzards, snarling canines with a laser-lock on your Achilles tendon and the detritus of a wasteful society: plastic bags wind-blown onto fences, amber shards of glass from smashed beer bottles and the ubiquitous Styrofoam.
A cross-country rider also must contend with subtle shifts of the wind and slight changes in the incline of the road that a driver wouldn’t notice, abrupt transitions in the road surface as one passes from one county to another — smooth asphalt or concrete, for example, changing at a county line to cheaper, and much rougher, chipseal — slotted drainage grates that can grab a wheel and throw a rider, fast-moving rain squalls that force a rider to seek sparse shelter in the middle of nowhere, and some roads whose tired surfaces have been patched so many times with tar that they’re like washboards.
Yes, as Hemingway wrote, you do get an “accurate remembrance of the country” you’ve ridden through. But, more often than not, it might be a vivid remembrance of a geezer in a Winnebago whose extended rearview mirror missed your left ear by a hair than of the range of snow-capped peaks on the horizon.

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