Monthly Archives: August 2011

Cycling through hurricanes


Dave Cox can’t seem to stay out of the path of hurricanes.
The veteran leader of
Adventure Cycling Association tours said in an e-mail on Sunday that he and other cyclists on the ACA’s Atlantic Coast tour were holed up in Exeter, N.H., waiting for Hurricane Irene to pass.
The e-mail was addressed to cyclists who took part in a 2009 bicycle trip led by Dave — a 3,130-mile, self-contained journey along the Southern Tier of the United States from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
“How could you forget the wonderful stay we had in Mobile waiting for Ida to blow through?” Dave asked.
I was a member of that group in the fall of 2009. During the last three weeks of our trip, we had to decide what to do about Ida, a late-season hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico threatening to tear through the Gulf Coast during the early days of November.

A NOAA image of Hurricane Ida as it drew a bead on Mobile Bay

Ida began to focus our minds on Sunday, Nov. 8, during an overnight stop at an RV park near Ocean Springs, Miss. The ominous weather reports described Ida as a Category 2 hurricane that would hit the Gulf Coast within a day or two somewhere along the path of our eastward journey. The woman who ran the Journey’s End RV Park said we could get six inches of rain that night.
We had planned to ride the next day from Ocean Springs to Bayou La Batre, Ala., at the mouth of Mobile Bay, and eventually make our way by ferry to Gulf Shores. But with Ida threatening ferry service, we had to take a more northerly route right through the city of Mobile. The predicted rains hadn’t come Sunday night, so our small caravan set out on Monday morning for Mobile, hoping to beat the outlying bands of rain that were predicted for late afternoon.

The Shed, adjacent to the RV park in Ocean Springs. It would have been a nice place to wait out a hurricane, but it was closed on Mondays.

The rain, unfortunately, came early — about 23 miles into a 50.76-mile ride — and continued throughout the day. Also, the counter-clockwise circulation of Ida was kicking up brutal northeasterly winds with knock-down gusts. The direction we were headed? Yep, northeast.
Add to the wind and rain the horrendous traffic on no-shoulder roads on the route to Mobile and you have the elements of one of the most miserable days I’ve ever spent on a bike.
Several miles of busy Airport Boulevard into Mobile were down to one lane because of repaving. Cars and trucks backed up behind us as we tried to negotiate the slick, muddy pavement. I actually crashed twice because of the uneven road surface, but each time, I and the bike landed in the soft mud on the shoulder of the road. Both bike and rider survived, save for a skinned right knee.
I probably presented a pathetic sight — wet, cold and muddy — as drivers passed by. Some offered sympathetic glances. But one driver, headed in the other direction and not even affected by our slow passage, shouted out of his rolled-down window: “Get the f–k off the road.”
We all survived that miserable day. At the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a Days Inn.
And that’s where we took shelter from the storm. Ida, downgraded to a tropical depression by the time its center made landfall, sloshed through Mobile Bay in the early hours of Tuesday. I had hoped to hear the wind howling outside the motel, but I was disappointed. Ida passed without my notice as I slept.

Dave Cox (left) and I look on as fellow rider John Diller works on his wheel in 2009

Dave’s latest group of cyclists was a week into the ride along the Atlantic Coast route, which runs from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Key West, Fla., when Hurricane Irene forced the caravan to hole up in New Hampshire.
A member of his current group is veteran cyclist Mike Ullner, who rode with us along the Southern Tier in 2009. But Mike had to abandon that journey in New Roads, La., on the western side of the Mississippi River, because of a detached retina that required immediate surgery.
He missed our encounter with Hurricane Ida. But now, on this ride, he’s gotten to experience a hurricane with Dave. “He felt left out since he missed Ida,” Dave wrote in his e-mail, “so now his severe-weather touring experience is complete!”
If I ever decide to ride with Dave again, I believe I’ll sign up for a route where hurricanes seldom appear — Montana, maybe, or Wyoming.

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We’re ‘getting there’


Fort Worth has a long way to go before it becomes a bike-friendly city on the order of Portland, Ore., or Minneapolis. But, “it’s getting there.”
That’s the considered opinion of Mark Troxler, avid cyclist, professional ballet dancer and a leader of Fort Worth’s monthly “critical mass” rides.
Mark was quoted in a nice piece by Matt McGowan for the blog Fort Worthology.
Also a cyclist, Matt is newly arrived in the city from Lubbock. He has been getting involved in the local cycling scene and joined last Friday evening’s critical mass ride, which began in Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth.
Kevin Buchanan, who operates Fort Worthology, shot some photos. And, hey, I ended up in the lead photo that accompanied Matt’s piece.

Getting ready to head out on Friday's critical mass ride. From left in front: Mark Troxler, Jim Peipert and Josh Lindsay. Photo by Kevin Buchanan

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An epic ride dedicated to Mom


His name will be entered in Le Grande Livre, an enduring chronicle of one of the world’s oldest and most grueling of sporting events.
That was the simple goal for Jeremy Shlachter, neighbor, longtime friend and custom bike builder, when he began training for PBP 2011, this year’s edition of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycling event, an endurance ride of 1,200 kilometers from Paris to the Atlantic Coast and back to Paris. The ride — equivalent to more than 745 miles, nearly the distance between Chicago and New York — had to be finished in 90 hours.
“Paris Brest Paris time 78 hours and 31 minutes,” Jeremy posted today on Facebook from Paris after his finish, more than 11 hours before the deadline. “Whole new kinds of hurt mixed in with some old ones.”
In a later Facebook post in response to congratulations from well-wishers, Jeremy wrote: “thanks everybody. it was so hard. nearly all hills. 3.5 hours sleep total. rode through a thunder storm. but the scenery and experience was beautiful. glasgow bound tomorrow, london on the 7th, texas on the 10th. and yes i did have a paris brest pastry and it was delicious.”
Riders in the PBP are an elite breed of cyclists called randonneurs, French for “ramblers.” They train their bodies to ride ridiculous distances of hundreds of miles during a single weekend.
This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris event, held every four years in August, began on Sunday and ended today after 90 hours had elapsed.

Charles Terront , winner of the first Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 1891

Each rider finishing within the allotted time receives a PBP finisher’s medal and has his or her name entered into the event’s Le Grande Livre (“The Great Book”) along with every other finisher dating back to the first Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 1891.
All participants in PBP had to qualify by doing a “super randonneur” series of “brevets,” or rides, of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers in the year of the event and complete the series by mid-June.
The qualifying rides are overseen by the governing body of randonneuring in each participant’s country. The governing body for the United States is RUSA, or Randonneurs USA. The club for North Texas, which organizes and monitors randonneuring events, is Lone Star Randonneurs.

Jeremy Shlachter after 24 hours in the saddle during his 600-kilometer "brevet"

During a randonneuring event, the clock runs continuously. Participants ride through the night, sleeping as little as possible, sometimes catching a brief catnap beside the road before continuing.
On one weekend in the spring, the last of his qualifying brevets, Jeremy rode 600 kilometers (375 miles) in 27 hours and 6 minutes on a course mapped out around Italy, Texas, south of Dallas.
In his last major weekend ride before PBP — not needed for qualification but to keep his physical edge — Jeremy rode 800 kilometers (497 miles), broken down into two separate brevets of 600 kilometers on June 11-12 and 200 kilomters on June 13. From then until shortly before leaving for France, he rode shorter routes in the heat of this beastly Texas summer.
In a post on his blog today, Jeremy wrote of the Paris-Brest-Paris ride: “This will definitely go down as one of my greatest sporting accomplishments and most sensastional experiences. I don’t think I would want to even know what is a harder event then PBP.”
But then he put things into perspective:

Vintage PBP poster

“I have been extremely quiet about this in the public realm of my business, but now I feel it is necessary to share. Though this was a tough experience it does not compare to the pain and suffering my mother has been experiencing for well over a year now fighting brain cancer. My grand randoneé is completely dedicated to her. It would not have been possible without her love, support, and guidance. She has approached her situation with the same class, dignity, and compassion that has always defined her as a person. Her perseverance has been the greatest influence on my success and determination.”
Jeremy’s parents and brother had hoped to travel to France for his epic ride. But Amrita Shlachter’s illness made that impossible.
Well ridden, Jeremy, and well said!

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‘Industrial revolutions’


I’m continually amazed by what this guy can do on a bike.
The latest video displaying
the bicycle artistry of Danny MacAskill of Scotland, “Industrial Revolutions,” has been popping in the posts of my bicycling Facebook friends and it’s gone viral on YouTube. So I’m posting it on my blog.
The British newspaper The Independent reported on Aug. 18 that the video was filmed for the TV documentary “Concrete Circus,” shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on Aug. 15. The newspaper said the video was uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 9 but began to go viral only after its showing on British television. As of Aug. 18, The Independent said, the video had more than 762,000 views.
The video, directed by Stu Thomson, shows MacAskill performing gravity-defying stunts on a BMX as he rides around industrial relics and an abandoned train yard in the Scottish countryside. The music is “The Wolves” by Ben Howard, courtesy of Universal Island Records.
The Independent noted that MacAskill has previously found YouTube fame with several videos, including one for the Red Bull energy drinks company titled “Way Back Home.” That video, the newspaper said, currently has more than 12 million views after being uploaded in November 2010.

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Off the map


“There are two types of people in Louisiana, those who live in St. Francisville and those who want to!”
— St. Francisville Mayor Billy D’Aquilla

Cross-country cyclists following Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route will no longer be routed through one of the most charming, historic and picturesque of Southern river towns: St. Francisville, La.

Southern Tier route

The news comes from Carla Majernik, director of Adventure Cycling Association’s Routes and Mapping Department. It was reported in the Aug. 17 edition of the association’s Bike Bits, an online compilation of cycling news.
“This is to alert everyone that there is a new end-point city on the newest version of map section
#5 of the Southern Tier,” Majerik said. “This map section now ends in New Roads, Louisiana, instead of St. Francisville.
“The change results from the fact that last May, a Mississippi River ferry crossing closed permanently. A new bridge was built about three miles downriver from where the ferry was located and the route no longer can go through St. Francisville.”
That’s very sad news.
In November 2009, during the final three weeks of a transcontinental bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., along Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route, I spent a pleasant sojourn in St. Francisville, our first stop on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.
St. Francisville was a scheduled rest stop on our 65-day trip. Some members of of our bicycling caravan — then numbering 12 — chose to rent a van and pay a whirlwind, overnight visit to New Orlean. Others, like myself, who had savored the delights of the Crescent City, chose to stay in St. Francisville — to relax, do laundry and do maintenance on our bikes in preparation for the home stretch of our cross-country trek through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
I did a leisurely bike ride through St. Francisville, perched on high bluffs between Natchez, Miss., to the north and Baton Rouge, La., to the south.

A stately home in St. Francisville

Several of the stately homes and welcoming B&Bs in the town’s historic district flew blue flags with a large white star in the center. Called the Bonnie Blue Flag, it was a remembrance of St. Francisville’s moment of glory, when for a little more than a month in the autumn of 1810 the town was the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of West Florida. (See Nov. 5, 2009, blog post, “A short-lived southern republic.)
I had an excellent grilled-shrimp po’ boy sandwich and a bottle of Abita Amber beer at the Magnolia Cafe, where I met a young French-Canadian couple who were bicycling to the Pacific Northwest. That evening, I and two of my traveling companions enjoyed a splendid meal — complete with wine, white tablecloth and real silverware — at one of St. Francisville’s more elegant dining establishments. It was welcome change after weeks of eating our collectively cooked meals out of Tupperware containers with plastic utensils at campsites and seedy RV parks the breadth of America.
The stop in St. Francisville was fixed in my mind even before our cycling caravan had set out from San Diego on Sept. 20, 2009. A friend was canoeing the length of the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to New Orleans, and we had the fanciful notion of crossing paths at St. Francisville. But it turned out that a rendezvous wasn’t in the cards; he had been held up in Mississippi quite a few miles upriver.

A St. Francisville residence flies the Bonnie Blue Flag

St. Francisville was also the place where we learned that one of fellow riders had to abandon the trip. Our prevous overnight stop had been a campsite near Simmesport. The morning of our departure for St. Francisville, we learned, he had awakened with an eye problem. He was on cooking rotation that morning and prepared a pot of grits and a nice fruit salad for his traveling companions’ breakfast.
Without, to my knowledge, making any mention of a problem to his fellow riders, he rode nearly 40 miles from Simmesport to New Roads, downriver, where he saw an ophthalmologist. He learned that he had a detached retina and needed immediate surgery to reattach it. He flew home to the West Coast from New Orleans the next day.
Even in 2009, ferry service to St. Francisville was sporadic. When we reached the river after our ride from Simmesport, we heard that the ferry was out of service and no one seemed to know when it might be working again. So most of us gathered at a bar and grill near the river and tried to figure out what to do next. How far downriver was a bridge? What distance would that add to the day’s ride, already amounting to about 50 miles? After a couple hours, word came from our ride leader that the ferry was up and running, so we headed for the landing and crossed to St. Francisville.

The newly completed John James Audubon Bridge. Photo by Joe Dunn

The new John James Audubon Bridge is about 3 1/2 miles downriver from where the ferry operated, and that route for cyclists on the Southern Tier will bypass St. Francisville.
That’s a shame.
I don’t know New Roads, now designated as the end-point of Section 5 of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier maps. I’m sure it’s a nice town. Settlers from France established an outpost called Le Poste de Pointe Coupée in the 1720s near what is now New Roads, according to Wikipedia. But I’ll bet it will be tough for New Roads to match St. Francisville for scenery, charm and history.

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Wearing wool in high summer


The term “woolen underwear” conjures images of the scratchy longjohns worn by miners and cowboys in America’s Old West. So I was pleasantly surprised by a line of woolen wear from New Zealand designed for travel and sports in even the warmest of weather.
The Icebreaker line sold by the Nature Shop gets its raw material from the merino sheep that graze the high country on New Zealand’s South Island. Merino wool, one of the softest types available, is gathered at sheep stations with such names as Walter Peak, Glenmore and Mount Nicholas. The result is a lightweight fabric that’s soft to the skin and wicks away moisture.
Full disclosure: The marketing folks at the Nature Shop came across my blog and asked me to field-test some of the Icebreaker products, and keep them in exchange for an “honest review.”
So I checked out the online catalogue with an eye for apparel useful for cyclists.

Icebreaker tech t lite ridge

A woolen jersey, ideal for cool-weather cycling, immediately caught my eye. But it was high summer in Texas, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So a T-shirt and a pair of boxer briefs seemed the more appropriate choices
It’s counterintuitive that wool would be suitable wear for summer, so I was skeptical. But I tried out both items in the Texas heat and during a trip to South Korea and Taiwan, where the heat and humidity were beastly. Even after several days’ wear — how to put this? — the T-shirt and briefs seemed much more fresh than cotton would have been.
Here’s the reason, according to the Nature Shop website: “Icebreaker clothing breathes better because each individual merino fibre breathes as well as the fabric. In warm conditions, sweat is pulled from the body into the fabric, dispersed and metabolised as water vapour, cooling the body through ‘cooling by evaporation.'”

A merino sheep

The Icebreaker apparel also dries out very quickly after a wash. A person who likes to travel light — as I do — could get away with taking only a couple pair of underwear on an extended trip and washing one out in a sink each night.
Until I was contacted, I had never heard of the Nature Shop, which started in 2007 and has operations in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. But I’ve since learned a few things about the company, including what it calls the “10-percent profit pledge.”
“We want to put our money where our proverbial mouth is,” says the Nature Shop website. “In 2010 we introduced a new policy that will see us spending a minimum of ten percent of our net profit each year on environmental and social initiatives including charitable donations to the World Wildlife Fund, donations to kids charities and carboNZero certification.”
Each piece of clothing in the Icebreaker line has sewn into it a green tag with a “Baacode.” You can go to the website icebreaker.com, type in the numbers and letters of the Baacode and find out what sheep stations gathered the wool to produce the garment. You can also watch interviews with the families that operate the sheep stations.
My T-shirt, for example, was made with wool from the Walter Peak, Glenmore, Muller and Mount Nicholas stations, nestled in the Southern Alps that run almost the entire length of New Zealand’s South Island.
All that is very cool.
But the downside of the Icebreaker line is the price. The T-shirt costs about $60, the boxer briefs about $43. That’s a bit pricy for a cheapskate like me who frequents bargain bins and almost always buys clothing on sale.
The Icebreaker line is available at REI, Backwoods and other chains of outdoor stores. During one of my frequent visits to a Backwoods store in Fort Worth, I found a display of Icebreaker clothing positioned just to the left of the checkout counter. Without mentioning any knowledge of Icebreaker apparel, I asked a floor manager about it and how it was selling.
“It’s a terrific product,” he said, adding that the line is selling very well. So, I guess, despite the price, consumers who want high-quality products are willing to pay the price, even in a sluggish economy.

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‘Running for dear life’


It seems altogether fitting that Republican Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who called projects that encourage bicycling and walking “not in the national interest,” is from Florida.

John Mica

The Sunshine State, according to data in Tuesday’s New York Times, has four metropolitan areas, led by the Orlando region, that rank as the most dangerous places to walk in the country.
The Times story, headlined “On Wide Florida Roads, Running for Dear Life,” cited a recent survey by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization.
“The Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions, with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009,” said the Times story by Lizette Alvarez. “This translates to an annual fatality rate of 3 per 100,000 people. Second was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach.”
But Mica, who represents the 7th Congressional District along Florida’s northeast coast that includes St. Augustine in the north and Daytona Beach in the south, announced on July 7 that his proposed long-term federal transportation bill will eliminate dedicated funding for projects that encourage bicycling and walking. (See May 7 post, “Federal bike path funds in peril.”)
The bill, which would cover the next six years of federal highway appropriations, would do away with the Transportation Enhancement Program, removing the requirement that 10 percent of the roughly $32 billion collected in federal gas tax dollars go toward bike lanes, sidewalks and the like. “Not in the national interest,” he says.
David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, was quoted by the Times as saying that much of Florida was rapidly built up during an era of auto-centric design, so “the tendency there has been to build the big wide arterials; you have these long superblocks and you can get up to a good speed.”

A pedestrian bolts across Semoran Boulevard in Orlando. Photo by Chip Litherland for The New York Times

Pedestrian crossings on these wide, high-speed roads are few and far between, sometimes as much as a half-mile between stop lights. So pedestrians literally risk their lives to dart through a lull in the fast-moving traffic. Some don’t make it.
Mica may not have gotten the message on the need to make Florida more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, but the folks in Orlando have. After the region’s top ranking in the previous pedestrian fatality survey, issued in 2009, Orlando moved ahead in building miles of sidewalks, creating overpasses, improving lighting, setting up audible pedestrian signals and narrowing roads to calm traffic.
“We are trying to change the culture and this thinking that is car-centric,” Frank Consoli, Orlando’s traffic operations engineer, told the Times. “Any death is too many. We don’t want to see that. We don’t want Orlando also to get a reputation that we have problems here. We want to make it as safe as possible.”
But it will be hard to change that car-centric culture when one of the state’s most prominent congressmen is wedded to a transportation policy that favors cars and trucks over any other means of locomotion and who has family ties to the oil industry that fuels those cars and trucks.
And if Mica and like-minded Republicans succeed in pushing through his long-term federal transportation bill, the city planners aiming to make Orlando more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians will be hard-pressed for cash to do it.

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