Top 10 Reasons Cyclists Choose Not to Hate the Warm Weather

With summer coming you’d think it’d be a cause to gripe but this post is trying to find something to like about it.

10. Plenty of daylight means we get to ride any damn time we please.

9. Being outside exerting ourselves and we get used to the heat, unlike others who’re afraid to leave their cars to walk across a parking lot.

8. Those frozen water bottles thaw out about when you really need a cold swig.

7. Getting nice and sweaty before public interactions ensures proper social distancing rules will be followed.

6. No need for extra layers. Put on shorts, jersey and we’re good to go.

5. Beers taste unbelievable after a long day sweating it out.

4. Food trucks are easy to find.

3. Events every weekend provide a convenient excuse to get out of yard work or anything for that matter.

2. No problem finding that seat on the patio of your favorite bistro and who wants to eat inside anyway?

  1. When else would you get a chance to chug pickle juice?

2020 Year in Review

I think we can all agree that 2020 was pretty rough. Many lost their jobs and loved ones. Our economy tanked. Businesses failed. Governments teetered on the brink. It felt like 1918 and 1930 combined.

An absolutely terrible year and it ain’t over yet. For all but a few of us, the worst in memory. So please forgive dear reader, this painful look into a past yet unhealed.

There were other declines to reckon with. In nearly every personal pursuit, 2020 pretty much sucked.

Mine’s cycling. So, how’d that work out? Not great. Most events, and all of the big ones were canceled. Dirty Kanza (now Unbound Gravel) was first postponed, then cancelled. The goblet would have to wait (was to be the 5th). Gravel Worlds went virtual. It was both disappointing and a relief. The right decision. But, it left a void in training resolve. Why suffer through all those miles now? What’s the point?

Paradoxically, cycling as a hobby enjoyed unprecedented success. People started riding their bikes. The benefits were immediate and obvious. Parents now spending quality time with their kids, instead of following their typically obsessive and harried schedules. Senior citizens and others (who look like they could use a little exercise) were now on the trail. Not just the typical hard core athletes. I welcomed them and offered encouragement. The trail is for everyone. The more the merrier.

A perfect pandemic activity. Tailor made for lockdown conditions. We can still ride while maintaining a safe distance. We can meet fitness goals (when so many others have gone awry) and blow off steam. It’s fun, cheap and anyone can do it.

Another silver lining, the pandemic induced conditions, i.e. isolation, schedule interruptions and travel restrictions opened up lots of free time. It offered the opportunity to work on weak areas of my game. Now that all rides are non-stop and solo, I can become adept at self-reliance. I learned how to carry more water, worked on electrolyte and caloric replenishment strategies. These are critical aspects in endurance cycling and areas I needed to improve.

As the year drew to a close a personal best in yearly total mileage was reached. A typical year is around 8K mi (12.8K). I’ve toyed with the 10K mi (16K km) mark for years, but due to injuries and travel was never able to get there. The yearly total reflects a commitment to a healthful lifestyle. It requires a focus on recovery and ancillary goals (rest, diet, etc.). It means being on track to ride well into the future, to enjoy its benefits for as long as possible.

Why I ride. I passed that previous yearly total by a fairly wide margin. But, exactly how far, or how fast, isn’t the point. It’s that we never stop.

Top 10 Reasons Cyclists Choose Not to Hate the Cold Weather

With winter coming you’d think it’d be a cause to gripe but this post is trying to find something to like about it.

10. Bubba’s are in the deer woods instead of rolling coal.

*cough*

9. Don’t need to carry very much water.

self explanatory

8. No bugs to speak of.

Nuff said although some are actually quite tasty.

7. Roadkill stays fresh much longer.

Who hasn’t caught a good whiff of that varmit on the side of the road that’s well past its shelf life?

6. Can finally start carrying snickers bars again.

A fav in my saddlebag.

5. Brewpubs now have room on their patios.

Sure, it might be a tad nippy but that IPA can warm you right the fuck back up.

4. Sweat actually works as intended.

Really fun on the hills, wet up, dry down.

3. The noobs have all left the trail.

Not to be mean, the trail’s for everyone. Still, not going to miss those that don’t follow its etiquette.

2. No more salt dripping into the eyes or encrusted into our gear.

No, those are not salt stains on my shorts.

1. Snotrockets for the win.

We don’t need no stinking sinus infections.

“Nice Spandex”

The driver overshot the white line that marks where the crosswalk begins by about one-and-a-half car lengths.

I was cursing under my breath as I navigated around his car, placing me into the onrushing traffic.

He must have heard as he shouted at me after I passed. Keep riding I told myself, but against my better judgement, circled back and issued a fairly standard reply:

“WHAT?!!!!”, I shouted back.

It’s a busy intersection servicing an even busier interstate interchange. There must be 10,000 cars passing through daily. I’ve passed through myself on a bike countless times and have long since ceased being surprised by what happens here.

It’s an important transition point between riders who stay local and those who want to continue in the greater metro area. To say it’s not built for cyclists is an understatement, but this is the only way out of town.

“Nice Spandex bleep bleep bleep”, was his reply.

“Fuck-off”, I told him nonchalantly and turned back onto the original pathway.

I thought it was over, but this is when his engine roared to life and with tires squealing, he made a right-turn from the left-turn lane, cutting off the other drivers who were in the right-turn lane. He next made another right-turn, hopped the curb, crossed my path and forced me to brake hard to avoid a collision. Clearly this cat’s off his MEDs.

I quickly went around his car yet again, back onto the path and made a beeline for the nearby Circle-K service station, where I knew there’d be witnesses in case the situation escalated further.

Apparently he wasn’t interested in having witnesses and continued on shouting epithets and speeded away.

I was mildly shaken, but continued on with my ride.

On a scale of 1 to 10 this was about a 5. I’ve had much worse. From a danger perspective, it was fairly low. More of an irritation.

I’m not unique, ride enough miles and this kind of event becomes fairly commonplace.

I’ve given up trying to figure out the why. There’s no pay dirt in it. It’s more about trying to make sure it doesn’t bring me down, discourage from engaging in an activity that I have every right to be doing.

A little while later, on the trail, still a bit down, when I passed by a young mother walking. I slowed down and overheard her telling others that her daughter was on a bike but the two separated. I remembered seeing the little girl, stopped, assured the mom that it was going to be OK, that I’d seen her a hundred meters away, and would help them get reunited.

It felt pretty good to help and erased the negativity of earlier. It also helped seeing the other people rallying around the young mother and her lost daughter.

These types of occurrences are not unusual on the trail. Once, I delivered a juice-box to a kid going into diabetic shock on the Big Dam Bridge. His frantic mother had just retrieved it from her car in the parking lot but was maybe a mile from her child. It was one of the best miles that I’ve ever ridden. Another time, an old man who happened to be a veteran, got his electric wheelchair stuck off the path, and couldn’t get back onto it. Helping others in these types of situations is a privilege. We get more from it than they do.

A good metaphor for life. Ignore the bad stuff (that can’t be fixed), embrace the good. Do what you can to help others.

And ride on.

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Coder Turned Gravel Grinder

Slides from my ApacheCon talk yesterday:

confessions-middle-aged-coder-turned-gravel-grinder-aceu-2019-v1

Some words about Gerrit Gorter… writer, professional, musician, husband, father and friend.

I just learned his treatment (for a disease I shall not grace by naming) has been discontinued.  He has listened to my stories, encouraged the continued pursuit (of silly things like riding gravel), and to never lose the childlike curiosity to try new things.  This talk was for him.

The Dirty Kanza Effect

It happens every year.  The Dirty Kanza entices me with the idea that it can be mastered.  This year will be the year I have that perfect ride.  If only my plan is executed flawlessly, if my training holds up, if I can continue to hydrate and eat like I practiced.  This will be the year I get to return to Emporia in time to enjoy that beer at the finish with my friends and family.

That’s how it felt last year, and the others.  This year once again, flush with confidence and those first twenty-five miles were a thing of beauty.  A gorgeous sunrise, cool temps, tame roads and we were all smiles.  It’s an illusion.  Every endurance gravel event presents unique, i.e. never before seen, challenges and the DK is no exception.  In ’16 DK was the heat, and the south winds that made it a brutal sufferfest.  DK ’17 brought rains during 3rd leg that wreaked havoc.  DK ’18 had those punishing north winds.

DK ’19 will be remembered as the year of the heat.  To a lesser extent the course itself presented challenges.  For example, the gravel was chunkier, more hills over long sections.  But, for me it was the heat that brought difficulty.  To understand what happens think about when the radiator in your car gets overwhelmed.  Maybe it gets low on water, the fan stops working, or even the thermostat fails.  That’s what happens to me.  I can’t keep my engine cool.

This is when I start consuming more water, which leads to an electrolyte imbalance.  I try to keep up of course, consuming various concoctions but it’s always too little, too late.

Actually cramps around mile 80 seem to be a thing with me and the Kanza.  Happens Every Damn Time.  I now believe that I must have a defective left quad.  Always starts during one of the longer climbs.  Usually late in the morning.  Maybe halfway up when the red lights start to blink and the cramping begins.  This year, I had the antidote. In our DK swag-bags were packets with cramp pills and lotion.  I had these tucked away in my handy chase camelbak and immediately placed a couple tablets beneath my tongue.  As they dissolved I tore open the package and slathered the cramp lotion onto my left thigh and it actually — worked.  Or, I thought it worked.  At least for a while, say 10 miles before the whole process replays itself once again.

A hot engine means a slow, inefficient one and so one has to maintain at a lower capacity, say 75% or even 66%.  That 14mph trot has become a 10mph crawl. If there’s water to be found anywhere along the way by all means STOP.  Keeping the water tanks topped off is one of the things that helps.  But, if there isn’t water, don’t stop.  Don’t stop at the side of the road to sit beneath those lovely shade trees (with all of the others) unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Above all, don’t worry about it.  For example, don’t think like this:

If that hill up ahead continues for what looks like another mile with portions having a grade of more than 15% and we’re into the wind meaning most likely I’m going to have to get off and walk.  Especially because the very coarse-grained rock and ruts make it tricky finding a proper line with all of the riders dismounting and walking…

It’s still twenty miles to the next rest stop.  My stomach isn’t working very well and my energy levels will continue to dissipate making it likely that I’ll need to slow down even more…

Instead, focus on very small details of the ride.  A kind of mediation.  Focus on breathing.  In, out, in out.  Focus on form. Smooth strokes. On things that can be controlled, like cadence.  Focus on other tactics like the line you take.  Little else is more important than that.  Take a bad line, it’s over.  In other words, think about what’s happening NOW.  Let everything else fall to the wayside.

What works for me.  I avoid like the plague the clusters of casualties who gather at the roadside, unless help is needed.  Stop and help the rider from Minnesota find her cell phone. Stop and talk to those in obvious distress, who’ve wrecked, unresolved mechanicals, etc.  Provide water/food to those in need.  That kind of thing.  The positivity of the present.  It’s the culture of gravel.  It’s why we’re out there.  The negativity, replaying all of the bad stuff that’s already happened, or yet to, must be pushed out of the mind.

It’s OK to think about future positives.  That tailwind on the last leg.  That cloud that might dump cooling rains.  The dropping sun means cooler temps.  I ALWAYS get a second wind at sunset.  A secret weapon.  It can be counted on, when the barn is smelled.

My last leg to Emporia from Council Grove was the second most enjoyable part of the ride.  After the smiles on the first leg they returned again for the last.  The roads were tamer.  Fewer hills.  I was able to maintain a decent pace that last 50 and cross the finish line at 1:06am.  Jim Cummins was there to congratulate us.  I made sure to tell him that the new course was AWESOME.  It was in fact perfect and I had the best ride ever, if not a perfect one.

There’s always next year.  That’ll be when I finally master the DK.

 

DirtyKanza Training on Zwift?

Due to an injury on March 14th, discussed here, the last couple months of my Dirty Kanza training was done on a smart trainer, using the Zwift virtual training app.

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My Setup includes a CycleOps Magnus Smart Trainer

The Dirty Kanza is an ultra-endurance cycling event held every year over the Flint Hills of Kansas.

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Sundown was around mile one fifty during this year’s Kanza ride

The plan was pretty simple.  Focus on time and power rather than distance or speed.  The goal, twelve hours in the saddle, at whatever wattage could be mustered, 75% of the expected duration to complete the 206 mile course, in a single day.  Every week go a bit longer on the long day.  Work up to the peak, May 13th.  Afterwards, taper down, sprinkle in some real rides on pavement and gravel and prepare for the event on June 2nd.

Here’s the training plan in Strava (hours):

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Screenshot of Training Plan in Strava (hours)

How’d it go?  Still in the Breakfast Club (back of the pack) but shaved a bit off last year’s time.  It was another tough year, featuring stiff headwinds during the last half of the ride.  Out of 1,016 starters, 746 finished.

The official time:

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Screenshot of Results on Chronotrack

The ride on Strava:

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Screenshot of Ride on Strava

Distal Biceps Disruption

Last week while helping my wife load a household appliance we were donating into her aunt’s pickup was the sickening sound of my right bicep detaching itself from the elbow distal tendon.  The pain was bad, of course, but the realization of the extent of the injury was worse.  Suddenly plans of completing a 3rd consecutive DirtyKanza were nixed.  In addition to a surgical reattachment, performed yesterday, there’s several months of recovery and rehab before I can return to riding once again.

In situations like this one must focus on the positives.

  • Injury to right arm and I’m left-handed.
  • We have health insurance and can take the steps necessary for a full recovery.
  • Support of a wonderful family, friends and employer.
  • I can still code.
  • Inside trainer to maintain conditioning on order.

There’s not much value in thinking about the negatives or what-ifs.  Life has a way of throwing curve balls.  Find a way of knocking the cover off it anyway.

As far as what’s next.  I already mentioned the trainer which will be a way to maintain conditioning during the lull.

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Once the splint comes off and the brace is opened enough to hold on I am going to try and get some rides in (despite doctor’s orders) and we’ll see what happens come June 2nd.

DK200-Mud-Anon

photo courtesy of http://www.swiftwick.com/sw/cycling/kanza-does-not-care-

 

 

Why I Ride

Say what you will about cycling, but it affords time for thoughtful contemplation.

Why am I doing this?  There are plenty of reasons not, starting with it being hard compared to other forms of transportation.

That the roadways don’t accommodate — we’re at best an annoyance, leading to spats and scuffles of varying severities.

It’s not convenient to commute this way requiring time consuming preparation.

Not a particularly time effective form of transportation — much faster to get into a car and drive.

Complications on arrival not shared with motorist; attired in such a way that is comically out of place of today’s societal norms.

Summing up the pros/cons, it can be hard to make a convincing argument for daily commuting on a bike.

So why do it?  Before that can be answered we have to delve into this issue a bit deeper.  What are the cons of commuting by car?

  1. The average automobile spews about 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year.1
  2. Driving increases stress levels and encourages a sedentary lifestyle.
  3. The cost to maintain the nation’s highways, roads, bridges and streets is hard to calculate but is probable > $100 billion US.2
  4. The yearly cost to maintain an automobile about $9,000 US.3

Back to how riding affords time to think — more questions to ponder…

  1. What happens when everyone on the planet is driving a car?  (How much longer can the atmosphere absorb the greenhouse emissions before lasting consequences)
  2. How much longer can governments afford to spend sizable portions of tax revenues maintaining roadways?
  3. When will petroleum run out and what then?

More riding, more thoughts… at the turn of the century (twentieth), the internal combustion engine (and its supply chain) was perfected, cycling was widespread and automobiles rarely seen on the roads.

We all know what happens next, but what if otherwise?  The bicycle the target form of personal transportation and the automobile for public and commercial usage only.  Cyclist in the majority; living close by their place of worship, study, work, entertainment, etc…  Commuters would be traveling slower and have to talk to one another — maybe better for politics and settling disputes.

What would our environment look like — still polluted with carbons?  What of our hospitals — full of unfit patients?  What of our cities — divided by giant, ugly roadways or connected by scenic paths?

Is there a middle road?  Meanwhile I ride and long for the day everyone follows…

BDB-2017-PV

Footnotes

1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle
2. What is the federal government’s annual investment in transportation improvements?
3. Annual Cost of Ownership`

2017 Dirty Kanza Finish Line

Note: This post is about my second Dirty Kanza 200 experience on June 3, 2017.


It’s broken into seven parts:

Part I – Prep / Training

Part II – Preamble

Part III – Starting Line

Part IV – Checkpoint One

Part V – Checkpoint Two

Part VI – Checkpoint Three

Part VII – Finish Line


Regroup

I went looking for Derrick but couldn’t find him.  A woman, found out later his wife…

“Are you John?” she asked.

I replied with my name and didn’t make the connection.  I’d forgotten the color of his support team and he got my name wrong so that made us even.

He caught up ten miles later, by then chasing the fast chicks.  I called out as they zoomed past, wished them well.  This is how it works.  Alliances change according to the conditions and needs from one moment to the next.

A lone rider stopped at the edge of downtown — Rick from Dewitt, Arkansas.  He was ready for takeoff.

“You headed out, how bout we team up?”  I asked matter-of-factly.  The deal was struck and then there were two.

Eventually, maybe twenty miles later, we picked up Jeremy, which made three.  It worked pretty well.  Not much small talk, but lots of operational chatter.  You’d thought we were out on military maneuvers.

  • “Rocks on left.”
  • “Mud — go right!”
  • “Off course, turning around.”
  • “Rough! Slowing!”

There were specializations.  For example, Jeremy was the scout.  His bike had fat tires and so he’d bomb the downhills, call back to us what he saw, letting us know of the dangers.  Rick did most of the navigating.  I kept watch on time, distance and set the pace.

By this time we were all suffering and made brief stops every ten miles or so.  We’d agreed that it was OK, had plenty of time, and weren’t worried.

Caught up with Derrick six miles from home.  Apparently he couldn’t keep up with the fast chicks either, but gave it the college try, and we had a merry reunion.

We rolled over the finish line somewhat past 2:00 am.

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Rick and I crossing the FL

Here’s the official video feed:

https://results.chronotrack.com/athlete/index/e/29334039

And the unofficial one:

My support team was there along with a smattering of hearty locals to cheer us and offer congratulations.

Jeremy, Rick and I had a brief moment where we congratulated each other before LeLan handed over our Breakfast Club finishers patches and I overheard Rick in his southern drawl…

“I don’t care if it does say breakfast club on there.”

Next were the hugs and pictures with my pit crew and I was nearly overcome with emotion.  Felt pretty good about the finish and I don’t care if it says breakfast club on there either.


Acknowledgements

In addition to my pit crew…

My wife Cindy deserves most of the credit.  She bought the bike four years ago that got me all fired up again about cycling.  Lots of times when I’m out there riding I should be home working.  Throughout this she continues to support without complaint.  Thanks baby, you’re the best, I love you.

Next, are the guys at the bike shop — Arkansas Cycle and Fitness, my support team back home in Little Rock.  They tolerate abysmal mechanical abilities, patiently listen to requirements, and teach when need be (often).  Time and again the necessary adjustments were made to correct the issues I was having with the bike.  They’ve encouraged and cheered, offered suggestions on routes, tactics, training, nutrition, hydration and everything else related to the sport of endurance cycling.

Finally, my cycling buddies — the Crackheads.  Truth be known they’re probably more trail runners than cyclists, but they’re incredible athletes, from whom I’ve learned much about training for these types of endurance events.  In the summertime, when the skeeters and chiggers get too bad for Arkansas trail running, they come out and ride which makes me happy.


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The End