Friday, December 7, 2012

1968: The Panther on Crestline Place.

Growing up with my brothers and sister, our first bikes were our surrogate cars.  The first bike that was mine was a Firestone GTO Panther, a purple, banana seat bike, with 20” wheels.  The bike had a 3-speed hub, with a stick shift on the top tube, between the saddle and handle bars (I thinks today’s CPSC would frown on this), and a 1.75” wide slick rear tire.  You can still find this bike on vintage bike sites, and the pictures there bring back many memories.  I may have a picture on it somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet; just one picture of my younger brother Todd in mid-air probably from `71 or `72.
One of my brother jumping in the early 70's.

By the time this bike came home from the Firestone Store during summer 1967, I was 10 years-old and the oldest of 8 brothers and a sister, and we were all sharing a number of used 20” bikes that had appeared from garage sales, neighbors and possibly even new.  After being a little slow to start riding on our gravel street, I was catching up my younger and more daring brothers.   

Our riding was a mix of early BMX, downhill and demolition derby.  We lived half way up a small hill, on the upright of a “T” shaped road, all gravel.  We would pedal up the hill from our driveway, ride the top of the T, and then ride down the 60 or 70 feet back into our drive.  For excitement, we pedaled down the hill as fast as we could, and then slammed on the rear coast brake while turning. The goal was a perfect power slide with long skids marks, flying rocks and a large cloud of dust.  Sometimes this was in single file, and sometimes in races, side-by-side, with collisions, flips, and skinned knees and elbows.

When riding and skidding got boring, we would add ramps and jumps.  Sometime we built ramps from scraps of wood, and another jump was actually a cut embankment, just off the street, that was about 3 feet high, up and over the home plate of our baseball diamond.  When we didn’t crash on the approach, the results were 1 to 2 feet of “air”, while traveling 5-6 feet before a 1-wheel, 2-wheel, or bike-body-knee-head-arms-landing, resulting in more skinned knees and elbows (but no broken bones) between the 10 of us.  However, Mom discouraged jumping - repeatedly.

One spectacular related memory is the evening our not-so-adult neighbor, after watching us jumping our bikes, took his Triumph road motorcycle over this dirt ramp, looking like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape”. He landed without crashing, but never tried it again. 

Aside from riding the bikes, the next most obvious thing (for boys under the age of 10) was to take the bikes apart. This was to “repair” them, although the precise order of the process could be called into question.  Our tools were limited to a crescent wrench, a screwdriver and a hammer.  It should come as no surprise that we became quite adept at the take-apart, but repair and reassembly were a bit more of a challenge. Combined with the mechanical attrition of our riding, we soon had a collection of rideable bikes, non-rideable bikes, and spare parts.   We also began more experimenting, moving parts from bike-to-bike, and one afternoon we took apart a rear coaster brake hub, and then attempted to put it back together using Vaseline (from the diaper changing table) for grease.  Dad had to help us finish that repair a few days later, and Mom bought a fresh jar of Vaseline.

Our house was on a hill above Wamplers Lake, and 5-minute walk from the small resort hotel, called the Willow Grove,  our Grandmother Hardcastle ran on the lake.  The walk from home to the hotel was our first adventure in childhood independence.  That summer I started doing chores for Grandma, washing dishes, sweeping the porches, bailing out the boats used by guests, and mowing, and the Panther was in part payment for that. It was my bike, and the coolest bike on Crestline Place. (Or at least until the neighbor kid brought home his 5-Speed Schwinn Orange Crate, but he never rode it much, and really, who would ever trust a that spindly thing called a derailleur!)

My first big treat with the Panther was to ride this bike to the hotel, and then on 1/8 of mile paved road that ran by the hotel, from the main road to the lake shore.  Riding back on forth on real pavement where a car might drive was a big deal.  Next came the big ride, the one mile along 1-lane Lake Shore Drive, from the hotel to the dead end at the channel that connected Wamplers and Round Lake.   From there, the hotel appeared to be “across” the lake, and the mysterious (to us) Hayes State Park was just across the channel. (We were year-round residents, yet I never went on the park grounds until I was 17!).  I did that ride on Lake Shore Drive every chance I got those first summers, relishing in the freedom that I was across the lake from home, and completely on my own.

The Panther was my bike until summer of 1969, when I purchased a black and white Sears 3-Speed.  It Austrian-made with a Sturmey Archer hub, a kickstand, fenders and rear rack, all for just $40.  I needed a bike that could get me the 5 miles to Brooklyn, there to ride with friends.  With that purchase, like my school clothes and outgrown toys, the Panther became a hand-me down for my younger brothers.  It became just another one of the bikes, slowly being broken down by endless summer days of skids, jumps, crashes and repairs, on the gravel of Crestline Place.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

1983: Yes, You're an athlete

My fanatical interest in bicycles was already enough to make me an odd teen ager in rural Michigan in the early `70s. But that was only compounded by my lack of interest, and ability, in baseball, football and basketball. They were the “Real” Sports, the only ones that mattered.

Even before bikes, I had loved to read, and was not much for the pain of even casual contact sports. I also had two left feet after my pre-teen growth spurt, and a lack of confidence that made it worse. And on top of that, a couple of my brothers were natural athletes. Combine it all, and what ever the sport, I was always the last one picked, or left sitting on the bench.

It didn’t mean I didn’t try, playing little league and basketball, eventually making the high school freshman basketball team. But height and spirit were not enough. So while I biked all summer, my last three years of high school were limited to running cross country each fall. I enjoyed the team experience and running through the woods and parks we trained on (and I never enjoyed running distance in track). In cross country, I even found limited success, lettering 2 years and running 7th man, but in a small town, it was never the same as being in the real sports.

After high school it was on to part-time college and work, and more bicycle riding. On my days off I was likely to do an all-day ride across the county, or to ride a multi-day tour when ever my schedule allowed. I never got the racing bug, but I was riding 3-4 a centuries a year. Those early centuries were all-day affairs of 10-12 hours, with long sag stops and a lunch in the middle. These were the original “Fred” rides, including collecting patches. I even had a patch jacket that I had started filling up, though I soon learned that the patches did not hold up well in the washing machine.

And despite not being interested in racing, very early on I picked up a used racing bike, an early 70’s Raliegh Pro.  This was my light sport bike, since I decided fenders and racks needed to stay on my touring bike. And I picked up more of the fast gear of the day, leather cycling shoes shoes with nailed on cleats, and wool shorts with leather chamois. I did enjoy fast rides and watching the clock when I wasn’t carrying all my gear. But it was just faster touring and sport rides, not real competition, or so I told myself.

Soon after meeting Linda, along with more time on the tandem and group rides, I was also going on more fast rides, both short club rides, and longer rides and centuries. My centuries came down in time, with 6 to 7 hours becoming the norm.

By our third year of marriage, Linda and I had the The Tandem Shop going full tilt, and we sold a tandem to another couple at Purdue, Rich and Laura, who were just a few years younger than us. Rich had been a high school wrestler and baseball player, and was very competitive. He was relatively new to cycling, but was strong. We started doing more rides together on singles, and pushing each other. (The four of us also pushed each other on tandem rides too.)

One morning Rich and I met at 6 AM, and just headed out for a long ride. Before we knew we were 40 miles out, averaging 20 miles an hour. We finally turned back and ended up with 90 miles, an unplanned century. When we got back to Linda and my apartment, Linda was just getting up. (To be fair, she had a 14-hour work day on Wednesdays, and always slept in on Thursdays!) In any case, it was an epic ride, especially since I had to clean up and ready to work from Noon to 8 that day!

The four of us got together for pizza the next night, and both our wives were carrying on about how crazy we were, and with Rich’s wife adding I was really great to have another athlete pushing Rich into shape.

“I am not an athlete”, I replied - it was just bicycling. Years of imprinting had never let me think of my bicycling as an athletic pursuit, a real sport. I had never moved beyond that.

“What you talking about!” was her reply - “Yes, You're an athlete. You are one of the most athletic people I know. Both of you are!” she went on “You ride 200 miles in a weekend, and the two of you (Linda and I) just finished an 18-day 1,000 mile bicycle tour, and you bike to work every day, and you think you aren’t an athlete?”

Then Linda looked at me said I was just as much an athlete as she was.

I had always thought of Linda as an athlete for her running in cross country and track, as a state high school champion and national ranked college distance runner. But for whatever reason I had never applied that standard to me, and especially not to my cycling. Up until that conversation, I was just a kid out on a bike. Even when it for rides 50 miles or more non-stop, at 18 or 19 MPH.

But her statement and the conversations that followed had a profound impact on my view of myself. Despite everything I had accomplished riding, I had never given myself fair credit. Having some tell me “You are an athlete” was something I never expected. I was not only active, I was improving and challenging myself.

In the years since I realized that I was no longer on the bench or the last one picked, I was still in my game while so many others had moved off the field. I was fortunate enough to have found in bicycling one of the true life-long sports that allowed you to be athletic for years, if not decades, if you are so inclined.

And since that evening many years ago, I have always smiled inside with each new milestone of time and distance, for being in the arena, and never doubted that I am still an athlete.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012: In the blink of an eye

Bike Tuesday - Year Round
It’s our Bike Tuesday evening ride with the gang. We are an email group, riding together for over 5 years, every Tuesday, year round, on the rural roads north of Indy between Cicero and Sheridan. Sometimes just a handful, sometimes a dozen or more. Pat and Margaret, the couple who put the ride together, have over 30 years of riding together, and like Linda and I, rode before kids, with kids, and now are moving into empty-nester riding. I am not a weekly regular, but it is a ride I make when I can, once or twice a month.

Some of the group have similar experience, but most have only been riding at this level for only a few years, and many of them have been nurtured along in the riding through this ride, and the other rides we make as a group.

It is a social sport ride, with the focus on social, rather than anaerobic. But it is not slouch riding, almost every rider is on a fast road bike, and capable of riding 18 to 20 mph with the group for 40-50 miles. A few of the stronger riders, including me, who could ride faster if they wanted, will set a pace that all can ride, and everyone is used to watching out for each other.

Tonight we have 12 riders setting out. As we start, a few of us get separated by a string of cars while leaving the parking lot, so I am in a group of four a couple of hundred yards behind the first 6 riders. But this is not a problem on this ride, no frantic chase is needed, we will be a group again soon enough.

After work rides are always good for stress relief. An easy 25 or 30 miles (yes, a short ride) followed by a pizza and socializing. In one form or another, I have had a weekly ride like this for over 35 years, since the first time I joined a bike club and lived in a city or town.

Tonight I am on my touring bike, complete with rack, rack trunk and fenders. While loading the car for the drive to the start, I found a bad tire on my sport bike, so rather than rush a tire change, I changed bikes.  In the parking lot, I get a look, and one guy asks about my commuter. No, this is touring bike, with the same weight wheels as my sport bike, and not a commuter. He is much more worried about my keeping up with group than I am. Whatever, it is a bike I have 40,000 miles on, and still a joy to ride.

We are just a couple of miles from the start, and now one group. We are two abreast, no-one overly tight on anyone else, just relaxed and chatting. I am 5th in line on the outside (near centerline), the second bike a tandem, and just about to say hi to the rider beside me. I am a full wheel behind the next rider,  the last pair of riders are just about 3-4 yards behind us.

A yell from ahead draws my eyes go forward.

A flash of purple to the left ahead of me.

A full bike length ahead of me a red bike is still upright, but it is WRONG, falling.

Flashes of color and sound to my right.

The bike in front of me is down, a sprawled rider in the lane.

Yells behind me.

“I AM NOT GOING TO HIT HIM” screams a voice in my head, and a memory of another fall and PAIN years ago goes through my mind.



I come to a stop upright on the left side of the road, at a right angle to travel, front wheel in the grass, rear wheel on pavement. I have not even pulled even to the first down rider. A few yards ahead of him, on the right side, a pile of bikes and two riders are down, feet-to-feet along the side of road in the soft grassy ditch.

My bike has a flat tire. I am all right, No one else is down.

The wife of one the downed riders, riding ahead of the crash, throws down her bike and yells her husband’s names and comes running back.

Everyone is conscious.

Phones come out.

What intersections are we between? We have ridden this a 100 times, but no one is sure. A couple of us finally map it on our iPhones.

I stand in the center of the road and direct the light car traffic while other tend to riders, and we move all the bikes off the road.

Thank God there are no head injuries. Everyone is awake and talking.

It seems to take forever but soon we hear a siren, and a first responder arrives and starts talking to the 3 down riders. Thank God there are no head injuries. We have two ambulances on the way.

We sort out logistics of who can ride back to the parking lot, and Pat heads back for his van.

I need to look at my bike before the ride back, and start to change the tire. A 2” patch of tread and sidewall is gone down and through the cord; my rear tire is totaled, that was the bang.

In turning 90 degrees at speed and stopping, I have to have been sliding at a 45 degree angle, and then come back to upright, with out putting a foot down. Something I used to do as a kid on a 20” bike on gravel road into our drive way. That and drills from teaching cycling skills classes, and maybe just knowing the bike I was on.  And some luck.
90 Degree Turn and Stop

The tandem team hands me a spare tire, and I finish changing the tire as the ambulance begins to load up. Pat arrives with his van to begin picking up the 3 down bikes and the rider who tumbled but didn’t need an ambulance. With that done, the rest of us begin mounting up for the ride back to our cars at the start. Some are done for the night, some still want to unwind with a few miles, the intent of the ride to begin with. I call home, and then load up for the drive home.

Latter that night, Linda and I check in on one rider and his wife, a couple we know well, at the hospital ER near our home. He is very sore but will be home that night, with some painful rehab ahead, but is otherwise ok.

The next morning we learn that the other rider will need 24 stitches in his thigh.  The first rider that fell is okay, with some scraps and scratches, but we all know he is very rattled.

All in the blink of an eye.

Friday, August 3, 2012

2012: My Five Stages of RAIN

At the start of year, the RAIN Ride (Ride Across Indiana - In One Day) was not really on my radar, until some friends passed along an invitation to be part of the the Wishard Ride to Remember Team. Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to meet or train with most of this fascinating group of riders until the day of the ride. All things considered, I had a great ride and a lot of fun. However, it was day of riding that progressed through many emotional states as I crossed Indiana.

Denial: I am ready to ride 20 MPH all day.

Waiting for the start of the 2012 RAIN
I had been riding a lot more commuting miles this year, and a lot of fast 30 milers, and three centuries (all before mid-May). But I didn’t have any where near the combination of volume and speed to support RAIN in 8 to 9 hours of riding time. And the proof was right in my mileage logs - I was at 3,000 miles for the year before this RAIN; but that was almost a 1,000 miles less than than the same point in 2007, the last time I had ridden RAIN. All the visualization and experience in the world can’t make up for that. Next time (next year?) more speed work and volume in the months before.

Anger: Where is the perfect pace line?

I matched up well with a couple groups in the early miles, after I realized was too slow for the Wishard “B” group (my mental assignment, nothing official) I had hoped to ride with - and too fast, (and planning on shorter breaks) than the next group of riders from Wishard. I hadn’t been able train with any groups to know this ahead of time. So I was just falling in with ad-hoc, informal pace lines through the first 64 miles. That was easy to do before the 1,500 riders had truly spread out.

Some friends on a tandem said hi at 20 miles.
After leaving the Plainfield stop (64 miles), I couldn’t connect with another group. For one 15 minute stretch, I didn’t even see any other riders. I was finally overtaken by a group that was holding a nice 18-20 mph pace, and joined in for a couple of miles. But with a change of leaders after an intersection, the pace jumped to 23-24, and I couldn’t hang on without blowing up.

After that I twice slowly worked my way up to groups that thought I could ride with, only to miss them at stop lights. Much of the ride to lunch at 95 miles was like that.

Bargaining: Please give me a pace line

At the lunch stop, I was still between the B & C groups.  The B group was wrapping up lunch, and I was ahead of the C group, who rolled in for a long lunch stop as I finished eating. I know that I do better on short breaks and steady riding.

Okay, I will head out at an even pace, and just take the best group that comes along.

But it just didn’t happen. No one came up that I could hang on to. And I couldn’t catch anyone that was going my pace (obviously). Then another set of traffic lights and near misses with groups. At 110 miles, I pulled off into the shade on the side of the road, with the hope to recover for few minutes, mentally frustrated from more solo riding than I had planned, even though physically I was feeling fine. (And oddly enough having completed one my fastest total time century’s in a couple of years to this point.)

I stand there for a few minutes, waiting for something, and the the Wishard “C” group rides by. I hope back on my bike, and with a mile of easy chasing and a couple of intersections, I catch them, and I have a group to ride with after almost 40 miles of riding solo.

Depression: Can I finish this?

I relax with the group, and my mind starts working.

I wasn’t with this group, because I had been faster, and they caught me.
My average speed has been dropping the last 20 miles.
I am already over my planned off-the-bike time.
A leg cramp, then a foot cramp, and a twinge in my achilles.
Can I still finish?

Doubts like that can work on you, dragging you down more than a stiff headwind or a soft tire. I work to shake them off, and concentrate on getting my rhythm back, taking a few pulls after sitting in to recover. This group ranges in age from late teens to late fifties, with the same mix of experience. We come to the next stop where we all refill with water and ice, and then we leave the south Indy route to return to US-40.

Back on the highway, we are rolling along and I come off a pull and a new rider comes to the front as we start a long, gradual climb. I have just settled in 4-5 riders back when the speed starts picking up 19 - 20 - 21 mph. Gaps start opening, first a yard, than 2-3, leaving each rider alone against the wind on the grade. In a move that is either selfless or selfish, or both, I jump around to the front, and catch the new leader “You need to drop a gear or two - you are breaking up the group.” He looks over shoulder - “oh”, and brings his speed back down a bit, and we slowly regroup.

I drop back in to the re-grouping line, mulling second thoughts about being that much an “alpha” in a group I only know casually. But the group is now staying together at a good 17-18 mph pace, finishing the grade, so I let it go, and just roll along.

Acceptance: The final 30; you ride what you train for.

We all come into the final organized stop at the fire station in Dunreith, and I rack my bike with no illusions about a short stop. Even having been part of this group for the last 15 miles, I feel spent, and that I will be just turning the pedals over to finish. Sitting under a misting tent, with a popsicle and a sugary kids drink, I just stare at the ground. After a while, I look around, the bike racks are half empty, and I don’t see any Wishard jerseys. I just figure in that they missed me and rolled on. (I later find out they had all retreated into the fires station to cool off, and I left without them!)

Back on the road, I figure I will catch them shortly, and settle in for the last 30 miles. My doubts of finishing have faded. No epic ride, just the ride that I am trained for. I upshift a couple of times and it feels okay, I glance at my computer, and the speed-to-average indicator is now an up-arrow.

I am about an hour and a half behind where I wanted to be, though I am feeling the best I have in a 2-3 hours. No major aches, with just the edge of cramp in my legs, and as the miles keep adding up, my computer is still showing an up-arrow. I am having the mother of all second winds!

Riders are scattered all along US-40 in ones and twos, a few pass me, and I pass a few. Along the way are personal sags, sitting at the side of road, many of them cheering encouragement to everyone as they watch down the road for their riders.

The route enters the last side-road detour, and I start overtaking a few more riders. Soon I have a short line behind me, and that and the up-arrow continues lifting my spirits. I actually feel good! I recognize a rider from a morning group, and we exchange a “hi”. He joins the line for awhile, but he has trouble with the next up-grade. I come off the front to let a rider who was drafting take a pull, but he upshifts and pulls away as I coast back. Just holding my steady pace, I am alone again. Another mile, and I am back on US-40.

RAIN Finish - L to R Dr. Greg Gramelspacher, Eduardo Calderin, Tom Sharp, myself. 

At 156 miles, I pass the 5 Mile marker, and I know that I will be at 161 miles for the day. I still have my up-arrow, and my final goal, to finish under 11 hours. Now on the outskirts of Richmond, the farms give way businesses, with final challenge of stop lights and some rolling hills. 2 Miles. 1 Mile. I make the final turn into the campus, and come up on the finish line. At the end the the chute, I am handed my finishers medal, and then I am greeted and thanked by the Wishard team leaders and some friends. It has been a good ride.

Maybe five years will be too long to wait for the next time.

(This article was one of the first that let me to developing my #10weeksto100 series on training for endurance rides.)

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

1975: Second DALMAC, the pre-tour

I rolled out of our drive way and down the short gravel road to M-124, my first time on a loaded bike, headed for my second DALMAC (the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw bike tour). It was the end of my last high school summer. It had been a rocky year of changes since my first DALMAC the year before. I had finished high school, but would not be joining my friends in going off to college. Other than my restaurant job and some college classes later in the winter semester, I was really without a plan. My anchor through it all had been my ever expanding bicycling. And I had found a big way to make it even more so.

Tour ready, 1975
Chuck Harris mirror, Denim "helmet"
The plan had started when I learned my grandparent’s, who lived in Toledo, Ohio, would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary the weekend I would be on DALMAC. So with my mom’s permission, I would miss the anniversary party, but would visit them the week before. And then some friends from Jackson, also riding DALMAC, decided that they would be riding back from St. Ignace after the ride. So instead of a 4 day trip and a bus ride home, my second DALMAC would have 7 additional days of biking, and I would be riding with my gear on the extra days.

I had a mix of touring gear that while not state of art, was fairly representative of what you could find in midwest bike shops on a teen’s budget. My rear rack was a simple Pletscher alloy rack, with a single pair of skinny stays, and a steel spring “rat-trap” clip for holding items on top. My nylon panniers were a one-piece arrangement of side bags and top compartment that draped over the rear rack, with my sleeping bag and pad then strapped on top. I had added a home-made bike flag holder to back of the rack for the required DALMAC flag.

With almost everything on the rear rack, any time I stood up to accelerate or climb, the load would sway and wobble with the 6 foot flag pole swaying in a ridiculous arc. I soon learned to ride at an even steady pace. Aside from my few pairs of cycling shorts, I was still carrying a heavy assortment of jeans and shorts, a sweat shirt, multiple t-shirts and underwear. Even without a “kitchen” and tent (I was sharing a tent with one of the Jackson riders), I was probably carrying 30 pounds of gear.

My biggest frustration was my handlebar-camera bag. I was riding with a 35mm SLR, and shooting color slide film. Over the past year, I had started with a square Bellweather bag that strapped directly to the handle bars, but it sagged and interfered with my hand on the tops. Then I found a steel bag support that slipped over the handle bars, and moved the bag away from my hands, but the bag still sagged. So I had added some sheets of plastic from a high school shop project to support the bag. It held my camera, maps and wallet, but it was a kludge solution.

My first days ride was 50 miles to Toledo and my grandparents. They were very excited to have me for the overnight, and treated me to a great dinner of home made pasta and bread. For good luck, they gave me a 1924 Liberty silver dollar (that I still have). And they also told me about my mom’s 3-day bicycle trip from Toledo to a youth hostel in southern Michigan while she was in college, something I had only heard vaguely about from Mom.

I left that morning for the ride back to Brooklyn, under cloudy skies, and after an hour or so, it started to rain. And rain, and rain. I was riding through the flat, tree-less farm land of southeastern Michigan, with few opportunities for shelter. I was rolling through long puddles of standing water when I realized I had passed a car that stopped because they couldn’t see in the driving rain. At that point, I pulled off the side of the road and just stood their until the the rain let up some, and then rode on. I arrived home with everything on my bike soaking wet, the water streaming from packs has I leaned my bike against the garage. I had to unpack and dry everything, and then began bagging everything in small plastic bags before re-packing - my first real touring lesson.

The next day my final pre-tour destination was Lansing, almost 70 miles from home, meeting my friends from Jackson almost half way. Two of our group were leaving after work, so after lunch at home, I set out to meet them about 5 PM. The four of us stopped for dinner at this brand new fast food place called Wendy’s, the first one to open in Jackson.

We left Jackson headed straight north, and were soon on the service roads along US-27. It was my first group riding with panniers, and we were all all comparing notes on how our bikes handled. It was good practice on the mild rolling hills between Leslie and Mason. Even here, we had to be especially careful on downhills, since with all that gear over the rear wheel, our bikes would have a tendency for the handlebars to start shimmy if we picked up to too much speed on a downhill.
Leaving Toledo, Ohio,
DALMAC bound.

We ended up finishing the last few miles into East Lansing by street lights, riding to a friend-of-friend’s house. We had thought about tenting in their backyard, but with the wet overnight forecast and early start, we all settled for sleeping bags on their living room floor. This was good decision, since it rained all that night.

(I hope you will like The Ride So Far on Facebook.  Look for more tips and comments there soon.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

2012: Advice for the long rides

RAIN Finishers Medal
In a few weeks I will be riding RAIN for the second time. RAIN is the Ride Across INdiana (in one day), a bicycle ride from Terra Haute, Indiana (on the Illinois-Indiana border), to Richmond (on the Ohio-Indiana border). It follows the old National Road, US-40, the precursor to today’s I-70. Roughly 1,500 riders will attempt the ride, and you must finish by 9 PM - a 14-hour time limit.

RAIN’s 160-ish miles is kind of an odd distance, falling outside the more traditional half-century, metric century, century, double century. I little bit of me wouldn’t mind if it was a full double century - 200 miles, but that is just me, and most seem satisfied with just 160 or so miles.

(On the other hand, RAIN very close to the distance of a typical full Tour de France stage. That is something for you ponder as you arrive at the finish in Richmond; repeating the ride you just finished 10 to 15 times over 3 weeks, including 3-5 days with 10,000 feet of climbing in the mountains.)

With friends from 2007 RAIN training group.  I am second
from R, with my tandem stoker, Steve Lieby
Over the years, I have done three 200 mile days and one prior RAIN, and half dozen rides over 120 miles, and well over a hundered centuries. And based on that experience and observations, I offer the following advice I hope you find helpful.

After 90 miles, it’s all in your head. Endurance rides, are very much about mental attitude. If you have the ability to ride 75 to 90 miles comfortable and pain free, at a steady pace, while managing your nutrition and hydration, riding the additional miles just requires mental confidence.

Speed work helps your endurance. While there is value in building your mileage base, a training regimen based on just piling on more miles prior to an endurance event can leave you run down and at risk for injury. Once you have the base confidence to know you can complete 100 or more miles, start to include shorter workouts, at a faster tempo. This improves your base level of fitness with a much shorter recovery time. Short, fast workouts also let you compress your work out time, especially when you are time crunched. This is especially true when other events in your life make multiple 3-4 hour workouts per week a challenge.

(I used to hang out and ride with some of Indiana’s Ultra-Marathon cycling community. When one of the riders commented that I had the makings of good ultra-event rider, I replied without thinking “I have a life”. The riders reply? “Yeah, you do.”)

Improve your speed to reduce your event saddle time. When you improve your average speed, you reduce your time on the saddle - literally. Just going from a 14 mph average pace to a 16.5 MPH - from 8 hours to 6 hours for 100 miles, will cut your saddle time by 25%. A faster riding style will also tend to have you off the saddle more frequently - another win in the endurance-comfort challenge.

Minimize your off-the-bike time. Work on keeping your off-the-bike down to a minimum. Stop to pick-up water, energy drink and snacks, but move back to the bike and get back to your pace again. You want to avoid cooling down and then warming up again multiple times. Long breaks will also start to work on you mentally, as you watch the elapsed time increase, and you try to ride a faster pace. Snacking constantly, rather than a sag stop pig-out will also do a better job of keeping you fueled. (Set your bike computer to auto start stop, and watch your on the bike average speed - not your total average speed.)
It's all about the jersey.

Ride your ride, at your pace. Big event excitement makes if very tempting to start out fast, falling in with groups or pacelines riding faster than you have trained for. The simple test for this is the talk test. If you can’t speak a complete sentence without gasping, you may be riding at a pace you can’t sustain for the full event. (Sometimes conditions may dictate otherwise; i.e. balancing the effort to hang with slightly faster group to avoid fighting a headwind alone.)

Keep it fun. That is the final word. Savor the camaraderie, the scenery, the sense of accomplishment. A positive mental outlook can keep you going no matter what you are facing. Every ride is a unique experience of terrain, weather your physical condition, and even your age. Every time you push past that 100, 125, or more, you have accomplished something few ever consider trying. Enjoy it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

1974: Drafting a pair of Holdsworth's

At the start of DALMAC `74 in East Lansing, MI.
I have dozen’s of distinct memories from my first DALMAC in 1974. Not only was it the culmination of months of anticipation and preparation, it was a total immersion in so many first time cycling (and life) experiences for me. It was five consecutive days of riding and camping in all new territory, all on my own. And it was the first time I truly experienced the thrill of a drafting in a group of strong, steady riders.

I knew about drafting and pace lines from my reading, and had seen it in a few on the rides I had been on, but up to that time, I had really never had chance be in a pace line or really draft. I knew the benefits of drafting and working together, but almost all my riding had been alone, or on small group rides. And the steel wheels of my first bike didn’t exactly put me on a machine built for speed, especially when I was still riding in cut-offs jeans and tennis shoes.

DALMAC `74 Patch
But by the summer of `74, I had new bike with alloy wheels, along with cycling clothing and shoes. That summer had included over a thousand miles of riding, including my first century and double century.  So I certainly felt the part as DALMAC left Lansing, with 600 riders spreading out over miles of rural Michigan that sunny August morning. We rode in a party-like atmosphere, enjoying the day and the open road, until we finally reached the first overnight.

It was on the second day, somewhere north of Alma and about 25 miles out that my chance came. There was a little bit of overcast, and only light winds, and we were all riding in light jackets on a still cool morning, with about 10 miles left until the town indicated for lunch. I was riding alone when this couple, husband and wife, over took me at a slighter faster pace. The first thing I noticed was they were on a pair of matched road bikes by the builder Holdsworth. They were also wearing matching wool warm-up jackets, bright blue with “Holdsworth” embroidered in orange across the back. Their outfits were complete with wool shorts and cycling shoes. And they just looked like very good riders.

I was already a fan of English/UK made bikes and I am sure I said something like “nice bikes”, trying to make small talk. The man replied they had just gotten the bike this summer, directly from England, and DALMAC was their first tour with them. I wish I could remember more, or had asked more questions, but this was all happening at a pretty quick pace. He said I could draft them, I dropped in on their wheel behind the wife, and started to follow along, for 25 minutes of great fun.

Looking back, it was probably just about perfect conditions, a long gentle downhill grade, favorable winds, and no intersections. The riding was all about the wheel in front of me, maintaining an interval, and riding smoothly. Minutes turned into miles, and we smoothly moved around other riders, at a pace that kept them from jumping in.

I knew I was going fast, but it wasn’t until after almost 10-15 minutes that I saw the 5-mile marker for the next town. I had connected with them about 10 miles out, and now it was over halfway there. We riding at well over 20 miles per hour. (Remember, this is about 8 years before electronics for bikes). My cyclometer peg was pinging like crazy on my front wheel as the tenths of miles kept rolling by. I had never ridden with a group this fast for this long. It was almost like a count down, as the water tower first came into view, and then the first signs of more buildings. The husband never broke pace, and just kept up his fluid spin, his chrome toe clips and shiny black shoes flashing in the sun with each revolution, and the distinctive buzz of their high pressure sew-ups (of course) on pavement. And then we hit the city limits and eased up. We had just covered 8 miles in 24 minutes, 20 miles per hour, not even breathing hard.
All I need is a wheel to follow.

I said thanks for the ride, and shyly drifted back, not wanting to intrude anymore on their day. I soon lost them in the town, but remember seeing them again over the next couple of days, with just a nod of hello. As distinctive as a couple on a pair of Holdsworth bikes was, I don’t recall ever crossing paths with them again on any subsequent rides. I have often wondered how long they kept riding, and where they might be today. For the rest of the week, I had many more chances to draft and ride in pace lines, sometimes with 20 or more bikes finishing up the day’s miles in the late afternoons.

In my club riding over the next several years, I was fortunate to ride with some very good mentors, who taught me more of the courtesies of drafting and cooperative riding.  These were rides where everyone finishing together was always more important than finishing first, something that, unfortunately, seems to get easily lost on so many “training” rides today.

A good smooth pace line is still one of my favorite places to be. I don’t mind the long pulls and conceding a little bit of speed to keep a few extra riders along. From DALMAC, to TOSRV to STP and club rides, it is one of my favorite parts of riding. And every time is just another payback and thanks to the couple on the Holdsworth's who allowed an unknown, novice teen-ager along for the ride.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

1979: First TOSRV

1979 TOSRV Patch
It was 9 PM Friday in Lansing, Michigan, and we still had a 5-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio. We had met at 8 to load bikes and be on our way. In 10 hours we were supposed to start riding. I had tried to get to TOSRV (Tour Of the Scioto River Valley) for over 7 years, and now it looked like it was all going to blow-up before we left Lansing.

I had moved to Lansing, (well Holt, actually) in the fall of 1978, and started a new job, working as a weekday prep cook. Turns out learning how to cook cream sauces and soups without scorching them had some value for my biking. After 4 years of working every weekend, I now had most weekends off. So I could finally leave town on Mother’s Day for TOSRV.

I also owned a pick-up truck, which made me among the most popular people to know in a college town. I had a “can you help me move” request almost every week. That is in part how, through a friend of a friend, that I fell in with group from the East Lansing Campus Bike Co-Op headed to TOSRV, but with no way to carry their bikes. I would haul the bikes for 1 friend and 5 strangers, along with my own bike, following a car load of riders to Columbus.

By 9 PM we had 7 bikes loaded in my truck. But only 4 of the riders; one more had to work late, and one had bagged it. We had no where to stash the “spare” bike, so it would spend the weekend in my truck, in Columbus. Finally, at 10, we decided I would drive on and the car would leave an hour later. We would meet in the parking lot under the Ohio Capitol building. Where we were sleeping would be worked out along the way, though it was agreed we would try to look for each other at the last rest area north of Columbus. This of course, is all pre cell phones, so once on the road, that was it.

At the time, I was still drinking Mountain Dew by the 6 pack, so I was okay driving most of the way. Riding shotgun with me was Paul, a friend of the friend, who I had met that night. He was a bike mechanic for the co-op and an extreme (okay, that term didn’t exist in `79) skate boarder who thought fun was a 60 mph mountain road descent, not luge style, but standing. We just chatted rides, riding and wrenching through the night. We did take a nap at the rest area, but decided to drive on without seeing the car.  Maybe 5 bikes would spend the weekend in my truck.
A pace line headed north to White Lake

We pulled into Columbus a little after dawn, and found the parking garage. We had been there about 15 minutes when the car load arrived. They had driven straight through, not having left Lansing until after midnight.

So I started my first TOSRV on just 2 hours sleep in the prior 24 hours. I picked up my packet, and I got my baggage tagged and on the truck assigned to my overnight in Portsmouth. But beyond that, the morning’s details blur. By 1979, there was no longer a mass start, but there was still a steady stream of riders heading south out of downtown Columbus. We dropped in and followed, and during the first 10 miles, the landscape transitioned from city to suburban and finally to rural farmland.

Without knowing it, I rode past first sag in Circleville that year, since the route stayed on 104 back then. So I was both sleep deprived and bonky by the end of the first 50 miles in Chillicothe. The lines for lunch were long, and smell from the paper mills made it almost impossible to eat. But after lunch came the best miles of the day, along Canal Road and the rolling hills in the narrowed valley. Spring flowers were in bloom, and we swooped under and over the paralleling rail road. In either direction, that stretch of road remains one of my Top Ten miles of riding anywhere.
In the hills between Waverly and Chilicothe

As we rolled along on that spring day after School House Hill, every rider saw the clouds on the horizon to the west, and the HAM radio caulk boards every 5 miles had said bad weather by Waverly at 75 miles. They nailed it. We came into the north side of town as the storm hit, and by the 100’s we stood with our bikes under store awnings for 20 minutes, until it passed and we could ride on. As we pedaled through the downtown, a 6” deep river of water flowed along the main street, through our wheels and splashed by our pedals. It was like my second DALMAC, just without the panniers trailing in the water.

Just south of Waverly, mud brown water was flowing over the dam spill way as we approached the White Lake food stop, a soggy mess after the 20 minute down pour. But 5 miles down the road, it hadn’t even rained. Pace lines of 20 to 30 bikes formed up for the last miles down the valley, until we finally saw the hills of Kentucky straight ahead as the Scioto flowed into the Ohio. We came at last to the two lane bridge over the river into Portsmouth, and found the busiest party store in Ohio that Saturday. It was selling out of both beer and ice cream sandwiches as the temps climbed into the high `70s.

I found the elementary school that was my overnight, at the top of a hill above the town, and then rode to the “official” CYO chicken dinner. Back at the school, our shower was a hose in a janitor’s closet (really). I finally went back and set up my tent on a baseball diamond, crawled in and started to pull my gear in. With that only half finished, with my head and shoulders outside the tent, I sprawled across my gear and closed my eyes for a moment. That was at 7:30, after 36 hours awake on a couple hours of sleep and riding a century. Almost 4 hours later I woke up still laying on my gear in the door of my tent, and finally pulled myself in and zipped up for the night.

With some new friends post ride in Columbus.
The next morning I was up early, breaking camp and loading my baggage on the truck. It was a mixed weather day, partly cloudy, breezy but not chilly. The pace lines formed again for the first miles up to Waverly, and then we worked our way through the rolling hills to Chillicothe and lunch. I did see Circleville that day, and then started the final 30 miles to Columbus.

It was on that final leg that I saw my coolest first TOSRV memory. A pace line of 3 guys came along, and the third rider had car battery and 10 foot whip radio antennae on the back of his bike. The rider in the middle was Charlie Pace, the TOSRV ride director. He was riding with a HAM radio escort to be kept in touch with the progress of the ride. They stopped at the last sag out, said some hellos and then rolled on, the antennae whipping back and forth as pulled out of the sag.

Finally back a the ride headquarters in downtown, I collected my gear and checked in, getting my first TOSRV certificate and gold seal for completing 210 miles. I had too wait for the rest of the bikes we had to haul, and wandered around the grounds of the capitol, having fun with my TOSRV t-shirt and some of the statues, before finally packing and driving back to Lansing. After seven years, I had finally ridden my first TOSRV, and while not the way I had planned it, was everything I expected. Looking back, while I had no idea how my life would change in the months ahead, I knew I was hooked, and would be coming back to Columbus for at least 1 more Mother’s Day weekend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

1974: First Century

My first century patch from 1974 - I was a real cyclist!
As I picked up more books and magazines about bicycling that first year or riding, it was not the racing that drew my attention. Growing up, anything with athletic competition had not gone well for me, and I shied away from it. Bicycle racing looked like just one more humiliation to add to the list. Bicycle travel and distance rides were what always captured my interest. And then I learned about this this ride called a century.

100 miles in under 12-hours was THE event in midwest club bicycling. I leaned that the “century” itself was then approaching 100 years in history. It went to the heart of “The Wheelmen” clubs of the 1880’s and 1890’s, where a century was ridden on 80-pound, single speed high wheelers over gravel and macadam roads. By the early 1970’s club century rides were being hosted all over the midwest, and you could find a ride or two every weekend from May 1 to the end of October, many offering just a century route.

After my first year of riding I was doing 50 and 60 miles rides on my own pretty regularly. I couldn’t get to one of the century rides, since I did not have my own car, and I would have to arrange to have someone cover my Saturday and Sunday morning paper route. And I was still just 16, and most rides required you ride with an adult.

In the spring of 1973, I learned the county American Cancer Society chapter was sponsoring a Bike-a-thon with 20 mile loops, starting from a church just south of Jackson. This was close enough that I could persuade Mom to drop me off and pick me up, and the start time allowed me to do this after my Saturday papers were delivered. And they didn’t have that pesky adult restriction stuff in any of the paperwork.

I was on my fourth year on my paper route, so I was well known and liked by my customers, giving me a captive audience for pledges. That first year I only discussed 3 or 4 loops, and over half my 75 customers pledged in 5 cents or a dime a mile. Riding 4 loops for 80 miles, I raised about $300. And I set my goal for next year.

I did a lot of riding that summer (1973), but never broke the 100 mile mark. The fall was my junior year in high school, and with running high school cross country, I didn’t look at any more rides. But in the spring of 1974, I picked the Cancer Society forms, and started collecting pledges, this time committing to 100 miles.

The reaction to 100 miles from my customers was really a surprise. They all knew I liked to bike. And I imagine that most of them had biked has kids themselves, but all on just around town on heavy coaster brake bikes. There were no “real” bicyclings in Brooklyn. And traveling a 100 miles is a big deal, a 2-hour car trip, a real distance. So most challenged me with “Can you really ride that far?”.  For a few, the pledges were almost a bet that I wouldn’t make it. I was getting pledges of nickels and dimes per mile. The local car dealer even pledged $ .25 a mile, grinning that he wondered if would ever have to pay the $25. When it was all done, with family, friends and customers, I was pledged up to $1.20 per mile.

The ride came up on the first weekend in June, and we drove up after finishing my paper route. One of my younger brothers and a friend also came along to ride a couple of loops. I started at 8:30, behind the lead group, and just began riding at a steady pace. There were sag stops of cookies, fruit and drinks every 5 miles, and most of the riders were only going for one or two loops. But I had a water bottle, and you can only eat so many cookies, and I began skipping the stops to save time. I was still on my first 30-pound steel bike, and riding in shorts and a basketball jersey, tennis shoes, and off course, no helmet.

Looping back to the start, they had sandwiches out by Noon for lunch. I only saw my brother and friend once or twice during the day. It works out that I was probably averaging 14 to 16 mph, finishing every loop in under 2 hours, riding mostly by myself. I saw a number of the “real” bicyclists from the Jackson Freewheelers on the ride; I did not know them yet, but they would become friends in the years and rides to follow.  I finished 80 miles by 3:30 and there were only a handful of riders still out as I started my fifth and final loop. I finished a little after 5, and then sat in the parking lot in the late afternoon shade, waiting for Mom, and casually wondering where my brother and his friend were. He showed shortly after I finished, with his own adventures, dog that a dog that him around the loop, and riding off the road and down a shallow embankment, with only few grass stains to show for his tumble.

I was none the worse for the wear, except for my sunburn. My back, shoulders and arms were blistered and peeling for the next week, and I never made that mistake again. I also spent the next week collecting my pledges while showing everyone my first 100 mile patch. I had hoped to have raised enough for the new bike prize, but $120 was only good enough for an honorable mention. Mom had a little bit of fit having to deal with the check for the cash from some of the pledges, since that much money was a big deal.

That was my last big ride on my first bike. I was signed up for my first long tour, DALMAC, at the end of summer, and was already shopping for a lighter bike. That first bike had served me well in two full summers of riding and my first century.  And in making the that magic 100 miles under the 12-hour limit,  I began to think of myself as a “real” bicyclist.

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012: Do you ride in the road?

On the road with Linda, late 1980's.
“So, do you ride on the road?” is question that finds its way into many conversations with non-cyclists, and even with bicycle shopping customers I interact with. There is a level of concern in their asking, and in some cases out-and-out fear. The un-said statement is that “the road” is a dangerous place to bicycle, and why do you ride there.

Dozen’s of answers can roll throw you mind when that question pops up. You can cite the statistics, or personal experience. Everything in life has risks. Waking up, taking a shower, a flight of stairs, eating a meal, or the drive to work all carry the possibility of an unexpected demise. Living in the midwest with tornadoes, on a coast with hurricanes, or California with earthquakes all present risks.

I hear from time to time of riders who after something in the news, or having a close call, just bag-it and stay off the road. I have had a half dozen “memorable” close calls, but only two incidents that brought my bike to a stop. My only ride to ever end with an ambulance ride was bike-on-bike; when another rider hit a hole in the road, and then fell on me. He did a racing trained somersault, and was shaken, but was ready to ride. I was dropped like a rock on my shoulder, and ended up with a broken collar bone and 3 broken ribs. But that is the worst of it in 40 years and 175,000 miles (now 42 years and 190,000 - April 2014).

There is certainly a bit of luck involved. There is also a some training and learned skills. I took some cycling safety courses to heart early in my riding, and that was invaluable. Road position, and looking at drivers were the two earliest lessons. I ride with a helmet mirror, but I always look at the overtaking car before I make a traffic move. Making eye contact with a driver will make a huge difference in your “negotiation” for your right to the road. That is all part of vehicular cycling, staying safe by behaving like any other vehicle in traffic.

I always ride at least a handlebar width from the side of the road.  Riding too timidly on the the white line or edge of the road is a sure way to invite a car to pass when conditions are not safe. And riding to close to the edge can be dangerous riding regardless of traffic, since if you focus on the edge, sooner or later you will ride off it. A bike will always follow your eyes, even to the point of riding you into the obstacle you want to avoid.

I don’t ride with some fool hardy sense of invulnerability; I am just as concerned about the risk of the distracted soccer mom, the drunk driver, or car load of teen agers when I ride as when I drive. If anything, my lessons learned riding make me a more aware driver.

If I had stopped after the first scare, I would not have met my wife, and shared thousand’s of mile with her, in places like High Hill in Alberta, Palm Desert in California, or the back roads of New England. Had I stopped after that bike-on-bike crash in 2004, I would have missed 4 springs of shared training with my oldest son for our TOSRV weekends. I would have missed the family week of riding on GOBA, and the the 5 day Michigan tour with my youngest son. And I would have missed last nights sunset. The risk of never having lived all of those moments, far out weighs whatever may come tomorrow.

Yes, I ride in the road.

Friday, March 2, 2012

1974: The Jackson Freewheelers Bicycle Club

Some of  my patches from
 Jackson Freewheelers rides.
Belonging to a bicycle club has always been a part of my bicycling.  It started with wanting to find other people to ride with, and more interesting places to ride.  And at the time, bicycle clubs were the best source of information on how to ride.  Not just to ride faster, but to learn and practice the many skills that riding required.

My first club was the Jackson Freewheelers Bicycle Club.  Jackson was the county seat, a small city (50,000) in south east Michigan, about 20 miles from home.  It was a typical midwest blue collar city, with a mix of manufacturing supporting Michigan's auto industry and other light industry and small businesses.  Its two claims to fame were the Jackson State Prison and Jim McDevit, a Gemini and Apollo astronaut.  (And by the way Indy friends, it is also home town of former Colt's coach Tony Dungy, where he was a high school football star.)

I found the Freewheelers newsletter in a bike shop and then started meeting them for rides around Jackson.   I was sort of an enigma to the club, since there were only 2-3 high school aged riders out of about 30 adults.  The adults were either single or empty-nesters, (though that term was not yet invented) and here I was the kid, riding or driving 20 miles on a Sunday morning to do a 25 to 35 mile ride, and then riding home.

The Freewheelers were a small group, but they had ambition.  The hosted a summer double century ride,  a fall century and monthly club meetings.  It was on these events with the Freewheelers that I worked as a ride volunteer for the first time, staffing a food stop and doing route research.

The Freewheelers also organized car pools to rides all over Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and the club owned a trailer that could haul a dozen bikes (it seemed every bike club did back then).  I traveled with them to my first out-of-state century, a ride in Trotwood, (near Dayton) OH, in 1974.

One of the most regular riders was Red Ryder. He was probably in his early 60's when I first met him, and at that time he always rode in a cotton wind breaker, a plaid cotton dress shirt, and slacks and leather dress shoes, topped with a baseball cap; when it warmed up, he left the wind breaker home, I don't recall ever seeing him in shorts those first few years.  I think he rode a Fuji road bike.  He was a machinist, and that best a describes his riding style, a smooth machine like cadence that seemed to have one speed, about 20 miles per hour.  He never appeared to break a sweat or even breath hard, and he would lead (literally!) the weekly brunch ride to nearby Parma every Sunday.  (I latter heard that he added a little more traditional riding garb,  and went on to win the Michigan Seniors State Time Trial Championship a couple of times. He rode into his 80's and passed away a few years ago.)

When I rode DALMAC (Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac Tour) for the second time in 1975, four of us from the Freewheelers,  Roger Culbert, Mike DeEstrada,  Janine Schnieder and I rode together from Jackson to Lansing to join DALMAC, and then rode all the way back from St. Ignace to Jackson.  Counting my 3 days riding from Brooklyn to Toledo, OH before hand,  it was an 11 day, 1,000 mile trip, completed while I was still just 18.  It was quite a trip, and all the more so due to the 7 days of rain a hurricane dumped on us.

Roller Racing in the `70s.  My friend Steve Leiby is in the foreground, and
the rider in back is "Red" Ryder. (Jay Hardcastle photo) 
There were other fun happenings with the Freewheelers.  I first learned to ride rollers during a winter club meeting, and another time we brought in the now legendary cycling coach Mike Walden of the Wolverine Sports Club in Detroit who shared colorful stories on training and riding.  On another winter visit, Walden brought along a set of 40-year-old, 4-bike Cinelli racing rollers.  Each set of rollers was connected by a flexible steel drive cable to  6 foot high clock dial, with each roller driving its own color-coded watch hand. One revolution of the clock measured a 500 meter lap, and the races were 10 laps.  The steel rollers were noisy and slow,  and it was hard to stay upright and keep an eye on your clock hand racing around the giant clock.

Those first years with the Freewheelers set the standard that I always looked for and strived to create in a bike club experience:  friendship, socializing and fun, all centered around riding.  My last active year was 1978, when I left Brooklyn for Lansing, MI, though I have had contact with a few of those friends over the years.  The Freewheelers faded sometime after that, but a newer club, the Cascades Cycling Club (Jackson, MI) was later founded by some of the original Freewheelers.  They now have a event in its 25th year, the Annual Minard Mills Bicyle Tour and Wienie Roast.  And I am sure a few of them remember drafting Red.

Friday, February 24, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 4

(Final installment on my 1979 UP Tour)
In the shade in Trenary, MI,  1979
The next morning was my turn around day for St. Ignace and I would have to save the western UP for another trip. I started out heading south and west, through the small towns of Chatham and Trenary. One of my favorite self-portraits was taken in Trenary, sitting on the sidewalk in front of a shop, in the shade of a couple of trees. Thirty some odd years later, Google Maps Street View will let me find that spot, with the same wood siding and door, but the shade trees are no longer there. From Trenary, I continued south to Gladstone and a campground near there.

The next day I was heading east, riding a mix of inland and Lake Michigan coast line along US 2. On my last night out, I camped just west of St. Ignace, and again split the camping fee with another rider, this time a girl from from Toronto who was riding west.

Looking across to Michigan side, from
west of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 1979
It was fun meeting other touring cyclists in the UP, headed both east and west, some crossing into Canada at the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) to short cut the distance to the northern East coast, others riding south to cross into Ontario from St. Clair or Detroit, or riding all the way down to the Michigan-Ohio border. A few years later when I helped some friends plan a trans continental tour, the later reported that after riding from Duluth, MN to Toledo, OH, Michigan was the single state they rode the most days and miles in.

I wish I had kept my contacts with all the riders I met on those trips. I am sure that today, I would have friended them on Facebook with a smart phone the same day, but now those names are lost in journals and note pads misplaced after too many moves in the years since. Who knows, maybe they will stumble across this blog, and we will strike up a conversation again.

I finished with 6 days of riding and including all the side trips and meandering, almost 500 miles.  It was not my longest tour, though it would the longest one I rode alone.  And the changes in my life that had just begun meant that I would not be touring alone for many years to come.

Sunset from Brimley State Park, MI, 1979
A final footnote on my 1979 UP trip. As I said, many of my journals and note pads are scattered, so much of this is recalled from a normally reliable memory. However, in the process of looking through my boxes of color slides from these trips, it became obvious that some details were blurred between my UP tours of 1976, 1977 and 1979.  I have the gross details correct, but may be off a year or two. The boat tour through the Soo locks, turns out to have been on a my trip in 1977. And I know a group of kids tagged along as I headed south of out of Sault Ste. Marie, but I may not be able pin down which trip it happened on unless I find that years journal. It is not a case of a fabrication, just misplaced details.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1974: You were supposed to call home

(This is really a story about my Mom and Dad, and their support of a bicycle crazed teen ager.)

After just two seasons of riding, I learned about the DALMAC (Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac) ride from friends in the bicycle club in Jackson.  DALMAC, organized by the TriCounty Bicycle Association was then just a 4-day, 350 mile, supported touring ride, starting the Thursday before Labor Day (Today, there are 4-5 route options with 2,500 riders).  One of the highlights of the ride was biking across the 5 mile long, 200 foot high Mackinac Bridge to finish the ride. They expected 500 riders, and the fee was reasonable, since it was all camping for the overnights.

Getting dropped of in East Lansing for my first DALMAC,
my youngest brother Chad watching.
There were a few obstacles for me to overcome before I could go on that ride.  I was only 17 and needed to be "accompanied" by adult on the ride, I had never  been gone from home on my own for more than a overnight and I had no tent or camping experience.  Then I learned John Whitehead, an 18-year old senior in my high school (I would be starting my junior year that fall), and the other "serious" rider was also riding DALMAC. A couple of phone calls and I had my "adult" on the ride with me.  I signed up that spring, and started getting ready.

It was a busy summer; I was working three jobs (putting up hay, a paper route, and washing dishes) and I used that money to buy a new bike, a handlebar bag, panniers, and a sleeping bag.   I also picked up a couple of pairs of cycling shorts and a jersey.  I had found some books and magazines on backpacking and camping, and borrowed a tent a for the trip, and even tried it for a night.   I didn't think much of it at the time, but the riding to get ready was also pretty intense.  I rode my first century in early June, and then my first double century (200 miles in 24 hours) 3 weeks later.

The pre-start announcements.  Note the head gear!
So the big days arrives, and we leave at 5:30 in the morning for the hour drive to East Lansing.  Mom drops me off with my bike, and gear on the south side of the Michigan State campus, where almost 600 riders have gathered, about 200 of them kids my age and younger.  "Be careful and call home." says Mom as I say good bye. Then for the first time, I check-in, tag my bags, toss them on the baggage truck, and then join the line-up for the ride mass start.

The next 4 days of riding made an indelible mark, and shaped my riding from that point on.  I have since gone back to ride DALMAC 4 more times since that first ride, and I hope I will be there again in 2014 for a 40th anniversary ride.  But there were parts of the story of that first DALMAC I did not hear until just a few years ago from my Mom and Dad.

That first day, I really did intend to call home like Mom asked, but every time I got near a pay phone, there were 10 to 15 people in line.  So I missed calling the first night. Riding the next day, I never saw a pay phone that did not have a line, and on the second night we were camped on a lake with no pay phones nearby.  By the third day, calling home just became less important, and the third night didn't have a pay phone either.   I knew I was supposed to call, and should call, but it was just going to take so long, and before I knew it, it was Sunday and I was going to be home the next day.

On Labor Day morning, we board the charter busses at 8 in the morning for the 6-hour drive back to East Lansing.  It is a great ending to the trip, and I am so pumped and already thinking about the next tour, and what gear to have for next time. I think it did cross my mind that I had neglected to call home, and I hoped my parent's would remember to pick me up.   Thankfully, when we arrive at the parking lot, Mom and Dad are there for me, but I can't figure out whey Mom is crying.  "You were supposed to call" she says over and over again.  I apologize and begin to spill out the adventures of the last 5 days as we grab my bike bike and bags and load up for the drive home.

Do you remember those 200 kids under 17 that were on the ride?  Well it turns out my attention to details like having an adult along, and even having a tent, was the exception, not the rule. Many of those kid's were dropped off at the start with just a sleeping bag and some extra clothing, and few were actually "accompanied" by a responsible adult.  They became a children's crusade of problems for the ride organizers over those 4 days and 350 miles.  From the minute they left Lansing until we boarded the busses in St. Ignace for the trip back, there were dozens of little incident which resulted in calls between children, local law enforcement and families across the state.  They all finished safe and sound, but the rules were changed to keep that from happening again.

But I only heard the best part of the story while having dinner with my Mom and Dad in Brooklyn the night before Justin (then 13) and I rode DALMAC together in 2009.  I was telling Mom and Dad, that as parent's ourselves of 16- and 13-year old boys,  Linda and I had already been thinking about whether we were ready to let our our sons take off alone on a 5-day bike trip.  We both thought that it took quite a bit of faith for a parent to let a child do a ride like that.  And that is when Mom told me the rest of the story about her 5 days at home while I was on the road in 1974.

"You didn't call the first night, and then you didn't call the second or third day.  You were always so good about calling, so you had us worried.  Finally we looked at the map and where you would be that third night, and called the nearest State Police post.  We asked the officer on duty if had any news from the bike ride, and an apparently exasperated state trooper replied 'Yes, they are up here, and none of them are dead yet'.  At least then we thought you were ok."

And that is why my Mom was crying when I got off that bus on Labor Day, 1974.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 3

Resting and writing in the shade in Trenary, MI, 1979
I awoke to my fourth day of riding, moving inland and away from the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, which the maps I could find indicated was mostly gravel roads. So I was riding inland, through the narrow waist of the UP, the band between the eastern UP and the peninsula jutting north into Lake Superior and South into Wisconsin. It was going to be a perfect summer riding, sunny, temps headed to high in low 70’s, with little wind or humidity. After an early start and some zig-zag exploring, I was riding along at a steady pace, with 40 miles by lunch. I loaded up with groceries and continued on, and by 4 PM I had almost 90 miles, but another 5 hours of daylight.  I  decided to keep riding, which meant riding the Seney Stretch

State Highway M-28 ran the east-west the full length of the UP, but the 25 miles from Seney to Shingleton was two lane road, perfectly straight, across a huge expanse of peat bog. There were no cross roads or stops, and only a parallel railroad track and a line of telephone poles. So once I was on the way, I would be committed. I topped off my bottles and began rolling west out of Seney.

It was a quiet mid-week afternoon, and I was riding at a steady cadence for 15-16 mph. (No bike computers for another two or three years, so speed was just dead reckoning from cadence, the axle mounted cyclometer and mileage markers.) The first thing I noticed was that the overtaking cars were literally coming up over the horizon, and disappearing into the vanishing point ahead of me in a 6 to 7 minute process. The road was that straight and that flat, and only a handful of cars would pass either way during the ride.

And then came the deer flies.

After the first 20 minutes, I heard a buzzing and realized I had company. A cloud of about 2-dozen, dime-sized deer flies, were drafting me. Apparently they can fly at a sustained 15 mph, since they could not get close enough to light, and by varying my pace a bit, the would gradually come a little closer, or gradually just fall back. So for the next hour and half I had another reason not to stop.

I rolled on, first hitting 5 miles. During my first few years of riding, 5 miles was distance from home to town, and it became one of my first benchmarks of independence. Then I had 10 miles, based on the mile markers. I held a steady 90 RPM, turning my 47 by 15 or 17 gear. I came up on halfway, and then 15 miles, and then 1 hour down. My camera came out for a couple of rolling pictures, but there was no reason to stop, and my deer fly escort was still flying in formation with me.

As the miles rolled by, it almost felt like I was motionless on my bike, on a giant painted roller of road and sky, rolling toward me from oncoming horizon, only to drop endlessly behind me. Even the few oncoming and overtaking cars, in the minutes long progression, contributed to the illusion.

Finally after an hour and a half, the horizon started to change. After 25 miles I came up on the first building and an intersection Shingleton, a little 4 corner town. It was a little after 6 PM, and I had almost 120 miles for the day. I found a grocery shop, had coke, and ate a sub for dinner. Then I rode on the another 10 miles to a park near Munising. On the way into campground, I actually met another rider, from, New York I think, heading east on a coast-to-coast ride. He was ending his day and we were able split the campground fee. I setup my tent and settled in for a good nights sleep. That 128 mile day is still my longest day of riding on a loaded touring bike.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 2

Leaving St. Ignace, 1979
My riding plan for the week was simple, 4 days out, and 3 days back, riding the UP shoreline when I could, counter-clockwise. My first day would be 60 miles of biking east to Detour Village, there to catch a ferry to Drummond Island, and another 8 miles to the only campground on the island. At that time, Drummond Island was a sleepy collection of cabins and campgrounds and a massive limestone mine, feeding the steel mills along the the Great Lakes, and little else. Thankfully I had picked up dinner and breakfast before leaving DeTour Village, since nothing was open on the island, and even the campground was on the honor system. I wouldn’t see or speak to anyone until the ferry crossing the next morning.

Drummond Island Ferry, 1977
My next days riding was to Sault Ste. Marie. After my early morning ferry trip back to DeTour Village, I headed north and west along the UP back roads, through a mix forest and farm land. As I rode, an occasional B-52 jet would fill the sky overhead from a nearby US Air Force base. Cars were infrequent, and I only passed trough a few small town, “grazing” for food at grocery stores along the way, picking up sandwiches, fruit and snacks.

I arrived early and found a campground right on the river front, just down river from the locks. I then spent the afternoon on a tour boat going through the locks, before settling down for the night in tent. The campground was unique in that across the river was Canada, and 700-foot long ships would pass by during the night, just a few hundred yards from the door of my tent.

After breaking camp the the next morning, I crossed into Canada for a few hours of riding before heading back across into the US. The crossing was quite easy, just a drivers license and a couple questions crossing each way. It was also an exciting ride on the International Bridge, which was high enough over the locks and St Mar’s river to clear all shipping traffic, with the international border in the middle of the bridge, over 125 feet in the air.
North Bound, International Bridge `79

Leaving downtown Sault Ste. Marie after lunch, a half dozen kids on 20” bikes began following me, riding on the sidewalks along the main street leading up from the river, a long gradual climb. I think they thought the guy on the loaded bike was a challenge to race, as the first pulled ahead of me the sidewalk. I maintained a steady pace, and they continued to follow me for a couple of miles, though I had the edge in endurance. It was fun sport. I then began riding south inland, finally before heading west for a night at Brimely State Park, to watch an hours long sunset over Lake Superior and Whitefish Bay finish at after 11 PM.
(I have included pictures from a 3-day trip from 1977, since I have not completed scanning the `79 slides.)