Sunday, December 8, 2013

1974: First Double Century

The patch says it all.
There is just something about the eternal optimism of youth. After barely a year and half of cycling, and just a couple of months after my first one day hundred mile ride, I was ready to take on 200 miles in a single day. To be precise, it would be 200 miles in under 24 hours, but under the League of American Wheelman (now Bicyclists) “rules”, a century had to be completed in 12 hours, so a double could be completed in 24.

The ride was the Cloverleaf Double Century, hosted by the Jackson Freewheelers of Jackson Michigan, my first bike club. I have written of them before. The Cloverleaf and the Freewheelers are no more, but they were both a big part of those early summers that cemented my love of bicycling. I journaled most of this ride in the weeks and months after the ride, recording miles immediately, and then recollections in detail later. August of 1974 was quite a month.

The ride was called the Cloverleaf because it was four different 50-mile loops, originated form a community college campus a few miles south of Jackson. To add to the challenge, the ride actually started at Noon, to force you to ride at least one loop at night. The ride was also in mid-August, so we didn’t even have the advantage of a long summer day in Michigan. When you consider the precautions most organized rides take with night riding today, you are reminded it was a simpler time.

I drove to the start of the ride with John Whitehead, the other crazy cyclist in my high school. Since I was not yet 18, John was my in loco parentis for this ride, as he would be in a few weeks on my first DALMAC, a 4-day bicycle tour over Labor Day. He also brought along the tent we would be using on DALMAC, and this would be the first night I tried sleeping in tent, if, and when, a chance to sleep came.

We unpacked our bikes and finished signing up and started the first loop just a few minutes after noon. There were about 200 riders heading out in a soft mass start, and we were riding somewhere between the fast wool and leather helmets (this a few years before lycra) and ahead of the T-shirt and cut-off jeans riders. That summer I had my first pair of cycling shorts and a jersey, both polyester, and with a leather chamois in the shorts. I had a pair of black leather cycling shoes, and had even found some cleats to nail to the soles, cobbling one of the unexpected skills I had picked-up that summer

In the first 10 miles after leaving the college, we settled in with a group of about 15 riders, but it turned into a comedy of sorts for a couple of minutes. Three riders about my age in the front decided to start handing back and forth items from their seat bags, re-arranging who was carrying their spare tubes and tools. (I am not making this up!) By then, we had a couple of cars backing up behind us, and some of the riders starting yelling for the threesome to get out the way. That is when a fast group of riders coming from behind stated passing the cars behind our group. Finally, after some yelling and honking, one of the threesome finally dropped something, and then they all pulled off to the side of the road, and we were moving along again.

I would latter have my own little traveling fiasco, as one of the sandwich bags I had carefully filled with trail mix before the ride proceeded to split open when I tried to open it while riding, dropping raisins, nuts and M&Ms into my front wheel and fountaining them in the air. After that, I left them in my pocket, or only ate at stops.

John and I rode the first 50 together, finishing in about 3 /12 hours, but I was feeling better then him at the end. I headed out after about an hour of snacking and making sure the tent was up, but he decided to rest longer. I was on the road by 4:30, for the next 50 miles. This loop was pretty uneventful, but I did talk to a hand full of riders from across the state, and few who going to be on DALMAC in two weeks.

I finished my first 100 for the day at 8 PM, just before before sunset. I ate more food, and started getting myself and my bike ready for the night loop. I had two French-made Wonder lights, a flat while plastic flashlight that used these weird, flat batteries about the the size of 3 AA cells, for a 4.5 volt flashlight. About the only thing notable about them, other than their being French, was that they were designed for bicycling, and they had adjustable clamps that could be fit around handlebars to point the lights. They put a small puddle of light about 2 feet in diameter and 10 feet in front of your wheel on the road in front of you.

The Freewheeler Club patch.
I also had a leg light, which was another French made, plastic flashlight that strapped to your leg below the knee, with a single bulb lighting a clear lens facing forward forward and red facing back, all powered by two C-cells. Besides that, I had an oversize truck reflectors bolted on my bikes rear rack. This was state of the art bicycle lighting for 1974. I saw another rider who had a home-built 12-volt system (but it only lasted about 25 miles). Other riders were using generators lights, but I was above average in having two headlights and some extra batteries, but more on that later.

I set out at 10 PM, adding a sweat shirt and sweat pants, (both dark blue, of course) over my jersey and shorts. I did have white tube socks on. (No mention of any helmet in my journal, which I think is still a year off at this point.) There were Dan Henry’s painted in the road, and I knew some, but not all of the roads we were on.

I rode the first 25 miles to the half way food stop with two Dave’s, one who had 12-volt generator that had enough light for all 3 of us, so I was able to only run one of my Wonder lights. Even with that, we added two miles when we missed a turn, and were only averaging about 10 miles an hour at best, arriving at the halfway point about 1 AM. Progress was slow as you stopped at every intersection to check the road signs and maps before moving on.

At one point, one Dave began to tell the other Dave that once you rode over 12 hours, it was obvious you would be in pain and agony, and they discussed the aspects of this for next several miles. First, I wasn’t in any pain or agony; I was actually having the time of my life! Nor could I couldn’t understand why anyone would continue to do something they felt would cause pain and agony. We also encountered another rider who had missed turn and ridden into a pond, but had somehow managed not to drown, and recover his bike and continue riding

While Dave and Dave continue to carry on about pain and agony, I left the 25/125 mile stop on my own. This was in rural south east Michigan, on almost moonless night, 25 miles from Jackson, the nearest large urban area. I was riding past small lakes and marshes, on almost level terrain, with just my 1 or 2 small pools of light, and the yard lights of surrounding farms; with very few cars after 1 AM. That is when the riding took on an almost mystical quality or sitting motionless on bike, under a giant dark blue bowl that was slowly moving over my my head. I was also struck or the first time on how much light there under the stars on night like that. They were some truly magical moments of riding, and I have always enjoyed night riding since.

I was fortunate to still have lights and batteries at 40/140 miles after 2 AM, because that is when most of the battery lights began failing for the other riders. I came up on one group of 4 riders that were down to a single arm & leg light on their leader and no headlights, almost clipping the last rider while focused on my headlight and the light of the leader. I offered to guide them in, but they said they were doing fine.

I finally got back to the campus at 3:30 am and checked in at the control. I headed to my tent, and woke up John, who it turned out, had not left yet for his third loop. He headed out, and took over the tent to sleep. I slept until 6:30, and then after a peanut butter and banana sandwich (“a breakfast of champions” I wrote in my ride journal,) I was back on the road for the final 50 miles.

This loop was riding toward home, along all the familiar roads around Norvell, Fay Lake, on through Brooklyn, and past my high school. Along the way, I got to surprise my Mom and one of my younger brothers, who were covering my Sunday morning paper route in Brooklyn. After leaving Brooklyn, I even picked up with a pace line of 20 riders for a bit, something still new and rare for me.

I finished back the college about 10:30 AM, just under 4 hours for the last 50. My total time was just over 22 hours, with a riding time about 16 hours. All times were by wrist watch and peg cyclometer, there were no electronics to records distance or time. We packed up and headed home, where I slept and napped for almost 18 hours, only waking for dinner Sunday night.  I was back on my bike Monday, and continued riding and prepping for DALMAC, just  few weeks away.

I have ridden over a hundred and thirty centuries since, including a couple more one-day doubles and a couple of RAIN (168 miles) in the years since. The contrast between the preparation and gear of today with that long ago ride never escapes me. There was such a pure innocence and ignorance when I set off that afternoon; but the accomplishment and knowing of what I could do and experience on a bike has never left me.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2013: Bike Tuesday

It is not on any ride schedule or calendar.

There are no Dan Henry’s.

There is no map.

There is not a sign-in sheet, waiver or release.

There are no incentives or rewards.

It it not the largest ride.

It has never been ranked by a magazine.

It's just a weekly gathering of friends to ride.

And there is no better place to be on a Tuesday night.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A ride on the Nickel Plate Trail

The Nickel Plate is over 34 miles of trail.
For the third summer in a row, Linda and I made a trip north to ride the Nickel Plate Trail. This trail runs from Cassville, just north of Kokomo to Rochester, Indiana. In 2011 and 2012, we took our boys Tyler and Justin along to ride the southern and middle sections of the trail. For this year’s excursion, we invited some our cycling friends from a couple of different groups we belong to, with the intent of researching for a future larger outing.

A paved rail trail, the Nickel Plate parallels US 31. Rochester and Peru are the two largest towns on trail, while Denver Indiana, about 9 miles north of Peru, is a small four corner town that is also a trailhead. Crossing the two river valley, the Nickel Plate offers a variety of terrain, as you climb up out the river valley’s, and then off the bluffs onto the surrounding farmland. This also means there is always some shade coming up along the trail at any time of day to let you enjoy the any time of day.

For our latest outing, since we were unsure of Linda’s final miles, we set up a progressive start with our friends; we would meet 1 couple in Denver, about halfway up the trail. Another couple started and hour and a half before us in the morning from the southern end at Cassville. Our fourth couple started from the Lovers Lane (really!) trailhead north of Peru. This was all coordinated with texts, emails and few calls the day before and as we drove up. And it all worked out, the 8 of use arriving in Denver within in 10 minutes of each other.

Meeting our friends in Denver.
We all headed north from Denver for Rochester, currently the northern end of the trail. It was a beautiful day for riding, and overnight cool front having knocked down the heat and humidity from earlier in the week. After a short stretch of shaded grade out of Denver, it was easy rolling to Rochester, a 16 mile ride. A treat there was an additional mile and half of new trail not on the map, that took us right to the edge of town. From there it about about a mile of side streets to our lunch destination, the Streamliner restaurant, just off the classic town square.

We enjoyed a classic midwest lunch of cheese burgers and tenderloins before starting our run back down the trail. While by no means crowded, we did see other riders in almost every section of the trail throughout the day. After returning to Denver regrouped, and we all decided to head back down the trail to Peru, in the search of ice cream.
The Ultimate Tenderloin at the Streamliner 

The next 7 miles were were an easy grade up and through the river hills on the north side of the Wabash River and Peru. There is no trail through Peru yet, so we followed road markings into town. With a little help from Siri, and finally, a lot more help from a local police officer, we found Peru’s best ice shop, just a few blocks off the marked route through town.

After a well earned reward of sundaes and floats, we were back on the road for Denver, again going up and over the Wabash bluffs. Along the way were dropping off friends, before ending up back at out car with over 50 miles. It was a great day of riding, and well worth the drive.

Shady rest at the Lovers Lane Trailhead, Nickel Plate Trail

Monday, June 3, 2013

1980: It's a touring bike

"Going to ride your commuter today?"

I don't think any bike is more misunderstood than than my (Matt) Assenmacher hand-built steel touring bike.  That "commuter bike" question is frequently asked when I bring it out for a club ride,  and probably because of the fenders, rear rack and rack trunk, almost permanently fixed to this bike. Don't get me wrong, it is a nice bike to commute on, but since this bike was intended for my (yet to happen) coast-to-coast camping tour, it is very good at carrying a load, and very forgiving in both handling and ride.
It's a Touring Bike  - on tour in 2008

I ordered this bike in 1979, after 6 years of serious riding.  It was almost 7 month's from the order date until the day I brought it home and built it up.  The oddest thing about buying a custom bike, is there is no test riding.  I had sat down with Matt, and talked about what I wanted to use the bike for, and what I liked in the bikes I already owned; a generic Japanese sport 10-speed, and an early `70's Raleigh Pro.

At the time, for a custom bicycle, your first choice was the brand and gauge of steel tubing, and then bike geometry; based on the amount of fork rack, head tube angles and wheelbase. Finally,  you could choose the lug work, fork crown and drop-out style, along with any extra braze-ons for mounting bottle cages, racks, and my case, fenders.  And of course, you could pick a color scheme too.

At it's simplest, the bicycle categories then were criterium bikes (short fork rakes and steep angles for quick handling, and power transfer efficiency) and road racing bikes, with longer fork rake, and slightly easier handling, but still designed for lightweight wheels and with minimal clearance.   The most relaxed bikes of all were the all around sport bikes sold to the average rider.

There were also national tendencies (or customs) in design; Italian bikes were the short wheel base, quickest handling bikes, while British designs were more laid back, long distance road bikes.  French bikes were somewhere between the two.

However, the short fork rake and quick handling of a quickest handling racing bikes came at cost; the steel forks gave a very harsh ride.  Unless you were a rider hooked on speed and handling, you choose a fork with more rake, for more relaxed handling and a gentler ride.

With the development carbon fiber forks, quicker handling could be had without a harsh ride.  However, a quicker handling bike still requires a greater degree of concentration to ride; it is less forgiving of rider mistakes and road hazards. That makes fatigue a factor for long distance rides.  That is just one of the factors that lead to the development of today's "endurance" bikes.

Now along with wanting a bike intended for long distance, day-long touring rides,  I also knew I was going to ride this bike on a lot of long club rides and centuries. The resulting the frame design Matt and I agreed on was actually much closer to a `70's British road racing bike in geometry and handing, rather than to the very laid back, long wheel base steel touring bikes of today.   But it was still built with fender clearance, and with lots of extra braze-on bits for racks, fender and multiple bottle cages.

The end result was that I had an endurance bike about 25 years before I first heard the term.  Granted I don't have the carbon fork ride, I still have that in between handling that is crisp without being tiring.  In fact, my current sport riding bike, a Trek Domane, (an endurance series of bikes from Trek, introduced in 2012), handles almost identically to my Assenenmacher (or vice versa).

And why fenders?  On my second long distance tour, eleven days on the road in September, 1975, I had an unexpected companion; 7 days of rain.  And I don't mean scattered showers, I mean 7 days of riding in the rain all day, 70 or more miles a day, as a tropical storm wrung itself out over Michigan.

The resulting road grit took a terrible toll on my bike, wearing out the chain, and shortening the life the bottom bracket and a rear brake.  It was also hard on my clothing, shoes and packs.  After that trip I decided to have fenders on any bike I would ride in all-weather or when touring; and to avoid, most of the time,  taking any of my bike without fenders out in the rain (or snow and ice).  Fenders look eccentric on most club rides today, but they are very functional, and effective in keeping a bike (and rider) drier and cleaner when riding all day in the rain.

In any case, my Assenmacher is a bike that continues to serve me well, after 33 years and 40,000 plus miles (with over 40 centuries, including a one-day double century, in that total).  Just this April, I was getting ready for spring training century with some friends, and had every intent of riding my Domane.  But that morning the weather turned wet and ugly, and about 10 minutes before setting out, the Assenmacher came down from its hook, I aired the tires, and moved my water bottles over from the Domane.

"Going to ride your commuter today?" asked one of my buddies.   "No; this is a touring bike that was designed for . . ."

Friday, May 10, 2013

2013: The Night Before

It is just after 11 PM, on a Friday night,  in hotel just south of downtown Columbus, OH.  Another year has gone by, and in the morning I will join a couple of thousand other riders on the first day and first 105 miles of another Tour of the Scioto River Vally (TOSRV.ORG). This is the 14th time I have returned for this ride since 1979.

Every aspect is almost a ritual habit now,  from the online registration, the hotel reservation, the spring training and April century with friends, to the final stacking of jersey and clothing for the morning.  Almost the only thing new this year is my bike, a Trek Domane.  I picked it specifically for riding 100 (and more) mile rides.

Yet while almost every action is a repeat, the ride is new every year.  It brings a new combination of events and details, creating another set of unique memories.  From as simple as the variation in weather, to the confidence of training, the meeting of new friends, or renewed contacts with old ones.  Each year adds another layer of stories and experiences, like a layer of fine veneer, enriching the experiences of the prior years.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013: What are training rides training?

After a recent local club ride, I posted the following on my my Facebook profile:

Am I just becoming an old curmudgeon, or is every club ride being turned into a crit-head, carbon-wheeled, Strava-hyped feeding frenzy?

This was after a ride I have been attending regularly for over 8 years.  It is a year-round, weekly Saturday morning ride. I have been riding with a core group of 5-6 good friends, and another 15 to 20 first-name acquaintances. The ride is not billed has a "training ride",  just 15 miles to a restaurant for breakfast, and another 15 miles after that to another small town, before heading back in. It has been both sport and social, but the emphasis was on the social.

One of the remarkable things about the first few years was how much camaraderie developed and how cooperative the riding was. And at the same time, the group of riders was developing, improving year-to-year. Out of the same core group developed another weeknight social sport ride. And with my friends, we began to meet for other rides, and to help people train and finish their first centuries.

What ever you wanted to call it, we pretty much rode has a group, double pace line, stronger riders holding back to keep the group together, with an occasionally friendly sprint during the last mile. We always rode with an eye to the back, to keep the group together, or maybe we broke into a couple groups, or with a rider doubling back to help some finish.

But over the last couple of years, something changed; popularity and word of mouth brought a different flavor to the ride. More new riders showed up, many from the local weekly training rides, whose sole interest was speed and a fast workout. The change was subtle, but corrosive. One of the new riders would pop-up the front of group if they felt it was not moving along fast enough, even when "slow" was 19-20 mph. Another rider would follow around, and then 3 lines of riders were jockeying for position between the original group, and that rider that wanted just a mile or two faster.

Next came setting up for turns; with riders moving to the far side of the road to be positioned for running the stop signs and moving to the front. Then came groups of riders moving up after each intersection, bumping up the pace each time. Finally, if you were riding the wheel of a friend you knew and trusted, just letting a bike length open during an intersection would mean you were cut-off. What had been a club ride became an open road race.

And as I watched the group jump from 19-20 mph to 23-24 mph, my personal alarm bells, my biking "Spidey Sense" would go off.   The mix of riders is just wrong, with the faster riders pulling along both fit novice riders and struggling experienced riders, in their red-zone, almost anaerobic. The lead riders never look back.  There is no conversation, just everybody concentrating on the bike in front of them. Every issue in the group is magnified at the faster pace. Wheel overlap, riders coast, riders jump, brakes are touched. Hazards aren't called out, and large gaps must be bridged when a weaker rider to close to the the front looses it, especially if they are inside. And every quarter mile or so, another rider would drop off, to finish the ride alone.  And when that happens, I leave the group.

When I started riding in the `70s, it was pretty easy to spot a novice rider, by their gear, their bike, the way they dressed. It took a couple of years to get "the look".  And over that time they were putting in miles, and picking up all the skills and etiquette of group riding. But for better or worse today, it is pretty easy to have "the look".  All the gear is readily available, it is easier to learn to use, and novice riders come with a higher level of fitness from other sports, like running and spin classes.  They have the speed of the faster riders, but need time in the saddle, and mentoring to get those other skills.

When I come across the area training rides in their final miles, you see one or two fast packs with dozens single stragglers following for a couple of miles. I have to ask, what are they "training"? You never see those stragglers form into their own group. Nobody seems to take the time show them how, they just seem resigned to coming out next week, and just trying to hang on a mile farther, or to just be the last one dropped.

I have had some great experiencing helping others finish first centuries, or pulling along a rider having an off day or not ready for a headwind. Riding as the pace tandem for 12 club members on STP, who after 4 months of training together finished as a group, is one my favorite cycling memories. Just a few days ago I rode an informal century ride I host every year. We ride as a group, we set a pace it for everyone, and below the pace of the fastest rider in the group. It is a great time.  I have been asked a couple of times to make it a local club event. But I know that it would not be the same if I opened it up; not from the loss of control, but from the handful of riders that just wouldn't get what this ride was about.

There is a lot more to bicycling than just maxing watts and tearing up every rider, every ride. What is anybody learning when every ride is just about being the first and fastest with no regard for anyone that is off the back? And if you aren't the fastest? You spend half the ride maxed-out, barely hanging, and then spend the rest of the ride alone; you aren't really learning group riding skills either, just how to ride fast as can, as long as you can. Sooner or later, you will have that bad day, or time will just catch up with you. If your have never looked out for somebody behind you, dropped one gear for a stranger, or helped a group ride stay together, who will be there for you?

It is an open road, and you can ride any pace you like. No one is forced to follow you, or follow me, and every rider has their own motivation, training goals and time constraints. We are all supposed to be responsible adults. But it is time for more riders to understand, and speak up. There is more to learn, and to teach, than just how to be the fastest;  speed alone is a small and fleeting accomplishment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

1973: Cycling Distance Record and Notes

My first "10-Speed" ride notes.
It is a small brown record book, 5” x 8” and hard bound. The white, blue lined pages are still crisp, though slightly yellowed, and a few of the pages are stained, probably from the day a box of books and photo albums was caught in the rain during my move from home to my first apartment.

At the top of the first lined page I had printed the heading “Cycling Distance Record & Notes”. Below that were the specs of my first road bike, listing all the components, and some comments from the dealer I had bought it from. Then I have a list of accessories, some new, some from my old 3-speed. All this was written on or around January 27, 1973, the day I brought the bike home from the a bike shop in Ann Arbor.

On the following page, I drew in a gear chart for the 3 chainrings (52-47-36) and the 5-cog Atom freewheel (14-16-18-21-24), giving me a range from 100 to 40.5. Looking back, I know that middle 47 was my main ring, and what taught me to spin all day. And I am glad I had that 36 inner chain ring for that 24 tooth large cog.

At the top of the seventh page, I printed another heading, “Date Distance & Comments.” and below that I had written the following:

“1) 1/30/73 4.4 miles farm and back 2nd time on a ten speed type bike. Rides nice, but I am way out of shape. Adj Fr Derailleur. way outa shape.”

It is the first ride entry, a mix of cursive and print in ball point pen. The numeral “1” and parenthesis is before the date. The Farm is my grandmother’s farm and where my Dad had his work shop, just 2 miles from our home on Wampler’s Lake Road, then (and still) a lightly traveled state road in a rural south east Michigan.

A winter ride with Kevin (L) and Mike (C) in 1973.
“2)2/3/73 cyc 4.4 miles, 22.0 miles. Rode to work at Alfhors, and then around town, from Snider’s to Riepma’s and then LaRue’s. Kevin and Mike joined me. Tires low on the way in handled like a sick cow. Still in poor shape.”  

My second ride was a “commute” to work, but we didn’t call it that. Then I joined some high school friends, Kevin and Mike, for riding around, in a winter jacket, jeans and tennis shoes on a cold February day. We stopped at another friends house, who snapped a black and white picture of us. And on my second ride, with 22 miles, I was concerned I was “still” out of shape.

“3)2/4/73 cyc(lometer) 26.4 dist 28.0 Miles in 2 rides - ... Wind and Horning Ride almost killed me, but I made it non-stop.”

I rode twice on the 4th, but counted it has one ride, riding from home to Brooklyn and around, coming back the long way over some rolling hills, the biggest not more than a 100 feet in elevation change. It was always a fun road to rider rather than the shorter and flatter route on Wampler’s Lake Road.

I was recording the starting miles of each ride from a cyclometer. A cyclometer mounted on the front axle, with a peg attached to a spoke, aligned to hit a star-shaped counter wheel on the cyclometer on every wheel revolution. The cyclometer would “count” wheel revolutions to determine the distance traveled. However, the peg would frequently twist around the spoke and need to be re-aligned to hit the counter wheel. Each time the peg hit the counter wheel, there was a metallic “ping”; that’s a “ping” every 7 feet, 755 pings to the mile, every mile.

“5) 2/28/73 cyc 56.4 ..4.5 miles aprox, Went to farm to check tires, On way home, chain broke on Hotel Road....”

At the farm was Dad’s air compressor, and at first, that was how I checked my tires, a couple of times a month, whether they needed or not. However, I was already noticing that they needed it more often. The broken chain was another matter, since Dad and I both learned that there was not a master link on a derailleur equipped bike. It took me a week to get to a bike shop to buy my first chain tool. I was pretty critical of myself for not learning that first, and picking up a tool and spare links, since I couldn’t find them in Brooklyn. And maybe that is why I have ridden almost every mile since with a chain tool in my tool bag.

“3/21/73 First 10 Trips Notes
Total distance 113.5
Shortest trip 3.3 miles
Longest trip 21.4 miles
Avg trip 11.35

Even then, I was a stats nut. I am not sure why I needed hundredths of a mile accuracy, but that just one of those things. And I did pretty good those first few weeks, recording every ride through late winter and spring.

“27)4/29/73 329.0 to 368.7 non-stop. ... only 3 tenths short of 40 miles. Highest total day riding and single longest ride.”

This first long ride was a big loop almost , 10 miles west and east of home, wandering the back roads between Cement City and Manchester. I was riding with a single water bottle, without any riding clothing, energy food, and no helmet. And I was then hitting distances that were significant for even a car trip,

“40)6/2/73 511.5 to 591.5. 80 miles in the ACS Bikeathon. Was trying for 100, and would’ve made it, but I got a late start.”

My Parliament, a  15-Speed "10-Speed"
The American Cancer Society (ACS) in held a Bikathon in nearby Jackson, and I canvassed my paper route customers to get pledges. By the time Mom dropped me off mid-morning, everyone riding 100 miles had already finished their first 20 mile loop, so I was at 80 miles when the all the rest of the 100 miles riders finished their fifth loop. But on just 40 rides and 500 miles of training, I almost make my first century. (That first century century would come a year later on the same ride.)

I wrote almost two pages on the that first bikeathon, but that was the last detailed entry for almost a month. Despite my good start, I was not a good journal keeper. From that point on, and I would only make entries ever couple of weeks. And every new entry started with my berating myself for not keeping up, followed by a page or two of stories and comments on specific rides and distances traveled.

I continued record keeping in that pattern for almost 2 years, through the last day of my first DALMAC tour in the fall of 1974. There are notes from my first century, my first double century, and getting my next bike. I have have drawing of my first set of panniers and first packing list for touring.

I filled about half the book that way, but then put it on the shelf. From that point on, I used note books and annual log pages from Bicycling Magazine or the League of American Wheelmen for logging miles. But there is only place where I can find my ride number one.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1999: We cheered, we were inspired, and we rode

We now know Lance Armstrong doped. Big time. Using a sophisticated regimen designed to pass the drug testing system in place, while under the scrutiny afforded a winner. And in all likelihood, with the knowledge and support of a portion of the UCI and other authorities there to police it. That is what we know today.

My LiveStrong band, worn for almost 3 years.
In 1999, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, won the Tour De France, the first American to win the Tour since Greg Lemond in 1990. And we cheered. And he passed the drug tests, while dozens around him failed.

In 2000, Lance won again. Again we cheered. He passed the drug tests. We bought Bicycling and Outside magazine. And Trek bikes, Oakley glasses, and Nike clothing. And stamps.

He won again, and again, and again, and each time we cheered. We waved the flag. We were inspired. We rode more, we bought more gear. Lance became a celebrity. We talked about Cheryl Crow.

Our non-cycling friends talked about the Tour and about Lance. They bought bikes and gear, and then became our cycling friends. And we cheered them on.

We were jeered too: Lycra-clad-Lance-wannabes. A jeer that worked only because everyone knew Lance Armstrong. Nobody ever yelled "Indurain-wannabee".

In 2004, we bought LiveStrong bands. Lance won again. And he passed every drug test. And we bought more bikes, more gear, and rode more miles. We bought and read the magazines and books.

LiveStrong raised millions for cancer. Here too were skeptics, even has LiveStrong became something more, almost bigger than Lance. We bought the bands for our parents, our families, our friends, for total strangers.  We bought them and we wore them for months and years.

We had our suspicions. Racing in the Tour is a brutal sport, demanding feats of endurance that are difficult to comprehend. The only thing more brutal might well be surviving cancer. We knew the answer, “I never failed a drug test” was coy, and nuanced.

In 2005, Lance won Tour number seven. We cheered, we waved the flag, we bought more bikes and gear and magazines and books. Lance had passed every drug test. We were inspired, we rode more and trained more. Our friends rode more and more too. And Lance retired.

In 2007, It all began to unravel with Floyd Landis. He won the Tour, and we cheered. And then he failed a drug test. It would take years, but it was the start, the crack in the wall.

There is disappointment now, but somehow, not real surprise. There was always that sliver of doubt, created by that nuanced “I never failed a drug test”. But we knew, or should have known, about the terrible legacy that is the Tour. The culture of finding any edge. The Tour of “No Dope, No Hope”, the Tour that left Tommy Simpson on the slopes of Mt. Ventox in `67. The EPO deaths of the `80s. Of Festina in the `90s. That finding a winner for the 1999-2005 Tours would sometimes require going multiple places to find a “clean” rider.

The titles can be stripped, the records removed, confessions made, and millions refunded. Journalists will whine about the fraud, the deception and how their trust was broken, how they were deceived. Sponsors will walk away, remove the posters and logos, and editing their websites. Yet I doubt there will be many refunds for the bikes, the clothing, the gear and magazines and books they sold, that Lance sold.

The Lance Armstrong we see tomorrow will always be reduced, a shadow what we once saw. But shadows are only cast by something of substance. What ever disappointment we have today, whatever the aftertaste that is left, it can’t undo what saw, what we felt and what did because of it.

In 1999, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, won the Tour De France.

We cheered, we were inspired, and we rode.