Friday, June 30, 2017

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. (Dave Barry)

Status report:

It has been six months since I started back riding after a serious accident. Things are going well. And as anyone who has come back after an accident or surgery knows, the mental things are more challenging than the physical ones.

In terms of cycling performance, I'm right on track. I was expecting my comeback to take a full year, and that estimate looks to be spot on.

Here's the deal. You ride a lot. You get better. You work at keeping those gains while you ride more and wait for some stubborn areas to catch up. Then one day you go out, one of the stubborn areas gets a tiny bit better, and wow! with seemingly no effort, you make a big jump forward in performance.

Then you ride more and wait for the next jump forward to happen.

I've talked to a bunch of people who have gone through this same thing. They all agree: the mental part is the hard part. You get impatient. You get stupid and think you'll never get any better. That's when you need to remember: You only lose if you quit.

Actually, it's hard to complain when I get to ride with Al and great friends, on a great bike, and get to ride pretty much anywhere and as much as I want. All I have to do is follow our house rules.

And our house rules are simple:
  • No whining, no bitching, no belly-aching, no quitting. 
  • You ride; I ride.
  • Do what you can; do your best. 
  • ENJOY THE RIDE.
Just get up and dance...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely. (P. J. O'Rourke)

It is summer in Miami. Hot and humid. Al and I have a system for summer cycling here: start rides early, drink lots of fluids with added electrolytes, and take a lot of breaks in the shade.

There is something else, something very important: Laundry. If you ride a lot of miles in the summer heat and don't want to become a smelly outcast, you need to follow some simple but important laundry rules.

In Miami's summer weather, you need to step up your game for cycling wear laundry techniques. Cycling clothing is made of fabrics with lots of elastic polyurethane fiber (Lycra). These fabrics handle water differently than other fabrics. Products like laundry detergent or fabric softener can remain in the fabric after washing. These residues provide a cozy home for microbes. Sweat and microbes can quickly give your favorite kit a pungent, rank smell that is not easy to get out.

Here are the laundry rules for cycling clothing we've put together after doing some research and home testing:
  • Right after your ride, remove the sweaty cycling gear from your sweaty body. Do NOT put it into the hamper. Do NOT put it in a pile on the floor. Immediately put it into a washing machine. Use the gentle fabric and cold water settings.
  • Go easy on the laundry detergent. It seems counter intuitive, but use less detergent than recommended for regular clothes.
  • NEVER use fabric softener. NEVER. It forms a residue, and stuff starts to grow in the residue. (We're talking ugly, unpleasant things here. Science experiment things.)
  • If you feel compelled to go beyond a simple wash with laundry detergent, add a dash of baking soda, lemon juice, or white vinegar to the wash. (I personally have not found this to be helpful, but it didn't hurt anything and made me feel virtuous.)
  • Always hang dry cycling clothing. Never dry them in a clothes dryer. We live in a high rise, so I hang our gear up in our bathroom. 
  • Hang dry cycling wear outside in the sunshine if you can. In my experience, it is the most effective way to keep cycling clothes smelling good. 
There is always the hand wash vs. machine wash debate as well. I personally haven't voluntarily hand washed anything since Ronald Reagan was president, but if you want to, more power to you. The important thing is that you wash cycling clothes immediately, wash them thoroughly, and make sure there is no residue (laundry detergent or the like) in them when they are hung up to dry.

So there you have it. Now go out and enjoy those hot and sweaty summer bike rides.




Friday, June 16, 2017

Everyone is trying to accomplish something big, not realizing that life is made up of little things. (Frank A. Clark)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a study in climbs and descents. The road tips up and down; it is virtually never flat.

We needed a plan for our bike rides here. We wanted to ride six consecutive days. Normally we decide how far to ride each day. On the Blue Ridge Parkway we decided to focus on how much climbing to do each day. We decided on daily rides with between 2000 to 2600 feet of climbing. We weren't out to meet any big personal goals. We just wanted a scenic, fun ride every day. No losing time to rest days. No overworked muscles.

We quickly slipped into our regular climbing riding style. We each found our own climbing rhythm and pace. On every climb Al quickly disappeared from my view as he pedaled ahead of me down the road. Which wasn't a problem since I knew he'd be waiting for me somewhere ahead.

We stopped a lot, sometimes for pictures, sometimes just to enjoy a cascade of water or a stunning view. Overlooks are a must as are creeks, bridges, and big displays of blooming anything. Why visit and ride an area if you don't take the time to see it?

We did two rides twice. My favorite I called the Almost Three Gap ride. The total climbing was about 2600 feet with about three quarters of the climbing being on the first half of the ride. Along the route we passed three signs for different gaps, the last being a sign that announced the gap ahead. (We didn't go all the way to that gap as we turned around at a scenic picnic area just short of it. Hence the Almost Three Gap ride.) The first half of the ride was a never-ending 7-8 percent grade climb, mile after mile, with false flats of 4-5 percent grades sprinkled along the way. (Find your rhythm, chugga-chugga-chugga.) The way back? An awesome series of long, fast descents. (Wheeeeee!!!) And the scenery? Hazy mountain vistas, heavily forested mountain slopes, wildflowers, mountain laurel, rock walls, split rail fences, and narrow strips of high meadow.

Riding a bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway reminds you of a simple life lesson. Every big climb is actually a series of smaller climbs. Achievable climbs.

Baby steps.



Friday, June 9, 2017

It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy. (Lucille Ball)

The hazy Blue Ridge Mountains softly zig-zag along the horizon. The rich greens of the hardwood forest cover the mountains and fill the valleys. In the shade of the forest canopy, stands of mountain laurel fill corners and hollows with soft clouds of pale pink. Roads are narrow and winding.

Mountain laurel.
We are in North Carolina. We have taken a room in a comfortable motel in Mt. Airy. We are here to ride our bikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mt. Airy itself is a tourist town: neat, tidy, and curated to evoke memories of Mayberry and native son, Andy Griffith. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a quiet, limited access, narrow, low speed ribbon of pavement that runs 469 miles along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Being on it transports you back to a slower, simpler time.

Besides riding our bikes, we have scouted out the best ice cream shops in town. While in the area, there is one other culinary treat we relish: traditional Southern biscuits. We want lots of biscuits.

Lots of narrow roads to explore.
Today we met a flock of happy cyclists pedaling down the Parkway, accompanied by a large passenger van. Miles farther down the road we came across a cargo truck, a panel van, a bunch of bicycles, and a tidy SAG stop. We stopped for a chat. It was an Adventure Cycling tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were getting ready to break down the SAG stop and move on down the Parkway to their next SAG stop location. Knowing they had work to do, we waved them goodbye and pedaled on.

Road trips are curious adventures. Other people's itineraries and routes may work when you are just spending a couple of days on a trip. Beyond a few days, the success of the road trip depends on your understanding of the things big and small that make you happy.
  • Ice cream.
  • Biscuits. 
  • Hazy mountain vistas. 
  • Mountain laurel. 
It pays to know what makes you happy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be. (Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh)


Cough, cough, cough.

Al and I have had chest colds for over a week now. Every time we increase intensity on bike rides, the coughing gets worse. Bummer.

The problem with having a cold is that there really isn't anything you can actually do about it. Drink lots of fluids. (Check.) Rest. (Check.) Wait for it to run its course. (Check.)

By my calculations, we will be over this before we start riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At least that's my hope. If not, we're going to have some interesting climbs. And it isn't like you can avoid climbing. The one thing I remember vividly from living up there was that there were no flat roads, just roads that didn't go up and down quite as much.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I've got those Blue Ridge Mountain blues. (Cliff Hess)

Some places have magic. They can form a special bond which remains even when you move far away. They can surprise you, sending you peaceful yet melancholy memories at random moments throughout your life. The Blue Ridge Mountains have that kind of magic for me.

We had two homes in the Blue Ridge. I particularly loved our first, a small log home perched on a low ridge surrounded by national forest. The large back porch faced the mountain where the Appalachian Trail crossed the highway at Neels Gap's Walasi-yi Center. At twilight they switched on the porch light there. It looked like a twinkling star up on the mountain. Sometimes I'd sit out on our porch as darkness fell, gazing at that twinkling light and listening to the sound of the evening breeze in the forest's trees.

I love the green lushness of South Florida. I love spotting peacocks, parrots, and macaws on our bike rides around town. I love the palm trees and the ocean at dawn. I love the busy causeways to the islands and the quiet tracks in the Everglades. But when a friend posts a photo from the Blue Ridge Mountains, or I hear a snatch of bluegrass music, I once again begin to long for hazy mountain vistas and the whispering sounds of the forest.

Al and I talked this spring. We needed to take a trip back to the Blue Ridge. We decided on going to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yet somewhere on the BRP that was new to us, somewhere we hadn't been to before. Why not Mt. Airy, North Carolina? A real place that most people know by a fictional name: Mayberry. It's the basis for the little country town of that old TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. The one with Sheriff Andy, Deputy Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, and little Opie. Lots of nice roads for long bike rides there, too.

I'm smiling just thinking about it.



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I think sometimes the best training is to rest. (Cristiano Ronaldo)

Sometimes to go faster, you need to slow down.

I'm like everybody else. I measure my days by to-do lists. I hear a mental voice say "move!" when I curl up in a lounge chair for too long. I worry about "wasted" time.

But this isn't a healthy way to live. Finishing a to-do list is important, but getting enough sleep each night is more important. There was a time in my youth when I limped by on very little sleep. Now I understand that's just a goofy way to live. Your health is like a checking account. You can write big checks against it for only so long before it gets overdrawn.

Your body needs sleep to recover and replenish itself. Your mind also needs rest from constant activity and confusion. Some people meditate. Some read. Some garden. Some do yoga. Whatever clears your mind and refreshes you will work.

Sometimes to go faster, you need to slow down.