Back in the saddle again

Tonight was my first Wednesday night ride since the tour ended. My bike arrived back from Massachusetts last week and I cleaned and rebuilt it Monday (except for the new chain, which I installed Tuesday).

After riding my city bikes, it felt great to be back on this bike again. Ten miles into the ride I felt my rear tire losing pressure. A prior patch had failed. A woman walking her dog to the mailbox offered assistance. After 4400 miles and double digit punctures, this felt pretty routine. I changed the tube and went on my way.

Thirty two miles felt like a warm up. I think I’ll be able to handle a century in a week and a half. The post-ride pizza felt like a snack. I think I’ll need to adjust my eating to keep from regaining the weight I lost. While riding your bike 80 miles/day for 9 weeks seems like a pretty effective weight loss program, I doubt it will catch on.

Flood

My basement windows are sandbagged. The river is out of its banks and we are currently ½ block outside of the high risk area for flooding. I live on an isthmus between two lakes separated by a lock and dam. They are releasing water from the dam today so the river should rise again. I live on 100 year old landfill. What was once a meandering creek through marshland is now a straight cut from lake to lake. It is dry today so we’ll see what happens.

TNS

You may have noticed that old people tend to reminisce. Truth be told, that doesn’t seem to be limited to old people.

Since I am officially old (Emery, you didn’t see that here), allow me to reminisce.

I was thinking about war the other day, which reminded me of my old friend Francis Hole. He was an agronomist (soil scientist in plain English) and always signed his name “Francis Hole, TNS”, which stood for “temporarily not soil”. Alas, Professor Hole is now PS (“permanently soil”). Aside: It is due to Professor Hole that Wisconsin has a State Soil (Antigo Silt Loam, if you wanted to know).

He was also my draft counselor. Professor Hole was a Conscientious Objector during WW II. I was a CO during the Vietnam War (the American War to the folks whose country we invaded).

from the Francis Hole Memorial webpage

Dr. Hole taught me about the process of applying for CO status and we also talked about our views toward war. He let me know that CO status was very hard to get without the backing of a church. Personal morals didn’t carry much weight with the US government. Dr. Hole was a Quaker, one of few religions with a firm anti-war stance. He asked about my church.

Having the backing of a church seemed like a Catch-22. Since many (if not most) wars arise from religious conflicts (especially if said religion has an imperialistic bent), since the dominant religion in the US is Christianity, and since Christianity is among the more imperialistic religions (imperialism and evangelism seem pretty closely linked, both historically and philosophically), it seemed pretty hard to convince the government that I was firmly opposed to war and a Christian (remember the Crusades?).

Dr Hole sent me to the minister of the church in which I was raised, and of which I was a member (that’s another story). The minister asked me what I knew of the church’s position. Not much, I said. He asked me about my convictions. About that, I knew more.

After we talked for awhile, he let me know that our church (Congregational, now part of the United Church of Christ), taught that each member has a personal relationship with God; that he as a minister was not a go-between, and that he as a minister could not tell me what to believe. (Another aside: you may have noticed that religions, and other belief systems, tend to fragment over time. New sects arise and folks bicker over smaller and smaller differences. UCC is unusual, in that it arose from sects actually joining together.)

He followed that by telling me that he would testify on my behalf before the draft board. My lottery number was high enough that that never came to pass.

 

!La Vuelta!

Okay, bike racing fans! Today marks the beginning of La Vuelta a España, the Tour of Spain.

Certainly less well known than Le Tour de France, probably less known than Il Giro d’Italia, it may be seen as summer’s last hurrah – an international version of the Willy Street Fair for you Madisonians.

The third jewel in bike racing’s Triple Crown, it offers one last chance at a Grand Tour victory, an opportunity to secure a contract for next year, or a shot at redemption for a season that was less than one hoped for.

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

Back to work

Okay kids – fun’s over! It’s back to work today.

Hits and misses: Some things I tried for this trip were great ideas. Some, not so great. Here are a few reactions after the trip is over.

  • Hit: the new bike – it was light, responsive, held up well.
  • Hit: integrated brake/shift levers – nothing new to a lot of you, but I still use downtube shifters and being able to shift without moving my hands (a thumb or a finger only) and being able to shift while out of the saddle make a big difference in >4000 miles.
  • Hit: new sleeping pad (though, in the end, it could have been thicker)
  • Mixed: tent (it was roomy but it leaked and condensation was terrible)
  • Mixed: bringing a sleeping bag – it was usually too hot and when it was cold I could have just worn more clothes. A fleece blanket would probably have been enough.
  • Hit: full zip jerseys
  • Hit: zippered 3 gallon Hefty bags – one for jerseys and gloves, one for shorts and socks, one for rainwear, one for cold weather wear, etc. (regular clothes, too.) You can squeeze out all the air and have less bulk and keep everything dry.
  • Miss: jumbo Ziploc bags – they were hard to seal, leaked, and tore easily.
  • Hit: new zip tie-like bike locks – these were an impulse buy at a sale and were great for quick lock-ups at a coffee shop. They fit in an under-saddle bag and will at least stop impulse thieves and slow down other thieves.
  • Miss: Sigma bike computer – a switch quit for about a month mid-trip (then started working again); went through six batteries (3 each for wheel sensor and computer), complicated programming.
  • Hit: Nulaxy keyboard – this made typing way easier and faster than a phone keyboard and takes less space than a tablet (plus costs hundreds of dollars less than a tablet).
  • Hit: bringing clothesline and clothespins
  • Hit: bringing only sandals and bike shoes – I had no need for “real” shoes
  • Hit: CO2 cartridges – great for emergency on-the-road inflation after a flat (“puncture” to the Brits in the audience)
  • Hit:  snack bag as waterproof iPhone holder
  • Hit: Velcro straps under saddle bag to hold extra stuff – this was an improvisation. My sleeping pad came with straps and a nylon sack. The straps were superfluous but were great to fasten rain gear under my saddle bag, or in case of an impulse purchase.
  • Hit: Clif shot bloks – handy way to get electrolytes when I ran out of Cytomax (lighter and easier to carry, too). Before a climb I would stick one between teeth and gum and let it slowly dissolve. Also helped with dry mouth in arid regions. Sometimes it is hard to breathe and swallow at the same time (long steep climbs at altitude). These helped.
  • Miss: Gatorade – I’ve already talked about that.
  • Miss: Greg not securing Wi-Fi passwords for all overnights
  • Mixed: tools, parts, and warm clothes I didn’t need – all stuff I might bring anyway, as insurance.
  • Hit: solar charger. I usually had access to electricity to charge the phone but this sure came in handy to keep a back-up battery charged at all times. 

    Coming soon: My top ten and bottom ten lists (good days and bad, good weeks and bad). Neither list will necessarily contain ten items.

    And now, because I haven’t worked it in before, because I mentioned truffles yesterday, and because it is one of the under-appreciated Beatles songs: