Busman’s Holiday

Not really, but that sounds better than a “working vacation.” The British coined the term in 1893, referring to a bus driver taking a road trip for a holiday, so it was much like work.

My job includes paid vacation (not a big deal outside of the US). We used to be allotted our vacation at the beginning of the year, to use at any time. If we left the job before the end of the year, any pay that we had used before earning it would be withheld from our last check.

That system worked pretty well, which is why they had to fix it. Now we can’t use vacation until we earn it, so the year starts at zero. If we want to take a winter vacation, we have to save time from the prior year. And, we have a “use it or lose it” system now. If we accrue too much vacation, we stop gaining any new hours until we use up enough hours to get below the ceiling again – a definite incentive to go on vacation.

The pandemic has not been conducive to taking vacations, so last fall I realized I was going to have to use some hours this spring or lose them. I took a week in March for no specific reason. I often take a week in May to work on a home repair/maintenance project. This year the project is my own body.

It was a cold, dark, and wet April – not just by gut sense, but by the numbers. I spent much less time on a bike than planned. My dry erase board calendar for this week says “Ride” and “Ride more”. With six weeks until the coast-to-coast ride begins, there is work to be done. The “working vacation” means riding every day. As I haven’t ridden long distances yet this year, I clearly haven’t ridden long distances on back-to-back days.

At the age of 69, I’d be a fool to think I can “ride into shape” on the transcontinental tour. The 105 mile third day would ride me into the ground, not into shape. This week’s focus is on riding, not numbers. As such, I will start the week with no Garmin, no Strava, no bike computer. (Then again, since I don’t own a Garmin and I’m not on Strava, 2 out of 3 are no change from any ride.)

Sunday 55 degrees (13 C) and cloudy. It being Mother’s Day, I stayed home with family.


Monday 80 (27 C) degrees, bright sun, 25 mph wind gusting to 40. I was glad to have the weight of a steel bike under me so I didn’t blow away. My first day of the year over 50 miles, which grew to the first day over 5 hours of riding. Soles of my feet burning by the end, just like old times. Tailwind for the last 10 miles, which saved me.


Tuesday I met a friend for coffee to tell her about my retirement party and ran a few errands, so by the time I was on my bike it was 90 degrees (32 C). The wind was down to 15 mph. Late enough in the day to settle for an old classic – the Paoli Ride. The ride to Paoli was a classic when I first rode it 48 years ago. The A&W Two-Tyred Wheelmen rode there regularly. They were sponsored by A&W and met at a local root beer stand for their rides, enjoying a frosty mug at the end. While I never rode with them, I adopted the tradition and often rode to root beer stands – once I rode 60 miles for a root beer. When I told them they were the first root beer stand in 60 miles, they were unimpressed. Sometimes while riding to Paoli we would stop at the old Same place for pizza, served by Tim and Kathy Same in their gazebo after the ride.

Driveway to the old Same place

In the hardware store I saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “I like my puns intended”, so I told him about the standup comic I saw with a monologue of puns. He was desperate for one of his jokes to get a laugh, but no pun in ten did.

I rode through the arboretum, where we usually go on Mother’s Day to see the lilacs. Mother’s Day was early this year and the blooms are late. The magnolias are dropping but the crabapples (which bloom before the lilacs) are just beginning to bud. These sandhill cranes seemed to find plenty to eat. I also saw a few turkeys – the birds, I mean.

Wednesday The air conditioning is on. How many days ago were we needing heat? The “windows open” season was really short this year. I hope it returns. Over 90 degrees. Wind down to 15-20 mph. Rode the Wednesday Night ride with friends. Heat stroke for one, but he made it to the end.

Thursday It dropped below 90. Too cold for a ride 😉 Began gathering tools and parts for the trip, making a list and checking it twice. Actually, I was wrong. My indoor/outdoor thermometer stopped responding. It was hotter yet.

Friday Today was supposed to be an early ride. Replace the chain, adjust the front derailleur cable, and head out on the bike that is going on the trip with me. I’ve been riding the other bike for weeks. I was derailed by unforeseen problems. It wasn’t a cable problem, it was a shifter problem. I disassembled the shifter (which required removing the bar tape I thought I had saved earlier this spring, so I could remove the lever). Putting everything back together, the cables (both front derailleur and brake) magically became too short. This was not the quick job it started out to be. It is now over 90 degrees again, I feel like an idiot, and my whole house is shaking due to the huge machine out front tamping the sand back into place after replacing the sewer main and laterals. This is the third time the street (I use the term loosely, as there has been no pavement for weeks) has been dug up. We are getting new gas, water, and sewer lines, then new pavement, curb, gutter, and sidewalk. They are not burying the power lines because that is somehow too expensive. Since power lines are smaller and more flexible than the other three, and the ground is already dug up, there is a logic here which escapes me.

Surprise! The bar tape that I like so much (but whose brand name I don’t know, having gotten it somewhere on sale) is so good that, after removing it to take the shift/brake lever off, I was able to rewrap it. Being late enough to decide not to go for a ride, I started packing.

Saturday A beautiful day. Still under 90 degrees when I got home from a long ride. After 4 days of record highs and record high lows ( a datum that I didn’t even know they kept), today was a day to wander in the countryside and sing along with James Brown:

Sunday A week of firsts for the season: first ride over 50 miles, first ride over 5 hours, first consecutive days of long rides, first week over 200 miles. First time I feel like I can make it across the country. When I no longer go to work 5 days/week, will I still have a Sunday Feeling?

A humbling experience. Forty miles into the ride I was feeling worn out. I briefly considered a shortcut home, then realized that, any other time, a shortcut would be reasonable. But with five weeks until I’m supposed to be strong enough to ride across the country, I opted to stop for lunch instead. I made it back but “fun” would not be the word for the last 20+ miles. That paragraph above about feeling I can make it across the country? That was written early this morning. At least I have five more weeks to be ready.

Wisconsin (as I’ve said here before) used to have the best system of secondary (county) and tertiary (township) roads in the country. With thousands of small dairy farms needing milk picked up every day, roads had to be maintained for the tankers. With the consolidation of the dairy industry and general decay of our infrastructure, the roads are no longer impressive…but today I must have encountered a township flush with cash. Instead of potholes filled with gravel (as I encountered later in the day) , or slapdash chipsealing, or ribbons of squishy tar-filled cracks, I rode on several miles of new asphalt. I was in bicycle nirvana this morning.

Hurricane

Since we’ve been cleaning our favorite stretch of highway, the most discarded item has been the Busch Light beer can, consistently through the years. Busch Light has been dethroned by Hurricane, a malt liquor from the same manufacturer, so Anheuser-Busch retains the distinction of being the most-littered company.

Music starts at about 2 minutes in .

It is a cold and wet spring; not the most conducive to training for a coast-to-coast ride…then again, we will be riding in all kinds of weather so I’d best hit the road. Last week’s evening club rides were rained out. Sunday’s ride was cold and wet and started an hour earlier than the previous Sunday rides. I missed it. After cleaning the highway I got on the bike for a “choose your own adventure” loop of unknown distance. The temperature topped out at about 50 degrees (10 C).

I headed out on favorite highway F to ID (old US 151) with a plan to turn down JG to Little Norway. I was feeling good along the ridge and missed the turn, deciding I might as well ride along the ridge into Mount Horeb and take JG to Stewart Lake instead. And so it went. An unplanned ride, long enough to get some exercise, not long enough to get tired after 4 miles of walking up and down the highway picking up beer cans.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a middleweight boxer in the 1960s. Being the child of a boxer, I grew up watching boxing on TV every weekend. As Dylan’s song tells, Carter was wrongly convicted of murder. He was eventually released from prison and died of prostate cancer at the age of 76. He was cared for at the end by John Artis, who had been convicted of murder along with Carter but released on parole. After two dubious convictions, all charges against both were dropped eventually. Carter later worked to exonerate other people who were wrongly convicted.

Tuning up

I have turned in my notice at work. I’ve told you in these pages that I’m doing it again. That requires tuning up – both me and the bike. Four years ago I wrote about training. I won’t do it again. Write about it, that is. Doing it – training – is even more imperative when 70 is right around the corner.

In one of those “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” moments, I decided to replace my cables for the coast-to-coast trip. I figured I’d do those before the season, since there could be some stretching and adjustment needed. I’d replace the chain closer to the ride date, and mount fresh tires for the trip. So it was in March that the bike first went up on the stand…

When I put the bike up on the stand, I realized it was dirty. No sense putting clean parts on a dirty bike, so cleaning comes first. If you’re going to clean anyway, you might as well take off some parts to get at the dirt…

Calvin and Hobbes, copyright Bill Watterston 1993

Cable fishing

One of the more fun aspects of owning a bike with internally-routed cables is actually routing those cables. If you’ve ever tried it, you know I’m being facetious. Park Tools makes a kit for the job. Unfortunately, their expensive tool does not work on some bikes. One of their options is a plastic sleeve that goes over the cable end and attaches to a guide. Another is a thin cable with a magnet on the end to thread through the tube and attract your cable end. The problem there is that the opening at the end of my chain stay is smaller than Park’s guide and magnet. A third option is a magnet to run along the outside of your tubing to attract and guide the cable. The problem there is that high quality cables are stainless steel and therefore not magnetic. What to do?

I fabricated a series of tools from old spokes that accomplish these and other tasks.

Here are the tools. How they work will follow.

Trying to route cables using your old housing but you don’t want to redo your bar tape and the cable won’t go? The tool at the top will do the trick.

You are looking down at the brake/shift lever from the front. Hood is peeled back at lower right. Cable is coming from lower left and going under bar tape and into (unseen) housing at the thumb. The tool holds the cable down and guides it into the next opening. (It wants to go straight up, not make that bend.)

Trying to route through the tiny hole at the back of the chain stay? Superglue and thread.

Leave the old cable in place and cut it at the bottom bracket. Remove the top half. Thread the new cable to the bottom bracket. You might need the tool above to get it under the bar tape. Go to the bottom bracket where you now have both cables. Put a drop of Superglue on the end of the old cable. Spread the glue a bit. Wrap thread tightly around the end of the cable. Let it dry. Place cables end-to-end, put a drop of Superglue on the end of the new cable, wrap thread tightly, let it dry. Now go to the exit hole at the back end of the chainstay. You will use the old cable to guide the new one through the chainstay. Gently pull the old cable through, guiding the new cable into the chainstay at the bottom bracket. Keep pulling (and gently feeding the new cable) until both come through. You should have enough cable that you can cut above the Superglue before threading into your derailleur.

Rear brake cable travels along the top tube with no problem, but now you can’t get the end out? Try the hooks.

There’s the cable sitting in the top tube. (Looking down from above) Now what?
The middle cable hook sits on the bottom of the tube. The cable will slide onto it and you can lift it part way. The bottom hook will lift it out of the tube.

No patents on these tools. No cost beyond some old spokes and time with a file and pliers. Feel free to make some and try it yourself! The tools you need may vary with your bike. If you have a few old spokes, play around until you make the tool you need.
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When the going gets tough

…the half-fast go for a beer. Today, the going got tough. Today was supposed to be babysitting and rain in the morning, a solo ride in the afternoon. Last night the babysitting was postponed, and at 9 AM the sun came out – just enough time to join today’s club ride.

My MO with this club is to start near the back, let the fast folks disappear, and join the moderately-paced group. When we get to the hills, those riders disappear behind me and I end up in no-man’s-land between the two groups, riding alone for the rest of the day.

Today was a relatively flat ride so I hoped I could avoid that fate. We started out as usual. One of the fast group drifted back to us, saying he’d rather be sociable than fast today. I had several miles to get to know this person and we had a nice chat. We rode along in a group of six. Three took a shortcut so three of us were left. When we hit the wind, the third rider kept drifting off the back and we kept waiting for him. We picked up a fourth and had two well-matched pairs. We couldn’t talk much while headed into the wind and the two pairs drifted further apart. The person I was with tweaked his knee and decided to take a shortcut home. So there I was, in a 20 mph headwind which was pushing rain in my face, with 30 miles to go and no one in sight. Oops, I did it again.

Eventually I decided on a shortcut. I saw a way to get to a bike path that would cross my route and be a straight shot back. Trouble was, it didn’t actually cross the road I was on, it passed under it. It took some doing to get to the path. Now I was on a straight shot home, but the wind had shifted from southerly to southwesterly, so it was back in my face again. The rain stopped and the sun appeared again.

I have mixed feelings about rails-to-trails conversions. They mean a dedicated off-road path, but they also mean that railroads will never come back. Other than the route, the infrastructure is gone. They are good for the slow and casual rider, families, people with strollers, and others who feel safer away from cars and moving slowly. They are not paved, and riding on dirt or gravel takes its toll over time. The town roads follow the contours of the land. I am riding in and of a place. The railroads cut through the land – flattening and straightening the world – but when the world grows back along the path, it can become a smaller disruption in the (adapted) natural world. Today’s path mostly ran through open land with no respite from the wind. In the last 10 miles I came into some woods for a bit of relief. When there is a bike (or multi-use) path, drivers think bicyclists no longer belong on the roads. Today the pros outweighed the cons.

Spring peepers (tiny frogs that make big sound)

The spring peepers are out in force and the magnolias are blooming.

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