Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recommended Daily Allowance of Iron(y)

Something I didn't mention in yesterday's post (it was already getting long as it was) is something that happened during the ride between Fountain City Peddler and River Sports.  We were still on Broadway, which is a four lane road with a turn lane down the middle of quite a lot of it.  I was in front of Joshua, Alex, and a couple of other guys who had caught us briefly and riding on the right side of the right lane, right where I was supposed to be.  We were approaching the intersection with Woodland, which has a dedicated right turn lane, so I moved over in order to allow traffic behind us to use that turn lane while we waited for the light to turn green.  One lady in particular did use the turn lane (which as I believe I said we had moved over so as not to block her), and also took the opportunity to yell at us out of her window something that sounded as she passed by like "muffle muffle muffle get on the sidewalks if muffle muffle muffle..."  (I guess people don't always realize that it's hard to hear something shouted from a moving car when you aren't moving next to it at the same speed).

OK, first, I was well within the law by using the road and not the sidewalk.  In fact, even the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization recommends that bicycles not use sidewalks (top of page 8) except for the very young due to safety concerns.  Second, I would have needed to cross over the right turn lane anyway in order to cross the intersection (since I wasn't turning).  But the third thing I have to mention was the ironic part.  The lady in question had a bumper sticker on her car that said "Coexist."  
Hmm.  I somehow think she wasn't really all that sincere about that, was she?

I want to take some space for a call-out or two.  First is for Steve, who runs my local bike shop.  He was involved in a crash yesterday morning during a group training ride (apparently a chain came off of a bike in front of him and got into his front wheel).  I saw him briefly after he got back from getting checked out at the hospital, so at least I know he's going to be OK.  Second is for Ben, the boyfriend of one of my sisters-in-law in Charleston, SC.  He was hit by a car while riding.  He was roughed up pretty badly, with facial lacerations, broken facial bones and clavicle, and I don't know what else, but he was at least able to get mostly clear after the impact.  The car that hit him kept going, dragging his bike for 4 blocks.  They pulled into a grocery store parking lot, disengaged the bike, and drove off leaving the bike there.  I haven't heard enough about the event yet to know if the witness(es) were able to give a clear description to the police, but I sure hope so.  The worst thing is that Ben doesn't have health insurance right now.  I'm just glad it wasn't any worse than that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


It was a lovely day to go for a ride here in Knoxville, and that fit in just fine with Randy C.'s grand plan. You see, Randy is the president of the Appalachain Mountain Bike Club (AMBC), and today was set aside a while back for their first Poker Run around town. The plan was to meet up at noon at the old Bi-Lo supermarket (now closed, but everyone knows where it is, so we still refer to it for meet-ups). Mrs. Guy is sick today and wanted to sleep the afternoon away, so I got a free pass.

I was expecting somewhere between 30 and 40 people to be there when I pulled in. By my rough guess, the number was closer to 100 people or more. Wow. Big turnout. We milled about waiting for Randy and crew to give their pre-ride talk, so I found John B., Joshua, and several others I knew. Finally Randy got up in a truck bed and went over the rules.

To start, we were to ride down the greenway to Volunteer Landing several miles away behind Joel, who would serve as the pace-rider that no-one was to pass. This was pretty smart, because if you release 100 riders to go racing off to one spot in an uncontrolled fashion, carnage will likely ensue, and I'm not partial to carnage at this point in my life. At Volunteer Landing we would receive a 'spoke card' (which nobody actually stuck in their spokes) that we'd have to present at each check point before getting a playing card. The checkpoints? All of them were local bike shops. Seven in all (I know of two that chose not to participate). No preset order, no prize for finishing first. Just ride to as many as you can because you'd get an extra card for going to all seven. At the end we would see what the best five card poker hand we could make would be to determine the placings.

I took off near the middle of the group of folks headed out. I ended up nowhere near anyone I knew personally, but at an event like this if you know twenty out of a hundred, that just means you have eighty freinds out there you just haven't met yet. Actually, Abby and Derek did catch up to me close to our arrival at Volunteer Landing. To our surprise, they also gave us a playing card at to go along with our spoke cards. There were other surprises later on.

I got a 10 of Spades. Josh showed up soon after and got an Ace. . John came in soon after. We talked about routing from there, with Josh and I deciding to head to Tennessee Valley Bikes (TVB), and John deciding to head on out to Fountain City Peddler (FCP) after a bathroom break. Josh and I left, headed through downtown, and got seperated when he took a turn with a larger group after I'd gone straight at one intersection. As cosmic validation, I did get to TVB first, so my route plan proved correct.

At TVB we were surprised to find we'd have to do a stunt to earn our card. The stunt was to ride a (very) tiny bike down the sidewalk to a manhole and back. It looked really funny, but wasn't all that easy. Plus, they only had one tiny bike, so it took a while to wait through the line (I think a large percentage of riders went there first). I got my card while waiting for Josh (I got a 9 of Diamonds) and talked to Eric O. (who offered a beer, but I turned it down). I forgot what Josh got, but it was a face card.

We left TVB and headed out Broadway toward FCP. I'd never been there, so I was happy that we hooked up with a group containing someone who had. Still, after riding a little over 3 miles out there, Alex (a young guy I only met today) and I rode right past it (it's very hard to see - I was even looking for it). Josh called us back, and happily they didn't make us do any weird stuff to get a card, which for me was a 2 of diamonds. Josh got another face card. .

Josh, Alex and I ended up together on the return down Broadway back into town. Alex asked if we minded if he rode with us (of course not!), and I got the impression he didn't know his way around the hinterlands of Knoxville. That was when he and Josh put their safety in my hands and let me lead the way to River Sports Outfitters (RSO). I knew a shortcut. I didn't tell them it went through a particularly rough-looking part of town, but I've ridden there alone before without problems, so I knew three of us would be fine. A little over six miles later we pulled up safely at RSO.

The stunt here looked interesting, but I had to beg for a medical exemption. Given my problems with fractured and patched up collarbones, I didn't think my doctor (or wife) would approve of my taking a turn on a climbing wall. I showed the volunteer there my scar and hardware, promised to stay with Josh the whole time and not skip out early, and generally be a good boy, so she went ahead and gave me a card (Ace of Hearts). The line was long again, but at least they had three climbing sections open. I watched several people tackle the wall. Angie did well. Tanya did great. Others I knew, not so great. When it was Josh's turn I jokingly told him I was giving him 30 seconds and no more. I needn't have bothered. To my surprise he practically flew up the wall. It took him longer to get the harness unkooked than it did to climb. Wow. He's been holding out on the skillz, I think. He got another face card. Hmm.

We'd lost Alex in the crowd, so we headed on to Bike Zoo. The stunt there was to sing the "I'm a little tea-pot" song out on the front sidewalk. I jumped right in first off. It's not really embarrassing when everybody else around you has to do it too. My card was the Jack of Diamonds.

We left there and headed over to Harper's Bike Shop, where the stunts were more heinous. They had five set up, of which we had to do two. Forget the two involving jumping on a BMX bike. I did the log pull (a railroad tie attached by chain to the back of a bike they had) and the 'dizzy' course on my own bike. The log pull was a lot tougher. I got the 4 of Diamonds. Hmm. Maybe I had a chance after all?

Josh and I left and took a southerly route to Cedar Bluff Cycles (CBC) over Nubbin Ridge road. I wanted to stay on Westland (shorter, flatter), but Josh insisted there'd be less traffic on Nubbin Ridge. Well, that may have been true, but as I sit here now hours later my knee still says it was a bad idea due to the more-intense-than-I'm-ready-for climbs. After eight or so miles, we finally caught up with Alex at CBC.

The stunt at CBC was to ride a kid's bike (not as small as the one at TVB) all the way around the strip mall building (a LOT farther than at TVB). My knees already hurt. This was adding insult to injury. My knees were hitting the handlebars, so I had to ride with them both sticking way out to the side. Not comfortable. But my card? Queen of Diamonds, and that spells Flush, baby. There was one more bike shop on the list, but it was way further out in the wrong direction, and I didn't really see how even getting two more cards (one at the shop and one for hitting all seven) would help my hand enough to be worth adding an extra 10 miles (if we were stupid and rode straight down Kingston Pike - more like 16 or 17 to do it safely) to our ride. This was already going to be my long ride for the year, I thought. Josh agreed, so with Alex back with us we headed for the greenway entrance over by Lowe's Home Center.

Again Josh got seperated, but he won this time when Alex and I Got caught up at a traffic light. We hit the greenway and headed back toward the Bi-Lo. I was happy to find that the section of greenway behind the Wal-Mart/Sams Club had been finished so I wouldn't have to ride through their parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. We took the greenway all the way to where it ends, which is where we saw John, Dianne, Cathy, and some other guy headed the other way toward CBC (they had no plan to go further west than that either.) John was nice enough to tell us the quickest way back to Bi-Lo from there.

As we finally approached the Bi-Lo, Alex said he still needed to go to Bike Zoo (which explains how he'd gotten ahead of us to CBC). Bike Zoo is really close to Bi-Lo, though, so I knew he'd be back soon. Josh and I rode in to discover that there wasn't really any activity going on other than sitting around at El Mezcal, a Mexican restaurant which is in the same strip building where Bi-Lo was. Josh got a beer. I got a Diet Coke. Then we went out and sat around meeting several of the friends we didn't know yet. This was about 4:30. Fifteen minutes later I ordered a burrito and rice since I was famished (not surprising since I'd had no lunch before riding a total of 39 miles).

They finally got around to determining prizes at about 5:15, by which time I was shivering since the temp was dropping, the wind was picking up, and the clouds had moved in front of the Sun. I felt good about my flush, though, since I knew places went about ten deep. Little did I know.

Apparently there was a lot of horse-trading going on out there. I'd seen a few people trading cards around at CBC, but didn't think much of it since even their hand improvements were not better than my flush. However, when about 9 people held up their hands with a 4-of-a-kind, I knew there was something more widespread going on. Since there had already been a straight flush (Hmmm), I knew my flush was useless. At one point I figured I could give my 4 of Diamonds to John to give him a fourth 4 (and tenth place), but he declined. Good for him.

All in all, a great day for a great ride. I think a lot of people were headed over to Union Jack's bar afterward, but I didn't have a change of clothes and figured I really needed to get out of my cycling gear and into a shower. After twenty minutes under the spray of hot water in my shower back home, I knew I'd been right.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Struck in the Moonlight

One of my very first blog posts (way back in the old MicroSoft blog days) was about a full-moon ride I went on with some friends that went up and over Rich Mountain Road into Cades Cove (in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in case you didn't know).  On Tuesday night we did something similar, but with a little bit of modification.  Instead on entering Cades Cove via Rich Mountain Road, we rode in on the main access road and then went over Rich Mountain Road to go back out.  That ends up making it a 28 to 29 mile loop (that can be extended if desired).

Wednesday was a work day for me (meaning I had to be up before 5 am), but the ride was scheduled to start at 7 pm (while it was still daylight), so I figured I might actually get home between 10 and 10:30 pm.  I discuss what time I actually got home a little later.

I amazed almost everyone by actually showing up a little early for the ride.  That even amazed me, really.  I don't get off of work until 5 pm, which usually means I get to my car at about 10 or 15 after 5 pm.  Then it's a 30 to 40 minute drive home, I have to walk and feed the dogs, give the cat her medication and put down food and water for her, change into cycling gear, gather my stuff, and then drive 45 minutes or more (depending on traffic) to Townsend where the ride starts.  I must have somehow bent the laws of time and space (without bending the laws of traffic), because I got to Townsend at 6:55 pm.  Prepping my stuff the night before helped a lot.

The one usually getting on my back for being late is Wally.  Who do you think was late by 5 minutes?  Wally.  Think I got some payback in?

Nine cyclists hit the road at 7:15 pm or so and rode through Townsend on the greenway next to Hwy 73 toward the Park.  After the greenway ends Hwy 73 comes to a tee where it goes off to the left toward Gatlinburg and Cades Cove Road goes right.  Turning right, we got into the gradual climb that takes you most of the way to Cades Cove (there's a short downhill section just before you get to Cades Cove).

I was not in the front on the climb.

Nor was I in the back.

Actually, I was able to mostly stay with Jen, as we would pass each other back and forth as the grade would gradually change.  We did that all the way up to the top of the climb where the group waited to get back together.  Joshua was last up the hill, which wasn't surprising since he was climbing on a mountain bike with mountain bike tires (at 45 psi) and no way to lock out the rear suspension.  The cyclists among you will realize that makes for a more difficult climb.

Now, up until this point I had no need for my new, not-cheap, helmet-mounted lighting system, though the daylight had been slowly fading as we climbed up the road.  I had turned on my rear flasher light long before (as we left the greenway and got on the tarmac), but I had just enough daylight to get me to the meet-point.  Barely.  It got dark awfully fast after I stopped.  Then, a few minutes later while we waiting for Josh, the moon started to come out.

I realize that folks love a good sunrise.  I know that folks love a good sunset.  But sometimes there is nothing like a moonrise on a lovely dark night up in the mountains far away from city lights.  Gary got some pictures, though I haven't seen any of them yet, but it was wonderful.  I would guess this was sometime in the 8 to 8:30 pm range.

One problem with doing a ride like this on a weeknight is that the ride has to start early in the evening and the moon never really gets very far overhead.  I've been on rides around Cades Cove when I almost never had to have a light on at all except in the midst of thick tree cover.  This wasn't the case the other night.

We left the pull-out where we'd stopped, climbed up the road for a few hundred yards, and then started the descent into Cades Cove.  It took me a few minutes to  figure out how to turn my light on correctly (this was the first time I'd used it), but I did get it on and I was very happy with how bright it was, even at the setting two down from the brightest.  We crossed the parking area, rode around the bar gate stopping traffic from entering Cades Cove at night (except for cyclists and hikers, of course), and proceeded along the loop road until we got to the old Missionary Baptist Church, which is where the turn-off to Rich Mountain Road departs to the right.

We stood there and talked for a while, allowing all who needed it to find a proper spot for a nature break, when I looked at my watch and announced that I didn't care if everyone else decided to continue around the loop further and then back and over Rich Mountain Road, but I was going straight out.  Joshua decided to head out as well, but everyone else went on around the loop.

Rich Mountain Road starts off with a consistent climb out of Cades Cove that stretches on for a while. I would guess that it is a 3 1/2 mile climb to the top of the ridge, and it is on gravel road.

Let's talk bike selection for a moment.  Normally I would ride a mountain bike on Rich Mountain Road just because the tires are so much better for traction.  I would also lock out my rear suspension (which Joshua couldn't do) to save energy - you waste a lot climbing and the bike always feels "mushy".  However, we did a lot of riding on pavement.  Most of it, actually.  On pavement I would want my road bike which has no suspension (it doesn't need it) and tires that run at higher pressure for greater efficiency.  So, what to ride?  Well, there is a middle ground.  Most of us were on cyclocross bikes, which typically have sturdier frames and slightly wider tires than a road bike.  I rode my 'Three Week Bike'.  I still had one issue, though.  I was running my tires at fairly high pressure.  I figured I would want that for the climbing and road riding and that I could deal with it for the gravel (which is typically hard-packed) road.

Climbing up was not fun.  The road surface was not as solid as I'd remembered, though I had only ridden it on mountain bike tires at lower pressures, so maybe it had been like that all along.  Still, I slogged along as best I could and maintained a minimum ridable pace (so I didn't ride off too far from Joshua and abandon him).  About half-way up the climb is when it happened.  I got hit in the face by a bat.  No, not a baseball bat.

Ironically, we'd all been talking about usual wildlife sightings earlier, but until then I hadn't seen any.  I couldn't miss this one really.  It was up close and personal.  I heard the "thwack" on the front of my helmet and suddenly there was this soft floppy thing covering up a goodly portion of my face. Before I really had a chance to react, it fell away and then flapped off into the night air.  My question is; what's this echo-location thing I keep hearing about and does it actually ever work?  Honestly, I would bet that it was as surprised as I was when it hit me.  I think I understand the old "Blind as a ..." thing now.

I waited for Joshua at one point on the climb, and then waited again at the top.  He wasn't the one I saw at the top, though.  Gary and Philippe came riding up after having cruised around the loop a-ways.  They hadn't had any bats to the face, though.  I asked if they cared if I took off and left Joshua to them, and then headed down the descent back toward the car and the rest of bat-free civilization (relatively speaking).  But I was having a couple of problems.

First, and most importantly, my headlight was starting to flash red intermittently.  This is a design feature intended to let me know that it's not going to be long before the battery gives out.  I found this surprising, since I hadn't been using it at full power and I thought I was supposed to have a longer charge capacity.  I was informed later that the battery needs to cycled (charged/discharged) a few times before it gained full capacity.  Wish I'd know before.  The other problem I had was the lack of front suspension on the descent.  The road is a bit rough.  I had the headlight turned low to conserve power.  I didn't see quite all of the larger bumps and ruts.  Basically, I was getting beaten up.  I started riding with the brakes on full time, but I was getting more concerned about overheating my tires/rims and about my already fading battery reserve.

Happily, Jay and Jen caught up with me about half-way down the mountain.  I was able to shut my light off for a while and see by Jay's, which made me feel a lot better.  That lasted maybe five minutes until we got to the park boundary and they decided to wait a while for more of the group.  I didn't have the time to wait, so I flicked my light back on and headed down the road, which was at least paved the rest of the way.

But paved doesn't mean smooth.  I swear it was almost as rough as the gravel road I'd just left.

Jay and Jen didn't wait long at the boundary, either to catch me or because they could see more people coming down the gravel.  Jay caught me for a while, but fell back at the last few miles and I finished on my own.  Those two were less than a minute back, though, and got to the cars just as I was opening my rear hatch.  I expected the rest to come swinging in at any moment, but I didn't see anyone else before I left.  This was at 10:25 pm.  And I had a 45+ minute drive home to make.  Think I got home between 10 and 10:30 pm?

I got about half-way home before my phone rang.  It was Wally, asking if I had Joshua's phone number.  I told him I did, but it was programmed into my phone and I couldn't really get it.  So instead he had me call Joshua and tell him to turn around and go back to the Huddle House.  Apparently they had discussed going to the Waffle House, but made a change in plans on the fly, but Joshua had missed seeing it happen.  He missed my call, too, so I left him a message to let him know that he was going to be awfully lonely when he got to the Waffle House and noticed he had a message.

So I finally got home at 11:20 pm or so after stopping for a quick snack at a mini-mart along the way home.  I think I was in bed by midnight.  Was I dragging the next day?  Guess.

3 Weeks

I lied.  It's been four weeks.