Monday, January 26, 2015

A Birthday Tour

This past weekend marked the fifth year that I've done a 200K either the weekend before or after my birthday. This is either going to be the last time that I do this, or I am going to move my birthday to May.

There were years when this ride seemed easy. Maybe the weather was better, or I had goals that better aligned with a January 200K in spite of the conditions. Maybe a year in south Florida spoiled me.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

But back around Christmas when RandoGirl and the RandoDaughter and I discussed getting together in Chattanooga for the Sunday before my birthday, I thought this would be a great opportunity to spend a Saturday riding my bike to get there. I put together a route -- mostly using some of the standard roads and a few hidden gems from previous fleches, capping it with pieces of classic routes that the bike club down there runs. It was 150 miles, but if the weather was good and I started early that would be okay.

But the weather forecast turned dire, and a pre-dawn start began looking treacherous. Riding 150 miles over a couple of big mountains is hard enough -- add the fact that you're carrying an extra 15 pounds of clothing and toiletries and gear, the drag of a Dyna-Hub, and wanting to get into the downtown of a busy city before nightfall and it gets dismal. When Friday's rain became Friday evening's snow, I decided to drive to College Grove and ride on from there. It would not be as epic as biking the whole way, but it would still give me 130 miles and thus meet my birthday-ride requirements.

I could tell on the drive down that the more quiet roads still had plenty of icy spots. The last of the clouds were scudding away, and the sun kept trying to break through but it just yielded unwanted glare as I carefully picked my line through some sections of slush.

By the time I passed through Rockvale and Versailles the sun had risen and the wind was starting up. Frankly, if not for the forecasted wind out of the northwest I would have cancelled, hoping instead for better weather next weekend. But the tailwind held steady and true for most of the day, giving me enough of a push to mitigate the other weather issues.

Another benefit of riding a bike on a day like this is that cars are more scarce, and the few that do venture forth are more kind as they pass. Maybe it's our natural forbearance for idiots ... or the way that we tend to walk widely around raving lunatics.

I stopped briefly in Bell Buckle for a bacon biscuit, swapping weather updates with a group of eight hunters sitting in the little cafe next to the store. They were still in camouflage clothing, with their faces painted in green and black stripes. When I asked them how they had done, one answered, "Great! We got 36!" I have no idea if that meant that they shot 36 of something, or if there was another method of scoring, but I had to admire their stamina in getting out so early on such a cold wet morning just to shoot at something.

After Bell Buckle I took a road that's been on a couple of my fleche routes, passing under I-24 through farmland virtually free of cars. Then I turned onto a road that I had often seen from that interstate but never ridden via bike, climbing through fields and into the forest up towards Manchester. Once again I was on a road for miles with no cars before coming around a bend right at the entrance to the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel.

I turned briefly north for a mile here, immediately realizing that the wind had indeed been in my favor for the past couple of hours. But the effort allowed me to get on some less-used lanes away from I-24, and I pretty much avoided the busy life of downtown Manchester.

At one point I realized that I was riding along the back side of the field where they hold the Bonnaroo Music Festival. In the middle of winter like this, it just looks like an empty field criss-crossed with roads that don't seem to have a logical purpose. I could see a couple of the stages way in the distance, and then I went by a road that led to at least an acre full of Port-a-Potties.

By now, I was pretty much south of where the previous night's snow had fallen. There were scant patches in some shady areas, but I definitely didn't have to worry any more about ice on the road. I blissfully cruised down the gentle slide south towards the ridge with a steady tailwind, barely turning the cranks as I zipped at 20 mph.

But that ridge kept looming as I went on, and with a ridge you never just get to ride down to it and go over. My route forced me north again for a bit, working my way into the wind to get over to TN-108 before heading south and up the long climb. Halfway, I found that the snow had apparently made it to the shady spots on that ridge, too.

The top here is rolling country, and even with my tailwind I had to work hard to get over some of the more serious lumps. When I finally got to Altamont, I was starving. I stopped at the convenience store there for a big sandwich, chips, and a cream soda. As I ate, I stripped off a couple of layers of clothing, but as soon as I left the store I realized that it was still very cold outside -- or I was still very energy-depleted -- and I put it all back on.

Although it wasn't the busiest road on which I've ridden, TN-108 was a little hectic on this stretch, and some of the cars did not pass me with as much space as they should have. I still had my tailwind, for the most part, but the road had more pain to give at the end, with two more miles of tough climbing before finally yielding a gentle six-mile descent into the Sequatchie Valley.

With just over two hours of daylight left, I crossed the valley to Powell's Crossroads and began the long climb up Suck Creek Mountain. Although the valley had been free of snow, once again the shadier portions of the mountain had some.

I took off one jacket and the outer gloves at the base of the climb, and didn't pause to put them back on before beginning the long descent. The cold didn't seem too bad, however, since I knew that once at the bottom I just had to ride towards town along the river before entering the city. The wind stayed friendly for that part of the route as well, and after hassling with some of the more hectic thoroughfares of suburban Chattanooga I was soon crossing the Market Street bridge into the city center.

Again, I was starving by now, so I stopped at Mellow Mushroom for a calzone and to try to warm up. Everyone was very impressed by how far I had ridden that day, and I began to think that maybe doing this kind of thing was worthwhile after all, and maybe I wasn't that old.

It was dark when I finally left the restaurant, and it took me a couple of U-turns to finally find my hotel, the Read House. As I checked in, there was a wedding reception in full swing.

But I didn't want to put on my dancing shoes so much as I wanted to get out of my stinky bike clothes.

They had upgraded my room, putting me in the older part of the hotel. I even had a bathtub, where I was able to soak for a half-hour while I called RandoGirl to regale her with my travelogue.

The next day, I biked a little more around chilly Chattanooga before going to the Tennessee Aquarium with RandoGirl, the RandoDaughter, and her boyfriend.

It was worth the ride.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cycling Santa 2014

The weather forecast was good for this weekend ... but that forecast was far more optimistic than the reality. I didn't have anything else to do, however, so I spent the morning test-riding a possible route for a new populaire that I plan to submit to RUSA. The route was good in that in took me to Marcy Jo's at the mid-point for a cinnamon roll and a couple of cups of coffee (and I needed the heat of that coffee by then). It was not good in that one of the roads is too busy. Back to the drawing board.

I got home just after noon, and decided to ride into Franklin for lunch. Since the "Dickens of a Christmas" celebration is there this weekend and I had put together the Santa Bike early this week, I decided to go in Holiday Garb.

I've done the Cycling Santa thing for a few years now, but for this year I bought some red tights. They don't quite match my red wool jersey, and somehow make me look fat (or maybe it's my fat that makes me look fat), but they do add that certain panache to the outfit.

I've also got new bling ... er, blink ... on the Salsa this year:

Bright red and brilliantly blinking, I took my usual route into town. On the way, there were a lot of cars heading towards Leiper's Fork for the Christmas Parade there, and lots of folks waved at me and a couple honked their horns in a nice way. Don't ask me what differentiates a "nice" honk from an obnoxious honk ... you just know.

In downtown Franklin, the celebration was in full swing. People were walking around dressed like 19th century Londoners, and one fellow was riding a penny farthing. There were food trucks and stages with singers and dancers and vendor tents with all kinds of goods. So many people had come to the festival that all of the street parking was taken up for at least one mile outside of town.

I wandered a bit, answering questions about my outfit and my bike, then grabbed a bagel sandwich and watched some kids from a local high school sing carols. One of the tents was roasting cinnamon-and-sugar coated nuts, and the smell drew me over. But the line was too long, so I moved on.

My ride back was pretty much the same as the ride in, with lots of folks waving and some kids at the skate park yelling "Merry Christmas" as I passed. The sun that was supposed to come out in the afternoon had not yet materialized, and I was fairly chilled when I finally got back home.

I love doing the Cycling Santa thing. It's fun, and it makes for a pleasantly paced ride. My hope is that it also helps to personalize cyclists to the often impatient drivers out there, so that they take a little more care in sharing the road with us.