Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Light Rail Snafus

I usually don't post on consecutive days like this but last night's commute really took the cake. The morning commute went off without a hitch other than the light rail took 15 minutes to get to the station unfortunately. The evening would prove a sore trial.

The first hint something was screwy should have been me seeing 3 trains go by within 10 minutes on the opposite track and my train still not in the station. I had left in plenty of time to catch the train and get to the express stop I had thought. The train was late and when it did come it was packed tot he gills and folks gave me lip about bringing a bike on board until I asked them what the stupid bicycle racks were for if bikes weren't allowed on the train.

The train meandered it's way down and people were turned out at several stations due to the full trains. Most folks were riding for exploration and pleasure. A few of us were honest to goodness commuters trying to get home. 5:00 PM rolled around and I wasn't out of the train so I figured since I missed the bus anyway I'd ride to the end of the line and catch the link and I would still beat the next express home. Big mistake.

Due to the volume of people the train was already running slow and after an 30 minutes or so we were stopped due to a broken train ahead. All in all a 50 minute journey turned into nearly 2 hours. There were a lot of unhappy folks. Most of them will likely not be back but they probably wouldn't have anyway. The folks who hope for a solution will wait for the kinks to work out I figure. After all, this system didn't start out easy, it got hit full force out of the door with the volumes they have been running. I figure they'll be troubleshooting things for a few weeks. I'll keep the faith.

I had to stand for about an hour in really squished quarters but eventually the pleasant older chap I had been chatting too left and I got his "seat" which was really just the flat spot under the other bike hanger but it was better than standing.

I finally got to the bus stop at 6:30 having just missed the link. I had a choice between waiting for the link at 7pm or catch the bus down university at 6:45. See as the link stops less frequently I figured I'd chance it with the link. 2 guys with bikes showed up to wait after I did. Being the nice guy that I am I let them have the rack and I folded my bike up and didn't even get any lip from the driver this time. I met lots of nice senior folk who were excited about using the train in the future despite the day's experiences. Goll durn it, just when I was getting a strong distaste for snowbirds along comes a couple of nice old couples and spoils it. I guess I should have expected it. I suppose the grouchy "we deserve the world" old crowd are still commited to their Cadillacs, and Lincoln Love boats.

I finally got home just before 8 PM having left just after 4pm. My mistake of not waiting for the other express bus cost me around 2 hours worth of time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Big Wheezy

It was a cold morning in a drab city that really knows how to sprawl if you know what I mean. The usual crowd was pretty thin. I suppose some people had better things to do on Christmas eve than hang around a little dive they call the park and ride. Standing on the curb are a few denizens of the dawn and a lonely soul with a bicycle. That's me there, "Pedalin" Paul, bike commuter.

I was waiting in the misty morning for an old aquaintance of mine. A sweet little thing I call "Miss Express". She was a pushy dame that was built like a bus but she could get you where you were going if you catch my drift. The usual crowd was more pleasantly engaged I suppose. Perhaps they had sheep they had forgotten to count or infomercials to watch. Still there were a few of us here doomed to ride the streets of the inner city, searching for meaning in a city lost in smog.

Suddenly out of the night like a stinking electric elephant on roller skates Miss Express was here and ready to take in the lost souls of the corporate conglomerate. I consulted my little black book as to the current situation of a man we'll just call "Captain Nemo" but I didn't have long to look. Miss Express was outdoing herself today. She had all the vigour of a spurned woman for all the fickle fairweather commuters who had deserted her on this chilly morning. In her fury she got me to my destination faster than usual. As She sped off into the night I wished her luck and all the guys she could handle in the year to come.

The deck park is a lonely place in the dusk of early morning. Homeless folks lay in cocoons around the supports holding Central avenue above. Unfortunately, no positive metamorphosis awaits them upon waking. The lights of the skyskrapers shine in the sky welcoming a new day and a million tasks laid out for the nameless masses soon to collect like a hive of smogged bees. I pedaled off into the gathering twighlight. I was searching for the elusive "Mr. Job".

I hadn't frequented this town much but rumors of where I might find "Mr. Job" pointed me in this direction. He was lurking in the shadows of an area code named "Piestewa Peak". The local propietors still refer to it by it's former alias of squaw peak. I suppose "Mr. Job" preferred the anonymity of a location unsure of a name. No matter what the reasoning was, I had found "Mr. Job" after many long weeks of searching and today I would find out what makes him tick.

Alas but "Mr. Job" had a few tricks up his sleeve. Apparently he too was aware it was Christmas Eve and cut me loose at noon, sending me out alone with my bike, like a lone sailor on a borderless sea. Having dealt me a mystifying blow I didn't know how to act other than to head back to the inner city no longer asleep.

I searched for Miss Express but finding no gentleman in need of mobility she had abandoned the area until the commuters of the evening came out in search of a good ride if you get my meaning. Questions hit me like plates thrown one after another into a brick wall by a six year old. Where was Miss Express? Why was Mr. Job being nice to me all of a sudden? How many dames around here knew about a little dive called the park and ride? What kind of joint could sell me a device to control Batman in an amusing way hour after hour but was familiar with a gentleman called "Mr. USB"?

Suddenly, in front of the Bus Depot a rather short little Lady sauntered through the intersection. She gave me a look as if to say, "come over here big boy, I'll take you home tonight". I could see she was a pushy dame. I had heard of her before. The boys who knew called her the "Red Line". I knew she'd take me home, the question was who's home. Having no other choices I took her line. She'd lured many a man off the street by the looks of her clientelle.

They were a vast collection of motley types. I sat next to a Lady who had a mouth like a sailor, a body of a manatee, and the breath of a tailpipe. Miss Red Line had none of the class of Miss Express I found. She kept stopping every block to see who else wanted a ride on the Red Line.

By the time we reached Mesa I had had enough of Miss Red Line and her entourage so I cast her off like a crumpled up piece of Christmas wrapping. I watched her leave into the afternoon. Alone, I surveyed my situation. It was time to dig out my old friend "Mr. Bike" again. I recently had acquired "Mr. Bike" in anticipation of my pursuit of "Mr. Job" to the big city. He was a bit on the heavy side but he got the job done. Then, as I was riding "Mr. Bike", the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. If anyone knew of a way to control Batman and was cruel enough to force labor on Christmas Eve, it must be old man Walmart.

Old man Walmart was a difficult place for "Mr. Bike" though. Lots of envious eyes roamed around him like jackals surrounding the slaughter. Fortunately for me "Mr. Bike" had a few features he hadn't counted on. I would soon have Mr. Bike folded up into a shopping cart and left the enhungered jackals upon the doorstep. Perusing the endless maze of old man Walmart's location I stumbled upon the answers to my questions. The controller was here and he would work with "Mr. USB" with a little something for his troubles of course! The mystery solved, nothing was left but to take "Mr. Bike" home and wait to unwrap Batman in the morning and show him who the boss was.

Case closed, I sat back and toasted old man Walmart with the holidays first indulgance. A small bottle of Shamrock's finest Egg Nog. It was tough stuff, but then again, I'm a tough guy, "Pedalin" Paul, Bike Commuter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Urban Traveler

Well, the week of Christmas finds me with a new job and a new commuting route. Due to a lot of rain last week I didn't start bike/bus commuting until Friday. This gave me a few days to make the modifications I needed to my bike and for my new Arkel "Commuter" pannier to arrive. I have always wanted a pannier that held a laptop and since my commute was to become such a precise affair in order to keep time to a minimum I sprung for it. Arkel does not make cheap bags. They are high quality though. I must say this one was a little bigger than I thought and I had heel strike issues as I rode. On Friday I lived with it and was dismayed to find that the bike ride from downtown Phoenix to my job was around 45 minutes as it was uphill most of the way. Other things that I found out on Friday was that it took over thirty minutes to head back despite it being down hill. Around 35 minutes to be exact. In my consternation at being late on the way back I decided to try and catch the express bus just before it gets on the freeway to save a half mile on hope that it had been delayed by passenger loading at the central bus station. Well, in further consternation I grabbed the first bus, arguing with the driver about how the valley metro website says folders are allowed on busses despite my missing the fact there was only one bike on the rack and the other cyclist at the stop was waiting for what would turn out to be the right bus. Yes gentle readers, despite my arguing, hurry, worry, etc. I had caught the wrong bus and was trapped in traffic on the wrong express bus heading over 20 miles into the great unknown. Fear siezed me for a moment, and then the person sitting next to me who had been nice enough to let me stow my bike under his feet informed me that the bus serviced a stop at Gilbert and Broadway which is a point only 5 or 6 miles from my home. So, though my knee was hurting a bit, I had a bike, I had a full light setup with a light that could go as far as I could, and energy to spare. I ended up making it home before I would have if I had caught the 5:20 bus if I had missed the 4:50 so the damage to my schedule was fairly limited.

Saturday I took all the things I noticed on Friday and went to work. First, there was the issue of the heel strike to deal with. Determining there was no way to adjust the bag to get out of the way of my heel it became evident I would have to work on the rack and with a few zip ties I found if I rotated the rack back a few inches I eliminated the heel strike in must positions of my foot but still had just a bit. Well, I fashioned some aluminum extenders to allow my rack to mount that far back and turned my attention to the pannier itself. Determining that if one of the top hooks that grabbed the top of the rack were raised this would have the effect of rotating the bottom of the bag back an inch or so I proceeded to dig out the drill and modify my very expensive pannier with some trepidation.

Next, I was determined to address the issue of the wide handlebars. Mountain bikers like a wide spread but being from the road cyclist crowd lately they were a bit wide for my taste. So, digging out my pipe cutter I proceeded to trim 1.5 inches from each side arriving at a width closer to that of typical road bike handlebars. They were much more comfortable as well as aero, not that this bike was necessarily to be configured for speed, being primarily a utility vehicle for me. Still, every randonneur requires a certain amount of utility for their needs.

This morning finds me pedalling down the street to make the 6:30 am bus. My headlight cuts the night and I am there with time to spare unlike Friday where I had to race the bus (which had a few more lights than me since it can't cut across the mall parking lot). A five minute wait and I am loading my bike on the rack, and in a seat on the bus. Now to dig out the cell phone and read some of those stories I put on my phone last night. I start with 20,000 leagues under the sea since it has been ages since I have read it. Next I will return to Smoke Bellew written by that no good pink commie scum Jack London :p , maybe I'll have some freedom fries while I read it.

Back to my commute. After a half hour of pleasant reading I am standing on 3rd street and moreland getting my bike ready and soon I am off. Passing under central avenue in the deck park I swerve around a homeless man snuggled deep within his mummy bag sound asleep as there is not so much as a wiggle as I cruise through. It is in the upper 30s, I have camped in colder but I wouldn't be too crazy about doing it every night. This area is the worst neighborhood on my commute but somehow I am not too worried. I don't think anyone knows how much my bike is worth, and since I am wearing mismatching gloves and have a huge bag hanging off the side of my bike, I likely fit in a little. All in all the neighborhood really isn't that bad. The house along the street I turn at are small but the yards are well maintained, they may be poor but they care about their neighborhood apparently. Soon, I am passing St. Joseph's hospital and the UnitedHealth Group building. I work for a subsidiary of Untied health group and it is a bit of an irritation that I still have 6 miles to go to get to where I work. Still, I am glad to be on the bike. I have not ridden much lately to get my knee feeling better. Friday's ride caused it to act up a bit but today it is fine. Of course I am not pedalling as hard either.

Up the Sonoran bikeway I continue to pedal. It doesn't strike me as very sonoran with it's palm trees, shrubbery, juniper bushes, trees, and bamboo. Yes fair readers bamboo. I suppose perhaps they call it the Sonoran bike way because it ends up somewhere you can see the desert but the section I traverse rides the edge of Phoenix's downtown concrete wasteland. The neighborhoods are pleasant enough and the traffic is slight. Add to this a minimum of stop signs and lights and it makes a great commute route. My typical beef with bike routes on secondary streets is they are deluged with stop signs and other devices to stop traffic which unfortunately stop bicycles as well. The bikeway makes use of speed bumps and neighborhood breaks with bike paths connecting them to keep thru traffic away and works amazingly well I am discovering.

As I turn East into the final miles of my commute the sun is about to rise and Piestewa peak (recently squaw peak) is silloueted in the morning dawn. I pass apartments and business which still bear the "Squaw Peak" name, not having guts to put their long earned name and it's reputation at risk by changing it to match the new name of the mountain.

At work a member of the building management sees me folding up my bike outside. This is the ultimate litmus test. If no signs or emails come out, then I am good. I have heard stories of commuters harassed by building management elsewhere. If I had know the managements office was right there I probably would have picked somewhere else to fold everything up. Oh well. The second commute is in the bag and I am an old hand. Now to catch the right bus tonight.

It wasn't that unpleasant an experience, really! I think I took the picture before I was ready.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A light wheel

Now that is what I call a light wheel. Being Jealous of the light I had built for Bruce I decided to make one for myself. On the Mt. Lemmon brevet there was a guy who had his light mounted to the end of the quick release bolt and I thought that might be a good thing to try so try I did. The beauty of the design is the light is attached to the wheel/axle and not the bike so when you remove the generator wheel the light automatically comes off to making it very easy to remove the light. I'll be the first to admit the light is not pretty. That being said it is bright and the beam is very focused. The lower light really accentuates the deformities/rubble in the road making it easy to avoid them at speed. I have to confess I used a lot of JB Weld and silicone sealer. The light is perhaps not the most aerodynamic but with the 4 leds I don't think it could be much more aerodynamic than it is so I am not too worried there. Now I just need to get my knee healed up so I can let loose and give this thing a serious long night ride.

On another note, I can't remember if I mentioned on here or not that I have a new job or not. So, I have a new job. It is at Americhoice up in Phoenix making for a 30+ mile commute one way. I think I have a few good plans to make it possible to bike it still though. A few factors are coming into play in the next few weeks that will facilitate my commute. Here are my assets-

Good fitness

Express Bus Routes to downtown

Light Rail coming online on the 27th with a station 3 miles from work and a station at the express bus station downtown.

A brother inlaw who works a few miles away.

A new park and ride 16 miles away from work right about where the bad traffic starts.

So I have a few options and I will list them here with time estimates for total commute time and gas/bus cost.

Xport modesTimeCost
Xpress bus + train + 3 mile ride160 minutes$1.75
ride in mooch ride home160 minutesfree
Park and Ride + 16 mile ride160 minutes$4
Ride both ways 30 miles x 2220 mintuesfree
Ride 12 miles to light rail station220 minutes$1.25
Drive in100 minutes$8

I am leaning toward the express bus option with perhaps a full commute once a week to get a longer ride in. I will keep you informed.

With the buses, trains, and carpool with brother inlaw involved I decided to break down and get a folding bicycle which I ordered yesterday. Folders have come a long ways in the last few years. They are a bit heavier but not too much and the one I ordered comes with a generator hub and a light so I can save money there. It also has fenders and a rack. Granted fenders are not something we use a lot here in Arizona but they are handy when it does rain. If you remove all the extras from the bike it would only be a pound or two heavier than my roadbike so it is not too bad. It should arrive on Tuesday and I am eager to give it a test run.

I start work on Monday and I will probably work a few days before I start the bike commuting just so people get to know me first before I start showing up dressed like a superhero and having to change.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Of Gratitude Clouds and Cacti

Thanksgiving morning. Today I will find it hard to stay on the diet, as I did last night, but I will get to that later. Clouds are hovering in the peaks like wisps of hair on the heads of wisend old men. The streets are just wet enough to generate a slight spray off the tires but it is a beautiful morning. It is the first morning of the year I am wearing my long sleeve jersey and pedal through the desert like a firefly of flourescent green contrasted against the gray dawn.

Climbing Usery Pass my knee is a little sore but nothing serious and I keep concentrating on my pedal stroke. Stopping to take a few pictures of cacti and clouds gives it some rest. I wished I had brought my good camera as the clouds made for some breathtaking shots and my cell phone ruined the best ones unfortunately. Still, I am grateful for the experience of being out this morning.

The smell of fresh rain renews my soul and invigorates my psyche. The desert is green. Rain has brought the plants to life and the subdued light contrasts the colors of the desert beautifully. I stop to take a picture of a Teddy Bear Cholla and the mists suround the top of Usery Mountain.

Behind the pass I turn to Red Mountain and behold the clouds milling about it's top and side, sliding down the back of it like billows of soft snowy white wool. Then, just as I am about to turn south, the sun pokes through and lights up the mountain with its crags and rocky red slopes illuminated and beautiful. I stop to take a picture but the camera blurred it so I am afraid the memory is sequestered to my memory only.

I am grateful this morning. Lately I have been grateful I had a steady job for 12 years. I am grateful for a loving family and the friendship of friends and co-consipiroters in cycling. I am grateful for a roof over my head and a bicycle beneath me. I am grateful for a companion such as my wife who puts up with all my quirkiness and this love of the wheels and highway and thrill of adventure in the open air traversing our own little corner of America. Lastly, I am grateful for the prospect of a job.

I recieved a call yesterday regarding an interview I had on Monday. They said from their side the interview went really well (which is funny as I thought I did OK but didn't do as well as I would have liked) and they were going to recommend to Senior Management that they hire me. Their Corporate Recruiter in Texas said I should have an offer next week around Wednesdayish if everything with my background checks out. It looks good fair readers. Very good. I am not going to count on anything until I get the offer but I am grateful for a ray of hope on the job front.

The location is 30 miles away so I am going to have to get creative on my bike commuting options. Still, where there is a will there is a way. I have many options open and my Brother in-law works fairly close to it so carpooling might be a possibility. If I go that route I am going to purchase a Bike Friday Pocket Rocket so as to be able to pop the bike in his trunk without any problem since he drives a Mustang. If he doesn't want to carpool I might have to result to some other creative measures like driving in, riding home, riding in, driving home, and so on. In any case, it will be interesting and I am determined to make it work. There is much to be grateful for this day. Happy thanksgiving folks!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pedal Stroke Mechanics.

Over the last few years I have developed a rather interesting wear pattern on my shoe inserts. This morning I set out determined to practice a smooth and efficient pedal stroke, since I am taking it easy anyway babying my knee. That being said I concentrated on pedaling with the whole front of my foot instead of letting it roll to the outside. Throughout the ride I grew curious to see if my shoe inserts would show how much I pedalled on the side of my foot. The evidence was pretty convincing I found out when I pulled them out back at the house.

Throughout the ride I discovered a few things. Side to side cleat placement is an art and I think the cleats put dead center are the best solution for me.

On my left leg it was a bit difficult to get a good smooth ankle bend on the down stroke as my knee would over bend. I determined my seat was still a touch high and after two adjustments down the road got my left leg feeling fluid through the stroke. I believe my right leg is longer than my left leg. Different length legs are fairly common, it was just kind of funny to see how much difference a few mm can make in your pedal stroke.

Lastly, despite all the fit fixes I went through my leg still had a tendency to roll left. I think that I have solved the fit issues, and I think the rolling thing is a habit that has been learned over time through keeping the seat too high. So, how many pedal revolutions does it take to unlearn a pretty deep seated habit? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Who can tell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Island in the sky.


For some reason I don't sleep well before brevet's. Permanents, no problem. It was no exception for this ride. I found myself wide awake at 3 am after a fitful 6 hour sleep. Seeing as the brevet was all the way down in Marana I figured I would just drive down there early and maybe take a nap if I could. I have to say that the Dove Mountain Basha's doesn't open until 6 unfortunately as I was famished. After an hour nap it was open and I was able to get some breakfast and make my change into randoman.

The parking lot was full of randonneurs preparing for their assault on Mt. Lemmon. I dug through my brevet bucket and pulled out my long fingered gloves, my mitten shells to put over them, my arm warmers, leg warmers, and my windstopper jacket. I was expecting 63 degree temperatures on the top of the mountain according to the weatherman and ever since the 300k last year I have made it a point of taking a little more warm weather gear than I otherwise would. I have come too close to hypothermia on a couple of these and I think I am getting a little more cautious with age. Anyway, I used everything except the arm warmers and the mitten shells.

Lemmon ice.

Calle Sin Nombre

After a quick talk from Susan we were off into the cool of the morning and the breaking dawn. A group of 3 or 4 pulled off the front fairly quickly and I hung out with the slower guys and chatted with Dave Glasgow a bit. He is another of the older guys on these rides that I kind of hold up as a model of where I want to be at that age. This was his first brevet back since he had a run in with a cab awhile back. He picked a doozy of a ride to start on! The group was going just a little faster than I wanted to go so I let them go. I hadn't ridden in 2 weeks to try and let my knee heal up from riding Mike Sturgill's Yarnell 300k permanent a few weeks back. My knee was already starting to twinge a bit so it was just going to be a enjoy the brevet day and not one where I would try to get a fast time or anything like that. Besides, I needed another good relaxing ride. Life has been a little intense and depressing lately with my job search.

I always laugh riding up Sunrise as one of the side streets is "calle sin nombre". I think someone had a sense of humor. I also think it appropriate since it joins up with Sunrise, or is it Ina, or Skyline, or Sabino Canyon? For those of you who don't speak spanish "calle sin nombre" means street with no name. I myself have thought of designing a southwest neighborhood with street names such as, Los Pantalones, or La Nariz, or perhaps El Ojo. But I digress.

The eastward part of the course was a bit of a chore and I saw weekend cyclists bent over with effort and crouched down as they fought the fierce headwind blowing down the street with many names. I wondered what this would do to my ability to make the controls on time. I hunkered down into the aero bars and spun as best I could. I would pass four of the guys ahead of me in here who were stopped to fix flat tires. The wind was blowing all sorts of tire eating garbage into the road. It was rather picturesque at times riding into blowing tumbleweeds.

Bruce Chandler at that grand support stop in the sky.

The ride down "calle muchos nombre" was a grind and I was soon passed by Steve Atkins and Mike Enfield. I was able to hold onto them until just before the first checkpoint but that was enough to get me through the first stretch of big winds. I stopped at the gas station at the corner of Catalina and Tanque Verde, refilled, refuelled, and greased up. Then I was off to discover my shifter was coming loose up on Bear Canyon road. Fortunately Susan was at a secret control and let me use her multi-tool which happened to be a lot more accessible than mine (which was in my saddle bag but that was under my jacket which was hanging off the back of the good old brooks.

#^&*# wind up the @#%@ hill......

I think it was Mark Goldentyer that asked Susan for permission to swear at the Palisades and said that was the toughest thing he had done on his bicycle yet. I believe he had also climbed Mt. Lemmon before so that says something about conditions on the mountain the day of the ride. About a mile from the bottom of the hill I passed a girl who also described the conditions in similar fashion. It was to be a @#$%(*&(* of a day for my first climb up Mt. Lemmon, and me nursing a sore knee to boot. I had been pumping ibuprofen up to this point and hoped it would hold out.

I had been hoping that I wouldn't have to resort to my sissy gear 32 tooth cog on the back (I ride a triple so it really is a sissy gear but hey, I made it didn't I?). Within a mile I was forced into my lowest gear and I doubt I would have made it with my knee and all without it. Coming around corners 40mph gusts of wind would drop me down to 3-4 mph making me grind in even the lowest gears. Standing up wasn't any better but did allow me to use other muscles and rest the posterior periodically. I was glad I had been doing a lot of hill work lately. That being said unless you ride Mt. Lemmon regularly there really is no place to completely train for something like this. The road up it is an engineering marvel. I challenge you to find any other road that stays between 5 -8% continuosly for 20 miles. I am sure there are a few in Colorado and the Nebo loop I climbed over the summer comes close but the Lemmon had it beat for elevation gain by 500 feet.

I apologize for no pictures up until the turnaround as I was thinking I had to be there by 1:52 and I was cutting it very close. In fact even if I hadn't burned myself out getting up there I think I would have still barely missed it even without taking a good rest at the Palisades.

You start with a beautiful Cactus forest in the first 3 miles as you climb up a hillside and then into a canyon. The hill is relentless as you progress. Passing the toll station you then pass into gorgeous riparian habitat to your right in the creek bottom with giant sycamore trees to your right that reach up to the road and wave in the wind as you struggle by. As you leave the wash you see the last Saguaro struggling for life, just as you are, as the grassland starts with Century plants casting their stalks to the sky and quivering in the wind. On up you go, slowly, fighting the wind, cursing it under your breath, legs hurting and crying for mercy. Are you even close to the top? Not remotely, there are still 12 miles to go! Rounding another bend the cliffs dwarf you and the temperature drops noticeably as you ride into the shadow which fortunately also turns out to be a brief respite from the wind. Despite the effort you shiver. Over a bridge and back into a canyon you go! Now you are in the first of the pine forest, able to survive because of the shady canyon and extra water that comes down it. There are picnic areas and people are enjoying themselves at the tables.

I am enjoying myself, but my body is not. It is swearing at me. You &#$^@ loving @#$* it says. I don't tell it we still have around 8 miles to go. Just a mile ago I was looking high up at the top of an extremely high cliff and could have sworn I saw the signs of a highway built off of the top of it. It wasn't the top. Rounding the bend I continue up. Round corner after corner. At least the wind is dying down a bit up here on the mountain. I pass a sign stating I am now at the 6000 foot level and I arrive at the Windy Vista viewpoint which happens to be the road at what I thought was the top of the massive cliff. Bruce Chandler invites me to get some water but I still have a bottle of Gatorade left and I am fearful I am going to miss the checkpoint so I gratefully decline. On up the hill I go. I don't tell my body we have over 1500' feet and 6 miles to go.

I enjoy one of the two almost flat spots for a brief moment as I press on. Soon I am in the pine trees and the wind has finally let up. Around bend after bend I ride through the hilltops. They are deceptive. You think you are near the top but around the next hill there is another one. My bike computer says I am still far below 8000' feet and I press on. I have to stop very briefly around a mile from the Palisades as my legs are completely void of oxygen. Within a minute I am back on the bike pressing on with fear and finally I am there. I ask Susan what my chances of making it are and she says really good and that I only have to be to the bottom of the hill by 5 since the turnaround is a postcard drop. I decide that since I really wanted to have a fun ride today, I will rest.


I sit down for around 15 minutes in which time a randonneur who I think was Mark Goldentyer but I could be wrong comes in and says his speal about the days difficulty in climbing to which I was greatly amused. I thought it was just the way Lemmon was but apparently this was a rather difficult day to do the Lemmon.

Between the Palisades and the Post Office and back there is around another 1000' of climbing in moderate sized hills but they are nothing compared to the big climb of the day. Around the top of the hill past the Palisades the faster guys are on their way back. The other two guys who pulled in to the Palisades after me go to the post office and are quickly on their way back. I stop and sit down and eat my banana. I worked hard to get up here and I decided I was going to enjoy it. Besides the knee needed a rest and I needed to call my wife and let her know where I was on the pay phone.

A couple of pictures and a hill later I was back at the Palisades. Where the weather was a lot warmer. The temperature had been 43 degrees on the other side of the hill and there was ice on the side of the road in spots. On the side of the Palisades temps were nearly 60 degrees. Still descents were a bit cold. I sat and chowed down and chatted Bruce and Susan up. I figure I stayed there between 20 minutes and half an hour pigging out. My plan was to eat up as I had about an hour of good digestion ahead of me as I dropped off the hill. It was a good plan actually as Susan's delicious wraps got me all the way back to the parking lot.

Down the mountain I sped. Growing ever more used to speeding through corners and reliving the past 5 hours as if someone had hit the quick rewind button. In the lower half the winds had returned and I find 40 mph speeds slam down to 14 around corners where the grade is still greater than 5% but the wind is like suddenly rolling into large patches of sand. Amusing it is to be pedalling to go 16 mph on a decent downhill grade to keep up forward motion. Eventually I am at the bottom and enjoying a tailwind as I pass the cacti and bid the mountain goodby, feeling sheepish in my jacket in the near 80 degree warmth of the desert.


I was determined to get a bit of that tailwind heading back before the evening calm came. I only stopped for one last picture and a receipt at Circle K for a nut roll I wouldn't eat until after I was done. Initially the wind was good but I squandered quite a bit of it in my climb up Sabino Canyon road which is where Susan passed me heading to the end. I did get the last bits of the wind after I turned west though and Sundown took me a few miles down the road. I originally intended to only ride in the dark for less than an hour but with all the resting I did it was more like an hour and a half. My lights held up well though and I only had one spot in the section of twisty turns in the last 10 miles where I wondered if I had overshot a street in the dark. On Moore road I decided I was cold enough that I didn't want to just soldier through and put on my jacket. That is where I noticed you could see the milky way out here. The pleides star cluster was rising from the eastern Horizon and cassiopea was overhead watching as I rode the last few miles downhill to the finish.


My knee really hurt the last 15 - 20 miles or so so I probably lost some time to that. With my rests and my sore knee I figure I did good finishing at 12:22 hours. In fact, with the sore knee I figure I did good to finish at all. With the winds and the fact most of my training was in the 5000' elevation gain arena I think I did pretty good.

Now for a few days of icing the knee and getting it ready for the next brevet. Susan helped in looking at my bike position and I moved my seat forward as a result. We will see how that helps. In the meantime I am going to lay off the climbing for a few weeks. After all, 9400' is a healthy dose of climbing for a day's work. Even a weeks worth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apache Dreams

It is before dawn and I am riding off into the darkness on Broadway road heading out to do a repeat at the end of the pavement past Tortilla Flat again. The air is chill and I am glad to have my knee warmers on. Somewhere in Apache Jct. I see a southwesty housing division called Apache Dreams and I start to think about what Apaches might dream about. Perhaps they are dreaming about a bunch of white folk wallowing in misery on a reservation suffering from diabetes caused by a glut of government surplus cheese. Perhaps they are dreaming of a million pale faces with empty wallets leaving a casino. Perhaps I am on the wrong tack with this Apache Dream idea.

Leaving Apache Jct and starting into the earnest climbing the sun is peeking over the horizon. The tops of the hills are warm and the valleys are cold. A couple of boats pass me heading up to the lake followed by a handful of motorcyclists here and there. The lake is beautiful this morning as always.

My knees are a bit achy but I am bound and determined to do a repeat of the 1000' hill at the turnaround. I think this was a mistake but oh well. I am soon to Tortilla Flat and feeling strong. I have been sick all week so it is nice to be out and about.

I am over the blip before the real hill with hardly a thought and I launch into the real meat of the ride. The hill rises 1000' in a little over 3 miles with long stretchs of 7-8% grade. I figure this is a bit steeper than Mt. Lemmon and should be good practice.

mile from the top I spy a beat up car on the side of the road with no one around. I figure it is hikers until I round a few more corners. Suddenly there are skateboarders carving wide turns down the road towards me. I give them plenty of space as I pass. It never occured to me to skateboard down a highway with a fairly steep grade. They look like snowboarders without the snow. With each turn you can hear their wheels struggle to maintain a grip on the pavement and grit slightly as they slip. Around another corner is a BMW with a bunch of skater bumper stickers on the back. Dad must have bought it I figure. What kid who could earn the money for a bmw would put bumper stickers on it? Anyway, they were nice enough kids.

Having turned around at the edge of the pavement I spy a dark crawling spot on the road as I just start to speed up into the descent. It is a Tarantula! I would see 2 more before the end of the ride but I stopped and took a picture of it and it is at the top of the page. Around the top of the hill I also ran into the Brumbys out for their Saturday morning jaunt. I haven't been riding with them the last few weeks as I have wanted to mix in a little more climbing to prepare for the lemmonizer next week. My knee started aching pretty good on the repeat and I think I should have left it off but oh well. It got worse heading back to town but I figure I have 2 weeks to let it rest and besides, I had only had a week and a half since the hilly 300k I rode last week. It was a little soon to pull a 70 miler with 5000' of climbing I think.

Next week the big hill. I don't know of any climbs bigger in Arizona than the Mt. Lemmon climb actually. A 5500' hill is a humongus hill in my book. We'll see what I make of it. Last hill that big I climbed was Mt. Nebo last summer and it left me feeling pretty tired.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Double Dose of Therapy

Well, I found myself on Tuesday thinking that I had nothing planned on Wednesday, no interviews, no one had posted new jobs, and I needed some time out in the countryside. I needed something like the following (the best commercial ever in my humble opinion).

That commercial always reminds me of Randonnuering. I am sure Lance has never ridden his bike through all that in one day. A Randonneur does face all that in one day often. A brevet/permanent allows one to live a life in a day. Starting a bit nervous in the morning with a full days work ahead of them. Then slowly, turn by turn they build the miles and progress through the route, facing winds, heat, rain, whatever and they overcome it. Finally, tired and sore, late into the night they limp into the last control and get that precious signature and a receipt that shows they completed the journey and now have a well deserved rest after a good guilt free helping of the food of their choice.

Tuesday morning I emailed Mike Sturgill and asked if I could run the Yarnell 300 permanent the next day. Being the swell fellow that he is he emailed me the control card info and the cue sheet. I was setup to start at 6 AM the next morning at the corner of 32nd street and Union Hills. I didn't start at 6 AM. I got out of the house late and it was a few minutes before 6 when I turned into Mike's neighborhood and saw him ride by aways ahead leaving for work (at least I assume he is the only bike commuter in his neighboorhood that was up at that hour heading off to work). Making quick work of getting on the road I bought gatorade, sunscreen, blistex, and energy bars at circle k and then I was out at 6:07.

It was still dark out but the eastern horizon was starting to get light. I rode through the gathering twighlight and on my way over to Scottsdale road grabbed a fistfull of creosote on my way by a creosote bush and enjoyed the scent of the leaves (smells like a desert rainstorm). At Scottsdale road I saw two mobile homes pulling into the parking lot that were marked "Ride for Semper Fi". There were some guys from the Brumbys involved in this and I gave them a wave. They were probably surprised to see a guy with a Brumbys jersey riding around on this end of the valley at this time of the morning on a Wednesday.

On Scottsdale road I would meet Mr. Dingus for the first time today. He was a guy in a big diesel dumptruck that worked for a landscaping firm. In the construction he let me know his IQ with one long blast on his horn, I gave him a wave (and used all my fingers even though I was tempted to wave with 1). This happened to be right in front of a motorcycle cop but he was doing paperwork and kind of gave me an apathetic look as I pulled over. I pulled over because I wanted to get my sunglasses out so I could put my rearview mirror on to see people like Mr. Dingus. The Construction ended just past there so I didn't have to contend with anymore drivers, I do get the feeling drivers up in Scottsdale are a bit more high strung than drivers in the east valley. I have gone years without a horn honk and today I had two. Ok, they were by the same guy but still, it was a little annoying even if I don't make a broad generalization.

Cruising up Scottsdale road I am amused to see that someone has tried to turn it into some sort of automobile nature trail by labeling plants on the side of the road with signs too small to read when passing at high speeds. I enjoy the few signs whose plants I don't know and am amused at the specimen they chose to represent the Ironwood "tree" yes, it was supposed to be a tree but they put it on one that looked like a bush. Up the road I see a rider on a bike that looks very much like Steve Jewell's but he is past before I can see if anything else bore a strong resemblance. I don't even know if this was Steve's stomping ground or not.

The temperature is still in the lower sixties and I am a bit chilly but not bad. A wind is picking up and slows me to 10-12 mph most of the way up this road which actually climbs a lot more than one would think. By the time I am up to the top my bike computer says I have climbed over 700 feet already. I turn down the carefree hwy and not too far down the road am honked at again by the masterful mr. Dingus. Fortunately this would be our last encounter.

It is a fast ride down to the next turn and I am again crouching down into the aerobars as the headwinds climb into the upper 20's. I slowly climb up into the hills south of New River. I am looking for the pointy mountain that I know New River is located next too. I look for a long time and the wind forces me low. I hate climbing in aero bars. For Sale signs are blowing horizontal and some have blown off their mountings. At long last I see the hill which looks like a severed fish head with it's mouth pointing into the sky. Not too long after I am at the RoadRunner cafe.

The RoadRunner cafe reminds me of the Boars Nest from the Dukes of Hazzard. The lady that worked in the little shop inside was not anything like Daisy duke I must say. She was not wearing little tight shorts, which was good as she was a heavyset lady. Her voice had the hoarseness of a thousand cigarettes. She asked me how the wind was treating me and I told her my next stretch was downwind. When she learned I was riding up to Yarnell on the bike she was incredulous. Heading out to my bike I refill my bottle and look for a garbage can but can't find one. Back inside I find she is gone, and I eventually find a bucket on the porch which has some trash in it so I use it.

You might think that the fastest speed of the day would be descending Yarnell grade. Well, I have to say surprisingly it was over the next stretch down to Lake Pleasant. I can hear you now wondering where the big hill is heading down to lake pleasant. Well, there isn't one. It has a slight drop in elevation but not anything to write home about. I had a roaring tailwind pushing me at that speed. At 35 mph the air felt still but the bushes tossed and turned in a frenzy as I shot by. I would not drop below 30 mph over the next 10 miles and most of the way stayed above 35. 42 mph would be my top speed.

Of course this meant upon turning on Lake Pleasant road the crosswinds were fierce. Just before getting to the lake my cue sheet blew out and was gone. Fortunately I had a spare and the route was really simple for the next 100 miles so I wouldn't need to consult it for a while. The wind was ruthless as I started up the hill on the other side of Lake Pleasant and then for some reason died down a bit. No longer was I struggling to stay on the shoulder. The next stretch was a longish stretch into the middle of nowhere as I finished the climb out of Lake Pleasant. I found I could gain a bit of speed if I rode on the white stripe to get off of the bumpy asphalt. The only trouble was the traffic was annyoingly abundant today so I had to take the shoulder often crossing the rumble strip. I was grateful for that 28c tire on the back.

Turning up to Wickenburg (what kind of a name is that for a town anyway? I mean is it full of witches or something?) I am eager to arrive and have a nice big Burger King lunch. Halfway up the road I see a ghost bike off to the right marking a location where a cyclist met their demise at the hand of a careless driver. I have heard of them, never seen one though and it gives me pause.

A bit of a tangent here. Heading into Wickenburg I see a sign some rural gentlemen has put up saying people who vote for Obama are like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders. I won't say anything here about who you should vote for. I only say to study your candidates, both of them. Read their policies. Make your own decisions. Don't you dare decide you know enough about the candidates by listening to the propoganda either of them barf at each other. If you do, like millions of other Americans you are misusing your voting power and are essentially an enemy of democracy and a witless peon of their multi-million dollar marketing engine. Educate yourselves folks. I don't care who you vote for, just make sure they are what you think they are. Incidentally, one of them mentions the bicycle in their energy policy. I find this important as it is the most efficient vehicle man has invented to date in terms of units of energy to move a person from point a to point b. It should be considered as part of the solution in my mind.

Ok, enough rhetoric, on to Burger King and the big Daddy size club sandwich meal. I couldn't finish it fair readers. I had an inch of the sandwich left and had to throw it out as I was full after the super fry and the giant drink. I spent about 20 minutes at Burger King eating and reviewing the cue sheet (and getting my control card signed, can't forget that). Then I was out into the wind again. I was having to re-blistex my lips every hour or two the wind was so present. I figured I had about 3 hours to Yarnell with the speed I was able to keep in the wind and the climb and such. It was in here that I dug out the mp3 player as I figured I was bound to cross a vast wasteland of desert scenery. Not that I have anything against desert scenery, I had after all just ridden through 80 miles of it. I just needed some variety at this point.

About 4-5 miles out of congress I see the occasional reflection on a car window shining down from the side of the mountains about 10 miles ahead. A few miles out of Congress I can actually see white specs that are semi-trucks coming down the grade and making note of the time from when I see them reach the bottom of the grade to when they pass me 6 minutes later I figure I have around 5 miles to the grade. In congress, I opt to fill a bottle with gatorade. It is a warm afternoon and I still have a full bottle but one can never be too careful. I figure I have about an hours climb ahead of me if I keep 6 mph or so up the hill.

The hill is a constant 6% grade occasionaly going up to 7 and 8 % in a few stretches. At 100 miles into a ride it is a little more taxing than it otherwise would have been. Still, I find myself able to hold the effort level most of the way up the hill. My knee has been hurting since Congress and I am glad I have the 32 tooth cog on the back. I am able to spin up the hill although I find the hill pressing on my psyche as I turn the corner at the top and see more hill. Still, it is only a few more turns until the real top.

The store right at the top turns out to not be the one specified on the cue sheet so on into Yarnell proper I go. The grocery store the sheet specifies turns out to be closed as of 15 minutes ago. So back to the top of the hill I go. An eskimo pie and a scooby doo push up pop later I am ready to head into a descentalicious 25 miles to Globe. My goal is to be in Globe by 5pm. Which I make. I have decided that a giant milkshake is just the thing to get me to Phoenix and upon Jack and Diane's recommendation I stop at the Tastee Freeze, but there is no one out back with a hand between someones knees. I have to confess that I remembered it being a lot better than it was. The shake/malt had too much cherry syrup in it. Still, it is good energy and I almost finish the whole thing (it was a really big shake).

Off to Phoenix I go. My legs are starting to get fatigued now. My speed stays under 17-18 mph and slowly drops the further I get. Not too long after the turn to Lake Pleasant the sun sets creating surreal swirling colorful whisps in the clouds to the east. I stop to turn the lights on and then am off again. It seems like the road goes on forever. The darkness deepens and I plod along through the darkness. After a long time a stoplight is visible in the distance and upon passing it I am in darkness again with no further signs of civilization for some ways. As I near the next stoplight my back tire is squishy. I lean over the handlebars to get the weight off it and work to get to the light. I have no small backup light for working on flats other than the one attached to my handlebars so an overhead light simplifies things.

Their is a piece of wire from one of the thousands of tire shreds I had passed during the day. I eventually get it pulled out but that is not where the leak is and my respect for the tire goes up a bit. The wind howls as I listen for the leak. Incredibly enough I find the leak and patch it making sure there is nothing in the tire to cause it again and with a puff of co2 I am off once again. Soon I am into Phoenix proper and the streets are still way above the count I am looking for. I need 107th street and I am at 193rd. I pass Bell Road, Thunderbird, and still I go south. I am way past Union Hills and finally I see the convenience store just up from where I turn.

After getting my card signed and a milkshake drink I am off into the night, I turn and am once again in direct conflict with the wind. Wandering through the neighborhoods I am at Union Hills and begin the long slow push across town into the wind. I hold roughly 13 mph across town. A mile or two from the end there is one last hill to challenge me and then I am done. 16 hours after my start I have finished the journey I set out to make. I have accomplished something in the midst of so many weeks of rejection and failure during my job search. It feels good.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Much better

Ok, after Friday's really depressing post I though I would post something a little more positive. I headed out on a bike ride this morning to take my last paycheck down to the bank. I had a good ride. It was 54 degrees out and It was the first ride of the fall with leg warmers and a long sleeved jersey. I headed down power road to my bank which I discovered had moved. I looked for it around the new location for a long time but couldn't find it. After a brief consultation with my wife via cell phone I finally found it. It was closed. Even though almost everyone else in the free world has to work on Columbus day, bank workers get it off. As I did not have a pen I bought one at the local gas station and made my deposit in the night/holiday deposit box and was off for home. I had originally intended a ride of 18 miles or so but ended up with 27 as I rolled into our neighborhood.
Incidentally my depressed mood went into Saturday and was gone Saturday night. At this point I am confident I will find a job, I have several interviews coming up, and I may already have something which I am hoping to hear from soon. Anyway, I think my challenge now is keeping busy between interviews. In the meantime I am going to take a good bike ride every morning.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This is the end, my only friend, the end.....

This morning I head out onto the commute with heavy heart. This is the end. The last commute. The last day. No more to follow, at least at the present employer. I have ridden this route 3-4 times a week for the last 4 years and another 3 years at the other location. I will ride my bicycle to Inter-Tel no more. Emotions lap through my soul like sets of waves on a beach. Some nibbling away at the edge of the beach, and others washing far up the shore and washing everything away. I do not feel like riding. I do not feel like doing anything but I ride on. There are a number of people out this morning and they smile at me.

I wave back as I pass. Approaching the one light along the canal path I determine to hit the crosswalk button wanting to inflict a little irritation on drivers who have to stop and share my pain. On we proceed, moving through the cool of the morning. A cool morning that brings little solace as my emotions move from a desperate positivity to a feeling of numbness and a strong desire to lay down under the shade of a tree and cease activity. I know this feeling well from events which have taken me riding late into the night after full days of cycling, and the desire to stop everything and rest is nearly irresistable. Some rest leads to deep and dark places which I will not return from for a very long time if I succumb so on we press into the cool morning.

I pass downtown Chandler and press on to Inter-Tel where I place my bike in the rack for the last time. I don my shorts and shirt that I have kept in my jersey pocket. I discover that the back door security system is broken, and report this to the human resources lady as I turn in all my gear and get my severence paperwork. It is amazing how 10 years of service boils down to the following bit of soulless corporate sputum-

The on-going requirements within the organization have recently been reviewed, focusing on the necessity to achieve operational effectiveness. As a result of this review, decisions have been made that will have an impact within the organization. Accordingly your position has been identified as being eliminated effective October 10, 2008.

Sounds like someone used a layoff-o-matic word generator. I have determined that the key to an organization with soul depends entirely on if the founder is still around. The founder seems to be the soul of the organization. The founder cares about the organization and people usually. The hired gun of a CEO and his enterage of nosers that come after generally doesn't give a crap about anything other than numbers. Founders have a dream and a vision of what a corporation could be, a hired hand merely concentrates on a very narrow set of goals entirely centered on the impish whims of the stockholders. Dave Thomas died and Wendy's gets sold to Arby's, Walt Disney kicks out and enter Michael Eisner, Steve Mihaylo gets forced out of his office at Inter-Tel and wa la, a soulless entity. I bear no ill will, but am a little saddened at the changing of a corporate family, to a corporate group of employees. Well, all things in this world must eventually pass away I suppose, and I am grateful for the 10 years of comradeship and meaningfull employment I had. So, on to other things, yet I still I can't shake the mallaise.

So how about it guys? Is there a job out there for Dan and I?

At 8:45 I pack up my bike, I have a problem though. The shirt and shorts I can stuff into my jersey pockets, but what to do with the severence packet? I had originally intended to leave my lock on the rack like the last commuter that left did as a token of, well, something. Ok, it would have been an inconsiderate thing to leave for the facilities guy to deal with eventually but I ended up not doing that anyway. I used the lock to strap the packet to my Aero bars. I would not be heading straight home today. Though I did not want to ride, I needed to.

Off to the towers
Yes, I need a good climb. Chances are I would not be working on this end of the valley anymore so this would be my last chance to climb South Mountain for awhile. I really had to keep pushing. I don't think I have ever struggled so hard for an 80 mile ride. It seemed like everything hurt and I had absolutely zero motivation. But I kept pressing on.

Up into the park I rode. I found a surprising bit of strength for climbing the mountain itself. One guy passed me on the way up to the San Juan turn off but slowed down as soon as he passed me (and he wasn't carrying a change of clothes and a big lock). He turned at San Juan but I noticed him behind my climbing the mountain but he never caught up. I was amazed at my strength today. Everywhere else I had no will to move but for some reason I did good in the climbs. Topping out things brightened up.

Looking down at Mitel it seems like such a little thing in a sea of civilization. But a speck in the big picture. Somewhere down there is another speck that will be my new place of employment.

It was cool and windy at the top. A few people were up there enjoying the morning and I stopped for a minute to tell my wife that I would not be home by 11 AM as it was 11 right then. I estimated I would be home at 1:30. Heading down I felt good about things. I climbed the hill, and the descent was upon me. Outlooks brightened and the views opened out before me and the world was my opportunity.

I enjoyed the drop off of the radio tower summit and decided that today I would treat myself to a climb up to the dobbins lookout since it would be a long time until I came back up here and I had the energy at the time.

After this I turned around and started down the mountain to head for home. The closer I got to the valley, the more my spirit was reclaimed by the creeping morasse that plagued my soul earlier. It was a struggle to work my way back across the valley. The sun beat down and it seemed a lot hotter than 86 degrees. Still I turned pedal after pedal. I did not want to be biking, I did not want to be doing anything, yet still I turned the pedals round one at a time. Thoughts rolled around, in repetition like my feet, going up, going down. It seemed forever. Eventually I did get back though. I think tonight I will enjoy the time with my kids and we will go camping. Anything to distract me at this point.

This moment will pass. All do eventually, that is why they are called moments. A moment can seem like a long time though when the moment is unpleasant. Still, nothing lasts forever, and I can wait this out. If you don't stay on the bike, you will never get to the end of the ride.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Still of the morning

There are quite a few cars out at 4:15 in the morning. On any given Saturday the streets would be deserted but not on Friday. There are numerous poor souls whose employment shakes them out of bed in the predawn hours. In fact, I buy some batteries from one of them at a 24 hour walgreens as my light has gotten a little dim as of late and I don't want to descend with a weak light. I had originally intended to do Mesa, Florence, Coolidge, Chandler but yesterday afternoon they informed me I had a phone interview today at 2 so I figured I would work at home today to have a better environment for interviewing. That being said they just rescheduled again!
Heading out of Apache Junction the traffic has stopped, there is but a lake and an old stagecoach stop turned tourist trap call Tortilla Flat out here. The desert is enshrouded in darkness serenaded by the hum of a million crickets. Orion is spread out in the sky above and the big dipper is at an extreme angle. A headwind turns into a mild tailwind/crosswind as the climbing starts in earnest. Since I couldn't go long today, I chose to go high. I need all the climbing I can get into my legs before Mt. Lemmon next month. 5000 feet this morning should do the trick I think.
On up into the darkness I look back on the city lights far off on the horizon as I crest the top and head down the other side of the pass down into the canyon. Temperatures are perfect this morning. Descents aren't too chilly, climbs aren't too hot. The temperature is just above 70 degrees. Soon I am at Canyon Lake and the light on the horizon is noticeably brighter. As I pass the lake I deem I can see good enough and shut down my light. There is no traffic out here and it is not that important to have a "be seen" light.
As dawn starts fighting the darkness in earnest I pass by Tortilla flat, hoping to be up the hill before the sun is. In the end we tied. Wanting the whole enchilada I descend and start up again. There are a few motorcycles out now that the sun is up. This is a real popular road with them as it is very curvy. On one day I saw a rider scrape his knee on the pavement at around 40-50 mph he rounded the corner so fast. He had knee pads on though, all told it impressed me he had enough grip on this road to pull it off. Personally, with a cliff under every outside curve, I would not like to gamble on slipping. I worry a bit just descending on my bicycle on some of those corners, you just kind of stare out into space as you whip around the corner and are heading back into the next nook in the hill.
All too soon I am back to the end of the pavement. The hill seems to be taking me around 40 minutes a go these days. With the sun striving to escape the horizon I am off to home to login before 9:30 so I can at least claim I was logged in. There is not a lot for me to do at work these days with my last day next week. I have mixed feelings. I cleared out my cube yesterday and I was amazed how much history you collect after 10 years at a place. I actually had a few scraps of paper from the very beginning amusingly enough. It is also a bit nerve wracking knowing the people you have interviewed with are discussing your fate in their boardrooms, web conferencing with other staff across the country, putting a value on you which they will use to determine if you are good enough for them, or useless dross to be cast aside without a second thought. I can't really blame them as that is what my company did in essence.
There is a smaller company expressing interest in me and I am thinking I may go with them if they will have me. I think in a small business loyalty is more valued. Loyalty seems to be dead in the corporate world these days. Companies demand loyalty of their employess but are only loyal to their stockholders in return, nevermind that some of them have held stocks far shorter than some have been employed. It is difficult to not get bitter. Still, a large corporation by definition, is an organization established for the very purpose of making sure no one has liability, or responsibility in the end. So , it is a souless entity, run by faceless graduates from heartless business schools across the country. Commiting no crime, but protecting the interest of the Stock Holders.
But I digress, where was I? Ah, a headwind. I have a headwind descending into Apache Junction. The silver lining is it is downhill. The one cyclist I saw passes me in here yet I am still 40 minutes ahead of him. He did not do a repeat on the big hill in the back. Turning I increase my speed noticeably as I catch the wind at an angle coming from the back now. I speed across Apache Junction. I don't know if I am faster today than last Saturday but I sure feel stronger. I wind through the streets familiar near my home and then I am in the driveway and I have indeed beaten my best time for a solo with a repeat. I have climbed 5000 feet, ridden 71 miles and returned in 5 hours and 2 minutes, a similar time to last time but I added an extra mile on so indeed I am faster this week. What will the day, or the coming week bring? Who knows, but I at least accomplished something this morning. I just wish I could challenge some of those executives out there to a little hill climb contest. :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Widows Remorse

Out in the desert in the cool of the morning, the sun shines,

yet she is in darkness.

She is howling at the merciless sun of the burning desert,

for the gentle orb of the night cannot hear.

She mourns the loss of her mate for life,

gone in a moment.

For he is on the road, lifeless and still,

and the vultures peck and gather.

On she wails mournfully in the cool morning,

the dogs mock her song.

and to the perpetrator, tis but a passing thought.

I think it is wildlife week in Arizona. I read a day or two ago about Bruce rescuing a rabbit on the side of the road and then today I have an interesting experience on my way out to Tortilla Flat.

Just past the Canyon Lake marina, around the first corner I saw coyote who had just been struck by one of the cars that must have passed me earlier. This wouldn't be so uncommon but it's mate was in the bushes on an outcropping by the road howling mournfully into the morning activities and all the dogs in the campground below the road on the left were barking back. A turkey vulture had just discovered the carcass and flew away as I passed but resumed it's activity immediately. When I would come back through here there was at least 20 or 30 vultures swarming in here, it was really something to see. I almost hit one as it tried to hold on until the last second when I was about to pass and it flew off right in front of me.

The main goal of the day though was to do some major climbing since the Mt. Lemmon ride is coming up in 6 weeks or so. There is around 6-7000 feet of climbing on that ride in around 126 miles. Today I would do almost 5000 feet in 70 miles so that is not to bad training in my book. Most of the grades are similar to Mt. Lemmon which has an average grade of 5%. A few spots notched over 7% but for the most part the trip back to the end of the pavement is very similar albeit split up into several hills as opposed to one 20 mile slog.

Today as I was not riding with anyone I determined I would ride just a touch slower to save some energy for a repeat on the last hill after Tortilla flat that I call El Diablo. It is over 1000' high in just under 4 miles of riding. A spunky hill to say the least. I was the first person up it but I got passed by a couple of guys wearing ironman gear just before the top but I didn't mind as the hill I was climbing was bigger since I would turn around and climb it again seeing them cruise by on their way home while I was making a good start on my second round of climbing. In the shadowy crannies on clifs of the hill purple and yellow wild flowers were growing in defiance of the desert sun it was kind of cool to see them. I kept thinking of that coyote on my second attempt. I never knew Coyotes hung around with mates. I always thought they either went it alone or hung out in packs but apparently most mate for life and are often seen travelling together. Kind of crazy what hurrying to save a few minutes can result in. Not that the people who did it likely gave it a second thought but still.

I was amazed I had plenty of energy arriving at the top the second time and rode back to the end of pavement sign just to make the turn around official even though the top is actually a mile before getting to the end of the pavement. I had energy for a third repeat but I am glad I didn't take it. After stopping for a refill at canyon lake marina and climbing out in the rising heat I didn't have a whole lot of energy left cruising across Apache Jct in the headwind. At one of the lights I thought I saw ZZtop but it was just a couple of old desert dudes. I thought I saw them again at another light, same story. I think ZZTop should play Apache Junction some day but they might get lost if they did. They really have that AJ look down.

Anyway, back at the house I had averaged almost 14 mph over 5 hours, 79 miles, and just under 5000 feet climbed. Not bad for a mornings work.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A break on the beeline.

I haven't been cycling a lot lately. Mostly just the commute into work but the weekends have been either devoid of riding or a small ride or two. This is because I am studying hard for job interviews so I can get a new job quickly after I get Laid off on Oct. 10th. Incidentally if anyone out there needs a Java developer and knows of a job please email me. Now, back to the blog entry. I was eager to finally get a good Saturday ride in since I had not had a good ride in for many weekends and job interview or no it was time for a good ride. After all if you don't loose the bow once in awhile it loses it's spring. That being said, wanting to go riding the next morning on a Friday night and wanting to go riding at ten to five AM on a Saturday morning are often two different things.

Fortunately the cyclist prevailed. I would be late but the group usually hung around for awhile and since one of the guys had a flat they hung around a little longer than usual and I met them before they left. Todays route would takes us down across the Salt River bottoms to the Beeline highway and then up the Beeline to the Saguaro Lake turnoff and back. Surprisingly enough I was able to hang with them up the first hill this time (the hill where I had been dropped most heinously last time we went this route) although, technically I was in a split off group that came off the back. I count it as staying with them because another guy and I managed to catch them before they got to the gas station where they stopped to top off bottles. I was glad they stopped as I was intending to go a little farther than they were today. Afterall, I had not had a good ride since August. So, leaving the gas station outside of the cliff castle casino we headed up the beeling and I actually hung on for a few miles but a few miles from the turn they dropped me and a few of the previous dropped people passed me as I was totally shot and was doing some pretty serious recovery pedalling at this point.

Further up the road they all waved to me from the top of the over pass at the turnoff. I hadn't realized there was going to be a regrouping but no matter, I had decided I was going to head up the Beeline further this morning and since I had plenty of water having topped off a few miles previously I entertained the idea of going further (besides, I had hung with them for almost 30 miles which is pretty dang good in my book). At first I was thinking of doing a repeat on Usery Pass since I needed to start mixing hills in again in preparation for the Mt. Lemmon ride in Nov. Then it occured to me that the hill between the four peaks exit and the next exit would give me just as much elevation if not more. So, in the name of further exploration and beautiful scenery I pressed on from the four peaks turnoff.

The beauty of the hill after four peaks is that you get to climb 400 feet up a 5% grade and then you have to go down the other side as there is no way to get across to the other lane since it is divided highway so down you go down the otherside. I have seen a lot of motor homes over turned just over the top of this hill as people misjudge the turn but interestingly enough the accident was at the bottom of the hill this morning. A motorhome had rolled over just past the turn at the bottom of the hill. I didn't stick around but it looked like the police had things well in hand. Climbing the backside of the hill there is almost no shoulder but on a Saturday morning the traffic was very light and everyone gave me plenty of room. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon though you probably couldn't pay me enough to ride this stretch of road.

My legs were feeling the pain a little as I had really blown them out earlier chasing the Brumbys. Still, I kept at it. I was going to have a good longish ride dang it! Even with legs a little tired I managed to stay out of the granny gear the rest of the morning. I went back by way of Saguaro lake and saw a few cyclists heading up towards the Beeline but I was surprised not to see any climbing the backside of Usery pass. I saw a few Mountain Bikers but no roadies. Usually this area is crawling with them on a Saturday morning.

Anyway, at 9:40 I pulled into the driveway having covered 72 miles in just over 4 hours having an average speed of nearly 17 miles an hour with 3200 feet of climbing. It was not a shabby way to spend the morning. It's good to be back on the bike. Today my legs are a bit tired but tired in a good way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Outside my bedroom window, so early in the day,
I peek to see the weather, It's cold and wet and grey,
Shivering, I rouse myself, and round up all my stuff,
excitement spurs my hurriedness, the August rains I love,
the cloudy sky, the tepid breeze, that blows upon my back,
the gentle dripping rain, that wets the forward track,
The sound of treadless tires, that splash through water still,
Fill my soul with happiness, and make my heart to thrill
for thinking back on burning days, with water but a ghost,
and searching for a brief oasis, with liquid for to host.
Endless turning of the pedals, while thirst does burn within,
and oft the heat withdraws from me, a grimace from a grin.
But today the dripping of the sky, removes the pain aghast,
today those thoughts are washed away, the rain has come at last
today those thoughts are washed away, the rain has come at last

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The High Country Brevet

RUSA (Randonneurs USA) decided to offer special medals to anyone who rode in a special 10th anniversary brevet held on the weekend of August 16th. So, having read about this in the newsletter I does me some thinkin. What could a fella do in Arizona to get a hold of one of these fine pieces of metal that for some reason cause people to do incredibly crazy things to obtain them. I didn't want to travel out of state. Most of the Brevet routes here in the Grand Canyon State would mummify you before you were done this time of year. So, I decided to volunteer to host a ride if Susan (our local Regional Brevet Administrator) would let me. The route I had selected was about the same elevation as this one but Susan it turns out already had a ready made route starting out of Showlow that had been sitting around for a long time. Well, I have to admit I didn't want to drive as far as Show Low at first but then I remembered how awesome the white mountains were and any brevet that rode through them was bound to be alright with me.

You see, my Dad and I used to camp in the White Mountains for a few days each summer when I was little so I was looking forward to a nice cool Brevet with maybe a few old memories refreshed. All told I didn't need to have my arm twisted too hard to convert over to Susan's point of view on this one. I mean, verdant fields, tall firs and pine trees, Quaking aspens, flocks of sheep grazing in high meadows on a 75 degree day? What more could a randonneur want? How about a nice hill you ask? Well, funny you should bring that up. It's not a route with insanity written in the elevation profile but still a healthy 6700 feet of climbing for the hardy soul. To put the candle on the cake is a peak altitude of 9100 feet just to remind folks there is another side to Arizona far above the parched desert

Of course, one of the main reasons I wanted to do this in Arizona was I couldn't afford to go out of state for this either in time or money. So I set up my base camp at Fools Hollow lake which was around 5 miles from the start line. It was a nice enough campground but I really wouldn't spend enough time in it to enjoy it a whole bunch. I got there late Thursday night and was off to get my receipt at Circle K before the sun was up.

The Rando Roost

When all was said and done I pedalled past the Days Inn where everyone would start the next morning right at 6 AM. One thing I had not noticed about the route beforehand was that the first 10 miles of it was dead on into the sun. I was glad I had my cycling cap on. I also secretly hoped that the good folks of Show Low had clean windshields and sharp eyes as these are not necessarily the best conditions to be riding in. The temperatures were perfect though. 60 degrees happens to be the border where I don't where arm warmers or leg warmers and with the tailwind I was neither hot nor cold. Just a perfect morning.
After the highway split a car passed me with a wide load sign on it with the lights flashing. Well, that got my attention and looking in the rearview mirror I saw what looked like a giant silo on the back of the truck heading down the road with the load hanging wide out into the shoulder. Well, I live under the motto of "caution is the better part of valor", and take good direction from the poem "here lie the bones of Jonothan Quay who died defending his right of way", so I had no qualms about getting off the shoulder and into the weeds for a few minutes while this guy passed me (he gave me a friendly honk as he passed). It was kind of funny though because just down the road this guy would have to manuever through the construction that had the road cut down to a single lane. I saw him disappearing over the hill as I rolled up to the front of the line of cars where the flag lady had us stopped. I had just missed the cutoff along with the 3 semi's that had just passed me.

I was kind of hoping she would wave me through anyway but since she didn't I took her picture and now she lives in infamy on my blog! I ended up waiting there for around 15 minutes while the guy with the big tube on his truck drove through and the oncoming traffic came back. I had been making really good time so I wasn't too concerned about missing the control and just enjoyed the view.

Not too far down the road in Vernon I bought some peanuts and chatted with the lady in the store and she mentioned the heatwave when I told her how great the temps were. 85 degrees where I hail from these days is a winter's day! Of course growing up in Flagstaff, 85 degrees was a hot day. I didn't chat for too long and was off. The first thing out of Vernon is a nice hill, and just so you don't feel bad about that big climb visible a mile or two ahead there are a few patches of beautiful Sunflowers to take your mind off it.

Sunflowers below Vernon
Sunflowers weren't the only beautiful thing along this stretch. I had originally kind of dreaded this first part of the ride because I was afraid it would just be Juniper wasteland. That open land covered in Juniper was also covered in very green grass. It made the landscape into a vast blanket of rolling green hills.

Looking back at the town of Vernon

Riding into Springerville featured even more green hills and from the high point of this leg (7500 feet) you could see miles upon miles of rolling green hills out into the distance. If it weren't for a hill blocking the view of Springerville it would have probably been visible 15 miles away.

Springerville is not a very big town but the interesting thing is, it is really the only thing happening in this corner of the state. To the east it is well over 100 miles to the nearest anything, to the south there is a gas station called Alpine (ok theres a restaurant and a few houses too). And of course, 50 miles to the west is Showlow. So Springerville small though it may be is the last sign of civilisation really.

So, at the last Circle K on the way out of town, I stood looking into the vast nowhere. A place so desolate that they put the stateline on the mileage signs as a point of interest. I mean, have you ever seen a kid come up to his Dad and say " Hey Dad! Why don't we go see the state line today? Can we please? Can we pretty please?!?!". Yet, there it is, the only place of note in an endless string of large rollers heading off into the middle of nowhere. I finished my Bananna and the remainder of my gatorade and headed out.

I, for some wierd reason thought that it was flat from Springerville to the state line. In reality it is a set of 200-300 foot high rollers. Down, and then a slow climb up, repeated several times. Still, the 13 miles seemed to go fairly quickly. Excepting the last few miles of course. That is kind of where the "Watched Pot Never Boils" effect kicks in. And yet, suddenly off in the distance, looking like a "chain up your tires area" sign, a mountain grades ahead sign, or some other kind of non-construction informational sign looms the welcome to New Mexico sign. I failed to see how it was any more enchanting than the Arizona side of the line. Perhaps it was supposed to be the change in pavement color.

Hey folks, what color is more enchanting than yellow?
I mean, yellow really says New Mexico to me :)
Personally I think their state symbol would have
livened the sign up a little more then a few peppers. Maybe both?
I better shutup now before my Sister inlaw from New Mexico reads this.
After the turn around things started taking a turn for the worse for me. First off I had been forgetting to purchase sun screen at the last two stops and I think I burned a bit in this section. Second, I was starting to develop exersize induced asthma which would continue to get worse for the next 50 miles or so. I managed to make pretty good time back to Springerville but from there it was a real battle. I remembered to stop at the Safeway since Circle K was fresh out of SunTan lotion. After safeway I rode by the Springerville hospital. It really isn't any bigger than an urgent care but a little known fact is that it has the only x-ray machine for hundreds of miles other than Showlow.
When I was a lot younger, my Dad went to Philmot Scout Ranch for some training and the whole family got to go. It is over by Taos New Mexico for those of you not in the know. I was goofing off on a rail waiting for dinner and fell and everyone thought I broke my wrist. Well, wouldn't you know it that the nearest X-Ray machine was over 100 miles away in Springerville Arizona! So I remembered that hospital amazingly enough, it hadn't changed much. Incidentally I only bruised the bone, so no bragging rights there.
The climb out of Springerville meanders through some farms and ranches as it gently climbes at 2% up to the foot of the mountains. The asthma was getting worse and as the oxygen in my system decreased my muscles fatigued a lot faster and I was cut down to going to 7 mph or so. By the time I was getting close to the base of the mountains the shady junipers trees on the side of the road were calling to me and I succombed. I lay down under the tree, finished my peanuts and drank my water all gone. I lay there for half an hour watching the clouds collect into thunderstorms south of where I was. The fierce headwind I had been fighting was blowing them east so I was safe for the present. Every once in awhile a cloud would cover the sun and things would cool off a bit. I had set my alarm for an hour in case I fell asleep but after half an hour I was ready to go again. I had one bottle of gatorade left to get over the hill.
The hill starts out at 8% and I had enough energy to get up that before I was once again forced down into my granny gear (which is very low due to a mountain bike cassette on the back) to weakly continue up the climb at 4-5 mph. I was very glad for that low gear. I typically don't use it but in situations like this, where I couldn't get enough oxygen in to run things, it was perfect. As long as I had time and fluids I could continue. Interestingly enough I ran out of gatorade before the top. I had thought about stopping at Sunrise but it was downhill from that turnoff to Hon Dah casino so I figured I would push it through.

The top of the hill seemed to never come as you cleared one fake top into the high meadows, but then continued up repeating hills through the grasslands bordered by spruce, fir, and aspen forests. I spied a large heard of sheep grazing down in the valley by the ski area and stopped to take a picture. I also was pleased to find a trailhead with facilities. Unfortunately the facilities had no water (well, there was a swampy pond next to it but I wasn't that desperate).

The other interesting thing near the trailhead was the sign declaring this wolf country. I didn't know they roamed this far west. I knew they lived over in the Blue Range primitive area to the east but did not know they were out here. Hopefully they would not think a lone Randonneur limping across the prairie would be a nice snack!

Wolf Country

Fir trees near the Railroad Grade Trail
(you would think they could come up with a more interesting name than that, I mean, for goodness sakesall the boring gated communities have more scenic names than that)

After the stop I had around 15 miles downhill to Hon Dah. It is amazing how long 15 miles downhill can last when you have no power and can't breath. Outside of McNary I was limping along wishing I could get a full breath but rather having to take little tiny breaths to keep from coughing. It was around here that I remembered that last time I had this Claritin seemed to clear it up. So, rolling into McNary I stopped at the store. Kind of a Mom and Pop, sell the fisherman worms and beer type place but they did have Claritin, PowerAde, and Motrin. I sat on the ground out front and downed all three.
While sitting there a small group of Apache children came across the highway to the store on their bikes. They were walmart bikes but these kids were blissfully unaware, it was a bike and that was freedom to them. They got something out of the store and came out and started riding through the mud puddles. It was kind of cool to listen to them. The Apache language is almost musical to listen to I think. They reminded me a lot of my kids. Anyway, from here it was few miles down to Hon Dah and by the time I got out of Hon Dah I had turned a corner.

This is what the back of one of those flashy, led display
casino signs looks like.
From Hon Dah I could breathe deeply and my limp along sub 10 mph pace became a healthy 30 mph pace as I cruised down the hill towards Lakeside and then Showlow only being stopped by a few lights. The last leg went quick but I was a bit concerned by frequent lightning strikes I saw over in the vicinity of the traffic light we turn at in Showlow. I got there before the storm did and was Ordering my dinner and end receipt for proof of time finished at Arbys when the sky let loose. It poured, then Hailed, then poured some more, and then hailed and Poured. I had carried my rain jacket all day only to have the rain start after I had finished the ride.
Of course, I still had to get back to camp, so I finished my Giant Arby's sandwich, my large curly fry, and my large orange vanila swirl shake, and put on my rain jacket. By golly I brought this thing and I was going to use it! First thing I noticed was that unlike a few minutes ago when it had been 80 it was now 49 degrees, I paused, but then determined that it was only a few miles to the camp ground. As I left the parking lot the hail started up again and around the corner I kept hitting fog banks. It was several wipes of the sunglasses later that I remembered my cap bill was up and that if I just flipped it down I wouldn't be getting water on my glasses.
I pedaled through several streams up to my pedals and past a golf course white with hale that had collected out on the greens. Soon I was in the state park and almost to the campground. Pulling in I noticed a strangely familiar truck. It seems that Susan had decided to camp too and had setup at the next camping spot over next to the family that seemed to enjoy being noisy late at night. I showered and then headed out to get the goodies for everyone tomorrow. I was back for a well deserved early bedtime at 8:30.
Incidentally, 6 miles into my commute this morning my derailleur cable broke right by the derailleur. How is that for timing? I managed to use Mike Sturgills stick in the derailleur method to get me at least three usable gears using the front for the rest of the Commute. Tonight I am off to Performance Bike for a new cable.

The following are some pictures of other Randonneurs I took on the way while I drove support.

Susan riding in front of the Sunflowers. (There was
a much thicker patch earlier but I missed the shot)

Susan Approaching the first hill of any size on the course. I originally was taking a picture of Bruce taking a picture. The picture of Bruce didn't turn out as he put his camera away right when I snapped the picture so I decided rather than putting a picture up here of what appears to be Bruce touching his butt, I would Put a picture I didn't even mean to take, evaluating the picture of Bruce I noticed in the upper left corner of the picture was a pretty good shot of Susan and the hill which would look good on here.

Here is a shot of Tom Baker and Kris Kaufman having just climbed
into the part of the hills where the Aspen Trees start at around 8400 feet
Here is a shot of Mick McCoombs just below where the previous picture was shot.
I was hoping to get the picture of the tandem next to the sign but this works too. It is a lot harder to take pictures of moving cyclists than I had thought.