Thursday, May 24, 2018

Highway Robbery

I took a big financial hit today. My 2003 Dodge Caravan—which, in fairness, has been a pretty solid vehicle since I acquired it from my in-laws in 2013—developed a major coolant system leak. And, of course, most of the damage was tucked far behind the engine, so most of the repair cost was the labor required to move good stuff out of the way to access the bad stuff. But there was no question about fixing the vehicle. It had to be done, and it had to be done immediately. Fortunately, I had enough cash reserves to pay for the work; I don’t need any new credit card debt. But my bank account won’t recover fully until August … assuming there are no more surprises.

I rely on the Caravan for my daily commute and to take me to bicycle races. (It doesn’t get great gas mileage, so it’s better at the latter than the former.) Draining my cash reserves to cover this big repair bill could affect my cycling plans. I had been considering a new cyclocross bike for the upcoming season, but that purchase is doubtful now. And some tempting summertime events might remain nothing more than temptations. I need to ensure that I can pay for my cyclocross season. If there’s money for anything else, then that will be a bonus.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Little Switzerland’s 2018 Schedule

If you’re into downhill mountain biking, then check this out:

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day Meanderings

I got back on the bike today after 2 days of rest. Friday was going to be a rest day because of the cold, rainy weather. Saturday wasn’t supposed to be a rest day. But something didn’t feel quite right … hard to describe. I wasn’t sick the way most people would recognize being sick, but I had a dull ache that suggested sickness wasn’t far away. It started late Thursday evening and persisted for about 48 hours. I’ve had that feeling before, and the cure always has been to take as much bed rest as possible. I went to work Thursday and Friday nights, but I would have been very happy to stay home if not for the lost wages. I’m still a contract employee with no sick pay, so I’ll have to be near death before I give up a shift.

Hopefully, that little episode of feeling funky is now behind me. We had nice enough weather today and I insisted on riding even at the risk of a relapse. But I restricted myself to 90 minutes. I’ll go for a long ride tomorrow if I still feel OK. I was limited to 7 hours of saddle time this week. I expect to get back to 10+ in the week to come.

Today also was, finally, the start of the mountain bike racing season in Wisconsin. The Iola Bump & Jump kicked off the WORS season after a 1-week delay to allow the trails to dry. The WEMS season still hasn’t started, as the race at Alpine Valley was cancelled on Saturday.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Finishing Off The First 1,000 Miles Of 2018

Today's adventure, counterclockwise.

Much later into this year than I had hoped, I am finding some consistency in my training. April was a disaster: just 8 rides for a total of 271 miles. That left me 181 miles short of last year’s pace. And last year’s pace was nothing special. It’s not uncommon for me to complete my first 1,000 miles before May. But I amassed 144 miles during the week of April 23-29 and another 171 miles last week. In both distance and time—more than 10.5 hours in the saddle—last week was my highest volume of training so far this year.

With no races scheduled this month, my biggest goals are to drop a few pounds and to surpass my oldest monthly mileage record. I rode 750 miles in May 2009. I wouldn’t call 751 “low-hanging fruit,” but it’s achievable. Usually I am mountain biking by now, and maybe even racing. Not this year. What I want and what I need are in perfect sync: long road and rec trail rides. And this week is off to a good start: 33 miles today takes me to 1,000 miles, year-to-date. That’s 9 days later than last year, but not bad historically:


I often describe the 1,000-mile mark as the point in the season at which I “switch on” and start riding with a little more style and a little less desperation. I felt good today. You’ve heard it before: I ride better as I ride more.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Recapping The 2018 Cheesehead Roubaix

Yesterday in Newburg, the 9th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix could not have been more different than the 2017 edition. Last year’s weather was so awful that very few people showed up and almost nobody rode the whole route. And low attendance meant few contributions to our host, the all-volunteer Newburg Fire Department. We fixed all of that yesterday! With sunny skies, dry roads, and comparatively light winds, turnout was somewhere around 300 and NFD collected $2,129 in cash donations and concessions sales. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

I was thrilled to ride the route again after missing it last year. In 2017 I used my minivan to offer SAG service, knowing that a lot of riders would give up due to the harsh weather. Here’s how I have performed at Cheesehead Roubaix since 2013:

2018 — 3:40:39 / 17.1 mph
2016 — 3:44:40 / 16.8 mph
2015 — 3:38:05 / 17.3 mph
2014 — 4:08:34 / 15.3 mph
2013 — 3:26:18 / 18.3 mph

The route hasn’t changed since 2013, and that was my first year with a Garmin GPS device, so I can see with a fair amount of accuracy how my performance over the same 63 miles has varied from year to year. The differences in speed are all weather-related. I was fast in 2013 on a warm, dry, almost windless day; I was slow in 2014 on a cold, wet, windy day. This year I rode Lovers Lane cleanly while loose gravel forced many others to walk the last 100 meters—even guys with a lot more tire than my trusty 700x25 Continental Gatorskins. Overall, yesterday’s performance was statistically average. I still had a 17.8 mph average until about Mile 41 before fading. I haven’t ridden as many miles as I normally do by the end of April, and a lack of deep endurance was evident in the final miles on Sunday.

Cheesehead Roubaix 2018 was fun and successful, a return to form after a freakishly bad 2017 edition. As May begins, so do high-mileage weeks as I look to regain that deep endurance. But it won’t be long before I’m making plans for the 10th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Finding A Little Late April Form

The Slinger loop clockwise, then the Trenton loop counterclockwise.

For a fleeting moment this afternoon we touched 60°, making this the warmest day so far in 2018. The last 60° day in West Bend was way back on December 4, a date whose average is only 35°! I celebrated today with a 37-mile ride in the company of friends. It wasn’t my longest ride—that distinction belongs to Friday’s 40 miles on my cyclocross bike. It wasn’t my hilliest ride—I did 1,440 feet of climbing on March 11 and only 1,385 today. But today’s ride was my fastest: 16.8 mph average on my road bike. That’s OK for this time of year, particularly considering the lack of saddle time lately. We weren’t out to kill this one.

So, today’s ride was a confidence builder for next Sunday’s Cheesehead Roubaix. And the weather looks good for the week ahead. With a few focused weekday rides, I should be feeling strong for my first metric century of the new season.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Better Days Ahead?

The snow that arrived on Sunday and Monday is still hanging around, and there’s more on the way. The weather forecast gets better rapidly after tonight, but Opening Day for local mountain bike trails has been pushed back by weeks. Long after the snow disappears from roads and yards, it will linger in the darkness of the woods. Here’s what the Department of Natural Resources said on Monday about the conditions in the Northern Kettle Moraine:

Things are even worse farther north. Yesterday the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series (WEMS) announced that its season-opening race at Levis Mound will move from April 28 to May 26. I think the Wisconsin Off-Road Series opener—May 6 at Iola—is in jeopardy too, though WORS hasn’t said anything about it yet. Many factors go into why we hold races where we hold races when we hold races, and I know a lot of people who think this late blast of winter is an aberration. But it’s not that unusual, and again I question the wisdom of scheduling races in northern Wisconsin so early in the season. All things being equal, the chances of a postponement or cancellation are much higher there, year after year. And forget about the race courses for a moment—who has had open mountain bike trails on which to practice? I wouldn’t want my first mountain bike ride of the year to be a full-blast effort on unfamiliar trails, surrounded by other racers still rusty from a long off-season.

Road racers have been just as unlucky as mountain bikers so far. The first two weekends of the Wisconsin Cycling Association calendar were wiped out, but it looks like this weekend will be OK.

My racing season is still months away and for now I would be content with conditions that allow me to train outside consistently. I’m stuck on 575 miles, year-to-date, and I still haven’t ridden on more than 3 consecutive days. It’s no wonder that I’m 5 pounds heavier than I was on this date a year ago, and it’s going to take me a while to feel like myself again. I won’t meet my goal of 1,000 miles by the end of April, no matter how nice the weather gets.