Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prepare For A Scare

What: The Ride of Krankenstein
When: Wednesday, Oct. 20, 6 p.m.
Where: Imagine Coffeehouse, West Bend
Who: Anyone crazy enough
Why: Answer unclear / Ask again later

Jimmy Scharrer, local grave robber and reputed conjurer of evil spirits, invites you to perish participate in the inaugural Ride of Krankenstein.  Earlier today during a rare moment of semi-lucidity, the aspiring mad scientist and suspected Transylvanian described his creation as a “full-moon Halloween night ride to Campbellsport and back on the Eisenbahn (27 miles) … lights and tail lights required ... mountain or ’cross bikes are ideal on the crushed gravel but a road bike will work.  Don’t miss out on the {unintelligible} FUN {mocking laughter} and after-ride drinks at Riverside Brewery.”

Is this just crazy?  Is this just crazy enough to be a blast?  It will be dark: sundown will be at 6:02 p.m.  And it might be cold.  And despite the promise of after-ride beers at the always excellent Riverside Brewery & Restaurant, it will be hard for riders to resist the urge to, er, fortify themselves before the start.  Given the Eisenbahn State Trail’s proximity to watering holes in Kewaskum and Campbellsport, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some riders knocking back additional doses of courage as the ride progresses deeper into the night.

So, I’m intrigued.  I have a bike that’s suitable for the trail.  I have a good set of lights.  I have medical insurance.  It might be stupid not to do this.  I have three more weeks to decide, but I suspect I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nice Milestones

I have surpassed 4,000 miles of cycling this year. I reached that milestone today with an Eisenbahn State Trail ride to Eden and back with my friend Jim. On July 17 I reported to you that he had just bought a bike. In the last two months he has emailed me several times with questions and progress reports. Today I got to ride with him for the first time and he was up to the challenge: at 47 miles, today’s ride was his longest ride ever. And combined with 30 solo miles yesterday, Jim completed his biggest weekend ever. He’s beginning to reach for loftier goals and, quite without any prompting from me, is looking into his options for indoor training during the winter. It’s great to see someone go from non-cyclist to that level of commitment in such a short time.

So, what’s next for me? I’m 403 miles away from my second-best mileage total ever. That’s not a bad goal, but I’m not going to kill myself to reach it. No, from now until the end of the year I’m a fair-weather cyclist. If it’s raining, snowing, freezing or gusting, then I’m not interested. We’ll see what October brings, but once November gets here I’ll be hiking, stair climbing and redoubling my efforts in the weight room. In December I’ll dust off my CycleOps Magneto and, hopefully, talk Jim into joining me for the trainer party series.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So, I Lied ...

I said last week would be the end of after-work rides in 2010, but I couldn't resist heading out this evening. It was such a dismal weekend—I somewhat reluctantly rode for two hours on Saturday but couldn’t talk myself into it on Sunday—and I needed to atone. With fresh legs today I tore up the Eisenbahn State Trail between West Bend and Kewaskum. I felt great … and then on the way back home I popped another spoke. That’s two spokes on different wheels on different bikes in a nine-day span.

Tomorrow will be an off day, then it’s back to the road bike on Wednesday afternoon. At work I’ll be in/out early to take care of a special project. That should mean getting on the bike sometime around 4 p.m. with three remaining hours of daylight! Assuming no more mechanicals, that should be a nice ride.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Nothing?

This week a Sports Illustrated columnist asked, “What would it take for you to give up football?” It’s a sport whose participants frequently suffer serious injuries. In rare instances these injuries can cause permanent paralysis. And now there’s growing concern about the cumulative effects of blows to the head that, taken individually, don’t appear to be that bad. Players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Collisions are getting more violent. Our modern-day gladiators are literally taking years off their lives to entertain us every Sunday, and we couldn’t be happier. Every game is a sellout and TV ratings are through the roof. But labor troubles could be in the NFL’s immediate future. If there’s a lengthy players’ strike, will that be enough to burst the bubble?

How about auto racing? NASCAR’s television audience increased immediately following the death of Dale Earnhardt. Perhaps John Q. Public thought he had found a new blood sport. In the nearly 10 years since, safety has improved dramatically and TV ratings have dropped. Coincidence?

What would it take for you to give up baseball? In the last few years we have seen a steroids scandal that invalidated the Hall of Fame credentials of the sport’s biggest names and an All-Star Game that ended in a tie. Baseball denied its steroids problem for years before the Mitchell Report named 89 players with varying levels of involvement. But baseball didn’t invalidate the statistics accumulated by those players, nor did it rescind the wins of the teams that benefited. The Mitchell Report was baseball’s apology to a suspicious public, but baseball’s actions since the report’s release have failed to demonstrate a sincere commitment to a clean sport. Baseball won’t vacate records and championships. Such actions appear to be confined to collegiate sports, as in the recent case of Reggie Bush.

And what about cycling? Anyone can tune into football, baseball or NASCAR and be a “fan.” But following pro cycling requires real dedication. To be an American fan of a predominantly European sport is to read obscure magazines, to visit websites from countries whose languages you don’t understand, and only rarely to enjoy televised races. So, what would it take to make you stop? Not crashes, certainly … or even deaths. Like auto racing, cycling has its share of those. But fatalities and crippling injuries are very rare. How about drug scandals, then? They’re plentiful enough. Still, no.

For all its problems with doping, cycling does appear to be sincere in its pursuit of clean competition. In that respect it’s different from baseball, but like baseball it doesn’t vacate championships. Maybe it should. Maybe the official result of the 2006 Tour de France should be “no winner.” Maybe when cycling catches a cheater it should invalidate the results of not just that rider, but also the rest of his teammates in that event. It’s one thing to take performance enhancing drugs in pursuit of your own goals, but you would have to be a real bastard to jeopardize the livelihoods of your entire team. Imagine having to face your teammates after getting them all kicked out, perhaps costing them victories and monetary prizes. I like to think the offender would be forced to endure something like the blanket party from Full Metal Jacket. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but when you’re in a hurry it also can be as simple as a soap bar wrapped in a towel.

The one thing that could make me turn away from pro cycling is the prospect that the whole system is so corrupt that not even the sport’s governing body can be trusted. If it’s true that the UCI accepted a bribe, more-or-less, to cover up Lance Armstrong’s doping control failures, then the only hope for the sport is to replace the UCI. But I think we’ll never really know, and in the space between what I suspect and what I would like to be true, I will remain a fan.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summer Goes Out With A Ping

It wasn’t a bang. It wasn’t a whimper. It was the unmistakable ping of a popped spoke. Just like that, 37 miles into the 50-mile route I meant to do, my ride was over. And just like that, summer ended. Today was beauty touched with sadness, a swan song. For all its brilliance, today the sun had only a fraction of its mid-summer power. Tomorrow’s forecast looks decent enough, I suppose, and I’ll try to get out for an hour after work. Tuesday should be a rest day but I’m not ruling out another 1-hour ride. Then the air gets a lot cooler: on Wednesday and Thursday we probably won’t reach 60. We should warm up a little on Friday … just in time for a 6:59 p.m. sunset. This will be my last week of after-work rides until next spring.

I’m just 182 miles away from 4,000 miles this year. Anything after that will be gravy. I want to do more hiking this fall, taking some time away from cycling before getting back into indoor trainer sessions in December. My overall approach to indoor training will be different than it was in the past. Bike trainer sessions and weightlifting will continue to be the cornerstones, but I’m going to add stair climbing—real stairs, not a machine—to provide another option. More options = less tedium. Why stair climbing? Check out this article or search the Internet for hundreds more like it. Aside from the well-documented physical benefits, for me a big factor is the convenience of doing the exercise at my office right after work. And I love the cost: nothing. I think it’s odd that I can ride my bike for hours without getting winded, while briskly climbing just a couple of staircases can leave me gasping. Clearly there’s a hole in my overall fitness and I aim to plug it. If I do it right I should drop a few pounds too. In a typical winter I’m 6-7 pounds heavier than I am at the end of summer. Maybe this will be the year that I don’t let the weight creep back up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

This summer Washington County put up new signs on the Eisenbahn State Trail to give users a framework in which to operate. The sad truth is that a lot of people don’t have a clue when it comes to proper conduct on a multi-use trail, and if you don’t know what you’re doing then eventually someone is going to get hurt.

So, here are a few pointers. Washington County doesn’t want to call them “rules” or “statutes” or anything enforceable by law, but as points of etiquette they’re not bad:

In my experience—and I’m on the trail several times each week—people are pretty good on those points, but there are still way too many dogs without leashes.

For some reason, the county chose to single out cyclists for an additional set of admonitions:

Three of the four points address speed but the county stops short of imposing a speed limit. "Safe and controlled speed” and “high speed riding” are different things to different people. As a cyclist, just assume that from the point of view of a pedestrian you’re going too fast all the time. And that’s because …

Most pedestrians are clueless.

And the county has failed to give them the one rule that would really do them some good:

Move right. Pass left.

A multi-use trail is not a street and it’s not a sidewalk. All users should move on the right and pass on the left. Moving against the flow of traffic is a sure way to cause conflicts. I’m happy to report that I don’t see this behavior in cyclists; walkers and runners are the culprits. And walkers must recognize that there are faster users on the trail—not just cyclists, but also rollerbladers, runners, skateboarders, etc.—and being overtaken from behind is part of the deal.

So, what about the audible warning we should give as we are preparing to pass slower traffic? Good luck with that. It’s a noble goal and I try to do it when I can but sometimes it makes no sense. If I call out, “passing on your left,” about 1-in-3 pedestrians will move to the left. Some people will stop dead in their tracks, unsure which way to move. If there are two people walking side-by-side, chances are excellent that they will split and expect me to ride between them. Also, cell phones and MP3 players seem to be growing in popularity on the trail, and their users simply can’t hear the audible warning.

I wonder if a center line would help, and/or directional arrows painted right on the asphalt to encourage the proper flow of traffic. We’re really talking only about West Bend here; the rural areas of the trail are virtually conflict-free. But as things stand, it is just a matter of time before there’s a serious accident. Sooner or later, some iPod-wearing dingbat is going to pull an abrupt 180 and get steamrolled by a bike. When that happens there will be those who advocate a ban on bicycles on the trail. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so, and try not to be the steamroller.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Time Inside My Own Head

One of cycling’s most attractive qualities is that it can be enjoyed with others or as an individual pursuit. After two days of riding with others, today I enjoyed a solo ride. Nothing clears my head better than riding by myself. All other concerns fall away and I’m happily absorbed by the activity.

Today I reached the 3,700-mile mark for the year. Tomorrow will be a rest day. I probably would have taken the day off anyway, but the weather forecast demands it: sustained winds of 30-35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. That’s dangerous stuff.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Role Reversal

Can Dave come out to play? That’s what my neighbor Mark wanted to know when he showed up unexpectedly this afternoon. My son was getting ready to mow the front lawn—I had just finished the back a few minutes before—and it fell to him to fetch me. Mark’s arrival couldn’t have been timed better: I was just about to head out anyway. And as Mark already had a route in mind, he saved me the trouble of deciding where to go. He also made me push just a little harder than I might have alone, but the ride still served as the recovery I needed after yesterday’s effort.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Good Ride In Spite Of The Weather

I did another metric century today, adding a few miles on each side of the Washington County Bicycle Club’s "Farmland 55" ride. Turnout was poor and I blame the weather: it was just 49 degrees when we started at 8 a.m.! And the wind out of the northwest was relentless, sometimes gusting to 30 mph. But the route was fun for me because it included a lot of rolling hills and one leg breaker. Also on the positive side of the equation: we had a guest who drove to West Bend from Delavan—150 miles round-trip—just to do our ride, and he had a great time.

I was thinking about doing the Bay View Bicycle Club ride from Holy Hill tomorrow but I've decided to wait for the afternoon when it will be warmer. That probably means riding solo, but I don’t mind. And I still don’t have plans for Labor Day other than to ride, but this could be a possibility next year.