Friday, July 22, 2011

100 at 100

If anyone out in my little corner of the electronic world was watching yesterday, you might have caught my latest adventure in bicycle lunacy...I put on a little experiment in heat exhaustion and sweat production which will go down semi-officially as "The Hot 100". With a nod to the famous Billboard chart, this actually had nothing at all to do with the pop countdown. Although now that I think about it, my iPod did die about 40 miles out for lack of charging so I guess there's a tenuous music connection there somewhere.

The festivities began when I decided I was due for another Century while I was still on vacation. I'd been wanting to go when I didn't really have to worry much about how long it took or when I had to be back but scheduling conflicts meant that Thursday was the only chunk of time available for such an undertaking. I know my long-distance pace is pretty low so it's likely to be an all day thing once I leave the driveway.  I can't get underway at noon and have any hope of returning before dark at my less-than-impressive average speed. These things take time.

So to planning...something I do very little of except in the most vague and general way.  But having done this distance thing a few times now, I peeked at the National Weather Service site with a wary eye. Mostly this exercise is to check on whether I should figure on getting wet or not, which then determines if I need to pack extra zip-locks to keep electronics dry but this time it was not rain on the radar. The weather guys made it pretty clear it was going to be unabashedly, miserably, viciously and maybe dangerously hot. Yeah,'s July people, so noted. In my typically cavalier fashion, I was mostly undeterred by the big red EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING headline at the top of the page. It's going to be warm? Surprise, surprise.  Pack an ice bag baby...I'm going.

I was actually more interested in the fact that the wind was predicted to be out of the south at first and then swing to the west with gusts up to 25 mph. 25 mph in the face of a 15 mph rider means you're going backwards so there was some changes forthcoming in my planned general direction of travel. I figured if I headed west at the outset, I might be able to make the turn for home with following seas and a boost from the wind instead of a kick in the teeth when I can least afford it. Score one for the Gipper, that part actually worked out but more on it later.

I got up with Chris and the sun, loaded the frames and pockets with liquids, saddled up and was gone while the shadows were still long and deep in the valley. As predicted, the wind was at my tail at first and miles rolled away easily on fresh legs and cool temps. My semi-planned route was to go almost due west to Hammondsport and then up the west shore of Keuka Lake. From there it was a crapshoot depending on how hot it actually got and how much leg I had left. The one detail I forgot was that to get to Hammondsport from home requires a Cat 2 climb over the ridge between the lakes. With the wind on the bow and a hill under the tires, my speed dropped to about zip.

Eventually though I headed down out of the hills, picked up some speed and only had to dodge one idiot passing across the double line into my lane on the way to a rest stop in a park.

I noticed the temperature was getting a little above the comfort zone when a sip of Gatorade went down hot and a Clif bar came out of the wrapper like melted butter.  The world was getting hazy and everything looked like it was dancing.

There goes the alarm bells again.

I looped Keuka Lake and started fantasizing almost continuously about a cold vanilla shake.  20 more miles went behind and out of the heat shimmered a mirage-like ice cream stand!  I pulled in and suddenly realized I was probably in over my head again when I almost couldn't unclip before I fell over.  I wobbled into the air-conditioned interior and customers parted like the Red Sea.  I probably smelled like my junior high gym locker but didn't care.  My goal was something cold and no glares from cool, freshly washed vacationers was going to stop me.  A uniformed EMT passing me at the door made a comment about her desire to not meet me professionally along the road later in the day.  I agreed wholeheartedly and retired to a corner stool to nurse my core temperature back down within human limits.

Things get a little loopy from there on out.  I know I hit a mini-mart and reloaded all my bottles before the climb back over the ridge.  The ascent was lengthy but I did catch the wind as I'd originally hoped when I left home.  The breeze astern helped push me up the hill but unfortunately, it also created a stationary bubble of super-heated air that surrounded me all the way.  I put my leg against the top tube once and damn near got a burn.  This cannot be good.  My hot Gatorade was disappearing to no avail so I finally took a break and stretched out in the shade of an oak tree by an old cemetery.  The symbolism seemed fitting.

Barely 15 miles later, I put in again at an Amish roadside farm stand and begged to use the garden hose I'd spotted coiled next to the building.  I let it run till it got icy and then just poured it over my head until I stopped steaming.  It felt wonderful.  Much refreshed, I pushed another 20 or so.  The computer was reading about 80 miles gone at 4 pm and even with the sun now past the zenith, the air was still sizzling.  The breeze felt like the exhaust of a blast furnace and smelled like hot metal, burning grass and asphalt.   A guy out in his yard yelled something about how stupid I was to be out riding as I passed.  Yeah well, thanks for the insight buddy but how about handing me a beer instead?

The descent into Watkins Glen should have felt pretty good but knowing I had one more climb to do sort of took the fun out of it.  I stopped in the park at the foot of Seneca Lake and stretched out on a shaded picnic table bench to recharge for the last push.  I seriously wondered if I'd be able to get off that bench at all.  The climb was all I expected it to be...toasty and steep with the end hidden in the haze and heat wiggles.  The mileage turned over 100 about three quarters of the way up and the wind went out of my sails just like that.  I trudged on up to the top and sort of fell into the lot of another mini-mart to reload the bottles one more time.  I know I looked like the wrath of God.  I got some really strange looks as I downed a whole bottle of water in three swallows but couldn't have cared less.  The worst was over.

I eventually saddled back up and headed east but knew there wasn't much left.  Chris had by now announced her intention to come and get me and to be honest, I was glad of it.  I probably could have made it the last few miles if push came to shove but I was about out of heroics for one day.  I loaded the Trek in the van and collapsed in the seat with the A/C knob turned all the way around.  Another one bites the dust.
I'll never learn.

Score for the day:
101.7 miles
108 honest-to-Fahrenheit degrees (at Watkins Glen)
8 or 10 bottles of Gatorade (I lost count)
1 vanilla shake
1 jumbo iced tea
1 orange juice
1 humongous water
1 near-miss
2 hecklings
And 5 lbs. off my body weight.

View Interactive Map on

I promise I'll make the next one about the Tour de Cure.  Really.  There's even a connection to this post in it.  I'm still on vacation you know. 
One thing at a time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Time Off Continues...

Vacation is rolling along nicely.  It's hot, muggy and summer so I'm mostly content.  The RR is a distant memory for now and tomorrow I'm planning another long jaunt on the Trek regardless of the predicted heat index above 100.  No fear.

Hey, I ride a triple ring anyway so triple digits seem only appropriate.  I'll load up the bottle cages and jersey pockets with water and Gatorade and have at it.  I've been out in real hot before and have learned to take it in stride.  You just have to be aware of the signs you're burning out and not push quite so hard.  The Great Dismal Swamp adventure taught me a healthy respect for heat and humidity so I won't be easily caught off-guard again.  Besides, not much can scare me after the mountains in Virginia where Doc and I were playing earlier this week...


We only did about 15 miles on top of  Skyline Drive but it sure went uphill for an awful long way, in percentages us sea-level riders aren't used to all in one shot.  Creeper-low was the order of the day.  The reward was going back down.  I admit it, I cheated and rode ALL the way down the hill and back to Doc's place from our parking spot after he blew a spoke up on Skyline Drive.  I know, it's against The Rules to descend a hill unless you've climbed it first but this was a special case and I'm not sure when I'll ever get the chance again.  So sue me, I'm not shaving my legs either.

Ten-plus miles of twisty, fast descent was just too much to resist when the opportunity presented itself.  The 2.1 got pretty twitchy and my neck cramped up but I was going fast enough coming down that I couldn't bring myself to stop and load the bike on the rack so I just got low in the drops and sprinted until I hit the driveway.  It was like icing on the cake.

Riding in VA was certainly an eye-opener in more ways than one for the old guy...the terrain was much different than my accustomed upstate NY haunts and I learned a thing or two about attacking the climbs but more than that, as you might have noticed from my new cover shot, the view from the top was spectacular.

I won't go all Zen on you so let's just say it was worth the admission price in leg-burn and leave it go at that.

We might have been able to go further up the mountains if we hadn't ridden 40 miles of continuous rollers the day before and if somebody would design a spoke that can absorb Docs pedal stroke without snapping.  I think we've ridden a couple times without his rear wheel going out of true for lack of spokes but I'm having a hard time remembering when.  He popped one on each of our road days so we were left with only his mountain bike still rideable after Skyline.

Never ones to quit while we're ahead, we loaded up the off-roaders again and took in some nice single track until the sun went down.  Dark-thirty found us grimy, whipped, sweaty and unfit for human companionship at a KFC trying to buy extra-crispy through exhaustion and hoping we wouldn't get arrested as vagrants.  We looked like we'd just parked our shopping carts out by the dumpster.  The counter help was happy to see us pack our bird and go.

So at the end of a three day excursion south of the Mason-Dixon, the total was about 30 miles on the mountain bike between a mid-journey detour on the C&O Canal Trail and the dirt adventure somewhere near Ruckersville with maybe 60 horizontal and a couple of vertical miles on the roadie.  Not a lot as these things go but it was enough.  We got out with no bloodshed or even poison ivy, just some broken parts and blown tires so it was all good.  Photos taken, mission accomplished.

Now it's back to my familiar stomping grounds and still I'll be riding.  I'm toying with another Century in the morning before the road gets too scorching.  We'll see how that goes.  And I know I said I was going to post more about the Tour de Cure too...just hang in and you'll see it pretty soon.  First things first...miles.

Who said I was crazy?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vacation Days of Mine

It's official...I'm on vacation.  Hence, there's a ton of stuff happening around the NWH (New Wayward Home) that leaves but little window for blogging.  The first couple days of time off are always busy but gradually, the reality that the phone isn't going to ring sinks in and I can slow down.  Unwinding takes time.

To get the non-working party started, I parked my last 12"-to-the-foot-scale toy train for two weeks on Saturday morning and promptly dropped off the radar.  The railroad and I manage to get along pretty well on most occasions but at some point, I have to step back and completely break from operating trains or I'd probably become somebodies lab rat in a padded room somewhere.  I know a couple of actual lunatics who want to work through their vacations every year and I pray regularly for their eventual recovery or quiet removal from the property before they become a danger to themselves and others.

Old guys like me can only put up with the day to day madness for so long and then something has to give.  That something is me because the railroad, like the juggernaut that it is, will blunder it's way along without this particular minion and never even blink.  Vacations are really subtle reminders that the carrier can get by just fine without you cleverly camouflaged as a couple weeks of rest.  Be that as it may, the time off is mine to burn and burn it I shall.  God help them when I get old enough to have four weeks at a crack.  If I took all that at once, I'd have to go back to engine school when (if) I came back.  That's how seriously I take forgetting all things RR when I'm off. 

This go-round I do have to think about my ever-insistent employer to some extent though because I find myself spending a fair amount of time 'captaining' a bike team in their name.  Between a long-overdue hack-down of the lawn, assorted to-do list missions around the NWH and environs and some competition deck-lounging, I've been chewing away at a checklist of backlogged priorities on that project.  It's turned into something of a monster.

But first, a little background.  Anyone who's been around me for more than about two minutes knows that I ride bicycles a lot these days.  I took it up a few years ago when I realized that my sit-down profession was turning me into something about the shape of a turnip.  My sudden change from outdoor calorie burning activity to sedentary, almost motionless lump with the same appetite cost me about four waist sizes.  Photos from those days are most depressing.  A change was in order.

A worn out big-box women's hybrid that was laying in disrepair around my shed suddenly found itself being oiled and prepped for abuse by a fat guy.  It was the most incredibly ugly greenish-blue ever created, didn't fit, barely shifted and the brakes were pretty iffy but the tires held air and we were off.  Breathless, gasping circuits of a block or two soon turned into loops measured in a couple of miles.  Combined with a crew hotel that was equipped with a treadmill and a determination to back away from the buffet without taking prisoners to eat later, I started to find my old self beneath the pudge.  I discovered off-road riding at some point and thereafter treated my beater like the mountain bike it most certainly was not which only hastened it's demise.  I rode in snow, mud, dirt and even back out on the blacktop when I could overcome the embarrasment of being seen on the most hideous, gender confused bicycle in four counties.  I figured out that I was pretty much hooked.

The hybrid finally succumbed to an overdose of broken cables, bent rims and a bottom bracket that digested itself into steel filings and square ball bearings.  I began searching Craigslist for a suitably cheap replacement but my wife came to the rescue before I could make a move.  That Christmas brought a shiny-new Mongoose with suspension and fat tires and suddenly the Murrey was history.  The 'goose was real steel and weighed as much as a small car but everything worked and I was rolling again.  I rode the thing to destruction in about a year.  Talk about loving something to death.  I went everywhere my strengthening legs would take me until the New York road salt dissolved the freewheel and deraileurs into rust powder.  I found trails and roads just out of sight around the next corner and saw more countryside in my own backyard than I ever knew existed.  My weight and blood pressure continued to decline and there was no turning back.

Things progressed from there as things seem to do and I found myself aboard a much-used but much-loved 80's vintage Trek road bike.  I found out what it meant to go really fast with those little tiny rear cogs and skinny tires surrounded by aluminum frame.  It felt like flying.  Somewhere in there, I turned 50 which was duly reported in this post and a new hardtail mountain bike came to my house to live.  I was almost back down to my fighting weight and the miles under pedal-power were starting to scare me.

Then came the new blue and black Trek.  That Father's Day gift changed a lot of things again and the road stretched out much further.  Our first Tour de Cure went under the tires as a result of all the prior leg work and Century Rides became something other than fantasy.  People around me got used to hearing about 3 digit mileage and some even stopped looking at me like I'd lost my least sometimes.  A few even bought bikes, tagged along and fell into the same trap that caught me so unawares.  Frames, clipless pedals, drop bars and gear ratios became common subjects of conversation among us in the peasantry rather than an arcane language spoken only by people with French names and silly looking, short-brimmed caps.

But back to today.  As usual, I've wandered off my subject and now there's things to do, people to meet, rides to take.  The Team Captain story will have to be part II of this post so stand by and if the stars line up right, I'll hit the keys again before too long.

Or not...that's what a vacation's all about.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Blog Slacker

I've been busy.  That answers the question about where I've been lately.  Talk about nipping things in the bud.  Let me see...where to start?

I guess sometime around Sunday the 3rd would be as good as any.  In true railroad fashion, there would be no recognition of Independence Day in the form of a shutdown or even a slowdown.  On the most picnic-prone, family reunion attending, fireworks shooting, beer drinking and pool diving day of the year, the carriers dig in and want everybody to work.  They'll never learn.  The layoff list was an epic as everyone jockeyed to get time off for the Fourth.  This in spite of an endless and sometimes pathetic barrage of phone calls from Crew Management searching desperately for warm bodies to fill vacant slots on trains.  The Fourth of July weekend is one of those times when they might be better off to ask who WILL work rather than who won't and just take it from there.

Me, I'm going on vacation soon anyway so I answered the mechanical voice and went to work Sunday in the wee hours.  Turns out it was an EP (extra pay) day for us engineer types so I made some extra cash but I have a hard time figuring out how the carrier thinks that's an incentive when they don't tell anybody about it until the actual day.  As I've been told repeatedly, I don't see the BIG PICTURE but in my small picture, it seems it would work out a lot better if everybody knew what was going on a little in further in advance.  Oh well...

So a train awaited and off I went through considerably more than the usual tribulations.  The whole affair seemed doomed from the start as it took almost six hours just to depart the terminal.  I won't go into all the sad details but let's just say it was an exercise in futility that led to our time expiring at a fairly significant distance from our destination.  A further lengthy wait for a crew van and the round-about route out of our parking space kept us on duty for close to 16 hours.  By the time we made it to the crew warehouse to be stacked and racked until needed, there wasn't much left of the old guy.  I think my collision with the pillow was noted on Richter scales in 5 counties.  I was pretty much non-functional when I finally peeled back the sheets, turned off the phone and collapsed.

I guess there is such a thing as miracles because for all the insanity of the outbound trip, the return was remarkably uneventful.  It still took about three hours of gyrations to get out of the yard as is fairly common but once we got out and running, we sailed.  It helped that not much else was out there as most of the usual traffic was sitting somewhere hooked for a crew.

The only fly in the ointment was a stretch through a Pennsylvania town where the tracks looked like a pedestrian mall.  The local municipality was putting on their fireworks show and about half the city was using the right-of-way and bridges as a shortcut to the field or just setting up lawn chairs on the banks.  We were forewarned by the dispatcher and it's a good thing or we'd have smoked into that mess at a considerably higher rate of speed than we did.  We arrived right at prime-time for the event.  It was just about dusk and the warm-up shells were going off overhead.  People were everywhere and no amount of horn-blowing or bell-ringing seemed to make much of an impression on the populace.  They just ambled along like the zillion-ton monster bearing down on them was of no concern.  Some were even pretty annoyed that they had to detour out of the gauge to let us pass.  I'm always amazed by the capacity of Joe Public to look stunned and angry by the fact that there's a train on train tracks.  What were they expecting?

Normally sane citizens seem to just lose their minds around tracks.  Not too many cognizant people would stroll casually down an airport runway under normal circumstances because they could reasonably expect a large, heavy, fast moving vehicle with the potential to kill them to arrive unannounced.  The fact that railroad tracks are pretty much like that is lost on a sizeable portion of the world.  I also don't know too many people still living who would jump out on the interstate and put junk in the road in front of a tractor-trailer "just to see what happens" but they were lined up to put coins and rocks on the rail in front of us.  "Hold my beer and watch this" was in full effect.  I hope nobody got zinged by the shrapnel.

It took a while but we got by the madness eventually.  I dragged the train through with the brakes on both so I could stop quicker and to keep some yo-yo from pulling a cut lever back there and putting us in emergency.  It was one of those times where if you slow down too much, the half-drunk idiots will try to climb on but if you go too fast, you risk running down some bonehead who believes with all his heart that you can steer around him.  You just have to find an unhappy medium and go with it.  My buddy Stosh is fond of saying, "You can't fix stupid" and I agree but I'd rather not kill anyone to prove it.

From there on out, for the next 15 miles or so, it was a continuous fireworks display from all sides.  Unlike in grouchy New York, fireworks are legal in PA and the party people take full advantage of it.  I dare say I've never seen so much 'rockets red glare' from so many places all at once.  The cannons and star-shells shot up in that one hour probably would have made a dent in the national debt.  The whole valley reeked of flash powder.  At least nobody actually shot at the train this time (which happened to us a couple of years ago when we got peppered by rockets and cherry bombs all the way through town) but a few strategic shots went off just as we passed and rattled the windows.  It was all good fun after worrying about that herd on the tracks now far behind us.
Even as we were climbing up the hill out of town, the sky was flashing colors and an occcasional boom made it past engines in Run 8.

It was quite a display and I was duly impressed.  I'd rather have been home on the deck with a cool something listening to the neighbors blow up stuff but that's how it works out sometimes.  I'll get my time off later just like all the other birthdays, anniversaries and holidays I've missed.  The timing is usually wrong but the heart is in the right place.