Branching out

This is just a quick post to try and resuscitate this site. A lot has changed since the last update here: I’m no longer in Texas (thank god), I no longer have the bike seen in the header image (sad story), and I’ve found a new love to go alongside my love of cycling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (it makes me feel so old but I love it anyway).

And as I work my way through the maze that is BJJ, I’ll be making notes about my lessons and my journey right here, where I can give myself a place to store my learning and thoughts for future review. And don’t worry (as if anyone but me and the spambots are looking at this site), I’ll still be writing about cycling, especially since I’m now in the cycling Mecca (or Medina, depending on the year) of the US, Minneapolis. I’ve got some ambitions in that area for later this year as well, so stay tuned.

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I was just sexually harassed!

So there I was, I had just ridden to work and stashed my bike under the stairs. I was heading down the hall towards my office, wrapped snug in my Lycra bike shorts, and stripping off my helmet, glasses, and headband when I heard it, “Mmmmm… Now that’s hot.”

Now, I’m guessing the lady who said it thought I wouldn’t hear it, as it was uttered rather sotto voce and I did still have my earbuds in my ears. But unbeknownst to her, nothing was playing through them.  The Fredcast episode I was listening to finishing earlier during my ride, so I did hear it, and there was no mistaking what I heard. I was on the receiving end of a leer.

Well, if the lady who felt the need to check me out and vocalize her “appreciation” of the view is reading this, I have only one thing to say to you: I’ll be heading home around 3:45. Be in the same hall if you want another peek.

I knew all this cycling would pay off eventually!

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Slowly getting better

OK, back for another overdue check-in on my driving reduction efforts.  When we last left off in July, I was sitting somewhere around 496 miles for the month, one heavy with trips to the airport and cross-town engagements, not great, but not bad either, given the circumstances.  The next two months, however, have been much better.

From July 13 – August 12, I managed to put on a mere 222 miles, and that’s with an incredible run of 100+ degree days that started at the end of July and ran for 18 straight days.  I’m really proud of myself for this accomplishment, but honestly, other than one or two particularly brutally hot days, it was still loads of fun to be out riding to and from work every day.  I almost never missed the car or it’s air conditioning for my commutes.

From August 13 – September 12, I’ve managed to keep the mileage on the car down to 311 miles for the month, and over 80 of those miles were put on after what was left of Hermine washed out a week’s worth of commuting (well, Hermine and one lazy Friday).  It’s a hair over my original goal of 250-275 miles per month, but still not too bad, if you ask me.  I still have a lot of room to improve in the area of quick trips to the grocery store as well, I plan on getting old blue prepped this afternoon and slapping a milk crate on the rack for just this purpose.  I can’t wait to give her a spin.

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Someone said something about driving less?

OK, so it’s been a while since I’ve checked in here on the driving reduction front, and as is usual when you stop cataloging things you want to keep in check, it looks as if I’ve done a pretty losy job of actually keeping things in check. 

My numbers since Feb 12, the last check in date:

Feb. 13 – Mar. 12: 475 miles driven.  Not as good as the previous month, when I clocked just 426, but still a 14% reduction from my average the previous year.

Mar. 13 – Apr. 12: A good month, I drove just 397 miles in this month, which while above my initial hoped for target of 361 miles, was still well ahead of my adjusted target of 428, based on the previous month’s mileage.  It would have seemed as if I were back on track, had the next month not happened…

Apr. 13 – May 12:  In one month, I put 609 miles on the car. Yipes!  At first, I was a little confused as to how in the hell I’d done that, especially since I was out of town for a week riding in the Tour du Rouge.  But then I remembered that as my final tune-up for the Tour, I rode in the Muenster Germanfest Bike Rally.  And since Muenster is about 80 miles away, that added quite a bit of mileage to the tally.  Still, even without that trip, I was sitting at about 440 miles for the month, and I was gone and unable to drive for a quarter of the time, about 100 miles over my original target, and 80 miles over my revised target.  Hopefully June would be better.

May. 13 – June 12: As hoped, things did improve somewhat this month, with a 446 mile total for the month.  While not great from the standpoint of my original plans, it was still a 19% reduction from my average mileage from last year, and a 10% reduction from my average for the previous five months since I first laid out my goal of driving less.

June 13 – July 12: I’m currently sitting at approximately 459 miles (I say approximately because I forgot to look this morning, but I am right aroud this area, I’ll update when I get home).  At first blush (all blushes, really) this is a bit of a step backwards from the previous month.  However, there were extenuating circumstances.  This month I had to make three trips to DFW to pick up or drop off people at the airport, and at 60 miles a pop, that adds up pretty quickly.  Add to that an additional 45 miles for a social engagement that I wasn’t allowed to miss, and we’re sitting at just 234 miles which is well below even my original projected target for the month.  Now, I do have to say that I hate to bring up these extenuating circumstances, because in one sense, they are a bit of an excuse and some portin of them should be factored into my expected mileage, but the fact of life is that living in Dallas/Fort Worth, sometimes you can’t get away from tossing 60+ miles onto the tally in one afternoon, and often those times are impossible to plan for (e.g. two of those airport trips were last minute affairs that were wholly unexpected).

So, whay do I expect for the coming month?  It’s hard to say.  I’m getting much more consistent at riding my bike to and from work, even when I have smaller errands to run.  And larger shopping trips are more consolidated into dense loops.  On the down side, I know I’ll have at least one trip to the airport coming up in the month, and this one cannot be shifted to public transport, but it’s just one trip and can probably be worked into the budget.

Still, things can be made better.  More regular trips to the warehouse stores could be done by bike, which would cut down on the number of larger trips to only those times when I would buy items too large to carry safely on my bike.  And if I get off my behind and get old Blue prepped and ready for travel, I can add more quick trips to the grocery store to the bike total.  I think a big help might be in keeping a daily driving journal so I can better see where all of these miles are going and come up with more specific was to reduce them.  I’ll try to start one today by leaving a pad in the car to record each trip I take, we’ll see how that works out in the coming month.

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WTF Mornings

Why is it some rides are just utterly brutal for no apparent reason?  I had one of those rides yesterday morning, and I’m still baffled by it.  Why?  It was barely a ride at all.

I’m not talking about bonking it the middle of a long, hard ride here, this was a 6.6 mile commute that kicked my ass worse than any century ride I’ve ever done.  I was feeling fine when I left, but about a mile into the commute it just felt like my legs were dying and my lungs were refusing to take in any oxygen.  I felt like puking twice on the ride, and the most stressful part of the ride is the whopping 40 foot “hill” in the middle.  By the time I got to work, I was gasping for air, dripping with sweat, and wobbling on unsteady legs.  It was like I ate some bad oysters in a sweat lodge.

What the hell?  I can do this ride when I’m quite literally sick and tired.  I can do it in 105 degree temperatures.  I can do it while toting 20 pounds of clothes, lunch, and other gear in my bag.  Why could I barely do it yesterday morning?

I guess these are just the little mysteries of life that help keep cycling interesting.  Or maybe it’s just my fat ass telling me I really need to get serious about the training again.  Whatever it was, next time just send me an email.

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Stupid Google

So, I’d been riding the same commute route for a little over two years now (with small variations for hitting different grocery stores or running other errands). I thought it was pretty much the best route available, hitting a sweet-spot for low traffic density with little riding out of the way to avoid the more hairy stretches of traffic. In fact, I was so sure that this was the ideal route between my home and work that when Google Maps first added their biking directions option, I asked it to map out a route for my commute and scoffed at its silly reply. “You want me to go where? Stupid Google.”

Then three days ago I set out on my morning commute and found, a bit to my dismay, that the city of Plano was resurfacing one of the stretches of road that I commute on, and had closed the road to through traffic (I was only a bit dismayed because that stretch really does need resurfacing). So I wiggled about and took a detour which pulled me over a mile out of my way that morning, and a similar one that evening for the ride home. And the next day I took a shorter detour which plunked me smack in the middle of some more construction on a far busier street with far angrier drivers. “I guess I’ll have to take the long detour after all,” I sighed to myself as I was about to resign myself to my fate (goodness knows I love riding my bike, but after work, I just want to get home and see my girl and my dogs and my couch; and frankly, the hot, humid Texas summer weather isn’t the happiest stuff to ride in either). But then I remembered that route that Google suggested to me all those months ago.  Sure, I laughed at it, but maybe it would be better than taking the long way home, even if it were busier with traffic. I’d try it that evening on the way home and evaluate it.

Eventually, it was time to head home, so I strapped on my bag and my helmet and I hit the mean streets of Plano, ready for the worst, and preparing myself to leave a little earlier in the morning tomorrow after this route failed tonight. Only… it didn’t.

It turns out that those goons at Google know what they’re talking about. This new route not only cuts a bit of distance off of my regular commute route (only about a quarter of a mile), but it cuts out about three quarters of a mile of the highest traffic density road on my ride and instead routes me through an industrial park where, to date, I’ve seen a total of two cars on the road in three days. Imagine that. On the downside, I do need to cross two sets of rough railroad tracks and … well, that’s it. Sort of.

On the route as suggested by Google, for my morning commute there are two problems:

  1. There is one left turn required onto a very busy stretch of road. You’re only on that stretch for about a tenth of a mile, so the pucker factor isn’t too bad, but you can wait a long time for traffic to clear enough to turn out.
  2. Just after that left turn is a right turn onto another busy street (the one mentioned above that had much of its length cut out by this new route. Here, the problem isn’t the turn, as it was with the previous left, this one is protected by a light. The problem is that about a quarter of a mile down the road, I need to make another left turn, and I need to cut across three lanes of traffic to set it up. Now, given the speed limit of the road (40 MPH, just coming out of a 45 MPH zone), the speed of your average cyclist, the distance from the light at the intersection, and the length of that light, it just so works out that, when it comes time to cut across those three lanes, if the cyclist had gone straight through that intersection, there will almost always be a gap between waves of cars that makes it easy to cross over. However, if the cyclist is now making a right turn at that intersection onto that stretch of road, he is now a half-cycle off with respect to the traffic lights, and the gap no longer exists to safely and easily cut across those lanes to turn left at the next light.

Fortunately, I believe I found a solution to both problems with one fell swoop. It appears, from a look at the Google Maps satellite photos, that I can easily cut through the parking lot of one of the businesses along the new route, and enter that last busy stretch of road just ahead of the light. Doing so wipes out the need for that busy left turn, and it will have me back in sync with the traffic pattern that lets me cut across the road and set up my left turn. I’ll have to try it out tomorrow to be sure it works, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t.

In the meantime I can take comfort in the fact that I’m still smarter than the Google gang about one thing; parking lots.

Stupid Google.

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83.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot

In a recent post on Copenhagenize by Brian Glover (along with a reply from Mikael), Brian tried to build up a case for pushing cycling as a part of a sexy, high-status lifestyle in order to get more people out on the streets with their bikes.  And in this post, he referred to a survey discussed in an earlier post by Mikael that asked cyclists “Why do you choose to bicycle to work?”.  While Mikael attacked the options given for the answers (in what I considered to be a rather foolish argument on his part, but that’s another screed), Brian took issues with both the answers and the question.  According to him the question should have read:

“Why do you choose to do something that, in the eyes of 95% of your society, marks you as a freak and a loser?”

No one will say this out loud, of course – it’s not polite – but it’s the truth. And no one will answer this question honestly, either, but if they did, the choices would look like this:

A. I am too poor to get around in any other way. I have no choice. I am abject.

B. I have had my rights as a citizen stripped from me because of repeated, unforgivably bad behavior (i.e. drunk driving convictions). I am an outcast and a pariah.

C. I think most mainstream people are idiots, and I actively seek out their disapproval. I am a rebel. If the majority of people around me start biking, I’ll hate that too.

D. I genuinely don’t care what other people think of me. I am an independent thinker. I also have enough job security and social status that I can afford not to care what other people think of me. I am either uncommonly strong, or uncommonly privileged.

Brian then went on to build up his “cycling is perceived as low-class and freakish, we need to make it glamorous and sexy” argument from this claim.

“Why do you choose to do something that, in the eyes of 95% of your society, marks you as a freak and a loser?
No one will say this out loud, of course – it’s not polite – but it’s the truth. And no one will answer this question honestly, either, but if they did, the choices would look like this:
A. I am too poor to get around in any other way. I have no choice. I am abject.
B. I have had my rights as a citizen stripped from me because of repeated, unforgivably bad behavior (i.e. drunk driving convictions). I am an outcast and a pariah.
C. I think most mainstream people are idiots, and I actively seek out their disapproval. I am a rebel. If the majority of people around me start biking, I’ll hate that too.
D. I genuinely don’t care what other people think of me. I am an independent thinker. I also have enough job security and social status that I can afford not to care what other people think of me. I am either uncommonly strong, or uncommonly privileged.”

And so in the comments section of the blog, I asked a simple question of Brian, “Could you cite the source of this ‘truthful’ statistic?”  Brian, in turn, kindly responded with another blog post, in which he lays out an anecdotal argument that tries to justify his claim.  Unfortunately, there’s still noting there that actually supports his original claim.

Brian’s opening line in his reply to my question reads “I don’t know where you’re from, but in the U.S.A., overt harassment of cyclists is a fact of life.”  This is one of those vacuously true(-ish) statements that provides no real information.  It’s like saying “I don’t know where you’re from, but in Florida, alligators are a fact of life.”  They’re there, you can see them, on occasion one even shows up in your yard or your pool.  Yet not everyone experiences a gator encounter, some see them more than others, and while they can be dangerous, even fatal, generally speaking it happens less often than the anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate, and you’re still more likely to be killed by your shower.

But anecdotal evidence is all that Brian has to offer in this response.  Nowhere in there does he even come close to objectively defending his outrageous claim from the article on Copenagenize.  Well, if he wants anecdotal evidence I suppose I can offer mine to him as well and let him factor it in as he sees fit.

I have been cycling on a regular basis for about six years now, and commuting regularly on my bike for about five of those years.  In all of that time, I have been overtly harassed a total of three times: once in Albuquerque where a car full of teens was honking their horn behind me then yelled something unintelligible as they passed; once here in the D/FW area which I wrote about here, and one earlier this month by a group of teens in Abbeville, Louisiana while I was out riding in the Tour du Rouge.  Of course, in that time, I’ve also been hooted at (in a good way) by women in cars twice, and given thumbs-up, words of encouragement, or other positive comments dozens of times.  And on top of that I’ve been passed by easily tens of thousands of cars who registered no opinion whatsoever on the subject (go read David Alison’s blog post again, I’ll wait).  And just for good measure, I’ll add that I’ve been honked at, yelled at, and given the finger far more times while driving my car than riding my bike.

If I were to form an opinion of drivers’ opinions of cyclists from this it would be that drivers are overwhelmingly neutral towards cyclists, with a small fraction pro-cyclist, and a smaller fraction still anti-cyclist.  And while I guess this is the way things would trend in a study, I sure as hell wouldn’t present my assumption as an objective truth without some sound study or set of studies backing it.  And that’s what I’m asking of Brian (and really everyone else out there).

Anyway, I don’t want this to sound like I’m disagreeing with everything Brian has to say, he does have some good points.  I think it would be helpful to show cycling in a more high-status, sexier manner, and I do think that it would help to raise the image of cycling (though again, I’d guess it would go from overwhelmingly neutral to slightly positive and hopefully, later, positive).  But I also agree with Mikael that it should be portrayed as quicker and easier than driving (which it can be, but is far from always being — again, a different screed).

Of course I disagree with both of them in that I feel that portraying cycling as fun is also very important.  Really, any marketing campaign (or collection of campaigns) needs to be multifaceted.  Look at beer commercials or car commercials, different commercials capture different aspects of their products.  Beer is fun, beer attracts sexy women and good looking men, beer is cold and refreshing, beer can be upscale, beer can reflect the values of the working man, beer is consumed by the world’s most interesting man and the crowds that hang out with him.  Cars on the other hand are fun to drive, and they attract sexy women and good looking men, and they are of great utility, and they are luxurious, and they are sporty, and they allow you to get away from it all, and they are tough, and they are safe. Cars are what get you to and from the party (where there will no doubt be beer), and get the kids to and from school, and they tow your boat, carry your groceries, haul your tools, and now with the  spread of hybrid cars, they help you save the environment.  Is there any reason that bikes can’t be all of that?  OK, OK, they have a much smaller advertising budget, but still, multiple views can be presented.

Anyway, before I drift too far off of the core topic, I want to address Brian’s closing bit of his response to me: “I’d love to see a decent psychologist do a study of this stuff, but as far as I know it’s never been done. Dave Horton is doing some interesting work, though. And I’ll bet you a new bike that that when that study does happen, it supports my conjecture. Whaddaya say, sport?”

Well, Brian, I honestly don’t know what conjecture you’re talking about here, so you’d really have to clarify, but if you’re stating that you think a properly constructed, unbiased study would show that anywhere close to 95% of Americans think that riding a bike to work marks you as a freak and a loser, then I’d be more than willing to put up the donation of a Kona Africabike or similar to some charity to be distributed to a worthy recipient, and I have a lot of things that my money could be better spent on than buying a new bike for someone else.

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Tour du Rouge Wrap-Up

OK, so it’s been nearly three weeks since the official end of the Tour du Rouge  and I still haven’t written my wrap-up.  I suppose a part of that is because I’ve been sick for over a week now and have no energy to sit at my computer, and a part of it is that I only got around to wrapping up the Day 6 recap five days ago (although a part of that was the illness too).  Anyway, as a side effect of waiting so long to pull all this together, I’ve forgotten much of what I wanted to say here.  More specifically, I’ve forgotten all of the fun, witty, interesting parts; or at least that’s how it feels to me.  Nonetheless the show must go on, and so I now humbly present to you, my Top 13 things to know about the Tour du Rouge.

#13: For a good time, wear purple and gold
A few of the folks I spent time riding with this year (Mike, Dave, and Tracy, to be exact) belong to the Northwest Cycling Club, and would occasionally wear their club jerseys, which have a purple and gold color scheme.  Well, it was somewhere around Morgan City when we noticed that on the days that one of them wore their club jersey, the drivers that we tended to run across seemed much more friendly and accommodating on the road.  Eventually, it dawned on us that it was likely because the purple and gold on their jerseys is quite similar to the LSU school colors, and we were deep in the heart of Tiger country.

Mike in said purple & gold (picture courtesy of Ross Oakley)

Mike in said purple & gold next to some handsome man (picture courtesy of Ross Oakley)

So if you’re looking to ride in the 2011 Tour, you may want to pick up a couple of these, while keeping any of these you may have tucked safely away at home.

#12: Vonnegut was right
Actually, it was Mary Schmich, who was right, but that name doesn’t ring any bells for most people, so I went with the false lead.

But for those not in the know, Mary Schmich, is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who back in June of 1997 wrote a column framed as a commencement speech she might give, were she invited to give on.  The speech opened with the following bit of rock solid advice: “Wear sunscreen.”

Shortly thereafter, this column/commencement speech was attributed, somewhat arbitrarily by the Internet, to Kurt Vonnegut who, it was claimed, gave this commencement speech to a graduating class at MIT.  And while Kurt Vonnegut rocks like few other authors in history have rocked, it’s a bit of a shame that most people these days still think he wrote it, as the “speech” really is a good bit of advice for the young (and the not so young), and Ms. Schmich deserves the recognition for writing it.

Feel the burn!

Feel the burn!

Back on point, being the dumbass that I am, I forgot to take Mary’s advice on the first day of the ride and got roasted medium well out there on the roads of Texas.  I did bring sunscreen, I simply forgot to apply it that first morning, and it never crossed my mind until about seventy-some miles into the day, and by that point it was far too late.  Fortunately, I rarely get any pain from sunburn, but I did have to deal with peeling skin for days afterward, in addition to adding another bit of damage to the long-term pile.  Sorry, Mary.

Finally, it should be noted that, in addition to the sunscreen bit, there’s more advice in that column that applies quite well to the Tour.  Other sage bits to listen to are the following:

  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
  • Stretch.

Perhaps we should invite Ms. Schmich to ride with us next year.

#11: Everything tastes great when you’re half dead
One of the upsides to riding a torturous 35 mile stretch into ugly winds, over ugly pavement, while being an ugly guy, is that when you finally arrive at the lunch stop, you are going to wolf down whatever they hand you and you will do it gladly.  Now, I don’t want to make this sound like the lunches we had were terrible — they weren’t steaming rats for us or anything.  In fact, a couple of the lunches were outstanding (the croissant sandwiches and lemon cookies in Franklin on day four, and the jambalaya on day six in New Orleans), while the rest were pretty much standard sandwichy fare supplied by the folks at Subway, Quizno’s and Jason’s Deli.

However, on day two, we had what a lot of people might consider to be a sort of down lunch day.  It was just volunteers making us sandwiches from regular ol’ lunchmeat, bread, and cheese, with a side of chips and pickles; it was a rather bare-bones operation.  However, I’m here to tell you that, for me, it was the most delicious sandwich we had that entire tour.  After that morning’s stretch along the Louisiana coast, I’m not sure I would have appreciated lobster thermidor more than I did that simple sandwich, made fresh for me by a volunteer.  Just thinking about it now makes me want to pick up some lunchmeat on the way home.

#10: Plans are for suckers (suckers who want to feel good)
As Robert Burns once told us, The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley.  It would seem those schemes include my nutrition plans for keeping my energy up for the ride.  In order to do this I made up a number of packs of protein/carb/electrolyte mix that I had planned to use in one of my bottles to drink from to keep a steady supply of mixed calories in my system and to keep me from getting all of my energy from the sugar in Gatorade and the bulky foods at the rest stops.  It’s a fine plan, and it works quite well… so long as you remember to a) stuff the protein mix in your pack each morning, and b) actually mix and sip on the protein during the ride.

Every leg that I did this for (and every subsequent leg as well), I felt good, fresh, and strong.  On the legs where I let my nutrition plan slack, well, I started losing energy something fierce.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have the ability to make up mini-paninis each night, like my friend, Jen, told me to (they’re so tasty that remembering to eat them would not have been the problem), so I went with the easier protein bottle solution and I still managed to screw that up.  I need to be much more on top of that next year.

I just wonder how the mouse managed to screw up his plans.

#9:  It’s the little things that make you crazy.
Ask anyone who rode with me for any length of time this year what’s the one thing they remember the most, and they’ll likely respond with something along the lines of “that goddamn pinging noise!”

I still have no idea when or where it happened, but some time on the first day of the Tour, my front rim was dented inwards, towards the center, so that it became (short of grinding a few millimeters off of a couple of the spokes) impossible to keep uniform tension on all of the spokes.  Bottom line is that I either had to ride with an untrue rim, or ride with a pair of spokes that would flex past each other every revolution of the wheel and make a slowly maddening double-ping noise.  Just imagine hearing pa-ping, pa-ping, pa-ping … ad infinitum for over 30 hours of riding.  It was like water torture for your ears.

Everyone will be pleased to know that I’ve got a new wheel being built up as I type this, so I should be a lot less annoying to ride with next year.  Well, my bike should be quieter, at least.

#8:  It’s the little things that keep you sane
Whoever was the evil genius that set out Blue Bell mini ice cream sandwiches and mini drumsticks (or whatever they call their generic version of them), I want to thank/slap them.  They were beyond refreshing after a hard day’s ride, and because they were small I could eat a hundred of them without feeling like the pig that I was.  After all, a quart of ice cream doesn’t count if you eat it in 100 tiny hunks, right?

Mmmm... Ice cream sammiches!

Mmmm... Ice cream sammiches!

#7:  You don’t have to lose weight on this ride

Grits.  A vehicle for butter and salt.

Grits. A vehicle for butter and salt.

As alluded to above, there are plenty of ways to keep from wasting away to a wee bitty skeleton on this ride, despite burning over 5000 Calories each day.  In addition to the frosty ice cream treats and beers that greeted us at the end of each day (we also had cheese platters and veggie trays … mmmm cauliflower and cherry tomatoes), we also had more than our share of consistently delicious dinners.  Rice and crawfish and beans and gumbo and pork chops and catfish and corn and beans and pasta and bread pudding and cake and shrimp… each day pretty much offering tastier fare than the previous one.  The crawfish mac and cheese we had in Gonzales was pretty much the king of everything we were offered if you ask me.  I should have just grabbed the hotel pan full of it and a fork and retired to my bedroom.  And that’s not even mentioning the breakfast we had at Caffe Maria’s in Abbeville.

I don’t know if there are a lot of reasons to ever stop in Abbeville, Louisiana, but Caffe Maria’s is certainly one of them.  Everything from the grits to the gravy to the biscuits and pancakes was so good I couldn’t have shoved more in my belly if I had tried.  And this with the full knowledge that I still had another 75+ miles of riding to do that day.  Thank you Maria’s… you may very well have saved me from becoming anorexic.

#6:  The roads (cyclocross time?)
While the revised route for 2010 did away with the most evil road of the inaugural ride, LA14, and was really quite smooth for the majority of the Tour, there were still a few roads that were rougher than the washboard that Dory and Victoria got to play in Morgan City.  So if you’re planning on riding, when you train, you may want to get a bit of practice time in riding on rougher roads so you can get used to the numb hands, feet, arms, and legs.  Either that, or you may want to consider putting on a cyclocross fork with a lockout suspension for a couple of stretches.

Or I suppose you could just not whine about it like some pansy with a website who… Hey!
#5:  It’s about more than just the storms
While the main image people have of the Red Cross down in the Gulf states is that of their response to the string of hurricanes that have hit the area over the past few years (Rita, Katrina, Ike, Gustav, etc.), it is important to remind everyone that the Red Cross is about so much more than hurricane relief.  And indeed, we were reminded of this nearly every day of the ride.  On two of the six days, there were fires in the area that the local Red Cross chapters responded to, providing aid and shelter to the affected.  When we rode into Morgan City we were reminded about the CPR training that the Red Cross offers, and about a little boy whose life was saved thanks to someone who had recently taken one of these courses and was able to keep the boy alive until the paramedics arrived.  And with the recent BP oil disaster happening offshore and threatening to hit the Louisiana cost at any moment, all of the local Red Cross chapters were planning and preparing in case an evacuation was necessary.

These are the things that the Red Cross is dealing with every day of the year.  These are the reasons why we ride.

#4:  Next year, a camera and iPad
One of the worst things for me about this years ride is how many pictures I didn’t get.  There were so many opportunities to capture shots of beautiful scenery, huge bridges, nifty small towns, gators, crawfish harvests, and some of the wonderful people that I was lucky enough to ride with (or get passed by), and I got so few of them because the only camera I had was my phone, which was stuck in my pack all day.  And just the thought of me trying to take a picture while riding my bike is enough to make me lose my balance and fall out of my chair.  So if I wanted to get any of these shots, it would have meant stopping so much I wouldn’t be able to ride with anybody.  So for next year, I plan on picking up a GoPro HD Hero  helmet camera and a buttload of SD cards and batteries so I can capture the entire ride and not miss an opportunity.  Also, I’d love to put together a time-lapse record of the ride so people can experience all 530 miles in a somewhat shorter timeperiod.

Additionally, I think that next year, I really need to either bring a laptop, or if I get one between now and then, an iPad or similar device.  One of the reasons that I fell so far behind on posting my daily ride reports (besides just being dog tired at the end of the day) was that while the WordPress app for the iPhone is quite nice for small entries, it was a bit trickier for me to write my long rambling screeds using it.  The larger screen of the iPad alone would have made nightly reports that much easier to put together.  So yes… technology to the rescue in 2011!

#3:  The volunteers are great
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, these were the best volunteers I have yet run across in any of the charity bike rides I’ve taken part in, bar none.  They were all so helpful and friendly it almost made the curmudgeon in me want to puke.  Seriously, there were a few stops where the volunteers pretty much told us to sit our behinds down and rest because they were going to bring us what we wanted.  I swear, had I asked for a foot-rub at some of these stops, I think I would have had a better than 50% chance at getting one.  That’s how awesome these volunteers were.

And it wasn’t just at the rest stops either.  Taffy and Larry made sure that when we arrived at the hotel, all of our bags would be waiting for us up in our rooms (well, the speed demons might have arrived before the rooms were available, but that’s what they get for being so damn fast).  All we had to do was plop down in a chair under the shade tents, grab a cold beer or some ice cream or even some Recoverite, and Taffy would find us and hand us our key.  About the only thing they could have done more for us would be to give us piggy-back rides up to our rooms and run our baths for us.

On top of that there were the people organizing the food (which I raved about above) and entertainment for us (which, being a tired old man, I didn’t see much of), there were the bike mechanics who kept our gear in top condition, the SAG drivers who saved our bacon from time to time, and the ERV drivers who had water and Gatorade waiting for us at selected tailgate stops along the route.  I’m sure there are other volunteers who I’m forgetting to mention specifically, but they were no less important that the others.

I’d like to thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart.  You kept us happy, and healthy, and well rested, and fed.  You entertained us, you found us when we were lost, you provided us with shade and water and beer and wine.  About the only bit of work we had to do the entire tour was to ride our bikes.  Before I left for the tour, I was joking with my girlfriend how the first vacation I had taken in two years was going to be spent working harder than I do at my job, but the crew really did make this feel like a vacation.  Thank you all, you make this ride special.

#2:  The ride is faboo

I just finished an awesome ride; see how happy I am?

I just finished an awesome ride; see how happy I am?

Ask any of my friends (go ahead, I’ll wait), they’ll all tell you that I am a bitter, old, misanthropic curmudgeon with anti-social tendencies who hates everyone and every thing.  And while I’m not quite that bad, there is a ring of truth in that.  I am grumpy, and I am old, and I am far from a social butterfly, and above all else, I am a master at noticing all of the things that are poorly done in any situation.  Even when my Cleveland Browns score an all-too-infrequent touchdown, instead of cheering about it, I’m the guy with the scowl on my face because I saw some wideout doing some lazy blocking upfield.  On top of that, I view complaining as a bit of an art form.  I like to think that I can complain effectively about any situation that you might place me in.  My philosophy of life is pretty much that if you’re not complaining about something, life will give you something to complain about; so I do my best to short-circuit life’s nefarious plans.

Still, with all of my talent in that department, there was very little I could find to complain about with the ride.  Sure, there’s the outlandish complaints, like the fact that there weren’t enough bikini models at the hotels to give us rubdowns (we did have massage therapists, but no bikini models), and not a single one of the rooms I stayed in was a Jacuzzi suite, complete with bikini models to join me for a soak, but in the realm of the realistic, about the only thing I could come up with was that one of the legs on day two was too long and needed a tailgate rest stop in the middle, and that I’d have preferred to see Accelerade or something similar at the rest stops, and not just Gatorade.  Also, that there was a distinct lack of bikini models serving the Gatorade at the rest stops.

In all seriousness, if that’s all the faults I can find with a ride, you know it’s a well run event.  This was a very well run event.

#1:  You too can (and should) do it
So, if I’ve done my job above, you’re thinking, “Damn!  Now that sounds like an awesome ride!  I’d love to take part in something so awesome.”  If so, great!  Keep an eye on the Tour website, and register later this year when they open it up again (probably in the early fall).  But if that thought is followed by the thought “But… that’s a *really* big ride.  I don’t think I can do a ride like that,” well let me tell you, you can (unless your doctor says no, of course).  Out of our group of 44 riders, nearly half had never even ridden a century ride before, and a similar number had never ridden in a multi-day event.  Ross, one of the riders in the group that I rode with didn’t even own a bicycle at the time he signed up for the ride.  He had three months to buy a bike and to train for the ride.  Three months!  Clearly the kid is insane, but if he can do it, so can you.

And with so much fun to look forward to, and with so much good the money you raise for the American Red Cross can do, there are so many reasons for you to join me next year in the 2011 Tour du Rouge.

Finally, before I close out this post, I really need to thank all of the people who donated to the Red Cross to help me take part in this goal of mine.  Thank you to all my friends and family.  Thank you to the D/FW area bicycling groups, Bike Friendly Richardson and Pedallas, you guys rock.  Thank you to Richardson Bike Mart.  And I’d love to give really special thanks to all of the sponsors who donated prizes to my Raffle Ride fundraiser, the Raffle Ride wound up being my biggest money-raising effort, and I might not have been able to ride in the Tour without it.  Not only are the following companies makers and sellers of quality bicycle and bicycle-related gear, but they are also good-hearted and caring.  By all means if you need any of the products they sell, throw them some love and some business — they deserve it.

Jittery Joe’s Coffee – Awesome coffee, awesome people

bikecoffee.net – Travel mugs that fit in your bottle cage

Walz Caps – Want to ride in style?  Pick up a couple of their swank cycling caps

Road ID – If you’re a cyclist, chances are you already know about Road ID.  Their identification products can speak for you if you’re unable to.

Urban Velo Magazine – Keep up with bike culture, trends, and the love of the sport

Rido Saddles – This is the saddle that I have on my bike and it got me through the Tour with a happy perineum and nary a saddle sore.  I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.  Incredible saddles at an astonishingly low price.

Chrome Bags – The makers of the best damn messenger bags on the planet and so much more.

Pedro’s Tools – For all of your bike maintenance needs, Pedro’s has a solution.

The Sufferfest – Wanna enjoy your suffering a bit more?  Pick up some of David’s awesome training videos and train like you’ve never trained before.

Adventure Cycling Association – Another sponsor who came up big, donating two memberships and a full set of their Southern Tier maps.

Knog- Sweet holy damn.  When I sent out my flood of emails asking for sponsors for the Raffle Ride, Knog was the first business to step up to the plate, and they stepped up big time.  Shortly after agreeing to my request, I got a package, lobbed lovingly in my direction from Australia, and filled with gobs of cool stickers, funky and fashionable lights, sweet blinkies, and t-shirts so cool they literally made my girlfriend squeal and exclaim, “I want one of those!  And one of those too!” Knog loves cycling, and I love Knog.  Now if I only knew how to pronounce their name …

And a super-huge, super-special thank you goes out to Lupine Lighting Systems.  When I contacted them, I was hoping for maybe some of their clothing to offer as a raffle prize, but these guys went above and beyond and set me a full Lupine Tesla 5 headlight system to offer as a prize.  When I opened the box, my jaw damn near hit the floor.  This light was small, and gorgeous, and way powerful, and will allow you to ride at night far easier, and far more visibly than most other lights on the market.  These guys went to bat for me and for the American Red Cross, and I urge you to send your business their way if you’re shopping for a lighting solution for your bicycle (or just looking for a sweet hoodie).  Lupine, you guys rock!

 

 

Some jerseys you buy, and some you earn.

Some jerseys you buy, and some you earn.

This one, I earned

This one, I earned

Final numbers: 535.95 miles; 31:52:21 elapsed time; 16.82 MPH average

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Day 6: They Called Me Old Glory, They Were Half-Right

Somewhere around the third day of this ride, I learned that the best way to get ready each morning is to do most of the getting ready the night before.  By that, I mean pulling out all of the gear you’re going to be wearing, loading up the Camelbak/jersey with the protein/Gu/whatever you plan on consuming in ride, washing out your bottles and setting them out to dry, and packing away everything you can in your duffle bag.  This way you won’t need to wrestle with getting ready in the morning when your body is asking for another hour or two of sleep and you only have 15 minutes to get the bag out to the truck to be shipped to your destination for the day.  And so each night I would do all of the things listed above, including getting the day’s route map out, making sure my headband was set out to dry, and putting my gloves in my helmet for the morning before hitting the mattress and sleeping the sleep of the exhausted but excited.

So Friday morning rolls around, I get up, wash up, lube up, dress up, pack up what little I have left to pack, and run my bag down to the truck to be loaded and taken to New Orleans.  Before I drop it off, I grab my sunscreen out of it and coat myself with a few layers (I learned my lesson on Sunday) before returning it to the bag and heading off for breakfast.  A quick bit of fruit, eggs, and juice later, and it’s back to the room to grab my bike, fill the Camelbak with ice, and drag the bike down to the morning briefing area.  I set my bike up against a curb and grab my Gatorade bottle to fill up then head to the briefing.  While we’re waiting for Alan to start, one of the other riders, Annabella, spots my bare hands and asks me if I’ve got my gloves.  I let her know that they’re over in my helmet and that I’d be putting them on shortly.  So of course, after the briefing, I walked over to my bike, grabbed my helmet, and failed to see any gloves sitting inside of it.  Sigh…

Woldenberg Park, our ultimate destination

Woldenberg Park, our ultimate destination

A quick check up in the hotel room confirmed that I had, indeed, forgotten to take the gloves out of my bag and that I would be riding the day gloveless.  After a quick application of sunscreen to my naked hands, I was back on my bike staring at an empty parking lot, since everyone else rode away as I was heading up to check my room.  Thanks to this, the first third of my morning was spent riding solo, trying to catch up to the peloton, and eventually catching up with them just before the turn onto LA70.  From that point on, it was a nice leisurely ride into the first rest stop.  For much of that leg I chatted with Chad, one of the one-day riders, and a friend of Tracy’s, which helped pass the time to the stop.

A pretty pink bike, parked on the Riverwalk

A pretty pink bike, parked on the Riverwalk

At the first stop, I was reunited with my regular riding crew and hooked up with them for a while, but a few miles into the second leg. Ross and I made the executive decision that we were going to take it easy today.  We had a long lunch stop coming up at Audubon Park, getting ready for the mass ride into Woldenberg Park, so there was no need to arrive too early anyway.  And so, when Rick, Brad, and Mike started to push the pace along US61, Ross and I just dropped back.

At the next rest area in LaPlace, we reunited briefly again with Rick, Ross, and Brad and, after taking a brief rest, headed out again together, only to split yet again, as Ross and I lolligagged for a while.  This part of the ride was fairly interesting, crossing over the Bonnet Carré Spillway into St. Charles Parish.  It was here that Ross and I missed our turn into the third rest stop.  Somehow, as we hit the intersection and were jostling for position amongst the trucks and cars, neither of us saw the big red and white sign telling us to turn right there.  Ooops.

It started to dawn on me about two miles later, as we approached an on-ramp for Interstate 310, that we may have gone off course.  But according to my computer, we still had a little ways to go until we were supposed to see the rest area.  My fears were confirmed shortly after crossing the on-ramp, as the SAG Wagon roared up in front of us and told us to hold up.  A few minutes later, we were inside the van and being ferried back to the turn that we missed so we could make our way down to the next rest stop, our last chance to fill our bottles before getting on the levee bike path which would take us into our final lunch stop of the Tour at Audubon Park.

The levee was… well, the levee was long, and a little boring.  I guess I was hoping to see the river for the entire ride or something, but for the most part, it was just bike-path and trees, and me and Ross pedaling for about 22 miles.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still a nice ride, especially when we did get to see the river, but I was just tired and hungry by this point, and would have liked a somewhat more visually stimulating ride.  And so, as we made our final turn south, headed towards Audubon Park, I was relieved as the surroundings became a little livelier, with barges in the river to the right, and more vibrant city to the left, my energy lifted again and I cruised the last few miles into the Park.

Me, Rick, Brad, and Ross at Audubon Park (photo courtesy of Ross Oakley)

Me, Rick, Brad, and Ross at Audubon Park (photo courtesy of Ross Oakley)

At the park, I grabbed a big old bowl of jambalaya and a couple of sodas and enjoyed them in the shade.  After eating, I hooked back up with Rick and Brad, and found out that Rick had missed, along with a pair of one-day riders, the same turn that Ross and I had missed.  Only, with his head start and his strong legs, he got out past the SAG wagon did and nearly rode to the New Orleans airport before he figured out he missed the turn.  It’s a good thing he was familiar with the city, having lived there a few years back, so he knew how to get back to the levee and the park.

As we were resting up in the park, preparing for our mass ride to the finish, Alan came around asking for volunteers to lead the ride carrying one of our four flags: the Texas state flag, the Louisiana state flag, the Red Cross flag, and the flag of the United States.  I stepped forward along with three others, and was handed the big honor of carrying Old Glory into Woldenberg Park.  Oh boy.

So, I don’t know how many of you have ever carried a full sized flag, attached to a pole made of 1.5″ PVC tubing, while riding your bike for seven miles over a rather rough and choppy road, but as it turns out, it’s not as easy as it sounds.   The whole time, you’re struggling to keep a good grip simultaneously on the flagpole (which gets surprisingly heavy)  and your handlebars, all while  braking, turning, calling out (and avoiding) holes, and ensuring that you’re holding the flag high enough to keep it of your rear wheel.  For next year, one thing I’m going to have to work on is building some kind of brace which can be clamped onto the flag-bearers’ handlebars where the butt of the flagpoles can be set, to ease the ride into the city.  Even if I do make that brace, I’ll likely pass on the flag bearing honor, if offered, so I can get a better look at the city as we ride through it.  What little I saw of it looked very nifty.

The mass ride into Woldenberg Park.  That's me you can almost see carrying the US Flag

The mass ride into Woldenberg Park. That's me you can almost see carrying the US Flag

Still, it was a great honor, and I was proud to carry that flag along the length of New Orleans Landing into Woldenberg Park.  The whole way, as people would see me with Old Glory at the lead of the pack, they would get this odd surprised look on their face, and then slowly start clapping.  For much of the mass ride, and the entirety of the landing, I would hear the applause and cheers slowly start building as I passed by and the rest of the pack rode along behind.  It was a great end to a great ride that I can’t wait to do again next year.

Our Victory Arch

Our Victory Arch

Welcome to Mardis Gras World, how may I creep you out today?

Welcome to Mardis Gras World, how may I creep you out today?

After arriving in the park, we popped the corks on a few bottles of sparkling wine and heard a few congratulatory speeches from various Red Cross leaders, and then… the ride was over.  We loaded our bikes into the waiting truck to be shipped back to Houston the next day, and then walked back to the Hilton Riverside to rest and shower before our victory party and dinner.

The dinner that night was at a place called Mardis Gras World, a facility where they make and store floats for the Mardis Gras parade.  This facility was incredible, a huge warehouse full of parade floats, bigger than life, with a number of studios set up throughout, housing new floats in

A dragon under construction

A dragon under construction

various states of completion for upcoming parades.

I spent a good thirty minutes just wandering around, staring and taking pictures before heading outside for dinner.  And it was a lovely dinner, set up on a patio right alongside the east bank of the Mississippi River, with red beans and rice, crawfish etoufee, great salads and desserts, and pans of ice cold Abita.  We ate and talked and joked for a while, then watched a slideshow of pictures, followed by a victory speech and series of recognitions of the volunteers who made this all possible, and the riders who benefitted from their hard work.  Plaques and certificates were handed out in commemoration of the ride, and then we headed back to the hotel to drop everything off before heading out on the town.

For the first time all ride, I was able to take in a bit of nightlife knowing there was no early ride tomorrow.  Ross, I, Rick, Brad, and their wives took a cab up to Frenchman street to the Snug Harbor Jazz Club for some jazz, some drinks, and a good bit of merriment.  It was a wonderful night, and it was great to get out with some new friends made over 530 miles of riding.  A few hours later, it was a cab ride back to the hotel and some well earned sleep before my bus ride home in the morning.

King and Queen Kong

King and Queen Kong

IMG_0876

The Gator Leers...

Our dinner location

Our dinner location

 

Final numbers: 83.75 miles, 5:20:43 elapsed time, 15.67 MPH average

I did it.  I did it, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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Day 5: Slow Falls and Big Bridges

It’s 7:15 a.m. at the Morgan City Holiday Inn, and I’ve just dropped off my bag to be trucked out to Gonzales and delivered to my next hotel room by the loving and dedicated hands of Larry and Taffy.  I’m pretty much out of energy already, simply from waking up, getting dressed, and filling and dropping off my bag.  It’s taking effort just for me to remember where the hotel lobby is, much less how to get to breakfast from there.  It’s then that I decide I’d better not eat a heavy breakfast, or I might just fall asleep on my bike halfway to the first rest-stop.   And so when I finally do reach the breakfast buffet, I load my plate up with nothing but fruit.  Well… fruit and one big scoop of a sort of Cajun-spiced hash browns with eggs and bacon mixed in, but potatoes and bacon sometimes count as fruit, so it was OK.

It’s now 7:30 a.m. I’ve just washed back my plate of melon, grapes, and bacon-fruit with a chug of chocolate milk, and I figure I may as well grab my bike and head out for the morning briefing before we roll out.  I head back to the hotel room, take one last, longing look at my bed and grab my Camelbak and bike.  On the way to the briefing, I pass by the hotel’s ice machine and fill the bladder on my Camelbak… mmm ice cold water for the next 40 miles.  From there it’s a quick walk and a tricky descent of some stairs in my cleats and I’m with the rest of the group.

I reapply sunscreen, fill my Gatorade bottle, and grab a few extra Gu packets, looking for the espresso flavored ones with extra caffeine (I feel like I’m going to need them today), and I try to pay attention as Alan gives the morning briefing.   Unfortunately, all I really hear is “mumble, mumble, shoulder, mumble, mumble, lunch, mumble joints, mumble.” Yeah, today’s shaping up like one of those days.  Before long, the briefing’s over and it’s time to get on the bikes.  We roll out as a group, slowly, and I’m thinking that even this slow pace feels a bit too plucky for me this morning — however am I going to survive the day?  As we roll to a stop at a red light, something finally breaks me out of my funk; it’s Brad on my left shouting “whoah!” as his cleat sticks to his pedal and he topples over in a classic clipless fall.  Lying on his side now, he still can’t get his cleat loose from the pedal.  And as we all begin to realize that he’s not hurt, we all start to laugh at his struggles, as a couple of others riders moved in to try to free him from his predicament.  After a minute or so, Brad was able to get himself vertical, and we were off once again down the road.

And once we got moving down the road, boy were we moving.  At some point, Rick worked his way up to the front, and as the big Clydesdale does when he gets up front, he started pulling that beer truck.  Before long our train was rolling at about 22 MPH, and we maintained that pace all the way into the first rest stop.  All of my early morning drag-ass feelings were long gone by that point, and I was ready to roll through the day.

At St. Joseph Plantation

At St. Joseph Plantation

And roll we did, not quite as hard as in the first leg, but we were still pushing a good pace up to our second rest-stop, a tailgate stop.  Shortly after passing a no bicycles road sign, we surprisingly rolled up on and nearly missed the stop, as it was set up a couple of miles short of where it was supposed to be.  It’s a good thing those Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles are hard to miss, so we were able to turn in at the last second to top off our bottles.  At least most of us were able to turn in.

Brad, who was pulling the group at the time shot past the turn and had to come back against traffic.  And Rick slipped on some of the gravel in the parking area as he turned in and went down in our second clipless fall of the day.  He was unhurt, though his right side and his shiny SRAM shifters were covered in a patina of white dust.  Bottles topped off, we left the tailgate stop and rode on up into Vacherie, where we caught up with Alan, Dana, and the HostGator guys, Chris and Chris.  Pairing up with this group we rode together on up to St. Joseph Plantation for lunch.  The road leading into the plantation was rough, but we handled it fine up until we reached the turnoff for the plantation.  Once again, the gravel road claimed one of our group as Rich hit a soft, sandy area and his front tire sunk in, sending him down for our third slow fall of the day.

Ross under a huge-ass tree

Ross under a huge-ass tree

If it weren’t for the previous day’s lunch in Franklin, this would have easily been the most gorgeous lunch spot of the entire tour.  The old buildings, the gorgeous landscape, the enormous trees on the property, it was all visually stunning.  Had it been right on the banks of the Mississippi, hiding just a few thousand feet away, it would have been ideal.  Still, it was beautiful enough that after lunch I wandered about a bit, sightseeing, before saddling up with the group and heading out to battle the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge in Lutcher to cross the Mississippi River.  And let me tell you , this is one heck of a bridge.  Well over a mile long, and nearly two miles from the start of the climb to the end of the descent this baby made the Pleasure Island bridge look like a platform for crossing a little creek (on the plus side, the extra length meant it wasn’t as steep as the Pleasure Island bridge).  In addition to the long climb associated with the bridge, we had the added discomfort of the expansion joints on the bridge, which look to be specially designed for swallowing road bike tires whole.  In order to traverse those babies safely, one needs to swing wide and cross them at an angle.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but we also had to do it with cars zooming by us at highway speeds in the next lane, cars who would invariably honk at you as you started to swing out to perform this maneuver.  No, kind drivers, we’re not weaving capriciously, we’re trying to keep from flatting our tires every few hundred feet so we can stay on the bridge even longer.  Sigh…

Some of the smaller buildings at St. Joseph Plantation

Some of the smaller buildings at St. Joseph Plantation

After the bridge, the riding grew less interesting for a while.  We had a tailgate rest-stop to fill up our bottles, and then a long stretch along LA3125 where yet again I started to gas out behind the group (I’ll need to work on my endurance at speed for next year, because I’m sure Rich isn’t going to get any slower).  I was able to keep the group in my sights and caught back up to them as we approached LA70, which would carry us to LA44 into Gonzales (it really is amazing how my second winds always seem to come when we turn and the wind is no longer in my face).  As we turned onto LA70, we all shared a brief moment of terror as it looked as if we would need to cross yet another huge bridge over the Mississippi.  Fortunately, as we approached it, we saw one of the magical red and white tour signs telling us to turn right and cross under the bridge to connect to 44.  Thank goodness, as I was pretty much gassed at this point and really looking for that next rest stop.

The main building at St. Joseph Plantation

The main building at St. Joseph Plantation

Finally, we reached the last rest stop of the day, and I gratefully sucked back a tube of Gu and a few cups of cold water while sitting in the shade.  After a few minutes, we all felt cool and rested enough to resume the journey and ride the last eight miles home, only there was a bit of a snag.  We were told that about a mile up the road, a train had stopped, blocking the road.  However, there were only a few cars in the way, and if we wanted to, we could walk our bikes around the back end of the train and continue riding into Gonzales.  Deciding that we wanted to get into the hotel before traffic started to pick up even more, we decided to try our luck with the train.  Sure enough, as we approached the tracks, there it was, blocking the road and holding up a string of cars.  Glad to not be one of them, we rode up to the front of the line and surveyed the situation.  Indeed, all we had to do was walk past five or six cars and we’d be golden.  So like a group of cyclocross racers, we shouldered our bikes and set out past the train.

Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to walk on train tracks in your cleats, but let me tell you this: Don’t do it.  Even on ther near side, where we had the luxury of railroad ties to step on, the going was quite precarious.  The ties were unevenly spaced, the lage hunks of rock were scattered everywhere, and good places to set your feet were at a minimum.  And things only got worse on the other side of the train, where all we had to walk across was a steep bank of crushed rock.  At least I wasn’t wearing Speedplay cleats, so I didn’t have to worry about rocks getting caught up inside them.  Making matters even worse, after I had made it past two of the cars, and the rest of our group had just gotten around the end of the train, we heard a light squeal, and the damn train started moving.  Had we just waited a few minutes, we wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this, but as it was, we now had to race the train across the road before the cars could start up again.  Mike and I made it, but we had to wait, as the rest of the group couldn’t get to the road in time.  All in all, I guess it’s best that we waited, as that was a long stream of cars full of angry drivers that got stacked up behind the train, and we didn’t have to deal with any of them passing us on our bikes.

With the extra bit of rest we got waiting for traffic to clear, we were fresh enough to turn the next six miles into a time trial, and sustained speeds in the 23-25 MPH zone until we turned onto LA30, a rather busy road that took us into the hotel in Gonzales.  Where the seats in the shade and the ice cold Abita were waiting for us.

The Baton Rouge Fox News anchor shows off her fashion "sense"

The Baton Rouge ABC News anchor shows off her "fashion sense"

Later that night we had what I thought was the best dinner of the night.  Crawfish etoufee, crawfish mac and cheese, tasty salad with a thick vinaigrette dressing, and a choice of bread pudding or brownie desserts.  To my great dismay, however, it was also the only meal where I was filled up after just one pass through the line.  Curse my stomach!  I wanted more of that mac and cheese, dammit!

Final numbers: 85.59 miles, 5:01:10 elapsed time, 17.05 MPH average

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