Friday, March 19, 2010

El ciclista loco

11-12 Miles
29 Degrees
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this cyclist from the swift completion of his appointed (or chosen) rounds.

It was snowing this morning and coming down hard.  Not much stuck because the ground has thawed but it was definately not what I wanted to see on my morning commute to work.  Maybe I've been spoiled after two weeks of short sleeve weather but I really griped this morning about the cold and snow.  A month ago, 30 degree weather and only a light dusting of snow on the roads would have been eagerly welcomed.

Anyway, lunch time rolled around and I really wanted to go for a ride but liked the comfort of my nice, warm sweater inside the office.  I finally decided to man up and give it a go.  I gear up with base layer, jogging pants and my nylon jacket.   This would be my coldest and longest "for fun" ride to date and although I know how to dress while commuting in this kind of weather, I had no idea how to dress for a real ride.  I think I pegged it.  I didn't get too cold and I did not  sweat profusely.  My fingers and toes went numb but they did not freeze.  I debated weather to take the nylon jacket or just use the base layer.  I ended up taking it thinking I could dump it at home if I was too hot by the time I passed the house.  I was glad I had it even though it crinkled with the cold.

I decided to go to Riverfront Park for the first time this year.  I expected it to be a little muddy but no ice and snow.  I was almost right.  There was still some lingering ice and snow but it didn't slow me too much.  I stayed to the main trails thinking they'd be in better condition.  It was a good ride.  I only got lost once.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Road Work

16.25 Miles
49 degrees
Destination:  North of Lockwood

Yeah, I should probably quit telling the temperature.  If I'm out in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, well, who cares.

I decided to go for an easy ride to rack up some mileage since I'm tired and ol' Skippy isn't working right.  I headed out toward Lockwood and took the turn going North of the town.  As I approached North Frontage Road, I found that the road was closed and I'd have to take the detour leading into the Exxon Mobile refinery.  Limited on my options, I decided to take the detour.  It was all smooth sailing until I hit the refinery where the road turned into alligator scales and pot holes but it eventually lead back to the frontage road.  Honestly, I didn't even think the road was going to be paved the whole way so I felt lucky.

I traveled on doing a loop north of town around the I-90 and 1-94 junction.  Sounds lovely right!  I hardly noticed the freeways.   As I was coming back, I hit the headwind and Skippy started acting up again.  Then the road turned to a gravely mess.  I don't know what they were doing but there was a good layer of gravel over the entire paved road, only the tire ruts showed the asphalt below.  I stuck to the ruts as best I could and eventually made it to an intersection where I could catch the frontage road and head back to work.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Off the map

I just finished a book called Off the map : bicycling across Siberia by Mark Jenkins.  The literary style, or lack thereof, made it brutally painful to read but the content was rather intriguing.  A team of American and Soviet cyclists were put together to ride from Kamchatka to Leningrad during the cold war in the late 1980's.  This expedition was documented by a film maker who assembled the team.  Evidently this was new territory.  No American cyclist had ever been permitted to take this journey and no American film maker had been able to film Siberia at all.  I think the author brought back too much of the Soviet Union with him and wrote this book masked behind smoke and mirrors.  The book left a lot of questions and unknowns about their actual experiences, maybe because they didn't quite understand themselves.  I was amazed with the secrecy and  bureaucracy involved with the simplest of tasks, even just dining at a restaurant or purchasing food.  Nothing is ever available although it might be right in front of your face.  I wish the author would have ditched his annoying, forced poetic style and just wrote about his experiences, maybe explaining a thing or two along the way.  Some things that I found interesting is that there was really only one road that went through Siberia and it was rather incomplete.  There was a stretch of 750 miles that they traveled through swamps either pushing their bikes along the railroad tracks or riding short stints on random trails they encountered taking them from village to village until the trails faded and they where forced back to the rails.  Even where there was a road, it usually wasn't paved.  They were monitored at all times by Soviet police and their interaction with the locals was limited and usually staged.  They were able to lose the police (and the KGB) in the marshlands and had true experiences with real Russians. 

It was an interesting book.  I don't think I'd actually recommend it to anyone because of the difficult writing style.  I threatened to take it back to the library several times but decided the story was interesting enough to continue.

It's a Monday

All I can really say is that it's Monday.  That's the only explanation I can come up with.  I had plans for an epic journey in the 50 minutes allotted during my lunch break.  I got the road bike, Skippy, ready this morning and even made some minor adjustments to alleviate some of the skipping of gears.  I was finally ready to go work this morning, a little late already, when I tromped through the muddy alley and hopped onto my bike.   I made it halfway to work when I noticed I didn't have my bike lock.  I turned all the way around and headed back home where I grabbed my lock and took off again.  As I rode I played around with the gears a little and found that my derailleurs still need some tweaking.  At least the chain isn't falling off anymore.

After hopping off my bike at work and reaching for the bike lock I realized it wasn't there anymore.  I retraced my path, backwards on a one way street, until I saw my coiled up bike lock sitting next to the tracks just a hundred yards or so from the point that I turned around when I realized I forgot my lock.  Coiling the lock around my wrist so I wouldn't lose it again, I rode back into work.  I commuted to work twice this morning.  Does that count for anything?

When I got to work, I looked down at my pants and realized that I somehow got grease all over my pant leg.  These are my nice corduroys too!  Then I remembered I didn't bring a towel for showering after the ride.  I should have decided then that it just wasn't meant to be.

But I didn't and my stubborness took over.  At noon, I was all ready to go.  With filled water bottle and helmet in hand, clothing in the pack on my back, I trecked down to the basement to change.  She saw me.  Yes, work called and there was an issue to handle.  By the time I finished up my business, it was too late to go for a ride.  Bummer!   Today is becoming the Monday of all Mondays.  Tuesday will be a welcomed treat.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Name my bike

I read last night that a really good bike must have a name.  Yesterday I temporarily named my road bike Skippy because of mechanical problems.  Hopefully that name won't stick long.  But I have never named my mountain bike.  Its a yellow Trek 4300 and I love it.  My friend Mike once referred to it as my Beemer because he thinks of his mountain bike as a weekend toy.  I told him my road bike was more like the Beemer and my mountain bike like an SUV or pickup.  I get to play with it off road on the weekends (or during lunch) but its primary job is getting me to and from work, even in the rain, snow or on ice.  Because of this I feel my mountain bike to be more of a faithful friend or trusty steed, always ready to go anywhere with me.

Here are some ideas:
  1. Old Yeller
  2. Sancho Panza
  3. Tornado (Zorro's horse)
  4. Lightning
  5. Flash
Any other ideas?

Close encounters of the car kind

14 Miles
40 degrees

I'll rant for a quick second.  Cyclists beware of idiot drivers on 2nd Ave North in downtown Billings.  Apparently one lane is not enough for them an they feel they need to be in my lane even though its a two-lane, one-way street with incredibly light traffic.  When I say incredibly light, I mean I only saw two cars on it yesterday and they about killed me.  I saw two cars today, at the same place, the rail crossing, and again they almost killed me.  One tried to pass the other on the right hand side with me right there.  Are you really in that much of a hurry that you couldn't have waited that extra two seconds to pull out in front of me and then gun it like a madman to get around the other car?  SHEESH!  I always take my lane on multiple lane streets because, well, ITS LEGALLY MINE!  I understand that on a busy street I should move over to the shoulder and pray that no one swipes me, but on a desolate street like the east side of 2nd Ave. North, COME ON!  Next time I'll bring a pry bar and bust out your passenger window if you dare get that close again!

Rant over.  Its kind of a darkish, somewhat gloomy day, and a little colder, so I decided to take it easier today.  I climbed every day this week and I just needed a flat ride.  I had my trusty steed, my mountain bike, since its supposed to rain today and its equipped with fenders.  I rode out toward the bike path along the river.  To get there I take 2nd Ave. N and eventually hop up to 4th Ave. N (busier street) to cross the highway and cut through Metra Park (fair grounds).  The bike path is at the rear of the fair grounds.  I did make a realization today.  Do not ride through Metra Park on an event day.  There are cars everywhere.  I did eventually get out of traffic, made it to the bike path and took off towards the Heights where the trail ends.  I made it to the end, then turned around and instead of going back through Metra Park, I went to the other end of the trail to 27th Street.  I don't know why I thought 27th Street would have less traffic than Metra Park, but I did.  27th Street was packed.  At least the cars were more respectful than the idiots on 2nd Ave. N but I did get pretty nervous with cars flying by inches from my elbows.  It was quite a rush.  Remind me not to do that again.

Well, so much for my nice, relaxing Friday ride.  The bike path was nice but I still put in 14 miles in 50 minutes and feared for my life several times.  At least it didn't rain.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A bicycle called Skippy

16 Miles
47 degrees
Destination:  The dump?

Awesome day for riding.  My road bike was feeling left out so I took it out for a ride today.  I inflated the tires and lubed up the chain before I left for work this morning.  I think I need to pay more attention to it though.  As I was riding the chain kept skipping off the rear sprockets until I found the sweet spot in the gearing.  Also any time I shift down from my large ring in the front the chain skips the two smaller cogs and falls off .  I have learned how to catch the chain using my shifter and put it back on the front cogs but it gets old and doesn't always work.  I need to learn to tune-up and adjust my derailleurs because the bike shops never get it right.  Until I figure it out the bike will be known as Skippy.

I took Skippy out for a quick ride this morning because I needed to run an errand for work.  I was on a one way street in the right lane.  As I crossed a set of railroad tracks a mail truck tried to merge into my lane from the shoulder.  Just then an SUV passed me in MY lane.  I thought I was a goner.  The road was practically empty except for the three of us and we all wanted to be in the same place at one time!?!  Come on!  The mail man finally saw me (or the SUV) and swerved back over allowing me to jump out of the SUV's way.  I have to wonder though, how long would it have taken the Paramedics to find me sandwiched between the two vehicles had they actually collided?

Anyway, like I said, its a wonderful day for riding and I took advantage of it during my lunch hour.  I had Skippy so I rode hard and fast.  I decided to ride up Hillcrest Road, just South of town, as far as I could before having to turn around.  Hillcrest Road is just that, hills, steep ones.  My objective was to crest and turn around.  It just so happens that the crest is just beyond the landfill, not a choice destination, but its still quite a nice ride.  I was able to see a dozen deer and a bald eagle in the middle of the day.  Can't go wrong with that.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

B-E-A-utiful Day!

12-1/2 Miles
49 degrees

Good ride today.  I went to the top of the rims to the gate where they close the road going down to Pictograph Caves State Park.  At the gate there was a woman on the side of the road pumping up her bike tire while standing next to her truck.  Yeah, I rode up the hills and she drove.  Anyway, she was going down into Pictograph Caves.  I had to turn around because my lunch hour was quickly expiring.  Its an awesome day for a ride though.  I think my road bike is getting lonely.  I'll try to take it out tomorrow now that I know the roads are clear.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hello old friend

10 1/2 miles
43 degrees

There was an article in the Gazette today stating that our long winter streak of continuously having snow on the ground is officially over.  The streak lasted 89 days.  Now, I know there is plenty of snow left at my house and, as I found out yesterday, at Two Moon Park so I decided to go to where these weather records are being kept, the airport.  One of my favorite trails, the Black Otter Trail, goes past the airport so I decided to give it a shot.

I left during lunch and headed out toward the Black Otter Trail.  As I rounded the corner to the trail head a road barricade with the words "Sidewalk Closed" jumped out in front of me.  The trail was completely iced over as far as I could see.  Along side the trail is a drop off that puts you right onto the street.  Not worth the risk.  Instead, I had to climb up airport road and connect with the trail on top of the rims.  As I climbed on I saw a trail off to my left.  Not knowing where it went but hoping it would take me to the Black Otter Trail, I eagerly veered off the road and stumbled across the bumpy trail.  The trail soon turned to mud and ice and I started to second guess my decision.  I finally turned around when I encountered a gate with a "No Trespassing" sign and figured this trail wasn't worth it. 

Back on Airport Road, I finally came to a trail entrance that put me on the Black Otter at about its mid point.  Feeling cheated, I road down the broken asphalt road next to the trail to the beginning of the paved trail and then turned around to ride the entire thing.  As I expected there was no snow on top of the rims and I had a very nice ride.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mud and Ice - What a fun combination!

8 miles
42 degrees

So I made it through another Montana winter!  I know, winter is not over yet but the snow is off the streets and most of it is off the ground.  Temperatures are rising and the sun is out.  (Its 51 degrees right now!)

With the exception of a 15 mile ride last weekend to and from a scout training (it was cold!), I haven't done any real biking in the past 3 months besides riding to and from work.  Snow fell on December 1 and the roads didn't clear off until last week.  I can see asphalt now which got me all excited for a ride but we've been so busy lately that I haven't been able to get out.

My bike was calling today.  I left the office at noon for a quick ride over to Two Moon Park.  I thought I'd check it out and see how ridable it was.  When I got there, the trail dropping into the park was completely iced over so I took the road down.  The road was a sloppy, muddy mess from all the run-off coming down the hill.  I got to the trail head and decided I've come this far.  I might as well keep going.  So I took off down the trail soon realized this was not going to be an easy one.

The trail was muddy, slushy, and icy.  I was creeping along at 5 mph trying hard to push myself down the trail without dipping my foot into the mud or icy puddles.  I should have known better when the only tracks I could see on the trail were deer and dogs.  I found my new pedals quite helpful and annoying all at the same time.  Since I could clip in with my bike shoes, that meant I could power through the worst stuff by pushing and pulling on the pedals.  However, when I had to dip a foot, I had a horrible time trying to clip my cleat back into the pedal.  Once, as I was riding along top of ice, my tires broke through the surface and I dropped down about 6 inches into an ice cold slushy mess.  I was able to power through that one but the next one got me.  I came to a complete stop, unable to pedal any further.  I teetered while trying to balance my bike at a stand still, then unclipped my right foot and flung it out as far as I could to avoid stepping down in the puddle.  SPLASH!  I could reach the dry ground and got an icy cold wet foot.   I hobbled off, foot dripping, and decided the trail was getting worse.

I finally intersected a trail taking me to the river and then back to the road I had come from.  Of course the trail at the river had had more sun exposure and instead of ice, I encountered thick, sloppy mud.  I was able to power through it all but I sure made a mess of me and the bike.  And last thing Sarah said to me before I left this morning, "Don't get all muddy!"  Yeah, I think we both knew that I wasn't going to listen.