Been a LONG time since I posted on the blog.  No real excuses or apologies, they’re superfluous.

A kind of inertia has set in, wherein I think “well, I haven’t posted in so long, so it doesn’t really hurt to let another day go by without posting anything.”  This is counterproductive, though, so the only way to escape it is, well, to just escape it.  So, here I am.

In a really quick bullet-point fashion nutshell:

  • My streak of consecutive riding days ended.  It was an ambitious idea but I must be true to myself.  My plan is to ride as often, as much, as far as I possibly can this spring, summer, fall (see below), but every day is asking a lot.
  • I AM still enthusiastic about cycling – in fact, more so now than any time in I’d guess 6 months.  I’ve experienced the complete, unalloyed, 100% return to my old passion & enthusiasm for it.  Difficult to fully capture in words, but basically I just look at it differently now as opposed to the “drudgery” / “obligation” that I was feeling about getting on the bike starting around late September and extending, REALLY, until quite recently.
  • I have many, many updates on various topics that I’m going to make to the blog.  Again I keep this blog for a few different reasons, and all of those reasons “support” or “imply” a need to keep it updated.  So, I’ll resume with a flurry of activity on the blog over the next week or two, and then will do my best to keep it current and keep updates coming.
  • Weight & fitness.  Ah, weight & fitness.  Ok Bill P, bullet-point fashion.  Basically, I regained some 25 lbs from my overall 100-lb weight loss.  But, as with before (the tag line of my blog) “my bicycle saved my life”.  Suddenly remembering, as though I’d literally forgotten for months, that the bike is excellent exercise, a great fat burner, and just all around great fun, I returned to the joy that I once had in riding often, and accordingly I’ve now lost back around maybe 13-15 of that gained 25 lbs.  So I’m currently about 13, 14 lbs above my best weight.  I’ll be there by early May :)  And I’ll go well beyond.  The long term goal is still 168 pounds, and anything after that is pure gravy.
  • Randonneuring.  I still do want to return to randonneuring; however, I find myself being curiously casual about when it occurs.  I’m in a really good “place” right now mentally with regard to the bike and to fitness.  I think that part of my “estrangement” from the bike was this maniacal fixation on randoing to the exclusion of ALL other bike-related pursuits/interests, and this came back to bite me hard.  My friend & rando mentor Ron A saw this coming and tried to warn me, but I thought I knew better.  Like Obi-Wan, I was wrong.  So, all of this to say that I still hold randoing in very high esteem, I still LOVE to hear the accomplishments of Ron A and to speak to my friend, “Red Leader”, about his rando adventures, and to read his blog; and I DO have interest to return, but I’m mellowly accepting of the possibility that I may be ready for that in 2 weeks or it may be 2 months.  When it happens it’ll happen, and I will enjoy it then; but for now, I’m in a great place, and that’s the entire point.
  • Unfinished posts.  I STILL have yet to post my pictures/videos from my October 2013 Katy Trail ride with my friend Mr. V; ditto RAGBRAI 2013 – some 8 months ago!!  Even though it’ll be super belated, I intend to complete both of these and share them.  Again, the blog is here for multiple reasons, and completing/sharing this material, even so long after the fact, is in keeping with basically all of those.

As mentioned above, I have several *specific* cycling-related plans for this year, and next; but, as a generalization, the plan is to ride the bike as often, as much, as far as I can this spring, summer and fall; again, in keeping within the overall goal of just enjoying it.  Allowing it to become a mandated thing is the surest way to kill passion.  If on a given day I want to ride only 2 miles, I should ride 2 miles.  If I want to ride 9 miles a day for 8 days in a row, that’s what I’ll do.   But in general, the plan is to ride as much as I can.

And I’m thrilled to have finally rediscovered the same level of joy – maybe higher, now that it’s tempered with some character (a-la the movie The Hustler) and some disappointment – that I experienced with the bicycle in 2013.

4.7 miles today in pre-dawn, sub-freezing temps, wrapped around a trip to the gym to lift weights.  Roughly half a mile to the gym; lifted; then rode around for a short bit.  Rode back south, to 15th st/Marshall, up/down the couple of rollers to the graveyard, then back home.   Frosty cold ride, but felt great.

Timing was prudent.  The nasty weather “they” were forecasting has arrived, and how.  Freezing drizzle, sleet, etc – roads are very slick and icy right now.  Driving is dangerous; several accidents on the interstate.  Riding a bike would be pure suicide.

I HOPE to be able to ride outside tomorrow, but if the ice doesn’t allow it I won’t risk it; I give myself flexibility to do my three miles indoors on a stationary if absolutely necessary, and if I have to do so tomorrow, that’s what I’ll do.   We’ll see how the day will unfold.

Happiness is…

January 30, 2014

Coming home to find a new issue of Bicycling magazine in your mailbox when you weren’t expecting the next issue for some time.  Small pleasures.  Weekend reading material :)

Twofer post today as I didn’t log yesterday’s ride yet.

On Wednesday I got in an 18+ mile ride on the trails near my office.  We’re fortunate in Overland Park, KS to have a nice system of paved bike trails, on which I’ve ridden many times in the past with my sometime riding partner Mr. V.  This evening (a fairly nice day with a departure temp of maybe 40ish degrees) I got in an 18 mile loop – more or less – on the eastern portion of this system.  It was a fairly windy day, with a tailwind for much of the ride out & a headwind for much of the return (the trail snakes around and back on itself a couple times, which is usually a blessing from a wind perspective, as you’re never relentlessly riding into the wind for a LONG way). A brief loss of my bearings on the trail led to my abandoning it in an area I knew to be close to familiar office complexes; I navigated a combination of roads & sidewalks back.  I capped the ride with a quick stop at the Subway across from the office parking garage where my car awaited; returning, I threw the bike back on the rack and had a very contented drive home.

Two quick notes on this ride: one, definitely getting MUCH more comfortable with the new pedals/shoes.  I had to clip & unclip several times on this ride and work in & out of traffic; I navigated it without issue and really without too much nervousness.  Second note, on the return trip, in a last-second blur of exuberance I blasted up a short but quite steep little hill that juts off the trail and up to an apartment complex perched above.  One of my remaining uncertainties with these pedals is the tackling of very short, steep climbs, because in the past I’ve had to bail out and walk part of the way up these if I run out of gas, and being not the most coordinated person ever to sit on a bike, I’m apprehensive about how this will play out while clipped in.  But I boldly attacked this little hill, and even though, halfway up and with momentum dropping I was thinking “man, this is really a stupid idea”, regardless I kept the legs turning over in a low gear and blasted to the top without major issue.  A real confidence booster.

Today – Thursday, day 10 – I got in two different, short rides.  I brought the bike to work (on the rack on the car) in order to ride over to Chipotle for lunch and back (VERY windy day – 25ish mph), and that’s what I did, ending this 3.4 mile round trip with a little counterclockwise ride around the office circle.  This is the same route that had me huffing and puffing about a week before, and although I still am not flying around it, it’s already simpler now.  My last-year’s form on the bike is returning rapidly.

Second ride today took place after I got home.  Dark had already fallen, but it was still relatively nice out, a few degrees above freezing, and with only a 10ish mph wind. I got in 8.6 miles here in Ottawa, just riding south on 59 highway for a few miles and then turning back.  The tailwind, while not really strong, nevertheless combined with my rapidly-strengthening legs to really push me along on the first half, hitting 20 mph (which is fast for me) at some points; and yet, the return into the wind really wasn’t GREATLY hampered.  My recent habits of good clean eating/drinking, an increasingly greens-based diet, plenty of rest, smart supplementation, and exercise is really improving my fitness at a good pace.  I am quite content.  I have, as they say, planned the work; now all I need to do is work the plan!

Next couple days they’re calling for 1-4 inches of snow, with some mix of rain and freezing drizzle.  It’ll be a challenge to the “By Threes” streak; but I’ve allowed myself the flexibility to ride indoors if it is NECESSARY.  I’ll try to ride outdoors if at all possible :)

Another cold one. I got in 7.5 miles this evening, in well-below-freezing weather once again. I texted my dad last night that of the 8 days in my current streak, it’s no exaggeration to say that 4 of them are among the probably 15 coldest days I’ve EVER ridden the bike. It’s been crazy.

I basically just hopped onto Eisenhower road in Ottawa and took that south to the hill – one of the most respectable hills (one of the FEW hills) we have in Ottawa – and into the parking lot at its peak, turned around, and returned home. This hill has never been particularly easy for me to climb, and this wasn’t an exception, although I was pleasantly surprised how well I could handle it given my weight (I weighed in this morning and have put on 13.5 lbs from my lightest), fitness, and lack of bike miles the past few months. Bodes well.

Another good thing is that, as alluded to in a previous post, my former “alienation” from the bike is basically 100% gone now. I truly look forward to riding now, which, I am sad to have to say, was really not the case almost EVER for a period of months. From roughly late-Augustish or Septemberish on, through the past few days, I rode only occasionally, and I can honestly say that, save for the week I visited my folks and rode with my dad every day (I enjoyed that very much), I only looked FORWARD to riding just a tiny handful of times. It was an odd sort of burnout/meltdown I had from cycling, but I am very relieved that it now appears over or at least on its way out. I enjoy riding again, I remember all the old joys I experienced, and I look very forward to returning to randonneuring.

LOGOProof10So, the RAGBRAI 2014 route is revealed. And, while I’ll confess to being initially disappointed with the shortness of the ride, I’ve found myself quickly getting over it and getting enthusiastic about the event :)

Top-level stats: The 2013 route was the 2nd-shortest route in history and with 17410 feet of climb, the 15th flattest, for overall the 7th easiest in the 41 year history of the event. I thought for certain, therefore, that this year’s had to be tougher; but instead, at 418 miles and 11316 feet of climb, this year’s is the 3rd-shortest and 2nd-flattest ever, for overall the 2nd easiest route. TRUE, it is about a dozen miles longer, actually, than last year, but it has roughly 1/3 less climbing.

Here’s the daily mileage and overnight towns:
Day 1: 69 miles, starting in Rock Valley. Overnight in Okoboji.
Day 2: 41 miles. Overnight in Emmetsburg.
Day 3: 73 miles (plus optional Karras Loop). Overnight in Forest City.
Day 4: 36 miles. Overnight in Mason City.
Day 5: 63 miles. Overnight in Waverly.
Day 6: 68 miles. Overnight in Independence.
Day 7: 68 miles. Arrive Guttenberg to end ride.

All in all, those daily distances are pretty darn respectable – other than the short 41-mile day two and VERY short 36-mile day four. However, it’s forgivable as they are sandwiched around the longest day – 73 miles on day three, which also features the optional Karras Loop century ride, so a potentially 100 miler on day 3.

The hardest day seems unanimous – day 7. 68 miles but 3073 feet of climb, which is well more than any other day on the ride and is a full 1/4 of all the climbing on the event. Even so, though, at about 45 feet/mile climb, it’s only slightly more than the average of the 2013 event.

A couple of cool things on this year’s ride:

  • The night one is in Okoboji. Being not an Iowan myself, this meant nothing to me, but the online reaction, as well as that of friends of mine who grew up there, are very enthusiastic – seems like a very cool area to check out.
  • Lots of nice small towns this year. In 2013, four of the eight overnight towns had populations greater than 10k (including of course the giant Des Moines); this year, only ONE (Mason City) does, and four of the eight have populations of less than 5000. The final town, Guttenberg, is tiny at ~1900.
  • Two of the 8 towns have never been overnight stops on RAGBRAI. Starting town Rock Valley has never been an overnight RAGBRAI town; it was a pass-through town once, in 1985 – 29 years ago. Okoboji has never been an overnight town. Additionally, Mason City was an overnight town once, in 1985.

In some ways, this year’s route is SLIGHTLY more “evenly distributed” in mileage than last year; leaving aside the two small days which bookend the longest (and optional century) day, all other days, including the final three, are ~68ish miles.

As with last year, I’m looking forward to learning more about the overnights and of course, once they are announced, the passthrough towns. For now, while I was initially disappointed in the shortness of the route (I wanted a 500-mile scorcher), this still sounds like a very fun time, and I’m getting quite excited already, 6 months out.

Two pairs of socks, check. Leggings, check. Long sleeved shirt, check. Balaclava, check. Yes, I’m well bundled up for a short 3-mile ride; but considering it’s less than 10 degrees outside with windchill (and colder if you are riding a bike INTO it), it is prudent.

Nothing overly exciting to report today. Did my standard 3+ mile dash to the park and back, then to Subway to pick up dinner. I propelled myself eagerly forwarded in surges, spurred by images of “Cav” – Mark Cavendish, the fastest sprinter on earth – captured in some unreal footage from the sprint finish at race’s end.

In the biting air, eyes started tearing up almost instantly and stayed that way for several seconds, but quickly enough cleared. Once the body woke up a bit, I was feeling good. I now regret cutting it short at ONLY 3 miles – a really good sign. My strange “alienation” from the bike that I suffered for so many months is almost entirely gone now.

The thought of one day riding a full 62- or 124-mile rando ride in conditions like this astounds me. Others do it – and they are only human – so, I can too. For now, I’m grateful that I can start & end the ride on my terms; and I know that there is much wisdom about cold-weather endurance riding that I can absorb from those whom I view as mentors – Ron A, kG, his crew when I eventually am able to ride with them. For now, I am where I am.

Much longer ride today than the base 3 miles.  Ended up with 26 miles and change – which is actually my farthest ride in a couple of months.  Encouraging to remind myself that, Yes, I really do know how to ride a bike :)

Really strange KS weather lately, but this was a very nice 50 degrees for my pre-lunch ride.  First started up north, toward my once-traditional “Leloup loop”; feeling, however, that discretion is wiser and not trying to increase my mileage too quickly, I turned back south on Davis.  Rode back through town, south on 59 (helped by a generous tailwind); rested briefly at the Princeton PS Trail trailhead and then the 8 miles back on the trail.

First time on the trail for me since a very disappointing ride (when my glycogen seemed to be completely empty only a few miles in) with Mr. V in November.  I’d forgotten just what good training ground this trail and its crushed limestone surface can be.  If you push yourself a bit (or really even if you don’t), that surface will make you work, and build up muscle.  It’s not a simple surface.  During the ride I recalled the words of fellow cyclist kG who said that uber-athlete Sam Baugh made his training exclusively or almost exclusively on the Katy Trail – which is a LESS difficult surface than this one.  I intend for this PS Trail to have a somewhat prominent place in my training and base-building miles going forward, just as it has in the past.

Back on Jan 3, I posted my fitness-related new year’s resolutions. One of them was:

Ride bike at LEAST 3 miles/day, every day. Indoor stationary bike if circumstances dictate, but outside if at all possible.

Now, I’ll excuse myself here on an (admittedly weak) technicality. I didn’t say this streak would start ON January 3rd :) Ok, it was implied, and yes it was intended, but – it wasn’t long before I faltered.

However, now I am determined to build up this streak. Three miles isn’t a LONG way to ride a bike; and, if that’s all I ever did, I wouldn’t have logged much saddle time or mileage; but, there is nobility and respectability in sticking to at LEAST that minimum every single day. I view it like a kind of daily devotional to my determination to become fit. Even through periods of poor eating, little other exercise (both of which have certainly occurred in the young 2014), this WILL be a constant, something to tether me back to my goals.

I’m currently on day 5 of this streak, that is, having successfully done it 5 days now. Nascent, yes. Impressive enough to write home about, no. But it’s the beginning.

I like the idea of blogging – at least very briefly – about each of the rides. One of the driving ideas behind this blog is to capture my thoughts, my ride reports, my experiences in order to preserve them for future reflection; and, since beginning this “By Threes” undertaking, I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how much “stuff” mentally goes on in a three mile ride. At least for me – and who knows if I am typical :)

It’ll be really tough to make a point to make a brief post every single day, but it’s my intention to try to do so as much as feasible.

Very briefly then, to catch up:

Day 1: Tues 1/21/2014. Rode 3.2 miles before leaving for work. EXTREMELY cold this day. I seem to recall the “nominal” temp was something like 8 degrees and the windchill was around 8 below. I rode from my house to the local (Forest) Park, once around the nearly-mile loop there, and back. My first day with my new earphones, which I bought recently from WM specifically for cycling. I can’t be bothered right now to go look up the brand, but I like them a lot. They have a nice “loop” for each ear that works well to keep the earbud in your ear. I’ve ridden now a couple times in some pretty good wind – 15-20 mph or so – without any issue with the earbuds. Not a ton else to report about this ride except that I’m glad I started the “By Threes” undertaking.

Day 2: Weds 1/22/2014. Another very cold day – only a few degrees warmer than yesterday (so, windchill was around zero, maybe a little above or below). Also headed out before work; this time I rode to the park, around, and then to the gym, where I lifted. This was my first time at the gym in I-don’t-want-to-say. Logistically, a morning ride to the gym is now more involved than it was last year, due to my clipless pedals. So I ride with the cleated shoes, and on my back a backpack with my weightlifting journal and regular sneakers; upon arrival at the gym I change shoes, lift, and then change back to head out. Lady at the gym whom I’ve seen & spoken with many times there asked me if I’d ridden my bike there this morning. I was proud to tell her I had :)  One notable “evolutionary” note:  today was the first time I’d started pedaling without first clipping in.  Prior to this, spooked by the pedals, I insisted on clipping in the right foot, then starting to pedal and clipping in the other. This morning I felt confident enough to start pedaling and clip in “on the fly” and I’ve not looked back since.

Day 3: Thurs 1/23/2014. 3.5 meandering miles today. I’d brought the bike to work with me, with helmet and shoes in tow, intending to ride to Chipotle for lunch and back. This was one of the coldest days of the year thus far – at lunchtime, the outside temp was around 6 degrees, with a windchill of well below zero. I did in fact set out on the bike, but, being not yet fully comfortable with the pedals (and specifically stopping/starting quickly, as I’d have to do a few times on the way to Chipotle) I ended up meandering around a circuitous route in order to get there. After I’d put in a good maybe half mile or more without having really left the confines of my office’s campus (!), I realized, “Hey, I could practically just circle the campus once more now, and ride back to the parking garage, and that’ll be 3 miles.” So that’s what I did. I definitely have some work to do to recover the cycling shape I had last year, as the little rises in the campus – combined with a fairly stiff wind – left me huffing and puffing. I made it back to the garage extremely cold and glad to amble back in to order lunch from our in-office food court.

Day 4: Fri 1/24/2014. 4.3 miles today. After dinner at Chipotle, I drove over to close to my friend Mr. V’s house. I rode south on Lamar onto the trail that he and I have oft-times ridden; and at about 2 miles in I turned back for the return. One thing I’ll note: while I’m still getting acclimated to the new pedals/shoes, they seem VERY solid for climbing, at least for small inclines. I’ve yet to ride any respectable hills with these, but rises in pavement – including a little run-up on Lamar that Mr. V and I always hate because it comes right at the end of our rides together, when we are most tired – are a LOT more efficient now than with platform pedals and tennis shoes. Riding style up inclines varies, of course, with terrain – you treat small pitches upward differently than long, climbing grades. Thus far I’ve done a few of the former, and only minimal of the latter; but on the former, I can quickly engage some power and blast up little rises much better than in days of yore. And this is while still overweight (even relative to last year) and out of shape. I really look forward to experiencing these things when my fitness is sufficient to do them credit.  Another thing I’ll note is that it was either on this ride (I think) or possibly the ride before, where I developed what may become my eventual style for unclipping.  It’s still something I am working out, but my new style is to slightly swivel my hips a certain way, unclip the right, and then unclip the left.  I’m working to make this motion muscle-memory-automatic as I slow to a stop.

Day 5: Sat 1/25/2014. Nearly let the day slip by without getting in my base 3 miles. I caught a quick nap in the evening, then got online to check out the announcement of the 2014 RAGBRAI route (about which, more later). At about 11:40ish PM I saddled up for a quick ride to the park, loop and back. Today is the first day in some time that I had some flashes of the joy I had in 2013 on the bike. It wasn’t BLISTERINGLY cold, so I could dress more normally – leggings, shorts, long sleeve shirt, and regular full fingered cycling gloves as opposed to bulky wintery gloves and blue jeans, as I’ve ridden in a couple times this week. I felt really at home on the bike in these threads, and with the earlier-mentioned new earbuds streaming Pandora, it was like old times. I really started cutting my teeth riding the bike in the cold months – November, December 2011, then my first “real” bike (the Crosstrail) bought in January 2012. I rode avidly in the winter of 2012, and in a peculiar way, maybe the way you never forget your first love or your first car or your first house, I in some ways feel most “at home” riding when it’s cold out. Not BRUTALLY cold – I don’t enjoy that – but just crisp, cold. My ride tonight reminded me of that feeling, and I like it very much. Part of me wanted to keep riding beyond the base 3 miles, but for varying reasons I did shut it down. I’d like to get out for a longer ride soon.

So the streak stands at 5 days. A friend at work has run a minimum of one mile per day, every single day, for something like 600-700 (I don’t recall which) days. Another friend’s son, who plays the violin, is about to reach his 1000th consecutive day of practicing the instrument. I read online earlier of a cycling friend who had a streak of 104 days last year riding at least a mile. There’s respectability in streaks; a consistency. It speaks to an underlying dedication and commitment, which is something that I’m finding I need as I continue my battle to lose weight, attain much better fitness, and make my return to randonneuring.

From the very moment my 2013 RAGBRAI – my first – ended, I was COMPLETELY hooked (along with probably 95% of other folks that’ve ridden in the event), and already couldn’t WAIT to learn more about this year’s route. Longer, or shorter? Northerly, or southerly? How long is the Karras Loop day? What’s the daily mileage distribution like? Etc.

RAGBRAI keeps the faithful on the hook for 6 months from the final overnight town one year, to the announcement of the overnight towns for the next year; during which time, enthusiasm and speculation build to a crescendo. The magic time is close at hand: tomorrow night the Register (the “owner”/administrator of RAGBRAI) has its annual route announcement party! It’s an evening-long bicycling gala, starting around 8 PM, but culminating in the revealing of a lot of info for the next ride: overnight towns, rough idea of distance, etc.

Needless to say, I am, as the kids say, stoked :)

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