Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Chapter - Take a look!


A minister friend of mine told me that everyone has at least a couple of good sermons in them.  I've actually delivered one or two at my church over the years that were pretty well received so, perhaps, she's right.

A professional writer friend of mine told me that everyone has a book in them.  I'm not sure if he is right but, as many others have done, I started to write one a few years back.  It's a collection of short stories that take place in a pool room.  (Remember, Hemingway said to "write what you know.")  So far, I've written about four or five chapters but never taken the time to get any further along.

Anyway, I came across it again and thought I'd post the first chapter to see what folks think.  Your feedback is encouraged.

The Poolroom

Unlike most poolrooms, the distinct, stale smell of the last 20 years’ cigarettes and cigars was non-existent.  Instead of the normal poolroom smell, there was a vague hint of homemade soup, especially back near the snack bar area.  The vegetable soup aroma was, distinctively, more pronounced based on how hungry you were when you first caught it. 

The only thing that let you know, upon entering, that this was a pool room was the muted click of the balls running into each other and the occasional crash of a break beginning another game of eight ball or nine ball.  The break sounds would invariably change depending on the player.  Regulars to the room could tell who was breaking without looking, basing their opinion entirely on the sound.  They could tell whenever a stranger played, and often how good their game was, judging just by that sound.

The unusual smell in the rest of the room, the clean office building odor, was the direct result of the poolroom’s owner watching his father die of lung cancer many years before.  His dad, who had taught him the game, was a heavy smoker for better than thirty years.  He had made his three sons swear they would never touch the “coffin nails” or work anywhere they might be exposed to it.  The youngest son, he was the only one to heed the admonishment.  His two siblings both smoked light a wet fire, particularly when they played pool.  But never in his pool room.  No one did.  The sign on the front door spelled the policy out very clearly.  “No smoking in this pool room under penalty of death….at some point.”  For anyone who bothered to ask, he could relate the story of his father’s slow, torturous and painful death in such a graphic manner as to cause some to give up the habit, on the spot.  The butt can that sat on the sidewalk outside the front door received all types of detritus as a result, from first puffs to last drags. 

There were other, more subtle ways the pool room differed from the norm.  Instead of a jukebox, the owner had given up that revenue stream and installed a quality sound system upon which he played his own choices of music.  Classical and jazz (Miles Davis and his contemporaries not that Kenny G crap) were two of his favorite genres but he was just as likely to cue up an old Rolling Stones or Beatles or Lynyrd Skynyrd album as long as no one was playing one pocket or straight pool; too much concentration required for those games in his opinion.  And the snack bar fare was better suited to a bed and breakfast.  All the cooking was done on the premises by a former four-star chef who had also been a professional dietician.  He liked to say that no player could ever blame losing a game on the meal he had eaten there. 

There were no games other than pool in the poolroom.  The owner believed in truth in advertising and the neon sign outside, Pool Room, didn’t lie.  Still, the lighting in the place lent itself to playing other games, almost too bright for pool.  If anyone came in with chess set in hand or a backgammon board or a deck of cards or a domino set, they were welcome.  So long as they didn’t interfere with the game and there was room at one of the tables in the snack bar.  And as long as some sort of food or drink purchases were being made.

Because of the differences in the atmosphere, players new to the room often had trouble adjusting and regulars enjoyed, however briefly, a home field advantage.  Depending on a player’s normal nicotine consumption or desire for a particularly greasy food, this home field advantage could be worth a couple on the wire in a short rack game like 9 ball.  In straights, it showed itself in fewer long runs for visiting players and an increased difficulty in playing adequate safeties.  Regular players of this room going out to other poolrooms in the city had no problem adjusting; if anything it was easier to do so.  Because of this, the room’s regulars were respected for their abilities anywhere in town.  While this could result in less weight when arranging a match, the sense of pride in being known as one of the regulars took away some of the sting.  After all, believing you had something over the other player was always worth a little something.

The owner usually got there around seven thirty most mornings during the week.  He would immediately start the first pot of coffee and while it was brewing, scan the newspaper headlines in the main news section.  He would carry his cup to the front counter, pull the previous night’s receipts from the safe and create the deposit.  He would then make sure there was enough change to get through the day, or the weekend if it was a Friday, and head to the bank across the street. 

Returning to the poolroom, he would refill his coffee cup and begin preparing the room for the day.  First, he would remove the table covers from each of the room’s sixteen tables.  Thirteen of these were regulation nine-foot Brunswick tables of differing styles.  (This allowed the owner to act as an area Brunswick dealer, showing potential customers the look and feel of particular tables.  He averaged about two table sales per month the profits of which more than paid the rent on the building.)  There were also two twelve-foot snooker tables and a ten-foot, three-cushion billiards table.  These were rare in the city, or any city for that matter.  It gave the poolroom one more differentiation over its competitors.  After carefully folding all the covers and storing them in the cabinet behind the front counter, he would take a small, portable vacuum cleaner and run it gently over the table playing surfaces.  This would remove chalk dust and talcum powder from the prior day’s players and help create a perfect playing surface for each game.  If you got a bad roll on these tables, the owner wanted it to be your fault, not the fault of the equipment.  Each table’s rails received a wiping with a damp cloth.  Finally, he would take a table brush and brush out the cloth so that the nap ran from the head of the table down to the foot.  Performing this little ritual every day allowed him to see the wear and tear on the tables and know when a re-covering was in order or if a particular style had an odd wear mark that he could point out to the factory rep or to a potential customer. 

With the tables ready, he checked the rest of the equipment.  House cues were checked for tips and bumpers.  Any bumpers that were missing were replaced and tips were tuned if out of shape.  Ferrules were cleaned of the blue ring of chalk usually deposited by a beginner not knowing the proper method for chalking the tip.  The shafts were cleaned with a touch of lighter fluid to keep them slick and free of dirt and hand oils.  Small dents in shafts were carefully steamed or sanded out.  Any cues with really bad dings caused by beginners and “bangers” were culled out.  These were eventually donated to a local retirement home with a pool table.  Each set of balls were inspected and cleaned regularly.  The chalk box was set out and overly used cubes were thrown out.  (Unlike most rooms, the chalk was handed out separately from the set of balls to reduce the amount of cleaning needed on the equipment.  One piece per table, unless requested by the players, was provided.)  After finishing his pre-opening ritual, the owner looked across the room and smiled broadly.  The room had been open for thirteen years and looked brand new.  He believed in preventive maintenance and the value of it showed.

The chef came in about eight thirty most mornings, usually with a couple of bags of groceries in his arms.  He stopped at the open-air market on his way in each morning to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables and, occasionally, something that would really spark his creativity.  The direct result of this stop was, invariably, a daily special that was a delight to the palate and healthy for the body.  He and the owner both had to watch their diets carefully, they shared an affinity for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and the chef took it as one of his most important responsibilities.

At nine o’clock sharp, the owner would unlock the front door and retreat to the front counter to finish his coffee and read the paper.  He read everything, including the classifieds, for a couple of reasons.  The first was that he loved to read and the newspaper had been a daily ritual since he was ten years old.  More importantly, he felt it was his duty to be knowledgeable on current events.  He was frequently called upon to settle debates and wagers among the regulars on the most inane subjects imaginable.  If he had to be Solomon, he intended to have as many facts as he could muster at all times.  It was another aspect of being a small businessman.  If you were looked on as an authority, you had better be one as often as possible or risk losing a customer to someone that was perceived to be.  The owner being right or wrong didn’t matter as much as the perception of his being right or wrong.

While the owner was reading his paper, a group of the regulars came in, one at a time, within five minutes of each other.  The five men, all in their fifties and sixties, most retired, all loud and opinionated, were known collectively as the “Mayor’s Club.”  They were all locals, had lived in town their entire lives, knew nearly everyone in the area and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.  And the company of anyone who would bother to listen to their opinions which was what had earned them their collective nickname; they seemed to be small-town, local politicos.  Individually they were known as Schmoe, Axe, Dago, Duke and Manilow.  After their morning breakfast and bull session, there would be a round robin game of backgammon, one pocket, nine ball or straight pool all for stakes that never amounted to more than a couple of dollars passed between friends.  The game would usually end up just in time for the mayors to head home for lunch with their respective wives.  Later, one or another might make an appearance for a game with real money on the line.  But never with each other.  The morning game and coffee klatch was their ritual of long term friendship. 

Other regulars came in between late morning and early afternoon during the week.  These were players that also had real jobs.  They were businessmen and women, self-employed and employees of large and small corporations.  They were in their mid-twenties and early seventies and everywhere in between.  The commonality they shared was the game.  All of them loved and played pool or billiards or snooker and couldn’t do it for a living.  They made time in their schedules and their daily lives to slip in to the poolroom at least once or twice a week to play, sometimes during their lunch hour, sometimes by playing hooky from work or some other responsibility.  Some would eat while they were playing, savoring the taste of a wonderful meal while playing a match or working on their game.  Others would only concentrate on the task at hand; the shot they faced or the one their opponent faced.  They were far too into their game to eat. 

Many of these people had their own pool table at home.  Some had more expensive tables than the room did.  But they still made the trip to the poolroom to play and practice on these tables, with these other players.  They did it because they loved the aspects of the game that can only be found in a poolroom; the people watching, the competition, a chance to play for money and test one’s game against strangers, friends and acquaintances.  In some cases, it was to develop their “home field” advantage or get a feel for the subtle nuances of tables they would be playing on in an upcoming league event or tournament.  Finding anything that helped the game was always worth a trip.

Regulars also came in around the same time that weren’t players.  Back in the snack bar area, there was a regular lunch crowd that came in to see what the Chef had created for the daily special.  The lunch regulars came from local businesses and were of the same stock as the players.  Every age and social class, every manner of worker and manager was represented during the course of a week.  All were called by name and called each other by name, first names or nicknames, only.  In this environment, they were all equal in social stature and in business, indeed in all measurements of life.  They chatted about the food, the weather, current events, sports, whatever they felt like.  Just walking through the snack bar during the lunchtime rush, you could hear conversations about any aspect of the world.  The crowd was always enough to fill every chair at every table.  Everyone sat with everyone else and this helped the conversations to take place.

Then there were the railbirds.  They tended to come in beginning around lunchtime and remain anywhere from twenty minutes, just long enough to eat, to past closing time at two in the morning.  These were the watchers of pool, the sweaters.  Some of them knew the game very well, could tell who the real players were after watching just one stroke of the cue.  They knew who would fold and who could handle the pressure of a money game.  They knew who was playing their normal speed and who was holding back so as to get the wager or spot they wanted.  They knew these things because they had seen enough over the years to just tell, or at least make a highly educated wager, on the outcome of various occurrences.  Some of the railbirds were players of some repute at one time or another, some still played a fair game and some had never played.  But they all shared the same love for sweating a match with a wager on the outcome.

A few of the railbirds knew almost nothing about the game but a case could be made that this group didn’t know much about anything.  Pool, like most things, can be learned through observation if you know how and what to look for.  If you don’t know what to look for or how to observe you won’t learn anything and there was always one railbird who fit that description.  Most of the time, those in the know would tolerate the unknowing because it helped to validate their own knowledge of the game.  Sometimes they would bait the unknowing clown just so they would have something to laugh about, after the fact.  A good scam on a dimwit railbird would be retold numerous times over the ensuing days; in the snack bar, at a table during a no-money game or at the rail of another match.  It helped to pass the time between games or between wagers.

Late in the afternoon or early in the evening, the money players began coming in the poolroom.  There were usually money matches going on at any time of the day or night.  But the real money players usually came in the evening.  Some had put in a full day of work and were looking for an escape from the usual evening at home or a way to earn a little extra money.  Some had put in a day at college and were looking for the same.  Some had slept until early in the afternoon because they had been up all night the night before playing pool for money.  Those that had won were back to keep their streak alive.  Those that had lost were there to recoup their losses from the night, or nights, before.  The money players all had one thing in common; they all wanted the big score.  They all wanted the chance to play for big money when their stroke was smooth and sure, when difficult shots looked easy, when no safety was inescapable.  They wanted to win and win big.  But if they couldn’t win big, they simply wanted to win.  And if they couldn’t win, they wanted a chance to play.  As one of the mayors was often heard to say, “The only thing worse than playing for money and losing, is not playing for anything!”

The Night Man came in to relieve the owner every evening between five and six o’clock.  He would have dinner in the snack bar and then make his way to the front counter.  The owner didn’t always leave when the Night Man came in; he ran leagues on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  The leagues provided healthy competition for the players who wanted it without the wagering aspect.  There were some players in the league who were every bit as good as the better money players in the room.  They liked their pool to be unblemished with the money that some players used as a way of keeping score.  The leagues also provided healthy competition for those who liked to wager on their skills against the skills of others.  The league allowed them to see other players’ games; some of them might be up for a friendly, or not-so-friendly, money match afterward.  Finally, the leagues provided an opportunity for members of the pool community to socialize with other members.  If you loved the game, the league was an intense three or four hour period to play, watch, learn, talk about, argue and fight about pool.  Never is a poolroom noisier, with predominantly friendly sounds, than it is during league night.  For the owner, leagues were one more revenue stream, one more way of building and keeping his business, his players.

As the night wore on, the Night Man would be kept very busy.  So many people would be there that there would be a wait, sometimes for over an hour, for an available table.  The list of groups waiting was constantly updated, names were called, tabs were settled at the front counter and the tables rented to the next waiting group.  Occasionally, the Night Man would be asked to run a customer’s credit or debit card for far more than the accumulated table time in order to settle a wager on the table.  The poolroom was always glad to do that as they could charge an extra dollar for doing so.  That made it cheaper than the ATM machine across the street and still brought in some additional revenue.  It also made for more road players willing to stop in and play; no one ever had to worry about getting paid if plastic was available.  As a result, this poolroom always had action.

Slowly, the noise level in the poolroom would begin to dissipate, imperceptibly at first, until, around one in the morning, with the snack bar closed for business, the majority of sound came from the balls on the tables.  By this time, about half of the tables would have games going on them.  The rest would get their covers replaced, as the games would end.  Finally, with only two or three tables going, the Open sign would be turned off and the door would be locked.  Whatever railbirds still in attendance would be sweating the matches along with the players, wagering on the outcome of each match or individual games, or sometimes, on individual shots.  Often, the railbirds would find among them one of the players’ backers, wagering on his man on the side with the spectators, too.  (It was men in these two roles.  The occasion of a woman playing a high-stakes money match was extremely uncommon in every poolroom around the country.  And the backer was almost never a woman either.  Perhaps poolrooms of the future will have coed road player / backer teams.)  This provided the backer with the opportunity to make more money.  Any side bets he placed were not subject to the player’s cut; it was all profit or loss for him. 

Finally, the last ball would drop on the last game of the night.  Cues would be broken down, wiped off and placed carefully back in their cases.  Wagers would be paid off, discretely in most cases.  The loser would count out the bills, early in the evening fives and tens at this hour twenties, fifties and hundreds, and either hand the wad to the winner or drop it on the table.  This last gesture was usually meant as one of resignation, a way to surrender.  Handing the bills over instead of tossing them on the table meant you were leaving with your self-respect intact and wanted a rematch on another night.  And the winner would always accommodate you, maybe with a different spot or a different game with different stakes but he would always give the loser a chance to win his money back.

The last players would settle up their table time and bar tabs.  The winners would tip the Night Man for staying past closing time to allow the match to continue, make one final trip to the rest room and head out into the night. 

Like most poolrooms, stories of matches that continued for more than one day were legendary.  This room was no different.  The regulars loved to tell the story of the match between Alan Hopkins, a road player with a national reputation, and Stumpy Wheeler the local one-pocket legend that would play anyone for anything.  He and Hopkins started a match on a Monday evening that continued until early Wednesday morning.  The combatants broke for some sleep and reconvened Wednesday afternoon and played until Thursday night around midnight when Stumpy won two racks in a row at five hundred dollars each.  When the dust had cleared, Hopkins had only won a hundred dollars.  The only reason they continued for that long was that Hopkins couldn’t believe he couldn’t put Stumpy, a man with only one leg playing on crutches, away and he called quits when he realized he needed to be at a tournament two states away on Friday evening.  Until the day he passed away, Stumpy referred to Hopkins as the only man who had ever beaten him and not given him a chance to win back his money. 

The Night Man would put the covers on the last of the tables, count and close out the cash register, transmit the credit card receipts, run and print the computer reports for the day and put the money in the safe.  After a quick walk through the building, making sure all entrances were locked and no one had passed out somewhere in the room or was sleeping in the john, he would turn out the lights, set the alarm and lock up.

The parking lot was finally empty.  The poolroom was dark and quiet, resting after hosting a day of the best and worst shots ever seen.  It would do the same thing again in a few hours just as it had every day for the last thirteen years.  And it still smelled like homemade soup.



Saturday, June 9, 2012

Long Post – Longer Ride!



How did I get here?

I think that anyone who gets involved in cycling starts to think about it.  (By involved, I mean they move from the meandering pace, enjoying the sights and sounds, to pounding out a rhythm with the pedals, doing it for their health and occasionally suffering in the saddle.  Working to go faster, climbing hills, buying gear….you know the type.)  You start to think about how far you can ride in an hour, or two hours, or a morning, or even a day.  You eventually think, “I wonder if I can do a Century Ride?”

You start out in complete disbelief and denial.  (A hundred miles????  I don’t even like to drive that far if I can avoid it!)  You continue to do your fifteen mile course that you do every time you ride, exercising for about an hour or so.  Then, one day, you stretch it a little bit just to see if you can.  And you’ve now ridden twenty miles.  That’s when it starts!  Like something that’s really bad for you (and heaven knows I’ve done my share of that over the years) you begin to think about it, whenever you go for a ride and begin to indulge more and more.

The next time you feel up to it, you push it again and now you’ve done thirty miles.  You’re doing twice what you did before!  And, if you do less than that, you feel as if you’re cheating and chastise yourself.  (Come on, you big weenie!  You’ve done more than this before.  What are you, a quitter?)  So, you keep riding at least thirty whenever you go out, exercising for 2 hours or less if you can lower your time by getting your average speed up.  (Wow, got way under my personal best this morning!  Love it when it’s not windy!)

One morning, you wake up and decide to try for forty five miles.  For me, that was the day.  The day I told MB, “I’m planning to go for three hours this morning.  I’m going to shoot for forty five miles.”  And when I got home, feeling good about my accomplishment, that’s when I said, “You know, I think I’d like to see if I can do a Century Ride.”

(Fortunately, MB understands me better than anyone else.  She knows that once my mind is made up on something that is within my control, it’s going to happen.  What’s wonderful for me is that, instead of trying to talk me out of it or distracting me with something else, she provides encouragement and support to help me get to my goal.  She’s quite something, really.  I’m lucky to have her.)

Because the Universe knows what it’s doing, within a few days of this pronouncement, I received an email from a friend at work telling me about a group of people that were going to ride in the Tour de Cure, a fundraiser to eliminating Diabetes.  One of the rides was a century and the team captain was planning to ride that length.  I signed up!

With a goal in mind, a date set, a location selected, and a team to join in I couldn’t miss!  I began getting people to donate and quickly raised enough money to join the team.  Thanks to all of you wonderful people!  We raised $1250 for this event!  I’m proud to call you all friends!

I spent the last few months preparing myself to ride.  Most of that preparation has been documented in this blog.  If you’re not a regular reader and perhaps you’d like to catch up, feel free to read the rest of the entries here.  Go ahead!  We’ll wait. 

Shouldn’t one be resting in a place called Reston?

Tour de Cure of the National Capital Area takes place just outside of the Nation’s capital, beginning in a place called Reston, VA.  It was the state’s first planned community and began back in the mid-1960s.  After almost fifty years, it’s become a vibrant community.  (I spent a lot of time in this area back in my youth but not having been there for about thirty years, I was quite impressed by what they’ve done.)  The start of the TdC was set up in the Town Center Square which has a big pavilion that is surrounded by some great shops and restaurants.

Since Reston is about a two hour drive from Richmond, I made arrangements to stay at a Holiday Inn Express (so I’d be smarter!) the night before the ride which was beginning at 6 a.m.  I invited MB to join me and she was glad to tag along.
We rode up Saturday in the early afternoon, arriving at The Bike Lane around 2:30.  The Bike Lane (www.thebikelane.com) is a wonderful LBS (local bike shop as they’re known in the bike world) that is owned by a young couple in the area.  It’s a great store and was acting as one of the hosts for the Tour.  The check in desk was set up on the sidewalk out front and after getting my bib and t-shirt, MB and I walked around the store.

Adam, the store manager, greeted me warmly and offered to help.  I identified myself as one of the Tour riders and MB pointed out that I was going to try my first century and did he have any advice?  He said, “Don’t be a hero.  Be sure to eat and drink a lot during the ride – get something at every rest stop.  Go out at an intelligent pace, just survive the middle section up in the hills, and finish strong.”  It’s funny, that’s what I had been thinking all along based on some of the stuff I’ve read online.  That comment about “surviving the middle section” gave me pause, however.  Was it really that hard? 

Adam also told me that his mechanics would be out in force tomorrow for support and if I needed anything to let them know.  Volunteers really make an event and these guys and ladies were great!

I walked around the rest of the store admiring some of the new Trek bikes that are out.  The new Madone model is quite amazing; feels like it weighs about ten pounds.  I haven’t found many bikes lighter than my old Giant these days.  Then I looked at the price tag and understood why.  The more you pay per pound, the lighter the bikes are.  This one was about $400 a pound.  MB was looking at me with that don’t-even-think-about-it look in her eye and said, “You realize that’s about number 35 on the priority list, right?”  I sighed and put it back in the stand.  (So the new Bicycling Magazine has a review of this bike and it's actually 16 pounds.  That's less than $300 a pound.  Wow!  What a bargain!)

After looking around the store, we decided we had a few hours to kill before dinner.  I suggested to we go to the Udvar-Hazy museum (http://airandspace.si.edu/udvarhazy/), the air and space museum of the Smithsonian, located nearby.  We got in the car and headed over.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

In my last post, I talked about the Wright Brothers and their little invention in Dayton that they then flew in Kitty Hawk.  They began an industry that is nothing short of remarkable.  I’m willing to say that the airplane was the single biggest invention of the 20th century.  Udvar-Hazy has more of them on display (222 is the current count including space craft) than any place on earth!

What an amazing facility!

In one place you can see, an early Wright Flyer, early machines by other flight pioneers, World War I biplanes, World War II fighters, the Enola Gay (dropped the first atomic bomb) a Boeing 707 jet, a Concorde SST, and SR 71 Blackbird – one of the fastest aircraft every flown (New York to Los Angeles in 56 minutes which is an unbroken record) – and the Discovery Space Shuttle.  

And there are hundreds of other planes from experimental home built models to the hottest jets ever created.  We saw one tiny speed plane, seriously it looked like a toy, that was a 9 time national champion with a top speed near 400 mph!

Every time we’d turn a corner, another famous airplane would come into view and we’d just stand and gawk, eyes wide open, and read the information sign.  It was a terrific way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s the best free museum you’ll ever find.  (Parking, however, is not.  It’s $15 a car to get in.  I consider it a bargain and that money goes to help the museum grow and improve.)  

The Traditional Carb Loading

Having never done anything like this event, I did a lot of research in preparation.  One of the things I learned about is the tradition of the Carb Loading beforehand.  Allegedly, getting a bunch of complex carbohydrates into your body the night before helps you to maintain your energy level during the event.  I don’t know if that’s true but who am I to argue.

I’m a big fan of carbohydrates.  Part of controlling my diet in my new lifestyle means that I don’t get to eat them whenever I want, however.  Having a reason to do so makes me smile.

MB and I went back to the Reston Town Center area where we’d seen a number of restaurants.  The Tap House grill had caught our eye because we’re both fans of good beer and this place had a couple dozen taps, many of which had names that we’d not seen before.

After getting a table near the street where we could people watch effectively, we ordered some amazing food and a couple of really good micro-brewed beers.  I made sure to have a larger than normal meal with a good mix of proper nutrients, washed down with plenty of water and, of course, some good beer.

Appropriately carb loaded, we headed back to the Holiday Inn to get some sleep.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to because I was pretty excited about the next day.  Fortunately, I was able to go to sleep quickly.

McDonalds – No one is lovin’ it!

I woke up before my alarm went off, turned it off, and headed for a shower.  This was so much to clean up (I was about to go get plenty sweaty) but was more about stretching things out.  A few minutes of blazing hot water on my back and neck does wonders for loosening me up.

I suited up in my riding shorts and a Carytown Cycle Shop jersey.  (I wanted to make sure people knew I was from the Richmond area and this LBS is only in that location.)  I filled my water bottles for the first time and collected all the gear I’d be taking with me; helmet, gloves, shoes, a half dozen Honey Stinger Waffles, and MB and I headed out to get me some breakfast at the McDonalds across the street.  

According to the sign on their window, they opened at 4:30 am.

We pulled up and all the lights inside were on and at least one customer was sitting at a table.  We walked in and were greeted by a young man who took our order.  As he did, we over heard a middle aged woman, who turned out to be the manager, mumbling about people not being prepared to work or something like that.  I grabbed my receipt and we went to find a seat.

At that point, we were treated to the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at a Mickey D’s.  The customer that had been seated inside when we entered, got up and went to the counter to ask how long it was going to be.  The “manager” offered him a refund which he took and then left.

A few moments later, three local police officers came in to get breakfast.  I assumed they were about to go on duty as it was around 5:30 in the morning.  The “manager” told them it would be a while.  They left.

The person that had ordered immediately before us went up to the counter and requested a refund as he couldn’t wait any longer.  The manager gave him one and he left.

At this point, MB looked at me and asked what I wanted to do.  We had managed to get our drinks so far but from the way the manager was mumbling, and the lack of staff apparent in the back, it was going to be a while before I got to eat.  At that point, I heard the manager say, “The grill isn’t even on yet….”

I walked up to the counter and asked, “How long will it take to get my breakfast?”
She responded with, “She didn’t even turn the grill on, yet.”  I think she was referring to someone who was supposed to be working in the back but I hadn’t even seen yet.

“Yes, I heard you say that already.  What does that translate to in minutes?  How long will it take to get food?”

She sighed and said, “About forty five minutes or so.”

“Okay. I’d like a refund then.”

She gave me one and we headed off to the Town Center starting area.  I hoped that there would be some kind of fruit or something to eat.

In my lifetime, McDonalds became the largest fast food franchise in the world.  They did it by providing (according to founder Ray Kroc) Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value.  The lack of same, along with a trend toward more healthy fare, will be the thing that drives them out of business, given enough time.  I realize this was an anomaly but I’ve also seen more examples of this type of execution there in the past five years than in the rest of my lifetime.  And I eat there far less frequently these days than I ever did before.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just that Americans have gotten used to horrible service and it’s become the norm.  Whatever.

107 miles – Hills suck except when they’re going down!

MB dropped me off near the Pavilion about 5:45 and I gave her a kiss.  She was heading back to the hotel to shower, pack up our stuff, check out, and then wait at a rest stop on the ride.

I walked my bike across the square to get the lay of the land and then hung it in a bike rack that was filling up quickly.  I found some tables of fruit and grabbed a banana and orange for breakfast.  As I ate, I looked around at all the riders beginning to queue up in the area, looking for my team captain, Wes.  I was also looking around at the various shapes and sizes of riders in the crowd.  I haven’t done much riding with others and, I suppose, I was sizing myself up to see if I looked like someone who could ride a century.

I finally spotted Wes in line to check in.  When I caught his eye we exchanged pleasantries, and I told him where I was waiting so we could connect and get organized.

Once he checked in and collected his stuff, I helped him pin his number on the back of his jersey.  Then we grabbed our bikes and rolled them past the mechanics from The Bike Lane to top off the tires.  After fidgeting around for a few more minutes, we realized that it was shortly after 6 am and, since we were allowed to start anytime between 6 and 7 am, we saddled up and rolled off through the starting area.  I punched my computer to let it know I was really doing this and we were off.

The first twenty seven miles of the course followed the W&OD trail, a multi-purpose trail that began its life as a railroad bed.  As a result, the trail was relatively flat although I could detect a very slight uphill grade.  Because it was so flat, our pace was a pretty solid 17-18 mph for the first 90 minutes or so.  On flat ground, I can do that for many hours but I had Adam’s words ringing in my ears about going out at an intelligent pace.  The thing is it just felt like the right speed so I went with it.

There were dozens of riders on the trail, large groups and small, and they kept passing me.  I let them.  I planned to make it to the end and that meant that I had to go with my own pace, listen to my body.  (Sometimes it says things to me that can’t be repeated but right now it was saying, “This is fine!  It feels good, we aren’t breathing hard, heart rate is good, legs feel good.  Just stick with this!”) 

In any case, I was getting comfortable with riding in a large group of people very close together which can be a little unnerving.  Once I got comfortable, it felt great!  So this is what the peloton feels like, huh?  People riding about a foot away at a pretty good rate of speed, blocking the wind.  Not bad!

At some point, I realized that Wes had been swept along by one of the large groups that kept passing me.  I could see him about 200 meters ahead of me and, although I knew he’d wait for me at the first rest stop (he promised he’d drag me around if he had to) I didn’t want him to feel like I was holding him back.  I was riding with five other riders in a small group when I decided I needed to jump across the gap and catch up with Wes.  The problem was I didn’t know how to do it as I’d never done any of this before.

I stood up on the pedals and did some power cranks for about ten seconds.  This increased my speed enough to pull around the person I’d been riding behind and begin to close the gap.  Since I’d kicked up my speed by 3 mph, I sat back down, shifted to a smaller cog, and kept my eyes focused on Wes’ rear wheel while trying to keep my cadence the same as it had been.  The gap grew smaller and in about 10 minutes, I was back on his wheel.  What do you know?  That was easier than I thought.  I had crossed my first gap.

At that point, it was just the two of us riding together as no one had followed me and the group with Wes had ridden off.  We continued along at the same pace as before and started to chat.

Wes is in sales for the company we both work for.  He is one of those people who can talk with anyone (I saw him do it throughout the course of the day.  I’m convinced he can carry on a conversation with a mannequin) and is a good listener, too.  He kept asking me questions and I kept answering; this continued throughout the ride as long as we had breath. We had a pretty long discussion about health care reform at one point.  I don't think we solved anything but it helped the miles go past.

At the first rest stop, we pulled over for a quick break.  I refilled my water bottle and realized I was bordering on hungry.  I grabbed two halves of a PB&J, which I promptly ate, and stuck a couple of Clif Bars in my jersey pocket.  I tore open a Honey Stinger so that I could eat one of those during the next section of the ride but wouldn’t have to open it while riding. (I’m famous for dropping it as I get it open and I wasn’t planning to turn around.) I was going to make sure I gave myself every chance to eat and not lose it based on a lack of energy.
We got back on the bikes and continued along the old railroad bed for about 15 miles to the Purcellville stop where we would leave the trail and switch to country roads.  As we pulled into the parking lot of the Post Office, where volunteers had set up for support, I saw our car in a parking space and knew that MB had made it.  I saw her sitting on the curb, reading her Kindle and called out.  She looked up and waved and walked over to where Wes and I were pulling to a stop.

Wes and I got off our bikes and parked them.  We had decided to take a 15 minute break and it was welcome by me at that point.  As I refilled bottles, got another sandwich and some fruit, and stretched, MB was looking me over to see how I was doing.  (She’s smart enough to know that I’m probably going to say I’m fine unless I’m near death.) I must have passed the examination because when she asked how I felt and I responded positively, she allowed that I looked okay, too.

I introduced MB to Wes and they exchanged niceties.  As they did, I realized that we were slightly over ¼ of the way and I felt pretty good.  My legs felt good, not great.  I also knew that it was about to get considerably more difficult.  I was determined to see this through.

We finished our break, hit the portable toilet (Don’s Johns! I had forgotten that company name.  They must be the market leader in the DC area after all these years - We're #1 in #2 or something like that.) and got set to ride on.  

MB said she’d be waiting at the halfway point or thereabouts and expected us in a couple of hours.

We rode out of town and onto two lane blacktop roads.

The next four hours or so are a bit of a blur to me.  We rode the first 25 miles through some lovely parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing farms that were over 200 years old and some that were less than 10.  We saw some tiny shacks and some enormous mansions.  What I mostly remember though were the hills.  We climbed and we descended.  Over and over again.  Some of the hills were short and not very steep; these are often referred to as rollers.  Some of them were longer and a little steeper.  These are referred to as climbs.  Some were long and steep.  I refer to these as hell.

Sure it's pretty! You aren't riding uphill in front of it!

That first half of the road loop was plenty exhilarating to me.  The climbs were enough to get my heart pounding near my maximum (I have no idea what that is but I’ve heard serious cyclists say it) and I was unable to speak for several minutes after each one.  After looking at the online road chart, I know that some of them were around 8% for short stretches.  That’s what real riders do.  I’m not a real rider.  

As a result, I was struggling.

Around mile 53, I saw a parking lot coming up where riders were pulling in.  It was the halfway station!  As we pulled in, there was great clapping from the volunteers and I saw smiles everywhere I looked.  MB stood up and smiled and then immediately frowned.  She had our digital SLR and was going to take our picture as we came in when the battery died!  What a shame that we’ll never have the look of relief on my face saved for posterity.

I dismounted and propped the bike against a fence, stretching my back and legs.  Halfway and I felt like this?  Maybe the worst was behind us.  Yeah, right.  It can always get worse.

I drank and ate again.  PB&Js had now become the best food I’d ever eaten!  And the orange was amazing, too.  I also wolfed down a couple of Clif bars for good measure.  I started to feel better, at least I think I did.

MB asked me how I was holding up.  I told her I thought I was okay but those hills had been killers.  She smiled and said, “I overheard a couple guys talking about them.  One said they were just a warm up. Evidently, it gets harder from here.”  I smiled.  Kind of.  Actually, it was the face I make when I’m trying not to vomit.

Wes leaned in.  “He’s doing great! We’re going to make this, no problem!”  I agreed.

Wes and I stretched for about fifteen minutes or so, and made sure to get enough food down for another two hours.  Before heading out, I topped off my water bottles again, tore open two more Honey Stingers and a Clif bar, and saddled up.  MB said she’d be waiting at the finish line.  I told her we’d see her in about four hours or less.

Hell makes a return visit

The guys that MB overheard were right, dammit.  There were slightly fewer hills on the next 25 mile section but they were steeper.  How steep?  For the first time since I’d gotten my road bike, I shifted to the smallest chain ring and the largest cog.  That’s affectionately known to cyclists as the “granny gear.”  It’s where you’re pedaling steadily at your normal cadence and hoping you remain upright since you’re moving so slowly you might fall over.  It’s designed for the steepest hill that no other gear will do. 

Despite using the granny gear, I still had to get off the bike and walk it because I couldn’t go any further pedaling.  My Ass Just Hurt. Too. Badly.  I simply had to get off right this very second or risk falling off.  I was on the verge of sobbing.  Seriously.

Good grief!  The walk of shame.  Three times.  I felt like a wuss.  Until I saw several others riders (who all looked like cyclists – full kit, nice jersey, nice bike, the whole thing!) pushing their bike, too. 

That’s when I realized that pushing the bike wasn’t a walk of shame. It was a temporary respite from the pain so one can continue.  So that one doesn’t have to quit entirely.  And I began to feel better.  I even managed to ride my way up a couple of hills that were steeper than ones I’d walked up already.

The downhill parts were pretty cool.  On one, I simply glided to a speed of 38 mph without once touching the pedals.  (I was trying to rest.)  That’s pretty steep if you ask me.  (I realize that folks that live in the real mountains, out west, are laughing at this blog post.  Yeah, yeah, I know you have real mountains out there.  Get over yourself.  It’s all relative.)  Those downhill bits are the payback for the climb.  I just wish they lasted longer.

See the blue in the background?  Hence the name!

By the time the hills were over, we’d done over 6,000 feet of climbs in a 45 mile stretch.  Based on what I’ve read, that’s some pretty good climbing.

Eventually, we rolled out of the last roller and back into Purcellville.  We were at mile 80 or so.  The rest of the ride would be on mostly flat railroad bed/trail.  But first we had a rest stop.  Thank God!

We pulled back into the Post Office parking lot that we’d hit coming off the trail on the way out.  The volunteers had the same fare as before laid out and added Subway subs.  (I'm always impressed with the sponsors of events like this.  Thank you Subway!  And thank you Clif Bars!)  Riders were grabbing sandwiches and wolfing them down.  I stuck with the PB&J as I felt like I needed the quick energy burst.  I also knew that I could eat them without worrying about dietary issues.  I refilled my water bottles, too, after drinking my fill.

At this point, I felt like I was going to be able to finish.  I knew the last thirty miles or so were flat with the tiniest of downhill grades.  Wes still looked strong but he’s one of those guys who always has a smile on his face anyway.  He mentioned that there were 2 stops left and he wanted to know if I was okay with skipping one of them.  We agreed to hit the last one, about eleven miles from the finish.

We swung back onto the bikes and picked up the old railroad trail.  After all the hills, it was glorious!  I felt like singing.  I hung on Wes’ wheel as we hit about 18 mph, passing riders, runners, and walkers in both directions.  Now that it was after lunch, the trail was crowded with weekend outdoor lovers, not just TdC riders.

We rolled through the first rest stop and continued on with about 20 miles to go.  As we rode, we were continuously passed by other riders.  Some were TdC riders who were headed for the finish.  Most were just riders out on the trail.  In my area, we have nothing like this trail for cyclists at least not that I’m aware of.  The number of folks using it was amazing to me.  (I may have to look into this.  If Richmond is holding the World Cycling Championships in 2015, shouldn’t we have this kind of system going, too?)

Our pace had slowed considerably and we were holding about a 13-14 mph pace.  This was driven to some degree by the traffic.  Occasionally, we’d have to slow down to wait for room to pass someone.  There was also a bit of wind kicking up here and there which was dead in our faces.

At one point, Wes slowed down a bit and was stretching his back while coasting.  Since he had been leading most of the way, I thought I should help him out.  I swung past him and said, “I’ll pull for a while.  Get on my wheel. You’ve been doing all the work.”  He slid into line and immediately said, “This is much easier! Wow! Where have you been all day?”

I laughed and hollered back at him, “I’ve been trying to keep up!” 

I stepped the pace up a little bit as we crested a tiny hill caused by a flyover a road.  I held the pace at about 16 mph for a couple of miles while Wes recovered behind me.  I was catching another wind and feeling okay again.  I found it really interesting that when I just ground through the really rough spots, my body would come back again a little farther down the road.  Clearly, the mental aspect of this is a big deal on these long rides.

We were only about 8 miles out when Wes passed me and said thanks for the pull.  He was feeling better and took the lead again.  A couple of miles went by in silence, as had most of this last thirty mile section.  Suddenly, Wes sat up and looked around.

“Hey dude, check your odometer.  What’s it say?”

“I was watching it, too.  I’d have to call that a hundred miles!” I replied.

“Congratulations, sir!  How’s it feel?” Wes was grinning as was I.

“It feels great!  And we’re almost home.  Let’s get busy!”

We continued down the trail for about twenty minutes and suddenly there was a detour off of it.  It looked as if the trail was closed due to some kind of work being done to a bridge up ahead.  The detour took us down to the road where we hit another detour caused by a carnival that was set up and taking over several blocks of parking lot and roads. 

After several turns through a neighborhood we came back out on a main street and suddenly, the trail reappeared.  We turned onto it again with only a couple of miles left to go.  At this point, Wes had slid back behind me again.  I think he wanted me to have the chance to go first as we headed into the finish area.



Finally, I could see we’d reached the trail end.  There was a sign pointing to the street that we’d crossed to start the ride 8+ hours before and there was the pavilion!  There was a wall of sound emanating from the area as we approached.  I caught a glimpse of MB sitting behind the stage as we approached and she jumped up to take my picture.  I raised my left arm and grinned as she snapped it and turned down the roadway next to the pavilion.  Both sides were full of people who suddenly started applauding as Wes and I made our way toward the bike racks set up for cyclists to park and eat.  It felt really cool to have all these people smiling, clapping and giving us the thumbs up!  


It felt like I’d won something.  I suppose, I had.

We stopped and dismounted.  I stuck out my hand told Wes thanks for dragging me through the rough spots.  He thanked me for pushing him along and pulling him when he needed it, too.

MB came through the crowd and patted me on the back, asking me how I felt, if I was hungry, thirsty, did I need anything?  I said, “I just want to get something to eat and walk around for a few minutes.  And then I want a beer.”

Aftermath

After relaxing for about twenty minutes with several sandwiches, a slice of pizza, and another quart of water, I was ready to head for home.  I thanked Wes, again, and we agreed to do another ride soon.  (No, Wes, I’m not doing that Severe Century or whatever it was.  That sounds too brutal, or impossible.  Don't even suggest it.  Okay, maybe next year.)

MB and I walked my bike to where the car was parked and I loaded it onto the rack, changed my shirt and shoes, and collapsed in the front seat.  Frankly, the next hour or so was kind of a blur. 

I felt totally wiped out but very much alive.  My wrists and left elbow, which toward the end of the ride were on fire, didn’t seem to be hurting so badly.  My legs were tired but seemed to be able to support me.  My neck was pretty sore but tolerable.  

As MB negotiated the Beltway, finally getting us onto I95 South, she told me several times how proud she was of my efforts and glad that I was no worse for wear.
At some point, I apparently fell asleep.  Traffic was at a standstill and MB took this shot which she immediately posted to Facebook.  That’s me, out like a light, holding a water bottle, and snoring. 

I slept for about 30 minutes and when I woke up, I had to lift my head with one hand as my neck seemed to have lost its hoisting ability.  Once I woke up fully, I became much more aware of things and spent the rest of the drive chatting with MB about the ride, the sights, the hills, the volunteers, and the feeling of finishing.

When we got home, I was surprised to find that I could climb stairs with no problem.  This was good because I had to do it several times to put stuff away.  I was in much better shape than I thought.

I took the hottest shower I could stand for about 20 minutes.  I was surprised at how much grit was on my face, arms, and legs from the ride.  That may have been the best shower I’ve ever taken in my life.

Once I got dressed, I felt totally human again.  I opened a beer and watched some TV while MB fixed dinner.  It was good to be home.

The next morning, I woke up with some trepidation.  When I’ve done something exhausting in the past, it’s always the next day that hurts.  Badly.  I opened my eyes and started mentally checking out body parts.

Neck?  Seems to be okay; yes I can turn my head.  Wrists? Hmm, no pain at all.  Elbows? They seem fine, too.  Legs?  Well, I can tell I did something yesterday but they don’t feel any worse than when I’ve ridden 40 miles.  I’m going to live.  I sat up.  Definitely going to live!  And much happier than ever, too!

I got dressed and went to get the paper.  Life is good.

Thoughts on Riding a Century

I started out wondering if I could do this.  Frankly, if the ride had been on that old railroad trail for 100 miles, I would barely have broken a sweat.  I feel as if I can ride all day long on the flats.  (We’re going back to OBX in July.  I’ll let you know if that’s true.  I’m thinking about trying a solo century down there.)

What this ride taught me is that the hills are going to challenge me for a while.  I don’t ride them very often (not any that are this big, anyway) and so my climbing technique and the power to do it, isn’t very well developed.  Part of me is thinking that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be.  Another part of me is wondering how I go about doing that.  Damn, retired athletes.

Will I do this again?  That’s still something I’m wondering about.  The answer is probably yes.  I love that it was for charity; that made me feel really good regardless of the pain.  I loved the challenge, the camaraderie, the struggle, and to some degree, the suffering.  There’s something about learning how much you can stand, how much you’re willing to take, that you’re limit is farther out than you thought, that is eye opening and fulfilling.  It’s not an adrenaline shot.  It’s much more for the soul.  

And I needed that.  And will need it again.


Friday, June 1, 2012

I Wanna Go Back To The Island…….



Thanks to Mr. Buffett for the inspiration in that song.

MB and I have been working very hard for the last six months and were more than ready for a vacation.  Fortunately, her family loves to get together for reunions at least once a year.  This year, a large group got a huge house on the beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  For those of you not from around these parts this area is called the Outer Banks (OBX), a large string of barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean that helps to protect the mainland from large storms and the constant pounding of waves.

If Kill Devil Hills sounds familiar to you, it’s because that’s where the Wright Brothers first flew a heavier than air machine on December 17th, 1903.  (Thus beginning a long, strange trip to standing in long lines while removing parts of clothing, getting x-rayed, and felt up by bored government employees, all while hoping against hope that you’ll be able to get your luggage into a ridiculously small space.) The monument to that achievement is within sight of the house in which we were staying (see picture) and is well worth a visit.  

You can see a replica of the original Wright Flyer; the original hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum today.  You can also walk the flight path and see the spot where that famous photograph was taken.  It’s great fun, particularly if you’re an airplane fan (like me) or a history buff (like me, too).

The reason the Wrights, who were from Dayton Ohio, chose this spot to perform their flying experiments is the wind.  They wrote to the National Weather Service and were given several locations for “sustained winds” including Kitty Hawk, NC.  That was actually the nearest town at the time.  I’m guessing there were only a couple of dozen people living here, back then, a far cry from the huge crowds and enormous houses that populate the surrounding area today.

First ride

The day dawned clear and beautiful on Monday morning.  After being cooped up in a car for the four hour ride and then the house the prior evening due to the rain, I was ready to hit the bike.  My wife’s cousin’s husband (cousin-in-law? I’ll refer to him as Cuz) had brought his road bike and we were planning some rides together.  I loaded up the water bottles, grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle, and we headed north on NC 12 also known as Virginia Dare boulevard.  (Virginia Dare was person born in the Lost Colony of North Carolina.  Google it for a fascinating read.)  Our plan was to ride for a couple of hours.

We chose a northerly course as the wind seemed to be out of the northeast and I’d rather have a tailwind when I turn for home.  There wasn’t much wind but you could feel it, mostly across rather than helping or hurting.

The road is dead flat here.  As someone who lives in the hillier area of Virginia, this is like heaven!  No hills? Sign me up! It is so much easier to keep a pace on this.  Wow, what a difference.  Additionally, the roads, for the most part, have excellent shoulders / bike lanes which make it easy to feel safe even on a 45 mph speed limit area like this. 

We rolled for an hour or so, continuing up into Duck and Corolla, keeping a fifteen to sixteen mph pace, and then stopped for a quick blow and drink.  Since I had been doing more riding than Cuz, I allowed him to decide how fast and far to ride this morning.  When we stopped, he mentioned that he felt good and since it was such a great morning, why not continue northward?  I could only agree.  He then said, he was tempted to ride all the way to the Currituck Lighthouse and I agreed, again.  We rolled on for another few minutes and then saw a sign that said the lighthouse was another 9 miles.  We pedaled on.

After chugging along for another forty five minutes, we pulled into the lighthouse parking lot and dismounted for a drink and a short rest.  I realized that we would soon be coming up on two hours and since that’s when MB begins to develop road carnage ideas, I knew it was important to let her know that we’d be later than I’d planned.  I called her cell phone and got voice mail.  Called one of the daughters and got voice mail.  Called MB’s work cell phone and got voice mail and left a message this time.  (Of course, I realized that all those messages would drive her to think we’d been hit by a car and were in dire straits but it couldn’t be helped at this point.)

We split the waffle I’d brought; I wished I’d brought a handful of them as I knew I was going to be starving by the time we got back to the house.  We had a drink, chatted about the ride so far, and prepared to head back.

I took the lead as we headed out of the parking lot.  As soon as I turned onto the road, I realized that the wind had switched around and was quartering into us.  I put my head down and bumped the pace up to about 18 mph, Cuz got on my wheel, and we motored back towards the southern beaches.  I kept this pace going for the first couple of miles when I noticed that Cuz was dropping back, slightly.  I backed off on my efforts and we hooked back up.

We continued along for just over an hour and then pulled into the convenience store that sits near the entrance to the Outer Banks for a breather. Cuz mentioned how glad he was that I’d slowed down; when he saw the pace I started to return, he was worried about how long he’d be able to hold it.  I called MB again to let her know we were about thirty minutes away and got her voice mail.  I left a message giving her a time when we’d be pulling in.

We pulled back onto Rt. 12 for the last 7 miles and kept to the 15 mph pace again.  About 3 miles from home, I heard my cell phone going off in my jersey pocket.  I ignored it and kept my head down into the wind.  A couple of minutes later, I heard it again.  Sigh.  Road carnage thoughts were causing cell phone motivation.  I kept pedaling and ignoring the subsequent calls.  I was starving and needed to eat soon or face the Bonk.

About 15 minutes later we pulled into the driveway and I was able to grab my phone and call MB to tell her we’d returned and ask her to make me a PBJ, stat.  After stowing my bike, I navigated two flights of steps, ate the sandwich, and grabbed a quick shower so we could run out to lunch at the OBX Brewing Station, a local micro brewery that is the only wind powered brewery on the East Coast!  What a great way to start a week at the beach!


Shorties but Goodies

The next couple of days I went out on shorter rides, some solo and some with Cuz.  One day I rode twice, a 20 miler in the morning by myself and a 25 miler in the afternoon with him. 

I actually preferred early morning riding there because the wind is usually down a bit, in the 3-5 mph range.  Afternoons the wind is more like 12-15 mph and, while that’s manageable, it can be grueling.  The old saying, “Hills make you stronger, the wind just makes you mean!” is never truer than at the beach.  If it’s a headwind, you really have to grind through it.  Crosswinds, and in this area it’s almost always slightly across you, can be exciting because they can shove you into traffic or off the road and into the sand if they’re gusty enough. (Tailwinds are so wonderful I’m thinking about a separate post as an ode to them!)

In any case, these frequent, short rides felt great!  I was beginning to feel like a cyclist!

Big Plans, Small Breakdown

I was feeling so good in fact that I decided I wanted to put down a longer ride.  I decided to ride south on Thursday across Oregon Inlet (a big bridge of about 3 miles; here's a picture) on to Hatteras Island and back for a 60+ mile tour.  Cuz said he was ready to try it, too.  I told MB we’d be back in about 4 hours or so and pulled out around 8 am.

It was a gorgeous morning with a very light cross/head wind.  We pedaled south along Rt. 12 enjoying the ride.  Every so often, the dunes on the left would give way to a view of the ocean waves gently sliding up the sand.  Once we got about 10 miles south, the area turned very residential.  The traffic lessened and the views got better and better.  We took a short break in a maintenance parking lot next to Bodie Island.  We talked about having to pull out onto the main road in a few hundred yards where the speed limit is 55 and the shoulder is a little less forgiving.  We decided that the drivers, thus far, had been fairly reasonable so we shouldn’t have any worries.  Just the same, Cuz made sure that the red blinkie I’d given him was working properly and secure on the back of his saddle bag.

We turned onto the main road and began to pedal across Bodie Island. Off to the right, we got a look at the Bodie Island lighthouse.  The lighthouses in this area are quite famous and wonderful places to visit.

About 4 miles down the road, I spied the Oregon Inlet Bridge in the distance.  I had no idea how wide it was or what it would be like to cross it on a bike and it occurred to me that the wind was picking up, too.  This was going to be interesting.  Or something.

As we got closer, we could see that the bridge itself was made up of flat sections at each end with a rising structure in the middle to accommodate boats moving from the sound out into the ocean.  Based on the flatness that is the area, that rise looked pretty big although it only appears to be 50 feet according to my computer.

As we moved out onto the bridge, I noted that the lanes appeared to be pretty wide which was good.  The shoulders, however, were less than 18 inches wide and the curb at the edge was very tall, meaning (see the picture below) that if you hit one with a pedal or wheel, you were going down.  Things were getting very interesting, indeed.  And the wind was picking up and was blowing about 15 steady with gusts to 20, in our faces and slightly towards the curb.  (Carl SpacklerSo we got that going for us, which is nice!)

Vehicle traffic was reasonable with packs of five or six cars and trucks going by at a time.  All the drivers were good about making sure there was ample room to pass so it never felt too frightening.  In fact, whenever a really big one went past, there was a slight pull from blocking the wind for a second.

That last 200 yards to the top of the bridge was brutal. (Yeah, I’m not going to be in the Tour this year.)

I was trying to hold a decent pace and saw that Cuz had dropped off my wheel and was now about 200 yards farther back.  I shifted to a smaller gear to keep my revolutions up and put my head down.  As I felt the road level off, I sat up and looked back at Cuz. He was cranking hard and I thought I saw his lips moving, rhythmically.  I stopped at the top of the bridge and put my right foot up on the curb, with my bike pulled as far over as I could, to wait.

Cuz chugged up behind me and stopped, mimicking my position.  We caught our breath, enjoyed the view of the highest point for about 25 miles around, and drank from our water bottles.

“I had a mantra going up that last climb,” he said, after he’d caught his breath.  “It was ‘f&%k me, f&%K me’ over and over again.”  That’s what I’d seen his lips mouthing!

I cracked up.  “I had the same one.  It’s my favorite wind song.  And that climb with that wind deserved it!” 

We stowed the bottles, waited until the last car rolled by and then headed down the other side.  Despite the wind, we hit almost 28 mph on the descent without really trying. 

Once we got off the bridge proper, the dunes that the road wove between blocked the wind remarkably well.  We pedaled across the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (the next island in the chain) looking at mostly sand dunes.  Views of the ocean were pretty scarce but the desolate feel of this stretch was, somehow, engaging to me.  Here's an example.

Cars and trucks continued to pass us, most giving us a wide berth.  Occasionally, traffic in both directions would cause the vehicles behind us to have to slow down to our speed until it was clear to pass.  No one seemed to mind, however, and I began to get comfortable with riding in their midst.  Getting comfortable is when bad stuff happens, unfortunately.

In my mirror, I noticed a very large Ford F150 pickup coming up behind us.  It didn’t appear to be moving over to give us a wider berth but it did slow down which always makes me feel better if for no other reason than I know they see me.  The driver continued to slow down until he was at about 25 or 30 when he passed us.  When the front bumper of the truck had reached a spot directly behind me, probably less than 2 feet away, the driver blew the horn!

My body flinched in a reflex action and adrenaline shot through me.  I managed to keep the bike on the road as the driver accelerated past me.  I shouted the first thing that came to my mind and it wasn’t “Have a nice day!”  As I did, I heard the driver let off the gas and saw him looking at me in the rear view mirror.  So, I said it again, clearly mouthing the words so he could lip read; didn’t want him to misinterpret my thoughts!  At that point, he touched the brake and started to weave back and forth in a rather aggressive manner.  I responded with, “Yes! Please stop!  Let’s chat!” as I began really pounding the pedals to catch up.  He took off, instead. Hmm, must have seen my face.

I truly don’t think I’m a violent person.  The adrenaline shooting through me would have worn off by the time I caught him, I think.  (If it hadn't I might have torn his head off with the first punch.  Man, I was pissed.)

What I wanted to point out to him, of course, was that his actions constitute attempted vehicular assault, a felony in most states.  And I had his license number committed to memory. (NC OBX31459 – I’ve got your number, dude!) I’m sorry, but that kind of shit has no place on our roads today and I’m not going to allow it to happen to me.  And if I can get one more clown to stop, I’ll even risk taking a pounding to do it.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and we stopped to take a break at a very small bridge.  We had come about 27 miles.  This bridge looked rustic (or decrepit depending your point of view) and the lanes were narrow with no shoulder.  We broke out snacks and water and discussed our options, eventually deciding that there was no need to tempt fate any further, at least not into the wind.

After a fifteen minute rest, we saddled up and headed back the way we’d come.  The wind through the dunes had been very small coming down and the tailwind wasn’t much either.  At least, it wasn’t much until we started out across the bridge on the return trip.  That tailwind made the climb a pleasure to take and we were able to clock 30 mph going down the back side without touching the pedals!  What a joy!

We cycled across Bodie Island, passing the lighthouse on our left this time.  The wind held fair for us and we were making much better speed heading back.  After pedaling for about an hour, we stopped in the same maintenance parking lot for another rest.  Cuz was looking a bit worn but said he felt okay.  I felt great and was thinking about adding a northern loop of 10 or 15 miles after we got back to our starting point.

A cyclist on a recumbent bike passed us going in the direction from which we’d just come.  He returned about three minutes later and asked where we were heading.  After finding out our direction, he decided to ride back with us.  He was on vacation from Minnesota and was a nice guy.  (Let’s call him Odie.) We set off as a threesome, enjoying the day and the tailwind.

We were about 5 miles from the house, I was leading our pace line, when I suddenly heard a hissing sound and Odie hollered, “Your flatting!”  I hit the brakes and got off the pavement into the grass, dismounting quickly.  Sure enough, the back tire had lost its air.  Damn.  My first flat tire in 40+ years.  Cuz, who had been lagging a bit for the last few kilometers, mentioned how glad he was that we stopped, not realizing it was due to a mechanical.

I did a quick inspection of the tire and couldn’t find any kind of puncture.  I remembered riding through a sprinkling of a broken beer bottle about 4 miles back but there was no evidence of it cutting the tire and the tires I’m sporting these days are well known for being tough; I’d gotten them because I was looking less for performance and more for safety.

I carry a repair kit, a pump, and a spare tube.  But after about 45 miles, so close to safe harbor, I didn’t really feel like fixing it here.  So I used the best tool in the bike repair kit, a cell phone, to call MB to come pick us up.  She said she’d be there in 15 minutes or so.

Once Odie learned we had things in hand, he bid us good day and pedaled off.  I enjoyed getting a chance to learn about recumbent bikes during the ride from a nice guy.  There are trade-offs to them, in terms of weight and climbing capability, but at some point, I can see myself switching to one at least occasionally.

MB showed up a few minutes later and we loaded up our bikes and headed back to the house. 

After a shower and lunch, I went out to see about a repair on my tire.  After removing the wheel (bear in mind, I’m not a mechanic just yet) I managed to get one side of the tire off the rim and pull out the tube which I then inflated in order to find the leak.  I could immediately here air hissing out from around the valve seat.  Turns out the failure had occurred there, causing the flat.  It was weird that nothing in particular had made it happen, it just did.  Oh well, at least it wasn’t during a fast descent of a bridge with cars all around!

I rechecked the rim to make sure there wasn't something wrong that caused the failure, replaced the tube, re-inflated it to pressure, reinstalled the wheel, and then took a quick spin up and down the road to ensure I’d gotten everything back together properly.  Everything seemed to be in order so I parked it and drank a beer to celebrate my craftsmanship. 

No place like home when you’re this far away……

The next day was Friday and I had planned to get one more ride in before heading home.  The weather was crappy; kind of cold, really windy, some ugly clouds lurking around.  We decided to head out earlier instead of later so we packed up the car, hung the bikes on the back and drove back to Richmond.  I got a couple of short rides in over the weekend.  Want to make sure I stay in good form.  Next weekend is my first century ride and the blog will have a ride report next week.

Is cycling in the OBX worth the trip?

From this first trip, I have to say unequivocally, yes! The roads are very navigable for cyclists with generous shoulders in most cases.  There are even bike lanes and some bike trails in a couple of places.  The flatness of the area makes for a very pleasant cycling experience. With the exception of the one aforementioned idiot we encountered a very bike friendly area, too.  One of my solo rides, I was cycling past a small municipal area in the town of Nags Head.  A worker was cutting the grass right next to the road and this was throwing the cuttings out onto the road itself.  When he saw me approaching, he shut off the mower so I wouldn’t be exposed to this!  That’s bike friendly!  I waved in thanks and he smiled and waved back.

I’m going back for another week with July, staying much farther north with MB and some friends.  I’ll report back based on that.

Keep the rubber side down!