Monday, October 25, 2021

Dark and Humid October

The 6 am Levee Ride heading out in the dark

With Daylight Saving Time not ending for another couple of weeks, the morning rides seem to be getting darker and darker by the day. It's the time of year when I just automatically plug my lights into the charger after almost any ride, especially now that the batteries in both front and tail lights are old and don't hold a charge like they used to. On the plus side, we haven't had much rain at all for a while. On the minus side, we could really use some rain - just not when I'm riding. After that little cool snap last weekend we are back to warm and humid weather again with morning temperatures around 75° and highs well into the 80s. It's looking like a little cool front may make it through here around mid-week, and that should kick off some rain as it does.

Sunday Giro

The early morning rides, despite the darkness, have been well-attended. Riding on the levee path in the dark definitely requires a high level of alertness, though, and I'm really looking forward to the time change that should give us a month or so before the shorter days put us right back in the dark.

Saturday Giro stopping at a light!!

Last weekend I ended up just doing the Giro Ride both days. I was warm and humid, but I'll gladly take that instead of cold weather. Up in Minnesota Dan Casebeer has been posting photos of group rides in full winter gear, and I'm glad I won't likely have to deal with that for at least another month or two. On Saturday Julia dragged a number of the Tulane riders out to the Giro. A couple of them hadn't done it before and so of course had to really push themselves in a few places when the pace got really fast, but they all finished. For new riders the Giro can be a great learning experience, and as I always tell them, once you learn where the faster sections tend to be it gets a lot easier. On Sunday the Giro seemed a bit more tame, prompting me to actually go to the front and take a couple of pulls, at least until Mike Williams on his TT bike kind of got in the way. After he and Jaden started playing bumper cars up near the front of the group I decided to keep a safe distance until I could get ahead of Mike. After the Giro I rode straight over to Bike Easy where I was supposed to be helping out with their tent setup for the Bicycle Scavenger Hunt thing. It was nice chatting, but there were just a handful of people who came by, only a couple of whom knew anything about the ride or Bike Easy, so I wasn't really needed.


Meanwhile, back at the house, the road work crew has started putting down asphalt on Neron Place, although not yet on the corner by Pine Street. There's still a lot of work to do even after they finish that part before people will be able to get back into their driveways. The house is in Halloween mode now and Candy has been preparing a ton of candy and making cookies and those sorts of things for a week already. I guess we will put up our "Candy Chute" again so nobody has to worry about COVID too much. Right now we're past the 4th surge and back to kind of the base level, averaging around 30 confirmed cases each day, so back around where we were last April-May. This morning I went downstairs and got a free Flu shot, which I guess is the thing to do if you're old and infirm like me. Influenza, statewide, is around one-tenth its normal level for this time of year. The ILI count for last week was 401. The last ILI surge was in February and March of 2020 when it was up above 5,000 for weeks. Yeah, social distancing and masks apparently work for influenza virus too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Little Taste of Fall and Another Slash

Sunday's Tulane team ride group

After slashing a practically new tire last Wednesday, I had set that one aside for booting and put on another new tire that I luckily happened to have on hand. 

Friday, post-ride.

On Friday I met up with the Friendly Friday group at City Park. That turned out to be a bit faster than usual, for some reason, but then again it's kind of a short ride so it was easy to manage anyway. Then on Saturday morning I rolled out with a nice new rear tire, again, and struggled generally northward into a 15 mph headwind ahead of an approaching cold front. As I made my way to Starbucks in the dark I wondered how many of the regulars would skip the ride. I also wondered why I hadn't myself. Surprisingly, though, there was an almost normal turnout at we streamed out of the parking lot onto Harrison Avenue. I'm not much good in the wind, and was already kind of dreading what I expected would be a crosswind on Hayne Blvd. 

Charlie D fixing a flat on Hayne

We'd barely started town Marconi when cries of "Flat!" rang out behind me and the whole group stopped and I rode back to offer assistance. The flat got fixed and we mounted up, and thirty seconds later I kind of blew a slow-speed bunny hop over one of the big bumps/potholes that's been there for years and immediately blew my rear tire. Amid my own cursing I pulled over, telling people to go ahead since it was entirely possible I'd just be limping home. As it turned out, I'd put a small pinch-flat induced slash in that brand new tire I'd just put on the day before, but it wasn't as bad as the one I'd done on Wednesday so I put maybe 60 psi in the tire and we all headed out again. So now I was focused on avoiding anything that looked like a pothole, of which there hundreds, and quietly calculating my chances of making it through the entire Giro without flatting again. We came down the Casino overpass onto Hayne Blvd. and as usual the pace picked up. I was keeping myself busy trying to survey the road surface ahead, stay in the draft, and battle the wind when suddenly there was a big piece of chain, not the bicycle kind, in the middle of the road. I had just enough time to cleanly bunny hop it. Charlie, however, hadn't been so lucky as I saw him coast off to the side with a flat. We were already too far down the long line of riders to expect anyone to stop, although a few did offer, but in the end it was just Charlie and me. Fortunately he hadn't done much damage to the tire itself. Also fortunately, I had stopped with him, because his CO2 inflator didn't work. We finally got rolling again and took the Bullard short-cut, meeting back up with the group on its way back somewhere out past Highway 11. They were already going pretty fast, and I'm not sure if Charlie even got back into the group because I never saw him again. Anyway, it was an easier than usual Giro for me which I guess was fine since I hadn't been feeling to hot from the start anyway.

For Sunday I had been planning on driving over to Pass Christian to meet up with Charlie, Pat, Steve and a few others for what was likely to be a nice low-key 65 miles or so, but by Saturday evening I was slated to drive a couple of the Tulane riders to a team ride in Independence. For me, it was six of one or a half-dozen of the other as far as the rides went. Neither would likely be very fast. By Sunday morning the cold front had come through, and up in Independence it was I guess in the upper 50s when we started around 8 am with a nice little group. I was wearing a short-sleeve thermal base layer and arm-warmers under my super thin summer jersey that served only as something with pockets. I knew it would warm up during the 67-mile ride, even though it would be mostly an easy paceline ride. Once the morning chill wore off we were treated to pretty ideal cycling weather with a clear blue sky and moderate breeze, and other than a couple of short segments on pavement that made gravel look smooth, mostly nice quiet country roads. Toward the end of the ride there were a couple of riders who were struggling a bit, but that wasn't unexpected since they hadn't been putting in many miles in training. 

Later that afternoon I sat down and booted both of those Continental 5000s. I put the one from Saturday back on the bike and expect to get at least a few thousand miles from it, barring another unexpected encounter with New Orleans streets in the dark. The other should also be serviceable thanks to the boot I sewed into the casing. I ended the week with 289 miles, albeit a bit short on the intensity end. Strava is currently showing 10,883 miles thus far for the year, which is running a bit ahead of my usual pace.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

New Stuff Rides

Giro Ride heads out along Lakeshore Drive

There's nothing quite like that first ride with a brand new cassette, new chain, and new tires. Well, except for that first ride on an whole new bike - something I've actually experienced only a few times. Anyway, although the old stuff wasn't quite at the end of its lifetime by my admittedly low standards, riding out to the Giro Saturday morning felt amazingly smooth and quiet. The Giro Rides themselves, Saturday and Sunday, seemed fairly sedate by Giro standards, probably thanks to the relatively calm wind. Perhaps another factor was that I'd been off the bike for two days after my COVID booster, so my legs were pretty fresh.

Monday's usual solo ride up the levee was unremarkable except for the unavoidable realization that the days are getting shorter and hence the morning rides are getting darker for longer. On Tuesday I got held up by a train crossing Oak Street, but fortunately the rest of the group waited the extra three or four minutes. The ride was a fairly fast one, which I find pretty stressful in the dark. Despite the powerful headlights everyone has, pedestrians seem to appear suddenly even at the moderate 22-23 mph speeds we usually settle upon. At this time of year we're all the way out to the big dip around LaRose before it feels light enough to turn them off.

Well isn't that just great...

This morning I headed out to meet the WeMoRi under a starry sky and with the temperature down around the low 70s. As usually I hovered around Lakeshore Drive at Marconi until I saw the lights coming, finally merging into the group between Lakeshore Drive and RE Lee. We turned onto RE Lee and I slotted into the draft somewhere in the middle of the group behind Big Rich as I started to recover from the acceleration. A moment later - SLAM - I hit a big crack in the concrete, in the dark, probably one I've flatted on before. The rear tire went immediately flat as I eased out of the group and coasted to a stop just past the entrance to the USDA Southern Regional Research Center where four or five cars were lined up waiting for the gate to be opened. As I removed the rear wheel Geoff rolled up and helped out by providing some light and conversation. It was dark enough to keep me from having a good look at the tire, but I knew it had been a pinch flat so there wouldn't be anything stuck in the tread. I just pumped it up with CO2 and hoped for the best. Hearing no explosion, I backtracked to Marconi and hovered around there until I saw lights coming and turned toward the lake. Four or five riders came streaming past, obviously fresh from contesting the Backdraft Sprint, so I latched onto them fully expecting the rest of the group to come up to us momentarily. We turned onto Lakeshore Drive and as we approached the bridge I took a pull up to the top of the bridge. Then I pulled off and coasted a bit, planning to get back into the middle of end of the group. One problem. The group wasn't there. There was a pretty big gap and I was now stuck in the middle, so I just rolled along and waited to be sucked up by the main group where I remained.

When I got home I figured I'd better check the tire, bring it up to proper pressure, and put a fresh spare and CO2 in my bag. That's when I saw the slash in the tire with the tube trying to push its way through. I was pretty pissed since that tire had maybe 150 miles on it. Luckily I had another new tire on hand, and I'll probably boot the slashed one. I really need to get a few people together one morning and fill in some of the holes on the WeMoRi course. It's getting to be a rare occurrence to finish one of those without someone flatting.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Third Shot

When Tulane sent out an email early in the week offering the Pfizer booster shots for COVID I figured I should take advantage of it. I'd had little reaction to the first shot back at the end of January, and only a minor reaction to the second shot a few weeks later, and since there had been reports of waning immunity from the vaccines it seemed wise to go ahead and get the third shot, especially considering my age and all. So I walked over to the vaccination space at the JBJ building on the 6th where there were a surprising number of people and got the third shot.

Later that evening after I'd fallen asleep on the couch, I awoke feeling achy and warm. Things only went downhill from there and I had a restless night of chills and sweats and a serious headache despite the Tylenol I'd taken. By morning I was feeling no better and decided to skip riding and, ultimately, also skip going in to work. I continued to be a little feverish all day. That night I slept a little better, although I woke up around 5 am pretty much soaked with sweat. Still, I felt considerably better than I had, and of course knew it was merely evidence that my immune system wasn't quite as crapped out as I'd thought. There were things to do at work, so while I skipped riding again I went in a little early. The day went OK, but it was clear I was still running a degree or two above normal operating temperature. It's now 6 pm, so close enough to 48 hours later, and although the headache is gone I'm still unnaturally warm. Hopefully homeostasis will be reestablished before tomorrow morning when I fully intend to do the Giro Ride.

I just installed a new chain and cassette, two new tires, and new brake blocks. I think my current cassette had somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 miles on it and was still doing pretty good, but my experience has been that Campagnolo chains like the one I just installed and a bit less tolerant of worn cassette cogs, so I went ahead and put on the new cassette without even checking to see if the chain skipped on the old one. Extravagant, to say the least!

Monday, October 04, 2021

Tired Tires Tagging Along

Tuesday on the levee

Driving back from Dahlonega on Monday enforced a much-needed rest day, but I was back out Tuesday morning for the 6 am levee ride, as was Chris. My legs were definitely still a little sore from 6-Gap but no more than expected, and the ride was pretty uneventful. Wednesday's WeMoRi seemed particularly fast for some reason, perhaps because I was still in recover mode or something, but it was manageable. Thursday, however, was when the flat tires started. On the way out Boyd flatted so we stopped while he fixed it, then as we got ready to go again I discovered my rear tire was almost flat. I quickly replaced the tube and we were on our way again without any more problems, although we did shorten the route because of the delay. 

On the way back we saw what had probably been the cause of the flats - a patch of fresh clear glass that we'd probably rolled right though in the dark. The next morning my rear tire was low, but I just aired it up and didn't think much about it during the Friendly Friday ride, which was particularly friendly that day, which is to say it didn't get too fast. The rear tire in question was a well-worn Continental 5000 that had two boots sewn into it from sidewall cuts. I had a fresh pair of new tires at home, but had been holding off on replacing the old ones because the streets around here are still covered with all manner of glass, roofing nails, and tree debris from Hurricane Ida. As I would soon learn, I'd waited a bit too long to replace that tired old tire. The tire was low again Saturday morning but somehow I made it through the Giro Ride that day without having to stop, although it was pretty low by the time I got home.

Lisa arrives at the Spillway checkpoint

On Sunday morning when I was getting ready to go out to the Giro Ride I noticed the rear tire was again low. I'd never been able to find anything stuck in the tire that might have caused the flat, but I went ahead and put in another tube, again checking the inside of the tire with my fingers for anything sharp. By the time we got onto Hayne Blvd. that morning for what would turn out to be a fairly easy Giro Ride (lots of people were doing Sunday's 150 mile ride around the lake), my rear tire was starting to bottom out. Everyone stopped and waited while I again replaced the tube and again checked the tire. By this point I was sure there was something embedded in the tire that I couldn't feel, so I wasn't too surprised to find it low again when we got to Venetian Isles. There, I stopped quickly to put a little more CO2 in the tire, hoping to at least make it off of Chef Highway and back onto city streets before it went flat. I took off down Chef ahead of the group, but shortly after they caught me the tire was bottoming out again and I had to stop. Again I checked the tire and could find nothing, but this time I just put maybe 40 psi into it, hoping that would prevent whatever was in the tire from puncturing the tube. A minute after we got rolling again, someone else had a flat. I told everyone I was going to continue riding since I was fully expecting it to go flat again. As it turned out, the lower pressure did the trick and the remnants of the group didn't catch me until I was on Lakeshore Drive. 

So I made it home without another flat, but my day wasn't done. I had been planning on riding out to the Spillway to pick up the lead group from NOMA to MOMA, so after getting home I quickly pulled off that tired old tire and put on a new rear tire and tube, grabbed some food and drink, and headed back out to the levee around 10:30. According to my calculations, the first riders would be coming through the Spillway around 11:30 or so and finishing around 1:00.

Tagged along with this group for the ride back into town

After a nice ride up the river with a light tailwind, I arrived at the Spillway to find Brett, who was supporting Lisa, and a few of the race people waiting for the first riders to arrive. There were a number of required places along the route where they had to punch in, and that was one of them. I learned there had been a big crash on the Bayou Bonfouca bridge near Slidell that had taken out most of the lead group and most of the 4D riders. A little while later I wasn't too surprised to see Lisa riding across the spillway, alone, in the lead. She punched in very quickly, replaced water bottles, and took off as I started my stopwatch. It was around seven  minutes later when a little group of seven or eight arrived. They took considerably longer to punch in and all, but when they rolled out I decided it would be a good group for me to tag along behind for the ride back home.

This group was clearly feeling the miles. A couple were nursing leg cramps already, and another had some sort of little mechanical problem, so after a while they were down to just five, two of whom were pretty well-toasted. For me, it was easy to sit on the back where I wouldn't affect their not-really-a-race race, since their speed was mostly in the 20-22 mph range. I felt a little guilty for not going to the front, but I didn't want to risk someone complaining about the outside assistance, so I just continued to tag along at the back. They stopped for the final punch under the Huey P. Long bridge where things got a little separated. Brian had a long chase to get back on, and even then I think they were down to just four as they exited the levee bike path onto Oak Street. After turning onto Carrollton for their last stretch back to City Park one more rider caught. A little while later I peeled off onto S. Claiborne to head back home with 109 fairly easy miles in my legs for the day. Somehow I never got rained on, but I think most of them did get wet right at the end of their ride. Strava says I've ridden 10,354 miles so far this year. That's a bit more than usual, but then again you never know what life will throw at you over the next three months.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

6-Gap Crawling, Coasting, and Charging

Earlier in September it seemed that things had conspired to prevent my 13th appearance at 6-Gap. A month earlier the Tulane Cycling club had already gotten hotel rooms reserved near Dahlonega and the stage was set for another road trip in the motor pool minivans. For my own part, I wasn't thinking too much about the ride this year after having missed it last year entirely, but I was figuring I'd be helping with the driving and doing the ride nonetheless. Then there was Hurricane Ida. Off-campus students evacuated, the hurricane hit harder than expected, some of the generators in Tulane's co-generation plant failed, on-campus students were evacuated, campus was closed for repairs, and so the planned trip went by the wayside. At that point I was kind of resigned to missing 6-Gap again, kind of in the way you might resign yourself to missing a root canal. Then, just a week or so before the ride, Steve asked if I wanted to go. I could stay with him, Pat, and Chris at a friend's house right there in Dahlonega. I wasn't too keen on driving my car up there since it's way overdue for 100,000 mile maintenance (I have an appointment for the end of October), but then Chris offered to give me a ride with him in his Tesla, so rather suddenly things kind of fell into place. I put my special 6-Gap cassette onto the race wheels and rode them on the Thursday ride to make sure everything was shifting OK because 6-Gap is one ride where you are guaranteed to use every single gear combination on the bike and wish for more. Then on Friday night I decided to clean the bike and discovered a slash in the front tire through which I could see the inner tube, a situation that could be catastrophic on a fast twisty descent. Luckily, I had a brand new tire on hand. When I removed the bad tire I found that the rim strip had shifted, exposing parts of a couple of spoke holes. That alone could also have caused a blowout. So I re-centered the tape and put everything back together and the bike was all ready, or so I thought.

Chris picked me up early on Saturday and we were on the road by 6 am for what would turn out to be a very long but interesting road trip. I think we stopped about five times to charge the battery along the way, so we didn't arrive at Ro's house until around 8 pm thanks to that and the time zone difference. Still, it was a nice drive and I learned a lot about Teslas.

Thanks to being so close to the high school, we got to the venue nice and early on Sunday morning with plenty of time to get a good parking spot and pick up packets and get organized for the 8:00 am start. I staked out a spot near the front of the rapidly growing group at the start line and all of us were ready to go.

 This ride always starts out kind of fast and sketchy since it seems like all of the first few hundred riders somehow think they are going to be able to stay with the front group if they can just pack themselves tighter together, while at the same time the actual fast riders have good reason to create a split between themselves and the packfill like me. So by the time we were five miles out Chris and Steve were up in that front group and almost out of sight as the rest of the group started to settle down. Then, on the first little downhill, I was surprised to feel a clump, clump, clump coming from my front wheel. I looked at it carefully to see if the bead was about to blow off the rim, but it didn't look too bad. As it turned out, one section of bead was kind of stuck farther down inside the rim than it should have been. At any rate, it definitely kept me from getting too aggressive on the downhills, which was probably a good thing anyway.

This year the top half of the ride was to be done in reverse, so the steep Hogpen climb would be the second climb of the day. Although it was steeper from that direction (like 10-20%), it was considerably shorter (like 2.5 miles). I had some concerns about that, however, since my lowest gear was a 39x28, which was barely sufficient for short 10% grades and definitely insufficient for 20% grades. My legs had similar limitations. Going in I had decided to just ride my best steady tempo on the climbs, best described as crawling, and use the downhills for recovery, best described as coasting. Of course, with over a thousand riders it isn't too hard to find little groups or individuals going just the right speeds on the climbs to help pace inexperienced climbers like me, so the first Gap went by without much damage. 

As it turned out, I liked the Hogpen climb better from this direction despite the steeper grade, and despite the fact that I was badly over-geared. I spent most of that climb at a cadence of about 40 rpm, seated, which was at least smooth and steady, but was not unsurprisingly doing a number on my lower back. Still, I survived Hogpen feeling a little better than I'd feared. The rest of the ride was basically crawl up the climb, coast down the downhill, find a little group to draft on the flatter sections, and repeat. I'd been looking forward to my favorite downhill, the last one, that is long and swoopy and smooth, and was quite disappointed to have to go down it almost entirely on the brakes because of a U-haul truck and car ahead of me all the way. By then my upper back and neck were killing me despite the 12-hour Aleve I'd taken in the morning and the other 12-hour Aleve I'd taken four hours later at around 50 miles, but really no worse than usual and definitely not a surprise (hence the Aleve!).

So I finally rolled in at an official chip time of 6:25:24, having stopped at none of the rest stops and with one of my water bottles still almost half-full, and generally feeling pretty decent under the circumstances. I'd gone through the equivalent of about four Hammergels, not counting the coffee and Scratch bar I'd had before the start. Chris, on his first 6-Gap experience, turned in a 6:12 chip time, but his actual riding time was 5:56, which was pretty great. Steve had a chip time of 6:10 with a 6:07 ride time, and Pat as usual stopped at a lot of the rest stops taking pictures and stuff and came in at 7:36.

This year, for the first time, I stayed overnight on Sunday. Chris and I headed out around 5:30 am for a smooth and uneventful ride back with Chris taking a conference call and me updating the COVID data, arriving back home around 6:30. I think that all-in-all it was one of the least stressful 6-Gap rides I've ever done. Considering my lackadaisical approach, I was surprised at my time that I'd expected would be closer to 6:45. In fact, it was pretty much right in line with my times from other recent years. While we were sitting in the high school cafeteria eating the usual spaghetti and meat sauce and salad and sweet tea I got to talk with Patrick Hennessey who I hadn't seen since forever. He was a Junior when he raced here a long time ago and has recently started riding again, apparently quite strongly since he finished well under 6 hours. I also got to take with Debbie Milne, who has had a pretty good year racing-wise this year with her Supra team and was there shepherding some of her development team members.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


Coming back over the Rigloets with Fort Pike off to the left.

This week's weather was beyond predictable. There was rain, and more rain, and torrential rain, and clear skies, but the only way to tell what was coming up was to look out the window. Tuesday's rain never really let up so I missed riding entirely that day. Then on Wednesday it was raining in the morning, but I was able to get out for a couple of hours in the evening without getting too wet. Thursday we lucked out and got in our usual levee ride before the rain started. Then on Friday I went out to the 6:00 am "Friendly Friday" ride, some of which strayed considerably outside of the friendly speed range. Just as we ended and were hanging around in front of the Museum of Art the first raindrops started to fall. I was pretty damp by the time I got home but not what you'd call soaked, so that was good. I even made it in to work and back without getting rained on, although I left work early just to be on the safe side and also because I was practically the only one on the entire floor all day. Lots of people are still working from home, although I would think things should be getting more or less back to normal next week. 

Still waiting.....
On the home front, the road work crew started putting in the forms for the new curbs all down Neron Place on Friday. That's somewhat encouraging, but it also means that nobody who lives on the three blocks can park their cars, or get into their driveways, so cars are parked all over the place. Complicating that is the fact that to date we have still had no garbage or trash pickup. 

Overflowing garbage bins are lined up on the corners next to bags of hurricane debris and large piles of tree limbs and stuff. The last time our garbage was picked up was some time in late August, well before Hurricane Ida. The cans are of course full of maggots and are pretty disgusting at this point.

So last weekend there was this century ride over in Mississippi that I was kind of thinking about doing, but the weather forecast was not promising for either Saturday or Sunday. There was an idea to do a northshore ride, but nobody really wanted to commit, considering the chance of being caught in thunderstorms out in the middle of nowhere. The best option seemed to be to stay close to home and be flexible. That meant doing the Saturday Giro Ride, which thankfully escaped the rain, and then on Sunday deciding to do a "long" Giro out to Fort Pike. That adds a few miles and for me makes for an 80 mile day. For that we ended up with just five - Charles, Rich, Bo, Pat, and me. It turned out to be a really nice morning with mostly clear skies until the clouds started developing as we made our way back, pushed along by a nice little tailwind. Somehow, thanks to being able to be flexible about when and where I rode, I managed a fairly normal weekly mileage 270.