Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Return to the Natchez Trace Parkway - Fixie

The highest bridge in Tennessee is on the NT Parkway
  It's been over a year since I rode 600 kilometers on the famous Natchez Trace Parkway.  Since that time I've not been able to forget this most unique National Park. While passing through the Nashville region on a trip to Arkansas I decided to layover and visit the parkway again.  This time I would use my fixed gear bike and ride only about 75 miles total, with about 50 of those miles actually on the Parkway.   

I left my hotel about 11am on a Friday morning headed for the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace.  There was a big climb on the way which was managed with considerable effort on the fixie.  Once inside the parkway entrance  the serenity of the place was just what I remembered.  The little amount of traffic was almost all recreational, despite the start being located in the heart of a bustling suburban area.     Bikes, motorcycles and the occasional motor home are encountered, but little else.  I'd forgotten how hilly the northern portion of the roadway is and worked hard over some good sized rollers.  I made it past the Garrison Creek area before needing to turn back to make it to my hotel before rush hour traffic.  The unusually warm January weather had more than a few riders out passing by me on their way to the south.  The same hills were enjoyed on the return, with the possible exception of the killer climb just four miles from the end.  Once over the top the 36 mph descent and accompanying 180 rpm spin had me ready to call it a day.

During the ride I had the germ of an idea that it might be fun to undertake the entire 442 mile length of the Natchez Trace Parkway on a fixed gear.  It would make a great point-to-point permanent with the option to return for a total distance of 1400k.  It would be a long ride with a very short cue-sheet as there is only one road for the entire distance.  It's something I'd like to think about for 2012.  I'll try and find a local rider to submit the permanent. 
The famous Loveless Cafe just before the entrance to the historic Parkway

Resources like the Natchez Trace Parkway are integral to a high quality of life.  It requires considerable tax dollars to preserve this national treasure for us as well as future generations.  It is imperative that it be enjoyed, or the public interest in maintaining it will wain.  Whether used by cyclists, or other recreational road users, is of little importance.  It just needs to be appreciated.  It leaves a lasting impression on those who venture onto any one of its 442 miles.  Most likely a lifelong impression on those who traverse its entire length.  I hope to one day be among the latter group.  I hope to see you there.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Year's Day - Jan R-12 - Pinelands 207k

In what is becoming a tradition for me I started the New Year with a Permanent ride.  With unseasonably warm weather three of us started out from the McDonalds in Rancoccas for a flat tour of southern New Jersey.  We were 15 minutes past our scheduled 8am start time.   My friends Paul and Nigel completed the trio of riders, all three of us were on fixed gears.  The mostly flat terrain would lend itself well to the single cog bikes.  We took turns pulling through the windy sections which were substantial. We lost count of the numerous cranberry bogs and blueberry fields that we passed by.

The temperature worked it's way into the upper 50's at the high point of the day.  As nightfall caught up to us so did a few rain showers.  Mostly, it didn't rain hard enough, or long enough, to make things unpleasant.  We continued taking turns on the front managing a respectable pace through to the finish.  We were back at the McDonalds in 10 hours 47 minutes. We had taken our time at most of the control stops, not really worrying about posting a fast time.  None of us could think of a better way to bring in the New Year. 


Of all the awards one can earn the R-12 is perhaps the most satisfying.  Without a doubt it requires relentless dedication.  Especially for riders in regions where wintry weather can make scheduling extremely difficult.  Stringing together multiple R-12 series' adds to the challenge.  My friend Paul completed his third R-12, or R-36 as I like to call it, upon completion of the permanent.  In my opinion RUSA should offer a special award for any rider that completes a string of five R-12's.  Indeed an accomplishment worthy of recognition. 
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ruminations of a 14,000 mile season

 On December 30th, returning home from a casual 100k ride, navigating through the streets of my neighborhood, I crossed the 14,000 mile threshold for the year. I did an extra one mile lap to be sure I had it right and ended the 2011 year with 14,001 road miles.  My highest total ever.  I wasn't sure how to feel about it at that point.  In one way I was happy with the accomplishment, but at the same time it was kind of a let down knowing this year was about to end.  At which point my mileage total would then be zero.       

Back in January 2011 when I first put my mind to goal setting for the year I set a target of 10,000 total road miles.  In addition, I wanted to chase the K-Hound award which required 10,000 kilometers of RUSA sanctioned events.  The third, and perhaps most important goal, was to qualify for and complete the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k.

I started the year by riding my first permanent on New Years Day.  That would lead to a season without let up.  I ended up completing over 80 RUSA brevets and permanents, plus PBP.  As a by-product of my PBP finish I earned the ACP R-5000 Award. My goal for road miles was exceeded by September.  I completed three brevet series' by October, bringing my total number of series to nine.  Also in early October I met the qualifying 10,000k to gain entry to the K-Hound club.  My year ended with an RUSA kilometer total over 13,000 (excluding PBP).  I completed my second R-12 Series in March and my first P-12 in December.

As I look back it all seems a bit of a blur, with some of the more memorable moments standing out.  Mostly, it was a fun, positive experience.  Although, at times it felt like a chore.  Especially, scheduling all of the the RUSA sanctioned rides, some that required travel.  I had become quite bored continually riding the same permanent routes. There were several that I rode so often I no longer needed to take along a cue sheet. Opportunities to ride routes that were new to me were like gifts from heaven.  I found myself starting brevets in seven states, other than the one I live in, (PA, NY, MD, NC, FL, TN, MO).  In addition, PBP required travel to France.  All of the travel events were enjoyed, but, required much in the way of time, expense and planning.  By early November I was craving a simpler existence.

Free riding, which I have come to call it, had become a much smaller part of my overall mileage.  I missed those frequent rides where I would simply take out from home plotting my route on the fly.  No brevet card to worry about, no specific route to follow.  Simply navigating with the road map that exists in my head.  Sometimes exploring an area unfamiliar to me and discovering new roads to enjoy in the process.  Staying out for whatever time suited my circumstances and mood.  Stopping where and when I wanted, or not stopping at all.  I rarely get bored with that type of riding.  Each ride is so different and can be modified along the way based on my state of mind at the moment.

With the New Year and a new season at hand, I've yet to get a firm handle on my goals.  I want very much to keep cycling fun.  Constantly planning, plotting and calculating take something away from that.  I am seeking a better balance between that of compulsive accomplishment and being a free spirit.  I will endeavor to enjoy myself this year.  Whatever result that yields will be acceptable.  If it sounds like fun I will be up for it.  Things that require a minimum of planning will have the most appeal. Hopefully, spontaneity will likely play a larger role.  Although, there will still be some planning in the months to come, as that will always be a part of it.  Of course, I will often seek the company of others.  Sharing the road with friends, both old and new, is most enjoyable. I value the strong relationships that have come about from a common interest in cycling.  I have a wonderful circle of friends who are supportive and fun to be around.  I look forward to the many miles that will be ridden in their company.  Bring on 2012!


Having just received the new issue of the American Randonneur I was casually leafing through the pages when I came across a full page picture of someone I recognized.  It was George Swain from New York State, who has ridden many New Jersey brevets.  While riding on the PA 1,000 during the 2010 season he was struck by a vehicle and was severely injured.  Numerous surgeries were required to repair some of the damage, including metal pins and rods to support fractured joints and bones.  Initially confined to a motorized wheelchair George began the long and painful rehabilitation process.  All the while with the mindset that he would ride a bike again.  As I finished reading his account of the surgeries and the rehab process there was one statement that stuck with me.  In a discussion with a shoulder specialist on an upcoming surgery needed to regain the ability to raise his arm, the surgeon couldn't promise to restore the full range of motion as it was before.  It might not be possible for him to fully extend his arm overhead.  George informed the doctor that if he could lift his arm to handlebar height he would be satisfied, anything further would just be a bonus.  

With a positive attitude combined with lots of determination and hard work George would make good his goal to ride again.  I had the pleasure of seeing him on his first brevet since the accident.  He appeared smooth and comfortable on his bike as he worked his way around the hilly NYC 200k on a warm July day.  Prior to the accident George was intent on being at the 2011 PBP.  Ironically, he was riding the PA 1,000k to assure his entry under the newly imposed field limit.  After the accident there was not enough time for him to train adequately for a 1200k, so George decided to set his sights on the next PBP edition in 2015.  So committed is he to the goal that he ordered a set of personalized license plates that read "PBP 2015."  As he says; "Join me. It should be one hell of a ride".
George Swain maintains a Randonneuring blog at: www.hudsonvalleyrandonneur.blogspot.com
Stories like George Swain's and Dan Aaron's, who were both injured in a similar manner yet refused to let that alter their perception or passion for the activity they love are indeed inspiring.  Personally, I believe Randonneuring helps us to overcome obstacles because we are forced to deal with them to complete long rides.  Things frequently don't go the way we planned.  Physical, mechanical, and weather related challenges present themselves regularly.  Yet mostly, we finish successfully.  If we fall off our bikes the first thing we do is try to get back on.  Whether on that day or many months later the mindset is the same.  For us, not riding is inconceivable.