Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gilt Edge to LaGrange 208k Permanent - Memphis, Tennessee (Graceland)

 Looking at a second successive weekend of potentially dangerous thunderstorms for Arkansas and Missouri I began searching for a region with reasonable weather and RUSA permanents.  All information pointed to Memphis, two-hundred miles to the southeast, with a dry forecast, and predicted temperatures from 60F to 80F.  A 208k permanent was available.  The route owner, Alan, very kindly accommodated my last minute request for a 7am start on Saturday.

I would leave my motel on my Jamis fixed-gear at 6:30am for the one-mile ride to the start.  I was contentedly topped up with oatmeal, waffles, and coffee from the breakfast buffet.  The Kwik-Stop convenience store served as the start/finish control.  After documenting my start I took to the roads at 7am sharp.  Despite having reviewed the course on Google Maps within the first few miles things starting going wrong.  There was a road closure, which I rode through, after which the street markings became confusing. At about 4 miles I was sure I went off route.  After backtracking 1.5 miles I concluded that I was initially headed correctly.  Three bonus miles were added in the fiasco.  The remainder of the distance to the first control in Gilt Edge was mostly flat, aided by a light tail-wind, and passed without incident.  I arrived at the cafe, which specialized in barbecue ribs.  Given it was shortly after 9am, and I adhere to a vegetarian diet, I limited my purchase to a coffee.  I was quickly underway to the next control in Mason.
The Gilt Edge Cafe in Gilt Edge, TN
 Some light rolling terrain on Tennessee 54 was enjoyed along the way.  This section was easy to navigate being almost entirely on state highways.  I relaxed and worked the moderate rollers which were well suited to my gearing and riding style.  The day had warmed into the seventies.  I was soaking up sunshine in a short sleeve jersey, sans arm warmers.  The wind, which was still beneficial, had picked up some.  The wind profile was my one weather concern.  Blowing from the southwest it was predicted to be 19 mph sustained by afternoon.  In just a few miles my direction of travel would be to the southeast and continue in that direction for about 45 miles.  No doubt this would be a factor.  But, for now everything was quite pleasant.  The small town of Covington at mile 42 marked the change in direction to the south.  Due south for a few miles than veering off to the southeast on highway 59.  My perceived effort increases only marginally.  I adjusted to the new work load and quickly relaxed into a nice rhythm.  From my perspective the town of Mason consisted of one intersection with two gas station convenience stores.  At the Tiger Mart I refilled my water and documented my passage.  With minimal delay I departed for the next control in La Grange.  I couldn't prevent the ZZ Top song of the same name from playing in my head ("HOW HOW HOW")!
Tired of pedaling?  Hire the Hillbilly Limozene!
  Leaving the little town on quiet rural roads which are mostly flat.  The wind hampers my progress, but not significantly so.  The next ten miles is a quiet traffic free setting.  After which the route uses lightly traveled state roads (TN 222, TN 59, TN 76) to the town of Somerville.  There was much difficulty navigating through the town.  I was supposed to take the TN 76, although there was no road leaving the town marked as such.  It took me some time, and another bonus mile, to discover that South Main Street was the road I needed to follow.  I was then instructed to turn onto La Grange Road for almost 15 miles ("HOW HOW HOW").  This was another great road with rolling hills, none gaining more than about 75 feet of elevation, perfect for a fixed gear.  I make good time to the tiny town and find the information control, an historical marker, at the intersection of TN 57.  With the question answered on the brevet card I then follow the TN 57 for 9 miles to the next control in Moscow.  The ZZ Top tune playing in my head was replaced by the Beatles "Back in the USSR."
Not as tasty as advertised

Nyet!  I must be lost again!
 The terrain on the 57 was more lightly rolling.  Heading due west into the southwest wind was not too hampering.  I covered the nine miles efficiently arriving in the town of Moscow ("dont know how lucky you are boy...back in the USSR").  I refill water and document my passage at the small gas station market.  I am on the road in about 10 minutes.  In less than a half mile the TN 57 is left in favor of more rural roads.  There are 31 miles left to cover.  I long ago abandoned any though of a fast time.  I lost a lot of time with navigation problems.  I had expected a tail wind assist over this last section.  The reality was more of a cross wind coming from the west across my left side.  The terrain remained predominantly flat as I approached the city of Memphis.  I was riding through the suburbs on nice roads with pleasant surroundings.  The cue sheet was spot on for this final leg.  It was smooth sailing to the Kwik Stop where I began my day over 10 hours earlier.  After documenting my finish I would ride the one mile back to my hotel.  There was a Panera Bread in the area I planned to visit.

 Initially, I had thought of riding a second 200k permanent on Sunday starting in Knoxville, TN, ninety miles to the east.  I gave up on the idea in favor of visiting the home and burial place of Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock and Roll.  On Sunday  at 10:00am a shuttle bus drove me and dozens of other tourists through the front gates of Graceland.  For the next hour and a half I toured the large home and massive grounds where the King resided until his death in 1977.  While I was never an Elvis fanatic his music and movies surely had some influence on me during my teen years in the 60's.  I learned a lot more about him and his lifestyle on that tour.  It was well worth the time.
 I ended my visit to Memphis, and Graceland, by standing aboard the Lisa Marie, which was the private plane, a Convair 880, which flew Elvis to his concert dates world wide.  The decor, which dated back to the 70's, would be considered gaudy by today's standards.  I really liked it.
The Elvis Car Museum

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Springfield Missouri 300k - A Wet and Wild Pre-Ride

 During my extended stay in Arkansas the town of Springfield, Missouri, one-hundred miles to the north, has been my local region for randonneuring activities.  Since the beginning of the year I'd ridden four permanents, and a 200k brevet, mostly in the company of the small group of local randonneurs.  Ralph, the brevet organizer and owner of numerous permanent routes typically hosts a ride every weekend.  As I regularly joined in on these rides I was welcomed and accepted as one of the group.  As the 300k approached I was given the option to join the pre-ride, one week prior to the scheduled date.  Riding with the small group of riders I'd come to know was appealing to me.
There were three of us at the 6am start.  Ralph and Dan were my riding companions.  It was a cool 47 degrees as we started out in darkness from the York Elementary School in Springfield.  Our first control stop would be in Miller thirty-eight miles to the west.  After just seven miles we hit a railroad crossing with a stopped freight train.  It's a common event in the area.  Long freight trains pull into side outs to allow trains passing in the opposite direction to go by.  This process can block the crossing for as much as 30 to 40 minutes.  Fortunately, this time the wait is less than ten minutes.  Back underway, now in daylight, the sun has an immediate warming effect.  As the terrain changes from flat to very rolling the internal heat starts to build.  The hills feel good on the fixed gear.  Just the day before it was outfitted with an all new powertrain (see epilogue).  After riding some miles on the historic section of Route 66 we transfer to farm roads which lead us to the control.  While taking a short break I notice that Dan is running a set of radial laced boutique wheels with a low spoke count.  I mention to him that a broken spoke on one of the wheels would surely end his day.  I would later regret making the comment.
Ralph riding mustache bars
Dan with dark clouds ahead
 Back on the road we are headed for Jasper, thirty-three miles to the northwest.  The terrain is moderate with a light tailwind.  The skies cloud over as the thunderstorm threat predicated for the afternoon appears more likely.  The temperature remains comfortable.  We continue to make good time without working all that hard.  The area is quite rural with views of farm fields and there is little to no traffic.  We follow roads that are designated with letters "UU", "NN", "K".  They are flat and open to the wind, which for now is in our favor.  As we near the control I point out the dark clouds looming ahead.  Soon we see lightning off in the distance.  In the final mile to the control we begin to feel the first raindrops fall.  I expect that a thunder storm will blow through quickly.
Approaching control
At the point we are ready to depart the rain has picked up a little.  We all take to the roads with our rain jackets on.  Our next destination is Joplin, twenty-nine miles to the south west.  The terrain is moderate most of the way.  The rain steadily increases as does the wind coming from the west.  After about ten miles I begin to feel somewhat chilled, especially my fingers which are unprotected in short gloves.  Lightning and thunder explode around us as we continue without thought of seeking shelter.  Things go from bad to worse when Dan fails to see a pot hole that was filled with water.  The result is an immediate crash to the ground. Unhurt, he quickly gathered himself and resumed riding.  We were now dead into the wind and getting pelted by strong rain.  I was freezing cold and my hands were two blocks of ice.  When I saw we were approaching a convenience store I assumed it was the control.  I pulled in followed by Ralph and Dan.  As it turned out the actual control was more than a mile further up the road.  We were all happy to be here just the same.  Dan had a flat on the rear due to the crash.  After removing the wheel a broken spoke was discovered as well.  After repairing the flat the wheel was too warped to ride.  Dan would have to call for a ride home.  I couldn't help but feel like my earlier comment about his wheels put the jinx on him.  Ralph and I departed continuing to the proper control.  I was wearing every piece of clothing I had, including winter gloves.
Trouble ahead
We breezed through the official control quickly heading back out towards the east.   Thankfully the wind was now at our back. With the rain stopped and no headwind I quickly became too warm.  Ralph also complained about being overdressed.  Neither of us wanted to stop before the control in Pierce City thirty-two miles away.  This being another moderate section we thought we could survive being a little too warm.  We navigated our way on mostly flat farm roads and efficiently covered the distance to the control.  I removed a  layer of clothes, purchased a Snickers bar and was ready to start the last section.  With fifty-five miles remaining it was certain we would not make the finish in daylight. 
Ralph on the Rivendell
 This leg of the route featured continuous rolling terrain.  Nothing particularly big to climb just constant rollers for the next 25 miles to the town of Aurora.  For the first time in awhile I had the right amount of layers on.  The hills on this section are spaced just right for my gearing.  Dan and his wife pass by in the car on their way home.  He pulls alongside to wish us luck.  Before driving off he jokes that he still has an opening on the bike rack.  Two hours ago I might have taken him up on it.  As for now I'm having fun.  The hills continue to just before Aurora.  As we approach the town the skies are foreboding with flashes of lightning around.  It begins raining as we pull in to the convenience store at the junction of the K Hwy.  Although sunset is still over an hour away it appears quite dark.  We switch to night gear and once again I don the rain jacket.  We resume riding in the rain. 

The remaining 37 miles are over mild terrain.  Much to my surprise the rain ends after just a few miles.  The wind begins to die off as well, which is fortunate as we are traveling to the northeast.  With the clearer skies we enjoy additional daylight until almost eight o'clock.  The clouds blocked the full moon so once darkness came it was quite dark.  We made decent time over the flatter farm roads that would lead us to the town of Republic, and, finally the outskirts of Springfield.  The final few miles are on Nicholas Street, which is a slight upgrade to the Elementary School where the ride began.  We pull in at 9:34.  The ride took a total of 15 hours and 34 minutes.  Given the circumstances both Ralph and I were satisfied with that.  Although, more miles were ridden dry than wet the feeling of being soaked and freezing hangs with you for a time.  I would have a four mile ride back to my hotel.  I love commuting on a fixed-gear.


A first rate downtown bike shop
 I felt it prudent to perform some maintenance on the Jamis Fixed-Gear before the 300k.  I noticed the chain was not seating properly on the chain ring.  Just sort of riding on the top of the teeth instead of sinking in.  On closer inspection it was clear the ring was seriously worn and shark toothed.   Concerned about riding a long distance with the drive train in that condition.  I departed for Springfield ahead of schedule in search of a bike shop with the hardware I needed.  I went to Queen City Cycles in the downtown area.  I'd been there before and knew that they do a good amount of business with fixed-gear bikes.  It was a lucky day for me as they had what I needed in stock and were willing to install everything quickly.  Jeff, one of the mechanics, replaced the entire drive train; front ring, rear cog and chain.  I was pleased an impressed that they had a ring and a cog with the same tooth count, so my gearing would remain the same.  A five mile ride around the city streets with everything spinning smooth and quiet had me feeling confident that my machine was up to the task the next morning.
 This being my fifth trip to the city I began to notice things that were missed on prior visits.  I discovered that there is a significant bike culture there.  Near my hotel there is a combination bike shop and coffee bar.  The owner at one time rode PBP.  The city has numerous bike lanes and a police department that maintains a dialog with the local bike clubs.  Combined with the historic Route 66, which passes thorough the town, there is a lot for cyclists to enjoy.  I selected a vintage Best Western Motor Court as my hotel on this venture.  It was on historic 66 and played to the theme.  It was a fun to be temporarily blasted back in time.  I get the appeal of riding the famous roadway from end to end.  Embracing a time when things were a lot less complicated.  Sort of like riding a bike with only one gear.
A motel from another Era