Year in Review — Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Guest Post)

Our friend Don Blount is reflecting on a banner cycling year.

BlountOnBiking2014 was a big cycling year for me.

Here are my totals: 6,512.46 miles (10,481 kilometers), 191,828 feet (58,469 meters) of climbing, 401 hours, 51 minutes of riding time.

That was 1,045 mi (1,682.8 km) and 80,000 ft (24,384 m) and 70 hrs of riding time more than in 2013. I completed one organized century, and five centuries in training; three double metric centuries, including the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride, and a double century.

Yet when I was asked my most memorable ride of the year, I struggle to answer as I had a number of memorable rides

Here is the list:

  • January: Climbed Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County, Calif for the first time. This ride was 49.44 mi. (79.6 km) with 5,853 ft (1,784 m) of climbing in 3 hrs 57 mins.
At the top of Mt. Diablo.

At the top of Mt. Diablo.

  • February: Pedaling Paths to Independence metric century in Linden, Calif. 64.43 miles (103.7 km), 1,115 ft (340 m), 3 hrs, 30 mins. I received my handmade, custom steel Tallerico bike a few days before this ride and this was my first significant ride on it.
  • April: Tierra Bella double metric century in Gilroy, Calif. 127 mi. (204 km), 8,632 ft. (2,631 m), 8 hrs 54 mins. This was the first time I traveled with my bike to do an organized ride. This double metric would also be my biggest ride to date and I did it on the 10-year anniversary of having my right hip replaced.
At Tierra Bella.

At Tierra Bella.

  • May: Lodi Sunrise Century, Lodi, Calif. 101 miles (1652.54 km), 2,391 ft (893 m), 7 hrs, 43 mins. My sister-in-law, Gina, came to California from her home in Columbus, Ohio to celebrate her birthday and ride her first century. I rode with her and it was fun to help someone achieve that goal. It was only in the previous October that I had completed my first.
  • May: Sierra Century double metric century, Plymouth, Calif. 122 mi (196 km), 10,965 ft (3,342 m), 8 hrs, 41 mins. I had not ridden this course but I was feeling poorly going up a difficult climb called Slug Gulch. Once I finished that climb, another rider and I raced to get to the lunch stop before the cut off. One rest stop worker told me that I had arrived too late and could not continue. And then a friend also worked at the rest stop intervened, telling that worker that he was wrong and that I had arrived well within the cutoff. I set off, recovered and finished the double metric.
  • June: Canyon Classic, Patterson, Calif. 93.34 mi. (150 km), 7,756 ft (2,364 m), 6 hrs, 50 mins. This was my first time riding to the top of Mt. Hamilton. At the lunch stop at Lick Observatory I remembered talking to this guy who was basically telling me that I could not do a double century. I remember thinking, “I will show you….”
  • June: Four-pass training ride with my crazy doctor, Bear Valley, Calif. 83.04 mi. (133.64 km), 11,033 ft (3,363 m), 8 hrs, 10 mins. This would be my first time riding in the Sierras. We started in Hermit Valley, rode Ebbetts Pass, both sides of Monitor Pass then to Markleville, the other side of Ebbetts and back to Hermit Valley.
Monitor Pass.

Monitor Pass.

  • July: Death Ride Tour of the California Alps Markleeville, Calif.124.21 mi (200 km), 15,030 ft (4,581 m), 11 hrs, 19 mins This was the hardest ride of the year. I knew I could do at least four passes but I wanted to do all five. And I did.
The Death Ride.

The Death Ride.

  • October: Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century Clovis, Calif. 201.4 mi. (324 km), 11,503 ft (3,506 m), 14 hrs 30 mins. My first double century.

Clearly, I entered a whole new world of riding in 2014.

In 2015, I am registered again for the Death Ride but I am also training for my first California Triple Crown, three double centuries within the calendar year. I was on track to do them.

But you might have heard the old proverb: Man makes plans, and God laughs.

The Weather Wuss

That’s me. I haven’t been posting much lately because I haven’t been riding much lately. And I haven’t been riding much because the weather has been lousy around here.

Not only has it been cold — okay, cold in Austin is anything below 40 degrees (4C) — but it’s been wet, too. We’ve had lots of rain over the last week, and even if it was midsummer, I probably wouldn’t do any riding. But with daytime temps not getting out of the 30s, the bike was not on my mind.

Icicles in Austin. Not a common sight.

Icicles in Austin. Not a common sight.

Now, I know lots of you ride in much colder weather. You know what’s keeping me from joining you? I’ve become a weather wuss. I grew up around Chicago, and lived for more than 20 years in Minnesota. I can handle the cold. That is, I used to be able to handle the cold. Fifteen years down here and my blood has thinned out. We were in Minnesota in November a couple of years ago, and I thought I was gonna die! Not really, but man, was it cold. I’m glad I moved away from it.

Living in a mild climate means you don’t have an abundance of cold-weather riding gear, either. I can bundle up to handle anything down to about that magic 40-degree mark, but not much colder than that.

So, guess what I did Sunday? I rode the bike! Took it out in the afternoon for a little over an hour. It was sweet. Never thought 45 degrees could feel so temperate.

But Monday, when I had planned to get out again, it didn’t happen. I wandered outside around 2 p.m., stood around for awhile, and decided it wasn’t as nice as Sunday. Maybe Tuesday. Maybe.

Starting the New Year with a Pfsst!

Finally got a break from the cold, rainy weather that started 2015, and I was anxious to get out on the bike Saturday. My wife had already done her ride for the day, and I was moving too slow to go with her. Once I finally did get saddled up, she was back, showered, and already hard at work in our home office.

I figured I’d start the new year with one of my most frequent rides, about an hour and a half through the neighborhood. The bike was performing well. It shifted silently and rolled smoothly. On this sunny, 55-degree (12C) afternoon, I saw a number of other bikers, but no one I knew.

I turned south to go to a hilly subdivision. While climbing an easy hill toward a highway that I had to cross, I became aware of a click from the rear wheel. It came regularly, with every revolution. Oh, great! Another broken spoke!

I stopped the bike and spun the rear wheel. No broken spoke, but the click was still there. I slowed the wheel and located the problem. A staple had punctured the tire, and its trailing end was catching the seat stay with every turn.

Hm. I was a little over two miles from home, and the staple seemed to be holding air in the tire. At least, it hadn’t gone flat yet. I seriously considered trying to make the return trip with the staple in the tire. But then, I had a change of heart, and pulled the staple out.

Pfsst! The tire flattened out immediately. Okay. I carried the bike up onto an adjacent sidewalk and started to work. The spare tube I carried was a patched tube, and I always wonder if the patch will hold. In addition, I had abandoned my trusty Road Morph pump awhile ago (I still have it — I just don’t carry it with me anymore) and I had one CO2 cartridge and a valve chuck. I had to get it right the first time. My track record in this area is pretty dismal.

But it worked! The tire filled, and it held. As I put the wheel back on the bike, a couple pulled up and offered to help.

“it’s all done,” I said.

“All done?” asked the man, who was about my age. “Fan-tastic! Our timing is perfect!” We chatted for awhile, but his wife wanted to move on, so we said our goodbyes.

I headed straight home, not willing to trust the replacement tube any further. So, my first ride of 2015 was a whopping 10.7 miles — a little less than half of what I’d planned. But there was a silver lining. It seems that Strava wipes the slate clean at the beginning of the year. The hill I was climbing when I hit the staple is a Strava segment — and I got a King of the Mountain! Of course, my time on that segment was 16 seconds slower than my best time on it in 2014, but hey — it’s good to be king.

2014 In Review

Got in a nice 15-mile ride Monday afternoon with my biking friend Maggie. We figured the weather forecast for the next few days doesn’t look good, and we needed to ride while we had the chance.

The ride was nothing special, but it was very special at the same time. That’s because it was a ride. It doesn’t matter whether the ride is short or long, covers new ground or cruises familiar streets. Just being out on the bike is what matters.

And that’s where I find myself regarding cycling as 2014 ends. I’m not going to set any speed records, or even distance records anymore. I just want to get out there on a regular basis.

The possibility of biking boredom was thwarted this year, when I took up mountain biking. I did it just for a change of pace. And it worked out better than I could have imagined.

One thing mountain biking led to, that I’ve referred to in the past, is that my mileage is down quite a bit. It was only by cramming in a few extra road rides toward the end of the year that I passed the 3,000 mile mark for the year. I wrapped up with 3,023.3 miles, down about 300 miles from last year. But my exertion level was as high, or higher, than in previous years. I spent 240 hours in the saddle, both road and mountain, compared to 217 hours last year.

Mountain biking has revitalized my riding, because it takes more effort. Getting up hills is a whole different ballgame from hill climbing on a road bike. Bouncing over rocks and tree roots, powering through gravel and sand, works different muscles. I feel exhilarated after a tough ride on the mountain bike.

I think I’ll get some clipless pedals for it in the new year. Again, I’ll try to get out to new areas. I did some of that on the road bike, and several times on the mountain bike. Maybe I’ll renew my recurring effort to shed a few pounds, too.

Regardless, I’ll keep pedaling. I’m having too much fun at it to do anything else.

Winding Down for the Year

Like many of us, I spent several days around Christmas in another part of the country. Among other things, that meant no biking for five days in a row — tough to take when I had hoped to get a lot of riding in over the break.

We got back home Saturday, a day early, and I was looking forward to getting out on the roads on Sunday.

Of course, the weather report was dead on — we had rain. A steady downpour greeted us as we woke up, and the temperature hovered just a few degrees above freezing. The thought of getting out on the bike was pretty unpalatable.

When things did clear up in the afternoon, I was tied up with homebody things. It looks like I’ll have to wait until Monday to resume my riding. But I’ll do something. The forecast looks good, we’re in that lazy time between holidays. What could be more conducive to riding?

Making It Up As I Go Along

I got the bike back from the shop a few days ago, and things are better. Not 100 percent better, but I can shift much smoother than before.

I park my bike in the garage, along the left wall. It’s right next to my car. Apparently, I smacked the derailleur with the car door when I opened it a couple of weeks ago, and it knocked the derailleur off kilter. The bike mechanic pointed it out to me when I picked up the bike, and he said he bent the derailleur back. So now I can shift from the small to the  big ring. There’s a little bit of clatter, but I’ve found that if I concentrate on easing up my pedal pressure, I can make a smooth shift with no noise.

I practiced that on Sunday’s ride, because I missed the club ride departure by a few minutes. And since this was an ad hoc ride, separate from the main ride that left an hour earlier, they weren’t going to decide where to go until they all got together. So I would be guessing which way they headed if I decided to try to catch them.

Instead, I set off on my own, with only a vague idea of where I would go. Perhaps I would make a Convict Hill run. I haven’t done any hill work for over a month, and I can tell. Maybe I’d head south and go to Buda on my own. Or maybe I’d head east, and think about a run to Creedmoor.

But the weather didn’t make a long ride particularly palatable. It was 49 or 50 degrees (10C), overcast and damp, but little wind to speak of. Let’s do about an hour and call it a day.

Going east on Davis Lane, there’s been some road construction. The road narrows to two lanes, unmarked, no shoulder, and fairly rough. But they’ve been building a new section of Davis, that would curve to the left a bit, and meet up with the Davis Lane extension where it crosses Brodie. Before, we had to take the little two-lane to Brodie, and then do a left turn followed by a right turn to pick up Davis again.

Well, son of a gun, the work on Davis is finished! It stays a four-lane road with a nice bike lane on each side. I picked up speed as I reached the curve, and enjoyed the smooth surface. I hadn’t planned to keep going east on Davis, but what the heck?

Davis has a nifty hill that that point, and the road reverts to two lanes. On Sunday morning, there’s not much traffic, so I can labor my way up the hill without worrying about blocking cars. Less than a mile farther on, Davis bends to the left again. It’s always been that way, and for some reason, it stops in the middle of a residential area. If you want to continue east, you go straight on another two-lane, make a right angle left turn, then another hard right, and you’re back on Davis again.

The Davis Hill from Google Street View. It's a lot steeper than the camera shot makes it look.

The Davis Hill from Google Street View. It’s a lot steeper than the camera shot makes it look.

Well, that’s fixed, too. Davis now goes through all the way to where we used to take that right turn. Again, it’s wide, with a bike lane. There’s a traffic circle at the end — traffic circles are all the rage here in new subdivisions, even though Americans can’t seem to figure out how to negotiate them — and then we’re back to our familiar old route to the east.

But I turned and started exploring some side streets I’d never been on. This is a newer subdivision, right in the middle of the city. A traffic circle at almost every intersection(!). I rode around here for awhile, then headed my way back west — but on a different collection of streets.

By now, I was adjusted to the temperature and felt comfortable. The rest of the morning ride went much the same. I turned off on a new, previously un-traveled road whenever the mood hit me. Although I was in familiar areas, I was on unfamiliar streets. On a bike, you just see more of your surroundings than if you whiz by in a car, and you cover far more ground than you would if running.

After about two hours of this, I headed home. I’d hoped to hit 30 miles, but Strava says I topped out at 28.4. Still, I had a lot of fun just making it up as I rode along. One of these days, I’ll do it again.

Out of Commission

I haven’t gotten in a lot of biking lately. Not only have I been caught up in the end of the semester crunch at the university, but my road bike has been acting up.

A week ago, I found myself unable to shift from the small chainring to the big one. I had to abandon a ride and get home, although that was the same ride where I discovered the broken spoke. I finally got the bike into the shop on Wednesday, where the mechanic listened to my shifting complaint and examined the bike. The chain is okay, since it’s fairly new. But he didn’t like the look of the big chainring.

“You’re missing the little pin that grabs the chain so it can move onto the big ring,” he said. “You’re going to need a new chainring.”

He thought he could get one into the shop the next day. But that didn’t happen, and I didn’t pick up the bike until Friday afternoon, after getting home from some Christmas shopping. Because of the lateness of the afternoon, I was unable to get the bike out for a shakedown cruise.

Saturday was mountain biking day, as we headed for a mountain bike park more than 60 miles from home. The ride was great fun, and although my friend Maggie and I took the “beginner” ride with an experienced leader, we agreed it provided plenty of challenges for us, and was just the ticket.

We figured that Sunday would be a recovery ride day on the road bikes. On the way over to the meetup place, I noticed that shifting to the big ring wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, but at least it worked. I liked the sound of a silent bike again.

We broke away from the main group several miles into the ride, and pointed ourselves toward the Veloway to do some slow laps. But as I pedaled along, I felt a snap.

The errant shift cable.

The errant shift cable.

The shift cable for the rear cassette broke away from the shifter. I was stuck in the smallest rear cog, and while I could pedal, it wasn’t going to be easy. I parted ways with Maggie and limped home.

After parking the bike in the garage, and showering and changing, I went back out to get a picture of the problem. And there it was — the rear tire had gone flat. First flat on the tire since I bought it last summer. Fixing the flat will be no problem, but the bike goes back to the mechanic this week — and I hope the shift cable can be repaired without me having to buy a whole new shifter.

In the meantime, I’m back to mountain biking for awhile.