Isn’t It Interesting…

Only two other B riders showed up for our club ride Sunday, and we decided to head to Creedmoor. This staple of our Sunday routes had been forgotten lately; in fact, I hadn’t ridden it since June. The others were looking forward to the ride, too.

After not riding a route for awhile, some changes are bound to crop up. Most of the ones we ran into had to do with road construction. Our main way east out of our neighborhood narrows to a two-lane, unstriped, country-style road for a short stretch. Then, at a T-intersection, we turn left, and then pick up that road again at the first right.

The city is eliminating that zigzag. It’s adding a curve to the road, and the new route will meet the old at that first right. But it’s not ready yet, and while they’re working on it, the two lanes are quite narrow. I debated getting up onto a new sidewalk that has been put in along the road, but at 8:30 in the morning, there’s not a lot of traffic here. We got to the T-intersection without a problem.

A similar diversion is going in about a mile farther east, as the city straightens out another zigzag route. This time, the road was blocked by large barricades, but there was just enough room for a bike to get through. We were feeling good that bikes could get through where cars couldn’t.

Creedmoor is about 16 miles from our starting point. After a pleasant trip, we wheeled in for a breather at the convenience store stop we always use.

“Isn’t it interesting,” asked Maggie, “how easy that ride is now? Remember when we used to do this ride?”

I remembered. There were times I’d get to the store and want to stay for an hour, just to unwind. This time, a ten-minute stay seemed a little long, and we got back on the bikes for the return leg.

The ride is easier now, for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been losing a little weight. Not much, mind you, but enough that I can tell. It feels good to have to fasten my belt to the last notch on some of my pants. The other is that I’m stronger. I credit mountain biking for that. It’s beefed up my legs. Hills are never going to be my strong suit, but by powering my way up short, steep climbs on the MTB, the longer, less steep climbs on the road bike aren’t the struggle they used to be.

Now, all I have to do is attend to some bike maintenance again. Isn’t it interesting that a chain can start skipping some cogs after a two-hour plus ride, when it was shifting smoothly at the start? I see a new chain and cassette on the horizon.

Some Changes Close By

Rain visited overnight, and continued to threaten this morning, so instead of a planned trip out to Dripping Springs, we decided to just do a neighborhood ride with the club.

Besides Maggie and Brian, two regular B riders, I was joined by Kenny and Steve, two of our better A riders. Kenny is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and said he wanted to ride easy to recover from a 54-mile ride the previous day. (“I can’t stand up on my bike yet,” he complained. “Can you imagine riding 54 miles without standing up?”) Steve had also ridden long on Saturday, and he was content with a lazy ride. (Steve, a several-times state champion in both road and time trial in his age group, is known for taking frequent recovery-pace rides. Don’t be fooled. He can drop you just like that. He just doesn’t want to. Mostly.)

I gave Steve a rough idea of the route I had in mind, just in case he and Kenny did put some distance between us. The pace proved even easier than I had expected, as we spent a lot of our time in the saddle just chatting about various and sundry. At one point, Steve suggested we turn onto State Highway 45, an extension of our old favorite, Mopac. I used to ride this road a lot, but I’ve been avoiding it lately. A resurfacing several years ago made it rough in spots, and the traffic has picked up in both speed and numbers.

But when we made the turn onto 45, I was greeted with a newly-resurfaced highway. This time, it was smooth asphalt, not rough chip seal. And best news of all, the shoulder had been widened and extended to cover some spots where it used to disappear just before major intersections. We had a quick, smooth run to the turnaround.

Maggie wanted to take a”bio break” at the convenience store at the turnaround. The convenience store was built a year or so ago, but I had never used it. I didn’t need to now, either, but as we stood around waiting for Maggie, the urge hit me. Inside, the convenience store was bright and roomy, well stocked, and with spotless bathrooms. Whoa! That’s something I hadn’t expected.

Back on the return trip down highway 45, we decided to turn into one of several housing developments that have sprung up in this desirable part of Austin. I had been there before, but again, it was two or three years ago. The main road into the development used to limit your forward progress.

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

But today, we were able to keep riding, past the point where houses had been put in, onto another new asphalted road that made a big loop through forest. It will be built up soon, but for now, it was like our private race track. It didn’t occur to me to take any pictures on the ride, because our route seemed so commonplace. I wish now I had.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Two more developments attracted our attention as we continued east on 45, and we checked both of them out. Steve, in an effort to tack miles onto this easy ride, took almost every side street. We admired the new houses going in, while at the same time complaining that this is an environmentally sensitive area, because this is where our groundwater is recharged during rainfall. We’re worried that too much building will adversely affect our water supply.

Back on the highway, 45 turned north and became Mopac. This route leads to the Veloway, and we had talked about taking a lap or two there, but Maggie said she was close to 30 miles and was feeling tired after a hilly ride the previous day (Am I the only one whose Saturday ride wasn’t a tough one?). She said she’d had enough, and wanted to head back to Starbucks. Steve said he was fine with that. Kenny decided to head home.

Ever notice how refreshed you feel after a nice recovery ride? Our chitchat session around an outdoor table at Starbucks was lively and fun. And I realized that I could now return Mopac/45 to my route repertoire. It pays to do the occasional routine ride close to home — provided you’re ready to turn onto some previously untraveled roads.

Neighborhood Trails

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s (Yes, I’m old). Back then, streets were laid out in a grid pattern, and blocks of houses went on and on. Of course, streets were for cars to get to and from the houses. Bikes were what kids rode to each other’s house, and to the baseball diamond, but rarely more than a couple of miles at a time. Even though we were well out of the big city, we were in an environment that was more urban than not.

Now, I’m in the suburbs again, even though my neighborhood is within the Austin city limits. But boy, is it a different feeling than the 1950s Chicago suburbs.

Less than a mile from my house is a large metropolitan park. It’s known for its large number of soccer fields, but it has playgrounds for kids and a disc golf course — and trails.

They’re multi-use trails, popular with hikers and people walking dogs. But mountain bikes have made them home.

The other day, I set off to ride some of these trails. I wanted to get some mountain bike miles in after several days of road riding.

After heading east in the metro park, I reached a small subdivision. I crossed it in a matter of minutes, and set out for another subdivision just a half mile away.

It’s called Bauerle Ranch. It was built in about 2005, so is relatively new — even around here. But for me, the neat thing about Bauerle Ranch is its trail network.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked. (Click to enlarge.)

Riding the streets of the development, you'd never know a nifty trail network is close by.

Riding the streets of the development, you’d never know a nifty trail network is close by.

We enter Bauerle Ranch from the northwest corner, and immediately have a choice of two trails. Bird’s Nest goes off to the left, and skirts the north side of the development. Cactus Ridge goes off to the right, and takes the rider down the west side to the south end. They’re criss-crossed by other, shorter trails that give the biker lots of options to add mileage while not straying too far.

In some spots, the trails are a bit rough, laced with rock gardens of varying difficulty. In other spots, the singletrack widens to a nice two-abreast trail — not at all challenging to ride, but a nice respite from some twisty bits.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

The west side of the park is in a creek valley, and the trails crossing to the east go up increasingly steep hills. The mountain biker has a challenge making it to the top, fighting a combination of a grade and the loose rocks that litter the trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Cactus Ridge Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Coyote Run Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

It doesn’t take too long to make a circuit of Bauerle Ranch. I did it in a little over a half hour, including a rest stop at a convenient bench along the trail. But it’s a worthwhile destination for a mountain bike, and it provides relief from the increasingly congested and bike-unfriendly roads in our area. As more developments spring up in our growing city, here’s hoping the developers incorporate trail systems like this one.

A Morning Quickie

No — not that kind of quickie. I’m talking about getting your day started with a short ride.

It was my wife’s idea. She had  a big day coming up at work, and wanted to ride to clear her head. I didn’t have to start at work until 10 a.m., so I was happy to volunteer to ride with her. All we had to do was make sure we were ready on time.

Not too tough to do in our house these days. We have two dogs, and our beagle is always ready for her breakfast at 5:30 a.m. Trouble is, the beagle eats only one meal a day, and it’s not breakfast. But I rolled out of bed to feed our other dog, a chihuahua mix. That got us going, and after eating our own breakfasts, we jumped into some cycling clothes and got the bikes.

Our route was going to be a simple one — my wife’s favorite out-and-back that I’ve written about on this blog before. I figured I’d be able to get a little more out of the nine mile trip by taking my mountain bike. The greater rolling resistance on that bike keeps my speed down, so we could ride together for most of the ride, instead of me being way ahead of her.

The morning was already hot — almost 80 degrees (26C) — and not even a hint of a breeze. By the time we reached the turnaround point, we were soaked through.

“It’s a perfect morning for a ride!” said my wife. “I’m really glad we came out.”

I was, too. We headed back home, dealing with lines of cars parked in the bike lane. Local side streets are getting a coat of sealant, and residents were told to get their cars out of the area — so they all moved to the bike lanes on the through street. Luckily for us, rush hour traffic was light, and we made it up the one big hill on the route and cruised home. We had just enough time to get our days started — she in the home office, me over on campus. We were invigorated. Amazing what just 43 minutes on the bike can do.

A Dandy Rest Stop

Our Sunday club ride was going to head to Kyle, but when I arrived at the start, I found out there would be a small change.

“I have to pick up something from my office,” said Maggie, who works at the hospital in Kyle. “You don’t mind a little detour, do you?”

“Not at all,” I said, figuring that any variation from our usual routes would be a nice change.

Four of us B riders headed out toward Kyle (“The Second Largest City in Hays County,” according to its website) on a route that took us through Buda and out on a nice no-traffic rural road for a few miles. Then we hit the long, straight slog up Ranch Road 1626, with its endless two percent grade. Seems endless, anyway. It’s really about two miles, maybe a little more.

But this time we didn’t turn right at the stoplight and head for the gas station/convenience store where our ride normally turns around. Maggie led us off on 1626, which widens to four lanes with a nice shoulder at this point. The road makes a long slow curve toward I-35, passing through the “Town Center,” which is an ambitious name for a shopping mall that features a Target for an anchor store on one side of the road, and a large supermarket as the anchor on the other.

We crossed the Interstate, and headed for the hospital, dead ahead. Maggie took over the ride leader duties and we wheeled up to an unmarked side door of the main hospital building.

“Bring your bikes inside,” she said.

Our own private rest stop.

Our own private rest stop.

We carried them up a small hill to the door, which she unlocked, and we stashed the bikes at the base of a stairwell. Maggie unlocked another door, and we found ourselves in a dimly-lit hallway past the hospital’s executive offices.

“Here’s our rest stop,” Maggie said, as she motioned us toward a small kitchenette. “There’s ice in the fridge, water in the water cooler, and bathroom through there.”

After pedaling 23 miles on a very humid Texas summer day, the air conditioned coolness of the kitchenette was welcome. We stood around soaking it in while Maggie retrieved whatever it was that she needed from her office. I filled both water bottles with ice, and topped them up. It was also a treat to use the spotlessly clean bathroom facilities. Much better than the loo in most convenience stores.

In a few minutes, it was time to go, but none of us really wanted to leave, except perhaps for Maggie. Once we hit the road again, we opted not to retrace our route out here. Instead, we hopped on another country road that runs behind the hospital and leads north. In no time, we were passing through semi-rural communities of manufactured houses, on a road that was partially shaded. I had been here several years ago — once — and none of the others had ever ridden it. We all agreed that it was nice to see places we hadn’t seen before.

A gate to a small ranch on our return leg.

A gate to a small ranch on our return leg.

Back at Starbucks after the ride, we congratulated Maggie on the nice variation of the route. We also got her to agree to go to the hospital again some time — just so we could make use of our own secret — and private — rest stop.

Discovering New Routes

I’m in the middle of a two-week break before classes resume, and I’ve been getting out on the bike almost every day. Now, in my area, that could lead to a lot of repetition of routes. In fact, some cycling friends have complained about getting bored riding the same few routes over and over.

We’re somewhat constrained, geographically. There aren’t many roads to the west of us. To go south, we can take only one road. Going east or southeast is okay, although our route options are limited there, too…but we use those roads more often. A rugged creek valley blocks off our access to the north, and if we want to head for downtown or even farther north, we’re forced to ride about nine miles east, first. I envy riders who live in areas where they can ride to all points of the compass.

But as you know, I started riding my mountain bike this year, and I’m finding that if it’s variety you want, that’s the way to go. Every mountain bike ride I’ve taken over the past several weeks has involved places I haven’t seen before. And the fun thing is, they’re all within a few miles of my house.

You see, Austin is criss-crossed by all manner of trails. Most of them seem to have been created as hiking trails, but they’re easily accessible to mountain bikes, too.

Take what happened to me on a ride last week. I found a trail two blocks from my house that runs through an undeveloped buffer zone between two housing subdivisions. It’s not a long trail, maybe a half mile at most. I had been using it as an alternate route to get to a local park that offers several bike trails. Last week, coming home from that park, I noticed an offshoot from the trail between the subdivisions. Heeding Yogi Berra’s command — “When you reach a fork in the road, take it” — I turned. The new trail led up a gentle hillside into a larger greenbelt area. It apparently has been used by mountain bikers for some time, since in some spots it is wide, for singletrack. In other spots, it gets close to a rocky cliff over a dry creekbed. It’s got a lot of tight twists and turns, some small whoop-de-dos, and some minor rock gardens.

I took another turn, and eventualy found that this trail goes all the way to Escarpment Blvd. — the main north-south route in our neighborhood. But what I didn’t know was that the trail didn’t empty out onto Escarpment. It leads to a tunnel under the road, and to another trail system.

A day or two ago, I set out to find another trail a friend had mentioned in passing. This one was a little farther from the house, and it turned out to be a whole trail network. Again, I found a tunnel under a major highway, and a trail that goes farther east than I had expected. I didn’t have time to ride it then, but it will see me next week.

I’m not going to turn this into a mountain biking blog, but as I’ve said before, the MTB has provided a nice change of pace to my riding. If you’re in the same route doldrums as I was earlier this summer, grab that mountain bike that sits unused in a back corner of the garage and ride. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.

The Death Ride

Our friend Don Blount treated us to his training rides f0r the Tour of California Alps Death Ride…and now, he’s got the story of the ride itself. Spoiler alert: He survived.

BlountOnBikingFor seven months I had been training for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. I have ridden more than 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers) and climbed more than 117,000 feet. I have ridden a metric century, two double metric centuries, a century and a near century.

And when the ride came on July 12, I was as ready for a long, hard day in the saddle. At its most simplistic level, the Death Ride is a double metric century (200km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing. But of course, that’s like calling a lion a large house cat.

The Death Ride’s route covers five mountain passes at altitude. Starting at about 5,800 feet (1,767m) elevation and climbing to near or more than 8,000 feet (2,438m) elevation five times was a challenge. It would have been easier to ride with a gag stuffed over my mouth and a clothes pin clipped over my nose.

Did I mention that this was hard?

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

This is how the day went:

I was up at 2:15 a.m. and departed the place where I was staying in Bear Valley, Calif. a little after 3 a.m. I had an hour-long drive and wanted to get started before sunrise. I arrived at Turtle Rock Park and was ready to go at about 4:36 a.m. except for one small detail. I could not find the necessary mounting bracket for my headlight. I searched for 20 minutes. By now, it was nearly 5 a.m. and sunrise was less than an hour away. But first light would occur in about 20 minutes. I put a small blinker light on my bars and set out.

I had ridden the first four climbs during a training ride a few weeks earlier and was so glad that I had done so. About halfway up the first climb, Monitor Pass, someone said “I think the top is up there.” Little did he know how much farther away it was. The first climb was easier than I had remembered and I hoped that would be a good sign for the day.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

It took about 1 hour 40 minutes to ride 15 miles to the second rest stop. I had gained about 2,200 feet (671m) of elevation. My reward? My first sticker, a blue one. Stickers are put on your bib to show that you have completed a climb. In two places, they are actually given before the climb because they begin on the opposite side of a pass; you’re in a place where you have no choice but to climb out. This was the only sticker I remember noting the color as I received it.

The descent down Monitor was long and the climb out of this canyon was about nine miles with 3,000 feet (914m) of elevation gain. It would take me 98 minutes. What made it more difficult is that this type of ride, with some 3,000 riders, is akin to driving on the highway at rush hour. I would get into a nice climbing rhythm, end up behind someone even slower than me, look over my left shoulder for an opening, pull out and accelerate past the slower rider, then get back over to the right and try to regain that rhythm again. Plenty of people passed me as well, so I did not have the option of staying to the left.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

There was some relief descending Monitor again and heading for Ebbetts Pass. Like the second climb of Monitor, Ebbetts is long but it also has steep sections and hairpin turns to navigate. By the time I reached the summit and received my third sticker I was talking to myself – sometimes aloud – to keep moving forward. I descended to Hermit Valley where I received my fourth sticker. I lingered a bit here, trying to recover, telling myself I had four of the five stickers, just one more to go.

The climb out at about 5½ miles (8.9km), was by far the shortest climb of the day. It is not a terribly difficult route when fresh. However, I was far from fresh, my stomach was rumbling and it was hot.

A few experienced riders had advised me to skip the lunch line because it could be long and time consuming, instead I had my lunch packed in a cooler in my car back at Turtle Rock Park, about 20 miles (32.2km) away.

By the time I reached my car I was beat. I have come to expect this feeling during these endurance rides. I think it is just my body’s reaction to the physical stress.

I tried to eat a chicken panini. It tasted so awful that I nearly gagged. I ate a boiled potato and a banana and drank about three-quarters of a liter of warm sparkling water. I sat there trying to gather myself. I thought seven months of training for this. Seven months of work and a number of people who I would have to go back and explain what happened if I had quit. My stubbornness would not allow me to do that. I thought that if my body broke down officials could drag me off the course but I was not going to quit. At least being dragged off would give me a better story to tell.

I headed off toward the climb to Carson Pass in hopes of getting that final sticker.

I was well ahead of the cut off times as long as I kept moving at a reasonable pace. I rode next to one rider wearing a 2013 Death Ride five-pass finisher jersey. I asked him how long the climb was and then went ahead of him. I came across another rider in a five-pass finisher jersey. He told me that we would be well-within the cutoff times. I then went ahead of him. I figured if I was ahead of those two then I was in good shape to finish.

At Pickett’s Junction, the final rest stop before the Carson summit, the most marvelous volunteer helped me. She brought me watermelon – which for some reason I wanted. She filled my water bottles with ice and most importantly informed me that the summit was 9½ miles (15.3km) away. The time passed ever so slowly. It seemed that the summit was 1,000 miles away. I just kept turning the pedals. Pedal circles, pedal squares, pedal parallelograms, octagons, whatever it took to get there.

And finally I did. It was an indescribable relief. It took me 10 hours 21 minutes of riding time to travel the 105 miles (169km). I got my fifth and final sticker. Volunteers scanned my bib number, I got an ice cream sandwich – I rarely eat ice cream but it is part of the tradition of making the fifth pass and signed the poster.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

I ate, hydrated and felt good now. It would be a long but fun descent back to my vehicle. Overall, I had ridden 124.21 miles (200km) with 15,030 feet (4,581m) of climbing in 11 hours 19 minutes, 41 seconds, at altitude. It was by far the hardest ride I had ever done. You can view a map and elevation profile of the ride as well as my Garmin stats here.

The day after the ride I celebrated a very happy 53rd birthday.

I have been asked if I would do the ride again. I would and already have ideas of changes I would make to my training. But before I get to that I need to prepare for my first double century in October.