Recruiting New Riders

For some time, several of us in the club have been conducting “B”-level rides. That is, we’re not as fast as most of the folks who show up for the Sunday club ride, and it’s no fun being left behind.

Trouble is, we have a very small B group. Most often, the only ones to show up for the B ride are my pal Maggie and me. So Maggie got an idea: Why not schedule a “beginner” ride for people who we know are reading the club emails on our Yahoo group, but who for whatever reason don’t come out to rid with us?

She did one a month ago, and got my wife and one other person to join her. We haven’t seen or heard from the other person since. But not one to be deterred, Maggie posted another “beginner” ride for this weekend.

Lo and behold, she got a bite! A woman messaged back that she and her husband would come out.

We were concerned that Sunday’s chilly morning temperatures would scare them off, but at 8 a.m., two new faces rode into the parking lot at Starbucks. Diane and Mike are older riders, closer in age to me than Maggie, and they ride a lot — hardly what you would call “beginners.” But they had the impression that our club’s average speed is in the 16-18 mph range, and they’re not fast.

We assured them that we’re not fast, either. We asked about their riding habits, and it turns out they ride a lot of the routes we do on our club rides. Maggie’s thoughts of doing a simple neighborhood ride were dumped for something more interesting.

“How are you on hills?” I asked.

“Okay,” they said.

I suggested doing the Zoo Ride. It’s hilly, but the hills aren’t killers, and it’s a little shorter than most of our routes, so if the hills do tire a rider out, the suffering is not prolonged.

We started off. The pace was leisurely as we wound our way through the twisty Granada Hills subdivision, and stayed leisurely when we got to Circle Drive, where the club ride usually picks up speed. The sweeping downhill to the dead end near the zoo was fun, but then we had to climb out of it.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Mike rides a Novara Randonee touring bike with a triple chainring. “It can climb walls,” he said.

Diane’s bike is a Specialized, similar to my own. It has a compact double. While Mike spun at more than one pedal turn for every rotation of the wheel, Diane gamely pushed her way up the hill. We made it to the top, and stopped to rest.

“That’s the end of the hill,” I told Diane. “Until the next one.”

We take a two-lane road for about a mile and half that is most notable for the amount of traffic on a quiet Sunday morning. Cars and trucks have to slow to our speed before they can pass, because the small hills and gentle curves of the road can hide oncoming vehicles. When we got through it, I assured them that we had just completed the diciest part of the ride. They were relieved.

But then came the biggest hill of the ride. It’s on Southwest Parkway, and for years was my nemesis. I can ride it well now, and I swung around Maggie to attack the hill. (Got a Strava PR on it!) Then I waited at the top for the others to catch up.

“From here, we have a choice,” said Maggie. “We can continue on to Travis Country and ride some more hills, or we can turn at William Cannon Road and head back.”

They were all for heading back.

That meant the day’s ride was about five miles shorter than it would have been, but was still a great way to spend a cool fall morning. We stopped back at Starbuck’s for coffees and conversation.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand -- I'm a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand — I’m a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

We told them to watch the club’s message board for posts about future B rides, since they would fit in just fine. They’re busy next weekend, but with any luck, our Sunday B rides will be more than just Maggie and me.

Two State Parks — Two Different Rides

I’m a member of a Meetup group, the Austin Mountain Bikers. Earlier this week, I got a message from them that an interpretive mountain bike ride would take place at Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, Texas, about 25 miles east of Austin. We would be led by a park ranger on trails that are normally closed to the public. Sign me up.

Maggie had the same idea, so we loaded the bikes onto the SUV and set out for Bastrop. The park and the area are known for the “Lost Pines” — a substantial acreage of loblolly pines that somehow detached from the piney woods of East Texas. it’s the farthest west stand of loblollies in the United States. In 2011, the area — including most of Bastrop State Park — was devastated by a forest fire. Most of the pines are gone, but the park is starting to come back. For naturalists, it’s a gold mine of information about regeneration.

In all, about 13 riders turned out. Rangers Mick and Cullen told us that we wouldn’t be pounding along rough singletrack — instead, we’d be stopping a lot to hear about different aspects of the area. A few riders apparently hadn’t realized that when they signed up, and there was a little grumbling, but Mick pointed out that there’s a lot of mountain biking in the area, including nearby Buescher State Park.

Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride.

Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

The ride was along a grassy truck path, the grass beaten down by park maintenance vehicles. Most of it wasn’t technically challenging, but we did have a nice longish downhill through some rocks that made riders pay attention, and a tough climb near the end of the ride.

Maggie and I both enjoyed the many stops to find out about the challenges facing the park. The area where we rode was outside the park proper — it had recently been acquired by the state, but not added to the park yet. Mick pointed out the damage being done by feral pigs, which had not been a factor in the park before the fire. He said a lot of the native predators like coyotes and bobcats fled the fire, and never returned.

Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.

Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.

Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.

Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.

We also stopped at an abandoned town site. Yewpon, Texas, existed from about 1902 to 1918. The only signs remaining are the town’s cistern and a mound that shows where the steps to the post office used to be.

Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.

Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.

Pines thrive in sandy soil, and we were caught unaware by the depth of sand in some of the tracks we rode. A few riders lost control and had to stop to regroup. In some of the more densely forested areas of the ride, we could see evidence that the forest is regenerating.

A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.

A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.

 

A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.

A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.

 

Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.

Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.

After the short ride — only about 4.1 miles (Mick said he eliminated some of the planned ride because of impassable conditions) — we decided to go on to Buescher (BISH-er) State Park, a few miles east. We drove the well-known Park Road 1C, which dips and twists for miles between the two parks, and I remembered how I had tackled the tough hills during my MS150 ride back in 2009.

We got to a trailhead, and took off into the woods. This turned out to be a great singletrack. It was a little bit sandy, often hard-packed, sometimes rocky, but not with the difficult rock gardens we deal with around home. Although the area is quite hilly, the track doesn’t put the rider in any jeopardy, and we were treated to some fun, twisty downhills, some steep uphills, and constantly changing terrain. No pictures for this section — we were too busy having fun riding to stop.

So, a good, if not long, morning of mountain biking. We’ll be returning to Buescher State Park for some more time on the trails. As for Bastrop, Ranger Mick said there would be more interpretive bike rides like today’s in the future. If you’re interested, keep an eye on the park’s website.

Carnival of Animals

We decided it was time to head for Dripping Springs for Sunday’s ride. It’s been months since we were out there, and I had trouble figuring out why, since it’s my favorite place around here to ride.

None of the other B riders joined us, although in fairness, this was the day of the Livestrong ride in Austin, and I knew they were going to have a large field for that. We saw only a few other riders, all near the beginning of our ride.

Several miles into the ride, we rounded a bend and Maggie called out, “Turkeys!” There was a big one on the left side of the road, and another not too far behind. Then we saw another, and another. In all, a gaggle a rafter of eight turkeys scurried behind some nearby bushes to get out of our sight. Maggie speculated that the first one we saw was a male, and the rest were his harem. I had no idea if turkeys collected harems or not.

The turkey sighting was unexpected, and welcome. Several times, I’ve rounded that same bend to come upon a small herd of cattle right along both sides of the road. The turkeys caused a lot less consternation than the bovines would.

As we pedaled easily along the country road, we chatted about all manner of things. Maggie is usually alert to animal sightings, and she pointed out a red-capped finch on a telephone pole. But then, as she looked away, a nice whitetail buck jumped across the road ahead of us and disappeared into the underbrush. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her miss an animal sighting.

We decided to take the Mount Sharp Road route. The roads south of Dripping Springs offer a variety of route options, and Mt. Sharp is the longest of these. Maggie had only ridden in this area once before, so she was open to going a little farther. Of course, Mt. Sharp is also the hilliest route, so we were going to be in for some work.

We passed a few really nice specimens of longhorn cattle, with impressive spans of horns. Try as she might, Maggie couldn’t get any of them to look our way. They were too busy grazing to pay us any attention.

At the intersection of Mt. Sharp and Jacob’s Well Roads, we stopped for a short rest. This would be our turnaround, because Jacob’s Well gets busy as it approaches the community of Wimberly. I’ve always gotten a kick out of a telephone pole with directional markers for various houses and ranches.

signs

The only problem with stopping where we did is that once we turn around, we have several hills to climb in rapid succession. It’s tough to get any kind of momentum in this area, and I slowed us some more, when I saw some llamas behind a fence. (Click to enlarge.)

llamas

They were curious, and ambled over to the fence when I stopped to fish out my phone with its camera. Besides these two, several others grazed under some trees off in the distance. They posed for some pictures, and when I put the phone back in my pocket, they turned and walked back to the rest of the herd.

Maggie didn’t realize that I had stopped for pictures, and I had to hustle to catch up to her. I rounded a 90-degree left turn and saw her at the top of a hill. By the time I caught her, she was looking off to the left. “Look at the antelopes!” she said, and sure enough, a herd of about 20 was moving away from us. Apparently, they had been down by the fence close to the road. Maggie speculated that they belonged to an exotic game ranch. We have some around here, although there were no signs along the road that indicated this might be one of them.

On the way home, Maggie looked up turkeys on her phone. Males will gather a harem, but that’s in the spring, during breeding season. It’s likely the turkeys we saw were all of the same sex, since they segregate themselves by sex the rest of the year.

All in all, a successful ride. We rode where the deer and the antelope play (couldn’t resist), and saw llamas and longhorns to boot. Our slowish 12.2 mph average speed over the 36 miles reflected our take it easy attitude this day, but it was still enough to send me to a nap once I got home.

 

MY First Double Century (Guest Post)

Our guest poster Don Blount has checked off another item on his bucket list: a double century. Here’s his account of riding 200 miles in one day.

BlountOnBikingA year to the day after completing my first century ride, I set out on my first double century.
A lot had happened during the past 18 months that resulted in me being a stronger rider.  Still, I never ever thought I would be riding a double century. Yet here I was riding the Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century in Clovis, Calif. 
This double is actually like three different rides. It begins with a fairly flat 73-miles and ends with 27 miles of mostly downhill with a few rollers. Thrown in the middle is a century with 10,000 feet of climbing.
Simple enough.
As a first time double century rider it was important for me to remember that this was a ride and not a race. Riding too hard, too early could lead to trouble later. I just wanted to finish in about 15 hours of riding time.
Here are the four rules I had for riding this double:
1)    Ride safe
2)    Eat enough
3)    Drink enough
4)    Pace myself
I had a good week leading up to the ride. A few easy rides, more water and carbs to store up for later and I was well rested.
I got to Clovis about 7 p.m. Friday and picked up my registration packet. My motel was only a mile from the ride start and I was able to get to bed about 10 p.m.
I awoke at 2:25 a.m. to eat breakfast as I wanted something in my system and give it time to digest before riding. I was back in bed by 2:55 a.m. and slept until getting up for good at 3:45 a.m.
I rode the mile from my motel to the ride start, checked in and was on the course by 4:35 a.m.
I started fine, riding only at about 15.5 miles per hour to the first rest stop at about the 35-mile mark.
It was while stopped there that I encountered my first problem. There were no Hammer products at the rest stop. The ride director assured me by email weeks previously and in person the night before that there would be bars, gels and other supplements at the rest stops.
I have problems eating enough food on long rides and use Sustained Energy to supplement my on-bike nutrition. I had already gone through the only bottle I had with me. The only bars at the rest stop were Nature Valley granola bars along with the usual fare of muffins, pretzels, potato chips, nuts, oranges and other sweet stuff that does not sit well on my stomach.
What I would learn well after the ride was that a volunteer had mistakenly taken the Hammer nutrition products to another rest stop and by the time the mistake was discovered that it was too late to take any to the first (and second) rest stop.
 
I had a few items with me, a Clif Bar, some Shot Bloks, but not nearly enough to comfortably make it to the lunch stop.
I was screwed. 
I choked down a peanut butter sandwich, some potato chips and fruit and went on. The course looped back to this rest stop, so I would be back in about 38 miles.
At about mile 68 I encountered my only mechanical of the day, a flat rear tire. I pulled four goatheads out of the tire, hoping that four holes in one tire would mean that I would not get one hole in four separate tires. Don’t laugh, a friend doing the ride had three flats on the day.
I changed the tire and moved on, came across my friend Joni at the second rest stop and we headed out together.
I had ridden with Joni a bit earlier in the ride but it was good to see her again. She is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame and has completed more than 60 doubles. She helped me with my preparation and we had ridden together before so riding with her helped me feel more comfortable. I would see her off and on throughout the day.
One of the more difficult things for me at this type of ride is the time spent alone. Sometimes chatting with someone just helps, the same as it does on a club ride.
I started the day in arm warmers and a vest but it was getting warm quickly. And I was feeling it. I came upon a water stop and gladly refilled my bottles. But by mile 100 I was becoming a bit wobbly in my mind. Not addled, mind you but feeling physically weak.
I was not in very good shape when I reached the lunch stop at mile 107.
I turned my phone on for the first time that day and had a message from a friend who was checking on my progress. I texted my wife and him that I was not feeling well and honestly did not know if I could continue.
It was similar to what I had experienced at the Death Ride.
I needed to get some calories in my system quickly.
Lunch was a chicken burrito, pickle, fig newtons, potato chips, two cokes and whatever else I could tolerate. I drink very little soda but on longer rides I find the caffeine and sugar helpful.
And lo and behold, there were Hammer nutrition products. I asked for Sustained Energy, got plenty of ice.
I downed as many calories as I could without bloating myself. And then I waited. I do not know for how long but eventually I felt well enough to continue.
The roughest climb of the day was ahead. The pitches were steep and it was hot. It was like climbing out of an oven.
Volunteers at a water stop somewhere on the climb told us it was not much farther to go and then at some point to remember to make a left at the totem pole. Yes, a totem pole. (Click to enlarge.)
 
Totem_Pole2
 
And there it was signaling the beginning of an 8.6-mile climb. But the climbing was gradual and led to the fourth rest stop at mile 132. There was only one difficult climb left.
Powerhouse grade was actually not as bad as I had anticipated. It was dark again by the time I reached it, so I could not see the grades, but I could feel them. It went on for a good seven miles, so all I did was sit and pedal. 
Eventually, I was over the top and at the next-to-last rest stop. I had not completed that century in the middle of the ride but I was close and there were no real climbs left.
I was told the last rest stop, no. 6, would be the most fun. It was only 14 miles from the finish. By this time anyone there, barring a catastrophe, would finish. Music was playing, people although tired were happy and the volunteers were jovial.
My Garmin died on the last descent of the day and I did the only unsafe thing I had all day. I took my phone out of my jersey pocket and turned it on so I could calculate my total time.
I arrived at the finish, with Joni again, at 10:25 p.m.
I had completed my first double century in 14.5 hours of riding time and a little less than 18 hours total time for the day.

Vignettes From a Ride

Our Sunday morning club ride promised to be routine. The A’s were going some distance southeast of Austin, while Maggie and I decided to do a B ride to the south. The forecast was promising: in the 60s (18C), partly sunny, and zero chance of rain.

My glasses were covered in mist as I pedaled over to the ride start, and it was chilly enough that I wondered if I had underdressed. After faffing around and finally starting three minutes behind schedule, we made a long line along the road as we struck out from our Starbucks.

But at our first left turn, we left one behind. Jerry had taken off his windbreaker and stuffed it in his pocket, and lagged behind us at the start. We all made the left turn before the green arrow turned red — all except Jerry. “Hey, slow up!” shouted one of the A riders. “Jerry got stuck at the light!”

In true club fashion, we continued on without missing a pedal stroke. A little over two miles later, I looked back over my shoulder, and could see Jerry gaining on the group. Once he caught up, the A’s took off, and Maggie and I eased off on our speed.

The mist was coming and going, and wasn’t much of a bother, but the sky was so overcast, I wondered if I shouldn’t take off my sunglasses — they were making things darker. No big deal, though, and we cruised through Buda and out to Cole Springs Road.

It’s Maggie’s favorite road, because it’s rural and tree lined. It’s not my favorite, because it’s quite rough. But it’s an enjoyable ride. As we rounded a bend, I saw a hound dog catch sight of us, and decide we would be fun to ride with. He was on a lawn that was elevated about four feet above our road, and kept stable by a stone retaining wall. The dog ran parallel to us, then loped along on top of the wall. I wondered what he would do when he got to the end of the property. He jumped down off the wall onto the road, and came toward us.

When he was even with me, I held up my hand and shouted, “Stay!” He pulled up immediately, and sat down in the middle of the road. A well-trained dog. We should always be so lucky in our dog encounters.

flycatcherWe spotted a couple of scissor-tailed flycatchers perched on a telephone line. Their long, split tails are pretty neat.

At the turnaround in Kyle, we caught up with three of the club riders, who had decided not to take the longer route the main club ride was on. But after chatting a few minutes, they set off on the return trip. We had some housekeeping to take care of, so we stuck around for a few more minutes.

Heading back north, we were into the wind. Not a strong wind, but enough to keep our speeds down. It was easy to fall into a medium-intensity pedaling rhythm, and even though we weren’t going to set any speed records, we had a nice, steady ride home.

Once we got to Slaughter Lane, we had to make our usual decision. Do we take the lane on a fast, four-lane divided suburban arterial, or do we ride the sidewalk? We opted for the sidewalk. Traffic was heavier than we’d seen on recent Sunday mornings, and the prospect of dodging impatient motorists didn’t appeal to us.

But about a mile up the road, a problem appeared. “Mud!” I yelled to Maggie. The previous day’s rains had washed mud across the sidewalk. My front wheel hit it, and almost stopped dead. I powered through, and hoped Maggie would make it. She did, just barely. We hit another patch of mud a little farther up, and our tires threw chunks of the moist earth on our legs, torsos and faces for the rest of the ride.

Sitting around an outdoor table at Starbucks, we waved off mosquitoes. With our recent rains, they’re out in force. “You know, when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we had mosquitoes, but they only came out at night,” observed Judy. Texas mosquitoes are diurnal as well as nocturnal.

“Say, Joe, there’s a cool car,” I said, as I pointed at a sleek black Porsche coming through the lot. Joe is a fan of fast cars, and we watched the coupe as it passed by the exit from the drive thru, and parked along the curb. The driver got out and walked into the Starbucks.

“That’s not a parking spot,” said Laura. “He’s going to block other cars.”

He did. Cars had trouble turning from the drive thru exit past his car into the lot.

“What an entitled, arrogant, SOB,” said Maggie. “There’s a parking spot right over there. I should go into the store and ask him if I can move his car to it.”

A routine, fun, ride. I did 42 miles at a 15 mph average — good for me. Maybe next week, the forecast will be right, and we can be accurately prepared for what we run into.

Do You Shave Your Legs Yet?

You should. At least, if you’re a racer guy type of rider.

Even since I began road cycling, I’ve been reading of the debate over leg shaving. To me, the arguments in favor never seemed compelling enough. Band-Aids will come off easier after a crash. It’s more aerodynamic (Yeah, right). It’s easier to slide tights or leg warmers over them when it’s chilly outside.

Then, I learned that some friends were shaving their legs. Heck, even one of our fine guest posters gave in to the craze. Bosh, says I.

But another friend pointed me to a video posted by the folks over at Specialized bikes. They actually conducted experiments in a wind tunnel to see if leg shaving had any benefits. The quick answer: You betcha.

Riders who shaved their legs saved an average of 70 seconds over 40 kilometers. Being able to finish more than a minute ahead of your competition just might make shaving worth it. Take a look at the video.

But for me, racing never was a consideration. And whether I finish my Sunday ride a minute or so faster doesn’t matter in the least. What does is whether I had fun, whether I shared some good times with friends, and whether I got some much-needed exercise. I will continue to view leg shaving as a silly affectation of our sport.

But if you decide to go that route, I will no longer ridicule you.