Sunday, April 6, 2008

Logging Miles

It's time for another installment of "My Latest Rides" followed closely by the newest episode of "My Cumulative Yearly Mileage." Exciting, eh?

I was foolish enough to sign up for the Almanzo 100 -- a 100 mile gravel "road race" taking place in Rochester on May 17. Okay, that may not sound all that foolish, but I signed myself up for the fixed gear category. Now, I've done some long fixed gear rides, but nothing over 40-50 miles. Still, I love fixed gear riding. The silence, the simplicity -- yah, all that jazz. No track bikes for me (besides on a real track). I'll take an old 80s road bike frame (or currently, as is the case for me, a Cross Check with 47X19 gearing), a light rack, some fenders and sensible 32c rubber. That's a bike you can cruise all day on and carry enough gear to encourage you to occasionally stop and smell the roses.

Saturday was to be THE day -- 60s and sun. Plus, Sunday would bring rain. I assembled gear the night before, which mainly consisted of piling a heap of Power Bars and Clif Shots/GU -- stuff I never eat otherwise -- on the table so I wouldn't forget them, along with my tool kit, map and a jacket. The next morning I threw in a notebook and a small thermos of green tea. I cleaned my bike in the a.m., lubed the chain (a little crusty from the Slick 50) and I was ready for action.

Clean and tidy, the Fixed Check is ready to roll. In case no one has told you, frame pumps are cool again. Unless you like pumping 200 quick little strokes to get your tire to 70 PSI.

I headed west along the Midtown replicating the Slick 50 route (minus the Triple Rock breakfast). Dodging the riff-raff clogging the lakes trails, I couldn't help but pine for the far western paths which would be sparse with users. In Hopkins I took the south LRT trail and rode it to its terminus in Chaska.

Trails' end at 21 miles. Ye best be findin' another way from here, little fella.

From there I did several map checks to make sure I was headed the right way, but I basically navigated around Carver Park (site of our summer camping trips) and north to Mound. The county roads were a nice counterpoint to the bike paths. It was refreshing to not have a completely sheltered (bike trail) experience, although I did see a lot of other cyclists riding the roads around Lake Minnetonka (a popular weekend destination for bicycling).

It's sunny and 60 degrees, but something is wrong with the lake. Most of the lakes still have a top sheet of ice here in MN.

I really liked this trailside ice shelf. Spring is here, but we are not green yet. It wasn't so last year if memory serves me correctly. There were quite a number of snow patches and icy tunnels remaining on the trails. I freaked out a few riders who had obviously not ridden through the winter. On the way through one tunnel, a woman walking her bike past an ice flow said, "There's ice there!" I rode right past her, over it and out onto the path. On another section of trail I stopped briefly to check the map and squeeze down a GU packet. A pair riding a tandem recumbent pedaled by on the road behind me. The guy up front chuckled, "There's snow..." I rode the trail and sure enough had to negotiate a couple patches of snow, but nothing worth walking. I pondered that encounter the rest of my ride. Those folks had most likely tried riding the trail and, for the sake of a 20 meter patch, had instead turned back and navigated all the way around on streets. Why? Then, it finally hit me: Riding through the least bit of challenging trail on a tandem recumbent would be a nightmare. It would be a nightmare on a single recumbent. My conclusion was reaffirmed -- self-righteous recumBENTS are wrong. Their machines are great for smooth travel, but suck when the going gets rough. I'll keep my "safety bike," thank you. The rest of you can get BENT all you like.

Part of the reason I want to train for the Almanzo is a matter of distance. Sure, I have no doubt I can go out and ride 100 miles. I remember the mythical "century mark" from my early biking years in middle school. It used to seem like a big deal to go out and ride 100 miles in one sitting. A lot of cyclists still make a big deal out of 100 miles -- countless century rides are organized every season. People train and psych themselves up to it. They pay good money to have stops along the way complete with support vehicles should they choose to bail. But, in reality, it's just 100 miles. If you pace yourself, eat and drink plenty what's the big deal? The Almanzo 100 will be predominantly gravel roads, however, and freshly graveled roads at that. That means sections of several inches of gravel in the midst of farm fields, miles to the nearest house let alone a commercial establishment. Gravel translates into a slower pace of travel (more exertion) and a greater chance of washing out. Yeehaw! And better stories to boot.

On this little training excursion, I experimented with nutrition. I ate very little before leaving; I'm just not a breakfast person, plus there wasn't much to graze on around the house. 10 miles in I stopped for two Power Bars at the headwaters of Nine Mile Creek. I drank plenty of water. Part of the reason I like to begin rides on a somewhat empty stomach is so I can feel the effects of foods immediately after consuming them. Power Bars absorb quickly, as do gels and drinks. But they are not substantial and you have to keep stoking the belly, depending on your pace. I was keeping my heart rate in the fat burning zone most of the time, so I wasn't worried, my body would tap on existing fat reserves.

By the time I hit Chanhassen, however, I had a suspicion I'd waited too long to eat "real food." I was beginning to slowly fade into that tired, dull zone, but in no danger of bonking. I stopped for water at a convenience store and bought a tuna sandwich which I stowed in my trunk bag. I made a deal with myself that lunch would be when I hit the Luce Line trail, another estimated 15 miles away.

It was glorious riding with mostly a tailwind blowing me up to the Luce Line. I took a gel part way there, but kept riding. En route I had a choice to B-line to the trail or veer west a bit on another county road. Of course, I veered left. I was worried my mileage would be low and I wanted to log 70 or more miles. My diversion was nice, but hilly. Cranking up the hills I kept thinking, "This is what it will be like around Rochester." Every climb was followed immediately by a quick descent, which can be as much of a test on a fixed gear as climbing. Eventually, I pulled onto the Luce Line at the Ox Lake Inn. I contemplated a beer, but stayed focused with my tuna sandwich, a powerbar and some energy drink.

The bothersome thing about rest stops on a ride is getting going again. It's the same with distance hiking -- you get your muscles going but then the delay contracts them. I headed slowly east from Lyndale. It was immediately wet and muddy. My average had been near 16mph thusfar. I looked down at my odo and saw 13-14mph for a couple of miles. Then, something happened. Maybe the trail got drier; maybe the wind shifted; but I think the food kicked in and I bumped back up to 15-17mph. I started cruising again, albeit with more output necessary to maintain that pace.

After riding a number of miles of trail that had narrow slices cut into it (sometimes catching my front wheel), I determined they must have been snowmobile tracks. Then I encountered this gate after a road crossing. Get some skis, pedal a Pugsley... Should this really be a seasonal sentiment? Use your body!

I reentered Mpls through Plymouth on Duluth St, then headed south on Theo Wirth Parkway. The last eventful thing was passing a biker with a trailer who was parked trailside. He was sitting there with his head in his hands. He'd apparently, according to him, hit a tree taking a corner. A gash on his forehead affirmed some sort of impact. He also complained that his ribs hurt, but he didn't want an ambulance; he said he'd called friends. I rode on, since he seemed to be aware enough. I hope he made it somewhere safe.

I pulled into home after 73 miles in just over 4.5 hours (not counting breaks for eating and map checks). Here's a photo of what I ate. I took in 1665 calories by my calculations, including 2 drink mixes which aren't pictured here:

By the marvels of modern nutrition, this would have fit into my jersey pockets. Next time I will eat more beforehand and stop when I begin to feel hungry. By the way, my new favorite sports drink is MotorTabs -- one tablet you drop into your waterbottle. It dissolves on its on and it isn't too sweet, plus it's mainly electrolytes, not sugar and carbs.

So, as of March 31, my first quarter mileage, almost entirely commuting, is: 1641.74 miles. In the first week of April I've already bumped this up by 200 miles. I want to break last year's total of 6700, but I hope to break 10K this year. We'll see. Now that I've laid out a decent route west of the Cities, I can envision riding this route many times on weekends.

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