Monday, June 12, 2017

Racing - 2017 Nutmeg State Games, June 4, 2017, M50+

Where to begin... Last year I was looking after my dad. It was the first season in 34 seasons where I didn't race a weekend race. Frankly I had more important things to do, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world. My dad passed in October, and my life, temporarily so set in its priorities, suddenly changed.

Like last year, this year has been a non-cycling year for sure. I started a job that I love, working at a Firestone, but the standard 12 hour days have been tough on my non-work life. I miss Junior's bed time a few nights a week, sometimes missing something like 5 nights in a row. It's precious little time that the Missus and I talk, usually me telling stories about work, sometimes her telling me stuff about her work. Other than eating and a little bit of the stuff that parents talk about (I always wondered what my parents were mumbling as I drifted off to sleep), my work days have very little to them.

When I do have some time off I have a lot of things I'd rather do that don't involve riding my bike.

That's bike riding.

Then there's bike racing.

To clarify a point, I love racing.

Love it.

I generally ride my bike only because I want to race it. I can't race it at all if I don't ride a minimum amount of training, because no fitness means getting shelled a lap into a race.

That's no fun, no matter how much I like to race.

My training, therefore, is geared to getting me fit enough to race. Doing long rides, sprints, whatever, all that is me trying to get fit enough to finish a flatter/easier race. Yes, there's an element of pleasure/meditation/etc when I'm doing some of those rides, especially the ones out in SoCal, but in general not so much.

To emphasize the not-cycling-so-much thing, I even took one Tuesday off to go karting with a coworker, his friend, and a bike racer (who karts) and his friend. It was a ton of fun.

My bike racer friend also races karts for real, so for him this was like doing a group ride vs doing a race. Any time we both drove similar karts he did better - inevitably I'd make a mistake, slow too much, and have to let him by. Karts are about not making mistakes as much as it is to drive properly, and in my newbie status I kept making mistakes.

My coworker and his friend are car nuts but even newer than me to karting. I tried to teach them how to do certain things because karts do not respond like cars. Their goal was to qualify for pro-karts, which requires dropping below a minimum lap time at least twice (in separate heats). I told them they could do it and I went not only to drive but also to give them on-site tips to help them hit their target lap times. I even downgraded to the regular karts for a number of heats so they could follow me through some of the corners.

I gave them some major tips, akin, I hope, to some of the bike racing tips I've shared on this blog. I'm pleased to say that both friends qualified for pro-karts, driving just 5 or 6 heats.

And me?

I got, until a superb driver showed up for the last couple heats, best time of the day, 9th best for the week, and 22nd for the month. Since it was May 30th it meant that most of the month had gone by, which lends more weight to my lap times. I dropped one spot in all of the above after that one driver showed up. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I learned the new layout, my experimentation with new lines, and, of course, my lap times.

That night I had some problems with my glasses falling forward, leaving me essentially blind for several laps (and most of the last heat). I might describe it as driving in the rain without using your wipers, or, maybe riding in the rain with water on your lenses. It was enough to cause me to miss turn ins, apexes, and even making mistakes that slammed myself into the wall a few times. Although I could still manage 34.x second times without seeing really well, for next time I'll have to figure out the glasses thing better. I was even thinking contacts would be better.

So... you can see how I have some distractions tugging at my limited free time.

As far as cycling goes, I started racing my bike in May, at my favorite CCAP Tuesday Night Race. Unfortunately I lasted just a few laps in the first couple races. At that point I had about 35 hours on my legs for the year. Apparently that wasn't enough to last very long in a race, even for me.

In the Friday night CCAP Kermis it was even worse. I was pretty unfit, okay, but to add to it I adjusted my too-tight front brake frantically after the first hairpin, not realizing that I was tightening the brake (my black bike brakes work opposite from my red bike brakes). I managed to push my way through the second hairpin with my brakes basically locking my front wheel, loosened the brake on the following straight, but I was done and off the back. I don't have a working powermeter (it's sitting in a box next to the computer right now) but I'm curious what I was pushing with the brakes dragging. I'm guessing it was in the 500-800w range, if not more - it was a 100% seated effort for me.

I managed to finish the third Tuesday Night race I entered, a rare night with zero wind. I felt like I'd turned a corner in my fitness, getting over the minimum required to hang onto a field in a flat race. My powermeters, both of them, are dead from lack of maintenance, so I don't have power numbers, but I'm guessing that I wasn't averaging more than about 160w in each race. For sure on Zwift I have problems maintaining 200w for any length of time, and 250w, my old VO2 max interval number, was incredibly hard.

Now that's not so bad because other things have been going well in my life.

Junior has been making strides. He surprised the heck out of me by reading words on his own the other week. He's been more independent, and, to be honest, a bit more dependent also. He misses me when I'm at work, I probably miss him more. Tonight he kept holding my hand while he was falling asleep, pulling my arm over him, and then snuggling up to me.

I treasure the time I have with him.

Work is great also. As we rolled into June I had some great days at work. We managed to help a couple people who were super grateful we were there for them. I was psyched we could do that, went home all happy, got on the bike, and basically fell flat on my face. In terms of doing a good job I think I'm doing it. I got a random fist bump from a customer in a supermarket so that was nice, and I even had a picture drawn of me by a good customer's kid (who I'd met just once at that point).

The red "F" thing is the Firestone sticker I gave him.
My hand is blocking his last name.

With things going well everywhere else, I hoped that the race at New Britain would go okay at least. This would be, get this, the first Sunday race for me since August 2015, so almost two years.

The first Sunday race in almost two years!

The M50+ race (I'll be 50 this year!) wouldn't be as manageable as a windless Tuesday Night Bs so I had low expectations. I figured I'd make it a few laps, get shelled, we'd go home, and as a family we'd hang out.

Sounds like a plan, right?

Well, as the saying goes, best laid plans...

We arrived at the race with a lot of time, enough time for me to roll around a bit, adjust my very finicky rear derailleur (something is bent and I haven't bothered fixing it), finally getting the bike so that I could shift up in a sprint without the chain skipping and throwing me over the bars.

Because shifting any time else really didn't matter, even with my non-legs.

A crash delay meant that I started getting a bit bonky before the start, as I was already stretching my eating schedule to make the race. As it was I'd woken up not feeling hungry and a lump in my throat, didn't each much for breakfast, and I was a bit worried I'd bonk. The Missus had some banana bread stuff that was great, I chowed down, and I went to the start feeling a bit better.

The start.
I'm about halfway back in the field I think.

We started out casually enough, to my relief. I think the big guns were all at Nationals, the NY ringers were at White Plains, and so it was a bit more of a CT representation instead of a few CT racers lost in a sea of area racers. Incredibly the race started even tamer than a pace lap on a Tuesday Night B race.

Talk about an ideal race for me.

I had some problems following wheels though. When a few riders noodled off the front, I couldn't go. I had to leave it to my good friend David to close the gap, which he did with some vigor. I felt bad for making him close the gap but he happened to be next to me when my legs folded.

Letting a big gap go. That's a big gap.
David is just about to pass me.

After that gap fiasco I tried to stay out of the way of the racers actually racing the race. I sat mainly in the back, uninvolved. There was just one exception - I'd move up when it got easy to get some "drift back" room. This way I'd have some cushion if someone launched an attack - it might be a solid 15 or 20 seconds as the field filtered by me, enough time for me to get going.

More than a few riders commented on my "attack" near the end of the race. I remembered the move because it was a perfect storm of doing nothing and everyone else just slowing. I wanted to illustrate how even the most conservative riding can result in an "attack".

Strung out. Note that I'm not on the wheel, due to being under extreme pressure.
Sitting behind "red bike with a Generic Jersey".
He was part of a 2 man break that won the M60 race so I'm guessing he was a bit tired.

Just before my "move" a few riders had just made some efforts. The field was strung out going into the wooded area. I was struggling to hold wheels and hoped that they'd sit up soon; if they'd kept it up for a lap I'd have been off the back.

Bunching up, I moved to the left of Generic Jersey.

Luckily for me they did sit up at the front. Seeing as I was in so much trouble trying to stay on the wheel, I decided to pedal a few extra revolutions and try and move up, to buy myself some drift back room. I moved left because it was open; I'd overlapped a bit to the left of Generic Jersey.

The path is now visible.
I'm coasting/soft pedaling but going much faster than everyone in the picture.

When I got there I realized there was a "Moses and the Red Sea" path to the front, that chasm visible in the picture above. I was coasting and soft pedaling and still going faster than the field so I let my bike meander into the gap.

And guess who attacks?

As I got through the gap I figured I'd just sit up, but then someone attacked. It was Generic Jersey. He'd gone right, I'd gone left, and we both passed the group. I did about 2 or 3 pedal strokes to follow him, declined pulling through, and we were back in the fold at the top of the hill. My non-attack and non-work meant that by the top of the hill I was fully recovered from the surge, just behind the front, and ready to go again.

So that was my non-attack.

Bell Lap

My races always come down to the bell lap, because, you know, Sprinter Della Casa.

Bell Lap.
Note that you can't see the rear wheel in front of me - that means I'm on the wheel.

As the laps counted down I started thinking that I could actually do this. No one was racing hard - the attacks were short, into the wind (not into the cross/tailwind), and therefore ineffective. The field was stacked with "sprinters" so they all jumped on moves as soon as possible, and the historically strong time trialers were either not here, not ultra fit, or fatigued from doing the race just before the M50+.

So as we hit the bell I started daring to hope for a good result.

Backstretch, bell lap.
Note again, rear wheel not visible.

I had three possible sprint scenarios. I visited all of them numerous times during the race, probably cycling through them a dozen times in the last couple laps. The wind was hitting us from the left on the sprint straight, making the right side a bit more desirable than the left.

Plan A

The first plan was to move up after the top of the hill, hit the turn near the front, jump right on the main straight if possible (sheltered from the wind), and go pretty early if I was jumping first. Ideally I'd be first through the last turn, I'd jump hard on the right curb, there'd be zero shelter on my wheel, and if I could do a 15 second sprint I'd win the sprint.

Let's rate the potential of the move using these parameters:
1. Risk level, meaning how risky would it be from a tactical point of view. How easily could I get boxed in? Lower is better.
2. Minimum strength to do well, meaning how much gas would I need to make the move work well. The more I needed the higher minimum strength I'd need. Lower is better.
3. Possible top 3, meaning what would be my chances of getting a top 3 placing? The higher the chance of a top 3 the better.

So for Plan A this was my analysis:
Risk level: Low - no one in front to box me in
Minimum strength to do well: High
Possible top 3: Low

This was a low risk tactic but relied heavily on me doing a good sprint - a good jump followed by a very solid, high output sprint. If I blew then I'd get swarmed and not place at all. In my condition this wasn't a great choice.

(Sam won his race basically doing this. As a very fit rider with a very good jump, this validated my tactical theory.)

Plan B
An alternative was hoping that the sprinters would go left (because the leadout rider would naturally hug the right curb to deny everyone shelter), there'd be a gap to the right because they'd give the right side rider some room, and I could slip through the right side gap in the sprint.

Risk level: High (of getting boxed in)
Minimum strength to do well: Low
Possible top 3: Very high or very low.

That was a high risk move since virtually every sprint up the right side at New Britain gets shut down. On the other hand sprinting on the sheltered side would make winning the sprint much more likely. This was an all or nothing move. The odds worked against me and I'd only choose this option in very specific situations. I kept this option in mind if things unrolled in a specific way, but unless there was a massive move up the left side of the road, this option is almost always off the table.

Plan C

The third and most likely alternative was to be sheltered going into the sprint then jump super hard on the windy left side. A strong jump can gain a lot of distance, especially in a slower, wind-swept sprint. Starting from further back I'd have to make up a lot of ground. However, having been sheltered more, I'd have spent less energy up to that point and therefore I'd have the most jump left in my legs.

Risk level: Low
Minimum strength do do well: Medium
Possible top 3: Low/Medium

This was the highest probability tactic, meaning I'd consistently get a higher placing. However it would be very, very difficult to win the sprint. It was the safe move but pretty much put me off the podium due to the extra work I'd have to do in the sprint. I might be able to salvage a top 3, meaning 3rd, but realistically not much better than that.

Being risk averse as I am, I chose the third option, the safe move.

Top of hill, bell lap.
Marty is just to the right of the back of the sign.

At the top of the hill I wasn't in major trouble. Through the winter I'd managed to keep my weight somewhat sane, in the 170 lbs range, which is just about where I was in the latter half of my stronger 2015 season. At 180-190 lbs I'd have been struggling, but at 170 I was okay over the hill. If I was 160 I'd be flying. For example, in 2010 I was under 160 and upgraded to 2.

It helped, of course, that no one really made a move. Marty, a former teammate from my collegiate days, went early, but with an immediate surge in pace in the field it didn't look good for him.

Last turn, bell lap.
Marty is leading through the turn.

I moved up on the slight downhill between the top of the hill and the last turn. I didn't realize it but Stephen, another former collegiate teammate of sorts (he was a 2, I was a 3, so we never actually raced the same events), had launched an attack on the left side. A danger man, others responded immediately. I was focused on following John M, a friendly rival that I battled for decades at Bethel. He's a rider a lot like me in that he sits and sprints. I thought he'd be a safe, solid wheel to sit on.

Problem was that the last little surge before the last turn caused some gaps to open up. John wasn't himself as he told me after, and he was also caught off guard by Stephen's move. The gap opened uncontrollably through the turn, as it's difficult to jump while going through it. As we exited the turn I looked around him and was surprised at the size of the gap in front of him. In reviewing the video it's clear that the riders in front had much higher entry speed into the turn and he simply got caught out by the surge just before the turn.

With the gap already there I had to jump immediately.
Note I'm going to the sheltered right; low risk, high benefit move at this point.

This meant that I had to jump just to get across the gap, and then try to do another jump/sprint for the line. I had room to go on the sheltered right side of John so I did, jumping to his right. I quickly closed the gap to Dave the Horst rider and started debating, right or left.

At this point Marty was toward the right side blowing up, Stephen went way left, and everyone followed Stephen. If I'd been good I'd have blazed into that huge gap on the right and risked going up the sheltered right side.

Getting to first group in the sprint, going a few mph faster than everyone else.
Left or right? I went left, and I realistically should have gone right.

Instead, to play the odds of placing well (safest odds) vs getting boxed in (and either winning or potentially not placing at all), I went into the wind, to the left.

It was the safe, sane choice.

I'm pretty sure it was the wrong choice.

I jumped hard to the left, trying to get around everyone so I could move more right before the line. We still had a solid 8 or 9 seconds of sprinting left and I thought I could get around everyone before the right bend. Although I went the long way I actually wanted to shorten my line as much as possible. I did a similar move in 2014 but I jumped much earlier that year. The reality was that, in 2017, with my lack of training, I lacked the punch to repeat that 2014 move.

This year I'd have to stay left all the way to the line.

I go left to pass.
David in orange, Stephen in black, Marty in green/black.
Dave's hand is visible.

As I went left I could feel the wind hit me. On the camera it's much more obvious, the wind noise is significant. My legs felt okay but I knew that the fuse was lit and I was going to blow, I just didn't know when; I figured I'd get to the line but I'd lose some speed approaching it.

Moving to the right became a pipe dream.

I kept going.

My legs still had some power. I had about 40 meters to go and I thought things were going really well. This morning I'd never have put myself in this position, where I might win the state title. Yet here I was, what looked like a pretty straightforward final 40 meters, a few pedal strokes and bang, done.

40 meters to go, give or take.
Speed starting to drop but still good.
Finish line is just before the red tent.

"Bang, done," indeed.

As I readied myself for my last push to the line, my legs went. I simply had nothing. I sat down in disbelief, looking around to see what was going on.

Just before the line.

I could see my friend David sprinting hard. I'd drawn even with him but couldn't finish it off, and he pulled away from me. Way over to the right I could see the orange Horst jersey of Dave, a wicked fast sprinter, but it seemed that he wouldn't make it by me before the line. I didn't see the dark jersey of Stephen.

I was dispirited enough that I didn't even throw the bike at the line. With all my looking around I knew the places wouldn't change even without the foot or so I'd gain with a bike throw.

At the line, photo courtesy David.
Note no bike throw. I was beyond that by this point.

I did some quick calculations. David would be the first CT finisher, putting me in second. Dave would be third.

When all the dust settled I learned that there was someone that soloed off the front. I think we just barely missed catching him in the sprint. He wasn't a CT rider so my calculations held. David would be the gold medalist. I'd be silver. And Dave would be bronze.

After

I convinced Stephen to hang around after the race as David went and did the M30/M40 race. Jeff, one of the folks putting a lot of time/energy into the local cycling scene, took this picture of me. If Junior is in my arms it means he's tired, but he cheered up quickly for the camera.

Jeff got this great picture of me holding Junior.
Sam is in the pink/blue, the same colors my first team used.

As a bonus Sam Rosenholtz is rolling by behind me, sporting the pink and blue. In 2010 he was a grinning, cheerful Cat 5 at the Bethel Spring Series. I've always been a fan of his, even as he killed us Cat 3s in 2010. Now he's a pro for CCB and had just returned from a racing trip to both Holland and Poland. He placed in 7th out there in Europe somewhere in some insane looking narrow road sprint.

The race behind me? He won it outright.

After David finished the race we all gathered and took a few podium pictures.

2017 M50+ CT Crit Championship Podium.
Picture courtesy David.

On the way home I fell fast asleep in the car. Then I fell asleep reading to Junior. I dragged myself to work, I was wearing my jacket and shivering in 75 or 80 degree temperatures, tried to gut it out, gave up and came back home. I basically slept for the next 36 hours. I didn't realize it but whatever it was was just hitting me as I did the race. I'm fortunate it didn't hit 6 hours earlier.

Epilogue

A few days later the Missus was scrolling through some pictures on my Facebook feed.

"You got the silver in 2015 also."
"I did?"
"Look, you're in the same position on the podium."

Junior was 3 years old.

Huh.

It all came back. No clip because I was told to remove my helmet cam at the start line. There were two guys off the front and for sure I thought I could catch them in the sprint. But my sprint lacked sizzle and the two break riders did an incredible sprint, not allowing me to close much at all in the sprint. I'm pretty sure I never got closer than about 50 feet to the break. I hoped that the two in front weren't from CT but no such luck, one guy Michael was up there and had taken the gold.

What's interesting is that Junior refers to this race as "the race with the podiums" because they're fun to climb around, and, well, he gets to be in the pictures sometimes. With him around I earned the privilege in 2014 (bronze), 2015, and 2017. With his incredible memory (in 2015 he remembered the podiums from 2014) I am now under the gun to podium in 2018.

And along those lines, I think this is the course that gives me the best chance to earn my first summer victory - I've never won a race during the summer. Writing this post made me realize just how safe I play the end of races.

Maybe in 2018 I'll go right.

But first we'll see what life throws at me.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Promoting - Being "The Guy"

A nice post that starts and ends with yours truly, one that is at least indirectly about promoting.


Thanks for that.

FYI I've started a few posts but haven't completed any. My dream job (and I love it) typically sees me at work 8-8 so it's tough getting anything done before or after. I'll follow up with an actual post one of these days. Oh, and if you need any car services, let me know :)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Life - The Wheels Keep Turning

So recently there have been a lot of changes. I just started a new job, I have a new (to me) car, I've been getting stuff done around the house, and we're going to be changing our home schedule a bit to accommodate my job. I've also decided to stop promoting races and, in a related thing, I'll be backing of on the bike racing as well.

Dad

I guess the big thing is that I am no longer taking care of my dad. As much as it was the right thing to do, it affected the rest of my life by limiting what I could do, when I could do it. There are a lot of ways to describe the limitations, both negative and positive.

Negative words I think of right away are "shackled" or "trapped". This is because I really couldn't do much because I needed to take my dad with me. As he declined it was possible to sneak out while he was sleeping, which made things a bit easier. Toward the very this reversed itself and I stayed close by to keep an eye on him.

However, when I think of how I was able to care for him, other words come to mind. "Privileged" and "fortunate" come to mind right away. I was very, very lucky to be able to care for my dad. Even with all the tough stuff that happened, the stress and the like, I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

Work

In the end, though, when my dad passed, it allowed me to think of myself once again. First there was sort of this numb, decompression period, maybe a week, maybe more, where I felt just pulled along by all the things that happens when your dad dies. Then there were a couple frantic weeks of doing estate stuff, with one of my siblings handling much of it.

Then, after the dust settled for me (my sibling still doing estate stuff so not totally settled), maybe a month later, my situation became pretty clear to me. I needed to find a job that paid enough, and, if possible, a job I'd enjoy.

The latter was a bit tough. I wanted to be customer facing, I wanted to work with something that interested me (bikes, cars, not sure what else), and I had to find a position that didn't require too much specialized knowledge while offering me both a reasonable starting salary as well as opportunites for growth. Bonus would be substantially subsidized health care benefits.

Of course I've been thinking of this stuff for almost ten years now so this wasn't an idle thought. I enjoyed my time at the hardware store but the reality is that the position simply didn't offer much growth. It couldn't, much like working in a bike shop has difficulty offering growth.

After about four weeks of lots of searching on Careerbuilder and the like, I realized I was coming back to a particular position over and over. It was basically a sales position (management trainee) at various Firestone Complete Auto Care centers, all of which are (I think) wholly owned by the parent company Bridgestone.

As I pointed out in my previous post, I ended up with the position. I started a few weeks ago and it's been a steep learning curve. I am relearning stuff that I learned in my previous work lives - the car dealer, the hardware store, IT, and the shop. In the process I'm feeling like, okay, I'm starting to get it.

The thing I want to do at some point in the future is build my own team. To me that'd be the ultimate, to build and maintain a cohesive, cooperative, positive group of people into a nicely honed machine. When things go smoothly it's like a big leadout going well, all sorts of diverse elements working together toward a common goal. Just at this job this kind of stuff happens all the time. I caught a glimpse of this the other day (meaning as something based on what I initiated and did, not what others did) and I have to admit that it's extremely enticing. I'm looking forward to the day where I can make such things happen all the time.

What Else?

So what else is happening?

Our Cars

Well, for one thing, we've gotten our VW TDI "dieselgate" offers from Volkswagen. In case you don't know about it, VW cheated on emission tests with their diesel cars, to the point that some senior executives are being indicted for various crimes with senior executives told not to travel to the US. VW agreed to buy back almost half a million cars and pay some fines for a record $14 billion or so. That kind of dollar amount is a bit "otherworldly" to me because I can't think of that kind of money.

The Golf in the registration tent.

However, I can think about $10,000 or $20,000, and for us, as VW diesel owners, those are real numbers. VW not only is buying back the diesels but they're paying an additional $5-10,000 for each car as punishment. To give an idea of what our cars are worth in terms of trade in, I'd priced both cars in August 2015, just before Dieselgate hit in September 2015. I wanted to trade in one or both cars to get a more versatile tow vehicle. The dealer offered $9,000 for our Jetta Sportswagen ("JSW") and $12,000 for the Golf, a total of $21,000 for both cars.

$21,000 for both cars.

In contrast, because of Dieselgate, VW paid us $21,600 for the Golf.

Just the Golf.

Golf turned in. Tag on mirror says the car is not for sale.

They will pay us about $17,000 for the JSW.

So as far as we're concerned VW has done right by us.

I used less than half the Golf money to buy a replacement, the Sentra. We've ordered a Civic sedan for the Missus. So we'll have two completely different cars in the garage by March.

House

There's a lot of stuff going on with the house. We live in a single family home located in a condo complex. Therefore we get to have our own house but we don't deal much with outside maintenance. In the next year the condo association will be clearing our area of dead and dying trees (pretty much every large tree near the house, I'm guessing 15 or so large trees and a slew of supporting smaller trees), they'll be re-roofing our house, fixing the wood siding, and painting. It's a lot of work for sure and we're looking forward to the renewed yard/outside in the fall of 2017.

With the roof work we're looking into any roof modification so that we can sort of piggyback the work already scheduled. We'll be adding a sky tube (it's sort of like a skylight that ends in a light fixture lens in the ceiling) to brighten up a dark section of hallway. We're also contemplating having a chimney installed for a pellet stove. With some of the recent single digit temperatures a helper heating source would be a welcome addition to the home heating environment.

There are a lot of projects for inside the house as well. I've had a number of them planned or thought out and finally got around to doing them. Inertia/momentum works in two ways. When things are static it's hard to get going. However when things are in motion it's hard to stop. And now, with things in motion, I've found myself doing little things here and there all the time.

Family - The Missus and Junior

I put this down a bit lower because it's something we handle every day. It's not something like the car where we don't think about it for a bit, or it's a once in a while thing like a new roof on the house. For sure Junior occupies virtually all my free time outside of work. The Missus and I both schedule life around Junior, meaning we tend to work around his schedule. With work that's an added variable, making the intersection between the three schedules even more rare and special.

Things are going great with the Missus and her work so that's not a huge stressor, at least to me. I think for her there are both good and bad days, with seemingly very few of the latter. As a former small business owner I can relate to some things common to owning a small business, although hers is successful and mine was less so.

Once tax season is over her schedule lightens up which means my job will be the limiting factor to our family time.

Junior is doing well too. I'm constantly amazed by the things he does. He remembers stuff so well he's been keeping me on my toes. He's great around people, inquisitive, talkative, energetic, and will even admit defeat if he's tired and go upstairs for nap or bedtime.

Junior enjoys unscrewing the quick release skewer from the wheel.
August 2016.
Note lower profile front wheel, the Stinger 4. It must have been windy that day.

We had to pull Junior out of Pre-K because of my job. He's returned to what is officially a daycare center. The reality is that it's a super effective educational place based on how well prepared he was for Pre-K. A lot of it is him, of course, he learned a lot of stuff sort of on his own, and it's not like we sit down and do vocabulary drills or whatnot. He seems to pick stuff up on his own, with the help of some YouTube clips, Einstein DVDs, Cat in the Hat, and some other educational entertainment. Lately he's gotten into Star Wars stuff so of course he's learning and memorizing all sorts of stuff that doesn't necessarily translate to "education".

Part of our play at Pre-K pick up.
Here we're taking shelter in the doorway to a different part of the school.

Running the Yellow Line.
I told him to stay on the line so he wouldn't veer toward the curb.

Saying hi to the daycare bus driver (a teacher also) and telling her all about his day.

My job will mean a few late nights a week so I'll miss his bedtimes regularly. I think, honestly, that this will be harder for me than him. I knew underneath that eventually it would happen at some point. It's just that it's happening now.

Other Things

One thing I've wanted to do since late 2015 is to get back in some gasoline powered karts. Connecticut has two locations which run gas karts on tracks which suit gas engine characteristics. Gas karts have very little low end torque, requiring a bit of time to build power. Such karts reward smooth driving, good lines, and longer "full throttle" sections of track. On Track Karting (OTK) has two locations with well laid out courses for gas karts.

Back in 2015 I went to each track one time, Wallingford in November, Brookfield in December.

I was hooked.

I bought a helmet (it was a $100 Bell helmet) and an inexpensive action camera. Then life intruded and I could only dream about karting. I watched clips people made of their OTK outings, watching the better drivers over and over again. I memorized the layouts, I knew when to get on the gas, when to ease, leaving just a few areas of doubt ("do I brake here or just coast?" or "how does he initiate turn in here?"). I'd have to get to the track to figure that out.

Recently I went back to Brookfield. I wanted to catch a full evening of driving ("all you can drive from 6 pm until 11 pm"). I got there a bit late but drove for about 4 hours straight, missing only a few heats during that time. Significantly for me I qualified for Pro Karts, based on dropping below a certain minimum lap time for multiple heats. This was my holy grail goal and I managed to hit my marks in the first four or so heats.

43.062 seconds.
I needed to break 43.75 seconds I think.

On seeing my reports on karting a (bike) racing friend reached out to me and offered me a ride in his karts. I have yet to take him up on it (it was 1 deg F outside the next morning) but I hope that I'll be able to experience karts outside later in 2017. Indoors I don't think we go much faster than 30-35 mph in the 6.5 hp regular karts, but outside he says his slow kart (similar to an indoor 9 hp Pro Kart) will hit 50+ mph. His fast kart will apparently hit the 70+ mph range.

After my solo outing to Brookfield I got in touch with my friend that first introduced me to OTK with a bunch of car nuts. We made plans for a repeat night out at the Wallingford track. It was sort of like a "group kart" experience, versus a group ride, with a 7 of us meeting up to kart. Five of us were Pro Kart qualified so for two heats we blitzed the course in the fast karts. It was my first time in them and it was eye opening. They were so much faster in certain sections that I had to relearn how to approach them.

2nd heat in the Pro Karts, top of the leaderboard.
"Frank", a regular, said that "mid-37s are respectable".
The best time in December at that time was in the 35.xxx range. That's fast!

I look forward to doing Brookfield in the Pro Karts. I hope one day to do the actual racing. It won't happen soon I think but there are some pretty long races. In a 10 minute heat I got in 15 laps at Wallingford. I did 16 minutes in Brookfield, two 8 minute heats back to back, and that was a bit fatiguing. In contrast the long kart races are 100 laps long!

Cycling

One conspicuous absence in all of this is anything bike related. The reason for this blog is cycling, of course, and my main interest for 35 years has been cycling. With an almost off year in 2016, with just several Tuesday Night races checked off, 2017 doesn't seem to offer much more. For me, as a promoter, racing has always had two sides: promoting and racing. There's a third bit, maintenance, and I'll kick off with that.

Maintenance

For the last two years I put literally zero dollars into my bike. I rewrapped the same tape around my bars a few times. I think I glued one tire on, a tire I had "in stock". I still have maybe 10 or 12 new tubular tires, ready to be mounted. I even have a few rolls of tape but I was jealously hoarding them for when I really needed new tape.

With the new job (as well as an economical car purchase) I've gotten to the point where I can think about spending some money on the bike. I need to overhaul my two SRMs, both of which are not working. I want to get a second stem so the black bike can be fitted like my red bike. I bought two new training clinchers for if I start training outside again. It's maybe six or seven hundred dollars but that's more than I felt comfortable spending in the last two years. Now, though, I feel like I can do it. Not just yet, but in the near future.

As a last bit I may try and get a second set of new-style 10 speed levers, Centaur I think, so the cockpits on both bikes match.

I did go and get one new cassette and a slew of used ones, from a good friend of mine. I hope that this gets me through the next year or three in terms of drivetrain maintenance.

Promoting or Lack Thereof

A big bike thing for me is promoting. With my new job I need to work Sundays from February through mid-April.

This means no Spring Series.

That's 100%. No giving it a shot, no trying, for me I'm done.

I've been on the fence about ending my promotion work, promising myself not to promote "next year". I've thought about my exit strategy, if you will. There are two significant investments in Carpe Diem Racing that I have - the trailer (legally it's Carpe Diem Racing property) and the tow vehicle (legally just a personal vehicle), both of which I wouldn't own except that I promoted races. Selling the trailer first, then the Expedition tow vehicle second, would seal the "no more promoting" decision. Even though I promoted races before I had them, if I sold them then mentally I'd be done.

I was telling someone about this stuff the other day and the one thing I'd want to get is a pick up, van, or minivan large enough to haul around a snowblower or a couch or something. With just two compact cars we can't carry much of anything if we didn't have the Expedition or the trailer.

Trailer at the 2016 Aetna Silk City Cross race.
To be clear I didn't promote the race, I only helped with registration.
Credit for the race goes to Jon, David, and the rest of the Expo crew.

So... If you're a promoter looking for a trailer and tow vehicle, let me know. Heh.

(For reference I spent $23k to buy them and I'd sell them for significantly less. Emphasis on the word "significantly". Trailer is a 8.5'x20' car hauler, 3500 lbs axles so 7000 lbs gross weight, about 3600 lbs load capacity as it's about 3400 lbs empty. Expedition is rated at 8900 lbs towing, give or take. I was thinking the trailer could act as a portable garage if it came down to it. Or a portable, heatable, miniature garage where I could work on my car. Waitaminute. Hm.)

Racing

For the actual racing bit I don't foresee much improvement in my schedule from 2016. I hope I'll make some races, but with my work schedule in flux typically week by week, I have absolutely no idea if I can race a week in the future, even a Tuesday night (there are some nights I'm at work until 8 or 9 PM or even later). This makes planning on doing any races sort of pointless. Pre-reg is no longer a thought. Targeting a peak or "A Race" is simply impossible. I'm okay with that, although with no real goals in mind it's hard to motivate to get on the bike.

June 2016.
Bike as I have it set up now.

I did make a "racer gambit" at the beginning of my current job. When they asked me pants size I gave them my 160 lbs waist size. I was already pushing about 168 lbs, and now I'm over 170 lbs. I literally cannot gain much more weight else I won't fit my pants.

Since they've given me eleven pairs of pants I'm sort of committed to that waist size. This means losing some weight and keeping it off. I managed to get down a few pounds in the last three weeks. If nothing else this will help with my racing.

So that's what's going on so far. Hopefully I'll have more updates a bit quicker in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Life - A New Start

Innocuous Start

A few weeks ago I met a friend who was getting some 35% good snows replaced on his car. He found that with a front wheel drive car the snow tires last about three seasons. With his new rear wheel drive car it seems that two seasons was the limit.

But with some meat left in the treads he offered the tires to me for my new-to-me car (I'll call it the Sentra because that's what it is). The tire size was a touch off (I think 1.8%) and I thought it'd be worth the drive to get the tires. Plus we could catch up a bit.

Picture of the Sentra from the listing where I saw it.

We hung out at the tire place, mainly discussing my Sentra and some of the things I have to take care of with the car right away.

You know, like passing emissions.

And getting snow tires for it.

Ended up that the set of tires had three decent tires and one poor one. This presented a problem as those tires were no longer sold so I couldn't get a replacement tire. Even if I could I didn't want to replace just one tire.

The problem with any tires but snows in particular is when you mix different wear/life tires. Even with all seasons different wear tires aren't ideal, but with snows it's worse. Studless snows have super effective snow/ice rubber compound for about the first half of the tread. The second half is not as grippy. With unevenly worn snows at some point I'd be dealing with one tire (the newest one) having a ton of grip because it still had some of the super grippy snow rubber left. The other three tires would be down to "regular" rubber and not grip as well. That's not great when you consider three sliding tires and one gripping one. The gripping tire would act like a pivot around which the car would spin, like if I was on some ice or some snow.

Spinning is bad.

So although my good friend meant well, I went and bought four new snow tires for the Sentra.

I ended up back at the tire place to have the snows mounted on the gray rims in the picture above. I'd have the place remove the summer tires from those rims and put them on some other set of rims, to be decided still.

And while I was at the tire place my life pretty much changed.

That sounds dramatic, right? Well it is, and it's supposed to be.

Tech

The tech doing my tires, Greg, was extremely diligent with his work. He avoided scratching the pristine rims by manually leveraging the beads off the rim. He didn't use the tire machine, he used some big bar and literally pushed the bead off the rim. This was old school hard work.

It took some time but the end result is that the rims remained untouched during that trip.

He inflated the tires to the proper pressure and even torqued the lug nuts properly. He gave me a choice of gray or black valve covers, pointing out that the chrome metal ones that I drove in with would rust/freeze in place over the winter.

He asked if he could take a picture of the engine.

It reminded me of the guys at my shop. Super diligent. Super proud of their work. Happy to help a customer. Going above and beyond.

Teammates

While Greg was doing this other techs would walk by to get this or that or check out the car. I immediately realized that there was good camaraderie at this shop. The techs were happy, they got along, they joked with one another, it was really pleasant. I thought it must be a great place to work, in a friendly environment, no visible tension, no snapping at one another.

Again, it reminded me of my shop. The techs meshed well and it made for a really good environment. You get happy techs proud of their work and you can't help but have solid work happening in the shop.

Team Leader

When I was inside the waiting area I poked around and looked at tires and such. The whole time I could hear the manager Bryan, at the counter, talking to various customers. He had a soothing voice, very calm, very level. He would be great at poker because he never seemed upset or agitated. Yet when he had a free moment he'd talk with his counterpart (the other service consultant, if you will) and his face would brighten with a huge grin. He, too, seemed very happy.

I heard him work through a number of different scenarios. It was like listening in on a "how to be a tire place manager" video production. He gently deflected any aggressiveness, empathized with his customers, and kept the place calm and peaceful and nice.

l can't say that it reminded me of my shop because I was the boss of my shop and I thought this guy was a thousand times better than me. But I do think that his demeanor, his personality, absolutely helped create the atmosphere in the shop.

The Shop, The Shop, The Shop

I kept thinking of the shop, meaning my old bike shop. I was inexperienced, a bit overwhelmed, and made some very basic business errors.

But what made it bearable was that it was a great place to work. The people there (that I picked) all got along. We were all proud of our work. Even now I know that most of the guys are still fiercely proud of the work they did at the shop. They still have some of the same equipment, they still work on their own bikes. They carry the shop within themselves, even now.

I realized that I wanted to work in such an environment again. A small business kind of place, with a smaller staff, interaction with everyone all the time, and a well picked, "elite team" of people.

In fact, I'd even like working in a tire place. Tires to my cars are sort of like wheels for my bike. As you probably have figured out I'm always thinking of the next set of wheels I want for my bike, or the ideal quiver of wheels. I'm still working on my ideal set of clincher wheels. Incredibly, because I never thought this would ever be the case, I'm happy with my quiver of tubular/race wheels.

Likewise I'm always thinking of what tires I want to put on whatever car next. With car tires it's a bit different because car tires vary so greatly. I'm a big fan of the +0 tire thing, where you go with a bit wider tire on the same rim. On the 350Z I went from a 245/45-18 rear tire to a 315/35-18 size. Same circumference, same rim diameter (so same sidewall height), but a massive 70mm wider contact patch.

With the Sentra the car is badly under-tired, meaning the tires are too narrow. It runs a 215/45-17 tire, which was probably fine for the stock set up, but now, with about the same horsepower as the Z, the 215s are a bit narrow. My thought is to go with a 235/40-17. Same circumference (almost negligible difference) but closer to the 245 width the stock Z had. Braking should improve significantly, traction under acceleration as well, and cornering of course.

So when the summer tires on it wear out, will be an excellent canvas for summer tire experimentation. I have no idea what I'll put on at this point. Summer tires, yes, high performance, yes, but what tire?

Well, here's a hint. Today, tonight, I narrowed down my choices substantially.

Small Business Reality

The reality is that from an employee point of view, smaller businesses have a huge disadvantage compared to larger businesses. Smaller businesses usually don't offer good benefits, they don't have very good retirement plans if they have one at all, and they are usually pretty solidly capped in terms of promotion and growth.

Larger companies usually offer more comprehensive benefits, some kind of 401k plan, and, hopefully, room to grow. But they're large businesses. I didn't want to feel lost, like a cog in the machine.

Small Business Feel in a Large Business

What if I could find a similar kind of atmosphere in a larger company?

Well, to be honest, I'd want to work for them.

I'd been poking around looking for a job since November, after the scramble that we went through after my dad passed. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I wanted the job to be everything. I wanted to be customer facing. I like helping people and I don't mind the "customer service challenges" that one sees when dealing with the public. I didn't want to deal with IT stuff, meaning like IT support.

I wanted to have room to grow, with some solid career path ahead of me. My mom told me in college that I didn't have to decide what I wanted to do at that moment. I could get a job at 21, work at it for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 41. I could switch careers, work in another career for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 61. Back then it felt like I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to do.

That was then. This is now.

The problem is that I've used up one career worth of time and I'm halfway through that second career's worth of time. I'm running out of "career time".

As an aside I also wanted to get solid benefits. With the Missus a small business partner, we can't lean on a large employer to subsidize our health care costs. We are paying an enormous amount of money for health insurance. It's enough that it's a matter of concern for us. If I could work for a larger company that offered decent benefits, it would be huge. It would be so huge that I'd consider doing non-customer-facing remote IT support buried in a cubicle for some enormous corporation because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Really, though, I didn't want it to come to that.

After I got the snows mounted on the Sentra I revisited one of the many positions I bookmarked.

"Retail Store Management Trainee"
(If you Google it you'll see it repeated over and over for Bridgestone for Firestone Auto Care locations.)

I thought about it and then, after a bit of pushing myself over the cusp, I applied. It was the first job I applied for since my dad passed, which I didn't realize until I applied. It was also the only job application I submitted.

The next morning I was asked to schedule a phone interview, which I did the following afternoon. The evening of the phone interview I was asked to come in for a face to face interview the following day. I met the area manager, who, of course, asked me why I wanted to work there.

I told him the story about getting the tires installed on the Sentra, how I wanted to be part of a team like that, how eventually I wanted to build a team like that. I wasn't delusional - I knew it might be 5 or 10 years to do that, but that's okay, I was good with that timeline.

The area manager asked me where I had the tires installed. Naturally he knew the place, it is a good shop. Then he surprised me. He knew Bryan personally because, get this, Bryan started at Bridgestone. So did Greg, which I knew because Greg told me with pride that he used to work for Bridgestone/Firestone. With that comment Greg actually got me to consider Bridgestone.

Bridgestone is a huge company so they have solid benefits. The area manager knew that was a selling point for anyone applying with him, and he had all the plan info right there for me to review.

I decided I liked the way everything was going and I accepted the position. I had to pass a background check, a physical, and a drug test. I got word just a few hours ago that I'd cleared the last of those hurdles.

So it's official.

And I'm psyched.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life - What Got Me Started Racing

This was a thread response that I wrote sort of stream of conscious like just now. I just added pictures for the post.

***

I grew up in Holland. Ironically I don't remember ever seeing a drop bar bike there. Never saw a race, a cross race, nothing. Saw rally cross (race cars - there was a track in our town), watched some rally racing coverage on the very limited TV. In Holland a the time it was 2 channels, noon-11 PM or so, that was all that was broadcast, and weekends were pretty dead. We didn't watch a lot of TV.

Moved back to the US. Saw a guy on a road bike going around a corner. I later learned the guy was a strong Cat 2 (Scott Donovan). I couldn't believe how skinny the tires were on his bike. Started looking for books about cycling in the library. The only pro racing picture I saw was one of Eddy Merckx. He became legendary because of the 6 or 7 books, he was the only racer mentioned.

I decided I wasn't the big thighed racer the Bicycling guy kept describing. I forget the guy's name but he always wrote about touring and his search for the perfect drivetrain for a bike (half step + granny). I was dreaming about a 14-28 and 52/48/24.

I was 13.

Bought a road bike (Schwinn Traveler III, red) when I could finally ride one. Short legs, 19" frame was a bit big. Wrote the gear chart (52/40, 14-28) and taped it to my stem. Practiced double shifting. Got toe clips.

Second bike, Dawes Lightning, dark/light green fade. Changed gearing to what I thought was ideal, 48/34, 14-21 or 14-23 (for either "flat rides" or "hilly rides"). Eight usable gears out of ten. Got 700c wheels. Learned that a kid (Ken Bowler) in a bunch of my classes was an actual bike racer. Peppered him with questions 4 of 7 classes for a fall and winter.

I was 14.

He told me that in a race he'd have climbed Wolfpit (Wilton, CT) in a 53x15. That's basically the same as my max gear 48x14, and that blew my mind. I asked him repeatedly to make sure he wasn't telling me he'd descend down Wolfpit, not climb the thing. He kept insisting that he was referring to going uphill.

I tried it in the spring, going up the hill in a 48x19 or 21 first and working my way up. I got to a 48x15 but all the efforts made my legs fold in the 48x14 and I had to pull a u-turn halfway up the hill to avoid falling over. A kid Kurt in our school, who got a pro triathlon contract ($16k back in 1983?), got clocked and ticketed for going 50 mph down the thing. It's steep.

Shortly after my Wolfpit experience I went riding with Ken and his dad. I was absolutely shocked at how fast they went on the flats. Appalled, really. I thought the flats were the easy part when I rode, but the reality was that climbing was always hard and the flat stuff was ultra fast. Fortunately his dad got stung by a bee and required medical attention, else I'd have been dragging them down for 80 out of the 100 km ride we'd started. I think I still have the badge from that ride, the Bloomin Metric.

That winter I used all my current savings, my birthday present, my Christmas present, and some extra earned stuff, and ordered a Basso with Campy and Excel Rino on it. $550, $585 with tax. Campy NR derailleurs and shifters, Modolo brakes. And Excel Rino? Excel Rino had to be good, Lon Haldeman won the RAAM on it.

I was 15.

Basso in action, 1984.

Excel Rino was horrible, it was cast aluminum with the density of styrofoam.

But the bike was built by a mechanic who got 2nd in the Jr State RR. He asked if I wanted to join his team. He built my bike with Junior gears, laced over GP4s, put Clement Futurox tubulars on, and I raced that bike for two or three years.

I rode to escape all those teenage angst things. Lots of long rides deep in the boonies, roads I'd never seen before. All my friends through high school were my cycling friends and teammates. There were a couple Juniors (including high school classmate AgilisMerlin) but most of my friends were in their 20s and 30s.

My favorite days to ride are the gloomy 45-55 degree overcast possibly raining days. I guess that's sort of Holland weather. For some reason it really calls to me. Just pounding the pedals, rolling, feeling the tires dance over the pavement. I also hate riding in that weather, it's tough, it can get unpleasant, and it's always a bit iffy if it's wet or sandy.

Back in the day taking a picture cost money.
I wanted these pictures so bad I was willing to pay for them.
It's because I went for a ride in wet, gritty, gloomy weather, and I loved it.

Now it's a bit different. I train indoors most of the time. But my last ride was in 50 degree, rainy-at-first weather. We were on flat roads next to fields lined with trees, wind blowing hard, rain falling sort of sideways. My head was pounding from the cold, I could feel the wind piercing my long sleeve jersey just past the wind vest. It really was just like Holland. Horrible. I loved it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Training - Blues Ranger

To continue an unlikely trend, I rode outside again, on November 6.

This time it was with two old time ex-teammates, riders that I hung out with mainly in the 90s. One bought the bike from my one and only "pursue and recover" incident, where I chased a thief for a bit and got back a bike he'd stolen from the shop. I'll call him Ranger.

The other guy is a musician first. He's since moved about 4.5 hours away, and, yes, he made the drive just to do this ride. I'll call him Blues.

Ranger, to my delight and astonishment, showed up with the theft recovery bike. I quickly snapped a picture of it in all its glory. It's virtually unchanged since back in the day.

The bike I recovered from a would-be-thief in a different life.
Other than a change in tires I think the bike is pretty much original.

While we got ready it was raining a bit, a cold, windy, damp, grim, grey, day.

A perfect day for a Belgian style ride.

What's interesting, and we all commented on it after the ride, is that none of us ever suggested just skipping the ride and catching up over coffee at the local breakfast place, a favorite in the area which Junior refers to as "The Waffle Place". Instead we set about dressing for what seemed to be a pretty grim ride on the bike, each of us putting on differing amount of gear.

With the temperature just about 50 degrees, a chilly wind, and the drizzle, I had on knickers, booties, a short sleeve jersey, a thick long sleeve jersey, a wind vest, and my winter gloves and hat. My helmet of course, and shoes.

My bike, this time with a saddle bag, rear light, a pump in my pocket, bottles.

Blues had on everything, tights to jacket, and looked to be the most prepared of the trio.

Ranger, true to his hard man style, opted for shorts and just two t-shirts. With his toe clips and straps, sneakers, and non-lycra gear, he was by far the least pretentious of the group.

Start

Our motley crew headed out. It was so cold I started getting a massive headache because of the cold and a slightly tight helmet (I loosened it later when I realized it was too tight). I could feel the wind blowing through my jersey arms, my shoulders and upper arms feeling the piercing chill. My glasses got wet from the misty rain, the tires looked slick as ice, and I found myself wondering how long I could keep this up.

I figured both Blues and Ranger had driven quite a bit to ride with me. Blues had initially arranged to meet up by me so I could take a short break from looking after my dad. Since my dad passed that wasn't a concern anymore but still, they made the drive here. At any rate I figured they both had too much vested into the ride to quit after 15 or 20 minutes.

I had to keep going.

So I plodded along, trying to shift my helmet around to get my cold-induced headache to a minimum.

Then, as we moved along, the clouds started breaking up, the sun peeked through, and things got a bit better.

We tried not to go too fast so our pace heading out was, shall we say, "conservative".

Along the path

Let me go on a tangent here for a bit.

Along the Canals

In the book "The Dog In The Hat" that spoke to my core in some absolute and indescribable way, Joe Parkin talks about how a lot of riders train by riding along canal bike paths. These paths are meant just for bikes, they don't have motorized traffic on them, and it allowed a group of riders to pound out the hours without getting too distracted by cars and such.

I realized that here, along this "Multi Use Path" (MUP), we were riding along our version of the "canal paths". In a different life, perhaps a future one, I thought it possible that I'd be rolling along these paths, maybe in the off hours, doing base work.

For now though, it was just for fun.

Turn Around

We generally stayed together although Blues went ahead when someone passed us. Even on easy ride it's easy to get pulled into little informal competitions. However, after about an hour, with Blues ahead maybe 20 or 30 seconds ahead, Range admitted he was done. Blues was still in sight over these flat and straight trails. I told Ranger to turn around (it was an out-and-back ride) and that I'd catch Blues and we'd turn around and catch up.

I did a little effort to bridge the gap and quickly realized I was blowing up. I looked down and saw 26.7 mph.

Yeah. Not very impressive.

I eased because, um, there were some people walking a dog. That's it, people walking on the trail. Actually, there were people walking, I eased to pass them without scaring them (smiles and waves all around), and then, with 20 seconds of recovery, quickly bridged the remaining bit to Blues. I told him Ranger had turned around and that we'd catch up to him.

We looped around, passed the people walking (more smiles and waves), and then I started pushing a bit. Normally I think going sort of fast on these trails is really bad, but that's in the summer with lots of people and such. When there's no one around, in dreary conditions, 20-22 mph seems pretty reasonable.

The Chase

I was leading much of the time as Blues was on an off day. At the beginning of one of the many long straights I realized that Ranger was totally out of sight. Like absolutely totally out of sight.

"I think Ranger dropped the hammer when he turned around."
"No, he was hammered already."
"Well, he's pretty far ahead."

We went on for another 15 minutes, not a glimpse of him. Finally, at the end of a really, really long straight, I spotted him just disappearing out of sight. After a minute or two along the straight, the end of said straight still off in the distance, Blues admitted that, wow, Ranger had a big gap on us.

I started making calculations. We'd been chasing "hard" for about 15-17 minutes and he was at least 4-5 minutes ahead of us. I couldn't go much faster and we might have closed a minute on him, based on previous straights. At this rate it'd be an hour before we caught him, meaning we'd only see him back at the cars.

I started pushing as hard as I dared, Blues clinging to my wheel.

Unbeknownst to us Ranger had pushed super hard until the end of that exact straight and then blew sky high. Just 7 or 8 minutes later we caught him. He had a big grin on his face. He'd tried to pull one on us but had shattered himself in the process.

We slowed down a bit then, with the three of us sort of working together, we upped the pace slightly.

The only incident of note happened when we were clearing yet another set of gates meant to keep cars and trucks off the path. Blues clipped the gate with his bars, got flung to the side, and basically karate chopped through two of the three poles of a wood fence. He was fine though, as the wood was totally rotted.

He got up and we got going again. Our little incident blocked the path for a minute or two, holding up a few riders. I saw them, called it, and we got into line. I was pleasantly surprised by our ragtag group's fluency. Everyone got in line, we were in tight formation, all that, no fuss, no muss. I pulled at a reasonable pace for a bit, I asked if the riders were still back there, and Ranger and Blues replied that they were gone.

We got back okay and then headed to the Waffle House (aka Harvest Cafe) for lunch. We, meaning the family and myself, hadn't been there after 8 AM for a number of years, so I went in thinking they just served breakfast all day Sunday. When the manager (a funny character) walked by I asked him if they were serving lunch because the lunch menu was in our breakfast menus.

"Yeah, we serve lunch. Why?"
"I thought you only served breakfast on Sundays."
"Well that changed, I don't know, like TWO years ago," he grinned.
"Oh. I guess we haven't been here for lunch in forever."

I realized later that we hadn't been there for lunch since long before Junior was born, so a solid 4-5 years ago.

After

I got home and felt absolutely wiped out. I realized that riding outside, especially when it was chilly out, made the riding a lot more fatiguing. Probably burned more calories also.

My epiphany that the MUP was sort of like the local version of the "canal paths" also came as pleasant surprise. I could see myself going out there and doing some steady work, maybe even on my mountain bike. I need more than anything else to do some uninterrupted, high-steady work, and the MUPs are perfect for that, a semi-long effort separating the road crossings. If I rode them at night, or maybe early in the morning, I imagine there'd be little or no traffic.

And finally...  When I drove by the broken fence the other day I noticed that the remaining log in the fence was moved to the middle spot, which makes sense. High enough to keep people from spilling out onto the road, low enough to keep kids and dogs from breezing through the posts.