This has been the summer of bike racing discontent. With what seems like an infinite number of @TuesdayTheRents canceled due to rain/storms/thunder/lightning, one of the worse Spring Series (on the bike), and various hop scotch races (meaning the ones that give me something to look forward to, instead of a vast period of no racing) getting canceled, it's been a not-so-great year of racing.
Even when the race isn't canceled and the weather isn't bad I still have a hard time pulling a decent ride out of my admittedly undertrained legs.
Combined with non-race related stuff my racing has been not so great.
Therefore when a couple of the guys on the team said they'd be doing a weekend ride starting just a couple miles away from the house I thought it'd be a great break from the trainer, from the preparing to race but then getting on the trainer, and from moving stuff around to get to the trainer.
I've only done one team group ride, and it ended in quasi disaster when I hit the deck. Generally speaking the rides are on the other side of the river, just after/during rush hour, and with questionable form at best it's hard to justify figuring out a way to ditch Junior so I can get in the car and go somewhere.
This planned ride had none of the excuses. It was so close that I could ride there (although, due to the planned after ride activities, I drove). It took place on Saturday so the Missus could hang out with the slightly-under-the-weather Junior (teething, again).
And the pace would be moderate at best.
The plan was for the two teammates to pilot each of their tandems with a daughter in the stoker seat and another daughter on a trail-a-bike. That's six riders on two bikes, meaning two bikes with steering/brakes/shifting controls.
Another, the only boy of the group and the oldest of the lot at eight years old, would be on his own bike.
The two significant others would be on their own bikes.
I showed up solo, a semi-guide since I'd ridden the Rails To Trails before. The Missus asked what I'd do on the ride. I told her I figured I'd be shadowing a miscellaneous kid that was on his/her own bike, acting as an extra set of eyes for teammate Joe (three kids). Dennis has two kids and they'd both be on the tandem train rig thing.
With the expected pace a maximum of 11 mph I decided that it would be a perfect ride for the mountain bike. I last used it when I rode from the storage bay back to the house after parking the Expedition.
Even in the month or two between then and now the tires were basically flat (I pumped them up to 60 psi). The rest of the bike isn't in much better shape - the rear wheel is missing a spoke so the rear brake is open quite a bit (I trued the wheel just enough so the tire doesn't rub the frame), the shock fork has totally collapsed (I replaced most of the MCU "springs" with solid spacers), the middle chainring is so bent that the chain won't stay on it (but who uses anything but the big ring while riding on the road?).
Importantly the bike fits me, it rolls, it stops, and just like driving a beat up truck can be fun this bike is just fun to ride. It's my SUV of bikes - I roll over everything and everything.
Except poison ivy.
But we'll get to that in a second.
The mountain bike cockpit.
The other thing about the bike is that it has no computer on it. I'd removed the lights (charged and in the car but I didn't put them on), it's never had a computer, and it felt a bit refreshing to ride 'sans electronics'.
Of course I very conscientiously charged my phone and Strava'ed the ride. And I used the helmet cam (all the pictures are stills from the cam footage).
So much for escaping technology.
The roll out. Joe driving his tandem with Sam between us.
With just one kid on a single bike I knew exactly what I'd need to do - look after him. Sam is 8 years old, has his own geared and hand-braked bike, and rode really well. His shoulders reminded me of Junior's and I realized that if/when Junior rides this will be part of my life.
He had plenty of zip at the beginning of the ride, bridging gaps, attacking, stuff like that.
Dennis driving his train. Sam in front of me, again.
As soon as we got off the most heavily traveled and maintained part of the trail I realized that poison ivy bordered virtually all of the trail. If it wasn't in the bushes and growing up the trees it was poking out from between fence slat and spreading along the grass. Even at the first main intersection, where we had to wait for a Walk signal, I spotted poison ivy directly next to the trail.
My mantra became that of the saucier from Apocalypse Now, modified just a bit.
"Don't leave the trail."
Or, in the movie, "Never get off the boat." (warning: language)
I'm pretty sure I was telling every to stay on the trail every time we slowed down. Annoying, I suppose, but not as much as having poison ivy everywhere. If Sam has some illogical fear of poison ivy that's why, because every time he veered to the side I reminded him to stay on the trail.
Sam about to thread the needle, going about 5-8 mph faster than the tandem rigs.
Sam enjoyed the whole outing, from what I could tell. He'd maneuver around the larger, less agile tandem rigs, at one point threading the needle as he launched a big move. Other times he'd start flagging a bit then rally hard to bridge back to whatever tandem rig loomed ahead.
After that "threading the needle" move I hit 28 mph bridging up to Sam. Strava claims I did 32 mph at one point at the end; although Sam was riding fast here and there we never hit those speeds. I'm pretty sure that Sam could hit 22-24 mph though, so that's pretty good.
Approaching the end.
With the sun getting low on the horizon we got close to our start point. At some point I was to lead out the tandems for their final race (the girls were the instigators, for real), but my sense of duty looking after Sam kept me at his side. The tandems had to race on their own and apparently finished so close it was impossible to tell who won.
Riding with Sam was quite the rewarding experience. I started thinking about the whole "protect the kid with your body" thing - when we crossed streets I entered the road first and then he'd cross under my watchful eye. There's a whole post there because the same idea of "blocking" for Sam applies to drafting, to covering moves in a pack, playing Go, and even to playing baseball. I'll leave it alone for now, let it simmer, and do a post at some other time.
For now, though, this ride was a preview of what to expect. Maybe not in the sense of the exact experience, but the idea of looking after a human being that is self-mobile, understands mechanical gadgets, knows some more complex rules, stuff like that.
After the ride we all had a bite to eat. The kids were pretty hungry after a two hour ride, and Sam had faded hard in the last mile and change. I thought I faded hard but it took him about 50 meters to go from "keep trying" to "exhausted". At the table I saw mannerisms in him that reminded me of Junior, while at the same time Sam was much more developed, being over six years older. I came home after Junior had fallen asleep so I didn't get an immediate compare-and-contrast experience, but I'm looking forward to all that stuff. I can't imagine Junior doing that stuff - it's beyond me - but I know logically that he'll be like that, talking, thinking of what he wants to do, thinking of the rules. He does some of that now but not at Sam's level.
I also learned that when a family heads out for a ride you need to bring everything. I rode a bit risky - I had no spare tube, no pump, no nothing. It meant that I didn't have things like a 15 mm wrench (adjusting the chain on the trail-a-bike), bug repellent (requested when we stopped), or even some allen wrenches (adjusting chain on the remote cranks for the stokers). I picked up some CamelBaks at the last Interbike I attended and they'll come in handy for our future family outings. With the Missus expressing interest in joining in next time, with me hauling Junior, I hope that we get to do a family ride soon.
For me the ride was a nice change from the trainer grind. More smiles per mile, that's for sure. Here's to the next ride!