Monthly Archives: May 2015

West Coast Prologue

It’s Saturday night, May 30, tomorrow I leave for San Diego to start my West Coast Adventure. I’ll land about noon, retrieve my bike from baggage claim, hopefully, meet my daughter, hopefully, and spend the afternoon putting my bike back together.

My first challenge of the trip was to disassemble my bike and squeeze it into a standard bike box used for shipping new bikes to my local bike shop (Tonka Cycle and Ski). I’m planning to check it as oversized luggage on my flight.

This is the first stage of take-it-apart.

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What I soon realized was that the box was too small. I’m riding a Novaro Safari, an REI bike purpose built for touring. It has strange, butterfly handlebars, study wheels, Reynolds 520 steel tubing and comes with a durable rear rack. As such, it is no lightweight (30-plus pounds) and it has a very long wheelbase. Here it is in front of the (too small) box.

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I’ve added fenders, disc brakes a frame bag and I’ll be equipping it with a top tube bag and a handlebar bag, along with lights, computer and… a dingy bell. No kitchen sink. Total bike and gear weight will be over 60 pounds.

So, back to my problem. I went to the bike shop for a bigger box, still too small. Okay, New plan… cut the end off of one box and tape it onto the other, a Frankenbox. This will work, if it doesn’t burst apart spontaneously. A little help from my neighbor to tape the seams and everything fits. Whew!

The Frankenbox. Sorry baggage guy.

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All my other crap is stuffed into my panniers and handlebar bag which will be my carry-on luggage.

The plan is to meet up with my son and two of his friends Monday and start riding north on Tuesday. To make the ride a pure border-to-border tour, I plan to ride south to the Mexico border either Monday or Tuesday, depending upon the boys’ desire.

I know what you’re thinking, besides how nuts I must be. The ride is around 1800 miles and we should be in Seattle by July 10, latest. You can do the math to figure the average miles per day.

I’m really excited to finally get started, I’ve wanted to do an epic bicycle tour all my life and the opportunity is now.

I’ll try to post daily updates as time and internet connectivity allow. Wish me luck!

Almanzo Gravel Grinder

The Almanzo is the granddaddy of all gravel road rides, 100 plus miles of hilly, scenic mostly gravel road in southeastern Minnesota. The event was pioneered by Chris Skogen who passed the ownership on to the Spring Valley Chamber of Tourism. Key sponsorship also from a LBS, Penn Cycle.

I woke up early to drive the nearly two hours to the 9:00 start in Spring Valley. Highway 52 was filled with more, and more, cars with bike racks loaded with a mix of bike types the closer I got to Rochester.  The skies also got darker and rain started add I arrived in Spring Valley.

The small town of Spring Valley was buzzing with bikes, creating quite a spectacle for the locals. Hundreds of bikes started queuing up on Main Street by 8:40. Bikes and attire from racer kits to hipster looks. Some in it to win it, some out to survive, I’m closer to the latter.

Tradition is to preface the start with happy birthday sung to Chris’ son. nice that the new sponsors continued the tradition. The race/ride rolled out of town about 9:10 to streets lined with friends, families and locals. I’m sure I’m in a hundred random home videos.

The rain was short-lived and served to make for gravel roads that were a little greasy. I had chosen “Monica” for my ride, she is a 1999 vintage Trek road bike with the US Postal team colors. It is essentially the bike Lance rode to his first disgraced “win” in the TdF. I put 28mm tires with a little knobby tread on them. The first downhill out of town nearly scared the bejezus out of me. I was slipping and sliding around at 20 plus mph. Yikes. Add to the challenge, a stiff southeast wind in our faces.

The first rest stop was outside of Preston at about 48 miles. The Penn Cycle ambulance support vehicle was there with water, soft drinks, chamois butter and lube. I took some of each and ate half of the PBJ I packed, following my strategy of eating early and often to keep from having a repeat of the bonk on the Dickie Scramble.
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Me, in front of the ambulance support vehicle. Looking okay, with the possible exception of the facial hair.

Thankfully, leaving Preston, we turned out of the headwind, somewhat.

I picked up a couple guys from LaMere Cycles, turns out one was JP, the owner. He looked at Monica and decided I needed a new carbon bike. About the same time I came upon an acquaintance on a fat bike. He was making good time and also got the carbon bike sales pitch…everyone rides for their own reasons.

The last stop was at Forestville State Park. The ambulance was there with a crew grilling hot dogs. I passed as I knew the next few miles were steeply uphill and didn’t want a second viewing of mystery meat.

The final punishment comes at about 90 miles where there is an 18% grade hill that goes on forever. I’ll admit to walking my bike up most of it, along with everyone except a guy on a touring bike with a granny gear. With only one more big climb and a stint back into the headwind, the finish was in sight.

I finished in about 8 hours with a little less than 7 hours riding time. The winners were something over 5 hours. I felt really good and good about my chances of keeping up with the twenty-somethings on the tour in two weeks.
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Monica, with a good coating of wet gravel slime.

My third Almanzo, maybe not my last, maybe.

Geezer Bikers riding camp – May 12-14, 2015

I was invited to join a group of experienced touring bikers (all retired) on a bike touring camp in southwestern Wisconsin known as the Driftless Area, so named as it was spared glacial scouring in the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. The result is an area of valleys and hills of limestone and sandstone, atypical for the Midwest. 

They’ve done several rides together and independently. There were three Surly Longhaul Trucker’s  in the group to complement my Safari and I’m probably the youngest of the five (Steve, Mitchell, Marv and Phil). The plan was to meet at Wildcat Mountain State Park south of Tomah, Wisconsin, set up a base camp and do day rides. Since we were going to be in one location for several days, I elected to bring what I refer to as “The Big-Ass Tent”. Steve noted that, if the weather turned bad, he’d just move his tent inside mine.

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Big-Ass Tent in background (no sign of the elephants it takes to put it up). Steve’s in foreground.

Mitchell, Steve and Marv arrived Monday afternoon and set off on a 31 mile warm-up ride. They came back to camp panting and cold, a precursor to the week. Worse, they said the park hot showers were not scheduled to be brought on-line until Friday…

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The view from Wildcat Mountain to Ontario (the city, not Provence)

Tuesday was cool and windy, the plan for the day was to ride out with the wind and back against it, the converse of my preference. We rode the 3 miles and 300 feet drop down into the nearest town, Ontario to meet Phil, who was hoteling it in Wilton, 9 miles away, and was the only one who had a warm shower… The warm-up for Phil was to immediately head up Lower Ridge Road, a 16% grade.

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If you look close, you can see the crew coming up Lower Ridge Road…

We were glad we didn’t choose Upper Ridge Road. Lunch was in La Farge, the special of the day was meat loaf at The Sister’s Diner. It was meaty and delicious, $6, and we cleared out the whole town’s allotment.

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The temperature on the La Farge bank sign (where The Sisters actually work) was slightly pessimistic… slightly.

The mileage total was 43.7 miles with 3700 feet of climbing.

Day 2 was a warmer start and we decided to take advantage of the Sparta-Elroy bike trail (the first rails-to-trails route in the US and famous for three tunnels). We met at Wilton, the mid-point of the trail and headed east towards Elroy.

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Me and my ride at the Wilton trailhead.

The trail is crushed limestone and railroad grade flat, which made it easy, and a little boring at the same time.

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Riding into tunnel#3. Dark, wet, bats…

We ate at a bar/restaurant in Elroy where we met Bob. Bob had a lot to share… the sharing continued outside as we mounted up, where he shared roads to take back to Wilton, and where to spot Tommy Thompson’s residence. Mileage total: 37.6 miles and 1700 feet of climbing with 50 mph+ on the road dropping back down to Wilton.

Time for beers at the local diner with $1 beer or, as we found out $5 for a pitcher that filled less than 4 glasses. Small town math. The bartender was alternately our waitress and a patron at the bar. Dinner was at the River’s End bar/diner where the sweatshirts for sale neglected the apostrophe making it read Riversend.

The forecast for Thursday was for rain moving in after lunch so we packed up our tents, headed to Ontario to start our final ride, this time heading to Cashton and back to Ontario for lunch at the Milk Jug café. The menu won the award for the best in the area, but the mystery substance in Steve’s salad and the lack of homemade pie advertised took a few stars off their rating. Steve handed out awards for the week. Mitchell got best attitude, Phil best warm shower, Marv best trailer camper, me for best recent retiree and Steve for best way to get a free salad… Mileage: 29.7 miles with 1700 feet of climbing.

A great trip, beautiful scenery, good roads/trails, friendly people, cheap meals/beer and great company. sign me up for next year.

Fulton Gran Fondo – May 9, 2015

The Fulton Gran Fondo is a 100 mile ride sponsored by a local taproom co-founded by our newest neighbors. It seemed like a natural for the usual suspects, Ben, Tess and me. We had a plan… start at my house, avoid the congestion and danger of a 1000 bike roll-out from NE Minneapolis, and get a jump on the speed freaks. The Plan broke down immediately with The Neighbor dropping out.

Undeterred, we set out towards Excelsior on a pretty nice day with a growing tailwind (foreshadowing here). We made it to the first rest stop ahead of the crush and I enjoyed two chocolate chip cookies that had perfectly melted chips from the sun making them like fresh baked. No food pictures as I had left my phone/camera on the kitchen counter, another casualty of retirement (more foreshadowing).

We wound southwest on County roads I like to ride on my motorized two-wheeler. Sweet. The hotshots blew by us in a group that had to be 75 strong. no way we could keep up.

However, as with all good things…, we turned back into the wind. Being the adept and wiley biker trained by years of survival, I immediately looked for wheels to suck. I jumped on a group and tucked in, away from the wind. After a few miles, I realized my wingman was not on the train and out of sight off the back. Oops. I figured we could reconnect at the next rest stop, and upgraded to a faster group which was averaging 21-23 mph into Excelsior with only having to pull once. Wiley.

I sat on a planter for 20 minutes, watching for the orange bike of my wingman. No dice, and, since I had no cell phone, no way to regroup, The Plan’s final demise.

My solution was to grab another wheel and head back to the taproom for the after-party. Did I mention a free beer, music and food trucks? After a short stay and unsuccessful attempt to find the lost wingman, a solitary ride home against the grain of the late finishers.

All in all, 103 miles, just over 6 hours of riding time, and 17 mph average speed.

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Special Saison beer released specifically for the Fondo

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Funky Fusion “Dirty Chips”

A great “Century” and a great organizer. A sure thing for next year, but maybe with a better Plan.