Friday, September 30, 2016

Cool People.

The other night I did a local shop ride. A couple hammerheads were there, but most of the riders were of the "Primal Wear semi-humorous beer-themed jersey" type. You probably know more than a few. Nice, welcoming guys, but a quick glance at their mid-sections confirmed I wasn't going to be dropped on this ride. After a series of eye-bleeding group rides, it was a welcome change.

They introduced me to routes I hadn't considered before, giving me new inspiration for future weekends. Worth the price of admission (free). They kept the pace reasonable, so I had a chance to see the sights and learn the turns instead of focusing purely on holding the wheel in front of me. Another nice change.

At the turnaround, one of the hammerheads jumped. Not thinking, I chased, but reacted too late and ran out of gas halfway across the gap. I throttled back to a reasonably painful pace and spent the next couple miles reeling him in. The group got smaller and smaller in the distance until they weren't there anymore. When I finally made the bridge, I was cooked, and fell into my usual mode of douchebag wheel sucking. The hammerhead was happy for the company, so we continued on until the end of the ride, finishing about 10 minutes before the main group.

Afterwards we all sat around the front patio of the shop drinking beer and talking bikes. It was as calm and relaxed as I had been since I got down here. Given the circumstances and my general dislike of the Gulf Coast, everything was just about as good as it could have been. A moment when all of the stress and discontent that characterizes my visits to the region seemed to melt away. 

Amazing what hanging out with cool people can do for a negative aura like mine, even if only for a little while

Thursday, September 29, 2016

I Wish I Could.

I have more time on my hands than I know what to do with.
 
My only obligation down here is school, and when the day is done I come back to a quiet room. I change into my kit and go riding. When it's dark, I come back. That usually amounts to two or three hours of riding a weekday, far more than I can muster at home.
 
At home I have family obligations. Ninety minutes (at best) is all I can squeeze in. No long, slow distance for me. Everything is compressed and organized to get as much benefit as possible out of the precious moments.
 
A weekend ride here stretches to three or four hours. I wish I could ride longer, but the heat and humidity beats me down until my kit is drooping under the water weight and my pace slows to a crawl. No matter how much I back off the pace, four hours is about my limit. Sometimes I do two rides in the morning and night to avoid the sun, but the totals never really justify the added effort.
 
When I get back to the room, I shower, change, and then walk a mile or so for food. Maybe I'll pick up a couple things I need at a store, then walk back. I usually take a long nap. With no plans or schedule, nothing that really interests me in the local area, and the desire to simultaneously lose weight and save money, napping is about the most effective way to kill the excess time.
 
I wish I could ride more, but I can't seem to get much further than four hours will let me. AT that point, I can't seem to drink enough or take in enough calories. I shed weight, but not in a good way. I feel the effects for days.
 
Maybe when it cools off I'll be able to up the hours. From what I hear, it starts getting cool around here the day before I leave. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Simple.

Back home, I have more bikes than I can ride in a week. Not that it's a bad thing, because I like having bikes for different purposes. I also like that if one bike is out of commission, I have another that can step in. Missing a great day of riding while waiting for a part to come in is never fun.

I have more than a few sets of wheels. Carbon and aluminum of varying types, widths and depths. Again, I like the variety and the flexibility.

Here in Biloxi, I have one bike with one set of wheels. I don't have to think about what I'm going to ride each day, because I only have one choice. Fill up a couple bottles, strap on whatever accessories the ride requires (it gets dark occasionally), kit up, and roll out the door. Doesn't matter what the ride is, the bike is the same.

Simple.

The titanium bike has continued to impress me with its simplicity. It's not the lightest or most responsive bike I've ever owned. It doesn't descend like it's on rails or bound forward with the lightest pressure on the pedals. Unlike a lot of titanium bikes, it doesn't dampen the road feel to a consistency of Jello pudding, but it doesn't beat you up, either.

It just performs well. Not amazingly. Well. It hits a lot of points with a journeyman quality that I respect. Nothing on it is complex or otherwise revolutionary, so service is straightforward. It's easy to clean. It looks pretty good without being showy. It's like it's lived its life on the road and doesn't feel the need to prove anything to anyone. It does it's job reliably and dependably.

Sure, there are times I wish I had one of my fancier carbon bikes, with deep-section wheels and aero everything. That's usually when I'm barely hanging on at the back of a string of riders on high-dollar bikes with high-dollar wheels. Then again, that would take away an excuse for not pulling. I need all I can get.

The titanium bike is exactly what I wanted the Storck to be. As it is, the Storck will probably be dedicated to the trainer, where its internally routed cables and press-fit bottom bracket will likely survive a little longer than they would if they were exposed to the elements. In it's place, the workmanlike simplicity of the ti bike will weather the horrible conditions I'll ride it through with a quiet competence the Stork could never muster.

Being simple, I can appreciate the quality in a bike.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Climber?

The local hammerhead ride down here is called the Destroyer. Strong riders pound away for around 40 miles and try to grind everyone in their wake into red smears on the pavement. It's not an explosive ride. People don't throw long range attacks, charge the "hills", or otherwise make large efforts in the middle of the ride. The heavy influence of triathletes in the area have shaped it (and most other rides) into a more steady-state affair.

That's perfectly fine with me. This is their show and I'm just happy to tag along. Every group ride is pushing me to hold on a little longer, fight just that little bit more to resist the incessant pounding they're throwing down. Maybe I'm getting stronger by hanging on. Maybe I'm doing irreparable damage to my muscular systems. I'm not too bright, so I just don't know.

I've done three rides with the group. The first was a rainy affair that was lightly attended because of all of the lightning and thunder crashing around the vicinity. Not being too bright and wanting to test out my new titanium lightning rod, I fell into line with the couple guys brave (stupid) enough to ride. As it turned out, we only saw a little rain and nobody got fried. The rain cooled me considerably, and apparently it allowed me to ride better than I had been. I was having a blast, and unintentionally dropped the other guys a few times on the rollers that make up the middle of the route. They killed me on the flats, but I had them on the 50' cols of Southern Mississippi.

The second ride was an unofficial training ride, and the big guns put the spurs to me. The only way I could finish was to drop to the back of the pack and wheel-suck. I felt bad about not pitching in, but between my sinus infection and the heat/humidity, I couldn't take a meaningful pull. I was out of my league, and was glad they didn't dump me in a bayou somewhere.

The third ride was another lightly-attended affair, as the triathletes were all tapering for a big weekend of races. The ride leader greeted me and said, "I hear you're a big climber".

Um.

If you mean I'm a fat guy who climbs hills slowly, then yes, I'm a big climber.

If you mean a good climber, with actual ability when it comes to climbing hills rapidly, then no. Everyone in Anchorage drops me on Potter Valley or any other climb of note. Fatty is not a climber.

When we got to the rollers, I threw in a dig. They dropped back, flailing wildly out of the saddle. I sat up at the top, and we regrouped. Each hill was the same. I could up the cadence a bit and breeze by. Then I got cocky and went too far, cramping up at the top. I paid for that for the remainder of the ride. Served me right.

As it was well past dark, I bailed a little early to take a shorter route home and cry alone. My trusty Walmart Coke machine served me well again on the way back, providing the little bit of kick I needed to do the last five miles.

So, now I'm a climber. That makes me giggle.

This week, when the triathletes come back from wherever it is they do whatever it is they do, I probably won't attack. I'll probably be chewing on my stem or in a ditch by the side of the road. The ride will return to its normal steady-state of pain and attrition.

It's their show.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dirty.

I built up the titanium bike a month ago, just before I left for this trip.

Everything was shiny and new and quiet.

After a little over 1000 miles, it's starting to complain that I might not be doing enough maintenance.

The best part of the titanium frame is that it doesn't hold or show much dirt. Let it dry, lightly brush it off, and keep on riding.The problem is that while I was blinded by the clean frame, I didn't notice the drivetrain was a bit grungy. Riding in the rain and kicking up abrasive sand and dried chunks of possum road kill into the chain probably didn't do it any favors.

In Anchorage my bike gets filthy pulling out of the driveway, so even if I'm not 100% on top of the maintenance, the interval doesn't quite extend out to every 1000 miles or so.

Tonight I started cleaning the bike in the room, wiping some stuff down and lubricating others. Checking wear items and generally doing things I should have done every day. Down here, this bike is my primary mode of transportation, recreation, and pretty much the one thing that keeps me sane. It deserves better than I've given it.

This doesn't mean I've changed. I've just kicked the squeaks 500 miles down the road.

Friday, September 23, 2016

80.

The invitation came over my Facebook feed, through a local group of hammerheads.

I didn't think it through all that well.

I paid for it.

I knew good and well it was a 15 mile ride to the meeting place, as I'd ridden there quite a few times before. I left with plenty of time, early in the morning with a pleasant rain cooling me off as I rode. I stopped at a local convenience store to top off the calorie reserves with beef jerky and orange juice. Given the alternatives I was presented, these were the best I could find.

The group met up at the agreed-upon time, and like clockwork the sun came out and started baking us. Perhaps that should have been my first clue. Some guys were riding tri bikes, while others were on road bikes. I wasn't crazy about the mix on the open road, but I was a guest and hoped for the best. It turned out it wasn't their first rodeo, and nobody died. They stayed off their aerobars when not on the front, or at least allowed for a little extra room while in the line.

50 miles? Sure, why not. 

They picked the route, and off we went. Like with all rides down here, the pace dropped on hills far more than I thought it should, making pacing a little interesting for me.  However, every time I got to the front and was required to put out any extended power, my sinuses would fill up and I would have trouble breathing. After a couple feeble attempts at pulls, I wheel-sucked shamelessly. As it was, I was barely hanging in the draft on the long flat sections. For the first time in my life, hills were a relief, allowing me to recover as the pace slackened. Unfortunately, there aren't that many hills, and the triathletes would drill the downhills tucked into the aerobars.

Mile after mile ticked away, with the sun beating down and the air heavy. The strong beat on the weak. I contemplated drifting off the back more than once, to fade into the distance where they couldn't see me cry. I could find my way home. Stupid pride kept me on the wheel in front of me. I skipped a few more pulls.

Near the end, a young and strong-for-his-age rider threw an attack, which was joined by another rider. The pack sped up a little, and soon they were caught. The young rider went to the back and recovered, only to throw another attack. I marveled at his ability to hit us twice in such a short period of time, and debated on following. Having wheel-sucked for the vast, vast majority of the ride, I sat up and watched him go. Some riders chased, some riders figured enough was enough. We trickled back to the start, one or two at a time, within a few minutes of each other. Everyone else drove there. I still had 15 miles to ride.

As I rode up, one of the strongest riders was tearing into the kid about attacking after skipping a couple pulls. The kid was almost as cooked as I was at the time, and just couldn't do it. He got his second wind, and decided to experiment with his ability to attack and stay away. As far as I'm concerned, group rides are a great place to learn your limits and play around with tactics, and he didn't do anything wrong. The guy who does the most work in a race doesn't always win. The guy who crosses the line first always wins. It may not be fair, but that's pretty much reality. The strong rider took exception with the kid's attack, feeling he shouldn't have gone for the "win". Nobody laid out any rules in advance, so as far as I'm concerned, the kid was free to tear it up.

There's a right way and a wrong way to point out an "error" in a group ride setting. The strong rider chose the wrong way. The rider who filled me in on my own error a few days before chose the right way. A lot of chemicals float around in a rider's body after a long, hard effort, and not everyone is 100% themselves. I'll chalk it up to that and hope this isn't the strong rider's normal personality. If it is, I'll find other people to ride with or ride alone. I'd rather avoid conflict. The heat and humidity is bad enough without that sort of drama floating around.

I started my ride back. I reloaded my water bottles at the convenience store. As I rode, it became obvious that the wind thought I was heading in the wrong direction. The sun and liquid air decided I needed to lose a little water weight. My legs, which were already shot, didn't spin as quickly as they once did. I was cooked, literally and figuratively. Five miles from home I stopped at a Walmart soda machine. The ice-cold Coke under the awning was a life-saver, as were the blasts of air conditioned goodness that hit me every time the doors slid open. I'd be lying if I said I didn't trigger a few myself.

Eventually I pushed off again. My legs worked marginally better, and at long last I returned to my starting point. I showered with my kit on, and the long, cold soak finally shut down my sweat glands and removed the slimy feeling that accompanies most Mississippi physical efforts. I crawled into bed and slept. A gnawing hunger awoke me, and I sought out the biggest pile of roast beef Arby's meat-crafting artists could stack up. Even after stuffing myself silly and having a few post-ride Blue Moons, I still wasn't close to narrowing the caloric deficit I found myself in.

80 miles, most at race-pace. Seems like a fairly decent way to lose weight.

I'll probably think twice and do the math next time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Killing Time.

Time is something I have too much of at the moment.

Weekends are the worst. Long weekends last forever.

There's only so many hours I can ride in a day. My failing and inadequate body, combined with the heat, humidity, and a nagging saddle sore limit my riding to around four hours (give or take). That leaves a lot of hours left to fill.

Eating is one of my other passions, but I'm trying to lose some weight. Besides, even a day at the casino buffets has to end sometime. Not that I've been this trip, because my last visit was such an overpriced disappointment. Mainly I've been eating cheap and trying to limit the sheer volume I stuff down my throat (with some success).

Naps take up some time, but I'm hesitant to take too many of them lest my instructors take offense at me sleeping in class.

Studying is something I've always been bad at, so there's another thing that doesn't eat up my days.

I surf the internet. I went to a Buddy Guy concert. I watch TV. I do most anything to avoid spending money on stuff I don't need. It isn't easy.

I'm ready to go home. I was ready before my plane landed in Gulfport. Hell, I was ready when I booked the flight down here. I'm not even close to leaving.

But I'm ready. Spare time is a luxury I'd gladly give up.