Tuesday, September 25, 2012

North Shore Century 2012

I wish I’d felt better that Sunday morning. Yeah, I drank a half-bottle of shitty Beaujolais Nouveau Saturday night, but I think it was the 1.25-lb slab of salmon that I’d grilled for dinner that did me in. Mary was out of town, putting in some sweat equity at the family business, the Straits of Malacca restaurant, so I had for dinner something Mary wouldn’t like: fish that actually tastes like fish.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I felt a touch nauseated, figured I was dehydrated from the wine, slammed some water. A large Diet Coke at the 24-hour McDonalds and the big mistake: a sausage biscuit. Normally I can handle a glob of grease like that but for some reason, Sunday, it was the kiss of metric death.

I arrived at Dawes Park in Evanston at 6:15, navigating my way through several hundred of my bicycling compatriots to meet some Chainlinkers. Was great to meet some of the folks I’ve corresponded with on the message board. I’d said I was going to do the 62-mile route; a Chainlinker named David said he would join me.

My biking buddy David.

Note: David rode his bike from his home in Oak Park to the start point in Evanston. Then he planned to ride the 62 mile route, then ride on back to the home town of Ernest Hemingway. Crazy noble bicycle hero.

For the most part, the
pavement markings were
excellent. I missed a few.
We set out about 6:45, heading north into Evanston, into Wilmette with its million-dollar mansions, then into the back streets of Glencoe and Kenilworth, with their 10-million-dollar mansions. Deer nibbled picturesquely on one estate lawn, barely bothered by the bicyclists gliding by. This was my first time riding with a friend on one these organized rides, and it was great. He was good company.

At the first refreshment stop, at the 18-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make the whole 62 miles. I was horrendously nauseated and a bit shaky, but there were too many people around to make a good puking an option. (Yes, I am an introvert.) I allowed to David that I would prefer to to the 50-mile route -- frankly I was considering turning around and heading back along the way we came. David expressed sympathy and didn’t press me. He took the 62-mile spur and I took the 50-mile route.

The bike path along Sheridan Road. A delight.

I found out later that he’d hit a pothole or something and crashed, knocking himself out but (not surprisingly) managing to bike back home to Oak Park. I feel bad that I wasn’t there to assist for his hour of need. On the other hand, I don’t know what I would have been able to do except call 911. And then puke.

I hope David (a) recovers from his accident, and (b) doesn’t consider me a lightweight and will ride with me again.

Somewhere along the way after the first rest stop, I started to feel better. In fact, I started to feel hungry. Not having eaten a bite at the rest stop, I nibbled the Clif bar I had stashed in my trunk bag.

A glimpse of Lake Michigan somewhere in Wilmette.
At the second rest stop, at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park, I finally felt OK. I had a pretty good vegetarian sub sandwich sampler, courtesy of Captain Nemo’s (which I’d never heard of before but will forever more patronize when I get a chance).

A swig of Gatorade and I was on my way for the downhill run. Lots of twists and turns on this ride; I spent a lot of time consulting my cue sheet. But just before noon, I found myself back at Dawes Park, in Evanston.

Cyclemeter (the iPhone app I use to track my bicycle miles) had been giving me fits during the ride, telling me that GPS coverage had dropped out for various points for so many minutes. David had been having the same problem; I tried shutting off “Location Services” for everything but Cyclemeter, and that seemed to work. Too late, though, since the GPS had dropped out for more than a half-hour, and probably more. 

The Baha'i Temple in Evanston.
“The doors will be open to all sects —
no differentiation; and by God’s help
this temple will prove to be to the body
of human society what the soul is to the
body of man.”
I arrived in Dawes Park after doing the half-century route. The official route is about 50 miles; given the detours I took after missing a marker here and there, I’m figuring I did at least 52.

A long ride home back to Naperville, listening to a relatively boring game ‘twixt the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams (might as well have been listening to a Scrabble match). Next year, I am so doing the full 100 miles again.

- 30 -

Friday, September 7, 2012

How Greene Was My Valley

Trying to get back into a regular bicycle-commuting habit. Here's the path through Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Woodridge at about 7 a.m. yesterday. The route not all this picturesque, of course, but this little 1.25-mile stretch is my favorite part. The rest is lightly used suburban arterials and backstreets.

My travel time for each 12.5-mile leg is a frustratingly consistent 55 minutes each way; doesn't seem to matter how many lights I catch or which way the wind is blowing. I'm aiming for a sub-50-minute ride. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Four-Star Bike Tour

Enjoying the great boulevards of Chicago.
Drove into the city early this morning to put on a number and join a few thousand of my fellow cyclists for the Four-Star Bike Tour, which benefits the Active Transportation Alliance.

The imposing edifice of the Cook County
Criminal Courts Building -- "26th and Cal."
A really well-run ride, with lots of volunteers and plentiful refreshments at the rest stops. Too bad the weather threatened -- and later produced -- the first significant rainfall in more than a month.
Pilsen had dozens of huge murals like this one. Very cool.
The route started off south from the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, through the Little Village Italian enclave, the Hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen, then west through Berwyn, Riverside and then north into Oak Park.

The first rest stop, in Riverside, 
The return leg passed through the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, where I grew up, Garfield Park and back to UIC. A pretty representative slice of Chicago's diversity. I make noises about wanting to live in Idaho or Tennessee or somewhere geographically interesting -- but I'd last about a month before the whitebread sameness would drive me nuts.

Frank Lloyd Wright's studio in Oak Park.
The Garfield Park "fieldhouse" near the second rest stop.
I'd originally planned to ride the full 62 miles, which would have taken me out to Hinsdale (almost back home!). But between the forecast and the lowering cloud deck, I chickened out where the 62- and 35-mile routes diverged at the Riverside rest stop. I rode in the rain during last year's North Shore Century, and it was unpleasant. Taking the shorter route was a good decision; the rain started just as I was pulling into the start/finish area.

East on Taylor Street, nearing the end of the ride.
Had a delicious falafel sandwich courtesy of Goose Island brewery (it was only 10:30 a.m., so although the beer looked inviting, I didn't want to end up sleeping all afternoon).

I feel pretty good for having ridden 35 miles. I would describe the pace as "stately" (It is billed as a "tour") and there was a generous helping of red-light stops. Or maybe I'm just getting back in bicycling trim.

Here's the route, minus a mile or so after the second
rest stop, when I forgot to turn the Cyclemeter app
back on.

dsj 120826

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Rotary Ride half-century

Finally got off my tuchis and onto the road for some (relatively) long-distance riding. Signed up at the last minute for the “Rotary Ride,” an annual charity event sponsored by the Naperville Rotary Club. This year, proceeds will go to the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation in Naperville.
Despite having signed up at the last minute, I got a nice quality T-shirt.

The Web site had only mentioned 21, 41 and 62-mile routes. Forty-one didn’t seem like enough, and 62 seemed like too much; I was happy to learn there was a 50-mile route as well. The weather was just about perfect for me: overcast (but no chance of rain), a bit cool and a negligible west wind.

The route was well marked with colorful arrows, and led from Commissioner’s Park in far southwest Naperville west through Plainfield and Oswego down some interesting — and delightfully car-free — back roads. I thought I’d scoured pretty much every last inch of the area on my motorcycle over the past few years, but apparently I’d missed some extremely picturesque pavement back there, with names like Reservation Road, Minkler and Ashley (I’d seen Ashley Road before, off Rt. 126 coming into Yorkville, but had assumed from the name it led into a subdivision of McMansions. All the good roads are named after farmers, not land developer’s nieces.)

Here's the 50-mile route, as mapped by my Cyclemeter app. 

It’s also hillier than you’d think, especially as I neared the half-way point at Silver Springs State Park, just west of Plano. I groaned as I freewheeled down a long, half-mile downhill, knowing I’d have to chug my way back up.

Support was excellent, by the way. SAG vehicles seemed to pass me by every 15 minutes or so (one of them was a big, brightly decorated pickup truck from a local car dealer that was a co-sponsor of the ride — hard to miss). The rest stops were well-stocked with water, Gatorade, trail mix, bagels and bananas.

I’m still nowhere near where I was last year, physically. I passed exactly two fellow bicyclists. For the most part, riders passed me in a steady stream. Kind of disheartening. This knee thing has been a real setback.

I started running out of gas at about the 40-mile mark, which of course coincided with a hilly stretch. I got into grim-determination mode and toughed it out. Three hours and 53 minutes after starting, I arrived back at Commissioner’s Park. Total distance was 52.92 miles (as measured by my trusty Cyclemeter iPhone app).  I averaged a so-so 13.63 mph. I’d been hoping to keep it above 14 mph, but those hills on the return trip did me in.

A local restaurant, DolcĂ© Amore, catered a “gourmet brunch” in the park pavilion: salad and mostaccioli. Lots of leftover donuts and bagels, as well. I had some salad and chatted with a couple of Rotary Club members who were interested in how I heard about the ride (Naperville Twitter feed) and my ride experience (excellent).

I signed up for the Four-Star Bike Tour in Chicago Aug. 26. I’d been a little worried about being able to keep up; the Rotary Ride was a great tune-up and I think I’ll be OK.

Then, of course, it’s the North Shore Century Sept. 23. Don’t know if I’ll be ready for the full 100 miles, though. Not without a lot of riding ‘twixt now and then.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Hot Fox (River Trail)

A representative slice of the FRT.
Got up relatively early and fueled up at my local favorite breakfast place, Juicy-O on Washington Street in Naperville. I love being a regular: Mary, the waitress, had a Diet Coke on the table as soon as I sat down. Had my usual high-protein breakfast: one egg, scrambled dry, wheat toast no butter, bacon, fruit instead of the hash browns, dammit.

(I love hash browns. Someday, when my doctor shakes his head sadly and tells me to enjoy the time I have left, I will exist on nothing but biscuits and gravy, hash browns, Wild Turkey, Captain Black pipe tobacco and old Rush albums. Anyway:)

I parked the car a half-hour later just south of the casino that politicians and rich people promised would revive the city of Aurora but (surprise!) didn’t. The Fox River Trail runs on both sides of its namesake watercourse. I chose the west side in hopes of staying in the shade on a day that was already 80 degrees F at 8:30 a.m., with humidity in the mid-60s.

The FRT (The Chainlink hipsters call the Lake Front Path the LFP) is a smooth, well-maintained asphalt delight that runs right along the water. Despite the drought, the river seems to be doing OK, although there have been reports of fish kills -- mostly redhorse. 

Ekwabet ("Watching Over")  seems to be OK
with white people stealing his land and driving
his people to extinction, according to the
inscription written by a white guy,
as long as we "love this Valley as much as
we loved it." Sure thing, chief, now leave.

I chugged along with some difficulty in the first 10 miles or so. Legs were tired. I had ridden a quick 11 miles the previous day, so I suppose that had something to do with it, but I was surprised at my relatively slow 12-ish mph average, as measured by the (highly recommended)Cyclemeter app on my iPhone.

Somewhere around Batavia I found my second wind and picked up the pace. However, there were stretches of road construction and detours where I lost the trail -- both in Batavia and Geneva. I swallowed my frustration, because it was good to see the trail was not only being maintained, but improved.

The “Windmill Whirl 5K” brought a lot of runners onto the trail between Batavia and Geneva. Had to slow down, but from a people-watching standpoint, it was worth it. The runners with numbers on their shirts ranged from whippet-thin Kenyan wannabees to one wheezing old gentleman who I hope is still alive as I write this.

Because there is an actual windmill.

The trail got sort of random past the village of St. Charles. Sidewalk, street, trail, street again. Always cool to see Pottawatomie Park, where my grandmother used to take me when I was a wee lad.

Taking a break just north of St. Charles.

A little past St. Charles -- at the end of a looooooong downhill run, natch -- the trail turned to crushed limestone. I rode for a half-mile or so, hoping it would turn back into asphalt, but gave up.  I was 14.11 miles into the ride and the air was getting soupy. I turned around and and ground my way back up the damn hill toward my starting point.

(I found out later from a couple of reliable sources that the limestone portion was only “a couple of miles” of the remaining 15 or so on the trail.)
The return ride was unremarkable except for having to wait about 20 minutes in downtown St. Charles for the “Ride for Kids” to go past. An impressive array of motorcycles of all stripes and species -- not just Harleys! -- went by for a good 20 minutes. Several hundred, minimum, with motorcycle cops corking the side roads. A blast to watch.

At some point, I stopped to goof with the Cyclemeter app, and messed it up because it was under a salt-water shower. As soon as I stopped pedaling and the airflow ceased, sweat was flinging sideways from every pore on my head, puddling on my glasses and dripping onto the iPhone. Couldn’t see a damn thing nowhere anyhow. I realized I was in a no-kidding possibly dangerous heat-related situation, chugged the water bottle dry and refilled it at the first bubbler I came across, chugged it dry and filled it again.

A cool fox sculpture in St. Charles.
Eventually I came to my car and fired up the A/C, which I almost never do. A McDonald’s in Aurora supplied a strawberry-banana smoothie, which is rapidly becoming my traditional after-ride cooler. Slurries are very effective at cooling the human body.

Total for the day: 27:51 miles, in the neighborhood of 13.5 mph average. Combined with yesterday’s 11 miles, a pretty good weekend of riding.

Post-ride brew: "Hop Juice" double India pale ale, by Two Brothers Brewing Co., Warrenville, Ill. Recommended by the most excellent and knowledgeable owner of Fine Wines & Liquors in Lisle, Ill. (If you're not on the mailing list, you should be.)

There be elks here!

Waiting for Mary to arrive on an ORD-bound flight,
I took two spins around Busse Lake in the
 Busse Woods Forest Preserve (PDF). Turns out -- who knew! --
there are actual elk in Elk Grove Village. Here's one of 'em. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dave and Steven get Critical in Chicago

Our first Chicago Critical Mass. I shouldn't have rushed from
work and picked an expensive parking garage
(the closest to Daley Plaza). There was a half-hour wait until the ride started.

But at 6:30 p.m. or so, somebody gave the signal and
"away we go!" with a thousand or so of our closest friends.

 Including unicycle guy. 

And bubble dude.

After a little more than an hour of touring Chicago's
west and near-north neighborhoods, we
got hungry and peeled  off the Mass at Armitage.
Our  dinner destination was  Harry Carey's.

Steven got to ride the Holey Cow. (He stayed on
for the required eight seconds.)

And we had dinner. OK, we had the feast
of a lifetime. I had the filet ("succulent" only
  begins to describe it) and Steven had
some sort of pasta that rendered him
speechless. And those of you who know Steven
understand what that means.

Dessert was Highland Scotch whisky.
Dang we had a good time.

Lil Miami Trial, my old friend

My son accompanied me on my attempt to ride on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which runs from Cincinnati, Ohio, north almost to Dayton.

 I abandoned the nieces and nephews to my wife and hit the nicely paved trail for the third time in my life. Once again, the previous night's storms left the trail littered with leaves, sticks, and the occasional 100 feet of mucky gravel and fist-sized stones.

Once we'd cleared the obstructions, and Steven had bought some bottle water in in the nearby town of Loveland, four miles of the Train Stop Inn, the trail was relatively clear. There's one spot where the pavement drops off, but it's marked with "DANGER AHEAD" spray-painted on the roadway. Hard to miss.

 Most of the pavement is in great shape. There are a few bumps and branches hanging down here and there. Otherwise, a smooth, wonderful paved path with the Little Miami River on your right. On the morning after a series of thunderstorms, freshets will play down the hillside on your left.

 So, Steven said he was ready to turn around and head back. I puttered up the road a few hundred feet to get past a puddle on the pavement and turned the front wheel. The wheel slipped on the mud and I reactively wrapped myself around my left knee and down I went.

I wasn't hurt other than a scrape on the elbow.
Steven was nonplussed. He was texting his friends
at the time and hadn't noticed his father's fall from grace.

An eastern box turtle that we saw on the trail. 

Look for bluejays and cardinals in the woods that enfold the trail. The kid and I did just 20 miles -- from the Train Stop Inn north 10 miles and back. Next time, I go solo and try for 50.

But, you may only bring one-third of a bicycle. Seriously,
I have no idea what this sign means. But they're posted
at every road crossing. Interpretations welcome!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An illicit, badly filmed ride

Mr. Pither and his withered quadriceps took  a short ride on a nice Saturday morning. Don't tell my physical therapist or surgeon -- I'm not supposed to be doing this.

I'd intended to do the whole Whalon Lake loop, a 11-mile run, but the knee started barking at me around the four-mile mark, and I decided discretion was the better part of "being able to walk normally for the rest of your life."

Video was taken with the new Contour camera, mounted on my regular bike helmet. The fisheye lens is kinda weird, and it doesn't seem to handle white-to-black extremes very well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

An new skill, and a small epiphany

I trued the back wheel on my hybrid bike last night. The rim was bumping the brake in one spot, so I bought a spoke wrench at one of my local bike shops, Spokes, watched a YouTube video for some pointers and gave it a whirl. It was easier than I thought it would be. After about a half-hour of trial-and-error to figure out the technique, the wheel was tracking perfectly. Next time it will take 10 minutes or less.

Hint for all you young bicycle mechanics out there: a half-turn of a spoke wrench is lot for a three-millimeter bend in the rim. Easy does it. Just tighten the spoke coming from the opposite side of the bend, and loosen the spokes on the same side, which pulls the rim in that direction. Simple concept, and it just takes a little practice to figure out the dynamics.

While I was spinning and wrenching, I had a realization: bicycle wheels have spokes in order to allow the rims to be trued. If they were solid, or there were just a couple of struts, there'd be no way to fix even the slightest bend. So does everyone know this and I'm just late to the game, duh, or is this fact only obvious to the kind of people who own spoke wrenches?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shhh. Don’t tell the therapist.

Against the expressed orders of my physical therapist, I took my bicycle out for a ride around the block last night. (Amy The Princess of Pain* doesn’t know about this blog. I hope.) There’s therapy and then there’s therapy; my knee needs range-of-motion exercises, and my mind needed a bicycle ride.

My surgically salvaged knee survived the surreptitious cycling swimmingly. I may even do it again this weekend: If you see me, you didn’t see me.

It wasn’t entirely a joyride. There were perfectly legitimate velo-mechanical reasons for my clandestine excursion: I’d installed a new, flat handlebar on my hybrid bicycle in hopes of eliminating the numbness that affects my hands after about 25 miles of riding. A few turns around the cul-de-sac wasn’t enough to indicate whether the mod worked, but it felt like an improvement. My wrists aren’t cocked at as big an angle, which I think was the problem with the old bar.

Ideally, I wanted to install a drop handlebar on the thing. A visit to Bicycles Etc. wasn’t much help: an off-the-shelf component set (shifters/brakes) would be $300. So I’ve been looking for a sacrificial bike from which to cannibalize the handlebar and components. Last weekend found my son and me at the Chicago Bike Swap, an annual event hosted by Active Trans, Bike Winter and the most excellent online bicycle community, The Chainlink.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the bike corral, all the good bikes were pretty much picked over. There were dozens of tables full of used parts, but I don’t feel competent to assemble this kind of thing from scratch. Maybe it’s time to learn.
So I ended up buying a flat handlebar. It was only a few bucks, would easily accept the current componet set and I figure if it doesn’t work, I can go back to the road-bike cannibalism strategy.

Since the aforementioned knee is eight weeks post-op and healing well, I can get around quite nicely without crutches as long as I don’t have to walk too far. Some puttering around with tools in the garage on a warm (for March), windy evening was a delight. Installing the new handlebar took only one period of a Blackhawks game (they eventually lost, badly, to the St. Louis Blues). Some other maintenance, interspersed with dinner and other distractions, took the rest of the evening.

Twenty-four hours later, I was ready to go but realized I probably needed to mount the bicycle from the right side, to minimize torque on my damaged left knee. Hmm … more than 45 years of riding two-wheeled bikes, and I probably haven’t mounted one from the right side more than a handful of times. The kickstand is always on the left for some reason (why is that?).
Well, it was a bit awkward and wobbly, but I stepped onto the right pedal, swung my (braced) left leg over the seat and took off.

Pure bliss.

I kept it in low gears, not wanting to push my healing A-, P- and MCL ligaments very hard. Still, it felt like a triumph just to regain a little bit of normalcy. There are few things that make me happier than a good bike and warm weather. This was the happiest I’ve been since 9:14 a.m. Dec. 28, 2012, when I made an ill-advised hard cut to the right on an icy ski run.  I probably rode two miles just figure-eighting around our court and the next one over.

Temperatures are supposed to rise into the mid-50s over the weekend, warm enough to get back out into the garage for some more puttering. I noticed the back wheel is a bit out of true: that will have to be addressed. And of course, test-ridden (wink wink).

* Actually, Amy is a very pretty, personable young woman who really just wants to help people like me walk again. Some previous patient did a very nice needlepoint with "Amy Princess of Pain" which hangs on the wall in the therapy room. I'm sure it was a tongue-in-cheek gesture of gratitude.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


After what seems like a century since my little knee issue, I’m finally able to pedal my road bike -- although I’m not ready to take it outside yet.

I’ve got the Madone mounted on a trainer down in the basement. Wasn’t able to get the crank all the way around a week ago.

Today, the therapist really pushed me on the exercises and stretched out all those ligaments. After coming home and a half-hour of ice and rest, I figured I’d give the bicycle another try. Piece of cake!

Don’t want to overdo it, so just spent 10 minute or so at the lowest setting. But there’s a handlebar-mounted LED headlight at the end of the tunnel.

(The Quasimodo effect is due to the XXL hoodie sweatshirt left over from my heavier days.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Well, since the continent-wide cyclone, it got cold and now I've blown my knee out skiing in Colorado. Mr. Pither is on haitus until April, anyway.

On the plus side, they tell me that bicycle riding will be the Best. Therapy. Evar. Once the ligaments heal to a certain point. Must ... hold ... on ...