Lake Park, Lake Lillian, and … Lake Wobegon!

After a couple weeks’ recovery and my best attempt to resume a normal life, October’s tour-time arrived. In order to be fair to my college dwelling offspring (and selfish on my own behalf), my Hawkeye tour was to be book-ended with a trek north to Blazer town too see my daughter at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN. I chose to follow roughly the same format as my Iowa City trip: Wednesday-Friday and about 300 miles. No major changes in the ride prep and a few minor ones: less ambitious food and recent popcorn fetish to be experimented with via campstove. My Iowa City trip faux pas have been addressed: headlight battery on bike, repaired phone and Ipad Mini purchased for tech needs (both safely tucked into several layers of ziplock and waterproof ammo box), Brook’s saddle covers close at hand (my beloved leather perch actually dried well taking on the personality of a pair of 80′s shrink-to-fit 501′s). Again, weather.com starts beautiful 10 days out but deteriorates — though not as much as the former, trek.
Once again, the warmup miles are on the familiar — a good romp through the Mayflower’s favorite destiny, Plymouth (county) rock (aggregated by the infusion of tar) and plenty of western Iowa Loess Hills rollers. Lunch is taken on a manicured church lawn in LeMars. Leftover baked potato and cold smoked german sausage from the Bluebird Locker in Delmont, SD. Now that’s some good kraut swine! The day is beautiful: blue sky, high fluffy clouds, even the SE wind that batters any west to east stretches doesn’t dampen the spirits too much. The miles multiply quickly, requisite ice cream (paired nicely with my beautiful bride’s homemade angel food) in Granville at the Short Stop, roll… roll… roll, rest in Primghar, keep chugging, final directions from the convenience store clerk in Everly. Uh wait a minute, did you say there is a bridge out and the detour is several miles of gravel in the dark? Oh, but you also said they’ve been working on it all summer? Let’s go take a peak. Discover a nice little access the contractors have developed to move their gear to and fro across the waters. A gamble, a payoff, Lake Park IA, and goal made for the day: 125 miles. The city park has a nice developed campground, but as hard as I look, no host nor registration station. A call to the phone number on the signs yields only a “full voicemail box” message. The best ground for my needs is along side a park shelter with lights and picnic tables in which to cook. A hearty meal of homemade chili base and 3 bean mix fills and warms. A second smile added as popcorn is successfully prepared over the little Swedish alcohol stove. Those Scandinavians do good work!
A leisurely morning, by my usual standards, garners an 8:05am start after oatmeal and coffee. A final few miles of Iowa soil passes quickly thanks to the SE winds and Minnesota is embraced. The change is visible. Typical Iowa farmland is replaced by flatter expanses littered with large granite glacial remains. My Blue Velvet Long Haul Trucker makes the most of its QBP homeland reeling off the miles and slipping comfortably into the last larger town I plan to see until St. Joseph. Step into the HyVee for some final wi-fi, email check, and a few provisions. There’s a familiar “helpful smile” in the aisles in the form of a manager last stationed at our local Vee. Share a little small talk before turning northward, again. The day is hot and cold, speed wise. Minnesota’s grid-like county roads combined with the particular wind direction make eastward tacks slow and arduous. The same produce near road race speeds when pointing the bow back at the Pole. Best discovery of the day is finding out what those massive piles of produce I’ve often seen are: beets. They fly by in tractor-trailer-sized load after load. Near day’s end, I pass their destiny which is a processing facility whose piles of the sweet orbs stretch an easy quarter mile or more. Day 2 draws to a close at dusk as I make Lake Lillian, a second goal achieved and a second consecutive 200K+ trek. Once again, hit the local C-store for directions. Disappointing news: my planned county park overnight has ceased campground operations for the year. Really; Minnesotans don’t camp in October?! The clerk is great, though. She calls the mayor and a couple of councilmen. In a few minutes, the town maintenance man stops by and offers the city park and a little log cabin that has been converted to mini-shelter (literally 12′x8′, mini)! Thank you, Ms. Lillian! Again, my culinary appliance does not disappoint spitting out Indian Dal with lentils and more warm and homey popcorn. Early lights out as I want to hit the ground running, err, pedaling early.
Early turns out to be a misnomer. I’m wide awake at 4:00am with no hope of further slumber. I do try for a while, but give in, get up, get going. Repeat of the previous day’s morning nutritionals and it’s silently away in the dark at 5:55am. A starry morning reveals the outline of Lake Lillian as I move along stealthily seeing only a couple cars in the first 20 miles, or so. In Atwater, I break just after sunrise at the first Casey’s I’ve seen in almost 48 hours and nearly 300 miles. My insides are having a tough time, today, and my self-diagnosis is overdose on the lentils at the previous evening’s meal — a Diet Cherry Pepsi for some carbonation is my pharmaceutical of choice. Thankfully, this is the first I’ve felt I was suffering on this trip. Marshall on, since there is no bailout option unless I’m willing to wait 8 hours or so for my familial sag wagon — which I don’t want to do after having fallen less than 20 miles short of goal on the Iowa City tour. The morning remains extremely quiet, traffic-wise, as I ply another 20 miles north to the Glacial Lakes Rail Trail. The path is smooth and level and the final blissful Minnesota miles are marred only by a challenging headwind. Make the Riverside Inn at Cold Springs for my night’s reservation minutes after noon: check-in, lunch, shower, choose my cleanest clothes, and then race a thunderstorm to St. Joseph and the College of Saint Benedict (I win but just by minutes).
The trip is rounded out with 2 days of family weekend events with my oldest. A faculty music concert for culture, a group ride on the Lake Wobegon Trail (Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are all above average…” G Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion) for fun, an overnight in Minneapolis for a musical (Wicked) for the ladies and pool for the boys and I. My only regret, no tours planned for November and December! It’s clear this kind of riding gets in a person’s soul — at least mine. There is something about the loneliness and unfamiliarity of the road that requires self-sufficiency and leads to the joy of discovery that has me now. There will be more of this!
By the numbers:
326 miles
31 hour 45 minutes in the saddle
9,825 calories consumed
11, 607 cycling calories expended
2nd REALLY big SMILE!

Hills, Headwinds, Hail, and … Hawkeyes!

There’s a reason RAGBRAI proceeds west to east in its annual pilgrimage across Iowa: tailwinds! I had assumed (and hoped) the same could be counted on as the course was charted for a 3 day-2 night journey to see my freshman Hawkeye at the University of Iowa. Things started out looking great in the 10 day forecast: 70’s, sunny, mostly left to right breezes. Ahem, that is until about 3 days out. Each 24 hour check of the launch window showed high 80’s and big face drying blasts in the 20’s on day one with decreased temps but continued September breaths right in the face for the balance of the week. If you’re not prepared to do battle, don’t leave the castle!
10am works out to be the official on-road time after a cyclo-commute and breakfast out with the younger boys and a quick stop at Albrecht Cycle for my spare tire. The first “oops” of the trip is discovered relatively quickly as the power cord on my headlight flops in the breeze – no battery – pretty minor adaptation to the agenda, so I think. The map leads through a familiar first 50 miles of climbs and descents through Climbing Hill (appropriately), Oto with a quick stop for lunch, and Danbury. As predicted by weather.com, the pace is slowed considerably making a tall, if not impossible, order to reach beyond a hundred miles before sunset. Past Danbury, the road is a mystery, though thankfully, still quiet, well-maintained county, all day. The relentless rollers make the heart feel at home. Settle in, spin, march on young man. Supper is at the intersection of D54 and US59, and the day’s first frozen dairy delight a Blue Bunny ice cream sandwich in the little berg of Kiron. The sun sinks lower, and Breda quickly emerges as the realistic overnight stop. Only 92 miles when I was hoping for 120-130. Disappointing! Thank goodness for the Main Street Market. I share some small talk with the older gentleman working the counter. He thinks the city park has camping, but not sure where. I think he serves a pretty good vanilla soft serve cone. No obvious sign of camping emerges at the park, though there is a shelter, tables, and a grove of evergreens near the Sauk Rail Trail that winds through this public space. Do my best to be stealthy, knowing it will be an early rise and departure. A bowl of Cinnamon Honey Bunches of Oats, a phone call home, and sleep.
Unfortunately, frequent waking is part of my current fate. Each time this night yields a flapping tent. Dawn holds more of the same with dark clouds and a light show to the south. It feels as though things have shifted slightly – perhaps we’ll gain a cross-tail out of this. Quick breakfast of a PB and J wrap, fruit, and a couple of coffees at the Market; time to roll the Sauk. It’s a great trail and the wind is flirting with cooperation. Carroll and Swan Lake State Park appear quickly and the skies begin to clear. I use the park to refill bottles, get a quick few minutes of cell-phone charge, and send a couple of texts. Then with a little help from a walker, gather last minute directions to my next county pave. Yesterday’s surface garners yesterday’s winds and hills – 8 miles dead south into rises and breezes. A left turn puts me onto my first busy road – relative to what I’ve seen thus far – for a stretch. I’ve got a little over 1/3 of my total mileage in, but my endless calculations have me short on packed food. The BP Country Store in Coon Rapids looks good and well stocked. Turns out, their prepared food appears scrumptious. The sweet chili chicken pizza makes grade and gets a “remember this combo” text to myself. Both clerks and customers are curious and engaging here. I’m informed of the High Trestle Trail (won’t make it this trip) and U of I days gone by before getting back on the big road to catch the Raccoon River Valley Trail. The RRVT is another gem and so quiet that I break my cardinal rule of riding with headphones. Well, make that headphone.
A second midday meal is enjoyed at the stereotypical city park in Minburn. Quiet, leisurely, tasty: so much so, that I don’t even notice the deep gray wall that’s formed to the southwest until it’s time to roll. Once in open country, though, it doesn’t look so bad. In fact, it appears to be one small band of storms tracking to the south with isolated showers in arrears. In short order, oops number 2 becomes obvious as the speed changes from 15mph with effort, to 30mph coasting, to who knows what just trying to stay upright in a now cross-hurricane of wind and rain. The precip turns solid and painful but rolling seems like the best option in open country — until the lightning strikes get too close for comfort. There are depressions on both sides of trail to choose from. Off the bike, into the ditch, take cover under the mattress pad and listen for the tell-tale freight train these conditions are clearly predicting. Thankfully, my imagination is more active than the storm cell. Once the hail subsides, I remount and roll through the rain — for a moment. Ma Nature decides that both sides of the body deserve a bruising and the storm circles in from the opposite side to draw me once again to my meager egg-crate shelter. A second reprieve (from the hail, anyway) appears and it’s up to pedal through the rain and now seeming frigid wind. Thankfully, the towns are close and I can see the outline of Waukee a short distance ahead. Soaked, cold, and shivering uncontrollably, all I can hope for is any business that will allow me through the door.
It turns out to be an old school Kum and Go. Darkened by power outage, the minute I ride into the lot, two trail angels throw open the door along with the invitation, “Bring the bike in, too, or it might blow away…” THANK YOU! These kind ladies allow me to drip my way through the store, clean up, change, and provide lots of insight where to bed down without blinking an eye. Kum and Go management, give them a raise. It turns out, no hotels in town and the only campground requires a gravel traverse. Meager options. I opt for the city park and a stealth camp behind the frisbee golf clubhouse. Assumedly, city staff will be too busy to notice with half of town powerless. Homemade black bean chili goes on the Trangia stove. While I wait, assess the damage: phone out of commission, cheapskate web browser (aka unused droid smartphone) soaked and completely ruined, Brooks saddle soaked and sagging. Lament over oops tres sinks in: keep those valuables sealed up and/or within’ seconds of sealed up — ‘lectronics and leather alike. After 30 minutes of regret, I’m eating and warmer. The Kum and Go with power is close, so buy a phone card, ice cream sandwich, and F’Real shake to deal with reality and infuse some hope for a MUCH a better final day.
I sleep well with no visit from the authorities to evict me nor anyone else to harrass. Up early for a couple pots of drip coffee and an equal number bowls of oatmeal. On the tarmac with just a hint of light in the east as I hit the Hickman Trail into Des Moines. It’s a quick first 15 or so miles until I dive under the road and into Des Moines proper coming to a sudden halt. This is clearly where the storm made it’s stand and the city its fall. Large trees block the route I would have taken and even bushwhacking with 26×2.0 multi-surface Contis doesn’t get me far. Back on the street, providence arrives in the form of a familiar black and white jersey: Rassy’s, baby! I quickly introduce myself to Steve Fuller (zenbiking.com) who lets me tag along with part of his morning commute and then directs me further through the cap city. I lose his route at some point, but figure out I can sneak south to Grand/Ingersoll for bike lanes and a familiar route, which I follow out east of town past the Fairgrounds. The road dumps me out onto IA163 which is much busier than I desire, and a littered shoulder that will have to suffice. About 7 or so miles gets me to Prairie City and back onto a quiet town square for lunch from the local grocer and more quiet 2 lane. There are many miles to Iowa City and making it there seems questionable now. However, the wind is mostly neutral to friendly and the miles pile up. Most interesting moment of the day? Topping out a climb to a, “How far you going,” greeting from this guy (http://www.westlibertyindex.com/article.php?viewID=5230) Not as far as you, my friend — 2 words, good work!
After rolling US6 for quite a few miles, I’m able to pick up its designated Historic route for s spell. Brand new pavement and QUIET — a late afternoon treat before the sky starts to dim. My day one headlight blunder raises it’s head again. So, dig out my flashlights, fresh batteries, and zip ties to fashion the best illumination I can muster and keep riding. It’s late when I roll into Amana’s Casey’s, and I know my family will be getting worried. I borrow the phone from the staff and find out they are on 80E about 20 miles behind me. I give directions and wait for the thing I dread most as a cyclist: a broom wagon ride. Realistically, a guy shouldn’t feel shame about this finish: 2 challenging days followed by 130 miles in the saddle today are more than satisfying. All I can say is, what a great experience and can the next tour, to St Joseph, MN, come any quicker?! It’s only a couple of weeks away, but I’ve got a fever and the prescription is more wanderlust! Time to focus on family and Hawkeye football for a couple of days.
The stats for the 3 days:
Calories consumed 14, 250
Calories burned 11,584
Time in the saddle 25:55
Miles covered 315
1 REALLY big SMILE!

Family Reunion Shakedown Tour

OK, the title makes it sound like a pin-striped cruise around a New York neighborhood to collect the monthly “protection” payment, but there’s no badda-bing! badda-boom! here. More like, “take some banana-bread… can I send some leftovers home with you…,” when you’re talking about your Pennsylvania Dutch family. After picking up the long-coveted Blue Velvet Surly Long Haul Trucker during the Memorial Day weekend, and taking another month to actually get on and ride it, and another month to get the final stem and bar tape installed, a trial tour was overdue. Life has been crazy, so I figured at best, we were talking an S240. Reviewing the options actually revealed something slightly better: an apre-vocational departure Friday with a destination of the maternal family reunion at Fremont Lakes State Park, Saturday. My bride was headed north on Saturday to pick up the oldest for a week’s vacation with us, and with a little help from grandma and grandpa transporting the younger boys, I could cyclo-tour to Fremont, take advantage of two tent nights, and cover dad-bases: win-win-win!
It’s 4:50pm before rolling from the office and weaving the first four or so miles through downtown Sioux City, IA and into South Sioux City, Nebraska. Lot’s of cars, of course, but once the metro is cleared, things quiet significantly, the shoulder is blessedly wide, and it’s possible to settle into a nice pace with a just-perceivable tailwind. To be fair, end-of-day riding isn’t my forte, so I wasn’t sure I’d make the nearly 90 mile goal for the evening. However, US77 is one of those typical rail-route two lane highways with towns about every 8 miles – each with its own welcoming city park. Worst case: ride, camp, rise early, and still roll in to the midst of family in time for breakfast.
The first 35 miles fly by before the internal dinner bell rings. A rural hill-top convenience store offers a curb for my leftover spicy pancetta and penne from my lunch date – not bad cold. This little oasis is hopping for mid-evening. I get pleasantries, a few questions, and overhear a racist conversation between two drivers on the dangers this rider should be concerned with when riding through the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservations. Really, folks? Not concerned in the least… in fact, I’m more worried about characters like you driving big diesel pick-ups fueled by testosterone and suspicion.
Back on the road, the evening is perfect. Warm, barely discernable humidity (a rarity for early August, here), calm, quiet. A survey of the landscape allows one to see birds and bugs floating above the bountiful corn and soybean crops. Feeling good, confidence is gaining that the reunion site is within reach yet tonight. As darkness settles in, aviary aerobatics are replaced by lightning bug beacons and owl hoot fog horns. The natural sounds and lights are shaken momentarily by the spotlighted rumble of a freight train pushing through a hill cut just below my right shoulder – and it, too, provides its own sensory gift.
Stop number two is a second hilltop convenience store in Uehling, Nebraska. It’s nearly 10pm and the staff is cleaning and preparing a hasty advance towards their Friday night plans. They’re gracious allowing an ice cream cone and coffee purchase to drive the legs, mind, and eyes the last 30 miles in. Out of respect, both sweet and stimulation are consumed efficiently and the workers are off to their plans timely. There is little ambient light (it’s not the Boundary Waters or Sandhills, to be sure but an acceptable substitute), and the sky is ablaze – who can tire, physically or mentally, in these surrounds?! I expect to, since 4:30am was rise time, today, but clarity remains and the calves and thighs keep pumping the last rises and falls of the approach to Fremont.
It’s amazing how wide and well maintained this busy old ribbon’s shoulder has been – only a few miles of intermittent sinking asphalt – and only a few hundred yards of buffer are lost as I cross an overpass into town. The Kum and Go has free wi-fi, some easy conversation with the clerk and her friend who’ve stepped outside for a smoke and are generous in their directions to the state park. The monarch of ground bovine, excuse me, Burger King, is dethroned, however by their determination to shut down the soft-serve at 9pm. It’s Friday, your majesty, can’t you anticipate that an 11:30pm cyclo-tourist is needing their last infusion of the day. Oh well, a pouch of salmon and some whole wheat tortillas taste good as well!
Up to now, there has been no lack of confidence in my route (travelled it literally tens of times as a kid), but now I have to weave my way through an unfamiliar part of town to a park I’ve been to exactly once. No problem, store-clerk positioning system works perfect, and the primary turn to the park is located. I know the entrance is on the left from my previous visit here and start down the dark road. Have to be close, the smell of the lake drifts up to the road and intermittently the moon is visible reflecting off still water – sure don’t remember the turn being this far down, though – ride, on. It’s a state park, has to be a big entrance. What’s this, industrial/commercial properties. Pretty sure this isn’t right, but there’s a business up there, and lights, I’ll reorient. Ugh… this isn’t good… Englewood! I’ve successfully circled west and south around the length of Fremont back to Highway 77. Could be worse, but I know there’s a park sign at this intersection. A quick crossing of the highway to view it: 3 miles, no choice, back we go with flashlight and mileage synced on computer. 1.75 miles and a sign: 1 mile. 2.75 miles, another with an arrow, but not to the side of the road I was remembering. It’s late, accept the mistake, go find the campsite.
But it doesn’t take long inside the park for things to seem unfamiliar. Again, assuming it’s the late hour, dark, and day’s fatigue settling in… pedal forward, and forward, and forward. This is clearly not correct. Return to the entrance to look for a map. No luck. Back to a park concession that appeared to be open. It’s closed now, but I catch an employee leaving. “Can you tell me how to get to Pathfinder?” Her response, “Just keep going straight (as I had been…), until it looks like you’re going to ride out of the park; it will be on your right hand side.” Directions followed and here it is. I had been within a quarter mile before turning around. Site number three found – arrival!. Blessing in disguise for getting lost: the extra miles cement my first century on the LHT. Tent goes up, bring out the milk, Honey Bunches of Oats Cinnamon, bowl, and spoon for a one a.m. ice cream substitute. It’s suitable. I sleep well.
In the morning, I join my family of origin and sons for breakfast. My sister and I decide to run to town for supplies – only then, do I learn the park has a second entrance on a parallel road. I wasn’t crazed, after all. After a full day of family and food, get things prepped for the return to reality. It’s an early night as a 5am roll-time is planned. Have to get home to clean up and prep for a family meal we’re hosting.
It’s a beautiful morning. Perfect for a long sleeve shirt and knit gloves as I silently say goodbye to the family gathering. As great as the dusk and dark of evening, had been only thirty or so hours ago, there’s just something a little better about dawn’s burst out of black that I have come to cherish. The sun makes its bold entrance to my right and the camera comes out for rolling documentation of the moment. Not only am I riding on the opposite end of the day, but the wind has joined me in the switch, as well. Once again, an ever so slight tailwind provides pedal-assist, and I calculate that I can hit the Highway 77 café for a mid-ride meal by 8am. Their lunch had been sampled, once, and found it to be great old-school café/truck stop food; it was time to test the waters of the morning meal.
My measuring standard of any breakfast fare: pancakes, over easy eggs, syrup, bacon. Bacon stays on the side, as it does for most, but eggs are layered with the griddle cakes where soft yolks can break and combine gloriously with rich syrup. Excellent product from the double seven cook – I write a note of appreciation on the bill. The server? Well, let’s just say, no note warranted, but one left, anyway, assuming she’s having a tough day and could use a positive vibe. Off and up the road, the last climbs cleared, and a final stop in Homer, Nebraska. Conversation with an old Dane unearths recollections of his trip to the homeland and memories of the extensive use of bicycles he observed there. We share his last name and those of my Danish bride’s family and discover a few connections.
The last miles are flat and easy as the day warms. I roll home with just 42 hours elapsed but 188 miles covered since leaving work at week’s end. Legs are good, bike is GREAT, and soul has a big smile. Can I do this every weekend? A guy could only wish…

Father’s Day Gift

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Not the DK200, but still grindin’!

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Well-earned, boys!

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Ready to check out of Ponca State Park and head for home.

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Asked the youngest a couple weeks ago what his favorite thing about riding a bike was. Response, “Going up hills!’

 

What did I want for Father’s day?   Only 2 things (clearly this dad is a

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The scientific method in process…

selfish AND demanding AND specific kind of guy…): ride my bike, always a given, and go camping.   The ten and eight year-old sons had been hearing since March that camping at least one night per month April through October was a goal for the year.  Between spring 2013’s refusal to let go of less desirable elements and the boys’ participation in the Great American Pastime, we hadn’t so much as driven a single stake.  This weekend, however, would not get away.  A number of reasonable bike-overnight destinations had been discussed for the year ranging from six to thirty miles in one-way distance.  The plan was to work up to the long-hauls as summer wore on, but it happened that the eighteen year-old racer in the house was planning to compete on Saturday at Ponca (Nebraska) State Park.  Hmmm… thirty miles, relatively flattish route, and we’d been doing a weekly loop of around twenty miles worth of errands. The potential reward was worth the risk since a bailout existed with the Big Dummy providing a rest option for tired pedalers. 

Our goal was to leave around eight AM with the thought being four hours’ worth of riding and breaks.  That would give us a window to catch the final two hours of the marathon event.  Poor use of personal energy delayed us.  Ran out of gumption Friday evening and didn’t get to the store. Slept in more than usual Saturday morning and got a late start on the second-chance grocery run.  Finally had my ducks in a row about ten — no race spectating today – which turns out to be providence.  A pop-up thunderstorm decided to dump on the area for about forty-five minutes.  

With the road a little wet but the sky now dehydrated and clearing quickly, we rolled at eleven.  The first five miles were known commodity.  Unfortunately, mile six was a dad’s nightmare with no alternate route available: Vet’s MemorialBridge, bi-directional construction, ped-bikeway closed – not happy with the lack of foresight by planners, here.  Cardiac function remained in-tact as we reached the south end of the span.  Thankful, we stretch to unknown territory for the young adventurers.  The researched route kept us envogue with a couple miles gravel to grind — a little soft from the precip, but not bad.  We lunched on wraps before a few miles to a planned research project.  The Dairy Sweet in Jackson, NE advertises, “The best malts on Highway 20…”    Such bold claims must be validated.   One strawberry, one chocolate, and a vanilla cone.  Two thumbs up for the highway 20 side of the claim and one thumb up for the best ever.   Satisfied, it’s westward, but progress comes to a halt with a flat just up the road.  A fresh tube gets us rolling again to tackle the long gradual elevation gains to Ponca proper and the final big push up the 2 mile climb to the State Park. 

 

We’re well-toasted upon on arrival at the park and extremely glad to hear the pool remains open for another hour and a half — let’s call this a boys’ bath.  Cleansed and refreshed it’s off to locate the campsite my older son had occupied the previous evening.   It’s a beauty — spacious, green, shaded, and a great southeast view.  Supper is a choice of steak or salmon fajitas, fried potatoes, Spanish rice, and green beans (the latter two selections from a can, but surprisingly tasty in our well-exercised state).  A little discussion makes it clear we haven’t climbed enough, today. We decide on a two mile descent to Bronco Billy’s to refuel with frozen goodness and a second shot at the two mile climb.  Yup, ice cream 2.0.  A clear, calm, campfire-kind of evening closes the day.

 

As much as I’d like to stay sleeping or just lying in my bag enjoying the morning whispers of nature, just like at home, it’s not to be – tough getting old – first light finds me brewing my favorite java.  The youngest joins me at 6:45am, and his brother emerges minutes later.  We thoroughly enjoy making and eating egg muffin sandwiches by toasting English muffins and ham over an open fire with sticks before adding scrambled eggs and cheese.   Delicious!  

 

After their 30 miles the previous day, my riding companions are surprisingly spry.  Unfortunately, another flat on the same stretch of pave force another break in the action.    Underway again, clearly the one mile east to Jackson makes a requisite refuel-up in order.  Out of cash, we’re forced to go franchise hitting a big new C-store for a shake, slushee, and pistachios.  Not bad, but not quite the previous day’s quality of treat.  We backtrack our route and feast on a victory meal at Jim’s Burgers including, you guessed it: more chilled dairy product. 

 

Not often does someone get exactly what they want and come away with even more than they expected.   I’m counting my blessings as a father, right now, and realizing how truly happy all my days should be.  

A rolling start…

Look at that, February is almost burned up and I haven’t put any goals down in type, yet.  Guess it’s a sign of my most recent personal incarnation.  After a couple years  characterized by intensity, it’s time to just be.  Don’t get me wrong, focus remains, but it’s much more a resolve of what needs to be done today to accomplish (in the words of my beautiful bride), “The business of life.”  So, for now, my personal directive is to be content with simplicity.  Still, a soul ought to have some sense of destination, so here goes, 2013:

 

  1. Have an awesome vegetable garden – total fail here in 2012.  This is my year!
  2. Keep reading from objects that don’t have a keyboard.  So many books… so little time.
  3.   Camp at least 1 night per month March-November (12 months would be too intense… let’s start with 9).
  4. Take a minimum of 1 bike tour lasting no less than 3 days and 2 nights – hopefully I’ll greatly exceed this in tours, days, and nights.
  5. Cyclo-commute at least 80% of work days and as many errands as possible (have I mentioned I need a cargo bike?).  Through this date, I’m sitting 35 of 37 work days.   

Riding away…

So I’ve made a couple of pronouncements over the last several weeks that have raised some friends’ eyebrows.  First, was letting the leaders of Elkhorn Valley Cycling know that I would likely race very little, if any, during the 2013 season.  Then, a statement to the citizens of Facebook that in 7 days time the intent was to walk away from that service.  No doubt some are wondering if I’ve finally inched completely off the edge!  Well, here’s a peak inside the gray mass.  This cyclist has never been disciplined in anything he’s done.  Taking up the mantle of weight loss, fitness, and competition required that attribute to be engaged, accepted, and perfected (well, at least moving toward…).  Thing is, the more discipline has been honed, the more appreciation has been cultivated for the simple redundancies of what my beautiful bride calls “the business of life”: predawn wake-up calls, cooking, doing dishes, fiscal thrift, yard work, reading, etc.  At the same time, those endeavors that require higher levels of planning, organization, and time carry less and less appeal for me.  I’d like to say that it’s just season’s end mental/emotional/physical fatigue, but this philosophical shift appeared ever so subtly last season and has steadily taken majority share in my soul since.  What does that mean for me?

 

Let’s tackle competitive cycling first.  You may say that racing doesn’t have to be disruptive if well-planned – agreed, mostly.  However, for a Northwest Iowan, events always involve several hours of driving which means any affair is at best a 6+ hour investment.  Additionally, even the most modest race set-up is expensive (based on my goals) in relation to the value that I wish an investment to have.  Finally, it seems like every event requires a non-refundable, early registration, (often) months in advance, with only a small window to beat the sell-out.  It’s great to have that carrot dangling out there, but in our household, also complicating at times.  Take heart, though, I am not abandoning cycling!  My cyclo-commuting has returned to its former level, I’m doing more utility runs by bike (my poor Jetta has protested, “Alienation of affection!”), and have been invited repeatedly to do some self-contained touring – 2013, I promise, Brent – which has always been a goal .  There’s also a plan fermenting to attempt some randonneuring (see www.rusa.org for more info) as the stay-in-shape-reason-to-ride-long-and-hard.  Yes, brevets are events that have to be scheduled into life, but most require no pre-registration, very low (if any) entry fee, and equipment of rider’s choice.

 

As for Facebook, let’s just say it’s part of my 2012 goal to devote less attention to electronic devices.  Specific to the service in question, not only is it a time-suck for me, but to be honest, I’m tired of non-stop marketing first by the service itself (are you aware of how much data it’s collecting on each of us?), and Facebook friends as well.  Better to seek information on my own, and keep exchanges face-to-face where we all practice a different level of personal filter.  I’ll stay on Twitter, for now, because the interface manifests itself differently for me. 

 

I look forward to seeing you all on the tarmac, or gravel, or at the campground for a nice chat of the non-electronic type!  I’ll be the one riding the country/touring bike loaded with camping gear.

Dakota 5-O 2012 Wrap(s) Up

6:30am, Sunday before Labor Day, Spearfish, South Dakota – I’m a happy guy. Weather.com says it’s 65 degrees out – a full 30 degrees warmer than a year earlier: no arm warmers needed, no wind-chill-inducing downhill to the city park, no teeth-chattering chills on the start line! A good way to begin race day since there’s been no competitive events for me since early July and no off-road racing since Ponca in June. To be honest, while the training has been finely focused (at least by my standards), the lack of head-to-head riding has made me pretty non-committal about what to expect and left ruminations on how high the fitness level actually is. The day’s goal, can’t say I’ve actually verbalized one to this point, let’s go with be faster than last year…

We roll behind the ATV for the neutral start and upon hitting the gravel the heart-rate monitor starts singing (it’s set for 90%, meant to change it to 94%) and doesn’t stop for many miles. 

I know a good wheel when I see it. Following Todd into the singletrack section off Tinton Road. He put 16 minutes into me between Aid 2 and the finish. Nice work! (Photo courtesy Patty Wixon)

Despite the effort, I’m comfortable and able to maintain the pace as we climb. Much less time is spent on the hoof this year, and by Aid 1, I’m at least 7 minutes ahead of 2011’s pace. If only the entirety of the Dakota 5-O was ascending, but it’s not.

On the first fast descents it’s a battle against drought-induced dust and bovine by-product that seems to have been strategically evacuated directly on the trail. Later down-slopes hammer neck, arms, and shoulders with bone-rattling rock – my frame (not the bike’s) is screaming in discomfort. Still, there’s a greater level of confidence on these downward pitches and significantly fewer dabs on the techny sections. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop a lot of riders from passing me between the Bacon Station and Tinton road – in fact, I mostly just move over and wave them by when I hear 1 or 2 behind me.  HRM, bike computer, and timing chip all agree that I’m home in 4:40:25; just seconds shy of a full 30 minute improvement last year, if only I hadn’t crashed in the last section of singletrack. Oh well, blood and dust compliment each other, right?. Goal met, smile on face…

Past the Bacon Station, it’s all down hill from here — mostly. (Photo courtesy Black Hills Endurance)

I’m equally happy to report that Buddy successfully bucked last year’s monkey off his back and finished the race (body and bike fully in-tact) in 5:02:23. With this year’s successful circumnavigation under his belt, and the experience that goes along with it, I look forward to him blowing by me in 2013 and beyond!

Buddy in the last stages of getting it done. Big things lie ahead in 2013 on both rock and road. (Photo courtesy of Black Hills Endurance)

So what did I learn? Structured training pays big dividends – thank you 5am training rides. 26’er hardtails are rough on old men; bring on the ibuprofen (in other words I’m too cheap, it ain’t broken, and I’m not replacing my beautiful black steed). You can practice sustainability in the race world; here is 70% of my race nutrition: http://www.eatliverun.com/chocolate-chip-quinoa-trail-mix-balls/ (skipped the sunflower seeds and fruit and substituted crushed Hershey’s Special Dark for the chocolate chips). Very tastey and easy to eat but need to work on the packaging. 

And, that’s a wrap for my race season. No cross this year, slight maybe that I’ll do a gravel race as part of a weekend bike-camping trip, need to be thankful and spend some time with family and catch up on some advocacy.