walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Gravel, Goals, and Really Good Food

Note: Bill, Michael, and Tim have all penned really awesome ride reports (much better than mine!), complete with pictures.  Check them out!

On Thursday (or was it Friday?), Apertome sent out an invite for a 50-miler he was planning for this weekend.  Though Rogue Racing had a road ride to nearby Jefferson Forest, I couldn't resist this one.  The company and the route were far too tempting :D  Besides, Hg is still awaiting his BB and QS is only semi-functional (no big ring).

Tim was driving up to Bloomington for the ride, and had an open slot in his car's awesome bike carrier, so I set my alarm for 5:00, then gathered all my stuff.  That was well done, since I apparently hit snooze twice and swam up from the midst of a dream-state at roughly 5:15.  Then it was a mad dash to get dressed, brush my teeth, and find my headlight (which I failed to do -- it later turned out to be in the front pocket of my Camelbak pack, which I only checked like eight times ._.).  Around 5:40, I dashed off into the darkness to meet Tim at the third street Thornton's, an easy ride of less than 10 minutes from home (and spooky-quiet before 6:00 AM on a Sunday!).

At around 6:00 on Sunday morning, we were headed up to the home of 'IU Prime' (for the record, Tim manages to combine the rare qualities of both driving well and being an excellent conversationalist, which makes him an ideal drive companion).

When we arrived after a lovely drive through the Indiana countryside (Paoli is a really cute little town), we discovered that Mrs. Apertome had laid out a hearty repast -- home-made oatmeal, muffins, sausages, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon chunks, scrambled eggs, coffee ... it was a delicious all-you-can-eat bike fuel buffet -- not to mention a harbinger of an excellent ride to come.

Though I had already eaten two apples, a 'Nut-rition' bar, and roughly one-quarter of the package of 'Beef Chunks' I intended for ride snacks, I tucked into the repast with gusto.  I could only hope that my legs would be as strong a my appetite!

Meanwhile, we chatted with some of fellow riders: a pair of gentlemen from Denver, en route to Pennsylvania, to drop off a bike, a truck, and a motorcycle, and another more local fellow, from (I think) the Fort Wayne area, who arrived a bit later.  We learned that one more rider would join us en route, rounding out the total to an auspicious seven (assuming you're a little superstitious).

After breakfast, plenty of coffee, and the judicious application of sunscreen, we headed out on the road.  The route began with a series of beautiful rollers -- apparently, rollers are my thing -- that led through part of Bloomington before we rolled into the woods, where we enjoyed a span of nice, flowy singletrack with the occasional log for variety, most of which the group addressed them cyclocross-stylie (albeit, not at a dead run).  We rolled over the last one, which was smaller and sitting directly on the ground.

Soon, we met up with our seventh rider.  A few more rolling hills brought us to the gravel (upon which I was, at first, profoundly nervous), then to the first monster climb of the day: a long uphill stretch of Bloomington's Strada Bianca!

At this point, I encountered the first in a series of frustrating drive-train issues.  It took me most of the duration of the ride to figure out how to get started again on steep hills when the Cannondale's rear hub issues caused chain slippage and resulting momentum loss.  On the monster gravel climb, this meant I walked -- that is, after falling over sideways while attempting to get started (which resulted in cursing, followed by a mental vision of what I must have looked like, followed by profound amusement), I walked.

By the way: if you're wondering: when you have to get started on an enormous climb, position the bike diagonally across the road but slightly uphill, swing a leg over, clip in, set your clipped-in leg to a reasonable angle (about 2:00 worked for me -- I probably should've clipped in on my uphill leg, though, come to think of it).  I'm not sure this would work on loose gravel.

I also learned that I am a complete chicken about descending on gravel.  It took me nearly the whole of one very long gravel descent to realize that if I let go of the brakes, I probably wouldn't die.


We continued through some beautiful park land, stopping occasionally to enjoy a lakeside view and regroup.  It's difficult to describe the beauty of the landscape -- I didn't take any pictures, but those taken by the guys with the cameras will, I'm sure, do better justice to the Bloomington surrounds than my words might.  Simply imagine sun-dappled woods carpeted with wild vinca, rolling hills, and serene lakes that give way suddenly to sunlit meadows waving with deep-green grasses ...  Strips of blue-grey highway surrender themselves to oceans of dusty white gravel ... Occasional passing drivers seem to understand that you have just as much right to the road and wave as they go by.

In other words, short of the presence of a nearby ocean, this is just about my vision of what Heaven should be like.  Even the various mechanical issues -- my skippy chain, a stubborn rear tire leak, SuperTim's chain snapped by the enormous torque of his legs -- encountered by the group failed to dampen the mood.  Every rider seemed able to laugh at his (and his bike's) difficulties.  Mostly, anyway.  I was secretly rather embarrassed by my own climbing performance, so I whined about my mechanical issues rather more than is usual for me.

During one of our intermittent pauses-to-regroup, hungry but frustrated with Planter's tasty-but-unsatisfying Nut-rition bars and attempting to conserve some beef chunks, I remembered suddenly that I'd packed pizza rolls (imagine something like a calzone, only long and skinny, and you've about got it: I made them on Saturday night).  I wolfed one down, felt a million times better, and rolled on fat and happy (just like my tires).

The final two gravel stretches were the most difficult, though both were flat.  The gravel in question was of a scale that simply didn't play nicely with bikes -- it was loose and tended to roll, creating very unstable footing for the bikes.  The second-to-last segment, in particular, was enough even to cause me to whine about my backside, which is the one part of me I almost never find occasion to whine about (I also whined about my knees on this ride, mostly because I found it surprising that they hurt as much as they did on the climbs -- I think I might need to adjust the C'dale's fit).  The last wasn't nearly as bad -- that, or else I had gone numb --  especially since it involved a metal bridge crossing which I declared to be a 'massage feature,' though it was still quite rough.

Soon we were in the home stretch.  After a last quick break to regroup, we parted ways with the rider who'd joined us en route, then headed for the barn.  Tim and one of the fellows from Denver set up a good pace; I chased them over the rollers, sometimes bridging up, sometimes lagging behind (particularly when a solid effort resulted in a skipping chain and lost momentum -- man, mountain bikes can lose momentum fast rolling uphill!).  One of the other riders was experiencing leg cramps, so Apertome and our sixth man stayed back to keep him company.

After one last good climb (nothing compared to the monster climbs mid-ride, of course), we were treated to a long descent that led us into Apertome's neighborhood.  One of the fellows who had been behind me -- the semi-local guy on the Specialized Tricross -- caught up with me, and we rolled it in together.  He wished me luck this coming 'cross season.  I'll need it!

Mrs. Apertome brought out a selection of beers, along with the makings of a great lunch.  I quite enjoyed the Dragonfly IPA, though I learned that I am even more of a lightweight when I've just returned from a good fifty miler.  I chased it with a bunch of water, delicious pasta salad, salty potato chips (hooray for salt!), and a turkey sandwich, but still felt tipsy as Tim and I loaded the bikes and prepared to head out (technically, Tim loaded the bikes; I think his bike rack is nifty, but figured he is more familiar with it than I am ^-^).

On the way home, I also ate the rest of my beef chunks.  I am going to have to remember them for long rides from now on -- they're not quite as dry and salty as jerky, so they're easier to eat, but they're still salty enough to satisfy the inevitable salt-craving.  After Tim dropped me back at the third street Thornton's, I spun home leisurely (thought about a Rite-Aid stop, but decided against it).  As Tim said, it was nice to finish a ride with a good ten more miles at least left in the old legs, as opposed to finishing ten miles after the legs were done :)

At home, I hosed off the day's sweat and grit -- and came to the realization that there's nothing wrong with planning my racing schedule around spring and fall, the seasons during which my asthma is most manageable.  Then I killed off my pizza rolls for dinner without even bothering to reheat them (they're just fine cold, or lukewarm after a day in the ol' Camelbak pocket).  I also ate some of the sausage-and-onions that DD had fried up.  Then I curled up on the couch with DD and watched movies for a bit.

At that point, I crawled into bed, read until I couldn't even have even propped my eyes open, and fell into a blissful slumber around 10:30.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I dreamed about bikes (also tornadoes in a different dream entirely, but mostly bikes).

In summary: Sunday could only have been better if there had been an ocean involved and if DD had been up to coming on the ride (he's not there yet, but if he keeps riding, he'll get there).  As it was, it was still a phenomenal day.  I know I say this every time I go on one, but this was the best ride I've had all year ... which, come to think of it, is really saying something, since I was riding a mountain bike that I don't even own instead of one of my beloved road bikes!

To some extent, I am still getting to know the C'dale, so I rode rather more cautiously than I might otherwise have done.  HeadShocks are actually pretty cool, but definitely impact handling in an interesting way.  I also didn't learn until I was riding home from the gas-station that I could lock out its front shock simply by turning a little dial at the top (it's one of those old-fashioned 'HeadShock' models).  That intel would've been useful on the long paved climbs, since I realized en route home, after discovering the dial, that the action of the shock absorbs a surprising amount of the rider's effort and locking it out makes all the difference in the world (skinnier tires running at slightly higher pressure would've helped, too).

Serious training for 'cross begins this week, and next Saturday I'm hoping to roll out with LBC's 100k populaire.  Barring the emergence of plans-I've-forgotten-about (DD is our household social director), it will be my first brevet, so I'm hoping to make it.

During the past few weeks, when I haven't been posting much, I've been thinking a lot about where I want to go with my bike habit.  Those thoughts have now gelled into a set of goals:

  1. Get out on more sociable group rides!
  2. Orient race training towards 'cross in the Fall and road in the spring, and let summer just be summer.
  3. Climb bigger hills more often.
  4. Ride off road (and on gravel roads) more often.
The third of these goals is the result of my discovery that I absolutely love rollers, but am not doing as well on the really long climbs as I'd like to be.  As such, I'm planning to work some Iroquois repeats into my training schedule and get out in the Lime Kiln area more often.  Since I don't really like riding alone in that stretch (curvy roads with poor visibility and speeding drivers make me a little nervous in that neck of the woods), I hope to set something up with a regular ride partner or get into some established group rides that go there anyway.

I think I will also get in the habit of riding hill repeats in Cherokee Park, though neither Cherokee nor Iroquois involves a long enough climb to be too much of a challenge.

As for that last goal: I've discovered that I really enjoy riding flowy singletrack, and that gravel is fun in its own unique way.  Heretofore, I've done a fair bit of grass riding, a bit of singletrack, and a lot of riding on cobbles (I like to find routes that take me through Louisville's cobbled alleys and backroads), but I've mostly avoided gravel because I'm a bit afraid of it.  Well, the best way to overcome a fear is to face it, right?  So I'm going to hunt for some gravel and ride the bejeezus out of it.

I've decided that I can get a bit more 'serious,' if you will, about training for racing without losing my grip on the fact that I ride bikes for fun.  My racing goals will remain as they stand -- in cross, finish better; in MTB racing, finish at all (LOL); in road racing, start (in the spring).

Meanwhile, here's how this week's riding plans look:

Rest day.  Maybe no riding, maybe just a little road ride.


9:45 Rocky's Bust Your Gut Ride
1:30 LAB class (some riding involved?)

Hill repeats (Iroquois?).

Road LSD* (50 miles), possibly LBC Louisville Loop 50

Intervals, assuming Hg is ready to go.

Road LSD -- LBC Poplaire (100k).  This shouldn't be a particularly high-effort ride.

Rest day.

Next week I hope to have a more formal training plan on my hands!  Meanwhile, all baking activities will be shifted to the early morning hours, before the day gets really hot, so the house has time to cool off before DD gets home from work.

*That's Long Steady Distance.  That, or else Lovely, Salty Doritos.  You make the call!


  1. Fantastic writeup. I loved the paragraph about the vinca and such.

    I didn't think you complained very much about your bike, actually, given how much trouble it was giving you. I thought you were a good sport about it, and you seemed to do fine on the climbs, when your bike wasn't acting up.

    I was descending very timidly on gravel that day too. A couple of incidents have made me extra, overly cautious.

    I'm so glad you could join us, and that you enjoyed the ride so much. It was very gratifying for me to get to show off my home turf, and spend all day on bikes with friends. And even moreso to see that everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did.

  2. Thanks and thanks! The forest with its carpet of vinca will, I think, remain one of my favorite memories.

    Bloomington and its surrounds are absolutely lovely. I'm also glad I wasn't complaining as much as I thought :D

    Thanks again for inviting me!

  3. It was great to meet you and ride with you. I wished I would have known about the starting on a steep hill maneuver - I stopped part way up one of the steep hills on gravel and had a devil of a time getting going again.

    Good luck on your training. I predict you'll really enjoy the populaire - open roads with good folks.

  4. Thanks! It was great meeting and riding with you, as well. It certainly took me several attempts to figure out the best way to get going on a steep climb, so perhaps I should be grateful that my bike was having issues :D If you happen to have occasion to try it some time, let me know if it works for you. For me, it seemed much more efficient than just hopping on and trying to muscle straight up, especially since the bike didn't want to do that.

    BTW, I absolutely love the handlebar shot on your blog header! Also, so far, yours is the only shot of the gate to the Buddhist center -- very nice!