Monthly Archives: June 2016

Two Rivers Century 2016

Today’s ride: The Two Rivers Century is put on by the Wye River Upper School from Centreville, MD. The rivers are the Chester and the Corsica, and this ride has a lot going for it apart from the rivers. While the eastern shore of Maryland is not known for it’s hills, this ride actually finds a surprising amount of rolling terrain, making it one of the more interesting rides on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay. There may be no difficult climbs, but this ride has enough variety to keep it interesting. I didn’t need the small chainring when I rode it, but while it isn’t hilly, it may surprise riders who don’t expect any climbs. Since it is run in late June, there is always the chance that the ride will be hot, so hydration is always a serious consideration. Two Rivers  has a metric century option that would make a good training opportunity for later season rides, and the scenery is a mix of Eastern shore wildlife, farmland, small rivers, parks and beaches. Expect to see a variety of birds. (On the way to the ride, I saw an Osprey with a fish in it’s talons fly over the highway. This is not uncommon on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.) The routes are very well marked, including both painted arrows and signs planted at turning points along the route. This makes Two Rivers a difficult ride to get lost on. One nice feature of this ride is that by the end of it, the rest stops come more frequently. While you can always skip them if you choose to, water stops can be a godsend when it’s hot.

The Experience: This year the Two Rivers Century had excellent conditions. The morning was overcast but clearing; the day was hot but not humid, and while many of my friends didn’t ride it due to other commitments, I still had Ron and Stephanie to ride with. Ron had decided to ride this as the first of back to back centuries, and he planned to stay in the area and ride the “Bay to Bay” century the following day. I was less ambitious, and chose Two Rivers that weekend as my only event. Since the three of us are early risers, and since Centreville is relatively close to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we were able to arrive early. We set up, got our numbers, and got on the road before 7:00 am, mostly so that we could get more of the ride in before it got hot, and partly to avoid crowds. I set out in front, but my pace was a little ambitious for a man who had to ride another century the following day and a woman riding her second century. I sat up a little and we settled into a comfortable pace that ate up miles without eating up the legs. We were remarkably consistent in holding that pace, which is important to riding long distances.  Riders who surge or ride inconsistently tend to wear out. Our constant companion in the first 25 miles was the wind, but it was still cool and we knew that a weather system was coming through. I thought the wind actually decreased a little as we rode on, but we noticed it most at the start. We got to the first stop at Crumpton Park fairly early, having emptied our bottles. We were all drinking steadily as we rode, which is another good idea for riding long distances. We arrived at Betterton Beach on the Chesapeake Bay at 10:30. This stop is at the 42 mile mark, and the sun was out by then. We added ice to our water bottles before we set out again, into the farmland of Kent County Maryland. This section didn’t have much shade, but we kept drinking and held our pace as we crossed over Rte 301 into Millington. The rest stop at 62 miles was the local sporting club – the sportsmen were shooting clay pigeons – and I found myself distracted by greeting the German Shepherd Dog that belonged to one of the volunteers. This reminder of my childhood aside, we had to deal with the heat by this time, though thankfully is wasn’t too humid.  We were coming into a more shaded part of the ride, and that had it’s value to us as well. By this time, the Century and Metric rides had rejoined, so we saw more riders on the course.  We filled up at a water stop at 74 miles, and rolled into Tuckahoe Park at 86 miles with Ron having actually increased our pace slightly to get some separation from other riders. (Note: if you want to join a group of riders you don’t know, ask them if you can join them before you do. It’s polite. Otherwise drafting people you don’t know is both dangerous and annoying to those people whom you’re drafting. In short, if you don’t have friends to ride with, make some on the ride by talking. Drafting without asking is rude.) The final leg of the ride back to Centrerville was warm, but knowing we were on the last leg of our century kept us on pace. The prospect of the post ride beer and the enjoyment of an excellent day lifted our moods as we arrived at the finish at the Centreville town square. We collected our shirts and headed to the Crab Deck on Kent Island to celebrate.  This was a great day and a nearly flawless ride. The only thing that could have improved it was more friends to share it with.

Selections from my mental iPod during the ride: “Cry Love” by John Hiatt, “Political” by Spirit of the West, and “Boots or Hearts” by The Tragically Hip.

Stats: 100.12 Miles ridden, the way century rides should be – consistent and enjoyable.

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At Betterton Beach, 42 miles in. Ron needs a beer. Is that why he isn’t smiling?

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Tuckahoe State Park at Mile 86 – Closer to beer. Ron is threatening to crack a smile…

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Post ride. Not much of a smile from Ron, but we’re all satisfied after a great ride!

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Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride 2016

Today’s ride: The Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride is a metric century put on by the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club. It starts in Croom Maryland and runs through parkland and farms along the Patuxent River.  We lovingly refer to this ride as “Pax Legacy” or simply “Pax”, since my friends and I will seldom miss the opportunity to ride it.  It’s well supported, well run, and scenic. While it’s known as a hot weather ride, much of the course is shaded, and this is the kind of event that we are all happy to support.  Ride distances include the full metric century at approximately 64 miles, a 44 mile option, a 35 mile option, and a 22 mile option. All of the options include a stop at the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary. Regardless of distance, this is a ride that requires hydration, but it is very well supported and extremely enjoyable. The Oxon Hill Bike Club holds a picnic afterward. Riders are well looked after at this event.

The Experience: As usual, my team and I were among the first to arrive. The forecast called for a hot, and humid day, and we intended to get going by 7:00 to get as far into the ride as possible before the heat of the day.  Rita had a little mechanical trouble, and needed some brake adjustments, but we got going at 7:15 while the majority of riders were still on their way to the start. Seven of us were out on the road – Myself, Ron, Rita, Stephanie, Eric, Carol and John – most of the usual suspects I ride with -though we had a lot of friends and acquaintences on the road that day. While I had a good ride, I was feeling the heat and managed to be consistent despite not feeling like I was at my best. The first section was just over 20 miles to Magruder’s Landing on the Patuxent. We set a comfortable pace, and I settled into the ride. John and Carol had gone ahead, but we met them at the first stop, and managed to get going again just as the area started to get a good crowd of riders coming in. The ride rolls, particularly on the Metric course, and the section between Magruder’s Landing and Eagle Harbor had some good climbs, but I rode them well and kept drinking – the secret to riding in the heat. Eagle Harbor is past the halfway point of the ride, but coming out involves a climb out above the river. The next stop was the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, 18 miles from Eagle Harbor. By this time Rita was concerned about her bike and the group splintered on the hills. John and Eric got to the front, and I was behind them, just in sight. Behind me were Ron and Stephanie, and Carol was grinding her way up the hill behind them. With about 5 miles to go until Merkle, Eric had ridden ahead, John had waited for Carol, and I found myself riding alone. I waited for Ron and Stephanie and the three of us rode to the rest stop together. We would all gather and leave Merkle together. As we rode in, I encountered the son of a friend from Arlington, VA. Rad was riding well, and had dropped his parents. He joined us for refreshments, but left to finish before us. By the time we got in, Eric had left, but we knew where he would be when we got back to the start. We had the chance to meet Merkle’s resident owl, and  pulled together to finish.  We ended up splitting into pairs on the climb out of Merkle – I found myself in front with Stephanie, Ron and Rita rode together, and John and Carol did the same. The finish was at a low point, so the final 3 miles were mostly downhill. We cruised to the finish and all gathered to celebrate in the shade. We’d earned our beer that day!

Selections from my mental iPod during the ride: “Not Only Numb” by The Gin Blossoms, “Letter to Elise” by The Cure, and “Ants Marching” by The Dave Matthews Band.

Stats: 63.61 Miles ridden, at a fairly strong and consistent pace despite the heat.

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The crew on the dock at Magruder’s Landing – Stephanie, Eric, Rita, Myself, Carol, Ron and John.

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Beating the Heat at Eagle Harbor, just over halfway though the ride. Stephanie gets the photo credit!

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We met up with this Screech Owl at the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary again this year. She didn’t seem to be bothered by all the attention she was getting from the bike riders.

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Despite her diminutive size, this owl is a full grown adult.

SMECO 75 – 2016

Today’s ride: The SMECO 75 is a rolling ride in Southern Maryland. It’s sponsored by the Southern Maryland Electric Company, thus the unusual name. It’s an “in-between” distance, not the typical Metric or English Century distance of 63 or 100 miles, but that in itself is a novelty. The roads are generally good; there are some climbs to deal with, but they’re not long or particularly steep, and the ride is very well supported.  While the ride tends to fall on hot days, since it’s held on the first weekend in June, SMECO doesn’t make you wait too long for water. There are plenty of stops. This ride gives away a lot of little gifts with your registration, including a drawstring bag and a stylish water bottle – not the kind you take on your bike, but the kind you’d see at the gym or keep at your desk at work. The ride also goes through Southern Maryland’s Amish community, so you might see the occasional horse and buggy on the roads.

The Experience: In keeping with 2016’s weather pattern, this ride held out the threat of rain. My friends and I decided to leave by 7:30 to reduce the chance of being rained on.  It was foggy and humid, but not warm at the start. Experience warned me to stay hydrated and hold on to some energy for the end of the ride. I was in a pensive mood, in contrast with the ebullient Eric, who finds delight in any gathering. We were joined by John, Carol, Tony, Ron and Denise T, who was riding her new Cervelo S-5 dream bike. We rode out into a lifting fog. While the temperature was comfortable, the roads were damp in areas that would normally be shaded, so we had to be careful when riding downhill. Conditions didn’t favor seeing every obstacle. One memorable feature of this ride is a short, steep climb just before the first rest stop. This year the ride route took the same hill from a different direction, which made it a longer, easier climb, though still a significant effort. For some, this might be a good feature, but part of me wanted to feel the strain, to breathe hard and work my way up that steep climb. As it was, we still had a climb, but the flavor was a little different. It didn’t detract from our enjoyment. As the ride went on, the weather never changed. It was cloudy and humid, but the rain didn’t arrive. With the exception of a bee sting on Carol’s shoulder, which was tended with care at the final rest stop, there were no challenges to us; the heat stayed manageable, and the ride was thoroughly enjoyable. 75 miles is an odd distance. Like a metric century, it doesn’t reach very far into your reserves. 100 miles is always a test, but 75 is more manageable if conditions are good.  Without the usual heat, this year the SMECO 75 seemed more tame. That suited me just fine!

Selections from my mental iPod during the ride: “My Ever Changing Moods” by The Style Council, “Soothe Me” by Sam & Dave, and “Stone Cold Sober” by Del Amitri.

Stats: 74.85 Miles ridden, well within the margin of error for my bicycle computer. I decided not to circle the parking lot just to make up the distance number. Some days close is just fine.

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The rogues gallery for SMECO 2016 – Eric, Denise, Myself (hiding at the back) Carol, John, Tony and Ron at the first rest stop.

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Holding up a wall at the third rest stop.

In Defense of Bad Coffee

I admit this freely – I’m a connoisseur of bad coffee. Something about bad coffee stirs my imagination. Something in the stinging shock and realization implied in the phrase “Dear GOD, what am I drinking!?” speaks to the awesome power of bad coffee, particularly when it’s a phrase that you’ve repeated many times over the course of your life. I’ve had so much bad coffee that I’ve begun to appreciate it.  Make no mistake, I’ve had good coffee too. I appreciate good coffee, but there is something about bad coffee that fires the imagination at the same time that it assaults your taste buds. There is an entire culture built around bad coffee, and in response, the clamor for good coffee has created marketing opportunities as well. However, these are entirely different things, and without bad coffee, there would be no market for good coffee.  I think a celebration of bad coffee is long overdue. In this fast paced, overworked, sleep deprived culture that we live in, bad coffee keeps society moving.

We all know what good coffee is. Good coffee is an experience. You seek it out with delight. It can be made at home, according to your own exacting standards. It can also be made by highly skilled and cheerful young men and women whose skill turns a bitter caffeinated beverage into something sublime. Good coffee is a subtle balance of factors and flavors, lovingly blended into a taste worthy of calling an “experience”.  It has taste, presentation, and even anticipation going for it. Good coffee takes TIME. When you have good coffee, the world awakens around you. You don’t mind waiting for good coffee. Or paying a higher price for it. Good coffee is the stuff of dreams.

So let us ignore good coffee and extoll the virtues of bad coffee. Now I know that there are people who will tell you that there are no virtues associated with bad coffee – but I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. Bad coffee does have virtue, you simply need to be in the right frame of mind to recognize it. The universal truth about bad coffee is that bad coffee is cheap, simple to brew, available immediately when you need it, is hot, distracts you from dealing with other problems, and best of all, will keep you alert and functional.  Bad coffee has drawbacks, and most people can name one or two without thinking too much, but bad coffee serves a purpose. In many ways, it’s like a bad drug.  You know the long term effects are dangerous, but you don’t particularly care about that when your need is prodding you RIGHT NOW.  Bad coffee isn’t inspiring.  It won’t move you. It will get you moving though.  That can be a virtue.

Bad coffee can be found almost anywhere.  Convenience stores, gas stations, diners, the continental breakfast at affordable hotels, and even in some places where drinking bad coffee is counter intuitive, such as most kinds of waiting rooms. It is supplied in many businesses as a courtesy to the employees, and is always the kind of coffee dispensed from public vending machines. You cannot get good coffee from a public vending machine. It simply isn’t possible, for reasons that will become apparent as we explore the topic.

It is widely known that bad coffee, shared among friends in the right conditions, doesn’t actually feel like it’s BAD.  Particularly if you don’t know the difference between a really good cup of coffee and a bad one. However, the key point in this situation is that the focus is on the friends and conditions, which distracts the drinker from the realization that the coffee is in fact bad.  This might be the only time when bad coffee and good coffee have overlapping experiences.  However, the realities of bad coffee will always apply – it is hot, cheap, simple and immediate.  Bad coffee can be sophistication for people who lack the time and resources to be truly sophisticated.  That is a wonderful thing, and I applaud it.

Putting that aside, bad coffee can be defined as a virtual need. Bad coffee does not require context like good coffee does. Bad coffee hits you like a lead pipe to the back of your head and makes you alert. Bad coffee transitions you from a sleep deprived, fatigued and potentially dangerous individual to a functional individual. (Though perhaps with a few uncontrollable tics or twitches that are usually just harmless side effects. Your experience may vary.)

Good coffee requires care in preparation.  Bad coffee just seems to happen to you.  It is prepared quickly, often in large quantities. You can add sugar or milk or creamer to it.  Often the creamer is powdered. Usually that doesn’t matter though.  The intent of bad coffee additives is not necessarily to add flavors; in fact many purveyors of bad coffee provide flavored creamer for just that reason, but that isn’t important. Bad coffee additives are there to make bad coffee drinkable to each individual. Bad coffee is dangerous in its unaltered form. Even decaf.  Most people use these taste buffering additives to personalize the cruel shock that they’re actually looking for when they seek out bad coffee. It is sometimes offered in a way that gives you choices other than simply regular or decaf, but in the end no matter what flavors are bound up in the beans and the brewing, no matter where bad coffee is sourced from, the effect is the same, because the process of delivering it to the consumer is similar.  Coffee that is delivered with care is done where maintenance and care actually HAPPEN.  Not so with bad coffee.  Speed requires shortcuts.  Cleaning drip baskets or carafes takes time. Time that isn’t available to the consumer of bad coffee, and to keep up with demand, the tar buildup in bad coffee delivery systems is often extreme. This is why you can’t get good coffee from a public vending machine.  Bad coffee is quick. It includes various things that won’t be delivered with good coffee due to speed, including whatever falls from the beard of the guy preparing it into the filter before the coffee is brewed.  Bad coffee is not for the weak.

Bad coffee is certainly corrosive to the digestive tract, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were found to be corrosive to everything else as well. Most bad coffee comes in paper or Styrofoam cups for convenience. (Remember –cheap, fast and hot are the benefits.) When cooled, bad coffee will leave a ring of sludge in the cup. (Probably in your esophagus as well.) This leads me to believe that in time, bad coffee would dissolve a paper cup. This is why it is stored in more durable containers that are highly corrosion resistant, such as ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Thankfully the benefit of bad coffee is such that you’ll finish the coffee before the coffee can destroy a paper cup.

What bad coffee will do for you is get you moving when nothing else will.  It will keep you alert when you need to be alert. It will do so quickly and cheaply. Who could ask for more?  I have a variety of ratings for bad coffee, from the highly rated selections in the unfortunately named Wawa convenience stores, to the extremely bad offerings in waiting areas at tire shops.  They’re all bad, but they all fill a need.

So the next time you finish a cup of coffee, purchased in haste, which renewed your will to live while mugging your taste buds and scouring your esophagus, and think “what an awful cup of coffee” please remember to smile.  That bad coffee just did exactly what it was intended to do. Don’t forget to appreciate it.

Storming of Thunder Ridge 2016

Today’s ride: Storming of Thunder Ridge is a challenge ride out of Lynchburg, Virginia. There are several distances to ride, including 100 miles, 75 miles, 45 miles and 21 miles. The two longest rides climb the Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Thunder Ridge.  This is a 13 mile climb, with a rest stop after 7 miles of climbing. The reality of climbing 13 miles is that you’re literally climbing for over 2 hours. The remainder of the ride includes descents off the ridge and some rolling terrain with short, sharp climbs.  It is a good ride that is well supported. If you want to climb, or challenge yourself, Storming Thunder Ridge is an excellent ride, and an experience that you shouldn’t miss.

The Experience: This year was cool and damp. It had an effect on me, and as we got started, it was quite cold for Mid-May, and the forecast called for rain. The first 25 miles before the climb were rolling, and made an excellent warm up for the big climb ahead. At the base of the climb, it was cold, and rain began. I was climbing steadily, but I was feeling some pain in my achilles tendon. At the midway point, I was hurting, but I was determined to make it to the top.  By the top, I was in pain. Coming down while in pain would not have been safe, and having gotten to the top, I felt that it was wise to end my ride there.  I rode with friends the entire way up, but there was no safe way down.  I got a ride back to the start. It was difficult, but I made the climb, and I can always hope that next year will be warmer.  It took several days to rid myself of the pain, but the experience of that climb was important. It’s what I came for, and I got it.

Selections from my mental iPod during the ride: “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Stats: 38 Miles ridden, with a major climb. A hard day, but a good experience.

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At the top of the Ridge. Left to right – Rita Spence, Ron Tripp, and Myself.