Category Archives: Front Page

A Fighter Kite Break

Earlier this month, before  the world went mad for the Covid-19 scare, I took some time to fly a kite. It’s something I should do far more often. I flew the kite shown below, which I designed and built myself. There are times when the only thing to do is fly a kite.

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While I have a video of the event, I need an upgrade to my site before I show it, but there are times when taking a brief break to fly a kite will clear your mind nicely.

The kite is based on an Indian Fighter Kite. The sail is Orcon, cut on the bias, and unlike a paper Indian kite the entire sail is a single sheet, with .03 graphite battens supporting the tail and meeting the spine just above the lower bridle point. The spine is bamboo, the bow is a .06 graphite rod, and I use a 3-point bridle. It flies beautifully. When I get a little more time, I’ll post a plan!

Motivation, Training, and Touchstones

As I write this it is late February.  The weather is starting to get a little better, and Daylight Savings Time is starting soon. After a long, dark and cold winter that left me working out indoors, I’m ready to get back on the roads.  At this time of year, motivation is easy. Everyone looks forward to the first warm days of spring. What they don’t think about is actually training.

I’m a recreational rider, not a racer. So why should I mention training? What do I have to train for? The answer to those questions is my motivation, and for years I’ve been building motivation into my calendar in the form of events. Most are fairly close to me, but I make a point of trying to get outside of my home region for at least one event a year. This year I will ride the Maine Lighthouse Ride in Portland Maine again, and before that event I will spend a few days riding in Nova Scotia, Canada. (It seems that most of my vacations involve exercise.) In any case, an event such as a century ride on your calendar will focus and motivate you like nothing else will. One thing to remember about events is that you’ll see all kinds of people with all kinds of bodies riding them. It’s an approachable goal for average people. Perfection isn’t the goal, improvement is!

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At the finish of one of my favorite events, the Seagull Century, with my friend John Summer. 

My first event of 2020 will be the Six Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland in early May, but I ride events throughout the year from May to October. If you set a goal, you keep your incentive to ride. The advantage of events is that they can be found just about everywhere, and they usually include some shorter distance rides that you can use to prepare for a longer event later in the season.

I ride several Century (100 mile) rides a year, but I’m not quite typical. The typical recreational rider might ride a local charity or club event, but centuries are a big test for the average rider. If you’re ready to try a century, I think the best time to ride your first century is the autumn, in late September or early October. That way you can train for months in the warm weather and schedule some test events over the summer to see how your training is coming along. Also the weather is warm but shouldn’t be oppressive.

I neither have nor use a training plan. If you want a specific century training plan, they are easy to find on the internet. I prefer to use the Eddy Merckx “ride lots” method. I get my miles in for a couple of months before I ride my first century.  This has worked well for me because I ride longer rides on the weekends with my friends or my local cycling club. I also have a lot of experience. Since my first Century ride in 2006, I have ridden over 100 century rides. For many years I was riding 10 century rides per year. Lately I’ve come down to 6 or 7 century rides a year. Often I’ll ride a particular event every year.  I’ve found many events that I enjoy so much that I won’t miss them without a good reason. Important note: I do all this without being “slim”. You don’t have to be some kind of ideal body type to be fit. You just need to be motivated.

The Metric Century – 100 KM or 62 miles – is a great intermediate distance. Riding a Metric is a great way to test yourself before you attempt a full century. It can teach you the kind of pacing you need for a full century, and it also gets you accustomed to making rest stops, hydrating and eating enough to complete a century later in the year. You can’t ride 100 miles without eating something to keep your energy up. You need to stay hydrated. I have also noticed that people often get nervous about their upcoming “goal” event, but having a little practice and experience relieves some of that anxiety.

If you’re already a century rider, a metric is a great distance. It’s long enough to be a challenge but doesn’t drain you like a century can. Normally a century rider will have to push through a “wall” between 70 and 80 miles, and a metric puts you on the edge of that wall without having to push past it.

I couldn’t write about training without mentioning of one of my favorite things – a touchstone for me – the humble 40 mile training ride.  To me, 40 miles is the line that separates a satisfying training ride from a short ride.  39 miles is too short, but 40 miles is just about right. It’s an attitude, not something that can be measured objectively. It is a motivational waypoint.

To me, a good training ride can be hilly or flat, but the most important thing is that you ride at least 40. I recommend longer rides as well, as progress toward your goal, but that 40 mile ride stands as the difference between making progress and not doing quite enough. If you’re not riding quickly, or you’re on a hilly course, most riders can go 40 miles with 3 hours of saddle time or less. Most riders can also go 40 miles on back to back days without feeling exhausted. If you’re cramped for time it gives you a workout to be proud of and still manage other priorities in your life. It’s 2/5 of a century ride – it’s a few hours to clear your mind and enjoy the scenery. It’s real training! You can work up to riding 40 miles in a few weeks’ time. Once you can ride it comfortably, 40 mile rides will keep your conditioning up.

I go back to the 40-45 mile distance often when I’m busy, and throughout the year to maintain fitness. If you haven’t ridden 40 miles, you can work up to it, but that number is magical. It’s enough to get you ready for the metric distance if you can ride it comfortably. You can get an early start in summer and complete 40 miles before the day gets too hot. If your motivation is at a low ebb, a 40 mile ride will keep you on track or put you back on course to your goal.

I recommend adding an event to the calendar now, while the motivation to get out and exercise is strong. Look up local events, and put your motivation on your calendar!

 

“Steel is Real” and other opinions about Bicycle frame materials

I ride a steel road bike, and I love it. I love the mix of classic looks and modern components on it. I love the way the bike feels on the road. To me, there is no doubt that steel is real. I’m not a purist or a traditionalist or even a snob about my bikes. Yet like every other rider, I have opinions. My steel Wilier is much different than my carbon fiber Orbea or my aluminum Cannondale. My other bikes are every bit as real as my Wilier. A rational argument can be made that how a bike feels has more to do with things like frame angles or tire pressure than any mystical property of the frame material.

That argument is valid.  Steel has many great qualities, but it is generally a heavier material than carbon and aluminum. In cycling, weight matters. Lighter is better as a rule, and if you’re a racer, or an engineer, or even most club riders, steel isn’t likely to be your first choice. At this point, the racer’s choice is Carbon Fiber. Carbon is the “go-to” material for bikes, so much so that often riders overlook the strengths of other materials.

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Steel is Real. This bike is my pride and joy.

Yet, steel IS real. It is undeniable. the material is the classic definition of “elastic” in that it will return to it’s shape readily if it flexes – and it is very good at soaking up vibration from the road. It can be custom built to anyone; a builder can mix different grades of steel tubes to create a masterpiece of fit and function that any rider can appreciate at any speed. My fit metrics are fairly generic, but I appreciate the feel of that steel bike. My bike is made of Columbus SL tubing using lugged construction, hand crafted by a master frame builder in Italy. It is a classic bicycle with modern drive components. The joy of riding it and the joy of looking at it are pleasures that never fade. What makes it so perfect for me is that my riding is for the soul, not the stopwatch.  It delights a part of me that cold and analytical engineering cannot see.

Aluminum frames have a reputation for being a harsh ride. That might have been true when they were introduced, but no longer. Riding my CAAD 12 has been a revelation. That bike is far from harsh, and at this writing Cannondale has updated to the CAAD 13, which takes Aluminum frame building to another level, if the marketing is to be believed. My CAAD 12 is a smooth and accurate and connected ride. If the CAAD 13 is improved, the result must be outstanding, and they would certainly end any suggestion that Aluminum bikes are harsh riding!

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“Real” aluminum. Performance and excellence that many overlook. I suspect that the next generation of Cannondale aluminum masterpieces could be even more “real”.

Carbon frames are anything an engineer can dream of. There is an almost infinite variety of carbon frames with different layups providing different “feel” on the roads, and any rider can be forgiven for thinking that riding a bike made of this miraculous material is the very best they can do.  At the high end, just about any carbon bike is a well designed blend of form and function that has been tuned to do specific things very well, such as time trials or climbing mountains.  I can’t fault anyone for wanting that.

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Carbon Fiber – the look and the feel of the modern road bike. Real in it’s own way, and even though I’ve moved away from the material, carbon’s properties make it ideal for a bike frame, and it’s appeal is universal.

I started riding a road bike seriously in 2005 when I joined my local bike club and used the bike as therapy as I worked through some problems and made some changes. In those years I’ve had many bikes. I started with an Aluminum Felt – it was light to me, and it expanded my cycling horizons. Then a Carbon Orbea Onix – a bike that was quick and responsive – the frame angles made it almost too twitchy, and yet it taught me things about bike handling that I still use. I went back to Aluminum with my CAAD 12 – a bike that easily outperformed the carbon options I had that were usually more expensive and were often just as heavy, and the CAAD 12 had a precision and ride that I  have to rave about. It is an exceptional bike.  Then I got my passion project, the steel Wilier, and it was both a nod to the steel racers of my childhood years and classic good looks while giving me a beautiful ride that no other bike has equalled. It is a bike to love. It is “real” in every way that matters.

For me, “Steel is real”.  That doesn’t mean that other materials aren’t, and many other kinds are best for other riders. I’ve fallen for the look and the feel and the tradition of it. “Real” for me may not be real to you, but once you’re turning the cranks, “Real” is the cycling experience, regardless of the frame you’re on.

Sprinting in Place

Indoor training is one of my least favorite things to do.

Yet I do it.

I think of warm days outdoors, or just about anything that will distract me from the monotony of sprinting in place.

It’s a great thing to do to keep you moving though, and it makes a big difference in the spring when you’re ready to ride outside again. I haven’t gone with a high tech trainer yet, and I haven’t tried training tools like Zwift, but even though I don’t always enjoy it, sprinting in place is worth doing as you wait for longer and warmer days in spring.

So I spin away, dreaming of better days to come.

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My Orbea on the trainer

My experience with the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, the Strava application, and a little personal history…

 

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The Cateye Strada on the left, and the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt on the right. 

A bike computer is a curious device for a number of reasons. It’s a training tool, a source of information when riding, and as I’ve often said, a taskmaster.  When I was a child, I didn’t need one.  A few years ago life put me in a difficult place. I was recently divorced and I was hurting.  I had moved back to my old college stomping grounds in the Washington DC area to start over, and I knew that if I didn’t find something to keep me busy, I was going to slide into depression.  Depression wasn’t a matter of if, but when. I loved cycling and reached out to an old friend to get some advice. As a result, I got involved in my local cycling club, and I got some good gear recommendations, including this: buy a computer.

A little background…

At the time, the GPS computer was in it’s infancy, a large and curious device that was expensive and even a bit exotic. I didn’t even consider one. What little research I did led me at first to a wired Cateye Enduro model. It had more functions than I actually used, but it was reliable. It looked awful with a wire wrapped around my brake cable and down the fork, but at the time, (2005) that seemed to be fairly common. It wasn’t long before I went wireless though, buying another Cateye product – the Strada – that I liked so much I bought one for my Orbea Onyx in 2010 and my Cannondale CAAD 12 in 2015.  These were simple things that did everything I needed.  They told me my speed, and the distance I’d gone, average speed, the time I’d spent moving, the maximum speed on my rides, and it included an odometer that was really only of use since the last battery replacement. It had all I needed to follow the average que sheet – the ride directions on paper that I clipped to my bars or stem.  Information storage was a notebook. I wasn’t as accurate as I could have been, and my yearly mileage totals were only approximate, but they were fine.  I didn’t feel the need to spend money to get the latest and greatest.  I have an unusual facility for remembering routes. It is very hard for me to get lost in a place I’ve already been. Given this innate gift of navigation, I never felt the need to get more from a bike computer.  I finally gave in to the GPS revolution when I started my passion project late last year. This season, most of my riding has been done with a GPS computer on my bars. I didn’t want everything available in a GPS, because I didn’t use everything I already had. My research led me to the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. I have heard people complain about it’s competitors, but never the Bolt. I’ve come to understand why. Now that I’ve had it for nearly a year, it’s time I wrote about my experience with this technology.

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

Apart from wanting to give Wahoo more examples of the letter “e” to use in their unit names, I found the Bolt to be an excellent computer. The most important thing is the unit’s ease of use.  Most of the controls are found on a smartphone app, and the buttons on the unit itself are easy to access, even when wearing gloves. The 2.2″ screen is black and white – which can be a bother to some, but I find it easy to read. The newer Wahoo units, such as their Roam, make limited use of color, and I think that’s a nice addition, but not strictly necessary. However, like most features of the modern GPS unit, familiarity with color on my computer might just change my mind. The screen has good contrast and the controls for backlighting the display are easy to find and use.
The on/off button is on the left side of the unit, the two buttons on the right side change the size of the information displayed on the unit to show more or less information, and also to scroll through menus.  The three buttons on the front allow access to other menus and features such as the mapping display.
At the top of the display is a row of LED lights that can be configured to alert you to various things. They show me if I’m riding above or below my average speed, and they flash if I’ve gone off course.  When you get back on course, the unit resumes the route seamlessly. I’ve found this through short cuts or route changes this year, and I could ignore the lights, knowing where I was.  Even so, I think this is an excellent feature if you’re riding somewhere you aren’t familiar with, and you wander off course.
The unit can display a map, which shows the route using arrows. The maps can be added to the unit according to where you live or travel, and they are updated automatically through the application.  I don’t use the map feature much, but I have found it easy to follow when I have.
What you choose to display is controllable from the companion app on your phone. If you have speed and cadence sensors, a heart rate monitor, or a power meter, all of those sensors can be connected via the app and displayed on the Bolt. The genius of the unit is the phone app. It lets you set what to display and in what order to display it. Rather than trying to find controls on the unit, most of the work is done on your smartphone, including pairing with the unit and sensors. Downloading routes is simple in the application, and synchronizing with the unit is easy, as is selecting a route. You can turn the unit on, ride where you like and save the route. The best part is that when you’re done riding, it automatically uploads your ride information to the apps you use, in my case Strava and Ride with GPS.  If you don’t have WiFi available when you finish, sync the unit with the Wahoo app when you get home, and your ride will be uploaded. Now Strava keeps my ride data, and I’ve come to like having all the data it collects.

Strava – catnip for competitive riders

Strava is an application that I have been aware of – and wary of – for years. Stories of people having accidents because they were chasing personal records or racing to be the fastest on a particular segment have been circulating for a long time. Ways to cheat Strava have popped up, and such stories kept me away from using a GPS and tracking ride data because I’m competitive by nature and I know that these aren’t things that I can ignore. I stepped over to the “dark side” though, and to my surprise, I’ve learned to stop worrying and love Strava. (Yes, that was a thinly veiled “Dr. Strangelove” reference.) Early on I chased segments and personal bests on local rides from home, but a funny thing happened after a few months – I stopped chasing personal bests. This isn’t to say I didn’t care. I will look at my feed after a ride to see how I did, particularly if I felt good or fast that day. But while I did start out by identifying segments where I thought I could go for a personal best when I started using Strava, after the novelty wore off, so did my desire to chase segments, or at least to pay attention to them and plan what to chase. On the usual routes that I ride on weekday evenings, I know where the segments are. If I’m feeling good, every so often I’ll go for a personal best, or at least sprint a segment to see what happens. More often I’ll look at a ride after it’s been uploaded and discover that I had a personal best that I hadn’t actually been trying for.

While I thought Strava would appeal to my competitive nature, what I found was that after years of riding without such data, I didn’t actually compete with myself over segments, and I use it to get a feel for my fitness level. I track miles, I look back over rides and show friends where I’ve gone.  I understand the drive to use Strava to compete with yourself and others. I thought that I would do that too, but I didn’t. I was tempted. I just found that I didn’t want to race. When I’m in the mood, I go for it, but I’ve taken a more practical approach than I thought I would. Strava is a tool, and how you use a tool is not the choice of the tool. So I’ve come to see Strava as a good way to keep information, while understanding how it gives competitive people an outlet for their drive. Maybe it’s an advantage of age – I’ve found Strava at the right time to avoid being obsessive about it.

Snapshots

I’m writing this in early November. It’s gotten colder, and my rides have become shorter and are limited by the shorter days. The last time I wrote here was months ago – and through a combination of being active and having had a lack of motivation to write, it’s been far too long since I’ve written an update.  This update will be a series of short updates, snapshots of the last few months of activity.

Comfort – The Indian Head 100

This year’s Indian Head 100 was like an old, familiar friend. Every Labor Day I ride it with friends, and I have never been disappointed in the experience. In fact, this year we made a new friend of a fellow who wanted to ride with us – a fellow from Virginia named Jim who seemed to fit in well with our riders. As always, Indian Head provided all the usual joys, and the day was fabulous. The sandwiches at the first rest stop remain the best rest stop food ever, the course was rolling and challenging in places, and as ever, the post ride brews tasted that much better for the effort.  I think as I get older and slower, I may ride fewer events, but this is a century that I want to keep riding as long as I’m able. When you find an event that gives you the kind of comfort and enjoyment that define the reasons you ride, you stay with it. I felt good and even though it was hot, I climbed well. I was satisfied with everything about that ride. It was another experience that I’d like to bottle and save to experience again.

Struggles – Amish Tour and Backroads Century

Much as I enjoy cycling, there will always be difficult rides, and two on my calendar this year certainly qualified! If anything, I can say that when I struggle it’s my own fault. I’ve had plenty of experience, I’ve completed over 100 century rides since I started riding them, and by now I should know what kind of things to do and not to do.

Amish Tour is a ride I hadn’t done in years, mostly because it happens on the same weekend as the Maine Lighthouse Ride, which I’ve done for the past few years. This year I stayed in the area, so I decided to ride it again with my friend Ron. This year, just before we headed out, Ron got an eye infection. So he had some issues with driving – and I not only drove, but I had to pull him along for 100 miles because he wasn’t seeing well. It was a decent weekend, but stressful for both of us. I think next time something of that sort happens, the best move would be to cancel!

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In front of the Delaware State House with Ron before the Amish Tour.

Backroads was a different kind of trouble.  I bonked. Blew up. Hit the wall. It was a hot day, and I had been drinking the night before. This is something I should have avoided. I’m not an alcoholic or a hard drinker by habit, but I had too many pints, which were good in the moment, but less so in the long run. So I suffered needlessly. I cramped – HARD.  That isn’t what I wanted from any ride, and certainly I wanted more from that ride. I knew better. I also knew it wasn’t my last event of the year, so I hoped to end the season on a happier note.

 

Redemption – The Seagull Century

I have often written about the Seagull. There have been years when it represented my only actual vacation time for the year. This year I hadn’t gone to Maine, or anywhere else outside the area for that matter.  That’s something I shouldn’t do, but this year it made having a good Seagull weekend a little more important to me. As it happens, the weather was cool and bright – perfect conditions. I enjoyed the entire weekend. Many of the people I commonly ride with weren’t there, but I rode with John, Tony and Jim, who we met at Indian Head.  I was prepared. My ride was strong and fast, the perfect way to end the year. There is so much to a big event like the Seagull that can’t be explained in a blog post, but I have always felt the positives of this event and the good memories made it worth riding. As my last event of the year, it felt like I redeemed myself for the mistakes I made at the Backroads Century.

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Tony, Jim, Myself and John on Assateague Island at the Seagull Century.

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With Tony in the beer garden at the Seagull Century after the ride.

Reward – Riding for the soul as the season changes

After I’m done with events for the year, while I’m still riding strong and the weather is still good and the leaves are turning, I ride for the soul. These are often the best rides of the year. I go where I most enjoy riding, and instead of riding hard, I ride at a pace that lets me enjoy the scenery.  This “soul riding” is all about the time, the company and the pure enjoyment a bicycle gives you.  I satisfy my soul riding in the Agricultural Reserve in Montgomery County Maryland.  I managed to ride up Sugarloaf Mountain for the first time this year, and took the time to enjoy the landscape and this enjoyable way of moving through it.

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With Eric atop Sugarloaf – enjoying the scenery and riding for the soul. 

Mentoring

At one time or another, we have all been inspired to learn something new, or go beyond what is comfortable and add a new experience to our lives. Often this inspiration comes from others and their experiences.  When that happens, having a mentor to guide you can be the difference between a positive experience that adds to your life, or a negative or indifferent experience that can lead us to a bad or frustrating experience, or even lead us to drop the idea altogether.  Recently, I had a chance to see that process from the side of the mentor. It added to my own experience in a positive way.

Inspiration

I’m an early riser. However, I’m seldom the first to get to the office. I have a co-worker who is usually there when I arrive, and I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to him in the mornings.  Ken was inspired by my stories of cycling. He had a bike of his own, but his riding was not like mine. My stories started to resonate with him. He was inspired to get a road bike and see what all those experiences I  talk about felt like.  When you see that inspiration, you have to support it. Fanning that spark into a flame is the start of a process that can be a positive not only for others, but yourself.

Setting Goals

Part of mentoring includes goals. It’s one thing to talk about something, but achievement requires real goals. I knew of a ride not far from Ken’s home that would be the perfect launching pad for a road cyclist.  The Covered Bridges Classic. I said if he wanted to ride it, I’d ride with him.  He signed up, so I did too.

Advice

A mentor should be a fountain of information. That keeps the spark of inspiration alive, and it keeps the learner from wandering down blind alleys or focusing on the wrong things.  I’ve been riding events for close to 15 years.  We talked a lot about equipment – what to take with you, what you didn’t need, What to wear, training tips. All the questions have to be answered. The benefit of experience brings the goal closer.

Participation

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At the ride start. 

The final part of seeing inspiration turn into something real is a willingness to be a direct example. While we were riding different distances, we rode together for the first 12 miles.

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At the first Covered Bridge

After getting a good start, Ken finished on his own.  Despite difficult conditions, he finished strong. He isn’t a beginner any more, he’s a real roadie. He has a lot of cycling events in his future – maybe even a century. I felt like I was part of that – I got him started, and he finished. Now he knows what these cycling events are about. Being a mentor is really about spreading your passion and enthusiasm. It’s about sharing a little of yourself. I love the value of positivity. This was a positive experience. If you’re reading this, and you get the chance to invest in your passions and inspire others, I hope you’ll take it – you won’t be disappointed.

The Art of the Cafe Stop

We cyclists tend to be serious people. We like speed. We like distance. We talk about suffering in offhand ways, such as “I was really in pain on that last climb”.  We love bicycle tech. There are a lot of ways we show our love of cycling. Not all of us are serious to the same degree; there are quite a few subcultures among cyclists, but on the whole cyclists tend to take themselves seriously.  Having said that, sometimes you just need to stop.  Stopping can be an art form.

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When you can enjoy the artistry of a foam bunny in your Latte, you’re in the right place!

Most cycling rest stops have a purpose.  At events, you can refill bottles, grab a snack, maybe even get your bike looked at by a tech on site, but it’s just a scripted rest in a larger event. Some club rides take rest stops at particular places – as a way to pick up more drinks and snacks and recharge.  The point of such stops is to get back on the plan and keep moving before you get too cool, or too hot, or your body starts to think you’re done before you really are. Normally, a rest stop lasts about 10 minutes or so. Often less.

Then there is another kind of stop, the kind that doesn’t have a time limit or a purpose. Sometimes it isn’t even planned.  Even if it is, what you want from it is time to slow down and talk, or fuel up with style.  That is the Cafe Stop.  A Cafe Stop can’t be rushed. It has to include some genuine joy in itself. It’s about taking time OFF the bike. As I write this it’s an extremely hot day in July.  In order to get a ride in with any hope of comfort, some friends and I decided to take a short ride and leave early in the morning. The point was to warm up, have a fun ride, and be done before the heat got oppressive.  We did, but near the end, we decided on an impromptu Cafe Stop. It was just the right thing to do.

A Cafe Stop has to be the right thing to do in the moment. Whether it’s planned, or you decide on one at the spur of the moment, time has to wrap around it.  At a Cafe Stop, relaxation rules apply. No rush. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the company. Enjoy your surroundings. Soak it all in.  The ultimate Cafe Stop might have you locking your bike and taking a meal, or a long coffee or tea break, or just sitting around a table with friends having a laugh off the bike in the right surroundings. The magic is in the moment, and the moment doesn’t involve movement, but a meaningful pause.

Some people are natural Cafe Stop artists.  Some people don’t know much about them or don’t care for them, but there is a time for one. A moment when that pause makes perfect sense, or defines a perfect moment.  I love Cafe Stops, and I don’t do them as often as I could or should, but they can make an unremarkable ride unforgettable, or a good ride magical. They add a luster to the experience. Sometimes the key to enjoying exercise is to know when to enjoy a pause.  There are times when you have to appreciate the art of the Cafe Stop.

 

Sunflowers, Butterflies, and Summer Heat

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My focus in life has always been enjoying experiences. Cycling has always been rewarding for me for that experience and the feeling of freedom. I’ve never been disappointed by my experiences on a bicycle. My focus is not necessarily speed, because I’m not a racer, but there is something about riding among others that makes cycling special, and so I tend to ride with friends, and I ride a lot of events, just because that feeling of community is also a feeling I value.

This week I found myself thinking about the heat and getting in a good ride on the weekend. Since my local cycling club wasn’t offering a ride that felt right to me, I sent out an email to my friends saying that I would be riding through one of my favorite places, at a specific time, and they were welcome to join me.  The response was more than I could have hoped for. Seven of us set out on the ride. All of us had our ideas of what we wanted, but it was wonderful to have them all choose to join me. I had no actual plan for a route to take, just a general direction and a distance I wanted to go. One of the opportunities along the route was a field of sunflowers.  They put me in mind of so many cycling photographs from the Tour De France, with riders passing fields of sunflowers. Since the weather was mostly sunny and hot, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was just another experience to enjoy.

We weren’t pushing too hard on that ride. We stayed together and defied the heat and humidity.  We enjoyed the scenery, and I started to notice butterflies on or near the road. I have a story about butterflies and cycling that I enjoy telling. One of the events I’ve ridden is called “Storming of Thunder Ridge”, which is known for a climb up the Blue Ridge range in Virginia. The climb is 13 miles long, gentle at first, and becoming steeper near the top.  There is even a rest stop in the middle.  By the time you reach the top, you’ll know a lot about pain. I found myself near the top of that long climb, feeling the pain, while my world contracted into a tunnel with my focus on the road ahead. What I remember most was the butterflies. There were three kinds I remembered through the haze of pain as I climbed. One was mostly yellow, another mostly black and a third black and purple.  None of my friends who were there seemed to notice them. So the butterflies might have been a hallucination! This day, others noticed them. My butterflies were real, and they came in all the same colors that I remembered.

Despite the heat, we all had a fantastic time.  Some of us had a beer together and lunch afterward, yet another way that these experiences can be enjoyable.  We all got a ride in, rode the distance we wanted, and enjoyed the experience.

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Looking back on Spring

Today is the first day of summer. I started training outdoors in early March. My first century of the year was in early May.  Since then, riding has become less stressful. Because I’ve already ridden the Six Pillars Century in early May, I feel confident about my riding. The Century was a pressure test that I passed.

Copper bike

Every year I get ready for an early century, then the rest of the spring brings me events like the SMECO 75 and the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride (I refer to it as Pax.).  SMECO is a strange distance, 75 miles is usually around the point in a century when I start to tire. I normally get a second wind before the end of a century, but that “in between” distance it feels like you finish just as it gets tough. Pax is a metric, and that is a perfect distance. Long enough to challenge, but it unlike a century, which asks you to push through a little pain and fatigue to finish, a metric can be comfortable the entire ride. Pax is a scenic and enjoyable ride with something for everyone. Most of my weekend rides have been between 50-60 miles. If I keep riding, I’ll be comfortable on all the Century Rides I’ve signed up for in the fall.

This spring has had a lot of wonderful moments.  Here are some of them that stand out:

A steep climb on the SMECO75 ride, literally just before the first rest stop.  It was a cool morning, and the sun was just lifting the mist. At the top of that climb, a memorable feature of that event, the light was shining down on the hilltop, while we rode the tree-lined climb in the shade. At the summit, a rest!

A recovery ride that included a ride across the Potomac River on White’s Ferry, with a meal stop in Leesburg, Virginia. Cruising downhill to the ferry, and feeling free on a cool spring day. I felt the speed and joy of cycling. A comfortable ride with friends and a day to remember.

Ferry

Crossing the Potomac with Rita, Ron and Stephanie. 

Riding alone between the second and third rest stops at the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. Seeing a red jersey far ahead in the distance, and catching that rider – and passing! Sitting with a circle of friends sharing laughs and a beer post-ride.

Post Ride

Relaxing after the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride.  It’s one of my favorite events, and my cycling friends agree. 

Riding in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, and watching two foxes cross the road just ahead of me. One stopped and watched me as I passed.  Some things you’ll see on a bicycle that you just won’t see from a car.

My summer will be busy too.  I have to keep pedaling to be ready for fall, the season when I ride most of my centuries. It’s been a good year so far, and it’s only going to get better!