Monday, June 29, 2009

Beginners Page # 9 Intro Into Mountain Biking

It all started out innocently enough. On Saturday, June 27, we worked on trail maintenance at the State Park. As we were riding back to the parked vehicles, Chris and Donna were sitting together talking. Donna opined that it was a shame that you “always” worked on trail maintenance and never reaped the benefit of riding the trails. So, let’s ride with you Sunday and experience the fruits of our labors. (Men, don’t let your wives sit together--keep them 10 feet away from each other). When we all got off the bus, Chris told me we were going to mountain bike Sunday afternoon. All I heard was that we were going to bungee jump into the Grand Canyon. Think fast, what kind of excuse could I make up? It interferes with my Sunday afternoon nap didn’t sound powerful enough. The dog would miss his afternoon walk didn’t sound earth shattering. I had really planned on sitting in the shade to watch the grass grow didn’t sound productive. Before I could come up with a good excuse, it was all set between the two and I was still staring down into the canyon in my mind.

The next 24 hours were as intense as Jack Bower’s 24 hours. I couldn’t develop a debilitating disease in that short of a time. I am too chicken to sprain an ankle. I would have to wait to get on a MTB to break my collar bone ala Gov. Perry. No escape route was open to me, so we met the Durbins at the State Park, and they fitted us with mountain bikes.

The Durbin's truck in the lead reminded me of the Judas Goat

From the bike shed we drove to Burkett Park and off-loaded.

My bike didn’t develop a flat tire in the meantime so it was bungee time. Donna started giving instructions.

Look forward and pick your trail (technical talk meaning don’t hit a boulder, go off a bridge, or try to plow through cactus). On a climb, gear down or you will stall out and go down (technical talk for landing in prickly pears). Let the bike do the work for you (not sure about that because I still had to pedal). If you hit sand, pedal through it (technical talk for guess what will happen if you bog down in sand). If you see a snake, raise both feet and go past him or over him (technical talk for it is harder for it to strike you if your feet are over your head, and implied was don’t bog down in sand at the same time because you can’t pedal through it with your feet over your head). When you come to a curve in the trail, lean your bike to negotiate the turn (technical talk for if you turn the front wheel too much you are going to hit an unintended object, jump a rut, head into a tree or cactus clump). Last but not least (I am not sure if this was really the last instruction because I was still thinking about the snake and the Grand Canyon), watch for wild animals. Wild what? Wilder than snakes? Oh yes, there was one more instruction—don’t use the front brake, at least on your first ride. I had already experimented and found the front brake much more responsive than the back brake so I was willing to comply.

H-hour. Off we go. David was in the lead yelling back instructions of what to do when. Going through the gate is the first thrill. Watching the trail like a good boy helps aim for the middle so you don’t crash at the “gate”. And then the trail goes downhill--second thrill. Not too bad. Twenty yards and no crash yet. And if you go downhill, guess what? On very first uphill I hit a boulder. The front end went down and then the suspension thingy sprang the bike into a wheelie. Was this “let the bike do all the work” because I sure didn’t jerk up on the bike (that I remember). By not being clipped in I was able to put my feet down and ride that rearing steel horse until it came crashing down--but no spill into the cactus yet. The trail went up and down, and it didn’t make me feel better to hear Chris yelping as she does on a roller coaster. Fish-tailing through a long stretch of loose rocks was unnerving/thrilling/scary (choose one or all three.) But soon David stopped and let us catch up, take a drink, let the legs stop wobbling, and proclaim that the trail gets a little better now, which it did.
We got on a jeep trail and I could handle that. It was fairly flat, no deep ruts, mesquite limbs high enough that you could duck under them if you were watching the trail and not sight seeing. Donna had already told us not to try to see much of the scenery at first—watch the trail.

I found a good thing on a mountain bike never lasts long. We turned off the jeep road onto another trail. It turns out that the trail was the one that we had worked on just the previous day so it was well pruned, wide, no sand, no rocks, no ruts, no curves, NOT. Walking the trail and riding the trail are two different things. For one thing, there is not as much excitement walking. Finally we got to a water trough which was the starting point of trail maintenance the previous day. Then we went on a trail that the other team had worked on—hey guys, wider please. But thank you because we sure noticed when the mowing stopped. Anyway we were headed to Flintstone Village and Cougar Point.

View From Cougar Point

On leaving Cougar Point, I was told that there was a good downhill, so be alert. Thank goodness I was alert. I saw that thing going down at an angle that didn’t look healthy. I used both brakes rapidly, got off, and walked down. I heard giggling and saw that Dona and Chris took a safer, saner alternate trail. The way back from Cougar Point also honed the skills of riding in the sand. And at one place there was a fairly deep rut that my bike tried to get out of, and that was yet another near-spill . There were some sharp turns that were thrilling. Remind me if we ever work on that trail for me to bring an axe, because there are a few mesquite trees right in my way as I try to make a curve.

Other than the Cougar drop off, generally either David or Donna would alert us as to a “technical” hill up ahead that you may want to walk up--or at a minimum--shift into the small chain ring.

Or, there is a steep “technical” drop off that you may want to walk down. Now, way later I discovered that “technical” in MTB-speak is a term for difficult. But it didn’t seem technical for David or Donna; they went up or down as if the terrain was a playground to provide enjoyment. For me, it was an adrenaline rush, and I am not an adrenaline junky.

Wild Animal Along The Trail

So, advice for beginners: first, keep your wife away from a MTB enthusiast. If that doesn’t work:
Check to see if you are current on your insurance plans.
Bring water, food, maps, and good walking shoes.
Go with someone experienced in the trails. (Being warned of upcoming dangers lessens the chances of emulating Gov. Perry).
Know your limitations. (Stay on jeep roads).
If you must try out the sport, have fun.

Thanks, it was fun.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tour de Burma

Tour de Burma
Sunday June 21, 2009
San Angelo, Texas

The fourth annual Tour de Burma was held in San Angelo on June 21, sponsored by the YMCA.
Whereas the first three “Tours” were races, this year it was changed to a non-competitive tour. The routes included 18, 48, 65, and 100 mile rides.

The weather was quite nice at the 7 a.m. start. Skies were overcast and a slight breeze (13mph) from the SSE. The sky remained overcast throughout the ride and the wind, San Angelo fashion, increased about a mile an hour each hour. San Angelo fashion, the wind was in our face going up Highway 67 toward Mertzon and shifted to come out of the southwest in order to provide an in-your-face cooling effect while on the Burma Road back to Arden. The recent rains plus the overcast day drove the humidity to an uncharacteristic level for San Angelo.

The into-the-wind sections of the route provided an excellent opportunity to practice one’s drafting technique. Thank you, Velma. And thank you unknown Air Force person. And speaking of the Air Force, there was a great contingency of participants from Goodfellow, Lackland, and Sheppard AF Bases. Most of the individuals were honing their skills to participate in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), a week long 472 mile ride in July. Also courtesy of the Air Force, Alex Roberson rode as Ride Marshall this year. It was a first time addition to the ride, and Alex’s job was to ride the 100 mile route and assist anyone needing help or call in for the SAG unit. Last time I saw him he was with the last person riding the 100 mile, and they were probably about 40 miles out from finish.

Christine, Brenda, and Chuck White rode the 48 mile route. It was Chuck’s longest ride to date and Christine stated he did an outstanding job. And Scott, you had better watch out or your mom will drop you on a near future ride. Speaking of fast, I rode the 65 as did some of the other club members. Now we all started at the same time, but just as I started on Burma Road, I waved at Bret, Tamra, Christy, Rita, and others going the other direction. So? It meant in a very short time, they were already 15 miles ahead of me. And Jack Lomax, riding the 100 miles passed me on Arden and waved to me on his Burma Road return. Sort of depressing—BUT—I can always blame it on Velma for not pulling me faster up Highway 67.

At about mile 22 there was the turn-off to Arden Road and the first rest stop. I glanced and there was no porta on the prairie, I still had liquids to drink, and energy foods in my jersey in case I bonked, so I kept going. Should have stopped. Everyone at the rest station soon caught up to me or passed me so I didn’t have the benefit of getting blood circulating back into certain parts of my body and didn’t gain time or distance on anyone. So I made sure I stopped at the Arden/Burma Road rest area. Thank you John, do you realize how good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are when you are tired and sweaty? And they are nutritional as well. Generally if something tastes good, it is not good for you—like ice cream that Christine feeds me after the ride. But, it is a toss up as to the “best” food on the ride as the giant chocolate chip cookie at the Burma Road rest stop keeps me from declaring the PB&J first prize. It would have taken several more PB&J/chocolate chip cookies and a nap to come up with a declared winner.
Having a full stomach has its pros and cons on Burma Road. You can glide down the hills faster but the added weight is heck on the uphill. All that energy that was gained by the food is wasted trying to get up a hill. My body prefers to store the energy around my waist to use in a pinch some other day. My body seems to never, never want to use the energy in the here and now.

Now either a brag or an insight into my stubborn streak that never serves a good purpose: I could have saved some of my energy on Arden Road on the way back in. Since Christine rode the 48, she was back at the finish area long enough to get bored and decided to drive out to see how I was doing. My Rescuer and ray of sunshine
I was close to Jamison Road so I wanted to at least to get to Whiskey City before hitching a ride. At Whiskey City, it was just a “short” uphill to the Park entrance so why not go on in? Now really, had I just loaded at Whiskey City, no one would really have known as there were less than 10 cars at the Chaparral Pavilion and none of them belonged to club members, so no one would have known if I “finished” or not. I could just say I did, and no one could dispute me since they had already left. Oh well, there is next year and maybe I can finish with some of the San Angelo people so they can vouch for my finish.

Whiskey City, or Liquor City, is a vestige of the history of San Angelo. S.A. used to be a dry city until 2005 requiring dealers of “demon rum” to locate just outside of city limits. Although at the location there are only one small liquor store and a now dog grooming business the site is still known by its more colorful, “historic” name.
Picture of the first Burma start at the old Whiskey City

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cross Plains VFD Tour

Saturday June 13, 2009
Roy and Christine Jones

Cross Plains held its Second Annual Bicycle Tour Saturday, June 13, in conjunction with its Barbarian Festival held the second weekend each June. A little background, Robert E. Howard from Cross Plains wrote Conan the Barbarian in 1932. In 1982, it was made into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was still trying to learn English (if you saw the movie that comment made sense). The film was a big hit in Europe and soon, European tourist started visiting Cross Plains asking where Howard’s home was. Cross Plains soon started a “Barbarian” museum, restored his home, and began the Barbarian Festival—still attended by European visitors.

The Cross Plains Volunteer Fire Department, in a quandary about would a sufficient number of bikers sign up, decided two weeks out to go with the ride. At the last minute, a burst of registration forms were received and the ride was on.
The ride choices were 12, 21, 50, 60, and 75. We chose the 50 mile ride as we wanted to get back to San Angelo in plenty of time to attend the SABA picnic.

The ride started at 8 A.M. Last year the ride didn’t start until 9 A.M. as that was the time for the Festival parade and we bikers were the lead out of the parade right behind the EMS vehicle. So behind the lights flashing and siren wailing we bikers rode through town with people clapping, kids waving, ----real celebrities. However, with such a late start in summer it got hot fast, so our after-action suggestion was to start earlier even if the riders missed out on the parade. I think this year I will suggest that we have a “parade practice run” next year with the EMS vehicle leading us off downtown with its lights flashing and siren wailing and the riders waving at the crowds. Everybody needs his 3 minutes of fame. Yes, that is about how long it takes to cross town even at a snail’s pace behind the lead vehicle.

The first part of the ride was mostly a slight decline with the wind at our backs-so you can already guess that we felt like one of the big boys as in some places the wind would push us from 20-26 miles per hour. However, as advertised, there were gently rolling hills and some flat stretches.

This part was when the wind was still to our backs. Then we turned as we got to the I-10 access road and went on an up-down ride from Admiral, TX to Putnam, TX. There were only two tough hills on the whole ride and the access road had one of them. Even with the rollers and steep hill, at the mile 30 rest stop we still had a respectable 16+ mph average going. Then we turned SW and for 20 miles guess which way the wind was blowing. Suddenly the gentle rolling hills seemed higher and steeper.

A little bit of a brag about the better half. I have mentioned at least two tough hills. Last year Christine had to walk her bike up both. This year, neither. I can vouch for it as I watched her from a respectable distance behind on both hills. Of course, I only stay behind in case she has a flat, mechanical problems, or in some other way needing rescue by the masculine half of the team. I vary the lag distance from 10 yards to a mile just to give her confidence in her biking ability. And if you believe that, let me tell you about the time Lance and I were neck to neck climbing up Pike’s Peak.

The roads were the smoothest that we have ridden except for HWY 277. It may not stay that way forever as they had cautioned us that there was some new pavement on the 75 mile route (meaning chip seal) and there were rows of gravel on the Cottonwood strip as if they were thinking of messing up that section. But, one can not say enough about the support, rest areas, and volunteers--and personal attention. The VFD organizers had heard that cyclists don't like to lay their bikes on the gravel, so they provided pieces of carpet at the rest stops for our bikes. All in all, Cross Plains is a great ride, gentle rolling hills, flat stretches, and only two tough hills—great support and friendly people. Only problem, there were only about five of us from San Angelo. It is a short two hour drive (if you are the passenger and sleep on the way) from San Angelo so hopefully more from our town will support a worthwhile organization of volunteers.