Sunday, October 25, 2009

Arden/Burma Ride 10-24-09

Note: This is a new method of posting. I asked Rick Ogan to write up the Saturday ride. If Fox News can have Fox Contributors, I figured Pedal Pushers could have Pedal Pusher Contributors. And I think it turned out great. As stated, Rick was the author. I hope it's not too distracting from his great article, but I just had to jump in with comments occasionally.
Staging area-early in the chilly morn.

A 40 mile out and back ride was on the menu for 8:30 Saturday morning. It was scheduled to start from Liquor City , down Arden, up and over the hills of Burma Road to the high lines, then turn around and do it all again. Sounded like fun, so Velma and I got up early enough to meet the group. We were hoping for a nice turn out as the last Saturday ride was cancelled due to cold temperatures. According to the Weather Service, this ride was going to start even colder! While getting ready in the morning, the temperature outside was a cool 43 degrees. A pair of tights and an insulated top with a wind breaker were the order of the day. Temperatures later on would get up near 80, but that wouldn’t help much at ride time.

Upon arriving at Liquor City, we met the rest of the cyclists willing to brave the cold temperatures. The cast included Roy, Chris, Liz, Ty, Velma and myself. Joining us at Arden and Burma would be Donna and Dorothy with David driving Sag. By the time the ride started, the temperature warmed up enough to take off my tights and wind breaker. It was cool, but not cold. The sun does wonders when it shines! The winds were calm at the start of the ride, but the forecast called for winds out of the SSW at 20-30mph. Hopefully, that would be after the ride was over.

The ride started off great with a nice easy pace and flat to gently rolling hills on Arden Road. Velma led the way at the start, as usual, with everyone else close behind. Traffic was extremely light, but that didn’t stop one redneck in a pick-up from buzzing Ty on his way to the gun club. I just don’t understand some drivers; no other traffic and another lane to travel in, and they still have to come within a foot of a cyclist. BTW, the truck was a newer model silver 4 door, possibly a Chevy or GMC, in case anyone else has encountered problems with the same type of vehicle. The few other drivers we encountered were all courteous and showed their respect for us. After riding 9 miles on Arden Rd, we all met up again at the intersection of Burma Rd. where Donna, Dorothy, and David waited for us.While getting organized at Arden and Burma, we noticed a nice breeze out of the south that would help push us over the Burma hills. What a bonus-- this was going to be a great ride! But wait, remember earlier, I mentioned the ride was an out and back. Anyway . . . Dorothy had never ridden Burma Rd before, so she wasn’t really sure what to expect. Ty was nice enough to coach her through the hills and she did a fantastic job. With the awesome tailwind, the hills were a breeze ;-))) to ride with the tough inclines keeping it interesting. Ty and Donna led everyone to the turn around at the high lines where everyone gathered up again. The wind had really picked up, and we knew the ride back was going to be a real challenge.
After everyone was refueled, we turned into the wind and started the grind back. Oh my gosh, what a cycling nightmare. We had to go uphill for about two miles (it’s a guess as my computer died early in the ride) into a strong headwind. I was pedaling hard and getting no where fast. I wanted to get to the top of the “Wall” ahead of everyone else so I could take pictures as they climbed up. The “Wall” is the longest and one of the steepest sections of Burma Rd and is located by the Reece Albert gravel pit. As I’m suffering pedaling up the second of the three hills (a primer to the “Wall”), Ty pulls up next to me without a worry in the world and starts a conversation. I’m not sure what he said as I was trying to maintain pace when my legs cry uncle. Ty jumped ahead and had to drop pace to let me catch up. I advised Ty I was trying to make it to the top to take pictures of everyone coming up the hill, so he readily drops back to the next group made up of Donna and Dorothy.
I finally make it to the top of the “Wall” and wanted to lose all my cookies. Actually I wanted to lose my cookies on the “Primer” trying to stay with Ty, but still had the big one to go so I sucked it up. David was waiting at the top of the “Wall”, watching to make sure everyone was alright and no one needing his services, I couldn’t let David see me get sick, cause I wanted to finish the ride. Yeah, that’s it, it surely couldn’t be for the humiliation factor. After composing myself, I dug out the camera and photographed everyone coming up the hill. Ty had Dorothy and Donna snaking their way up the hill in fine fashion. Chris was next climbing just as cool as a cucumber. Velma and Liz followed, both having a little trouble. Velma, because her mechanic (who will remain nameless – hey, no finger pointing) didn’t adjust her front derailleur properly and she couldn’t drop down into the granny ring. Velma still managed to pedal every bit of it though. Liz, because her bike had pure road gears and a half step system up front. Ouch! Roy brought up the rear spinning up the hill looking just as comfortable as riding around the block. (Added by Roy--I frequently ride in last place to make sure that the course is clear and no one is left behind.)
After riding up the “Wall”, the other hills didn’t seem so bad. The headwinds stayed strong as we had to pedal downhill to maintain any type of pace. Upon getting back to where Donna and Dorothy had joined us at Arden and Burma, Donna made a command decision to ride back to Liquor City as David was still nice enough to Sag for us. Dorothy had parked there and called it a day. She was impressed with the hills, did great, and we hope to see her on the next Saturday Ride.
Recall that Velma was having trouble with her her front derailleur. Ty was trying to adjust it.
The temperatures were warming up and Ty, Donna, and Liz decided to shed most or all their cold weather gear. Ty without cold weather gear.
Velma, Chris, and Roy kept theirs on for the final leg of the ride.
As strong as the winds were, I thought we would have a tough time with a nasty cross wind returning on Arden Rd. What a surprise as we cruised back to the start without really feeling the wind.
(Added by Roy--I saw Rick stopped way up the road and wondered if he was having trouble. No, with quiet patience he was just waiting for Liz and me who were just having a nice Saturday stroll. David, sagging, also had a lot of patience as the truck couldn't go slowly enough even with his foot off the accelerator)

It was a great ride and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. The scenary on Arden Rd/ Burma Rd was fantastic. Thank you David for sagging for us. Luckily no one needed rescuing. The final numbers for the ride were; 40.78 miles total, 2hr. 57 min. total ride time, 13.8 mph average, with a top speed of 40.2 mph, 1793ft climbing and 2152 calories burned.

One of the fun things about a ride--visiting afterward.
(Added by Roy of course--I was trying to take a picture of the tree when two heads popped into my viewfinder.)


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crazy Kicker

Mineral Wells, Texas
October 17, 2009

On the third weekend each October, Mineral Wells Kiwanis Club hosts the Kiwanis Crazy Kicker. Previously we had only driven through Mineral Wells en route to other locations, so we knew little if nothing about the city, the ride, or surrounding attractions. Those were good enough reasons to choose Crazy Kicker, but on checking the websites, Crazy Kicker had good reviews for it to be just their 6th annual ride. And all of the reviewers went on and on about a Cherry Pie Hill as if that alone would qualify the ride as a good one. So, we chose to go and see what all the fuss was about.

We left early enough Friday to arrive and play tourist before the Saturday ride. This huge, looming, old hotel had caught Chris’s eye as we drove through town several years ago so we had to get a closer look. Similar to the Cactus Hotel, it was a main attraction in its day, and folks who came up from more humid climes would “take the waters” from the mineral wells.

Possum Kingdom Lake was a mere 33 miles away so we had to visit while in the area. Some of the route to Possum Kingdom Lake was part of the bike ride route, so we could recon that also. Highway 337 to Graford was awesome. There were at least 4-5 hills that were impressive in a vehicle so we could only imagine what they were going to be like on a bike. After Graford on toward the Lake, the terrain leveled out a bit with just rolling hills, so we figured that it was going to be just a tough first leg, a few rolling hills, then on to the Cherry Pie Hill, and back into town. That is how you psych yourself into facing a “challenge” ride, because I had already studied the reviews and a GPS read out of the ride and knew that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cherry pie, or all of the reviewers were flatlanders and to them a speed bump was a big climb. Possum Kingdom Lake
If you squint your eyes, a crane was flying just over the water.

Mineral Wells is a small town; just fewer than 17,000, so early registration packet pick up was to be at Nancy’s Italian Restaurant where you could pick up the packet and “carb up" at the same time. But they offered a special on chicken fried steak. No fair.

Crazy Kicker offers rides of 100, 100K, 50, 37, 22, or 10 miles. We chose the 100K which generally means 62 miles; but they advertised it as 65; and, of course, at the end our odometers showed 67—so we chose the whatever-is-less-than-a-100-miles.

The forecast for Saturday was a downer for a fair weather wimp. The 8 a.m. temp was to be 53 and increasing two degrees each hour until a high of 70 degrees late afternoon. Now anything below 60 is roasting chestnuts in the fireplace for me so 53 called for a ski mask, snow gloves, parka, thermal long johns, and ski boots. I had none of those things. So our cold weather gear was two jerseys with a biking jacket, arm warmers, leg warmers, biking gloves with fleece mittens over those. Chris also had some running tights so we were ready to go out and make snow angels. I felt a little too wimpy until I got to the staging area and saw men and women dressed similarly. There were also he-men and he-women with no extra clothing at all! (Chris later said she saw her breath on the first hills so maybe it hadn’t hit the 50’s yet—not sure.)

Three hundred four registered riders lined up to start the ride. The group was small enough to have a mass start without too much of a jumbled mess.

The first four or so miles had dream asphalt roads and shoulders. Then we turned onto Highway 337 toward Graford as mentioned earlier. First small hill out of town.

Since we had driven this portion of the route, we knew that the hills were more dramatic than the above and eventually ended, so I wanted to get a picture of one of the better hills.

This is a reverse view taken Friday as we were going to Possum Kingdom Lake.
If I ever do another lessons learned article, remind me to add “Don’t stop to take a picture on a steep downhill with crazy kickers whizzing past you at 40 plus miles an hour and some just learning to control their bikes and others haven’t mastered the art yet”. The only way I survived was that a SAG truck pulled behind me, and most bikers didn’t want to slam into a parked truck. I am glad we don’t have to take an IQ test to participate in a bike tour. (Most of the other pictures of the tour were taken while riding as will be obvious—at least my downhill pictures).

Right after Graford rest stop at about 14 miles, we turned onto highway 4 and we crossed the Brazos River the first time.

After a short ride on Highway 180, we intersected with 919 which was a nice lane with rolling hills and some good scenery.

Then we turned again onto 3137. This part of the ride was torturous. The first clue: a sign placed by the Kiwanis that read “Hemorrhoid Lane Next 6 Miles”. When one knows that something is bad, one whines or makes light of it. Kiwanis tried to make light of it. A mile later there was a historical marker. I didn’t stop to read it since I already knew that it probably said “On this site, the local surgeons and proctologists signed an agreement to pay for half of the paving cost with the stipulation that the aggregate be larger than number 3 but smaller than a cobble stone.” And I can attest that the contract was fulfilled. Later there was another sign subtly commiserating with us that read “Feeling those good vibrations?” About the best thing you can say about this leg of the ride is that it crossed a portion of Lake Palo Pinto.

Finally, we turned back onto Highway 4 and, after a short way, we came to Lone Camp

with a much needed bottom rest area. A very short few miles after the rest stop, about mile 51, was the start of Cherry Pie Hill. Cherry Pie Hill is a winding road that starts at 600 foot elevation and tops out at 979. The first.21 miles ascends at 3.1 %.

I "allowed" Chris and some other riders get in front of me so that I could show depth and perspective.Without perspective, one could not tell this was a climb.
I think the red and brown colors during late fall looks like the top of a cherry pie, hence--
Side note--all Cherry Pie Hill pictures were on the 3 or 5% grade. At the 8.1%, all I concentrated on was pedaling.

For the next .34 mile it climbs at 8.1%. Chris and I had the flash back that we were back at Fort Davis’s Bear Mountain. (The difference is that Bear Mt. kept on going.)Then for the next .57 miles, the average grade is 5%. Just as you were past the hard part and picking up speed, there was an encouragement sign placed by the event organizers. (We could have used this at the 8.1% grade but the only sign I saw there was “Beware of the cactus”. I guess that meant that if you stall out and fall over; fall on the pavement and not onto the side of the road.)

After Cherry Pie Hill, the terrain leveled and was an easy ride to the last rest stop at the intersection of Highway 4 and 180.

I pulled up beside Chris and there was a big smile. (I wasn't ready for a smile so this is all I got).She was smiling and said, "I made it!". I said I know, I documented it all the way up. Her face lost the smile and she yelled "Did you take pictures of my behind!?" I said "No, I took pictures FROM behind and you were so far up that you looked like an ant going up the hill". (We have had similar "conversations" in the past.) But I was right as the climb pictures were allowed to stay (most of them).

The scenic ride continued on 180.

There were rolling hills but not as steep or as long as the ones leading from town on 337.

We crossed the Brazos River again but since it was highway 180, cars were hurtling past, so I didn't want to stop or take a picture while moving--I had used up my quota of dangerous stunts.
Happiness is finishing.

At the finish line, a volunteer passed out pins that said “I survived Cherry Pie Hill”. There was a small, local band playing and an event lunch of hamburgers or hot dogs. Got any chocolate?

Remember my whining about the chill and how I had to bundle up? Look at the guy in the center with the lime sleeveless jersey. That is how he was dressed at the start. I first saw him at rest stop one and he didn't seem a bit uncomfortable. I couldn't have done it. I didn't ask, he must have been from Minnesota. Maybe Wilbur knows him.

Volunteers throughout the ride asked for suggestions on how to improve the ride or stops. The stops had home made cookies so you can’t improve on perfection. Most of the comments I heard were “flatten the hills” or similar. Some compared the ride as comparable to or as hilly as Muenster, however, to our recollection, Muenster was 60 miles of Burma Road—many, many short steep hills that wore you down, and Crazy Kicker was long steep hills that wore you down. If you want hills, take your pick and you will not be disappointed in either ride.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pineywoods Purgatory

Lufkin Texas
October 3, 2009

“Top Tier,” as Pineywoods Purgatory has been called, and it earned the accolade. The ride is set in the deep Pineywoods area of East Texas and is one of the more scenic rides. It’s a stark contrast from the ride in the basin and range scenery of the Davis Mountains--not to mention Mesquite Lane along Walling Pecan.

The ride had a choice of 25, 52, 72 or 102 miles. The 25 would have given the rider only a taste of the hills and beautiful scenery. The brochure best described the other rides. The “52 shows off lush forest and rural communities that dot the area. 72-most popular ride! Provides a scenic view of three counties including an iron bridge crossing! Recommended for the experienced cyclist. 102--wonderfully hilly ride that winds through many small hamlets with names like Sweet Union and Atoy--plus a finish you’ll never forget. Should be attempted by experienced cyclist only.”

We can attest to the description of the 72 mile route. The hills were long inclines versus the short steep hills of Burma Rd. For those who have participated in the Tour de Gap, the long hill on Highway 277 best fits the hills of the Pineywoods Purgatory. A side note: for a long time I thought there was a hill called Purgatory and we wondered what part of the route it was. As we were lined up for the start, I asked a local person the location of Purgatory Hill and he said, “All of them”. It was only then that the website words,“You'll understand the name 'Purgatory' as you're caught between the heaven of the East Texas countryside and the 'hell' of having one more hill to climb!” started to make sense. And it psychologically helped on the ride as you were mentally prepared to take in stride that fact as you were enjoying a downhill ride only to look up to see another long steep hill looming ahead. You were ready to accept it as it was just part of the ride--one hill after another.

Friday night had a low of 56, and at the start it was still a chilly 62 degrees so Christine wore her arm and leg warmers.
She didn’t take them off until Rest Stop 3 and then stuffed them into one of my jersey pockets. A volunteer watched and said, “I saw that, she added some rocks”. She didn’t need to do that, some of the hills were enough to slow me down, but I am getting ahead of my story.

One event director told me there were 674 registered riders—the Lufkin newspaper said 750—so between 650 and 750 riders lined up for this year’s ride.

At 8:00 o’clock, the mayor signaled the mass start by firing a pistol (said his shotgun was broken). From the start line to about 4 miles out of town it was generally downhill. Hey, this is not going to be a tough ride, and then….

The long steep hills began.
As we turned off the major road, there were enough flat stretches to catch your breath, so the whole ride wasn’t a purgatory. And the tall pines lining the road and as far as the eye could see of the countryside was awesome to a mesquite country resident.

After about 10 miles of the “flat” stretch, we turned onto the lane leading to the iron bridge. The “road” was great for sightseeing, terrible for bike riding. It was an old logging road with patches, potholes, uneven paving, and mostly one lane.
But it was a canyon carved out of the pine tree forest.
It was like a narrow trail carved out of a thick forest and was completely shaded as the sun was blocked from the road. As you came upon the bridge, a volunteer was there telling everyone to ride in the middle of the bridge. It was an iron structure but the floor was old wood.

If you tried to ride where the vehicle tires would go, you would lodge one of your tires in the cracks between the planks or lose control because of the narrow strips. The middle had planks running perpendicular to your tires so all you had to worry about was staying straight in the narrow path between the boards for the tires. A little way up the road was the same kind of old bridge, but since we were all experienced bridge crossers, no volunteer was at that one.

It just had a painted yellow arrow suggesting that we all stay in the middle rather that using the planks for vehicles. Chris said the second one had a big hole in the tracks, I don’t know as I was just trying to stay within the boundaries and not crash.
Really pretty scenery.

If I ever write another "lessons learned," remind me to add “Mind your own business!” I came upon a guy who was spinning like crazy and bouncing up and down on his saddle. As I pulled up next to him I said,” I think you are in too low of a gear.” He said, “You think so?” I said, “Yes, you are bouncing.” He said, “But I was enjoying it.” Ooops. I pedaled fast and hard to get away from my gaffe. Remind me just mind my own business.

At the end of the scenic lane, we turned onto Highway 69. Now we had hills and traffic to worry about.

Hwy 69 was no slouch when it came to long steep hills, but we are proud to announce that Christine did not push her bike up any hill this year!! Some can not say that.

After what seemed like about 15 miles, we finally turned off of Hwy 69 onto some other back roads meandering toward town. Still some fun times.

One more hill to climb.

Pineywoods Purgatory has the reputation of being the best fed ride in Texas, and they were almost right. One could not complain about the variety of goodies at each rest stop or the choice of drinks or the number of porta-potties.

They even had popsicles similar to the De Leon ride at one of the rest stops.

Victim of Purgatory Hills?

Speaking of food, Pineywoods Purgatory has a Friday night carbo load (spaghetti) meal at the Civic Center for only $5.00 and then has a free after-ride fajita lunch with all the trimmings, condiments, and side dishes for all the riders. They boast that they continue serving until the last rider is in.

Pineywoods Purgatory is one of those rides that you put on your wish list to do before you hang up your cleats. The drawback is that it is some 378 miles from San Angelo, so you have to take a day of vacation to get there and back. But the scenery you will see will make it worth it and provide you with treasured memories.