Some days are like that…

The day was shaping up nicely – or so I thought. My top layer had already been peeled off and stowed, and a pleasant sheen of perspiration glistened on my brow. Yet by the time my destination had been reached the sky had clouded over and the winds had whipped into something of a fury. Today’s ride was looking to be shorter than anticipated.

In search of a wind break I left the open road in lieu of a few miles of undulating state park path, encased for the most part by trees on all sides. Leaving the trail I encountered gravel roads, narrow and steep and loose – but also blissfully free of windsheer. Climbing the first hill, I lowered my gears into the granny and yet still found myself standing. Am I really that far gone after a relatively mild winter of slothfulness?

To be honest, I really don’t get the whole “gravel thing” – but to each his own. I’ve friends who live for this stuff. There was a time not so long ago that I thought there’d be greater appeal for me. But alas! That appeal has thus far eluded me.

I far prefer exploring neglected and forgotten back roads, those crumbling chipsealed blacktop tracks that few people except locals have need to travel. And while my Boulder meets those needs quite well, on this day I found myself wandering along, content to be enjoying the benefit of wider 650b tires.

At the top of the very first hill, at the edge of the park, stands a brick structure. The building is a restored  one room rural school house. Growing up in rural Missouri, my teen years were often spent in exploration of back roads where my friends and I encountered many a crumbling derelict of a school house. Those abandoned buildings, built by the farming community with great care were now crumbling, no longer of much use as schools consolidated and students moved into larger buildings in the surrounding towns. It’s remarkable to encounter one in this condition.

On the same patch of ground, just adjacent to the school is this intriguing – and to my eye, anyway, rather mysterious looking multi-sided building. I’d like to know more about it, and I suppose it would be easy to find out its original purpose simply by asking at the park offices. I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful painting studio it would make though!


Four Years.

Four years. I realized today that it’s been four years since I finished building up my Boulder Brevet and took her on that first inaugural ride. In that time I’ve made numerous adjustments and a few changes, but the bike is largely the build I started with.

Out today, heading directly into thirty-plus mile per hour headwinds and trying like crazy not to overstress the knee I nursed back to semi-health over the winter, there’s no question in my mind that this is the perfect bike for me. Four years down the line and I have never once considered trading or selling this bike. With all the hundreds of bikes I’ve owned and ridden, all the thousands of miles I’ve put in on them, I can make that claim about no other bike. My list of excellent frames is, I think, pretty substantial: Bob Jackson, Colnago, Paramount, Holdsworth, PX-10, Raleigh International (OK, I stand corrected – that one isn’t going anywhere either), Bianchi, Puch, Shogun 2000, Freschi, Gazelle, Follis, Mercier, and so on.

I hate to act like a fan boy, but I’ve simply never owned another bike that fit me the way this one does. Nor have I ever owned another bike that simply felt like it wanted to keep going the way this one does, even when I was completely spent. Over time, I’ve gone through a couple of different saddles before settling upon a Brooks C17. I’ve changed out pedals until settling upon those I’ve been using for the past three years. Pumps have been swapped out in favor of smaller and lighter. The dyno-hub is now on the front of my International, as is the light; now I sport a rechargeable light that better meets my needs since my night riding is limited to very early mornings for the most part. The Velocity rims were a nice move last summer, and the Compass EL tires have proven to be superb.

In four years I’ve gone through five changes of handlebar wrap. On most of my other bikes the shellac-coated cotton bar wrap is a labor of love for me, but for some reason I used Salsa wrap on the Boulder from the very start and can’t bring myself to use anything else. I’ve got Brooks leather wrap in a box and as nice as I’m sure it would look on this bike, I don’t want to mess with the feel of things: why screw around with comfort?

VO rack, fenders, and a home made decaleur. A Swift bag – which I would recommend to absolutely anyone who asked. From time to time I think about changing my VO compact double, but once again: it seems to work and meet my needs so why jack around with it?

I own quite a few bikes, and they all get ridden, depending upon my mood. The International, especially, gets the nod a lot. But at the end of the day there is one bike I keep coming back to, and that is my Boulder. There’s something very comforting about that thought.

And so I spin through the fog.

It’s Sunday morning and I get up early as I am wont to do. Looking out the window, it’s immediately apparent that a dense fog has settled over the landscape. It’s eerily quiet outside and as I roll down the driveway and out into the road, the silence is punctuated by a single bird, cutting through the mist with astonishing clarity, then fading to nothingness almost immediately as I pedal away.

The temperature is surprisingly moderate – it looks colder than it is -but the feeling of chill on my arms catches up to the appearance of the conditions as moisture beads up on every hair. My beard is dripping within minutes, and I pull out arm warmers when I realize I left my lightweight windbreaker at home.

Somewhere the sun is coming up. I know this because the mist has brightened, though the low visibility remains constant. Also: a chorus of birds have joined in to accompany the original lone soloist. The din is almost jarring as I pass a small lake and stand of trees, both of which suddenly emerge from the blanket of white through which I travel.

Before long my body has warmed and I begin to peel out of the layers. My arm warmers, which fit snuggly, are rolled down toward my wrists. I enjoy the sensation of escape and the breeze rushing over freshly revealed skin. The air is heavy and thick, a bit like trying to breathe underwater I suppose – the humidity is 100% at the moment, and with the chill I decide it’s better to ramble than race. And with that thought in mind I take route options that circumvent the steepest climbs: my purpose today is to pedal, to spin, and forgo mashing.

It took time for my knee to heal. It no longer rebels when I climb, but every once in a while I feel a slight twinge and for a moment I panic. But the twinge always goes away. So far, anyway.

And so I spin through the fog, enjoying the moment.

Beautiful weather

Oh my gosh, what a beautiful afternoon – both last weekend and this – especially for the middle of February! Last Monday was President’s Day so no school that day either, which made it a perfect opportunity to head out for a couple of hours of bike sketching.

I really enjoy inking trees and limbs entirely freehand, without the safety net of penciled construction lines. Ambling along on the bike trails that roughly trace the forested Eastern shorelines of Smithville Lake, my greatest difficulty was simply choosing which trees to draw. It seemed like every bend I’d ride around would yield an abundance of subject matter! I finally stopped to sit and watch for eagles at the end of a particularly pleasant point on the lake. I’d spotted a single bald eagle less than five minutes after heading down the first path, but there were no more to be seen after that. I satisfied myself by using my break to sketch out this gnarly tree, then hopped on my bike and continued on my merry way.

Despite a week of unreasonably and unseasonably wonderful weather, it seemed as though the following days left me with limited time to enjoy the roads. Too much to do, too many meetings, too many interviews, just too much, way too much. Saturday couldn’t arrive soon enough. And with an afternoon in the mid-70’s, I was off!

I’d like to have called this a JRA outing, but the truth is that I had a goal and destination in mind. Although I stopped to briefly sketch the city-wide wine tasting taking place on the town square, I wanted to head out of town on one of my well traveled routes, take in some hills and get in some mileage that I’ve been missing these past wintery months.

It didn’t take long to realize the trainer hasn’t done enough to keep my legs in the same shape they were last September. Hills seemed longer, gears seemed higher, and my legs got rubbery far too soon. Blast it all! Not a moment too soon, I found myself enjoying the flat miles of the river bottom farmlands. For a while I managed to simply pedal and ponder, lose myself in the moment and place. And that, after all, is the true value of these rides.

Today, the temps are beginning to drop. The weatherman forecasts a return to something close to the norms, although his predictions still sound better than I remember February being. The winds picked up today, but I was itching to get back out again and wanting to do some shorter mileage on my fixed wheel bike. I enjoy the fact that fixed wheel keeps me churning the entire time I’m out. The problem, of course, was that my legs are out of condition, the winds were a bit harsh and gusty, and my legs are out of condition. Also, my legs are out of condition. The hills seemed even longer and steeper today than they did yesterday riding my geared bike. One fixed gear felt ponderous, so my outing turned out to be painfully short. Instead of riding into the wind I made a quick sketch of my fixed wheel 1946 Hobbs of Barbican.

The good news for me is that the days are perceptively longer, the weather grows more reasonably with each passing day, and soon enough I’ll be back out on the roads every afternoon and morning. The hills will get shorter. The miles, too.

And the outings will get longer, and that’s just fine by me.



Winter dreaming


A bit chilly. Damn windy. But every now and then the sun comes out from behind the cloud cover and the day suddenly becomes a whole lot more reasonable.

I find myself spinning in a much lower gear than I’d prefer. Long weeks off the road, and longer evenings occasionally spinning indoors on a trainer don’t do much for maintaining my climbing legs. The best I can say is that I’m not breathing hard, so the lungs haven’t atrophied during my vacation from riding.

Let me reconsider that last statement. No. In fact the best I can say is that I’m out on the road, enjoying being outside. That’s the best, and it’s quite good enough – so don’t let me kid anyone with my whining. A few miles down the road I meet up with another rider. We exchange nods and pedal in silence. Just before he hangs a right down a side road, directly into the wind, he looks at me and says something about the headwinds being a bitch. In direct contrast to his words is the look of contentment upon his face, the same look that mirrors my own.

This is the first winter I’ve not had a restoration project (or two, or three) underway. This is partly because I haven’t been looking, but mostly because I’m quite content with my bike family of the moment. I really thought I’d be riding my fixed wheel more over the cold weather months, but that simply hasn’t been the case. I really should do something about that I suppose, but my imagination is stuck firmly in the warmth of future months.

Aside from my Boulder Brevet, my other “long distance” bike is a 1971 Raleigh International fitted out with a three speed drive. I’m going to shoehorn a couple of multi-day camping tours into the coming summer months. At least one trip will be a three speed camping tour. I’d like to ride the length of the KATY Trail again, riding the International set up for light touring: Bullet proof Gatorskins, medium size saddle bag, small front panniers, and adequate platform in front for tent and sleeping mat. I’ll probably ride my Boulder for a week of the Big BAM in June.

Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of winter left. Despite the emerging sun this afternoon, the forecast calls for really hefty winds tomorrow, snow flurries, and another precipitous drop in temps. I’ll remain lost in reverie, in winter dreaming until the shadows grow just a little bit longer.

I hate trainers.

It’s no secret. I hate my trainer.

There’s nothing so boring as spinning without going anywhere. I can ride places all day long, but thirty minutes on this damn thing is just about as much as I can muster. (Not to mention that it simply embarrass the hell out of my Paramount to be securely anchored to it.)

Sure, I can jam out on tunes, and that’s certainly helpful. My brain doesn’t scream out quite as much, but it does eventually scream. And who am I fooling here? My body? I don’t think so – muscle memory just isn’t the same. I’m just spinning my feet in circles. Even when I fake “accelerate” it’s nothing at all like being on the road, like climbing a hill. Nothing at all like the feeling I get stopping to check out a place I’m only just that moment discovering by bike. The smell of Febreze is entirely unlike any scent that comes wafting in on the crosswind. (As is the smell of the wet dog lying on the floor next to me as I spin one futile circle after another.)

A couple of years ago I discovered cycling videos. After a ten hour or so download, I managed to get one loaded onto my iPad. I MacGyvered a mount and found that if I really suspended my disbelief I could watch the video and almost imagine I was out on the road. I briefly even flirted with the idea of creating my own summer videos that I might watch while pedaling on snowy days indoors.

I watched the video over and over again, too cheap to buy another and too impatient to muddle my way through another long download. I was excited when the company put their entire library online. Last month I signed up for their monthly streaming service and enjoyed a couple of weeks of stationary cycling diversity, but without any warning the service was suddenly not working. The video service ended their relationship with Apple less than two weeks into my first month. Unwilling to muck about with their new provider – you know: cancel one subscription, set up a new one, and don’t worry because we’ll find a way to credit you your missing two weeks – well, I said to heck with them.

They didn’t seem to understand why I would feel that way. (Service really is dead, and as far as I can tell so is any awareness that it ever existed in the first place.)

Guess I’ll go spin now. I wonder what’s on Pandora.

Anyway, I really hate that damn trainer.