Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Friday, December 19, 2014

Broken Heart Rate Monitor?

I use a heart rate monitor with my Garmin computer. Before I got a power meter, my heart rate monitor was the only equipment I had to gauge my intensity. We also use heart rate monitors in my spin class, and so I’ve gotten very familiar with the levels of effort associated with the various heart rate zones.  This guide was developed by fitness expert Joe Friel:

Level                     Name                                    Maximum Duration
Level 1                  Recovery

Level 2                  Endurance                             All day

Level 3                  Tempo                                  1-5 hours

Level 4                  Subthreshold                         45-120 minutes

Level 5a                Superthreshold                      15-60 minutes

Level 5b                Anaerobic Endurance             3-7 minutes

Level 6                  Power                                   1 minute

Level 7                  Sprint                                    15 seconds

These zones correspond with a percentage of your threshold level, i.e., the highest power that you can maintain for one hour. With training you can increase your threshold level, which indicates better fitness.  Threshold level can be assessed quite accurately as 95% of average power in a 20-minute test.

It’s important to note that your threshold level is different from your maximum heart rate, which is genetic.  Furthermore, although the various zones are calculated as percentages of threshold power, they commonly are correlated to heart rate because heart rate is cheaper to measure than power.  (A heart rate monitor costs a lot less than a power meter.)  Evaluating intensity with heart rate works well, but it’s not foolproof, as I have discovered in recent weeks.

In spin class and at Tuesday Worlds, we ride a lot at Level 3 and Level 4 with occasional forays to Level 5a or even 5b. Additionally, in spin class I’ve learned to assess my effort level pretty accurately just by perceived exertion, which I can confirm with my heart rate monitor.  This ability has translated fairly well to riding on the road, too.

In the last several months it’s gotten harder for me to get my heart rate level up in spin class.  My 10-minute warm-up often isn’t enough even to get me to Level 2; only jumps or sprints will start elevating my heart rate. I haven’t thought too much about it, simply attributing it to the huge amount of endurance riding I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.  However, I’ve only just realized how this manifests itself on my road bike.

On a typical solo road ride in the 30-mile range, I usually spend most of my time in the upper endurance/low tempo zone, around Level 2.8 to 3.5.  In the last few weeks, however, I started noticing that my heart rate zone was usually around 0.7 to 1.8 – even though my perceived effort seemed much higher.  I told Robert that I thought my heart rate monitor was broken! He asked if I had looked at actual heart rate, not just the heart rate zone. Aha! Why didn’t I think of that? (That’s why I pay him the big bucks.) Sure enough, my heart rate has also been much lower. My heart rate monitor is working correctly after all.

Robert pointed out that when I’m riding my bicycle for 8 to 13 hours, as I do when I ride a 200-or 300-km  brevet, there’s no way my heart can sustain a high heart rate for that long.  Although that should be obvious from the zone chart above, it still doesn’t quite explain why my heart rate is lower even on the 30-mile rides. I was intrigued and decided to do a little research.

The average adult resting heart rate is about 70 beats per minute (bpm). Although I was already well aware that endurance athletes usually have a much lower resting heart rate (as low as 40 bpm or sometimes even less), I didn’t know that endurance training also decreases the submaximal heart rate. In other words, with a lot of endurance training, your heart is also going to beat more slowly while exercising.  One reason is because your body adapts to utilize more oxygen (VO2max increases).  Also, the stoke volume of the heart (the amount of blood pumped per beat) increases.  These processes allow the heart and body to work more efficiently for a given effort.

Now I better understand the difference between power and heart rate.  While training with intensity increases threshold power, endurance training lowers the heart rate during exercise. Doing both types of training is important and results in better performance, whether you’re a sprinter or a randonneur.  For the past couple of years I’ve been very happy with the effectiveness of my training mix: the intensity of Worlds and interval training as well as long, slow centuries and brevets. I think I’m just now really seeing pronounced effects from my endurance training.

Yesterday I was glad to find that I still can get my heart rate up even during a shorter ride. I did one of my favorite routes, which is 31.3 miles. A typical ride on this route will yield data approximately as follows:

Average speed = 17 mph
Average power = 135 W
Intensity factor (= normalized power/threshold power) = 0.70 to 0.75 (Normalized power is slightly higher than average power.)

Now check out yesterday’s data:

Average speed = 18.4 mph
Average power = 176 W
Intensity factor = 0.884

I had already planned to do a longer than usual lunchtime ride yesterday because of an atypical schedule. Little did I know how therapeutic it would prove to be.  In the morning I went to a meeting that made me sick to my stomach (politics triumphed over science).  I worked out my frustration on the bike. Maybe I should use this training strategy more often: get mad before I ride.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RAAM Raffle and Wine Tasting

I am so looking forward to the Race Across America (RAAM) next June! Obviously, I'll be posting a lot more about it between now and then, but for now, here is some basic information:

I'll be racing as part of a four-person, all-women team as the Sorella RAAM Cycling Team 2015. My teammates are Korey Gotoo, Jennifer Klein, and Lauren Schrichten. We'll have a crew to drive support vehicles, navigate, prepare meals, maintain our bicycles, etc. RAAM teams begin the race on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The route goes from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. We plan to complete the race in about eight days.  One of the four of us will be on the road at all times, day and night.  We hope to partner with a women's charity to raise awareness and money for them; we're close to working that out.

Yesterday we kicked off our fundraising with a raffle and wine tasting. Korey, our multi-talented team leader, created a beautiful sculpture called "Tierra" for the raffle:

We sold raffle tickets for the last few months.  I thought it would be nice to have a special event in conjunction with the raffle drawing. Thanks to my greyhound adoption group (Southeastern Greyhound Adoption), I knew of the Marietta Wine Market.  The Marietta Wine Market holds wine tastings twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, using the occasions to sponsor local charities. They select a different theme, winery, or region for each tasting and provide complimentary hors d'oeuvres.  I contacted Karen Giese, one of the owners, and she graciously set up our tasting for yesterday.

Jennifer, me, and Korey. (Lauren lives in California!)
It was a delightful event all the way around.  When I arrived, I was so happy to see that the featured wines were from the Hess collection. My husband Robert and I visited the Hess winery a number of years ago when we did a bicycle tour of Napa Valley, CA.  Not only were the wines delicious, but also the winery featured an extensive art collection.  The Hess wines at yesterday's tasting were wonderful, too. Larissa Dubose, the Southeast Field Sales Manager for Hess Family Wine Estates, guided everyone through a flight of five Hess wines: chardonnay, pinot noit, a red blend, and two carbernet sauvignons. How wonderful to have a special connection to the wines at our tasting!

We had a suggested donation of $20 per person.  Karen explained that the usual protocol at the shop's wine tastings is to subtract the cost of the wine from the total collected, with the sponsored group receiving the net proceeds.  Yesterday, however, Hess donated their wine, and so our RAAM team received all of the proceeds!  Thank you so much to the Hess Collection and the Marietta Wine Market for your generosity!

The Marietta Wine Market is a great store to visit even apart from the tastings. They feature all kinds of wines, including some from Georgia wineries and certain varieties that I can't find as readily in the shops closer to my home. Robert and I love wine; I wish we could afford to drink it every night! The Marietta Wine Market offers a 5% discount on six bottles and a 10% discount on 12 bottles. I selected the Hess Treo (the red blend from our tasting) and two of my favorite Georgia wines, a cabernet franc from Three Sisters and Inclination, a white from Frogtown. I also wanted to get a viognier, which I don't get to have very often, and a relatively dry riesling. Karen's husband Randall made some recommendations for these and also suggested another red blend to round out my six bottles.  Robert and I are set for a while now!

In addition to a terrific wine selection, the Marietta Wine Market also has some cheeses and wine related gift items. As if that weren't enough, they even have Nelson the wine dog!

I really haven't even gotten to the best part of our event. I was thrilled and humbled that so many good friends came out to support our RAAM team. My Georgia Tandem Rally friends were well represented by John and Mitzi Boland, Eve Kofsky, and Roger Strauss. Robert and I join them and about 100 other tandem teams every May for an incredibly fun, tandem-only long weekend. (Sorry I didn't get any photos of y'all yesterday...)

Also, my friends Felicia and Charles Hardnett came all the way from Conyers to join us!

Felicia and I were high school classmates, and Charles was a year ahead of us. I'm so glad we've been able to keep in touch over the years. That's definitely one of the best things about Facebook!

Two of our RAAM crew members joined us as well, Dan and James.  (We're still assembling our crew but have a great start with these two and Brigette, our crew chief!)  Other supporters included several Sorella cycling club members, some friends of friends, and even a few local people who just like to come to the Marietta Wine Market.

Between the wine tasting and raffle, we made about $1,000 - a great start to our fundraising! Thank you again to the Marietta Wine Market, the Hess Collection, and all of our friends for making is such a fun and successful day.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Silk Sheets 200K Brevet

On Saturday I did the Silk Sheets 200K brevet.  It was a fun and special ride for several reasons.  I did this same brevet a year ago.  It was my first brevet as well as my last ride in A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com).  So, I had fond memories as I pedaled along the same course on Saturday.  One thing was very different from last year, however.  Whereas last year I rode the whole thing by myself, this time I had a terrific riding companion.  It wasn't just any riding companion, though; it was Jennifer Klein, one of my Race Across America (RAAM) teammates!  Yes, I'll be doing RAAM next June!  I'm so excited!  I'll post more about this sometime in the near future as we get a few more details ironed out, but for now I know for sure that I'll be part of a four-person, all-women team, the Sorella RAAM Cycling Team 2015!  My teammates are Korey Gotoo, Jennifer Klein, and Lauren Schrichten.  Korey and Jennifer are from Atlanta, and Lauren is from California.  Stay tuned for more info.

As for Saturday's brevet, the best part was seeing what a trooper Jennifer is.  Not only was our 129-mile ride the longest she had ever done, she also wasn't fazed a bit by starting in the rain.  It wasn't just a drizzle, either.  It rained steadily for about the first 50 miles.  The temperature stayed in the 50s most of the day, which made the rain much more bearable.  It would have been a lot tougher if it had been even 10 degrees cooler.  Fortunately, we both had good rain gear, which kept our cores warm and dry.  I was actually fairly comfortable.  I think the good companionship had a lot to do with that, too.

Our second control was an information control, where we stopped at a historic building:

Jennifer and me
Some friendly horses were hanging out right beside it.  I enjoyed sharing my apple with one of them:

I forgot to wipe off the lens of my phone camera before the picture, but this does convey the rainy nature of the day.
We lingered long enough at this control that some of the guys caught up with us.  It was nice to have several of my regular rando buddies - Daniel, Ian, and Robert (Newcomer) - join us for the second half of the ride.

The remainder of the ride was relatively uneventful...until we got to the last big climb.  It was on Northside Drive about four miles from the end.  I sort of remembered this climb from last year, but I guess I was so elated about completing A Year of Centuries then that I didn't remember just how steep it is.  For about a mile the grade is as much as 11%!  That's like climbing a gap in North Georgia.  I wouldn't have believed that a climb this steep and long exists in metro Atlanta.  It's also quite a little kicker after you've already ridden about 125 miles.

Although the weather was probably the least ideal that I have experienced on a brevet (but certainly not the worst in my cycling career), it still was a very enjoyable ride.  Thank you to all of my riding companions, Neil for the route support, Chris for taking on RBA duties for the day, and regular RBA Kevin for setting up this brevet.  See you all on the road next time!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Like Buttah

As much as I love cycling, I love my husband Robert even more.  That’s a lot!

Not only is he my life partner, he’s also my favorite cycling partner.  As a bonus, he’s even my soigneur, encouraging me on all my cycling adventures and keeping my bicycle in good working order.  He just put a new chain on my road bike.  Whoa, I can’t believe how much smoother that makes my riding – it’s like buttah!


Frankenbike’s shifters can be a little finicky.  I know their feel and usually can finesse them, but every once in a while I throw the chain when I shift too hard.  That happened to me a couple of nights ago I took Frankenbike out on the dirt roads near my house.  I’ve always been able to get the chain back on the cassette, but this time I managed to get the chain so twisted that I couldn’t untangle it.  Fortunately, this occurred only about ¼ mile from the end of my ride, and so I just walked the rest of the way home.  I need my soigneur’s help on this one.  It’s definitely not like buttah.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jimmy Carter 300K Permanent

Wow – what a ride!  On Saturday I did the Jimmy Carter 300K permanent and reached my goal of earning the R-12 Award from Randonneurs USA (RUSA).  The R-12 Award requires completing a 200K or longer RUSA event in each of 12 consecutive months.  I started in December 2013 and did a 200K (approximately 124 miles) or 300K (approximately 186 miles) ride each month.  Most of them were brevets, but I also did a few permanents.  These two types of events are similar, having time limits (13½ hours for a 200K and 20 hours for a 300K) and controls (checkpoints) that must be visited during designated windows of time.  Brevets are organized events that are scheduled for a particular date and generally draw a number of riders.  Permanents, however, are managed by individual route owners and can be ridden any time.  A rider contacts the permanent owner to set a start date and time.  Other riders certainly can come along on a permanent, too.

Initially, I thought I would ride a brevet this month to complete my R-12 requirements, but a permanent turned out to work better with my schedule.  As if a 200K weren’t long enough, I wound up going with a 300K.  Actually, I was kind of glad for the extra challenge.  For one thing, this was a brand new route that Daniel McKinley just got approved, and it was fun to join him on the inaugural ride!  But this strenuous ride was also particularly meaningful to me because it was the culmination of an amazing series of events following one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

In April 2012 I had a serious, unavoidable crash in a cycling road race.  I broke my upper jaw, messed up my front upper teeth, and got a huge gash in my chin.  It was a long, difficult recovery, but thanks to excellent doctors and love and prayers from many friends, I finally was feeling, functioning, and looking well again.  I really didn’t think it was possible.  I was – and continue to be – so thankful for my recovery.

Although I no longer had the desire to do mass-start races, I wanted to keep challenging myself on the bike.  I came up with a plan: I would ride one century a month throughout 2013.  Then, I had an even better idea; I would ride on behalf of 12 different charities.  In this way, I could ride for something bigger than just myself.  I called my project A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com).  It became a profound way for me to express my gratitude for my recovery.

During my June century, I met a cyclist named David Bolocan.  He told me about randonneuring and RUSA.  It sounded interesting, but I just mentally filed it because at the time I was so focused on A Year of Centuries.  Several months later I was trying to plan my December century.  I preferred an organized ride if possible, but I was having trouble finding one because there aren’t many during the cold months.  Finally, an on-line search led me to the Silk Sheets 200K brevet, hosted by the Audax Atlanta chapter of RUSA.  Perfect!  It would be a grand finale for A Year of Centuries – a little over 100 miles! – and serve as a bridge to a whole new world of cycling.

I joined RUSA, and from the members’ handbook I learned about the R-12 Award.  Of course I couldn’t pass up another challenge!  So, that’s how I got to Saturday’s ride.  Interestingly, Saturday also marked two years to the day since my final dental work following my bicycle crash.  What better way to celebrate than with a ride of gratitude and triumph!

Cray Cray
The starting point for Saturday’s ride was at Waffle House in Thomaston, GA.  I got there about 6:30 A.M. to have plenty of time to get set up before the 7:00 A.M. start.  Was it cold!  30 degrees, to be exact.  As I gathered my gear and went over my checklist in the subfreezing dark, I fleetingly questioned my sanity.  I did my best Patsy Cline, singing “Crazy.”  Shortly thereafter, Daniel showed up on his bicycle, having ridden the few miles from his house.  The first thing he said to me was, “We must be crazy!”  (Insert maniacal laugh)

Antiquing Bag
When it comes to randonneuring, I’m rather a minimalist, at least compared to my fellow riders.  Whereas they typically ride heavier duty, often customized (and cool!) bikes designed more specifically for randonneuring, I ride my regular road bike, a Marin Stelvio, which is lightweight and made for racing (or trying to keep up with the guys at Tuesday Worlds and Peach Peloton!).  Our respective approaches translate to how we carry our stuff, too.  Other randonneurs tend to have more and bigger bags.  In contrast, on 200Ks I put my brevet/permanent card, food, etc. in my jersey pockets.  On 300Ks, however, I do use a bag on a rack that attaches to my seat post.  My husband Robert has been jury-rigging it together, using electrical tape or aluminum foil to fill in the slight gap between the rack’s clamp and my seat post.  Because this isn’t a good long-term solution, I finally came up with a permanent fix this past week in preparation for yesterday’s ride.  I got a shim from the bike shop, and it works perfectly with a lot less hassle.

Robert reminded me of how we even came to have this bag on the rack.  Some years ago, when he started doing Peach Peloton (and before I joined in), it was a smaller group of guys, maybe half a dozen.  These were some of the best, toughest cyclists in Middle Georgia.  One Saturday morning they had a ride starting from the east side of Macon.  Because it was wintertime, Robert had extra clothing that he planned to shed as the day got warmer.  He assumed that the logical way to deal with this was to have some kind of carrier bag large enough to store things.  Unfortunately, this was not the “cool” thing to do.  When the other guys saw the bag, they teased him and asked him if he was going antiquing.  I, for one, am glad that Robert bought the antiquing bag because it’s ideal – and pretty much essential – for my longer brevets and permanents.

Tour de Talbotton
The first control on Saturday’s permanent was at a convenience store in Talbotton.  When Daniel and I got back on the road, almost immediately we came to a railroad crossing where a train was stopped.  We couldn’t see the end in either direction, and it looked like the train wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon:

Neither of us had encountered a completely blocked railroad crossing before on a ride.  We decided to go around it.  Using the maps on our phones, we found a road that looped around and connected to our intended route.  The only problem was, the train was blocking that crossing, too.  So, we located yet another road that would put us back on track.  This one worked!  It was actually quite a pretty road.  One section was particularly picturesque, with a white rail fence running parallel to the road, offsetting the colorful trees and bright blue sky.  We crossed an old fashioned wooden bridge over some more railroad tracks.  It seemed like an ideal detour – until the pavement ran out.  Fortunately, the dirt part wasn’t too bad.  It lasted a mile or so.  My cyclocross experience on Frankenbike made me feel much more comfortable on this section that I would have otherwise.  I was thankful that Daniel and I both made it through without flatting.

Surely You Jest (and Don’t Call me Shirley)
I love to laugh, and finding humor along the way certainly makes a long ride more enjoyable.  Daniel and I shot the breeze a good bit, at least earlier in the ride before we got too tired.  He commented that he never has taken the plunge to shave his legs.  I replied that that’s really more of a racing thing for guys.  However, I hang around cyclists so much that when I see a guy with hairy legs, it seems odd.  I joked that I won’t worry about Robert shaving his legs unless he starts borrowing my lingerie.  Daniel observed that that would be more aerodynamic.  Good point, which I hadn’t thought of.

We turned onto one road that had a rather puzzling surface.  It wasn’t quite as smooth as asphalt, yet it wasn’t quite as rough as chip seal.  Daniel suggested that it was chipsalt.  I thought a more appropriate name might be ass-seal.

My favorite laugh of the day, however, came from a sign that we passed on Highway 137 between Tazewell and Buena Vista.  My goal was not to have this at the end of the day’s ride:

Georgia History
The route went through some places especially significant in Georgia history.  Jimmy Carter, our 39th President and namesake of our ride, grew up in Sumter County.  We rode through the Plains Historic District, which includes his presidential campaign headquarters.  Then, after another 23 miles, we had a control in Andersonville.  Camp Sumter at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate prisons during the Civil War.  Today it’s a memorial to all prisoners of war throughout America’s history.  Although I’ve visited Plains and Andersonville in the past, I’d like to go back again when I can linger.

I did take the time for this cheesy photo opp in downtown Andersonville:

One of my rules in life is never to pass by any photo opp thing where you stick your face in.

The photo opp was right next to the museum and a good little restaurant.  Daniel and I both were in need of refreshment.  He got a giant dill pickle, some pickle juice (good for preventing/easing cramping), and a brownie.  I warmed up with some hot chocolate and ate some of my bike food (a couple of hard boiled eggs for protein and some trail mix).  It’s not magic, but it’s amazing how some calories will really get you going again on a long ride.

Most of the areas we rode through were agricultural.  Farming practices always intrigue me.  I’ve seen a good bit of cotton that was ready to be harvested, but I had never seen it after the fact.  I didn’t know that it’s baled into rolls similar to hay:

The shadows were lengthening, and I knew that we didn’t have a whole lot of daylight left.  The afternoon light was particularly spectacular as it shone on the peach trees in their fall finery:

Equipment Lessons
As we climbed the hills in the final miles, I started pulling ahead of Daniel, who is bigger than I am and was riding a much heavier bike.  He encouraged me to go on.  It was dark by then.  I thought I had gotten a good bit ahead of Daniel because I didn’t see his lights anywhere behind me.  I turned onto Allen Road, where we were to ride to Auchumpkee Covered Bridge for an information control.  (This same information control is on the West Georgia Fall Line 200K permanent that I did last month.)  I immediately pulled to the side of the road for a much needed nature break, not even looking for brush to hide in since it was a deserted, pitch black road.  I was just getting back on my bike when, lo and behold, here comes Daniel!  We met up at the bridge, which was about another mile down the road.

When I got to the bridge, I couldn’t unclip my left shoe from my pedal!  No matter how much I twisted, it wouldn’t come out.  I finally had to leave my shoe clipped in and take my foot out.  Later at home, I discovered that two of the three bolts in my cleat had come out, which made it impossible for me to twist out.  My right shoe was missing a bolt, too!  Fortunately, a few new bolts fixed the problem.  In the future, I’ll pay more attention and keep them tightened.

On 300K or longer RUSA events, which always involve some night riding, participants must have a white front light; a red, solid (not flashing) rear light; a reflective vest; and reflective ankle bands.  I use battery-powered lights, and because the days are so short this time of year, I anticipated needing two sets of lights on Saturday.  I predicted correctly.  With only one mile to go (ack!), my front light went out.  I stopped to put on my second front light and realized that my rear light had gone out, too.  Uh, oh.  I should have noticed that sooner.  Later at the finish, Daniel told me that he had noticed that my rear light was out as I pulled away from him for the last time.  He just couldn’t catch up to tell me.  So, on future rides I definitely will be aware of my rear light status.  Even with all of the riding I’ve done over the years, I’m still learning!

Keep on Rolling
I had started the day with a song, and I ended the day with one, too.  Sometimes when I’m riding hard – whether it’s with intensity during a time trial or just a long, grueling permanent – a song gets stuck in my head, usually a particular line.  Actually, it’s very helpful, like a mantra to keep me focused.  For about the last 10 miles on Saturday, I stayed motivated by the song running through my head, REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes”: Keep on rolling!  Keep on rolling!  Ooo!  Ooo! Ooo!

And I did!

At the finish - 13 hours and 55 minutes after I started
With All Your Strength
Saturday was only my third 300K, and I think I had forgotten how much more challenging it is than a 200K.  I’ve gotten to where I can knock out a 200K relatively easily, but a 300K really does wear me out.  As I rode the last stretch through downtown Thomaston, I passed a friendly man who greeted me with, “How are you?”  Chuckling, I replied, “Tired!”

This kind of endurance cycling is so different than the other types of cycling I do.  It’s very low intensity, but you have to keep it up – for a LONG time.  During the ride it’s often more mental than physical, but afterwards there’s no denying the physical aspect.  It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it.  Even other endurance athletes who don’t do ultra distances don’t always get it.  A couple of weeks ago after the Fried Green 50 (see my post on 11/2/14), I was telling a friend about being so tired that I fell asleep as Robert drove us home.  In fact, I was so exhausted that I slept in the car in the garage for another hour!  My friend, who runs distances as long as marathons, asked me in kind yet misguided concern, “Do you think you’re coming down with something?”

The tiredness I feel after a 300K is different even from this.  It’s not muscle ache; it’s a deep-seated fatigue that radiates from my core and feels like it’s reaching out into my limbs.  Usually, it lasts for about a day.  I was particularly aware of it during church yesterday morning.  Although I didn’t feel like I might fall asleep, I found myself focusing on this fatigue that permeated my body, seeming to envelop my entire being.  It was actually rather pleasant.  Then, it became almost holy to me.

I don’t have answers to life’s big questions.  I’m not always sure if I’m on the right path, but I give and take the best that I can.  I do know that we are meant to enjoy God and all of God’s good creation.  Truth and love are the common denominator.  We love because God first loved us.  I often ponder the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  (You can’t separate this from the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, because that’s the most concrete way to love God.)  Loving God with my heart and mind pretty much makes sense.  The soul part of loving God is kind of mystifying, but I think it has to do with the eternal aspect of our beings.  Then there’s the part about loving God with all your strength.  For the longest time, I thought of this as kind of a catch-all term; love God not only with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, but with every fiber of what makes you, you.  A former pastor of mine opened my eyes to an even simpler interpretation: love God with your physical body.  Of course!  I still like my original understanding, though, and so I take both of them.

As I sat in the quietly in the church sanctuary yesterday morning, it was as if I knew for the first time what loving God with all my strength is.  It’s a total giving of self, until nothing is left.  Paradoxically, it’s the most fulfilling thing we can ever do.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

Monday, November 10, 2014

Peach Peloton

Winter training rides in Macon are known as the Peach Peloton.  From November through about the first weekend in February, we build our base, riding increasingly longer distances and adding intensity.  It’s an excellent way to practice group riding techniques.  Also, I get to know my cycling friends better this time of year because, unlike at Tuesday/Thursday Worlds during Daylight Saving Time, we can actually carry on a conversation while we ride.  This past Saturday was a great kickoff to Peach Peloton season.

It was a brisk start to our ride!  I shivered a lot for the first five or ten miles, but then I warmed up.  That meant I had dressed about right for the weather.  At the first part of the ride, the temperature was 45 degrees.  When I checked my Garmin thermometer again about half an hour later, it was 57 degrees!  I was amazed at how quickly the temperature rose.  It was in the low 60s by the time we finished early in the afternoon.  Not balmy, but really not too bad – good for developing toughness.  Besides, it makes me appreciate spring and summer.

The dynamics truly are different at PP than at Worlds.  The whole point is to ride with the group.  That means that sometimes you have to ride in a way that seems a little counterintuitive.  For example, if it’s your turn to pull, you should take it easier on the uphills and go harder on the downhills.  This keeps the group together better and provides a much smoother, more efficient ride.  Some of the riders on Saturday didn’t quite have the hang of this, but I hope that as we continue over the coming weeks, our rides will get even better.

About half way into our ride, we rode over Hog Mountain near Barnesville.  I’ve heard about Hog Mountain during PP in previous years, but I don’t think I had ever climbed it before.  Sometimes, I do a shorter route when I can’t keep up the guys’ pace for the whole distance, and I guess that previously I always turned off before they climbed Hog Mountain.  Apparently, there are three ways you can ride over Hog Mountain with varying degrees of steepness.  On Saturday we picked the middle one.  Actually, it didn’t seem like a very significant climb to me.  I don’t know whether that’s because Jake (ride leader) did such a good job controlling the pace or because my fitness is currently good – probably both.  Also, I was amused by a dog that followed us all the way up our climb.  Fortunately, this was a nice dog, not an aggressive one wreaking havoc.  It was some kind of Australian shepherd mix who truly looked like he was trying to shepherd the peloton up Hog Mountain.

Here’s to Peach Peloton for 2014-2015!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fried Green 50

The Fried Green 50 is the longest, most grueling - and most fun! - gravel ride I do each year.  My friend Monte Marshall and other volunteers with the Ocmulgee Mountain Biking Association (OMBA) do a fantastic job putting together this ride.

Fall is definitely here.  I'm a warm weather lover, and so I'm still adjusting to the dropping temperatures.  However, I was quite comfortable on today's ride wearing a base layer, long-sleeved jersey, and leg warmers.  Whatever the temperature, the view from our staging area next to the Ocmulgee River was just beautiful:

The first few miles supposedly were a neutral roll-out until we got to the dirt part.  I knew Frankenbike and I wouldn't be part of the front group anyway, but I'm not sure how neutral that start was - they took off like rockets!  The Fried Green 50 is kind of a ride and kind of a race; you can ride it however you want.  I was a little ambivalent about my ride.  I wanted to enjoy the day and remember that I don't always have to compete.  At the same time, I couldn't help but try to keep track of where the other women riders were.  I decided to ride as hard as I felt comfortable and let the chips fall where they may.

One way I reined it in a little was by stopping to take a few pictures.  We rode primarily in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR), one of my favorite places to ride.  The PWR is prime habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species.  I had to settle for a picture of this sign rather than an actual bird:

A number of picturesque beaver ponds dotted the PWR.  Fall foliage provided a backdrop to several of them.  This beaver pond at SAG 2 is surrounded by pines, also making a serene landscape:

There were plenty of SAGs, but because I was carrying my own food, I only stopped at a couple of the SAGs to refill my water bottle.  I had good momentum and rode steadily.  Except for a few brief hellos with some of my fellow riders, I did the whole ride by myself.  I didn't mind, though.  I'm usually in church on Sunday, and so today I worshiped in God's outdoor cathedral instead:

The road more graveled

There were six creek crossings throughout the route.  On the first one I forgot to downshift before I went through the water.  Therefore, I had to get off of Frankenbike and push it up the opposite hill.  I remembered to downshift on subsequent creek crossings.  Roaring like a lion helped me ford them, too.  On the climb after the third creek crossing, my legs started being a little stubborn.  I don't know why they picked that particular time.  That climb from the creek wasn't the toughest one of the day by any stretch.  Well, I just channeled my inner Jensie and thought, "Shut up, legs!"

My legs listened, cooperating for the rest of the ride.  However, my overall energy level started to fluctuate for about the last 10 miles.  For a while I felt like I could almost fly.  Then, in about the last two miles, I nearly bonked.  I thought I had planned my nutrition well, but I should have eaten one more thing toward the end of my ride.

Actually, I was kind of out of it right at the end.  Monte had this fun little dippity do at the end, featuring a hairpin turn and lots of brush.  I assume just about everyone had to push their bikes up like I did:

My brain was so fuzzy that I didn't even notice this guardian of the trail, right next to the path! (I went back later to get this picture.)

I made it to the end - yea!  As quickly as my tired bones would allow, I changed clothes and headed for the food line.  This year Monte arranged for a spaghetti dinner, provided by Jeanine's in Macon.  It was most welcome!

I heard that there were some fried green tomatoes, too, but they were all gone by the time I got there :(

I enjoyed hanging out by the campfire with everyone:

Lots of my cycling friends were there today.  Since I'm primarily a roadie, I especially enjoyed seeing my friends who are off-roadies.

When I arrived at the gathering area, several people asked me if I was the first female finisher.  I had no idea but figured I would find out eventually.  Then, as I was chilling by the campfire with my RecreationAle, my husband Robert came and tapped me on the shoulder.  Monte was looking for me to present the award for the first female finisher.  Woo hoo!  I received a deluxe, 16-oz. Fried Green 50 Styrofoam cup (bigger than the 12-oz. Fried Green 50 Styrofoam cup that each person received at check-in), and a large, green gazing ball - what fun!

Celebrating with Monte, Fried Green 50 organizer extraordinaire!
Robert and I headed for home.  Before we left Juliette, however, we had to visit Il Porcellino (Italian for "piglet"):

This is a replica of a famous Florentine sculpture created in the 1600s.  According to tradition, visitors to the original Il Porcellino rub its snout to ensure a return visit to Florence.  I hope that my rubbing this Il Porcellino's snout ensures my return visit to Juliette and the Fried Green 50.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bats and Bicycles

For me, bats and bicycles go hand-in-hand:

The rarely seen Cyclobat

I've been a supporter of Bat Conservation International (BCI) for many years.  Several years ago Robert and I took the most wonderful long-weekend trip to Austin and San Antonio, Texas.  In Austin we did a group ride with some local cyclists and watched the bats emerge from the Congress Avenue bridge.  I thought it couldn't get any better, but it did.  The highlight of our trip was visiting Bracken Cave near San Antonio.  Bracken Cave, owned by BCI, is the summer home to the largest known colony of bats in the world, about 10 million Mexican free-tail bats!  Seeing the bats emerge from Bracken Cave was one of the most magical experiences of my life.

When I was planning my special cycling project for 2013, A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com), I immediately knew that I wanted to ride for BCI as one of my charities.  Bats are such majestic and critical - yet misunderstood - creatures.  They are invaluable to our ecosystems, eating insects that destroy crops, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds.  At the same time, bats face numerous threats in the U.S. and around the world, ranging from indiscriminate killing to the devastating White Nose Syndrome.  Recently, the bats of Bracken Cave have come under a particularly critical threat.

A developer proposed building approximately 3,500 homes adjacent to Bracken Cave.  This would disrupt the nightly flight patterns of the bats, which have been using Bracken Cave as their summer home for over 10,000 years.  Furthermore, the proposed development would lead to increased contact between humans and bats - not a good thing because the bats most certainly would lose out.  BCI went to work right away on behalf of the bats of Bracken Cave.

BCI tried to negotiate with the developer, but soon it became clear that the only real way to protect the bats was to purchase the property from the developer.  To make a long story short, BCI partnered with several other entities, including the City of San Antonio and the Nature Conservancy, to purchase the property.  Just yesterday, word was released that the Nature Conservancy was able to secure a $5 million loan to complete the purchase.  Truly, this is the best Halloween story ever!


For 17 years (almost as long as I've been a member of BCI!), I've loved dressing up as the Mad Doctor at Haunticello, which is trick-or-treating on the square in my hometown of Monticello.  This year, in honor of all the visitors to the Mad Doctor's operating room, I made a special donation to BCI to help with the purchase of the land adjacent to Bracken Cave.  I gave the trick-or-treaters a handout from BCI describing the superpowers of bats.  On the back I wrote a brief description of the plight of the bats at Bracken Cave.  How perfect, then, that this fantastic bat was one of the trick-or-treaters!

Thanks to the bats, it was the best Haunticello ever!

P.S. Funds are still needed to save the bats of Bracken Cave.  For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.batcon.org.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Babe + Sage Farm Dinner

Technically, this post isn't a cycling write-up, but good, healthy food is critical to good bike performance.  It's even better when that good food comes from a local, sustainable farm.  Recently I learned of Babe + Sage Farm near Gordon, Georgia.  Tonight Robert and I got to go there for a farm dinner.

Bobby and Chelsea own Babe + Sage and have several part-time employees who assisted throughout the evening with serving and cooking.  All of them work on the farm itself, too.  We received a warm welcome on the porch of the farmhouse with a variety of wines and two types of bruschetta:

The arugula and broccoli were grown on the farm.  In fact, Bobby said that the broccoli came from the first three heads that they have harvested this season!  How special that we got to partake of them.  The bread was some of the wonderful artisan bread that they bake right there.

Next, Bobby led us eight dinner guests on a tour of the farm.  But first, he answered a common question: where does the name Babe + Sage come from?  He and Chelsea had tried and tried to come up with a name for their farm.  It finally came to them from a piece of artwork by Kim Joris (who happens to be a friend of mine, too - small world!).

The words on the artwork are from a longer quote:

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.” ~William Henry Channing

Then we set out to see the wonders of the farm in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine.  Last year they laid about 6,000 feet of PVC pipe for irrigation.  The things sticking up are the sprinklers:

I didn't expect the irrigation pipes to be as large as they are, 3" mains and 2" laterals; that's like a drinking water system!  Note the pecan trees in the background above.  Pecans are just one of the many crops they produce.

These are some plants in the greenhouse waiting to be put into the ground:

The fall crops are well underway.  Wild areas are left between every few rows of vegetables as part of the sustainable land management:

There are six planting areas.  Each year, three are cultivated and three are planted in cover crops (peas, legumes, or beans) to restore the carbon-nitrogen balance.  The next year the groupings are swapped.  This allows the fertility of the soil to be maintained.  It certainly appears to be working because we saw the most beautiful, lush vegetables!

Bok choy

I'm not sure of the names of all of the types of greens that they grow; I believe they have over two dozen varieties!

One thing I love about adventures like this is that I always learn something.  The thing that fascinated me the most tonight was learning that many cruciferous vegetables (e.g., kale, collard greens, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower) are the same species.  They are simply different cultivars; broccoli has been developed for its large flowering heads, and kohlrabi is actually an engorged stem.  It's kind of like various dog breeds are all the same species.

As an aside, I first learned of kohlrabi from the periodic table of vegetables hanging in my kitchen.  Yes, someone actually came up with a vegetable to go with every element symbol!  Is that cool, or what?

Back to the farm tour...we then moved on to the processing areas.  Here's the brick oven where they bake all of that delicious bread:

This is the root vegetable washing area.  Note how they use readily available materials from around the farm.  This screen door is simply flipped over for easy backwashing:

Another terrific piece of ingenuity: they put large quantities of greens in this washing machine to get the grit off.  It's like a giant salad spinner!

Wrapping up our walking tour, Bobby explained that he and Chelsea lease the land from the Oetter family, who have owned it since the Great Depression.  It's the perfect situation for young, sustainable farmers like them; they don't have to expend capital to purchase land, the Oetters receive income from their property, and the land is regenerated and conserved.

It was time for the main meal.  We gathered inside the farmhouse at a long table set simply yet elegantly.  The first course was a salad consisting of a number of Babe + Sage greens, the last of the tomato crop, slices of slightly pickled watermelon radish, and honey-apple vinaigrette.

Next came lamb and fall veggie pot pies served in individual ramekins.  The vegetables were from Babe + Sage, and the lamb came from a farm in Sandersville.  The pot pie was incredibly flavorful!

A variety of seasonal vegetables also was served on the side: sweet potatoes and (I think) turnips, greens, and roasted radishes.  I had never had cooked radishes, and they were delicious!

We headed back out to the porch for a little break before dessert.  I enjoyed talking with everyone.  We had all kinds of connections, including Lori, who used to live in Monticello and go to church with Robert and me, and Christy, who works at the same company with a couple of our cycling friends.  Bobby and Chelsea said that our friend Benny often stops by when he rides his bicycle over from Milledgeville on the dirt roads.  Additionally, several of us know John Pluta, a half-crazy beekeeper in Milledgeville.

Jesse did most of the cooking for the evening, and he capped it off beautifully with a rustic bread pudding drizzled with local honey.  It wasn't too sweet - just right:

I'm glad Jesse shared with us the cookbook that he used for many of the dishes.  It came from the library at Georgia College in Milledgeville.  I checked the copyright date, which is 1952.  Isn't this terrific?

I hope Robert and I can visit Babe + Sage again soon.