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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ode to BRAG and Pimento Cheese

Well, it's actually a haiku to BRAG because that's the only kind of poem I can write (see below for haiku to pimento cheese):

Two-wheeled adventures
The best way to see Georgia
Gotta brag on BRAG

The Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) will always have a special place in my heart because it laid the foundation for my cycling journey over the past few decades - with all its joy, friends, and challenges.

BRAGing Through the Years
I first heard about BRAG when I was a teenager.  I was vaguely aware of an epic ride from Atlanta to Savannah, something that seemed almost too monumental to accomplish.  Cycling always appealed to me, but I had no idea how to really get into it.  Robert opened that door for me.  When we first met in our early 20s, he was into triathlon.  I don't exactly remember how it went, but somehow that led to us deciding to do BRAG together in 1994.  We had so much fun that we did BRAG in 1995 and 1996 as well.  By the way, my teenage impression of BRAG always going from Atlanta to Savannah was incorrect.  Robert and I rode across South, North, and Middle Georgia, respectively, in those three years; BRAG goes all over the state!

In subsequent years, Robert and I started taking cycling vacations in other states and even a few other countries.  Even though we haven't done the full BRAG since 1996, we are grateful to BRAG for opening our eyes to just how wonderful it is to travel, learn, and have fun by bicycle.  Also, we've enjoyed participating in other BRAG events since then, including the Spring Tune Up (STU), the Georgia Bike Fest in the fall, and a ride on the Silver Comet Trail a few years ago.  Robert and I even joined a BRAG group that did the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) in 2007.  RAGBRAI is the original cross-state bicycle ride.  It's an almost indescribable rolling party of 10,000-15,000 people - something every cyclist needs to experience at least once!

Interestingly, I believe 1994 was the first year that BRAG offered the STU.  Robert and I rode in it to help us get ready for our first BRAG.  I’ve enjoyed riding in the STU many times since then, particularly with it being held in Madison in recent years, just up the road from our home.  This year’s STU was as fun as ever, and it fit perfectly into my RAAM training schedule.  And not only did I get in some good mileage, I got to reconnect with a number of old cycling friends.

Rain threatened for much of the day this past Saturday, but thankfully it mostly held off.  Despite the gray skies, I was glad to be riding, especially since Robert joined me!  I wouldn’t have minded grinding it out by myself on the century option, but he made it a lot more fun (and faster).

Because we were riding at a training pace, we didn’t stop at every rest stop.  When we did stop, however, the Powerade, pimento cheese sandwiches (more on that below!), snacks, and friendly volunteers were greatly appreciated.  At the stop in Good Hope, I was so happy to see Bonnie, a former coworker at Law Engineering from way back during my college years.  I was a co-op student at Georgia Tech, working and going to school on alternate quarters, and Bonnie was one of the drafters at Law.  I have very fond memories of those days and how everyone was so kind and patient with the young pup that I was.

Incidentally, I reconnected with Bonnie a few years ago thanks to BRAG.  She had posted a beautiful picture of a canola field on the BRAG Facebook page.  When I saw Bonnie noted as the photographer, I commented that I knew her.  She saw my comment and sent me a friend request.  We’ve been back in touch ever since.  Here’s a pretty picture of a canola field that Bonnie took this year:

Also at Good Hope, I caught up with my longtime BRAG friend Jerry, current CEO and former Ride Director.  Every BRAG rider must know Jerry, and we all appreciate his enthusiasm and hard work for so many years to help us enjoy cycling and our beautiful state.  I also got to thank Jerry in person for BRAG’s donation to my Sorella RAAM team :)

Since the STU has been held in Madison, it has developed a great tradition.  In addition to the several official rest stops, there is one unofficial rest stop.  It’s at the Oreo Farm outside of Rutledge.  The Oreo Farm has Belted Galloway cows, commonly known as Oreo cows, which are black on both ends with a white stripe around the middle:

This photo is from the Internet because the cows at the Oreo Farm were grazing out of sight on Saturday.  Fortunately, though, the other attraction of the Oreo Farm was easily accessible: Oreos, beer, and bloody marys!

This was at mile 86; I was very relaxed for the remaining 16 miles.

After showers and a light meal in downtown Madison, Robert and I headed over to BRAG happy hour at the Brady Inn.  We enjoyed catching up with Ken, a riding companion on a previous STU, and Janet, who was part of our RAGBRAI group in 2007.  Robert and I also found a quiet bench in the Brady Inn’s lovely garden, where we tried to identify all of the herbs and other vegetables:

We went back to the BRAG campground to listen to the Georgia Flood (band), and then we drove home.  It was as enjoyable a day as I can remember in quite a while.

Robert decided not to accompany me again on Sunday, and so I drove back to Madison by myself.  The chance of rain was much greater that day, but I was determined to ride regardless.  RAAM training must go on!  It was raining lightly as I headed out, but it wasn’t too bad, especially since I have a good cycling rain jacket.  Most of the other riders had opted out for the day, and so I had the peaceful roads pretty much to myself.

Although the initial rain didn’t last that long, the bottom fell out around mile 45.  I was glad for my bright yellow rain jacket and blinking rear light to make me more visible to cars.  The longest route for the day was 56 miles.  Somehow, however, I had gotten it in my head that there was supposed to be a 62-mile route, and so I was determined to do a metric century no matter what.  After completing the designated 56-mile route, I did an out-and-back for an additional 6 miles.  Yes, I’m crazy, but if I hadn’t done those extra miles, I would have missed this sign:

Hilarious yet disturbing.  Sometimes it’s like living in a Flannery O’Connor story around here.

Pimento Cheese

Pâté of the South
Pimentos and cheese - heaven!
Store bought?  Heresy!

Pimento cheese deserves its own mention because it’s one of my favorite foods (I could wallow in it!), and there are always pimento cheese sandwiches at one rest stop during the STU.

Photo by Bonnie!
On Saturday Robert and I scored pimento cheese sandwiches at not one, but two rest stops!  A volunteer at an earlier rest stop had begged for some of the pimento cheese, and so she was given a small portion of the main batch.

As I’ve gotten into randonneuring over the past year or so, I’ve become much more attuned to my nutrition during long rides.  Although I’ve had pimento cheese sandwiches on previous STUs, it never occurred to me until this past weekend that they make such great bike food.  They have protein and fat, they provide a nice contrast to the many sweet offerings, and they are easily portable.  I’d be hesitant to pack pimento cheese on a brevet in July because of the mayonnaise, but what a perfect option for a cold weather ride or at an event like BRAG where coolers are available.

I must specify, however, that not just any pimento cheese will do.  Store bought pimento cheese is like congealed insecticide, an apt description that I once read in a newspaper column.  Also, even if it’s homemade, as it should be, it shouldn’t be too gloppy; mayonnaise should be minimized.  My mother’s basic pimento cheese is delectable: grated cheddar cheese, pimentos that have been drained and chopped, a little mayonnaise, and lots of black pepper to taste.  Many people have their own variations.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a feature on pimento cheese some years ago in its Food section.  It had several outstanding recipes, but this is my favorite, which I’ve been making ever since:

Georgia Quilt Project's Favorite Pimento Cheese

8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated
2 T coarsely grated onion
1 7-oz. jar pimentos, drained
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
4 T mayonnaise
Cayenne pepper to taste

Combine cheeses, onion, pimentos, and jalapenos in a medium bowl.  Add enough mayonnaise to bind, about 4 T.  Add cayenne pepper to taste and stir together well.

I’m so obsessed with pimento cheese that I have sought other incarnations:
  • Pimento Cheese Toast – Put some pimento cheese on a slice of bread and stick it under the broiler until the cheese melts.
  • Pimento Cheese Burgers – I can’t believe it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve discovered how delicious pimento cheese is on top of hamburgers.  The Rookery in Macon, renowned for its hamburgers, features pimento cheese and bread and butter pickles on its Johnny Jenkins Burger – outstanding!
I'm glad the extra mayo is on the side - don't need that!
  • Twice-Baked Potatoes – Bake a potato at at 400° for about an hour.  Cut a thin horizontal slice along its length.  Scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell with the skin.  Mash the scooped out potato with a few tablespoons each of grated cheddar cheese and chopped pimentos, salt and pepper to taste, and a few teaspoons of milk.  Place filling back inside potato shell and bake at 400° until golden, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Pimento Cheese Pizza – Brush pizza dough on both sides with olive oil and place in pizza pan.  Top with grated cheddar cheese, chopped pimentos, chopped onion (preferably Vidalia), and hot banana peppers.  Bake at 500° until golden, about 10-15 minutes.  FYI, I’ve never been able to make a decent pizza crust from scratch, and so I use a loaf of frozen bread dough.  I put it out to thaw before work, and it’s ready to use that evening.  (Place frozen dough in loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray.)
I need to come up with a macaroni and pimento cheese recipe, too.  If you have any other pimento cheese deliciousness to share, please let me know!

BRAG and pimento cheese: two things that make life good.  Ride on!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Athens 300K Brevet

I don’t know that you could ever call a 300K easy, but Saturday’s Athens 300K was about as good as 193 miles can get.  The main contributing factors were beautiful weather (woo hoo! warmth after all that winter cold!), a fantastic route, and – as always – great companionship.

Brandon, Daniel, Ed, Ian, Robert N., and I rode together for about the first 50 miles.  We lost Ed and Robert after a while but later picked up Dick.  For the entire day, Daniel really pushed the pace.  After a fast, early stretch where he pulled most of the way, he said that the rest of us would start putting a hurt on him.  Ha – that never happened.  It was almost comical.

The Georgia Guidestones made a unique information control.  Consisting of granite slabs that came from nearby quarries, the Guidestones have words of wisdom written in various ancient and modern languages.  Their origin is mysterious; an anonymous person or persons obtained the land and had the monuments constructed.  I visited the Guidestones 19 years ago during the 1996 Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG), the last time I did BRAG.  It was fun to go back.  The Guidestones still look like a cross between Stonehenge and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Soon after the Guidestones, we passed a huge turtle in the roadway.  Its carapace was at least 12 inches long.  I forgot to take a picture, but this is what it looked like:

Common snapping turtle

Whether I’m in my car or on my bicycle, I always try to stop to move turtles that are trying to cross the road.  Always move a turtle to the side toward which it’s heading, or it will just try to cross the road again.  Although I’ve moved many a turtle out of the road, this is the first time that I’ve come across one that was parallel to the white line!  I assumed it wanted to be on the side it was closer to; I hope I made the right choice.
Canola farms have proliferated in northeast Georgia in recent years.  Used primarily to produce cooking oil, canola covers acres and acres with a profusion of yellow blooms this time of year:
Photo by Kevin Kaiser during pre-ride the previous Monday

I’ve always thought canola blooms are really pretty.  Therefore, I was somewhat taken aback when Ian commented that he thinks they are ugly.  Really!  It’s interesting, though, to consider something from someone else’s perspective.  As I thought about it, I conceded that yes, they are unattractive from a monocropping standpoint.  I still think the flowers are pretty, though.  I joked with Ian that he must hate the opening credits to Little House on the Prairie.  Living in his native England in the 1970s, he wasn’t familiar with this particular slice of Americana.  When I described those yellow flowers to him, however, he said that those would be OK since they grow naturally on the prairie.
One hallmark of Saturday’s brevet was the generous hospitality.  In addition to Kevin and Chris taking their usual good care of all of the riders, Jim Shanni provided support.   Jim really went all out!  First, he parked his vehicle at the control at the Richard B. Russell state park office, offering us drinks and snacks.  Then, after the ride, he had pizza for everyone!  All of this was greatly appreciated.
We also had a wonderful, unexpected oasis thanks to our fellow randonneur David Nixon.  David didn’t do Saturday’s ride with us, but we rode right near his farm between Royston and Jefferson.  He parked his truck along the route and had water, Cokes, snacks, and sunscreen available for us.  That was incredibly thoughtful regardless, but he happened to be at a particularly opportune location, along one of the longer stretches between controls.  My companions and I had discussed looking for a church or fire station to replenish our water, but David made that unnecessary.  Thank you so much, David!
Jim drove by to check on us later in the ride and let us know that a train was blocking the tracks at an upcoming railroad crossing.  When we arrived at the crossing a few miles later, Chris was there to direct us around the end of the train, which fortunately was only tens of yards past the crossing.  Having to take our bicycles off road seemed a fitting tribute to yesterday’s Paris-Roubaix race.
Our group was making good time, but we had to encourage Daniel to take it a little easier on the rest of us.  Toward the end of the ride, he started having severe cramps.  You never would have known it from the way he rode, though.  Of course, we didn’t want him to be in pain, but it almost seemed like he was sandbagging.  I’ve never seen anyone with cramps ride that hard and fast.  If we had been in a Nancy Drew mystery, the plotline would have been, “The ruse worked!”
With about 15 miles to go, we all were tired and anticipating the finish.  Daniel started talking about how hard the last 15 miles of the Dublin 600K were two weeks ago.  I had read his ride report, which was quite descriptive of that particularly tough brevet.  However, I really didn’t want to think about that just then as I was battling my own fatigue with more than 175 miles in my legs.  I jovially told Daniel that I’d much rather talk about bunnies and rainbows.  He laughed, and we all continued on.  Then, with about 5K to go, Daniel started telling us about a bluegrass song called “There’s Always One More Hill to Climb.”  He claimed that it’s an inspirational song.  I yelled “Bunnies and rainbows!  Bunnies and rainbows!”

Thanks again to all my rando friends who made it such a wonderful day, either by riding with me or providing support.  I really enjoy these brevets, and they also work well with my RAAM training schedule.

Dick, me, Ian, Daniel, and Brandon - good rando buddies

I was already riding a good bit before I even knew I'd be on a RAAM team, usually 8-12 hours per week.  At the beginning of 2015, I started training specifically for RAAM, setting a goal of gradually increasing my weekly mileage from January until June.  In January and February, I rode about 10-12 hours per week.  Since March 1, that's increased to about 15-20 hours per week.  As I push my physical limits, I find that I have to be more mindful of minor ailments that normally I hardly would think about.  That's because I don't want small issues to become big ones.
In the past week I’ve developed hot foot.  This is a common condition in cyclists in which the ball of the foot becomes sore, caused by the metatarsal bones squeezing the nerves between them.  My right foot was already sore before Saturday's brevet, but when I got home Saturday evening, the ball of that foot was pretty fiery.  I did a little on-line reading, and fortunately, this is not a fatal condition.  A few suggested treatments are loosening your shoe straps, particularly the ones near your toes; moving your cleats back on your shoes; and placing inserts in your shoes.  Of course, I'm implementing these recommendations, but on Saturday I was seeking immediate relief from the pain itself.  I love a good foot massage regardless, and so I was happy that my husband Robert was willing to oblige.  As he rubbed the sore ball of my foot, I fantasized, "I need a foot masseuse named Alejandro.”  Robert replied, "I need someone to iron my clothes named Helga.”  Bwa ha ha!  Robert actually makes a pretty good foot masseuse, and so I suppose I'll just keep him.  Between him and a soothing bag of ice, my foot felt a lot better.

Now about that ironing...

Monday, April 6, 2015


Good Friday is a holiday at my office, and so I used my three-day weekend for some extra RAAM training.

I’ve been doing some RAAM blocks (sets of 10-20 miles with a 30-minute rest between each set), but Friday was the greatest number of RAAM blocks I’ve done at one time so far.  I did 102 total miles in five sets of about 20 miles each.  My initial goal was to ride all five blocks at 70% of my functional threshold power (FTP), the maximum power I can maintain for one hour.  This seemed like a reasonable target because during RAAM I want to ride as fast as I can, i.e. at the highest power I can, but it has to be a level that I can repeat time after time for about seven days.  Determining this level is one of my main training goals between now and RAAM.

Friday morning was beautiful as I set out on my first block.  I felt better on my bike than I had in a while; therefore, I quickly increased my goal for the day to ride at 75% of FTP.  That worked pretty well for my first three blocks:

By the fourth block my power started waning:

On block 5 I wasn't anywhere near 75% of my FTP:

It turns out that I should have stuck with my original goal of 70% of FTP.  This was valuable information – exactly what training is for!  Now I need to determine whether 70% of FTP is reasonable for multiple days.  My best chance to evaluate this will be in May when my three teammates and I get together for a 48-hour mini RAAM simulation.  In the meantime, I’ll keep riding as much as I can, including more RAAM blocks.

By the way, even though my 30-minute rest periods weren’t that long, I was grateful for even those short segments, which allowed me to do a little housework.  (These days, between work and training, I feel like I’m never home!)  It also made fueling easy because I could eat at home rather than on my bicycle.  I made sure to get some good protein during one of my breaks, fixing a fried egg sandwich with fresh eggs from my chickens – don’t forget the mustard!

Also, to make sure that I stayed on schedule, I set the alarm on my phone during each rest period.  The alarm sound I use is a dog barking.  On one of my breaks, I left my phone on the kitchen table while I was folding towels in the adjacent laundry room.  My greyhound Mr. Spock was lying on the kitchen floor.  When the alarm went off, he went nuts trying to figure out where that dog was!  First, he ran to the window and started barking.  Then, he ran down to the basement, out the dog door, and into the backyard.  He never did find that dog.

On Saturday I was looking forward to another century, especially since I wasn’t worried about holding any particular power this time.  I was simply trying to get in miles.  Not that I was lollygagging, though!  I still tried to keep up as strong and consistent a pace as I could.

I kicked off my ride with a stop by The Vanilla Bean, my local coffee shop.  It’s such a wonderful place – food, beverages, atmosphere, etc. – but I don’t get to go very often because I’m so rarely in town during the hours they are open.  Although I had already had a hearty and healthy breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, milk, and tea that morning at home, some additional fuel was still welcome.  I had another cup of tea (ginger this time) and a slice of German chocolate cake.  As I was enjoying my treats, a friend stopped to say hello and asked, “You're out riding so you can eat that, aren’t you?”  I laughed and said, “No, I’m eating this so that I can ride!”  Truth.

I also had a delightful conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Schrock, a very nice couple in my community.  They have always been extremely friendly and kind, and so I don’t know why I should have expected anything different from them this time, but I guess I thought they might look askance at me in my cycling kit.  That’s because they are Mennonites.  My spandex didn’t seem to faze them a bit, though.  We talked about my upcoming RAAM adventure, and they seemed genuinely interested and excited.  I told them a little about my training, the logistics involved during the race, and how my team is racing on behalf of Wellspring Living, an organization that assists victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.  As I was leaving, I wished them a happy Easter.  Mrs. Schrock said, “The Lord is risen!”  I replied, “He is, indeed!”  Ecumenism at its finest.  Maybe we don’t all worship God in exactly the same way, but we all are God’s children.  Amen.

A few miles down the road as I was headed to Macon, a car slowed down beside me.  It was the Schrocks.  Mrs. Schrock waved out the passenger side window and called out, “You go!”  That totally made my day.

The remainder of my route to Macon strung together some familiar roads, including the beautiful main thoroughfare through the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge and some Monroe County roads that I know from Peach Peloton.  Then, I had to wend my way through a few side streets to get to my downtown Macon lunch destination, Cherry Street Cycles.  They have just moved to an expanded location on Second Street, adding a small restaurant.  A barbecue sandwich hit the spot and gave me a little mid-ride protein.  Leaving Cherry Street Cycles, I rode a portion of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail and headed back home through Jones County.

When I got home, I certainly was tired, but I felt pretty good for having done back-to-back days of 100+ miles.  The real fatigue had not yet set in...

On Saturday night I didn't sleep as well as I expected.  I woke up a number of times during the night.  Although I went right back to sleep each time, I'm sure this was an indication that I'm pushing my body harder than it's used to.  That's exactly what I need to do to get fitter and faster for RAAM, but as Robert wisely reminded me, I also need to allow myself enough recovery.  The body actually grows stronger during recovery as it repairs itself than during the intense training efforts themselves.

After a magnificent Easter morning at church, I headed out for another ride.  Happily, Robert went with me!  My original plan was to ride about 50 miles, but I was pretty beat.  Robert talked me into going a shorter distance, convincing me that that would do me more good.  I did shorten my route, but I kept the main part of it, which included Rabbit Skip Road - the perfect road to ride on for Easter!  (I don't know of a Jesus Road.)

As tired as I felt during the first part of my Sunday ride, I can't believe how much better I felt after about an hour.  I still thought it was smart to stick with the shorter route, but if you had told me at the start that I would wind up riding 31 miles at 17.6 mph and an average power of 141 W, I would have told you that you were crazy!  Robert advised me to mentally file away this experience; if I'm feeling awful in the middle of RAAM, I just need to remember that I will start feeling better.

When I got home, I made myself one of my favorite recovery drinks, which is essentially glorified chocolate milk.  I added a scoop of protein powder; how had I forgotten that we have a huge canister of it in the pantry?  That's going to be my M.O. on all long rides - a recovery drink with protein powder.  I'm still trying to eat plenty of protein in my regular diet; the powder will simply be a supplement.  Protein is extra important in the type of training I'm doing.

Because I work full time, most of my riding has to occur on the weekends.  By default it's getting more intense as I up the mileage.  Based on my training this weekend, I've decided to take a slightly different approach to my remaining weeks before RAAM.  I'll keep going long and hard on the weekends, but I'm purposely going to take it easier on my shorter rides during the week.  Recovery is so critical, yet it can be so easy to overlook.

What great lessons on intensity, nutrition, and recovery from this weekend's training!  RAAM JAAM!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Yellow Stuff Is A-Pollen

It coats my screen porch.  It covers black dogs in a film of yellow, like a cross between a silent film and psychedelia.

Pine pollen.  The worst part is that it totally kills my eyes.  For two or three weeks this time of year when I ride, the pine pollen blinds me and hurts like crazy because of my contact lenses.  I alternate between excruciating pain, filmy vision, and blessed pain-free clear vision.

Electron microscope image of pine pollen or alien death start?  It's all the same to me.
Next year I'm definitely investing in prescription, athletic sunglasses.