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, August 31, 2016

Strava, Di2, and a Bloody Mary

This is a tale of first world problems – and a strong indication of my OCD tendencies.

I’m a big fan of Strava.  It’s social media for athletes (mostly cyclists, runners, and swimmers) where you post your activities and give each other kudos, like “liking” on Facebook.  People also set up Strava cycling segments where you can try for the fastest time to earn a KOM (King of the Mountain) or QOM (Queen of the Mountain).  It’s pretty cool to get a QOM, and I admit to getting a little irked when someone steals one of my QOM’s.  What I really like about, Strava, however, are the cycling distance challenges.  Incidentally, the name “Strava” comes from the Swedish word meaning “to strive.”

Strava offers a distance challenge each month.  The goal is 1,250 km, about 777 miles.  You get electronic badges for completing 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of the challenge.  I really don’t care about the intermediate badges other than to make sure I’m on track throughout the month.  I’m after that finisher’s badge!  And I’m pretty relentless in pursuing it.

Actually, I usually do the distance challenges only from March through September.  During the remaining fall and winter months, there’s not enough daylight after work to get enough road mileage, and dirt road riding – fun as it is – is too slow to accumulate the miles.  Why sign up for a distance challenge if I know I can’t do 100%?  Besides, it’s good to take the pressure off myself for a few months out of the year.

But right now is distance challenge time!  About 10 days ago, I started analyzing how I might get my 1,250 km during the remaining days of August.  I even made a spreadsheet.  This is serious stuff.

Weekends are the obvious time to rack up my main mileage.  However, I had a small hiccup last weekend because of the Spot on TT, my last race of the season.  With only about 11 miles in the race, I would have to make up some mileage elsewhere.  The race was on Sunday.  Saturday would normally be a long-ride day, but I didn’t want to wear myself out the day before a race.  I decided that I could manage about a 50-mile ride on Saturday at a mellow pace.  I still needed to pick up some more miles, though.

I had two Tuesday Worlds left in the month.  I could ride my bicycle to and from Tuesday Worlds from my office.  That would add about 11 extra miles each time on top of the 37 miles at Worlds.  According to my spreadsheet plan, I would need to ride about 18 miles today, August 31, to complete the Strava distance challenge.  No problem.  My usual after-work road ride is about 20-23 miles.

Uh oh – a few days ago our Georgia Neuro team director called a meeting for 5:30 today.  Whew!  Still no problem because I could simply ride at lunchtime.  My regular lunchtime route is 21 miles.  Everything was going according to plan…until yesterday.

Yesterday after work, I unloaded my bicycle from my car to ride to Tuesday Worlds.  I started pedaling through the parking lot and discovered that my Di2 electronic shifters weren’t working.  I didn’t see any loose connections.  Argh!  I have had a number of Di2 problems.  I’ve been pretty patient up until now, but this time I had had it.  Although I decided to proceed to Tuesday Worlds and do the best I could with my one gear, I fumed the whole way to the start.  Robert didn’t see any obvious problem, either.  I took off a few minutes before the group.  With only one gear – and not a very good one at that – I knew that I would be much slower than usual and would have to cut my ride short to finish before dark.

A couple of miles down the road, I caught up to Chad Madan.  He usually rides from his workshop, which is located very close to the Tuesday Worlds route, and joins the group a few miles in.  Chad could tell that I was having bike issues.  Trying not to be too whiny, I briefly explained that my Di2 shifters weren’t working, and I had only one gear.  To my surprise, he diagnosed the problem right away!  He asked if I had laid my bicycle on its side.  Yes, I had carried it to work in the back of my car.  He said that if you lay your bike on the break/shifter, it can discharge the battery in a relatively short time.  Of course!  What a simple explanation!  I had a strong suspicion that that was exactly what had happened.  If I were able to go home and recharge my battery without incident, I would be certain that this was the problem.  In the future, I will simply be much more aware of how I carry my bicycle in the car.

(Side note: My first Di2 issues were due to a lemon battery, which Shimano replaced for me.  That was a tail-end-of-the-bell-curve experience regarding electronic shifting.  Since then, I’ve had a couple of incidents like the one I just described, and I think they have always been after laying my bicycle on its side in my car.  Now that I understand the probable underlying cause, my confidence in Di2 is restored.)

I still had only one gear for last night’s ride, but Chad’s advice buoyed my spirits significantly.  I even laughed as Jake pushed my back and gave me a bewildered look as the Tuesday Worlds peloton zipped by.  As I rode along mostly by myself for the rest of the evening, I thought about how I still could get my Strava miles.  Between yesterday and today I needed 67 miles.  Hmm…on Wednesday I could ride a little before work and then ride at lunchtime.  Or maybe I could ride from my office on the north side of Macon to our team meeting downtown.  No, I would ride my bicycle to work, a 36-mile trip, and have Robert pick me up for the team meeting.  Sure, I would have to get up extra early, and I would have to ride in the dark (with lights, of course) for the first part of my commute, but it was totally doable.

So, I needed to ride at least 31 single-speed miles last night.  Like a moving GPS unit, I recalculated my course.  I did about half of the usual Tuesday Worlds route and then headed back to my office.  My modified route turned out to be exactly 31 miles.  I was cutting this close…

Although my Marin Stelvio, i.e., my Di2 bike, seemed to be charging fine last night, this morning I rode my Trek Domane to work.  The Domane is an endurance bike with a rack where I can carry stuff for commuting.  Both the bike and rack are new, and I still need to get a trunk bag that fits on the rack.  In the meantime, this morning I stuck my work clothes, lunch, etc. in a bag and searched for bungee cords to attach it to the rack.  I could only find one bungee cord.  Robert helped me finish securing the bag to the rack with duct tape.

I felt like the cycling version of the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, heading off to try to earn a living.  As I headed down Highway 11, I was grateful I had a job to go to.

My commute was quite pleasant.  I got to see the sunrise, and I enjoyed the serenade of crickets and birds.  And I got my 1,250 km!  Exactly 1,250 km – told you I was cutting it close.

So where does the Bloody Mary come in?  I take my lunch to work every day, and I always drink V-8 with it.  Spicy only – I’ll gladly drink regular V-8 on a randonneuring event, but I prefer spicy with my work lunches.  I take a 46-oz. bottle to work and leave it in the refrigerator, which is enough supply for five or six days.  I try to take a fresh bottle when I’m down to one or two servings.  However, last Friday I finished a bottle without already having brought a new one.  I forgot my new bottle on both Monday and Tuesday of this week.  Now with my last-minute bicycle commute this morning, I would be missing my V-8 on Wednesday, too, because I sure didn’t want to carry a big bottle in my bike bag.  I was having serious V-8 withdrawal.  As I was sorting all of this out on last night’s single-speed ride (so many important things to think about while I’m on my bike), I came up with an excellent alternative: a Bloody Mary for my Tuesday evening adult beverage.  We had Bloody Mary mix at home, but we were out of vodka.  So, after Tuesday Worlds I swung by the package store near my office.  In the end, I got my tomato juice-like fix as well as my 1,250 km for the month.  Life is good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's a Dog's Life

Last night I extended the Dog Days theme from the weekend.  Robert teaches our local spin class (jSpin) on Monday evenings, but he asked me to substitute for him last night because of a work meeting he had to attend.  I had a doggone good time planning a spin tribute to my favorite four-legged creatures.

Coming up with a themed music playlist for jSpin is nothing new to me.  Some of my past themes have included traveling across the U.S., math, magic, and Thanksgiving.  This time I thought of as many dog related songs and artists as I could, supplementing with a little research on Apple Music and the Google.  Here’s the playlist:

Dog Days by Atlanta Rhythm Section
Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
Atomic Dog by George Clinton
The Great Beyond by Puppy
Who Let the Dogs Out? by Baha Men
Black Dog by Led Zeppelin
Joy to the World by Three Dog Night
Drop It Like It’s Hot (Extra Clean Radio Edit) by Snoop Dogg & Pharrell Williams
Petticoat Junction by Acoustic Sound Hounds
Call Me a Dog by Temple of the Dog
Furr by Blitzen Trapper
Scooby Doo cartoon theme song
The Coast by Court Yard Hounds
Walking the Dog by Rufus Thomas
I Love My Dog by (ironically) Cat Stevens

Although I was unfamiliar with a number of these songs, most are quite good, and some are really fun.  Snoop Dogg naturally came to mind, but I’m not into his music.  Rather chagrined to find that almost all of his songs are labeled explicit, I was glad to find not only the Radio Edit version of Drop It Like It’s Hot but also the Extra Clean Radio Edit version.  (Not that you can’t easily figure out which words are edited out…)  Also, when I found Court Yard Hounds, I was delighted to learn that they are sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, two of the three members of the Dixie Chicks.  Court Yard Hounds may not have the distinctive lead vocals of Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks, but Maguire and Robison’s excellent musicianship is still abundantly evident.

The workout itself also went to the dogs.  I reimagined a number of our usual spin exercises as typical dog activities:

10 minutes – warm-up
2 minutes – jumps (jumping up on the counter to get dog biscuits)
5 minutes – standing climb (running through the woods with our pack; tail wagging optional)
2 minutes – seated high cadence (chasing the mailman)
1 minute – rest (and pant)
2 minutes – standing flat (begging)
2 minutes – one-legged drills (moving one leg while someone scratches our belly)
5 minutes – playing fetch*
5 minutes – standing climb (stalking our prey)
1 minute – pedal while keeping head still (playing dead – this is a pretty tough core exercise!)
2 minutes – rest (and pant)
2 minutes – seated high cadence (chasing the cat)
2 minutes – high resistance (digging and burying a bone)
2 minutes – one-handed standing flat (shaking hands)

5 minutes – playing fetch*
2 minutes – cool-down

*I tossed a toy (borrowed from Ashes the office cat) to one class member, who got to decide what exercise we did for the next minute.  At the end of the minute he/she tossed it to another class member, who picked a different exercise to do for the next minute.  We did this a total of five times throughout the segment.

I didn’t dictate the level of intensity quite as much as in most of our jSpin classes, but I encouraged everyone to keep at least an L3 heartrate on most of the segments.  The class members seemed to enjoy getting into the theme with me.  On one of the fetch segments, Pam commanded everyone to sit!  Finally, last night’s class was dedicated in loving memory of Ann’s husband, Dr. Don Gay, who was our beloved dog doctor for many years.  Appropriately, his initials were DOG.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Best of the Dog Days of Summer

We're just finishing the dog days of summer, the hottest time of year.  Ancient Greeks and Romans called them the dog days because Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky and part of the constellation Canis Major, rises and sets with the sun this time of year.  They thought that Sirius added its heat to the sun to cause these hot temperatures.  Furthermore, the Greeks envisioned Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare.  Sirius, the "dog star," is Canis Major's nose.  This depiction of Canis Major looks suspiciously like a greyhound...

Most people seem to dislike the dog days of summer, biding their time until cooler fall days arrive.  I like the ol' dog days.  That's because I do well in the heat and definitely prefer it to the cold.  Also, I know that I've got only a short time left to be warm.  I stay in a rather perpetual state of coldness from about October 1 to May 1.

Today was a doggone good dog day of summer.  It started with the Spot on Time Trial (TT), hosted by Reality Bikes and Ridley Masters Team.  Last year Reality Bikes hosted the Tundra TT in February when Surge Sports couldn't do so as they usually do.  When Surge Sports took the reins of Tundra again this year, Reality Bikes decided to move their TT event to August.  I was happy to get another TT on this year's racing calendar.  Even better, Reality Bikes and Ridley teamed up with the Rescue Racing cycling team to make it the Spot on TT, a benefit for the Smithgall Humane Society, a no-kill animal shelter in Cleveland, GA.

A portion of the race fees went to Smithgall Humane Society, and racers also were encouraged to bring dog and cat food for the shelter.  By the way, Friday was National Dog Day, another reason that the Spot on TT was so timely.

The course, located near Cumming, is a good one.  It features a number of turns on a rolling route that turns back on itself several times.  That might sound a little confusing, but the Forsyth County sheriff's deputies and other volunteers did an excellent job of directing the racers at every turn.  All I had to do was put my head down and ride as hard as I could.  In addition, they offered a masters 3/4 category for women - yee haw!

Admittedly, I'm a little tired here at the end of racing season and have been looking forward to my mellow time of year in September and October.  However, I was determined to put forth one last effort to end on a strong note.  It worked; I won not only the masters women 3/4 category, but I was the first place overall female!  The race organizers had some beautiful, copper tooled awards made for the overall male and female racers in both the regular TT and Merckx categories.

Believe it or not, this was not even the most exciting part of my day.  I went straight from the race to Southeastern Greyhound Adoption's (SEGA's) kennel in Acworth to pick up Robert's and my new foster greyhound, Oh Henry (or just Henry for simplicity).  A few days ago, we were asked to foster him.  It's not exactly easy for me to get from Monticello to Acworth, but the race happened to take me to the north side of Atlanta, relatively close to the kennel.

For many years I've volunteered with SEGA and enjoyed being a member of its umbrella organization, the Southeastern Greyhound Club.  SEGA finds homes for greyhounds after they finish their racing careers.  Most of SEGA's greyhounds come from Florida.  We try to place as many greyhounds in foster homes as possible to get them used to home life.  Although many greyhounds do well coming straight from the kennel, others particularly benefit from fostering as they transition from racer to pet.  Henry seems like he would do best with canine companionship.

When I asked Robert if he would be willing to foster another greyhound, he hesitated.  That's because we wound up adopting our last two fosters, and we really don't need another dog.  However, I reminded him that we've fostered five times before, giving us only a 40% foster failure rate.  I promised him that Henry would reduce our foster failure rate to 33 1/3%.  In the end, I couldn't say no, and Robert couldn't say no to me.

After I brought Henry home, I started looking through his paperwork.  I noticed that his sire is Flying Hydrogen.  Hmm...that name sounded familiar.  I happened to have handy the paperwork from Allie, our greyhound we adopted about a year ago.  Sure enough, her sire is also Flying Hydrogen!  Allie and Henry are half-siblings.  I could tell that Henry is good people.  The dog stars certainly seem to be aligned today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Red Clay Ramble 2016

It’s taken me a few days to get to it, but here’s my race report from last Saturday’s Red Clay Ramble.  This is one of the most fun dirt events of the year!  Even better, it starts only about 10 miles from my house.

Races always make me a little nervous.  I’ve gotten to where I manage time trials pretty well, but other types of races are still rather angst-inducing since I do them so infrequently.  Although I gave up mass-start road races after my serious crash a few years ago, I’ll do an occasional gravel grinder race.  There don’t seem to be mass pileups on dirt like there sometimes are on paved roads.  Maybe that’s just rationalization on my part, but it works for me.

All the Red Clay Ramble racers lined up for the start on Checking Station Road.  I was excited to be there with so many of my Georgia Neurosurgical Institute teammates.  It’s not often that seven of us do the same race!

(L-R): me, Cal, Tony, Van, Robert, and Bill.  Cody was taking a nature break.
Cal, Cody, Robert, Tony, and Van raced Male Masters (40-49).  There was also a category for Male Grand Masters (50-59).  Then there was the big kahuna category: Male Ultra Masters (60+).  Bill entered this one because that’s what he is:

Best of all, they had Female Masters (40+)!  Very few cycling races in Georgia have a female masters category.  It’s a good enticement for me, and so thank you to Chain Buster Racing and the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville (BCM) for including it.  As I waited at the start line, I scoped out my competition.  About half a dozen masters women had preregistered. I saw only one other woman near the front, and she looked pretty tough.  However, she didn’t look nearly old enough to race masters, and so I decided not to worry about her.  I was right on both counts.  She was only 30, and she was tough.  She hung with the fastest guys for a good portion of the race and won the Female Open category.  Congratulations, Jennifer Nielson!

All of the racers started together.  I got dropped early – within the first two miles!  It definitely wasn’t like last year, when I hung onto the front group of guys for about seven miles.  I decided to simply do the best I could, which is all I could do anyway.

I was riding at hard tempo pace, trying to gauge what I could sustain for the approximately three hours it would take me to finish.  Other racers seemed to be riding at about my pace, but we kept yo-yoing past each other.  Would we be able to work together?  I noticed one master-y looking woman.  (Hmm…gotta keep my eye on her.)  Finally, a few of us formed a small group, including the master-y looking woman.  We sort of disintegrated again.  A couple of guys and I began riding together, dropping some of the others.  (Let’s see if we can make this stick…)

We crossed U.S. 129.  I hadn’t seen the master-y looking woman in several miles.  (I think I dropped her!)  A few riders bridged up to my small group; lo and behold, there was the master-y looking woman!  Dang!  Oh well, we still had a long way to go, and there was plenty of time to strategize.

The group now had about eight people.  Finally, we formed a pace line – smooth as silk!  That was more like it.  (I could keep this up all day.)  I had never ridden in a pace line on dirt roads – it was a blast!  And, surprisingly, right away we dropped the master-y looking woman.  I never saw her for the rest of the race.

After several miles of excellent pace line riding, we caught a couple of guys I know, my randonneuring buddy Mark and my teammate Cody.  They joined the group, but we never regained that nice steadiness.  One or two guys would surge off the front.  I wasn’t really having trouble keeping up, but the unevenness forced me to expend more energy than I would have otherwise.  Sometimes I felt like I could go a little faster, but I figured they would reel me in, and I would have burned a match or two for nothing.  Also, I didn’t mind doing my share of pulling, but why should I do much pulling at all since I wasn’t racing against any of these guys anyway?  It was a balancing act.  Staying with the group – squirrely-ness and all – seemed to be my best bet.

There were several rest stops along the route, but I didn’t want to stop.  I planned my fueling well, eating a Clif Bar about half way through the race and carrying two bottles of water with Skratch Labs electrolyte mix.  I knew that two bottles would barely give me enough liquids to get through three hours of riding.  Therefore, I also had drunk as much water as I comfortably could before the race.

The group turned off of the last significant paved section and onto Dumas Road.  Fresh gravel had been placed on Dumas Road recently, creating the trickiest part of the race.  I had pre-ridden the route two weeks earlier and knew what to expect.  I don’t know if the gravel was more of a problem for the guys in my group or if they were just tired.  I started pulling away from them on the climbs.  That was it; we were less than 10 miles from the end, and I was ready to go for it!

One other guy rode off the front about the same time I did.  We barreled through the last, gravelliest part of Dumas Road.  It’s actually easier to go fast through gravel.  I did almost overcook it on one little stretch, but I managed to get through it without rattling loose too many brains.

Once the course turned back onto Firetower Road, the surface was much better.  It was less than three miles to the finish – time to give it all I had!  I had hoped to break three hours like I did last year, but I wasn’t quite going to make it this time.  That’s OK – I was pretty sure I was going to win masters.  Pedal, pedal, pedal, here came the finish line.  3:01.  I was happy with my performance.

As we waited for all of the results to be tallied, my friends and I enjoyed the delicious spaghetti dinner that BCM prepared for the participants:

In addition to BCM, the Red Clay Ramble benefitted several local charities, including Central Georgia Autism and the Old Capital Racing Youth Cycling Team.  Some of the young mountain bike racers from the Old Capital team volunteered at the Red Clay Ramble.  They ran around doing whatever was needed to help the event run smoothly.  One of the young girls had approached me as I hung around the registration area before the race.  She asked me about my bicycle, which looked rather strange to her with its road-looking frame and wider tires.  I explained that it’s a cyclocross bike, kind of a hybrid between a road bike and a mountain bike, perfect for the Red Clay Ramble.  I also told her briefly about the various kinds of cycling I enjoy, including riding a tandem with my husband.  There’s something for everyone, and I hope she keeps riding.  Later, I learned that my new friend is one of quadruplets!  They had turned 13 the day before.  I couldn’t pass up such a great photo op:

Before long, the results were posted.  Woo hoo!  I won the Female Masters category!

Because I wouldn’t be able to do much riding the next day, I rode my bike home from the race.  (Robert carried my swag home for me in the car.)  I got caught in a rain shower for the first couple of miles, but it didn’t dampen my spirits a bit.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Expect GOOD Adventure

As an add-on to my last post, and in case you’re wondering how to classify your adventure, here’s a flow chart for your edification (credit to semi-rad.com):

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Risky Business

Last Saturday morning I stopped by my local farmer’s market before heading out for a bicycle ride.  This is my usual routine when I’m in town during the summer months.  I look forward to getting some fresh produce and stopping by The Vanilla Bean, our local coffee shop.  It’s also nice to see friends and neighbors, particularly since I work out of town and don’t get to spend much time in Monticello.
I rode right up to Laverne’s booth, one of my favorites to visit.  I smiled and greeted her as well as the two older men sitting on a nearby bench. When the men saw me on my bicycle, they shook their heads and started castigating me in the way that’s become all too familiar: “You’re riding by yourself?  Aren’t you scared?”
Trying to be good natured yet assertive, I responded, “I refuse to live my life in fear.  And I’m a lot more scared of lying on the sofa eating bonbons.”
I’ve had lots of similar exchanges, usually with older folks, but on Saturday it really stuck in my craw.  I’m very careful when I ride, and I don’t take unnecessary risks – not that I should have to explain myself to others who feel like they can stick their nose in my business.  I’ll bet they wouldn’t say the same things to a man.  In addition, most people do a very poor job of assessing risk.
The more I thought about all of this as I rode, the angrier I got.  I just let myself be angry.  For about five minutes, I pedaled hard and said out loud all the things that made me mad.  It was quite therapeutic.
Since this past Saturday, I’ve thought more about risk from a quantifiable standpoint.  Earlier in my career I did some environmental risk assessment regarding contaminants in groundwater and surface water.  The Environmental Protection Agency has standard procedures for conducting risk assessments.  These procedures are based on certain assumptions.  For example, if you’re assessing the risk of a particular contaminant via skin exposure, you assume that a homeowner lives in the same location for 30 years and swims daily in the adjacent creek.  Some of the assumptions might not match reality, but risk assessments are based on worst-case scenarios.
A given contaminant has a maximum contaminant level (MCL).  MCLs usually have an order of magnitude of parts per million (ppm).  If a contaminant is present at a concentration greater than the MCL, it may cause adverse health effects, e.g., a statistically significant increase in cancer.  “Statistically significant” means that an event is caused by something other than random chance.  Not that I would want to live next to a landfill that is leaching contaminants into the groundwater beneath my house, but it’s kind of sobering to compare ppm levels of contamination to the raw sewage that some people drink from and bathe in in other parts of the world.
I decided to look online for a reliable source of risk data for various activities and found the National Safety Council (NSC).  One of the most notable examples of a skewed perception of risk is someone who is afraid to fly but thinks nothing of riding in a car every day.  According to the NSC’s Health Statistics-Mortality Data for 2013 (the most recent year available on their website), the lifetime odds of dying from a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 113 while the lifetime odds of dying from air and space transport incidents is 1 in 9,737.  Also, my assertion that I’m more scared of lying on the sofa eating bonbons is right on target; the greatest risk of death is from heart disease and cancer (which are primarily lifestyle dependent), 1 in 7 odds over a lifetime.  Here’s the entire 2013 website list of selected causes of death:
Whoa – the risk of choking from inhalation and ingestion of food is greater than the risk of a pedacyclist incident.  Guess I’d better quit eating.
2016 risk statistics are available, but you have to buy the entire Injury Facts book from the NSC.  It costs over $100.  I’d rather buy a dozen inner tubes or a bunch of Skratch Labs electrolyte mix for that amount.  Still, I did find some interesting 2002 risk statistics online that are attributed to the National Safety Council.  (Note that the table above shows the lifetime odds of dying from a given cause, but the table below shows the risk of dying from a given cause next year; it’s always important to know the timeframe when considering risk data.)  Here are a few 2002 risk statistics:

 Transport Accidents                                                                    Risk of Dying Next Year

Pedestrian                                                                          1 in 47,273

Pedal cyclist                                                                        1 in 375,412

Motorcycle rider                                                               1 in 89,562

Car occupant                                                                      1 in 17,625

(Cycling is the safest mode of transportation among the four!)

Falls                                                                                                   Risk of Dying Next Year

                Tripping/slipping at same level                                   1 in 445,729

                Falling from bed, chair, or furniture                          1 in 366, 804

                Falling from stairs or steps                                          1 in 180,188

                Falling from ladder or scaffolding                              1 in 709,215

                Falling out of a building                                               1 in 516,950

Medical Conditions                                                                       Risk of Dying Next Year

                Complications by medical and surgical care            1 in 101,281

                Various medicaments and biologics                          1 in 41,828

                Anti-epileptic, sedative-hypnotic, etc.                      1 in 281,193

                Overexertion, travel and privation                            1 in 2,249,541

Annual Risk of Death at Work                                                     Risk of Dying Next Year

                All workers                                                                      1 in 28,571

                Agricultural workers                                                      1 in 3,425

                Mining                                                                              1 in 3,534

                Professional & business services                                 1 in 34,483

                Financial activities                                                          1 in 142,858

According to the data in this table, I should be a lot more scared of falling from stairs or taking medicine than I should be of riding my bicycle.  Heck, it’s even riskier for me to go to work than ride my bicycle!  (another incentive to attempt to become independently wealthy…)
Yes, there is inherent risk in cycling, but there's risk in getting out of bed every day.  I'm going to take the advice of my old friend Bugs Bunny:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer Camp

Between riding my bicycle, taking a roping lesson at a ranch, and kayaking on the Coosawattee River, this past weekend was like summer camp – for adults!  I learned some more history, too, a fitting way to wrap up a July full of historical bicycle rides.

State TT Championship

Our weekend of adventure started with the state time trial championship on Saturday morning.  I’ve been doing weekly interval training sessions since the beginning of May to prepare for several TTs this summer, but my biggest focus has been the state championship.  At 22 miles, it’s also the longest TT of the year.  Fortunately, I’m familiar with the rolling course because it’s the same one that’s been used for the two previous years’ state TTs.

I’m a Cat 4 and will be forever.  That’s because I gave up mass-start races after my serious crash several years ago, and only mass-start races count toward category upgrades.  However, in TTs you can race in a lower cat because it doesn’t pose any risk like mixing cats in a road race or crit would.  I’ve been racing long enough that I’d rather give newer, less experienced women a shot at the Cat 4 TT title.  Therefore, I registered for the Cat 3 TT championship race.

It was so nice to have Robert with me as soigneur.  He got my TT bike set up on the trainer while I checked in, and he pinned my number onto my back.  I warmed up and did my usual mental preparation, trying not to let myself get too worked up.  As I waited at the start line, I admonished myself in the typical fashion: “No barfy!”  I smiled as I remembered Cosmo, my beloved greyhound who passed away about a year ago.  He always had a sensitive stomach.  When he got a green look on his face, I would say, “No barfy, Cosmo!” which actually seemed to work.

Cosmo had already been on my mind that morning anyway.  As Robert drove us to the race site, I checked Facebook and saw a post from Nellie Doodles, a greyhound artist that I enjoy following.  She whimsically asked if anyone calls their dog by names other than their given names.  Well, of course!  I have multiple nicknames for all who are closest to me, husband and dogs.  Cosmo had some of the best nicknames, e.g., Cosmo Conehead, Cosmola, Cosmosis, Barfy Boy, Cosmo Klepto, and Poultry Hound.

After I started my race, I realized that my power meter wasn’t working.  D’oh!  The night before, Robert had moved it from my road bike to my TT bike.  I had tried to calibrate it in the parking lot, but there were other power meters nearby that interfered as I was trying to synch my power meter with my Garmin.  So, as at the previous weekend’s TT, I had to do the race based on speed and perceived exertion.  That’s where Cosmo helped me.

The race was near Gainesville, Georgia’s poultry capital.  A mile or so into the race, I started smelling chicken houses.  I imagined that Cosmo, a.k.a. Poultry Hound, was running beside me, pacing me.  I analyzed each road segment as I came to it.  If it was a hill, I powered up it because climbing is my strong suit.  If it was a descent or flat, I pedaled hard.  I talked to Cosmo: “Come on, Cosmo, help me go faster!  Get me to the end, Cosmo!”

One of my competitors, Christine, passed me before the turnaround.  I knew going in that she would be hard to beat, and so I focused on my other goals: breaking one hour and getting on the podium.  Thanks to Cosmo, I reached both goals!  My time was 59:20, and I placed 3rd.  I was very satisfied with my performance.  I did the best I could, even going 9 seconds faster than last year.  Christine won, finishing two minutes ahead of me, and Loren placed 2nd, finishing one minute ahead of me.  Although I’d rather be at the top of the podium, if I’m going to get beaten, I’m glad when it’s not close because that makes me second guess myself.

By the way, Cosmo got the nickname Poultry Hound because he went nuts over chicken and turkey.  Not surprisingly, his favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.  I always brine our turkey for a couple of days ahead of time.  One year I had placed the turkey in the brine and was carrying it out to a cooler full of ice in the garage.  I was gone from the kitchen for 30 seconds max.  When I returned, I saw a telltale trail of giblet juice leading all the way down the basement steps.  In those few brief moments, Cosmo had climbed up into the kitchen sink and absconded with the bag of giblets!  Good thing I had already planned to mop the floor.

Seventy-four Ranch

With the hardest part of the weekend over, I was looking forward to playing for the rest of it!  After a tasty lunch stop at Mellow Mushroom in Gainesville, we headed west over the increasingly mountainous roads.  I thought of the moonshine runners who used to race through these hills, giving rise to stock car racing.  Robert and I stopped at a convenience store in Dawsonville, home of legendary NASCAR driver Bill Elliott.  I rarely use the word “awesome” because it is so overused, but it is completely appropriate when referring to Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.

A short while later we arrived at our destination, a bed & breakfast near Jasper called Seventy-four Ranch.  It’s a working ranch owned by Pam and Larry Butler.  Robert and I first spent a little time relaxing in Seventy-four Ranch’s comfortable and attractive accommodations.  We stayed in the Porch Cabin, a lovely room built into an old barn and decorated with cowboy and Navajo items.  Robert read inside while I checked out the swing in the outdoor seating area:


I’m convinced that we get old when we quit doing stuff that was fun when we were kids, like riding bicycles and swinging on swings.  I even had a scrape on my shin like a little kid.  Earlier that morning, I had to TT before the TT but didn’t want to wait in line at the port-o-potty.  So, I went over to the trees.  Unfortunately, being the klutz that I am, I sort of fell off of a cliff in the process.

After swinging, I read for a little while in an Adirondack chair.  I started a new book appropriate to the weekend, The Southeastern Indians by Charles Hudson.  A few months ago I stopped by the visitor center at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon and picked up this excellent historical overview of aboriginal Southerners (what a great term the author uses!).  I have been wanting to learn more about Native Americans, particularly the Creeks who lived in my part of the state.

Next, it was time for some Western style fun.  Originally, I had hoped that Robert and I could go horseback riding that afternoon.  That didn’t work out, though, because the trail guide had been given the day off for her birthday, and they don’t want to send the horses out in the heat of a summer day anyway.  Instead, I signed us up for roping!  Larry gave us a lesson.  He had several ropes.  I picked one up and was glad to see that it already had a knot in it:

Larry said that the knot is called a honda, and the more experienced you are, the looser you like your honda.  This one looked pretty loose, and because I had never tried roping before, I selected a different rope with a tighter honda.

The first thing you have to do is make loop, which is an art in itself.  Larry made our loops for us, using two to three coils of rope.  He had us focus on the throwing: moving your arm from “ear to steer” with an overhand motion, targeting the right horn (if you’re right handed), throwing rather than placing the rope, and not pulling back with your left hand because that’s where you hold your horse’s reins.  (We simply stood in a wide stance to simulate being on horseback.)  I actually did better than I expected!  It was fun to learn about this totally unfamiliar activity and gain appreciation for the skill that roping requires.

Cowboy Robert

Robert and I discussed some of the physics of roping.  Standing on the ground, it’s not too difficult to throw the rope at about 15 mph to catch the dummy steer.  However, if you’re riding on a horse at 35 mph to catch a steer running at 30 mph, you still have to throw the rope about 15 mph faster than you are moving, i.e. about 50 mph.  At this speed, air resistance is much more of a factor, requiring significant arm strength.  For this reason, men are generally better than women at roping on horseback.

When we went back to our room, I noticed a cute cowboy figurine made out of horseshoes.  Larry would be proud of me for recognizing that the cowboy’s hand above his head is incorrect technique.

It's ear to steer, dagnabbit!
For dinner we went to 61 Main, a farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Jasper.  A waiter a few tables over described the fish special, wreckfish, which I had never heard of.  He said they got it from the coast near Charleston.  It likes to hang around shipwrecks (hence the name) and is a rather meaty fish.  I had already ordered the wreckfish, but when I had asked my waiter about it, all he could tell me is, “Uh, yeah, that’s the name.”  (By the way, it was really good.)

Robert and I got back to Seventy-four Ranch in time for a walk before sundown.

Magnolia fruit after the beautiful, fragrant blossoms a few months ago
We walked through the pasture to a low area by a gate.  Larry had told us that their property extends to a creek, but we didn’t see it.  Robert pulled up a tax map on his phone (technology is amazing, isn’t it?) and saw that the property extends a good distance farther than where we were.  I wish we had had time to walk all the way to the creek.

After a good night’s sleep, we got up early for our next adventure.  As we savored a delicious waffle breakfast cooked by Pam, Larry regaled us with fascinating stories of the West.  In addition to Seventy-four Ranch in Georgia, Pam and Larry own Willow Creek Ranch in Wyoming.  It’s in an area distinguished by a high cliff, or wall.  The only way into the valley is through the Hole-in-the-Wall, a narrow passage.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used this easily defendable area as their hideout.  Larry described how the combination of geography, remoteness, climate, Mormonism, and other factors shaped a unique history here and elsewhere in the West.  Although I don’t know much about this region’s history, Larry definitely piqued my interest.

One other noteworthy topic is branding.  The Seventy-four brand is visible throughout the ranch, as on this outdoor chair:

Pam and Larry showed us their Seventy-four Ranch branding iron.  They purchased it from an elderly woman whose family had owned it since the 1800s.  Brands generally stay within families, but fewer and fewer young people are interested in continuing the ranching tradition.  Additionally, when a ranching woman marries a ranching man, her cattle are rebranded with his symbol.  Therefore, the original owner of the Seventy-four brand was willing to sell it.  Pam and Larry have to reregister it every year with a national board that keeps up with brands.  Every brand is unique.  Larry said that open letters and symbols are needed for brands.  For example, an open capital J is a good brand letter, but a closed capital B is not a good brand letter.  That’s because a closed symbol causes the animal’s skin within it to slough off.  The Seventy-four brand is marked using a single branding iron, which indicates how old it is.  As more and more unique brands had to be developed over time, ranchers started having to use two and then three different branding irons to create their unique brands.

Larry also showed us a running iron, a particularly interesting artifact.  A running iron has a single bar, which cattle rustlers would use to alter a brand, say, turning a V into an N.  In the Old West, anyone caught with a running iron was hanged on the spot because no one but a cattle rustler would have need for one.  The judge was usually hundreds of miles away in the sparsely populated area.  The judge was going to sentence the rustler to hanging anyway based on the irrefutable evidence.  Since no one wanted to feed and house the rustler for several weeks until they could get to the judge, it was simpler to hang the rustler then and there.

We bid a fond farewell to Seventy-four Ranch and headed west.

Paddle to Farm

For several months I had been looking forward to Paddle to Farm, 10 miles of paddling with a farm-to-table lunch along the way.  Additionally, it was on the Coosawattee River, which I had never heard of!  I enjoyed looking at maps and discovering that it joins the Conasauga River to form the Oostanaula River.  I did already know that the Oostanaula and Etowah flow together in Rome to form the Coosa River.  Such interesting geography and Native American names!

Side note: Although people associate Deliverance with the Chattooga River in Rabun County because the movie was filmed there, author James Dickey first got the idea for the book from a canoe trip that he and some friends from Atlanta took on the Coosawattee River just before Carters Lake was built on it.  Dickey and his buddies came upon some moonshiners who were less than welcoming.  Dickey embellished the incident to turn it into one of the most famous love scenes in movie history.  (Thank you, Frank Crane, for this bit of history!)

About 100 people gathered for Paddle to Farm at the dam at Reregulation Reservoir, which is just downstream of Carters Lake.

The starting point of our paddling trip lay at the junction of two of Georgia’s physiographic regions, the Blue Ridge and the Ridge and Valley regions.  The Blue Ridge region consists primarily of metamorphic and igneous rock while the Ridge and Valley region contains mostly sedimentary rock.  Their nexus in the area around the Coosawattee formed a fertile agricultural area for Native Americans.  In fact, the capital of the province of Coosa, a very large and powerful chiefdom, was located here.  Hernando DeSoto and other European explorers spent significant time with the Coosa.  Interestingly, these natives were not Cherokees, who are typically associated with North Georgia, but descendants of the Creeks.  When diseases brought by the Europeans decimated the original Coosa inhabitants, the Cherokees moved into the land.  The Cherokees named it “Coosawattee,” which means “old place of the Coosa.”

After taking care of the preliminary logistics, at last we were able to get out on the water.  The Coosawattee River is noticeably smaller than the Ocmulgee, the river close to my home that I’m quite familiar with.  It was also a new experience to paddle in a group; it was like a boat peloton.  In fact, many times we had to paddle single file due to obstacles.  That just made it interesting, though:

As always, being in my kayak on the water was completely relaxing.  The summer sun felt so good, and if I got a little too warm, all I had to do was splash some water on my arms and legs.  I had envisioned our paddling excursion to be a somewhat athletic event, but Robert and I found that mostly we just had to steer ourselves as the current carried us downstream.  We weren’t supposed to get ahead of the group leader, so we simply lay back and enjoyed the ride.

We were approaching our lunch stop.  We heard music – not banjo music (whew!) but Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.  It was coming from some guy’s small fishing boat.  As surprised as we were to hear music in this semi-wilderness area, he was probably just as surprised to look up and see 50+ kayaks and canoes headed toward him!

Our group pulled our boats out of the water at Riverview Farm, the largest certified organic farm in Georgia.  Owners Wes and Charlotte Swancy grow vegetables, pork, and beef on over 200 acres and sell directly to the public through farmer’s markets and restaurants, primarily in the Atlanta area.  Rango the Vizsla dog greeted us and led us around a large soybean field to our lunch spot.

Bumblebee on soybean flower

We enjoyed a delicious lunch that included pulled pork and potatoes from Riverview Farm and several salads made from locally sourced vegetables.  We also heard brief presentations from Gwyneth Moody of the Georgia River Network (the only statewide organization for Georgia’s rivers), Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, Michael Wall of Georgia Organics, and author Suzanne Welander, who wrote Canoeing and Kayaking in Georgia.  (More on that below!)

We got back on the river for the second half of our jaunt.  At this point we were definitely in the ridge and valley area, as indicated by these interesting, folded sedimentary rocks, typical of the region:

As we approached our takeout spot, I savored the remaining moments on the river.  These tree roots reminded me of Cthulhu:

We got goodie bags at the end.   The best item in it was a copy of Canoeing and Kayaking in Georgia!  Suzanne was even kind enough to autograph it for us back on shore.  As Robert drove us home, I had a good time familiarizing myself with the book.  Suzanne and her collaborators have mapped nearly every body of water in Georgia that can be paddled, from the whitewater rivers of northeast Georgia to the quiet, black waters in and around the Okefenokee.  The book categorizes paddle segments by physiographic region and level of difficulty, even giving distances between successive access points – what a great resource!  Robert and I particularly enjoyed getting more information about some of the creeks and rivers we like to paddle near our home.  It shows the navigable section of Murder Creek in Putnam County between Glenwood Springs Road and Georgia Highway 44, which we kayaked several years ago.  Also, we were glad to learn additional access points on the Ocmulgee River as well as some other creeks that we need to try.  Looks like some more kayak outings are in our future!