An Ode To My Garmin Edge 500

Garmin

A sad thing occurred this week – my Garmin died. This device has been by my side for almost nine years. This is a big loss.

My Garmin has dutifully recorded almost every cycling ride (and several runs) I have been on since I bought it – almost a thousand events.  I’ve downloaded each ride online to Garmin Connect and the result is much like a scrapbook.  I looked up and fondly recalled my first ever recorded ride – a 15.8 mile excursion on June 16th, 2010.  This was a ride on my (then) newly-purchased hybrid bike. It was a Wednesday and it was 82 degrees.  My average heart rate was 142bpm.  I averaged 14.4mph on that ride and I’m quite sure I was proud of the pace and the distance.  I didn’t have a road bike at that point.  I didn’t even have a cycling jersey at that time, but I did have a Garmin.   A lot has happened since then. The Garmin was there for all of it.

My Garmin (I feel slightly guilty that I never named such a significant thing) has been on all three of my bikes.  It was there when I completed my first century.  I was looking at it moments before I had my one and only accident with a car (which totaled my Trek 2.1).  It’s been on my bike stem during every century, every randonneur brevet, and on most of my travels, including places like Boston, Iowa, Tampa, Virginia Beach, Australia, England, and France. In the heat, cold, rain, wind, and night it was with me.  It was easily the most dependable piece of cycling gear I have ever owned – bikes included.

And then it died.

The end came quickly.  I was surprised to see it having a hard time keeping a charge.  I then was surprised to see it wouldn’t charge when plugged into with its USB cord.  After much fidgeting over several days, I managed to charge it up to 100%.  But then it wouldn’t turn on.  A hard reboot managed to get it back on while simultaneously returning it to factory settings – very annoying as all of my customized displays were gone.

Still, I thought it was up and running.  I took it out on a weekday ride and everything seemed fine.  Disaster struck at the ride’s end when I tried to turn it off.  Instead of simply shutting off, the Garmin began emitting a high-pitched tone that didn’t stop.  I couldn’t save the ride data or stop the noise.  This continued for hours until it finally ran out of charge.  This was the end.  No amount of button pressing or fidgeting has brought it back to life.  Internet research has proved to be fruitless.  I have accepted that my Garmin is now gone, having given its last full measure of devotion to me.

So farewell, Garmin, and thanks for the memories.  Time to find a new one!

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Last photograph of my Garmin on the job – our final rest stop outside of Key West.

Miami to Key West

As I type these words, a hard rain mixed with sleet is pelting my window.  This depressing weather is what greeted me upon my return from South Florida, where my wife and cycled from Miami to Key West.  Rather than deal with the literally cold realty outside my home, I think I’ll escape for awhile and tell you the tale of our exploits.

Alert readers will be aware that my wife (whom I will call Maureen, since that is her name) completed a three day tour of Provence with Gerry last September (if you’re not familiar with this trip, look no further than the previous post to catch up on events).  Given the success of this trip, we looked for a fun way to combine our newfound attachment to bicycle touring with our intense desire (growing stronger each year) to get out of the cold of winter.  One cold December day, Maureen showed me a website that advertised a tour from Miami to Key West.  “What do you think?” she asked.

“I think I’ve got the perfect wife!” I answered.  After all, most husbands have to sneak away for cycling vacations.  The best case is usually when the wife relents after repeated pleas from her husband.  Here was my wife actually suggesting we go on a bicycle tour – perfect!

Upon inspection, this did seem to be a great fit for us.  The tour director (whom I will call Glen, since that is his name) offered a very accommodating package that included picking up and transporting our bikes to/from the tour and variable ride distances to cater to whatever length of ride we wanted.  Basically, if the day’s ride to the hotel was 70 miles but you only wanted to ride 20 of them, Glen would cheerfully load you, your bags, and your bike into his truck, drive 50 miles, then gently deposit you 20 miles from the day’s destination.  This was very comforting to Maureen, who had never attempted anything this ambitious on a bicycle before.

In short order, we met Glen in a DC-area parking lot as he made his way from the Catskills to Florida.  He loaded up our bikes and a suitcase containing our helmets, shoes, and other necessities and cheerfully said, “See you in Florida!”  One week later, we flew to Miami and joined him at our tour hotel in Brickell, near South Beach.  At dinner that night in a local eatery, we met our tour staff and the other 17 folks who would be riding with us.  The next day we woke up and readied ourselves for the first of three rides.

It would be the shortest of the three rides.  It would also be the longest ride ever attempted by Maureen.

DAY ONE:  Miami to Homestead – 38 Miles

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After picking up our bikes in a storage room off the hotel’s lobby, the group’s cyclists assembled outside our hotel and listened to Glen tell us about the day’s route, a 38-miler out of Miami down to Homestead, the last bit of civilization before we would arrive in the Keys the following day.

We were right next to a mixed use path, which I hoped would be our way out of town. I am fine with riding in the streets (actually, I prefer it) but Maureen is less comfortable with risking death by a negligent motorist and was encouraged by the prospect of a trail ride. Imagine my surprise when our route immediately left the path and placed us on the street, in the midst of Miami’s morning rush hour.

Not to worry. The ride quickly moved onto side streets and Maureen handled the unexpected adventure with ease. Still, it was slow going. There were plenty of stop lights and when the path moved onto some paths, we found them to be bumpy. We were putting along at a 9mph, but we were far from unhappy. This was Miami, after all, and the weather was postcard perfect (see below pics of sunny skies and happy faces). We chatted with our newfound riding partners and enjoyed the day.

I discovered people in the group had different ways they preferred to navigate. Glen’s team had painted directions on the streets for key turns. He had also provided GPS routes that could be downloaded onto bike computers. Finally, he provided cue sheets with written instructions for old-school guys like Yours Truly. Each method worked fine, but each was slightly different and caused a couple of interesting moments. Cyclists relying on the paint scheme would occasionally turn when mistakenly following another group’s signs. This would cause confusion with the other riders, who would immediately lose confidence in their bike computer and/or cue sheet. Someone would eventually regain their confidence, then yell to the lost group to come back to the right route. Likewise, riders relying on their Garmin would sometimes be in the street when the precise route called for them to be on the adjacent path (or vice versa). This would mean they would miss the painted sign and would again be confused when their Garmin told them to turn but they couldn’t find any paint telling them to do so.

Let me just say that cue sheet readers were never confused.  🙂

After riding 15 miles through Miami’s suburbia, we came to a nice spot – The People’s Dock. Located next to the Charles Deering Estate (some rich guy from Chicago who settled here in the 1920s, apparently), the dock affords an excellent view of Biscayne Bay. We got off our bikes and enjoyed the water. We then pedaled a few hundred yards to our first official rest stop, a Starbucks. Glen and his team were there to cater to our needs. A bike mechanic fiddled with our tire pressure, shifting, and brake tension. He even adjusted the angle on Maureen’s brake hoods, which I thought was nice.

We were now out of suburbia and into the country. Sort of. There was still plenty of traffic as we made our way west, then south to Homestead. We were sharing the road with semi-tractor trailers and other menacing vehicles. Maureen handled the challenge wonderfully. She later reported that she felt (relatively) safe because she was nestled between myself in the lead and a new-found tour friend who followed behind her. I was happy she got through the experience unscathed and her confidence growing.

About seven miles to the finish, we came to the embarrassing (for me) part of the ride. My Garmin battery died. You read that correctly. For the first time since I don’t know when, I actually let my Garmin battery get so low that it didn’t have enough juice for a four hour ride. That’s a rookie mistake and I’m better than that. You can see the exact location of this travesty on the above map, annotated by, “Oops!”

There. I feel much better having unburdened myself to you.

The last seven miles were spent on a very straight road into Homestead. I was last in Homestead in 1992, when my Army unit was sent there to help after Hurricane Andrew leveled the city. I’ll never forget how devastated the town was and I am happy to report that after 27 years there are no signs of hurricane damage. We stopped at a nondescript fruit vendor called Mr. Tutis Fruties and enjoyed (courtesy of Glen, of course) some great smoothies.

After the smoothies, we pedaled for about a mile to our hotel, got cleaned up, then joined the group poolside for some refreshments, then dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Then it was off to bed. Tomorrow, we would see the Keys!

 

 

People’s Dock, A bike path out of Miami, Two Happy Cyclists with the Miami skyline in the background, and “The Grand Depart”

 

DAY TWO:  Homestead to Duck Key – 73 Miles

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We knew this was going to be a big day. First, there was 73 miles to cover. Second, the forecast called for rain. Worse still, the rain was supposed to be thunderstorms. I can tolerate some rain, but dodging lightning bolts is where I draw the line. Finally, my friend’s sister happened to be vacationing on Key Largo and we all thought it’d be fun if I dropped in for a quick visit. I was wondering how Maureen would feel after riding further than she had ever gone before. I was very proud to hear her announce she was ready to beat that mark by two miles.

So we hatched a plan: I would go the entire distance, starting as fast as possible. I would meet my friend’s sister in Key Largo, then race to pick up Maureen, who would be patiently waiting for me 33 miles into the ride (with 40 miles to go). Glen would drop her off at a Starbucks and I would arrive without her waiting too long. And nobody would get wet because our plan was for it not to rain.

Amazingly, the plan worked!

About ten of us elected to go the entire route and we left at 7:00am to avoid some forecasted thunderstorms. Eventually, eight of us settled into a paceline on roads that were still wet from an earlier shower. This was fun! The group did a great job working together and we averaged about 21-23mph for over an hour. The group broke up when we climbed the tall bridge over the Card Sound, and I was lucky enough to be near the front when this happened. Four of us pressed on for another 20 minutes before I blew a gasket and fell off the back. Still, I was VERY happy. I covered 27 miles at a great pace and I was just pulling in for my social call on Key Largo when Maureen texted to let me know she had arrived at the 40 mile drop off point.

After an extremely short visit (what, exactly, do you do when you show up at an acquaintance’s vacation home, dripping with sweat and announcing you have only a couple of minutes for some pics and small chat?) I pedaled down US Route 1 and linked up with Maureen at the Starbucks at Mile Marker 100. The sun was shining.

Riding Route 1 through the Keys can be a challenge. When I mentioned our trip to a (noncyclist) friend who once lived in the Keys, he asked, “Are you crazy? Do you know what kind traffic you’ll be in?” I replied, “Well, a guy on the Internet who I’ve never met is running this tour and he says I’ll be fine.” In the end, all was well. Cyclists have a basic choice to make – ride on the shoulder and enjoy being close to cars, or ride on the paths and take the inevitable bumps and occasional oddity, such as the path mysteriously ending for no good reason, or having a construction vehicle parked on it, or having a huge portion eroded away. In the end, I usually stuck with the roads and Maureen quashed her fears of street riding and stuck on my wheel.

Did you catch that last bit? Maureen stuck on my wheel. The road is flat enough and straight enough that she got the confidence to draft me. This greatly increased our pace and it was fun to work together as a team. Maureen learned all the hand signs that cyclists give each other when they are riding close together and she provided me helpful tips like, “Sweetheart, if you are going to suddenly stop when I am six inches away from you, some advance warning would be extremely helpful.”

Not only did Maureen learn how to draft, she also had the opportunity to see me change a flat tire! I somehow picked up a truly large screw while riding over a bridge out of Plantation Key. The tip of the screw actually penetrated my wheel’s rim, meaning I had to actually tug on the tire to get it off the rim. I then proceeded to execute a flawless tube replacement, all the while explaining exactly what I was doing. It was my hope that Maureen would see how easy this was and would be willing to give it a shot one day. After placing the repaired tire back on the bike and announcing, “Ta-Da!” I asked Maureen if she felt she could do something like that.

“No way will I ever do that!” she announced.

Oh well. At least the drafting went well.

But we still weren’t done with the fun cycling experiences! About three miles from the hotel, something truly unique happened to us. A garbage truck flew by us at 55mph. This particular garbage truck was extremely wet. How it got to be this wet, I do not know. This very question would be the source of considerable debate in the following few hours and days. The effect of this very wet garbage truck flying by us at highway speeds was to shower us with some extraordinarily noxious smelling fluid. It’s hard to feel more filthy than you already do after riding 70 miles, but this truck easily accomplished the task by giving us an opportunity to ride through landfill mist. Fortunately, our mouths were closed and we were close to the hotel. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Despite our odor, spirits were still high at the end of the day. We avoided almost all the rain, the views over the keys were incredible, and Maureen had set another personal best for distance. Key West was waiting for us on the next day!

 

 

The Flat Tire Clinic, An action shot (Maureen backed off her draft for safety reasons), One of our first views of the water, and the more typical view of traffic on Route 1

 

 

Day 3:  Duck Key to Key West – 63 Miles

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Day 3 dawned with an exciting development – a mutiny!  Always helpful, Glen had designed drop off points for riders wishing to do less than the full distance to Key West.  He had planned stops at 20, 30, 40, and 50 miles.  Most of the ladies (including Maureen) wanted to do another 40 mile ride, but when they learned that the famous Seven Mile Bridge ended at Mile 40, they wanted to be dropped off at the beginning of the bridge so they could experience that.

40 + 7 does not equal 50, thus the conundrum.  The ladies were quite adamant about what they wanted.  Glen demonstrated his business savvy as well as his good common sense when confronted with seven women who were fixed in their opinions on how to proceed.  On the spot, he devised a plan to drop them off before the bridge.  Mutiny avoided!

Before Maureen got dropped off, I had some riding to do.  I headed out with the gang wanting to do the whole distance and pedaled with them to the Seven Mile Bridge.  I beat Glen and the truck as they worked with a last-minute bike problem with one of the riders.  After a short wait in the shade, I linked up with Maureen and we headed over the bridge.

For Maureen’s sake, I’m glad the mutineers won.  Riding over the bridge was very cool and definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  Some people report being nervous on the bridge.  There’s a shoulder, but it’s not huge and there’s nowhere to go if you get into trouble.  Traffic was moderate and whizzing by us regularly, but when it was quiet, it was magical.  When on the bike, it’s possible to look straight down into the clear water, which is not nearly as deep as I would have thought it would be.

Maureen and I had a conversation about what I would do if I flatted again.  I said that I had no intentions of walking my bike for 3+ miles and would change the tire on the shoulder of the bridge.  Maureen said that was not the brightest idea I’ve ever had and “suggested” that I would be best walking it off the bridge.  In the end, we’ll never know who would have won this debate because I didn’t flat.  If I’m honest, though, I’m pretty sure I would’ve followed Glen’s example from two paragraphs above and done what the lady asked me to do.

 

So we crossed the Seven Mile Bridge in fine form and now all we had to do was go another 40 miles.  It’s worth remembering that Maureen had already set personal bests for distances in the previous two days and now had an additional eight miles under her belt today.  She was on her way to yet another personal best.  The challenge would be to find a good pace, hydrate, and eat.  By now an experienced drafter, Maureen tucked in behind me and we pushed southwest.  We took a break at a rather humble Visitors’ Center at Mile Marker 30 and then steadily ate the miles up until we reached our final official rest stop:  Baby’s Coffee at Mile Marker 15.

At Baby’s, we shared a bagel and each downed a Gatorade.  I enjoyed a Diet Coke for good measure.  We then saddled up for the last time and made the push for Mile Marker Zero.

We hit the outskirts of Key West four miles from the end.  We had some zigging and zagging to do on city streets – the first time we’ve needed to do that since leaving Miami two days earlier.  Despite all of the talk of traffic, I must say that the drivers were very accommodating to cyclists all they way down Route 1.  Until Flagler Street in Key West, that is, when a unhappy motorist honked her horn at Maureen and I for having the temerity to ride a bicycle on a street.  There’s always one…

If you looked closely at the above map of Day 3, you already know how the story ends – we made it!  We took some happy snaps of ourselves at the southernmost point on the continent, then made our way over to the Conch Seafood Republic bar for some celebratory drinks (courtesy of Glen).  Some manatees even came over to congratulate us!

 

 

The view from Seven Mile Bridge, Maureen braving traffic on the bridge, celebratory drinks, my view of Seven Mile Bridge, the final rest stop – Baby’s Coffee, and a nice pic of Manatees at the finish

Epilogue

Thus ended our South Florida bike tour.  It was everything we hoped for – fun, challenging, WARM, and spent in the company of good people looking to have some fun on their bicycles.  Over 175 miles of riding, I climbed about 1,000′.  That’s about what Gerry climbs to get out of his driveway in Provence.  So it was definitely flat and definitely a different style of cycling than what we undertook in France.  I can’t say I enjoyed one more than the other.  Each had its charms – vive la difference (which is French for “I can’t make up my mind!”).

I am immensely proud of Maureen, who achieved all of her goals and then some with her usual good humor and patience.  Although I joke about her frustrations with me, the truth is she maintained a fantastic attitude always.  There were many times when she fairly could have said, “why have you done this to me?” but nothing remotely close to that happened.  She rode on streets, drafted me fearlessly, and gamely pressed on when doused with garbage truck juice.  I think I have a great future ahead of me.

For those of you contemplating a tour with Bicycle Shows U.S., Glen has my unreserved endorsement.  He definitely knows how to take care of a group, cater to individual needs, and show everyone a good time.

So that’s it for now.  Maureen and I hope to cycle Vermont this fall.   If all goes well, look for a post in October.  Until then, keep the rubber side down and enjoy the summer!

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Back Again

Hello, there!  How’ve you been? All is well on my end. As I mentioned to you when I signed off on this blog four years ago, I intended to continue cycling. I’ve done a pretty good job of that.  I’ve gotten into the usual adventures and misadventures. I’ve bought new cycling gadgets, clothes, and related items.  I’ve spent too much time sitting on my couch each July, watching the Tour de France.  I’ve flatted in unfortunate situations and enjoyed the thrill of small achievements and the occasional nice view on my bike. Basically, I’ve been doing much of the same stuff I regaled you with all those years ago.

I did do one thing that was slightly different for me:  I flew to France and pedaled up a mountain. Mount Ventoux, to be precise.

I thought you might be interested to hear how this went.

At this point, I know what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “Steve, you must’ve been out of your mind to do something like that!  You are way too old and far too out of shape to be horsing around on an epic Tour de France climb.  Please tell me more about the psychological breakdown that caused you to do this!”

I blame Gerry.

It was Gerry who was a faithful reader and regular contributor to this blog in its early days. His helpful ideas and encouraging replies to my posts helped to renew my interest in cycling. Gerry’s own blog, The Vicious Cycle, was one of my favorite reads and introduced me to cycling in Provence. Then, Gerry went so far as to form a bicycle touring company, 44-5 Cycling Tours, and offered packages to anyone interested in cycling this beautiful part of the world. And when I contacted Gerry about a possible assent of Ventoux, he enthusiastically agreed to the idea.

Clearly, Gerry is at fault for all of this. And for that, I am in his debt.

What I eventually settled on was a three-day excursion around Ventoux as part of my honeymoon (Did I mention that I recently married? I may have skipped over that). My beautiful wife gamely agreed to cycle with me for two days over the rolling foothills around Ventoux. These rides were no small task – about 25 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing. As Gerry would call them, they were a “bit lumpy.” As for the mountain itself, the plan was for me to ride solo with my wife offering water, food, and encouraging words from the support vehicle which would accompany me. I explained to her the duties of a podium girl and she enthusiastically embraced the role.

The first challenge was to somehow make it to our hotel in Malaucene, a quaint medieval village at the beginning (or end, depending on your perspective) of a road leading to the top of Ventoux. After starting our honeymoon in Rome we flew to Marseille, rented a car, and drove 70 miles north to Malaucene. I drove up the A7 highway to Avignon and took the exit to Carpentras. This is what I saw:

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That’s Ventoux. From 20 miles away, it still looked massive. I’ve read that the mountain dominates the surrounding countryside and it most certainly does. I shook my head and started laughing – I was going to climb that! I’ve done crazier things in my life, but not many. At this point, there was nothing to be done but give it a try. Either I’d make to the top of that thing or I would fail spectacularly – both would make a great story!

After arriving at our hotel – a former country farm with rustic charm – we settled in and waited for the morning.  We had no concerns because Gerry had taken care of everything.  His company partners with the hotel, so they knew to have breakfast ready for us before our ride time and they were prepared to store our bikes for us at the end of the day.  Speaking of bikes, Gerry arranged for some very nice rentals from a local shop.  We got bikes, shoes, and helmets there, which made packing for the trip much easier.  Gerry provided the water and energy foods and was ready guide us on a ride through the Dentelles de Montmirail – a pretty region featuring some jagged rock formations (thus the name, a derivation of “dents,” the French word for teeth).

We did almost 26 miles through the foothills of Ventoux, past the vineyards of the Rhone Valley.  We also climbed three “cols,” or mountain passes,  and managed to get about 2,000 feet of climbing in.  In Gerry’s world, this is a flat and care-free ride – the sort of thing you do on a Sunday when cycling with your children and looking for a good place to buy baguettes.  In my world (the desolate plains of Northern Virginia), it would be considered a nice workout.  I therefore considered it to be a nice workout.

 

Look what WordPress can do now – exciting photo montages! Those are the Dentelles, with an action shot of us pedaling and a nice “col pic” of a lucky guy and his new wife.  You can see Mount Ventoux in the distance, taunting me.

But enough of the warmup ride.  Lets discuss Le Geant (sorry, Francophones, but my American computer does not easily place the proper accents on French words and I don’t care to learn how to make it right).  Having satisfied himself that I would probably not die on the mountain, Gerry handed me off to his partner, John, for the big climb to the top.  John arrived with a support car and plenty of supplies and good cheer.  He drove us to the beginning of the climb and we discussed strategy.

“I’m going to start slow,” I said.  “If I need to, I will then go slower.”

John thought this was as good a strategy as any.  He took a pic of me at Kilometer Zero and I shoved off.

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A note for the pro cycling fans: there are three ways up Ventoux and I chose the traditional route (departing from the village of Bedoin) that the Tour de France takes when they give it a go.  I would descend on a different route that would deposit me nicely at our hotel in Malaucene.  It takes the professionals about an hour to make this climb.  I suspected it would take me a little longer.  When I suggested to Gerry that I might make it in two hours, he looked me over, paused, and gently said, “Well, that would be a nice mark to shoot for.”

Gerry is a very tactful guy and clearly has a future in international diplomacy should he decide to change career fields.

So, what was I doing?  Oh, yes, I was starting my ride up the mountain.  The first several kilometers are very gentle.  I passed through small villages that were waking up on a Wednesday morning that promised to be a very pleasant day.  Ordinarily, I’d be pushing myself a bit but I was able to control myself and soft pedal toward a famous left turn at Sainte Esteve, about six kilometers into the ride.

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The left turn at Sainte Esteve

Six kilometers down.  16 to go.  So far, so good!

I’d done my homework and understood that the next phase would be a true test – ten kilometers at a 9-11% gradient.  I’ve climbed steeper inclines.  Heck, there’s a hill about a mile from my house that averages 15% for several hundred yards.  I’d even gone over some of the Appalachian Mountains several years ago and had a steady climb for a couple of miles.  But I’d never done this kind of slope for this long a stretch. This would be SIX miles of relentless climbing and I figured it would be pretty painful.

I was right.

At this stage, there’s very little to look at to pass the time.  Trees in France pretty much look like trees anywhere else.  I couldn’t see the top of the mountain, with its iconic white tower atop a treeless landscape.  All I could see were fellow cyclists struggling to get to the top, and an occasional descender who would fly by while yelling words of encouragement.  To the folks climbing, I would give them a cheerful, “Salut!” – or at least as cheerful as my current condition allowed for.  I didn’t have a chance to say much to the descenders as they screamed by me, but their very existence reminded me there would come a time when I wasn’t climbing up a mountain.  And that was a nice thought.

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This marker helpfully informs me that the next km will be at a 9% grade and I am (still) 14 kms from the summit.

Time dragged on.  The slope continued.  My thoughts began to fixate on the Chalet Reynard, a tourist stop/restaurant located at the edge of the treeline.  I knew that at that point there would be a brief respite as the slope would “only” be 4-5% for a few kms.  If I could just reach that stupid Chalet, the worst would be over – or so I thought.

All the while this little drama was playing out, John and my wife would scoot ahead in the support car and cheer me on when I caught up with them.  They also provided me water (so I didn’t have to carry too much) and energy food.  They even took the great pics you see in this post.  John would inform me of some minor accomplishment I had achieved (“you just did 11% for that last km – great job!”) or tell me a small fib to boost my spirits (“you’re looking really strong today!”).  This was all very helpful, but I was really focused on reaching the end of the woods and the end of my misery.

“How much farther to the chateau, John?”

“It’s not a chateau, Steve, it’s a chalet.”

“Seriously, John.  How much farther to damn chalet?!”

“You’re getting close!”

Hmmm…  That was not very definitive.  It’s the sort of thing you would say to someone when you know the truth would break their spirit.  Perhaps not, though.  Perhaps John wasn’t sure on the precise distance but the chateau/chalet/whatever was coming up soon!

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The Chalet has to be around the bend, right?  Wrong.

Sadly, my first instinct was right and I had a few more painful kms to struggle through before I reached my goal.  It took about an hour and 15 minutes, but I was finally through the woods and onto the final stage of the climb.  I paused to take some pics of the area and prepare myself for the final six kms.

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Me and my podium girl at Chalet Reynard (which is out of the picture, obviously!)

Six kilometers is not far, right?  It’s a ridiculously short distance.  At home, that sort of distance passes in a moment.  I’ve ridden up to 300km in one day.  Six kilometers at a reduced incline would amount to a victory lap!

Not so fast.  Those final kms would prove to be some of the most exhausting work I have ever done.  I had nowhere near the energy reserves I hoped for and the reduced incline seemed to not help me at all.  Mercifully, the day was postcard-perfect and the infamous winds which can blow above the tree line weren’t present.  I pondered my good luck as I lumbered forward.  Despite the great conditions and the assistance/cheering of the support vehicle, it would take me another 45 minutes to travel the final stage.

About one km from the finish, there is a monument to British cyclist, Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died at this spot during the 1967 Tour de France.  I used this opportunity to get off the bike and briefly pay my respects.  The rest was very welcome.

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The Simpson Memorial

I now had only one km – one kilometer! – to go, but I was completely shattered.  The final stretch increases in slope to 10% – what would be the fun if it didn’t?  I was now focusing on each pedal stroke, wondering how many more I had to do to get to the top.  500?  Maybe less?  Lets count!  1, 2, 3, … screw that, lets look at the view.  That’s nice.  God, I’m tired!  Now how many pedal strokes?  480?  Can I do that many?

And so it went.  Eventually, I made it to the top and was greeted by my wife and John.  We cracked open a bottle of champagne and celebrated the moment while taking in the views.  I took the obligatory picture under the sign proclaiming the summit of the mountain.  Backs were slapped and kisses were given (the latter, solely by my wife and solely to me).  Gerry even showed up!  He was supporting another client’s climb of the mountain and he had a moment to congratulate me.

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What came next was the descent.  This is something that not everyone thinks of, but the fact is that getting off a mountain can be trickier than climbing up it.  Going uphill simply requires a certain level of pigheadedness.  Avoiding a catastrophe at over 40mph requires skills that I don’t have a large supply of.  This would be my first alpine descent, after all.  I put on a vest, arm warmers and full finger gloves to guard off the cold as I went down.  John gave me a quick safety briefing that amounted to, “Don’t do anything stupid,” and I was off.

Almost immediately, I flatted.

Fortunately, John was in front of me in the support car and saw I had a problem.  He quickly stopped and fixed my flat while I chatted with my wife.  I have flatted in a great many places (this blog chronicles many of them) and I must say that if you’re going to flat, having someone fix it for you while you chat with a beautiful woman whom you happen to be married to is the way to do it.

The rest of the ride down was problem-free.  Unlike the road up, the trip down to Malaucene is full of striking views.  I enjoyed these while taking care to remember John’s early safety briefing.  Two cyclists did not receive this sort of brief and past me at the speed of fighter jets.  It’s a bit jarring to be passed when you’re doing 40mph on a bicycle. How they stayed on the road was beyond me.  Later, John informed us that occasionally some of these riders do not stay on the road.  They were easily going 50-55mph.  These two safely made it to the bottom.

After 40 minutes of exhilarating coasting, I found myself at the end of the road and the entrance to our hotel.  Done, at last!  I thanked John for a fantastic experience and pondered where I could find food and beer.  Fortunately, both were very close by!

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John and I, at the end of the descent.

We were not quite done with our cycling experience, however.  On the next morning, my wife and I suited up and met Gerry again in the hotel restaurant for a final pedal in the L’Ouveze river valley.  Although this ride was a tick shorter than our first day, it was far from flat.  “It’s another lumpy ride, I’m afraid,” said Gerry.  In all, we logged another 1,700′ through some more gorgeous countryside.  I was very pleased to see that I was able to bounce back after the previous day’s exertions and finish the recovery ride with my head held high.

 

 

 

Another fun WordPress photo montage!

All good things must come to an end and our cycling excursion was no exception.  Gerry expertly guided us back to the hotel where we chatted a final time before parting ways.  After so many years of corresponding via emails and blog posts, it was an absolute treat to meet him in person and I couldn’t imagine being in this part of the world and doing these rides without him.

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Two bloggers, one of whom is a good cyclist

Things I Think I Think:

One of the features of this blog used to be a section called, Things I Think I Think, wherein I would share half-backed thoughts and impressions of whatever event I had just completed.  Here are those thoughts for cycling Mount Ventoux:

  • Having a guide is a really good idea.  There’s a fair amount of work involved in cycling in a foreign land.  Gerry knew the right routes, the right hotel, the right bike rental shop and had the language skills necessary to solve the minor problems that inevitably arose.  Trying to do all of this on my own would have been extraordinarily difficult and would have made the event far less enjoyable.

 

  • Having a support vehicle on Ventoux is a good idea.  I needed every possible advantage to go up and down that mountain.  Every ounce of water I didn’t have to carry mattered.  A lot.  The cheerful words of encouragement mattered even more.  Having someone there to fix a flat shortly after being completely smoked on the mountain top was a luxury that I greatly appreciated.

 

  • I was very, very lucky to have fabulous weather on the mountain.  Two days earlier, wind gusts reached 40mph.  That would have been brutal.

 

  • It was remarkable to see the hundreds of cyclists on Ventoux, in the villages surrounding it, and on the roads.  And this was not the high season!  Although the spectacle of the summer must be impressive, I think I am happy to have been there on a pleasant set of weekdays in September.

 

  • Again, it was a pleasure to finally  meet Gerry.  I’ve been able to meet a handful of fellow bloggers in person over the years and this was an absolute highpoint for me.  Gerry is as humorous, gracious, and skilled in person as you would think from reading his blog.  If you’re in Provence and not cycling with him, you’re making a mistake!

 

It’s Time

I’m sure all of you are aware of the significance of May 18, 2010.  It was the day I wrote my first blog article.  I had enjoyed a kayaking blog written by my friend, Joel, and decided to give it a shot.  The rest, as they say, is history.  It’s been a hoot.  Truly, it was far more impactful on me personally than I ever imagined when I started writing.

But I do believe that after 425 posts and four years it’s time to move on to other things.

Way back on that very first day, Joel made a prescient comment on my About page, saying, “I’ve found that the trick to these is keeping them up.”  Truer words were never written.  I am in awe of bloggers who come up with something of interest every single day for years on end.  For those who don’t do this blogging thing, it ain’t easy to be creative that regularly for that long.  I’ve never even made the attempt.  Still, for me, I find it increasingly difficult to maintain a two post/week pace.

I’ve simply run out things to say.

Along the way, I tried to share with you my reentry into the world of cycling.  I’ve approached the subject from just about every angle I could think of.  Well, at least all the angles that interested me.  I’ve shared my trials and tribulations, adventures, silly happenings, profound (or slightly profound or not profound at all) observations, and even a few posts about other people or issues that I was not directly involved in.  It was a way for me to capture my adventures and share what few things I learned with those who could be bothered to read it.  I’ve talked about every historical marker, every battlefield, every organized ride, and almost every crazed car driver I’ve come across.  Increasingly, the topics seem to be getting repetitive and finding an original angle more challenging.  This was becoming more like work, and the job of blogging in this space doesn’t pay very well.

I would like to share with you one last thing – the biggest surprise (and joy) to me was the relationship I built with so many of you through the comments section and your own blogs.  By sharing your knowledge and wisdom with me, you opened up worlds I was only slightly aware of and helped me solve problems I had no answer for.  Your experience and example made my advancement in the hobby much faster and far more enjoyable.  I owe you all a tremendous debt and although I haven’t met most of you, I consider you to be my friends.  You have given me far more than I have provided you and I thank you for that.

So I think this will be a nice place to wrap things up.  Four years is a pretty good run.  I’ll still be around – I haven’t died or anything – and I’ll still show up on your blogs uninvited and make comments which may or may not be related to what you actually wrote about.  I’ll still keep my Facebook Page up and running.  That will give me a creative outlet that requires far less work while still keeping in touch with many of you.

And most importantly, I’ll still be on my bike.  That is, after all, the reason why I started this blog in the first place.

Allez and Bonne Route,

Steve

 

 

 

 

Wandering Around Brentsville

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We’ve had a colder and snowier winter than most, but for the past several weeks there has been a small bit of solace: the nicest weather of the week has occurred on the weekend.  Such was the case on Saturday when the temperature reached 70 degrees in the late afternoon.  The skies were cloudy and the wind was brisk but I wasn’t about to complain.

I had no particular place to go, so I wandered on the country roads between Brentsville and Nokesville looking for something interesting.  It didn’t take me long to find it.  I bet this won’t stay on the market for long.  The possibilities for its use are endless!

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The roads around this part of the county are straight, flat, and car-free.  Below is a picture of Crockett Road, but it could just as easily be Hooe Road, Valley View Drive, Flory Road, or several others in the area.

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Here is a shot of a humble homestead, no doubt occupied by a laborer or tradesman working paycheck to paycheck.  It’s typical of the construction that has occurred here in the last 15 years.

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On Parkgate Drive, there was plenty of activity on the farms.  And by activity I mean animals laying about enjoying the warm weather.  Here is a typical scene.

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It was very nice and worry-free riding.  I saw several other cyclists about and even happened upon two very serious cyclists as I turned back onto Crockett Road.  It was one of those awkward moments where they were clearly stronger riders who were just spinning their wheels and I showed up at precisely the wrong time, only fifty feet behind them and closing.  I didn’t want to overtake them as this would be viewed as a challenge and I didn’t want to sit on their wheel as this would be viewed as being rude.  I could see them downshift and begin to pick up their pace.  Meanwhile, I found a reason to stop and take a picture, thus defusing the entire situation.

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On my way back through Brentsville, I noticed that the general store was up for sale, as was the old house that is next to it.  It looks like the proprietor is ready to move on to other pursuits.

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Heading home on Brentsville Road, I took this picture of Broad Run, which regular viewers will recognize.  I am particularly proud of this picture as I took it while riding at normal cruising spread with (of course) a car passing me at the precise moment I wanted to take the shot.  All things considered, it turned out well, I think.

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My final item of interest is the Woodbine Family Worship Center, which has a unique warning for people who wish to park on their premises for other than religious purposes.

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I reached home in fine form and when I compared notes from previous rides, I realized I had just tied my longest ride of the year to date.  Had I known that earlier, I would have done a few donuts or cruised up a few side streets to set a new mark.  I guess I will have to take comfort in the fact that warmer weather will mean this mark will soon fall.

The Curious Case Of The Malfunctioning Garmin

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I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Yo, Steve, I’ve been carefully studying the above ride map and what’s up with you starting your ride at a different spot than where you ended it?  That has to be about a mile away.  You never do stuff like that, bro.”

Of course, you are right, although I’m not sure why you’re thinking in hip-hop slang.  That’s weird.

I like the positive thinking, but I'd prefer something more accurate.

I like the positive thinking, but I’d prefer something more accurate.

I didn’t actually start my ride a mile away; that’s just the spot where I got my Garmin GPS to start working.  Until that point, it was stubbornly refusing to cooperate.  After turning it on, it simply gave me the encouraging status of “working” and then spun its wheels.  After several minutes of patiently waiting, I tried to turn it off, only to be greeted with a long beep that continued until I pressed the power button again.  Then it finally shut off.  I was optimistic when I hit the power button again, but the thing simply gave me the same “working,” message (which was increasingly looking like Exhibit A in a false advertisement lawsuit I was contemplating).  I wasn’t going to sit around all day, so I started my ride and hoped the Garmin would come to its senses.

I’ve used my Garmin 494 times since I got it in 2011.  It’s simply the most reliable piece of gear I own.  I’ve dropped it, been hit by a car with it, been rained on, baked, froze, and just about every other thing that you might expect to happen to a GPS while riding or running. When something works 494 times, you kinda expect it to work on the 495th time.  When it doesn’t work, you’re somewhat at a loss for what to do next.

Convinced that the thing wasn’t going to fix itself, I decided to start fiddling.  To be honest, I probably should have moved to this stage much sooner in the process, but fiddling doesn’t come naturally for me.  I like to have a rational purpose for doing something and pressing buttons for no good reason doesn’t seem very logical to me.  Except that it was logical.  After pressing the button that causes the Garmin’s stop watch to start/stop, the device snapped out of its coma and immediately began giving me the display full of data that I’m used to seeing.  Why this solved the problem I have no idea.

With the case solved, I headed toward Davis Ford.  This is a picturesque area that is always nice to visit.  You can even take some pictures if the traffic is light or you don’t mind cars flying past you at 60mph with only a couple of feet of shoulder to separate you from them.

This is the bridge with the Occoquan River to the right.  You can see there is still quite a bit of grit on the shoulder from the winter snow plowing.

Davis Ford

Davis Ford is named after a family which owned a lot of land on both sides of the river back in the late 1700s.  Beyond that, I can’t find much else about them.  The exact crossing seems to have changed over the years.  Washington and Rochambeau moved part of their armies along this road as they traveled from NY City to Yorktown.  In the Civil War, Confederate troops from Georgia bivouacked along the river on the lookout for a Federal incursion southward.

Towards the other end of the bridge, there is a view of some sand bars that would be interesting to explore when it is less muddy and I have a boat instead of a bike.

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I then climbed up some hills on Davis Ford Road and eventually made my way home.  I stopped at the less historic Lake Terrapin (created a few years ago by a home developer) for another picture.

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I’m pleased my Garmin is fixed but less than excited about the snow that is currently falling outside my window.  With the official start of Spring only days away, Winter doesn’t seem ready to release its grip just yet.

The Best Day Of The Year…

 

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Is the first workday after Daylight Savings Time kicks in.

In 1883, Canadian and American railroads imposed their will on a continent by implementing standard time (you can never be too careful when “Big Railroad” is concerned).  Before then, time was a very local matter and the “official time” was usually kept by a good clock, often the one on the church steeple in the center of town.  You can see how the Brits took this concept to a whole other level with Big Ben.  Officially declaring standard time wasn’t accomplished in U.S. law until 1918 and with it came the concept of Daylight Saving Time.

Not everyone liked the idea.  It was repealed the next year, leaving it to the locals to decide what they wanted.  It was reinstituted nationally during WWII.  As recently as 1966, lawmakers were still horsing around with the concept when they wrote The Uniform Time Act, which permitted states to determine if they would use the concept, but mandated the date on which it would occur.  In 2007, Congress moved the implementation date for DST four or five weeks earlier in the year.

All of this was an attempt to save electricity (which is why the two world wars are not a coincidence in this story).  To cyclists who have day jobs, it’s all about the weeknight ride.  I happen to be one of those cyclists, so I very happily hopped on my bike Monday night and went for a spin.  The above picture was taken at 6:00 PM, and as you can see there was still plenty of sun to light my way.  A good time was had by all.

Sadly, today was an absolutely exquisite day, the best of the year by far.  I say that this is a sad thing because I found myself in the basement of the Pentagon for the entire day and forced to endure a two-hour commute home (metro-auto combo).  By the time I arrived, BOB (Bright Orange Ball, as we used to call the sun in my Army days) was setting on the horizon.

But still, I have Monday’s ride and many more sunny weeknight rides to look forward to.

Weekend Mosy

I’ve been getting lucky with the weather these days with the weekend weather being the best of the week.  Last weekend was good enough to get in a ride before another snowstorm which shut the city down on Monday.  Things slowly melted during the week until the best weather arrived on Saturday.  So I set off to check on some places I haven’t visited in a few months, just to make sure everything was as it should be.

At the Aden Country Store, I made a rare (for me) right turn onto Fleetwood Drive.  This lonely outpost of civilization has saved me more than once with a cool beverage and some shade.  It’s hard to believe its only five miles from suburbia.

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Fleetwood is a nice country road, full of farms and fancy estate “McMansions.”  Here’s a barn that caught my eye.

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While on Fleetwood, I took a moment to capture a picture of a white tree, standing out from its neighbors.

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Moving on, I noticed preparations continue apace for the new Brentsville K-8 school which is, confusingly, located near Nokesville.

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I wandered down Marsteller Drive to check on the old Iron Bridge east of town.  Last May I wrote about the history of this bridge and a project that was underway to move it so a larger, safer bridge could replace it.  I was interested to see if work had begun.  The answer – no.

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Onward I went toward the Manassas Airport.  I traveled along Broad Run (why the creeks are called “runs” around here, I do not know) and spotted a photo opportunity that won’t be available to me in a few months.  At this time of year, the brush along the creek banks hasn’t grown, so I was able to manage a short, muddy, walk in cycling shoes to take a picture.  I noted with approval the water is less muddy than a few weeks ago.  You can see we still have a bit of snow to take care of before Spring can officially begin.

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And that was that.  I finished off a pleasant 38-mile ride and am now looking forward to increasingly warmer weather and longer days.  Daylight Savings Time started on Sunday so I will hopefully be getting my mileage up to respectable levels.  On my Facebook page, I regale readers with a short bit of history for the year that corresponds to my mileage to date.  Sadly, we are still mired in the 3rd Century.  I hope to get to the Dark Ages very soon!

Lucasville Road

lucasville road

The Winter That Would Not End was preparing to strike another blow Sunday night, but I was able to get in a quick 27-miler under darkening skies.  The temperature on my Garmin said it was 62 degrees.  The low on Monday is supposed to be near zero.  I guess March has decided to come “in like a Lion.”  Lets hope lamblike tendencies are around the corner.

I chose a road I visit only occasionally, Lucasville Road.  This is the stretch of the route that takes me between the words “Prince” and “William” on the above map.  It’s a nondescript road, just like all the other country lanes in the area.  This one has a few too many rollers for my liking – especially when I’m tired – but today I was fresh and the rollers were of no bother.  Despite its “averageness” (if that’s a word), Lucasville Road harkens to another time in the county’s history and touches on a subject that one rarely learns about in detail, namely, after the Civil War, where did all the slaves go?

I mean, they had no money and very few skills beyond what they learned as slaves.  They had no transportation.  Where did they go?  What did they do?  I can imagine a plantation owner telling his former slaves, “Congratulations, you’re free.  Now get the hell out of here before I shoot you for trespassing.”  It’s an interesting (to me at least) problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Except on places like Lucasville Road.  It turns out that Lucasville was one of those places where African Americans gathered after the war and formed a community.  There are no markers that discuss this and there is no such place as Lucasville today.  For the idle traveler, the only way this history is preserved is in a refurbished one room school house on nearby Godwin Drive.  The school was built in 1885 for this community and is available for tours by appointment.  Online, I can find no reference to the town of Lucasville except for those related to the school house, so I guess it’s a good thing it has been preserved.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass.  The Appalachians are in the background.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass. The Appalachians are in the background.

As for the ride, it was pleasant but I seemed to hit every red light I possibly could.  I was glad to be on my way home towards the end because I could feel the temperature beginning to drop.  I once again went with shorts, and half fingered gloves but I was glad for my vest and long-sleeved shirt.  One of these days it will be hot as blazes and I will need my insulated water bottle to help keep my water cool.  Those will be good days.

And here’s a shot of the mixed use path on Route 234, near the Meadows Farm Nursery.

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But of course what you are really wondering about is if I disassembled the BEARD.  The answer is yes.  On a relatively warm day, I didn’t miss it very much.  We’ll see what happens as the temperature drops about 30 degrees today!

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UCI World Championships

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Only 573 days until the UCI World Cycling Championships come to Richmond, Virginia!  It’s not too early to start getting excited so it was with great fanfare that the courses were announced earlier this week.

Mark Cavendish, acting like a big shot in his rainbow jersey

Mark Cavendish, acting like a big shot in his rainbow jersey

UCI stands for Union Cycliste Internationale, which is French for “Bureaucracy Which Runs Cycling” (or something like that).  Every year, they put on a world championship event, the winner of which gets to wear a rainbow jersey for the next year.  They’ve been running these championships every year since 1921 with a break for some sort of war that was occupying everybody’s attention from 1939 to 1945.  Along with the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, this race forms cycling’s Triple Crown.  Since France and Italy rarely move very far, this race is the one opportunity for fans who can’t get to France and/or Italy to see an important race.  The World Championships are rarely run outside of Europe.  The U.S. has hosted it only once before, in Colorado Springs in 1986.  It’s kind of a big deal, is what I’m saying, and its heading my way.

I’ve never been to a cycling race at any level, so I have been wondering about the course and how best to enjoy the show.  I was very interested in the routes were announced this week.  Basically, I’ve got three options:

1.  The Team Time Trial, Sunday September 20th.  This course is 21.9 miles long and is run on many of the same roads I was on during the 2011 Cap2Cap Century.  It’s one long loop, so I guess the idea is to pick one spot and watch each team zoom by with lightning speed, then wait patiently for the next one.  The other possibility is to fight everyone else at the Start/Finish Line at Rockett’s Landing.

2.  The Individual Time Trial, Wednesday September 23rd.  A Wednesday?  Ugh.  This will start about 20 miles north of Richmond and finish downtown 33 miles later.  Much like the Team Time Trial, a spectator needs to pick a spot and watch individual cyclists parade past them in intervals.  The start and finish occur in different locations, so there isn’t even that small opportunity to see a cyclist more than once.  And did I say this was on a weekday?  Moving on, then…

3.  The Road Race, Sunday September 27th.  This has great potential.  The course is a 10.3 mile loop through the center of Richmond.  For some reason, the final race distance hasn’t been posted, but presumably more than one lap will be run.  AND, the course runs along Monument Avenue where it doubles back on itself, meaning spectators at that location will see the peloton TWICE each lap.  Monument Avenue is one of the tourist attractions of Richmond.  For those that aren’t familiar with 19th Century American history, Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America.  Thus on Monument Avenue we find several impressive monuments to heroes of the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.   It won’t be as spectacular as the Champs Elysee or the Olympic route going past Buckingham Palace, but its the best Richmond has to offer and it should be neat.

The Road Race Route

The Road Race Route

So I’ve got 573 days to plan my attendance.  Anyone who has been to one of these things and has some advice, please comment below.  And anyone else who has a good idea, a passing thought, or a completely unrelated issue, chime in as well.  There’s plenty of room in the comments section!