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. After taking the A7 highway to Avignon, I 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.

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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

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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!

A Preview Of Coming Attractions

handymart2Like a prospective home buyer measuring the windows for drapes, Spring made an early appearance this weekend, which made for two pleasant rides.  The winter weather has kept my miles to an embarrassingly low level.  How low you ask?  This weekend’s 57 miles of riding represents almost one third of my mileage for the year.

Not good.  Not good at all.

It was nice to get on the road in shorts and half-fingered gloves.  No leggings, booties, helmet covers, winter gloves, or jackets.  My only concession to the temperatures in the low 60s was a pair of arm warmers.  There was plenty of sand and pebbles on the side of the road, the refuse from the winter’s snow plowing efforts.  Multi-use paths were still a bit dicey in the shadier spots.  It’s a shame they don’t clear them of snow.  Actually, that’s a bit of an issue in DC, where many cycling commuters count on clear paths to get to work.  Down here in suburbia where almost nobody cycles to work, its less critical.

My route took me into Fauquier County.  Along the way, I crossed over Cedar Run and noticed it was quite swollen due to the recent snow melt.

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Things are very brown right now.  Even the water is brown.

At Mile 20, I was very happy to see the Handymart was once again back in business.  Last summer I discovered that it was out of business, which is a shame because it is at a very nice distance from home to serve as a resupply point (twenty miles, in case you didn’t catch that in the preceding sentence).  More than once, it has been an oasis to me as I struggled home with little water or food.  It’s good to know it is once again able to do so.

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On the way home, Sowego Road seemed pretty so I took a picture.  There was even some green in the trees!

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This house has been unchanged for the past several years.  It seems like a very nice farmhouse but it has never been occupied.  It’s sad to see it slowly fall into ruin.

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There was even some wildlife out, or to be more specific, domesticated farm animals.  There’s a pig in that crowd somewhere.  All of them were a bit camera-shy and were beating a hasty retreat when I stopped to take a pic.

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And just in case you didn’t believe me, here’s what the path looked like about two miles from home.  Walking through that snow caused it to impact inside my cleats, making it impossible to clip in again until I dug out the ice/snow with my fingers while muttering in a PG-13 manner to no one in particular.

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Last pic of the BEARD

Last pic of the BEARD

Sunday proved to be an even nicer day and I ventured out without even the protection of arm warmers.  Before you know it, I’ll need to put ice in my water bottles (the first time is always an important occasion in my cycling year). Unfortunately, this was only a visit from Spring.  Winter weather returns tomorrow and the long-range forecast is not encouraging.  All the same, I intend to disassemble my Biological Extreme-cold Affects Reduction Device (B.E.A.R.D.) at the end of the week.  Mother Nature is on her schedule and I am on mine.  It’s time for Spring.

My First-Ever Beer Review

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Since continued snow and ice make cycling difficult, I have decided to take this blog into uncharted waters with its first ever beer review.  While reading this review, please keep in mind that my knowledge of beer is even less than my knowledge of cycling.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Good.  Lets start then.

Yesterday, I was in the grocery store minding my own business (rarely do I mind other people’s business when I’m in the grocery store) and I came across a beer with a picture of a bicycle on the label.  Immediately sensing the topic of a blog post, I grabbed a six-pack and brought it home for some “scientific study.”

The first thing I did was some research and I am glad I did.  It turns out Fat Tire is the flagship beer of the New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado.  This company is the third largest microbrewery in America (and one of the oldest) and the seventh largest brewery of any type in the U.S.  The company was founded in 1991 after its soon-to-be-founder, Jeff Lebesch, completed a cycling trip through Belgium that focused on visits to its many breweries.  Fat Tire Ale is an homage to that trip and the beers of that region.

A beer based on a cycling trip.  I was officially hooked.

Fat Tire sold extremely well, so well that its distinctive label (featuring what appears to be a vintage Schwinn Phantom, drawn by artist Anne Fitch) became more famous than company’s logo.  Other beers produced by the company did not sell as well due to a lack of brand recognition.  In 2006, New Belgium Brewing switched its logo to include the distinctive Phantom and things improved even more for the company.  Kim Jordan, the company president, partially credits the beer’s artwork for its success.  “Our beers were good, our labels were interesting to people, and we pretty quickly had a fairly robust following.”

The artwork certainly worked on me.  It’s really the only reason I bought the beer.

Having completed my research, I realized I had another problem – I had no idea how to review a beer.  So I went to this site and learned that Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, and Overall (ASTMO) are the common categories used in beer reviews.  So, without further ado, here’s my review:

APPEARANCE.  This was a 12oz beer poured into an Coors Beer glass I got in 1987 during a brewery tour (my first and only tour of a brewery).  You can see for yourself what the beer looks like.  It was  a clear dark copper color with a head that stayed for several minutes.

SMELL.  I would describe the smell as being like beer.  I guess I need to work on my skills in this area.  If pressed, I would add that it was a little “earthy.”

TASTE.  A pleasant surprise, as I don’t normally care for darker beers.  I don’t care for bitterness and this had a refreshing lack of that quality.  I would call it crisp with a nice taste that isn’t too strong.

MOUTHFEEL.  My mouth felt fine, thank you.  I guess what they’re getting after here are things like aftertaste, which there wasn’t much of – another plus.

OVERALL.  To my untrained palate, this is a perfect beer for everyday social occasions.  An hour or two on the back deck on a hot summer’s day would be a perfect setting for two or three of these beers.  The taste is quite nice and the back story on the beer makes for a fantastic conversation starter!