I'm embarking on a new challenge. I always say I'm going to "lose weight", but there was no real goal or end prize, so I eventually quit. (Insert blonde-ish whiney voice here..."it's toooo haarrrdd")

My birthday is April 4. By April 4, I am attempting to lose 29lbs of fatness so I can buy myself a coveted 29er bike for my birthday. My birthday is also on a Friday this year. Hmmm...sounds like a perfect reason to take the entire day off and ride, ride, ride.

The weight loss plan is less than 2lbs a week. I think that's safe.

Start weight: 223.
End target weight 194.

I haven't weighed less than 200 ever since early college. This is going to be tough.

Wish me luck!


First Winter Commute

Been awhile since I've embarked on any ride lately, especially to/from work. Had my chance yesterday to try out my new winter riding bibs, mount the studded MTB tires and ride into work; my first winter commute (with actual snow) ever.

There was a raffle going on at work for anyone who commuted with someone, or else was doing the driving for commuters. Our building doesn't have much for parking and with our annual Christmas luncheon going on, they needed to entice people to free up some parking spaces for the caterers and employees coming from the other building.

I decided I would just ride my bike if I could get entered into the drawing. It was confirmed that I could. As you would expect many people couldn't believe that I was going to do it, then actually follow through with it.

As it would turn out, the weather was actually pretty perfect for pulling this off. It hadn't snowed significantly for a few days, which gave road crews a chance to clear many of the streets I usually take riding into work.

I chose to drive about half-way in to a trailhead in Belmont, thus cutting my commute into a 11.5 journey instead of a 24 mile one. This was for two reasons:

1) I'm way too out of shape to be doing 48 miles in a day - on a heavy MTB with even heavier studded winter tires.

2) The rail trail is not plowed during winter for what would usually be the first 4 miles of my commute.

Leaving from Belmont turned out to be just right. It took an hour each way. It was 21 degrees and little to no wind. I was plenty warm in all my gear...which during a slow time in the ride, I calculated to be around $500 in just winter-specific gear. Of course, this has all been amassed over the last 3 years worth of riding in Michigan winters. It really is a necessity...getting the right gear for the right conditions. If you don't you won't have any fun and won't likely try it again.

The rail trail had maybe 1/2" of fresh powder on it. It was a nice, calm, smooth ride leaving Belmont. My light was more than adequate on the reflective surface. It took exactly 10 minutes (1 mile) for me to actually feel warm. Until then, it was the usual, "boy this is dumb, I should go back to the car" thoughts entering my head.

Once I reached the 5/3 Ballpark and city traffic the conditions were very different. Lots of slush from salted roads. Everything was wet, brown and dirty. My light didn't do much of anything, even on high power. Still, I trudged onward. I was a bit uneasy about parts of the ride in as I had to ride away from the shoulder of the roads more towards the car tracks where the footing was more stable. Everyone that passed me was more than accomodating, except one school bus who felt the need to honk at me as they passed and swerved into my lane. I got the number and reported the rather aggressive behavior to the transportation company. We'll see if I hear back from them. Likely not, I assume.

Once work was reached, the bike was a slushed up mess. I had to bounce the thing around to knock lots of crap off it before bringing it into the warehouse to thaw out for the day.

The ride home was just as uneventful. Because I was nervous about going down this giant hill on my usual route, and feared heading out to the busy traffic like that morning, I improvised and took some neighborhood streets to bypass both of those regions. The streets were not likely plowed in the last week - the snow was pasty - the kind that sticks in the tire lugs no matter what. It was rough steering, almost fell a few times, but kept upright. Seems I accidentally found a new way into work.

The ride back to the car on the rail trail was fun. Took my time. In the morning I felt pressure to ride fast so I made it to work in time. I was nice and cozy in my new gear.

I heard a quote a few weeks ago. Something like: "In cycling, there is no such thing as bad weather riding conditions. Just bad clothing & equipment choices." I tell that now to people as they tell me I'm crazy for riding in the winter. I actually feel bad for people that they don't get the chance to experience something different and "edgy" in their life.

With the Christmas and New Years holidays coming up, this may have been the last ride in 2013. This ride also put me over the 1,000 mile mark for this year. Way less than anticipated, but hopefully things will look up for 2014.


Chevelle - Shameful Metaphors

It's all the same
Should I evolve
To tend to these sights
Said out loud then said again
If fate's so wrong
You'll start to feel lightheaded
By my admission, nothing grows
Just a longer list of unsorted laws

So why then
Has all my life made no sound

And are your eyes
Closing even now
My life made no sound
I fear your eyes closing

Revolting man
This sacred chain
Brought down to trial
No better man could fail the way
You needed all
Keep close the vein of empty

The finest river,
The ravens tend
All along insisting
We're worlds away

Behold the lost
Behold a Band-Aid

These shameful metaphors
Fought it through the teeth
Biting at your heels
Fought it cheek to cheek


Random Rides

I have had basically no time to ride and even less time to post to my blog. (is anyone even out there watching/reading?)

It's been almost 8 weeks since I've even been on the road bike. My lowly 4 rides since Night Shift have only been on my mountain bike, and one of those rides was a nice 6.4mph average ride with my daughter on the trails at Luton.

Below is a pictorial blog post.

Marissa on her second year at Luton Park. We rode Blue Loop like she did last year, two times plus Orange loop which was new to her. She went down hills that she wouldn't last year on her smaller bike. Way more confident on her 20" and did good shifting. She fell once and brushed a tree once, and lived to tell about it.

 Afterward we stopped to get hotdogs at Dam Dogs.

Then, as long as you're there for hotdogs you might as well get some ice cream from Custard by the Dam. We had a nice relaxing few Daddy/Daughter hours.

A nice out of focus shot of Heath at Granny's Garden at Fort Custer.

Me ready to conquer Big M. That wouldn't happen though...by 11 am it was close to 90 degrees and I swear 90% humidity. We couldn't get back to the parking lot quick enough.

Bob and Dawn riding through ferns at Big M.

Riders climbing a short hill.

Here comes Cindy.....

...then Brent.

My stripped, soaking, stinking jersey resting on a post while we wait for the others. I was literally dripping wet at this moment.

Sweet Pano I took at Big M. If I could build a house right at this location, I would tomorrow.


2013 Night Shift - the Epic Dirt Road Night Century

Wow, it was finally upon us. Years of thinking, conceptualizing. Months of planning. Weeks of anticipating. Hoping the weather would be good enough to ride, just days and hours before. Feeding off others excitement. Official jerseys designed, ordered and printed.

What on earth were we about to do!?

Back Story:
During Fall 2011, Matt Longest, Matt Remus and I casually discussed doing our own self-supported century road ride at our own leisure. Just to do it. Friends on a mission to explore Michigan...somewhere. That discussion led to "but we never have time to set aside for something like this", which led to let's ride at night. How about just up the rail trail (35 miles) to Big Rapids, belly up to a college bar, have some drinks and party it up? Nah, not long enough. Which then led to how about a night century? Which sounded super-dangerous to me...so we somehow ended up concocting this crazy idea of a 100 mile off-road night century. This was going to be too fun to not invite anyone else. Night Shift was born.

Planning the Route:
Matt Remus and I kind of determined an end point for the ride. It was up to me to plan backwards from there 100+ miles to find our starting point. I scoured Google Satellite Maps to see which roads were (likely) dirt and I highlighted all of them on my 1997 Michigan Atlas. This took months. My computer was old, slow and small...I quickly lost interest. I later got a new computer and progress was speeding along. I connected the dots from back to front, plotted the course via Garmin Connect. Matt Longest and I drove the course in April 2013 (the first rough draft), then again in May. There were some disasterous roads that had to be re-routed, which were confirmed much better. The 2013 course was set in stone (or electronified (yup, a new word, you have my permission to borrow it)).

Plenty were interested. Maybe up to 16 or so to begin with. About a month out, people realized they had other things going on, injuries, or just I'm sure some sensibilities came about them. Numbers dwindled down to 6 the week before, then 2 more joined last minute. Eight hardy souls, aboard their iron horses. (or in Howard City called, "Amish Motorcycles" - more on that later) Four counties. Two calendar days. We watched the sun set and rise again. Ate some bugs, swore a little, walked a bit, froze until our teeth chattered, saw some of the most spectacular starry skies EVER, listened to the bug zapping sound of electricity flowing through power lines, laughed, shouted, ate, drank (water) and were merry. All aboard bicycles. What is it about these simple machines that brings people together? Strangers in our own, friends together pedaling at speeds ranging from 3mph up to 34+. I can't think of anything more fun, exciting, challenging and character forming.

Day of departure: June 7
I will admit. I was nervous. A little hesitant. Would someone get hurt? Would anyone not enjoy themselves? Would they not enjoy or understand the challenge of doing something so outrageous that "common folk" would not understand (I think cyclists will agree, there is something about us that is not "normal"). I loaded up my bike with way more supplies than needed, but even though I planned and drove the route (twice) I still had no idea what was going to happen in the dead of night. I must have checked, double and triple-checked everything twice or three times over (get out your calculators) all afternoon. My plans to take a 4 hour nap turned into 1.5. Too damn excited to sleep! Let's get rolling!!

The Ride:
Myself, Matt R, Matt L, Matt U, Joel, Susanne, Bob and Jason met at the Methodist Church in Courtland Township, MI. SAG drivers John & Judy along with Dawn and Lindsay watched in anticipation as we rolled out at 7:46pm. (SAG is a widely-used term in the cycling world and usually refers to a stationary vehicle or location that provides support for passing riders. While there are several theories as to what it stands for, most likely it's an acronym for: "Support And Gear.") Our trek began immediately with a short ride across the street through the cemetery to ward off any evil spirits that wanted to tag along. Better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to that, I figure.

Segment 1: Miles 1-27 - Destination: Howard City
The mostly flat route on paved roads and gravel led us clipping along between 16-18mph right out of the gates. I knew it would happen. Excited souls on a mission to speed down the road to see what adventures lie ahead. At mile 9.25 we almost lost Bob right away. Apparently shouting "LEFT" wasn't enough for him, so he turned right (his OTHER left). We all laughed and I thought to myself "this is going to be outstanding". We soon found ourselves swerving around a ROAD CLOSED barricade and just continued on like there was nothing there. No stupid wood and metal sign was going to stop this group! It turned out it was a bridge out, but we could get around it easily. We ran up on some ladies riding horses, then their boyfriend counterparts also on horses, who were more skittish. We exchanged some pleasantries, and were off. Joel dropped his single-speed chain only miles later. We made our way over to the Fred Meijer White Pine rail trail north of Sand Lake just as dusk was setting. There were a ton of bugs hanging out there. In people's eyes, mouths, sticking to  jerseys. Some turned their headlights on at this point. It was beginning to get dark. Our first planned stop was the BP gas station in Howard City, mile 27. Immediately rolling into the lot, we were greeted by drunk man #1 of the evening who stopped chatting with his lady friend in order to say "Hey! Look at these guys on Amish Motorcycles!" This led to Mr Friendly Drunk having several conversations about how our "$5,000 bikes must go up to 40mph because we had so many gears". We refueled, took bathroom breaks and warmed up a bit inside the station. Eventually our drunk friend left...ironic that he had arrived via bicycle. Of which he said "it's a Next. One step up from a Huffy!" Then he proceeded to grind and pop gears on his way out of the lot. Yeah, uh huh, later dude.

Delicious looking sign at the Howard City BP Station.

Segment 2: Miles 28-44 - Destination: Hardy Dam
We rode back out to the unpaved rail trail, only to discover that my Garmin was already acting up. It wanted us to take some different roads. Glad I had a paper map back-up. However, it was hard to determine what the cross streets were, so at the next road intersection we stopped, I pulled off to the side, which must have confused Bob, who couldn't clip out and fell over like one of those feinting goats. BAM! No one was able to snap a picture quick enough. Our ride out to the Hardy Dam was pretty uneventful. Saw some shady hillbillies hanging out around their truck in the dark, sort of sneaky looking. Approaching the Hardy Dam...it was so calm and still. Cruising across at near midnight on one of the darkest evenings of the year, showed stars, reflecting off the Muskegon River. Beautiful. I don't think anyone made a sound, we rode in silence, awe. Across the dam would be our first sights of the SAG vehicles for the evening. Thankfully they were there, the BP station was closed. SAG had water and magical Subway sandwiches (more on that later). My favorite part was over-hearing people suggest that we'd roll into camp maybe as soon as 4-5am since we had gone almost half way in only 4 hours. Little did they know how the terrain would change dramatically. (I was maniacally laughing inside my head.) I donned my UnderArmor compression long sleeve shirt as a baselayer to attempt to warm up a bit. After 15 minutes or so to get refreshments, rest and socialize, we were off again.

 SAG Stop at Hardy Dam

Segment 3: Miles 45-58 - Destination: Woodville
This section was almost straight north the entire ride. And all on gravel roads with some sandy mix. Everything was starting to blur together. As Susanne said "there is hard beige, and soft beige". You could be cruising along at 16mph, then almost slam to a crawl in some sand, fish-tailing along trying not to fall or crash into the rider next to you. We briefly conversed with drunk men #2 and #3 of the evening - like King of the Hill, drinking beers at the end of their dirt driveway. Hanging out. First brief conversation: "Holy cow! We though you guys were aliens err, sumtheeng. We saw lights, but there was NO sound!" Next conversation: "Hey were you guys headed?" "Straight ahead." "You ain't gonna make it through there!" That was fact and was anticipated by myself and Longest, but we also didn't realize HOW bad it would be. It was a definite Hike-a-Bike section. DEEP sand up a large embankment. And we walked on and off for the next mile or so until our next sighting of the SAG vehicles. Lots of people crashed. There was also lots of laughing. I had to stop at one point because I was laughing too hard at witnessing a Bob high-speed fish-tail completely across one side of the road to the other, then a tip over in the sand. He was like an upside-down cat. Once down, he bolted out from under his bike - he must have been anticipating someone running him over. After resting at the Woodville Party Store a bit, we noticed it was getting colder and pretty quickly. We needed to keep moving.

Segment 4: Miles 59-85 - Destination: Nirvana, MI
This would prove to be the most brutal, lengthy and at the same time beautiful parts of the route. We left the party store and headed down Hardwick Road...which someone thought was a road straight into a field and another thought it was someone's driveway - it was so obscure. Our next "Seasonal Road" (aka: sand so thick, you'll be walking unless you're driving a 4WD) came immediately. This one was long and angered many riders, including myself. I had to stop several times to empty sand from my right shoe. (Only my right shoe for some reason - it must have been coming in through the cleat holes.) The pushing and trudging through the sand was worse than riding. It was a full-body workout. I had saddle-bags on my bike that I had loaded with probably 25lbs of gear and tools. Everything was getting heavy and quick. The walking and pushing made you sweat buckets, then getting back on the bike, the 40 degree breeze would freeze you solid. We regrouped a few times at intersections and turned off our headlights to just stand there, look up and stare at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. One of the darkest areas of Michigan on one of the darkest days of the month. Simply amazing. There were "stars between the stars". So many, I had no idea the sky could be that populated with them and I grew up in the country while as a kid I would stare at them night after night.

Again, at times, there was silence among us. Tiny beings on an adventure that no one else even knew was happening. So small in our universe. It was mind-blowingly beautiful. Remus began to have chain issues before Hungerford Lake Recreation Area, which had to be fixed with a chain tool. We arrived at the trail-head and Susanne and Joel aboard cross-bikes chose to take the gravel road to the end and begin their trek down 12 Mile Road which was also 100% sand. (as Susanne says "That stupid road doesn't deserve a name like 12 mile road, it's hardly a road!!") For the rest of us, the ride though the dark on the trails was the highlight of the entire ride. How fantastic! Bob must have fell down 3 times, hitting stumps all along the way. Swerving in and out of trees, crossing downed logs, searching for the trail, trying to see through the ferns. Amazing! I must poach a trial and do that again. Once we trudged through another 1.5 miles of thick sand, riding, then off again I learned that Susanne and Joel had had enough of the 40 degree weather and called for SAG help. Susanne's friend Brad was coming to pick them up - they got in a hardy 72 miles. At this point several of us at camp the next night would tell our version of what we saw out there. Was it a party van? Did it have a disco ball in it? It had neon lights under the running boards! Was it a stretch Hummer? We all heard the jamming tunes bumping. What the hell was that!? We were all tired and sugar deprived. It was Brad's Disco SAG waiting for Susanne and Joel.

 Something about Hillbilly Second Grade humor got me going at 4am. Open to PUBIC.

I don't remember anything else outstanding happening during this stretch, except condensation in my goatee dripping down my shirt. Pumping my burning legs in circles in the granny-gear...maxing out at 3mph at times, wondering when it would all be over. Pain. Depression. My stomach rumbling. Trying to rationalize this ride. Head down, watching the dirt and stones slowly pass underneath me. Bob blew apart his rear derailleur, (luckily) only one mile from our last SAG. This stop was by far the coldest. Longest and I warmed up in John and Judy's truck for awhile, then had to force ourselves back outside into the cold. I snagged a Subway sandwich segment and a caffeine infused gel.

Final Segment: Miles 86-106 - Destination: Silver Creek Campground, Luther, MI
With the sun now coming up, Joel had decided to rejoin us. He had the chance to warm up again and the sun would help. Awesome! Back to 7 cowboys on steel horses. It was freezing cold, however the sun would be bring welcome sights of landscape, trees, chirping birds and green foliage - of which was all black and silent to us just hours before. Ripping down a dirt road, I hit a large pot hole, lost a water bottle and jammed both of my wrists. They hurt bad. The pounding was now getting to me. I had to walk one hill here, way too steep. However, the Subway sandwich segment that I ate was starting to fuel me to levels I had not felt in a long while. It turns out that Matt Upton and I were the only ones to have some of the sandwiches at the last stop, which brought us back from the depths of hell. Matt says they were "magical", I say they were filled with some sort of EPO (Lance Armstrong injected hormone which increases your red blood count and enhances the blood's ability to absorb oxygen and fuel muscles). I was flooring it for miles on end. I could see the lead 3 ahead of me. Remus turns around to see me coming for them. I can tell he says something to Longest. He also turns around. Within minutes they were within my grasp. I pass them and Joel, ripping up and down hills in the big ring, feeling no pain. I recall telling Longest "I feel like I could kill somebody!" Was it the rising sun? The magical sandwich? My numbness to the pain? I was happy to be back to riding my best 10 hours after first lifting my leg over the top tube 90 miles to the southeast. We reached the end of the gravel for the ride. Sad that the dirt portion was over, but happy we were almost done. Remus and I pace-lined ourselves on the paved roads into Luther where we waited for the other riders to catch up.

We regrouped again at the top of the last hill so we could roll into camp together. A band of brothers. Dirty. Worn. Happy. Physically and mentally drained. We did it. No one got hurt. No one got lost. No run-ins with the law or shot-gun wielding Darryl's in no-man's land.

The word "Epic" get's thrown around a lot lately. However, this ride was truly "Epic". Paved roads. Dirt Roads. Sand. Single-track. Sundown to Sunup. Warm to freezing to warm. Hungry. Uneasy at times, you could puke. Figgin' cowbell yielding SAG support, for cryin' out loud! Epic? Yes. This was a ride I will cherish for the rest of my life. By far, one of the craziest, challenging, most fun, fulfilling events I've ever done. And...I can't wait to do it again. How can it be better? What changes can I make? The ideas are already flowing. It's going to be even more fun and memory creating.

Night Shift, version 2.0. Coming in 2015.


Feeling out the Tip

C'mon now, don't be dirty.

I have personally been shut out for the past two years for riding my road bike around the Leelenau Peninsula north of Traverse City on Memorial Day weekend. In 2011 I ran the Bayshore 10K (my one and only race - long story...not really. Running sucks!) and I was too dang sore to ride the next day and it was too cold anyways. In 2012 Matt Longest and I had grand plans to go riding when we got douched with torrential downpours that eventually relieve us of electrical power at the rental home. After we rode circles and figure eights in the garage, we ended up spending the afternoon at the mall with our crazy-ass children (and everyone else's). Wow, what a vacation.

This year we vowed to ride, rain or shine. Anything short of lightning and hurricane winds. Our defiance towards the weather gods proved well worth it - they submitted to us.

Sunday was one of the most GLORIOUS days to ride I can ever remember. Little chilly to start with, but hardly ANY wind all day. Not a cloud in the sky. Full-on sun. Felt great. Hammered out 69 miles. Beautiful! The scenery up there is unbelievable. The smell of cherry blossoms, apple blossoms, fresh cut grass and clean air is unbeatable.

A MUST RIDE if you're ever in the area. Flat with some rolling hills, then a b!tch of a climb on Herman Road. 6% grade for the longest stretch I think I have ever ridden. According to Matt, we placed 8th out of 22 on Strava.

That will be the extent of my Night Shift long-distance training I guess. Okay then...bring it on!

Matt at the Lighthouse on the point.

Some directional signs towards the shore.

Found this little fort-slash-control tower at a small airport.

Better view of the entire thing.


Finally Riding and Finalizing Night Shift

The weather has finally broken for the better and our home schedule was free for the last few days. Got out for my first group ride of the season at Challenger on Wednesday evening. Then took the day off Friday to ride to Luton, pulled a full lap then back home. (could've (and should've) pulled one more lap at the trails. Longest and I went up to Hungerford Lake to ride the trail portion of Night Shift and did some recon there (and got lost a lot) and drove part of the re-route around the powerlines south of Luther. All fantastic days to ride, near perfect weather. Hope this all holds out for another month, Night Shift is upon us...4 weeks!

Ran across this guy about 2 miles in on Luton. Had to slam on the brakes. Box turtle I think. He stood motionless while I got the camera and barely tucked his head in as I walked around him.

Took my time on the ride. Didn't have to work, so I took it all in...slowly.

I love this time of year. You can see all the trails through the trees.

Another cool shot.

My favorite section of trail. Speeding through "Pine Row" I call it.

Matt and I being lost at Hungerford Lake. This whole segment of trail was littered with downed saplings and fresh wood. Almost as if a tornado or something touched down here, and moved on. Weird.