Commute #12: December - Mission Complete!

Well, I was lucky that the weather broke for a few days just before Christmas. Two days after Winter Solstice (day with the least amount of light), I made my last trek of the year and the last commute to meet the goal I set last year of doing at least one trip a month to and from work, for each month of 2016.

I was not motivated at all to begin this last journey. Lots of the snow the past few weeks left me to decide where to car-rack my bike to in order to begin the journey. I was tempted to get the most out of it that I could by staging my bike at Russell Road where they end plowing of the trail. That is just shy of 4 miles from my house. However, knowing that I hadn't been doing much of any riding this fall/winter, I didn't really think my legs were going to be up to it. I also was also worried about my exploded back I had in the last month and had to put on the studded tires for this trip as it was still kind of icy even where it was plowed. Those tires have so much rolling resistance, it's like pedaling uphill both ways.

So the trip in to work was "meh". I really couldn't wait for it to be over. All 15 miles of it. (roll your eyes here - gee, Tony, tough). The ride home was much better. There was little to no traffic as many people had Friday off from work due to the holidays. My legs felt much better and the temps were much more mild. Ended this 12 month journey in a pretty good mood.

Happy for it to be over? Maybe. It just gets kind of boring. However, now that I've done that for 12 months, perhaps I should just keep it going for as long as a I can, and make it "my thing". We'll see how January and February goes. If I can make it work through December through February, the weather usually isn't much of an issue the rest of the year.

This concludes my riding for 2016. Hoping the weather is sort of okay (at least) to do the Hair of the Dog ride on New Years Day. That's only one week away, then we're on to 2017!


Commute #12: In Jeopardy

Well, I'm getting nervous. I have 2.5 weeks to complete the mission I set one year ago...commute to and from work at least once a month for every month in 2016. I am 11/12th's complete.

So far December has blessed me with a herniated disc in my lower back (almost back to normal now) and most recently a 24-48 hour stomach virus. I've eaten only bread-like substances since. Also the temps have driven themselves down to the twenty's and there is snow and ice everywhere. The low tonight is going to be 9. That's a "niner". Single digit. Nine. Got that?

I'm going to have to find the optimal 24 hour time period to pull this all off - and if needed, sacrifice my toes and fingers doing so. Wish me luck!


Commute #11: November

I've been super lucky this year that this fall has lasted so long and been unseasonably warm. And it helps that Fall is my favorite of all the seasons. I won't have the chance to ride home tonight, but temperatures are expected to hit the mid-60's today then it's back to the Michigan November standard of mid-30's rain/snow by Saturday. So I guess then it's "so long, Fall".

The ride home yesterday was good. Temp was near 50 or so when I left and near 40 when I got home. I was cold when I got home though, mainly my toes. Hot, sauna-like shower helped. At least there was no wind so to speak. And it was DARK. I only saw a few other cyclists and a few runners/walkers. Some fog patches were rolling in by the time I got home and riding through those clouds makes it feel like they're 10 degrees colder. Real spooky to ride through.

I don't know why, but I hate this stupid drive-thru Christmas light show thing at Fifth Third Ballpark. Actually, every year I'm giddy to want to hate it. So weird. Got there today and realized it wasn't open to the public yet, so I had the whole thing to myself. Had to stop a few times to take pictures of course. There were some workers out there quality-checking the dumb light things, they didn't even see me. Can't believe they charge $17 per car to drive through this thing. And people keep coming back for more.

I really expected to see many more animals, mainly deer, on my commute. But there was nothing. I think I saw one rabbit in total. No birds, bugs, nothing. Void of life mostly, except for me. I didn't even see our usual church members taking their run and walk this morning, nor the guy with (no more) dogs. Sometimes my mind wanders and I started to think "what if I was suddenly the last man around?" I guess I'd have to go break in somewhere and get a beer! Or seven. Or a bakers-dozen even. And I certainly wouldn't need to be on my way into work. What am I doing? Just then, I'd see a car or some lights somewhere and that feeling would slip away.

I've had to wear some of my winter gear for my rides recently. I guess after this one, I'll have to get out the full-bore winter gear and get ready. I think the big chill is coming. Already wishing April gets here quick.


Commute #10: October

The weather forecast for Monday was anything but accurate. Expected to be near 38 degrees in the morning, I had staged all my winter-weather gear on the couch. What I woke up to was about 10 extra degrees (bonus!), so I had to break into the bedroom where my wife was quietly sleeping and gather alternate, warmer weather gear. Also, when I flipped on the back yard flood lights to see how much moisture there was, I was excited to see everything was bone-dry. But by the time I left, it was drizzling. Huh? Weird. That didn't last but a few miles anyways. Geez, what a confusing morning.

This time of year is fun to ride on the rail trail. Morning's especially. It's usually fully covered with fallen leaves to where you care barely see the asphalt and the leaves show so bright and colorful against my headlight, its like day. And to me, the smell of Fall is something I love and will never forget. The ride in was rather uneventful, spotted a few deer here and there. I had a few moments of sadness thinking about Pastor Robert a few times, then what I've been expecting and hoping would never come to be...the guy with dogs. No longer had dogs. The second one must have passed on over the span between my last commute and that morning. So it was a sad ride in, but the fresh air does more than I probably figure no matter the quality of miles.

The ride home was also challenging, but because of physical and environmental reasons. I thought my legs were doing fine all day, but they were really tired apparently. Headwind nearly all the way, I struggled to pedal 12mph where I would normally be doing 16mph. The (stupid) light show at Fifth Third Ballpark is going up. I suspect my November commute will include part of that - watch for a unique Garmin map coming soon. (ha) I sort of "gave up" on trying to match or beat times from the morning about half way home, just too exhausted - it took me 10 minutes longer than usual to get home. Tired. Hungry. Sad. Just a lot of things weighing me down on this trip.

Greg LeMond once said "It never gets easier. You just go faster."

True for a cyclist, true for all of mankind.

Another Soul for my Rides

I went for a cross-bike ride Saturday just to get some miles in and relieve some stress. It was a long week. For this ride there was no intended route. The only intent was to get out and move a little. I rode some rail-trail, explored a industrial park, then single track and then some roads. It was a cold morning, but really nice to get out, not be on an agenda or time table. The sun came out and warmed things up nicely.

It was a good day to clear my mind. Little did I know (I would learn a few hours later) that our church Pastor, Robert had died the night before of a massive heart attack. We were all shocked and saddened by the news. He was a good guy, great for our church and loved and supported our kids dearly. Marissa had a great bond with him and is very sad about the news. All he ever wanted to do was help people, that was his church mission and he made it his life to do so.

He was a part-time Pastor for us, but worked more than any full-time one I've ever known. A great communicator. A great organizer. A great thinker and educator. Former typesetter in the printing trade, we had that in common too. He gave Patti and I lots of support through some challenges we had faced inside and outside of church. Just a good, regular, down-to-earth guy. At times I feel alone and sad, other times plenty happy and proud to have been able to serve the last five years with him at our church.

A good soul on earth has been lost, and what upsets me most is that his work here wasn't done. How are we supposed to pick up all those pieces? I guess it's our job to carry on for him, its what He would want us to do.

He always enjoyed my stories about cycling. He would tell me about his vacations with Mary and how they biked together places. He was one of the first people I e-mailed to tell him about my 24-Hour Challenge results. He supported my Miles for Smiles ministry this last summer by dusting off his steel-framed steed and riding 204 miles in 10 weeks, raising hundreds of dollars for the cause. I think mostly, he did that to show his support for me - he didn't have to take the time to do that, but he did. And he did things like this tirelessly for plenty of others. I will never forget him for that.

Pastor Robert Eckert. Another soul for me to bring along with me on my rides.


Playing Hooky

I took the day off from work yesterday to do some Mountain Biking. Then the plan was to relax the rest of the day away with wifey after lunch out with her. I really had no plan for riding, so I just headed to Merrell Trail in Rockford. I hadn't ridden here only but once before with Jeremy and it was "okay". Not completely my style of riding, lots of technical short turns and rocks and roots. There are also lots of narrow bridges and wooden "features" to ride on or through.

I took a chance and (really) without thinking rode up this thing and nearly lost it coming down the other side. And I did have to use my left forearm to brush the tree to keep me balanced. It seems steeper in real life than it looks here, I swear.

(stole this picture off the interwebs)

Like I said, the trail was still just "okay". I bet if I would ride it once a year that would be good enough for me. I prefer Luton or even Cannonsburg State Game area. It was just above 40 degrees, freezing after you started moving. So once I made it back to the car, I loaded up and was outta there fast. There were two dudes also packing up and they must have laughed because I showed up, loaded and was gone before they were even ready to get in and leave themselves. Hey, b!tches, I got another trail to ride!!!

So off to Luton I went. I contemplated riding to and from Luton on the bike, but on the single-speed it would add quite a bit of time and I was afraid it would cut into lunch time. There were maybe 6 other cars in the lot, I spotted only one with a bike rack on it. More and more runners and walkers come out to Luton. It's not usually a problem, everyone is friendly and happy to let you ride by. The only problem is that there are no signs posted to tell walkers and runners which way to go. The safest option would be to walk against the bike traffic, but almost always they're going with traffic.

My legs were pretty gassed and heavy from Merrell. I only skipped one short section of the Yellow Loop though that would have added like 30 seconds of climbing. Glad I made the rest of the trail happen though. I ended up with 18 miles on the morning in less than 2 or so hours.

Fun little map of my day. Love the straight line between trails. ha

I have an official-unofficial new mileage goal on the year of 1,500 miles. I had originally hoped to get 2,000 for Year40, but realize that is not going to happen. My cousin from Illinois, has also been riding. Fifteen-hundred miles is also his goal, so we're going to see who can make it happen first. I just rolled up onto 1,200 miles. With 150 miles of commutes to go yet, I have to fill in another 150 miles at least - that's 50 per month, or else 75 if I don't plan on riding much in December.

2016 Colorburst

I rode the Rapid Wheelmen's Colorburst Tour last weekend. This was the first time I had been able to ride the event since 2010 - which was the same year I had gotten the road bike. It quickly turned into my favorite event because that year happened to be super awesome weather and the fall colors were amazing. Also, aside from the Tour of the White Pine Trail, this was my first major "event", so quite the experience all-around. Because of schedules, every year since then, I have missed it, so I was glad to be able to make it this year.

I believe that was also the same year I joined the RW. I had talked with Jeff Festian there, whom I hadn't seen in since the old days of visiting my "girlfriend" (now wife) at GVSU. They all had lived in the same building and we had become friends.

Anyways, I digress. Saturday's event started pretty brisk and cold (high 40's), and the forecast included some light wind and full sun. The weather did not disappoint. This was my first major ride since mid-August's Night Shift. Between then and now there was only one commute and some other small, random rides.

I planned to ride the 67 mile gravel route with George from Night Shift. After mixing it up with some other cycling friends at Fallasburg Park, we met up, had some pancakes and rolled out. George lives in the area and had pre-ridden the course just a few weeks prior - so it was nice, I just took his lead. He knew all the roads and turns, I never had to access my map.

It turned out to be a great day for a ride. I was getting gassed about the 40 mile mark or so - near the second SAG stop along the route. There we met up with Johnny K, who I typically see once a year at Iceman. He was out there by himself, so he hitched on and the three of us rode together to the end.

Near the 50 mile mark or so, there are some very large and steep hills on Ashley headed south, and I had to walk up a few of those. It was actually okay though, as it did help stretch out my body and give me some time to recover - but boy, I was pretty whipped. Weak legs and I had that solid, pushing pressure right between my shoulder blades.

It was a good day though. Riding with some friends. Good weather, nice to exhaust myself. As life becomes more stressful, I need those outlets in exercise. I don't set aside enough time for myself anymore - and it was nice to get out on some good ol' dirt back roads to do some sightseeing.


Commute #9: September

This has been a pretty humid and hot summer. Each week it seems that there are more days than not that are a sweltering 85-90 degrees plus 75%+ humidity. So finding better days to ride than other has been hard to come by. However, getting up and riding at 5:30am on last Thursday was a bit ridiculous - I found myself dressing in layers for my morning commute! It was mid 50's and near 50% humidity. Really, perfect riding weather - so I try not to complain - but the constant shifts is getting ridiculous.

Anyways, nothing special to report other than the fantastic weather. Nice to get out after another few weeks off the bike. It was a few rough days at work, stressful, so I really wasn't in the mood to ride but knew I should to releive some stress. I also figured what a better way to negate 47 miles of commuting exercise than to consume 4 Captain and Cokes that evening. Ha!

As the season is winding down, I'm realizing that I'm not going to make my goal of 2,000 miles on the year. But perhaps I can make it to 1,500 which would still be the most I've logged in a year since 2012 which is still good I guess considering.

Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!
(Giant flag at the Veterans Hospital in GR)


2016 Night Shift

The Fourth Annual Night Shift is in the books. Lots of anticipation, worry and stress about the night’s possibilities comes to a peak all on one day. This year, Friday, August 12 was that date. Will someone get hurt? Will we have some run-in with a back-woods hillbilly? What about wild animals? Turns out, thankfully, none of those things would happen. The most “wildlife” we saw were toads and frogs in the road later in the evening and there was virtually NO traffic all night.

As far as “new” things go, this was our first ever loop route. Jeremy had the brilliant idea last year to suggest changing from a point-to-point ride. Because of our finishing destination, it requires a lot of driving on Friday to set up camp, then drive back to my house to leave for the ride – 2 hours each way and over 3 for those coming from the Lansing area. This year we began and ended our ride from camp near Nordhouse Dunes in the wonderful Lake Michigan at Manistee campground – so it saved a ton of driving around and we could prepare for our ride at leisure. You can reserve sites well in advance, which we all did in February. We also did a better job of placing ourselves strategically closer to each other which proved to be great for family gatherings later in the weekend.

We had our “usuals” (if you can say that only after 3 previous years of rides) of myself, Matt R, Matt L and Jeremy. Our friend Matt U came back for round two after attending only the very first Night Shift in 2012. We also had three newbies join us this year. They were fellow Rapid Wheelmen George R, friend of George’s, Mark G and friend of the Crankshaws, Rick P. All very good cyclists ready for a new experience and challenge. Rick had just bought a really nice used full carbon Niner cyclocross bike – which he had never ridden. Mark and George were mounted upon their fat bikes. I had just picked up my new Velocity ‘cross wheels that morning as my stock Cannondale’s kept popping spokes – so I was going to get these wheels some action right away.

Nearing 7:45pm, we assembled around Night Shift Ride Headquarters (campsite 55) where we were all anxious to get rolling at 8pm. Only one person was missing…hmmm, Jeremy. (Who had coincidentally been drinking beer since 2pm that day. Not surprising he hadn’t rolled on over ready to ride yet.) I had previously made a presentation to the Crankshaws, our magnificent SAG-wagon drivers, of some artfully crafted vehicle magnets. John was super geeked and installed them immediately. They look so perfect on their bright red pickup.

The few days leading up to the ride had been really hot and humid. Friday during the day, it rained HARD around the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas, prompting severe weather alerts. However, there wasn’t anything around the Ludington area except some light showers earlier in the day. Lucky? Maybe. The forecasted chance of rain for Friday evening had been decreasing throughout the week, but not enough to make me think we were going to be totally dry. It sure was HUMID. Like, throw up in my mouth, humid. Miserable when not moving. No breeze.

Jeremy finally showed up, now ready. Time for a group photo around the beautiful new magnets on the Crankwagen, then we were off. There were parts of this first section that Jeremy and I never scouted and John suggested it would be a good idea for us to get a little more dirt in our first miles leaving camp, so I bit on that idea without actually seeing the roads and altered the route a bit. I wasn’t sure of our first turn, so when I approached the first dirt road, it seemed like a plausible direction – because I couldn’t remember the name John told me to look for. Little did I know we were headed more south than south east. Let me say this…Nurnberg in German, must mean “dirt road of shattered wrists”. Man, was it wash-boarded out. Chatter bumps were deep and solid. Anything that was smooth was dangerously loose and sandy (for a ‘cross bike anyways) so I had to take the bumps and hope my eyes would stop shaking and become un-crossed later. The pounding was killing my neck and back and I had a headache even before we cleared 10 miles in the ride. I was telling the other riders that this section was a planned equipment shake test. Anything not properly secured was going to get ejected here. The pre-determined route would have had us doing only 1.3 miles on this crap, but instead it was 4.7 miles. It was actually miserable and we were all hoping there was no more of this for the rest of the night. (Which, thankfully, we came across very little.)

Shortly after this, I don’t know how, but we got lost again. That made twice in the first 13 miles. New record. This section wasn’t recon’d either as it was added last minute to get us some additional dirt miles. It looked simple enough that no one needed to drive it. So I guess I’m too dumb to read a map and watch for road signs while trying to straighten out my eyes. Getting lost meant that we ended up shortcutting about 2 miles off here – which was okay because we had added a few with the first lost episode.

After getting our bearings, we’re happily riding on pavement when all of a sudden, I see a bike swerve and there is half of a crank laying the road. Then I see Jeremy shaking his left foot with the other crank-half still attached to his cleat. What the heck?! We had only been riding for an hour. Jeremy’s crank just fell completely out of his bottom bracket. We all stopped to find the parts, he was pretty upset and he thought his night was over. Between he and George, they were able to do some quick work torquing away at it with tools, while we all stood by in the middle of an untraveled road, getting attacked by mosquitoes. Turns out, Jeremy’s night was far from over and he would finish out the ride with no other bike mechanicals. No mechanicals actually for anyone else on this ride either. Sweet!

Crank fail.

Sara, Matt’s wife, with a carload of kids were also following along with the Crankwagen up to our first SAG stop, so they headed out to come find us. I assured John we were fine and we’re back on the road and they probably won’t find us because we were off course. We arrived at the Krolczyk Cellars Winery (a pole-barn in a field with dirt driveway – no place I would ever visit), we dismounted and discarded our jerseys immediately as there was no breeze, only hot and humid Amazon forest like conditions. The Sara/kid wagon wasn’t far behind.

Weird wine cellar place. Probably just a processing facility.

Sweaty Wrastlers spotted at SAG 1.

After consuming some Subway and other snacks along with reloading of fluids, we headed out on more dirt roads heading for the North Country Trail single-track section. Closing in on the last few miles before the trail, we got lost again – or so we thought – until some bright lights from an SUV were slowly coming at us. We were all standing at a dirt intersection looking at paper maps and maps on phones. A lady, maybe in her 60’s, (we think she was drunk) stopped to ask if we were okay. She was kind of loud and seemed like she was slurring her speech. After assuring her we were fine, but slightly turned-around, she proceeded to help us gain our direction back. Note to self: This is where we should let Jeremy do all the talking.

Jeremy: “Is this County Line Road?”
She replies, “Yes, it is.”
Jeremy responds with “Which way does it go?”

I’m thinking to myself - Sir, the road clearly goes this way and that way, we just need to pick a way.

It’s like last year’s “Where ya headed?”
Jeremy says, “The forest.”


Some other chit-chat and hilarity ensue. Jeremy asks “Hey, do you have room for eight?” While she’s driving away someone blurted out, “we only have 70 more miles to go!” Before disappearing out of our lives forever, she slammed on her brakes and yells out “WHHHAAAAATTT!!!!?”

So, we found our way and rolled into SAG stop #2 for more refreshments, food, jersey changes and light-beacon charges. Last year we entered a time warp section when we rode another part of the North Country Trail and were out there for two hours to ride eleven miles. We could not figure out where the time went. So before leaving this time, we reminded the SAG of this and told them not to fear, we wouldn’t let that happen again. This was near midnight and it was starting to drizzle. Which felt good, the cooling effects were a nice feeling on the arms and face.

The single track was tough. Most of it is uphill for long sections. This trail bisects the Big M mountain bike trail. Lots of roots and climbing. Matt U crashed once going through a sandy intersection and a few others got dropped behind the train due to cramps and exhaustion from the long climbs. Our reward for those long uphills, of course, was some nice and long descents. Kind of scary, I wanted to let my bike accelerate, but the trees were ever so close – and a tired man on a bike at 1am could brush any of those trees at any given time. One feeling that I will never get tired of is stealing some single track at night and riding with nothing but handlebar and helmet lights in pure silence and nature. If you’ve never renegaded some single track at night, you need to try it. So fun! SAG #3 was only 6 miles away from the last SAG at the beginning of the trail. We arrived safely, no time-warp, and didn’t stay there long – just enough to refuel again and be off.

Map Reading. We do a lot of this in 12 hours. When the maps are dry, at least.

It continued to drizzle on us during this next section for awhile, then began to actually rain around 2am or just after. This section was mostly all dirt and some hills on the last road leading toward SAG #4. George was having issues with leg cramps back on the NCT and was still struggling with fending them off now. Our next SAG stop is at mile 55, just over halfway on our route. It seemed like it took forever to get there. The plan was to consume the much-missed-from-2015 pulled pork sandwiches! I love it when we have a goal – especially when it’s of the subject of eating meat. We were about .2 miles away and Matt R says “I can smell the meat!” ha ha  (That might have just been his bib shorts.) By the time we reached Trak’s Bar & Grill (sadly, closed for the evening), we were really exhausted and pretty soaked from the rain. Men’s backs were getting crumbly and stiff. I kept thinking, I can’t believe we’re only half way. This is going to be miserable – another 45 miles yet? C’mon.

I thought the next section after this was comprised of 60/40 dirt to pavement ratio, but it was more like 20/80 dirt to pavement. This surprise was MUCH needed. There were some long climbs and descents on this section as there were many river and creek crossings. Our speeds increased, but so did the rain. By the time we were headed straight west towards the lake, it was a full-on rain, coming straight down, but refreshing. No wind, no lightning to be seen or heard. The rain was now cascading down the inside my helmet, laced with salty sweat that was coming down into my eyes and burning them. There was nothing I could do but keep wiping my forehead and eyebrows (with already soaked and sweaty riding gloves). Makes sense, right? Duh. But I had no other options. A dry forehead would only last seconds at a time.

There were still some nice long hills and steady climbing in this section. It was starting to wear on us though, the group was splitting apart at times. Just before we reached M-22 near the lakeshore, we could feel the descent towards the lake. (Note: Can’t SEE it because of the sweat-stingy eyes and darkness, you could only FEEL it by speeds picking up fast and your bike wanting to GO!) For about a mile we had a long, nice and swift decent. Remember the sweat waterfall that was happening on my forehead and into my eyes? Yeah, it kept up on this section too and got worse the faster we went – plus other bikes were kicking up even more water from the road. Even your own bike (front tire) was kicking up so much water, you could see it getting ejected off the top of the tire, out in front, then pushed back into your face by the wind due to our speeds. It’s like regular rain, times three. This incredible decent had us doing 30mph coasting, not able to see a thing through burning eyes, the reflection of rain drops in our lights and full darkness. I was holding the bars for dear life, just hoping there wasn’t an unexpected pothole, animal or other obstruction in the road we couldn’t see. If that would be the case, one guy was going to go down, and all the rest would follow. Imagine the carnage of ripped clothing, bloodied flesh, maybe some broken bones and carbon and metal bikes and parts scattered everywhere. Luckily, none of that happened! MAN, that was a fun experience though. That kept me charged up for the next hour. Pushing on the edge of what makes “careful” sense. You gotta take those chances every once in awhile in life.

Once the decent was over, we paused to rest a bit. A few of us contemplated just peeing in our shorts because we were already soaked, what’s the big deal? But alas, no one did. Or at least I didn’t hear about. Our route took us straight south along the lakeshore to Manistee. Nothing but driveways, big houses and stretches of beach between us and Lake Michigan. We were still getting poured on and now I was getting border-line chilly. The water was flowing in Manistee on the roads like a shallow creek. We had no idea where the Wesco gas station for our last SAG was, so we had to look it up on our phones. Turns out, it was just up a hill about two blocks away from where we were standing.

The Wesco was busy! John says the fisherman were coming through in droves starting at about 4am along with kids of all ages hanging out. We pulled in, some riders immediately spotted sugary donuts so went in to snag some. A few men used the bathroom, dripping and soaking the floor every step they took. The poor guy running the counter had to get out the mop to clean up our mess when everyone exited. I had a piece of beef jerky that Jeremy bought and some more to drink and random snacks. We huddled under the roof overhang as it was still down-pouring. The end of this system was just about a mile south of where we were.

At Wesco. Rainy wet.

All my options for paper maps had expired. I was on my third one, and this last one didn’t fare well in the rain at all. I don’t like putting them in plastic bags. They’re too hard to get in and out when you need them on-the-fly so I just jam them in pockets let them get ruined. But too much moisture this evening had reduced some of them to the pulp condition they had started as before being delivered to my house as a nice flat, dry, wrapped ream. Since we had no more maps, I had a plan to give each rider two street names to remember, then had to remember which riders where in which order. Which led to me giving Matt R like 4 street names for some reason, then abandoned the idea when we both decided that no one would remember them. (A whole “Who’s on First” situation.) So, John has the ingenious idea of writing down the names on a dry piece of paper with a writing device. Brilliant!! This is why he’s our SAG captain. So we worked on hand-writing street names and directions and stuffed them in a plastic bag to encase it in that Rick had donated. It was loaded with Hammer Endurolytes. It looked like a drug baggie with a cocktail formula written inside it and it worked perfectly. I told John, also, I was excited that this might be the first time we finish a Night Shift ride with clean bikes. Then he set me straight and reminded me that there was at least one more dirt road left on the route. Oh, darn.

Destroyed paper map.

Drug baggie with road names.

We headed out from Wesco, found all our streets. The rain had stopped and the sky was gradually getting lighter. We finished our last dirt road, then came in on the paved road that leads into the campground loops. Oh, the endless curves. Jeremy kept saying the next one was the “last one”, but it wasn’t. Back at camp, it was strange – no one was up, no one was prepared for us to arrive before 7am. We took our traditional victory lap, dinging bells, squeaking disc brakes. Still nothing. We were short of 100 miles by about 1.75 – but none of us had it in us to ride any more. We tossed our gear aside and walked down to the beach to wash off in the lake. The lake felt amazing. It was a good morning, not great by any means. Cloudy, not at all what I hope for each morning of Night Shift: the full-on sun that wakes the human spirit. That’s truly energizing. I was disappointed that the newbies wouldn’t get that this year. They’ll have to come back to try again next year for that experience. We were back at camp early enough that we all took naps before we had a group breakfast at 10am. The rest of the weekend was spent playing with the kids on the beach, swimming, laughing, drinking and eating with some of the best friends in the world.

It was a quick route this year, mostly flat and despite the rain, getting lost a few times and Jeremy’s mechanical, we didn’t have many delays.

Planning for Night Shift 2017 will begin soon and into this fall. I’m going to have to find some more hills – Judy thinks we’re pussing out and that every year it gets easier. Hmmm…which is weird, because in the four years we’ve done this, she’s never ridden even a mile of it with us on a bike. (wink, wink – I love poking at you, Judy!) There always seems to be some sort of challenge that makes up for whatever “easy” we think we have. And, someday, we’ll re-ride the inaugural route filled with quad splitting hills and seasonal road sand trudgery. Just for “fun”? Sure, yeah, that’s it because we love the agony.

Good times ahead, people! Talk again in the winter - let’s get ready to ride another Night Shift!

Sunday evening sunset.


Commute #8: August

Well, this commute was the opposite of the July one. People were not very friendly, but vehicles were. Some sort of bizarro world here. I said my usual hellos and hi's with no acklowledgement whatsoever. Vehicles on the other hand were more than patient and waited extra long for me to get through intersections - some following me for lengths of time before passing and giving me lots of extra room. Weird.

On the way home, broke another spoke on the rear wheel. That is 4 now this year. I think I've broken a spoke once in the 25 years of decent, dirt and hard riding before I got this bike. So I limped home for 15 miles with the wheel slightly out of true and wobbling around. Felt like I had a good ride, but my overall time was terrible. It was hot too. Ugh.

Thinking about it last night and into the morning, I decided to keep riding the cross bike with broken spoke on the way back into work. How bad could it be, right? Well, I broke another spoke about 10 miles in. Now the rim was so far out of true the brake was rubbing and the tire was rubbing on the frame. Enough to where I was doing 15mph, my bike was jerking to slow down on ever revolution. At one point it was all I could do to pedal 13mph on flat pavement. I hadn't gotten to the hilly portion of my ride yet so I knew something had to be done. I stopped once to open up the brake caliper all the way to stop the rubbing. That did not work. Then I removed the brake pads altogether. Hmm. Still not working. Then I saw that it was the actual tire rubbing on the frame behind the crank causing most of the problem. The rim was so far out of true, I could barely get the wheel around a full cycle by moving it with my hand. So I stopped and removed the wheel again and proceeded to beat it on the ground with overhead blows. Got it to quit rubbing, but in the next 6 miles or so, it was pushing itself back out again. Argh. So I just kept pedaling and eventually got to work. Only 10 minutes of extra riding time, probably 20 minutes extra elapsed time.

Two choices that I see - and I hope it can be done by next week or I'll be riding the single speed mountain bike on Night Shift. 1) Have the wheel completely rebuilt. If it's not salvagable 2) buy a new wheelset. I was going to eventually use the money from selling Enzo to get another wheelset for road tires for the cross bike anyway, but that was going to be next spring/summer. Argh.

The only thing to salvage the rotten ride in this morning was the few people I ran across on the trail in the dark. I'm always careful about how bright my light is, so when I see people coming towards me, I switch to the lowest setting and aim the light down a little. (This still makes me laugh...) A cyclist coming toward me had his own light - I assume a special Walmart edition, because it was outputting very little light. As usual, I'm rolling toward him and I said "Good Morning!!" and all I hear is "....I CAN'T SEE BECAUSE OF......" What was that, moron? You can't focus enough to just ride straight ahead on the trail? You're not suppose to stare at the light. He was way over on the side, brushing his face on some nearby weeds/tree leaves. WTH? Then later, two walker-wanna-be-joggers...Again I say "Good Morning!" and all I get is grumbling as they're both holding their hands out from their face like they're staring at the sun. Really? Low setting people. Next time let me blast you with all 500 lumens. Maybe I will do that, just crank it up to see what people say.

Made me laugh. Grumpy people.


So long, pal.

Yesterday, I sold the road bike, affectionately known to myself as "Enzo" (as in Ferrari). I purchased him in August of 2010 only a day after taking him for a spin out from the doors of Freewheeler. I didn't even know how to shift the gears. I remember the feeling of it being SO damn fast - I couldn't believe they made bikes like this legally. I paid my $1,850 and we walked out of the shop, me with a big smile all the way home. I sold him to an energetic and excited "kid" (twenty-something) for $875. Like me, this was his first road bike - and I had to show him how to shift the gears. He's so lucky!!

I figure an end cost of around $1,000 for six years of riding. (not including maintenance and parts) At a documented 4,369 total miles, that's 4.3 cents per mile. Not bad. We had a lot of fun and adventures together. I decided awhile back that he needed a new home; I don't have much time to ride the roads any more and when I did, I preferred to ride with groups. It's already not that safe to ride roads by yourself, but until the Kalamazoo incident, I thought I was safer in groups. Here I go again, being all "safe" and scared to take risks. Hey, I am FORTY people, and have two great kids and a wife that puts up with me like there's no tomorrow. I can't take that for granted any longer.

Reflecting back, I made countless commutes to/from work and completed 3 centuries with "Enzo". I never thought I would find such an affinity to riding triple-digit distances. Our final ride together was the 24 Hour Challenge in which he got me past my goal and to 260 miles. What a way to finish it out.

It was a good ride, pal. See you out there someday.


Commute #7: July

Okay, so Monday, Patti convinced me to join her for a "free trial" at her FitBody Bootcamp place. Granted, it's done wonders for her - she's worked really, really hard since last September to lose 30-40 lbs (?, I've lost count, I'm sure she knows) - but dammit all if this didn't nearly kill me. Haven't been on a bike of any sort for almost a month. Hadn't drank hardly any water all day. Had a heavy lunch. No yard work other than hauling 7 yards of wood chips three weeks ago. Too hot and humid. After the 30 minute workout, I was literally seeing stars. Sugar levels LOW. I probably had no business even driving home, it was so terrible. I guess it would be the equavalent of me going for a ride of 75 miles for her first ride ever, then saying "so, what did you think? There's more where that came from!" Ummm....no thanks.

Three $*@% days later, I'm still struggling to move my limbs and I just desire to feel like something other than Frankenstein walking around at work and home. Kids: DON'T TOUCH DADDY. He's in constant pain and agony and might require surgery and physical therapy!!

So heading into this ride, I didn't think this was going to be a good few days to commute due to my "angry muscle situation". I actually told Patti, I might weep as I ride. I had to do it though, running out of month (again). Lots going on then have to fit it in when Patti doesn't work or have school stuff to do. Hope to get in my August commute next week right away as the rest of the month leading to September is very busy.

The ride home Wednesday was weird. Lots of people wanted to talk to me. One as I was starting my ride, still in the city. This lady looked like a legit cyclist, all kitted up, but riding really slow like cruising. She was older, but very anorexic looking - kind of sickly. Then some old guy near the ballpark thought I was his buddy riding behind him - which he left in the dust. He was mumbling something about (old man voice) "I think I need to adjust these handlebars." He was riding some Schwinn hybrid bike, very upright. He was probably 70-something and overweight. He was mumbling as I passed him and I just shook my head to myself and kept riding.

The trail was loaded with bicycle riders north of Rockford which hardly ever happens. There was two packs of middle-aged ladies. One group didn't hear my commuter bell due to all the hen-cackling going on, so I just hung out behind them looking for a break to pounce and pass. It wasn't a big deal I couldn't pass - once I was passing them though, I told them I was secretly drafting off them.

Then one more guy near home. He was asking where I was going, and I said "just up here". "Oh, where you come from?" I was close to saying "my mom", but instead said "Grand Rapids". He then proceeds to tell me he came from Riverside Park (near downtown) and that its a "good ride this way, but its kind of boring. I walked this trail for 3,700 miles last year, so I got to learn all its features." Ummm...okay dude. That's 10 miles a day - I guess possible, but he certainly didn't look like any super-walker. And, I'm sorry, but you're not going to walk every single day so let's say 15 miles per day...at a walking rate that's a full-time job. How'd you afford the 10 pairs of shoes you wore through. But I digress....

Anyways, the ride in to work Thursday morning was nice and cool, but really humid. Nothing notable to report other than when I arrived to work and wasn't receiving a breeze from movement, I started to sweat and drip like no tomorrow. Humidity is so irritating. I go from 0-100 on the anger scale in seconds. Arrrghhh!!! Get me out of these clothes.

Rode the cross bike both directions. Will try and pack on 150 or so miles before Night Shift if I can. Need to get use to it and its weight so I can survive the next "untrained-for" ride. To some degree, I love the randomness of my goals and rids. I can't imagine what I can pull off if I actually had the time and dedication to workout or get some decent, regular miles in. Someday, I guess.

"Trail Closed" signs apparently don't mean Trail Closed. I couldn't see any reason it should have been closed previously, or had plans to do future work. Guess I should research the details before my next ride.


National 24 Hour Challenge - 259.9 miles

Holy crap. What an event. I'm going to give a stab at a few stats first (speedometer quit after 190 miles - proof that man can still outlast technology)...

271 Registered Riders, 240 participated
Start time: 8am Saturday, June 18 2016
End time: 8am Sunday, June 19, 2016
Goal: Ride as many miles in 24 hours as possible

(Important to note - winners in various age divisions typically ride 375-500 miles. Nuts!! So, as my accomplishments were awesome for me, they pale in comparison to the top riders out there - of course, I'm sure they're well trained and have time for thinking about such non-sense all the time. ha!)


GOAL: Ride 250 miles. RESULT: Goal met, 259.9 ridden
GOAL: Not to sleep. RESULT: Took one 30 minute nap around 2:30 am
GOAL: Ride for 20 of the 24 hours. RESULT: (guessing) 18 hours on the bike
GOAL: Average 14mph. RESULT: (guessing) around 15mph avg

10th out of 19 in my age group. One more lap would have gotten me into 9th.
123rd out of 240 riders.

How the race is run:
Everything starts/finishes at Kellogg-Thornapple Middle School in Middleville, MI. The route consists of three loops. Loop One is 121.9 miles with three checkpoints and ends at the fourth check point at the school. Everyone rides this once. Loop Two is 24.0 miles with one check point and ends back at the school. You can ride this loop as many times as you wish, as long as you ride it at least once before 8pm. Loop Three is called the "Night Loop" and is 7.6 miles. You ride this unlimited times all night until 8am Sunday morning. There were county sheriffs at each intersection halting/directing traffic for the riders. Four intersections were lit up with giant spotlights. You get your back tag punched at each checkpoint, your mileage is tallied up when done with day and night loops.

Leading up to this race, again, like most things I sign up for, I didn't have enough (I thought) training time set available. My longest ride before this was 74 miles in one sitting, with 550 total miles since January 1. That includes mountain biking 10-15 miles at a time - hardly "training" miles for this event. I would have to once again rely on my various long ride knowledge and organizational skills to get me through.

I will skip ahead to race day morning. Greeting everyone at our base - the crew led by none other than John Crankshaw and friends. He brings good strategy, organization and knowledge base to the group - plus he's just one helluva guy. I left my various checkpoint supplies with him and Tom, and queued up in the starting pack with Susanne, the funny German, from our Rapid Wheelmen group. We had similar average speed intentions so we started off together.

 Our Team HQ. People getting around and setting up. Mr Crankshaw in the orange.

 Susanne and I rolling out.

Once the race was underway, (the most nervous I've ever been!) we found ourselves struggling to keep pace with the first peloton after about 1.5 miles, but faster than the second group - stuck in the gap. As Susanne said with German accent, "CRAP. We are in the first f*cking gap." (ha ha) Eventually, the second group caught us and we rode with them for quite a ways - maybe the next 12 miles or so. There was probably 20 or so of us together before we hit some hills. The first major hill splintered the group into other groups, of which I was with the first 8 or so. I wasn't sure if I had lost Susanne, I didn't hear her chatting with anyone, so I guessed she got dropped somewhere on a hill. All I knew was that I HAD to stay with this group as painful as it may seem I knew it would pay off in the end, which it did. We were all taking turns pulling - going between 18-20mph pretty regularly. After about 20 miles, my derailleur started having lots of shifting problems so I lost this group and I got absorbed into the next group. I felt bad that I left Susanne behind, but knew I was going to have to get this bike worked on, so I tried to build up some time cushion. All of a sudden I hear "TONY!!!" (Susanne) All I did was throw my left fist up in the air in acknowledgement. (Like "Black Power"? I don't know.) So we rode together to Checkpoint One. I stopped to have the wonderful guys at West Michigan Bike & Fitness do some adjusting of the rear derailleur. I walked down to where John and crew were to swap out my bottles and get some nutrition. John says "TONY! Where's your bike!?" I said "I decided to just walk this thing out." He laughed. I went back to get my bike and it was magically ready to go. Those guys were great. From this point on, everything shifted like butter! Susanne was already long gone. My average speed after the first 34 miles was 18.9mph. Way faster than I expected, but much of that was thanks to riding with various groups, so I felt okay with it.

Oh, one funny story: While riding with the group I was in, there was this guy with white hair and in a pony tail. He was sweating so profusely from his face/head that drips were actually flying off his face and into mine. It was so gross. So regardless of the wind, I had to ride to his left as the sweat drips were cascading off his face to his right. I had enough exterior salt of my own, thanks.

The heat was starting to pick up at this point - approaching 90 in the afternoon. Approaching Checkpoint Two, I was getting pretty exhausted. I made sure to eat lots and drink even more. This was a longer stop - mainly for lunch. Found some awesome shade to rest in. Leading up to this point, I was 71.7 miles in and my toes were starting to go numb. I loosened up my shoes, but that didn't totally help.

 Checkpoint #2, lunch stop. Getting my tag punched.

 Sweaty and stinky with the kids. Still in great spirits.

After hanging out with the family, washing my face and head with an ICE COLD towel (wonderful feeling), I was off again. Checkpoint Three was only 24 miles away, thank goodness. This section was mostly full-on sun and some sections on brand new black pavement which radiated the heat. I reached Checkpoint Three where John Crankshaw would be again. Cal Hekman took my bike and bottles and I sat down in a chair where John promptly covered me in ICE COLD, soaked and dripping towels. One on my head, one on my neck and one on each leg. I felt like I was floating in Lake Michigan. It felt AMAZING! I really needed that - it made a HUGE difference.

I left there after a bit to finish out the last 25.6 miles of Loop One. I said "No problem. I've ridden 25 miles before." (that's how you have to ride this race - sections at a time, not thinking of the overall effect.) If/when I would finish Loop One, that would be a new record for me for the most miles I've ridden ever at one time - so i would already be pretty pleased about that.

 Finished with Loop One. Little pain, mostly hot and bothered.

I arrived back at the school, got my back tag punched and took a rest. 121.9 miles complete. Not quite half way to my goal. I then left for Loop Two - according to the strategy I had prepared, I was 1.5 hours ahead of what I had planned, but knew I only had one lap (24 miles) in me and needed a longer break yet. So when I got back, I took that longer break, for a shower and changed clothes. I felt like new man, ready for dinner and the Night Loop.

 Finished with Loop Two. Little more tired, but thankfully much of the loop was shaded.

Dusk came quickly - I think I only got one or two laps in before I needed to turn my lights on. Up till midnight, there was still lots of rider activity on the course and at the school. I broke down my night laps (7.6 miles each) into twos...ride two, take a break, repeat. I noticed that my breaks kept getting longer and longer - messing with my planned strategy - I was going to run out of time if I wasn't careful. So to keep my mind busy on each loop, I'd do time/speed math equations in my head. I could consistently do two laps in one hour, so the calculations seemed pretty easy.

 Typical sight on the night loop from Team HQ.

My legs were just all mush and my ass was killing me. Surprisingly my back, neck and shoulders felt pretty good. I had been standing up often all day to stretch. The rest stops were needed, but oh-so hard to get back on the bike and moving again. The temps were falling (somewhere around 60?) so now it was actually cold out. My teeth chattering at one point uncontrollably at about 4am until I warmed up again. I wasn't expecting that. The other thing I noticed on each stop was the mass casualties at headquarters. There were people flat-out falling off their bikes, unable to unclip and laying in heaps on the pavement. Others delirious, not knowing who/where they were. Others passing out in chairs and slumped over like they were dying. As I stood there, looking around, it was like slow motion looking around like I was actually in Saving Private Ryan or something. Men down, supplies and gear spread everywhere. People talking to others trying to get them to speak answers. Shivering. Suffering. People walking half-over like they were looking for their blown-off arm on the beach. It was crazy.

One thing for me, I had never experienced before. I kept my head all damn race. Never once did I lose focus or feel like I was drunk from tiredness or lack of nutrition. I had worked so hard on drinking and eating even when I didn't want to. One lap at dusk for about 1 minute my eyes started to cross from being so tired. I talked myself out of that one quickly, not allowing myself to go down that road. Aside from that, I never had any headache or anything. That probably had to do with the fact that throughout the day I took around 22 Hammer Endurolyte capsules, to keep cramps away (I lost count at 22 at least), two doses of Aleve, one dose of Tylenol, probably about 10 Hammer Gels, countless water bottles of Heed and Perpetuem and regular Ice water. I remember peeing a few times during that 24 hours, so that was good that I knew I was consuming enough to keep all my systems going.

I had John do some math for me...how many more loops did I need for 250? Answer: six. That's only three more hours. As I left to finish this thing out, I was in so much pain and agony that only two miles into this first of six loops I knew I couldn't take any more breaks. I was just prolonging the pain. So I did the last six loops riding three at a time (the sun now rising - love that feeling of having ridden all night in the darkness and everything gets lighter), I took one 5-10 minute break, then hit the last three. I had 1 hour and 10 min left, so I took one more "victory lap" at leisure. When I got back, John tried convincing me to do "just one more" (which I had plenty of time to accomplish), but I just couldn't do it. So exhausted. I had ridden the night loop 15 times. All I could think about was getting in the showers before the final rush of guys at 8am too, which I'm glad I did. And, as expected, it felt great.

 Done. Happy.

After coming out from the showers, completely refreshed again I put all my stuff together and gave John a giant bear hug I promised him if I met my goal. We laughed about that. I then sat in my chair, put my head back and let the suns rays touch my face. It felt so good that I fell asleep for 10-15 minutes.

In all, it was a fun ride. Great first time experience and results. I know I can do better in (possible) future attempts - as for when that will be...that is yet undecided. Another official item checked off my Year40 bucket list - if I had an actual bucket, because I don't. I don't plan to kick one, so I don't worry about maintaining one.

Patti stayed up all night with me and had to wrangle the kids and logistics of travel and making arrangements to see me on the course. I don't know why she loves me and the defects I have for the love of my bikes and rides, but maybe its because I love the defects she has with her running. Just a couple of nutty people living nutty lives, I guess. It was a Happy Fathers Day indeed!!

The day after: Lots of quadriceps pain, hard to go up and down stairs. Ass still hurts, a few toes on each foot feel cold and are numb still, but other than that, I feel pretty good!!

 Laying out the gear Friday morning.

 Our camping set up. The camper was a Father's Day gift from Patti!!

We found some shade in the camper lot at the High School. Way in the background is the Middle School where the main activities happen.

 Early morning Saturday. The loop where teams set up camp.

Saturday Morning: Patti and I trying to smile with an angry and tired Nick. Marissa spent the night at a friends house and would show up later.

 Excited. Nervous. Ready as ever to get queued up for the start.

 Start line.

Kids tailgating.

 Last pic of the speedometer working. It made it to 190 miles, then quit.

 Crazy picture Patti took of the Moon.

 Sun getting ready to rise.

 Sun rising from out on Loop Three. This was my second to last lap. Seeing your surroundings again and feeling some warmth was wonderful.

 Coming in from my last loop to make my goal of 250 miles.

 Finishing it out. 259.9 miles in the books. Not bad for a rookie.

 Still able to have a good time with the pain and show a little rubber face.

Garmin did not find the number of calories burned acceptable, even though it did the calculating for me. "Not within permissible limits." 100% true, no one should ever have to burn that many. Although its probably quite accurate.