Internal Detours
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
  holidays; vest pocket predators; a nasty crash for Campbell
First the holidays loom large on the horizon; then they tower over you; then you dash like a mad thing through them, hoping everyone is properly and adequately taken care of. Good luck with that.

But first we have to go back in time and play catch-up. A couple of weeks back, there was a lovely Saturday ride with a large batch o' folks. I finished up the ride with Ainsley, Connie and Donnis. We were discussing crashes in the woods while we rode along. Ainsley had the best story - he had nearly crashed while trying to avoid hitting a shrew in the trail.

"I hate to sound dumb," Donnis said, "But what's a shrew?"

"It's a small venomous mammal, about so big," Ainsley said, holding up his thumb and forefinger to convey teensiness. "They're predators."

"Vest pocket predators?" I asked.

"Precisely," Ainsley said.

"What do they eat?" Donnis asked.

"Insects, frogs, mice, rats ... they're venomous, and they'll bite rats that are ten times their size, then follow them to where they've died and eat them," he said.

I carried this conversation home to Ana, whose initial response was, "They're not rodents?"

"Apparently not. They're venomous mammals, and their teeth are not rodent-like," I said.


So the next afternoon (Sunday, Dec. 17, the day of Grattan's party that I missed, dang it) I was in the woods on my faithful beat-up Trek converted to single-speed. Initially I was with Ainsley, Connie, Donnis, Vonona and Jim, but when I got to Memorial Bridge, I went a bit up the trail by myself so I could pull over for a natural. I rolled back down to find Tom Austin, Mark and Tim from the speedy bunch known as the A-Team had joined the multitude. Ainsley took off, I hopped onto his wheel, and I thought we were all together again.

Nope. We had the A-Team guys behind us, "encouraging" us to ride faster. So I dug deep and made the blue beast go as fast as I could manage - unfortunately, a bit faster than my skills set could handle.

The subject of shrews came up, which meant that I was relaying the conversation back and forth between Ainsley and Tom. Tom also thought that shrews were rodents. Ainsley replied that no, they're mammals.

"So, do you believe Ainsley's crap about this?" Tom asked me as we headed into a steep, fast set of switchbacks that descend rapidly.

"I'm maintaining a diplomatic silence on that one," I said, just as I snagged a vine on the extension of my Brahma bar and went down in a heap, sliding for a surprising distance.

There was silence for a moment. I think I was actually more amused than anything else, and commented on how when there are enough dead leaves and pine needles, you can slide very nicely and absorb impact. Then I noticed the top half of my Vetta cycle computer was gone. We scrounged around and found it, and it all reassembled and worked - but I had lost the official record of my mileage on the Trek to date - only two weeks away from the end of the year, dang it. (I've since reconstructed it enough to know that I had at least 515 miles on that bike, which lets me calculate from what the mileage was on Jan. 1.)

Oh yeah - about shrews? Go here - they really ARE mammals. So there.

Off we went, having yet another great spill when Ainsley went down in the new gravel at the start of the last section leading to Fell Hunt Camp. It was a slow speed, no harm, no foul moment. When we got to the end of the trail, I draped myself over the bars and panted for a bit until my headache settled down and my blood pressure was back in a gentler range - those boys go faster than I can manage. We regrouped at the kiosk, where Tom hefted Ainsley's battered Diamondback conversion and suggested a faster, newer, better fitting bike might benefit his speed.

We let the A-Team guys go on ahead for the trip back. I did a lot of stopping and tightening of the headset by hand, as it had loosened up considerably in the hell-for-leather trip out. I wound up with approximately 16 miles, but can't be certain - computer problems and all that, you know?

I did some reconstruction of mileage charts on Sunday, going back to earlier notes and recalculating things. For fun, I refigured my total year-to-date mileage and discovered I'd ridden 4,373 miles as of December 17. I'd already surpassed my (admittedly conservative) goal of 4k miles in 2006 - could I go 4,500 or more?

I did a Tuesday night ride on the 19th, again riding the Trek, but with the headset retightened and the computer reset. Ainsley wanted to push on all the way to Fell and gone, but I needed to get back at a decent hour, so we turned around and headed back in. I had 11.8 miles for the evening.

Wednesday marked my last commute of the year, ridden aboard good old Julius the Mercian fixed-gear. The decision a couple of years ago to try to ride to work every day possible, rain, shine, hot or cold, has paid off for me. It's worked out to be something on the order of 650-700 miles a year in short hops. I'm attributing that and dietary changes to my managing to avoid getting sick this year.

Thursday Ana and I went to Raleigh to see the Monet in Normandy exhibit. I initially went because I know she adores French Impressionist painting and I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to go see it. We drove up U.S. 1, avoiding the doubtless over-crowded interstates, and made our way up to the state of my birth.

Along the way, we enjoyed the mix of stuff you'll never see when on restricted access four-lanes. My favorites were the bad Christmas decorations. We particularly enjoyed the conflation of Santa with the Nativity - nothing quite like the Adoration of the Reindeer, especially when gift-bearing snowmen are present.

The exhibit was wonderful - 50 Monets in one place. We were in the first batch in when the museum opened at 9:00 a.m. Through a happy set of accidents, we wound up seeing the exhibit in reverse chronological order, starting with later pieces. Those were Ana's favorites, and mine as well. I especially enjoyed the Mornings on the Seine series, and my absolute favorite was the Morning Mist from that group. There was one spot where you could stand at the end of a partition about 40 feet away and get a perfect view. I returned there a couple of times, really enjoying the piece.

We spent an hour and a half walking around the Monets, going backwards through time, then selectively going back to pieces we liked and looking at them again. People were coming into the exhibit in waves, but no one was in a hurry to leave. By the time we decided to head out, folks were lined up five deep.

We strolled through the rest of the Museum, admiring but not in love with the Spanish religious paintings, turned off by much of the modern stuff, but quietly enjoying the Greek vase paintings. I looked at their Egyptian stuff, which I can dig from a historical perspective - but the Egypt of the Pharoahs always feels creepy to me, and probably always will.

We stopped for lunch at the Spartacus Grille, where I discovered a little slice of heaven. I adore Greek food. It's one of the few cuisines that I can dive in without reservations about fats, overly processed stuff, etc. And bless their souls, the Spartacus was a Greek place with a buffet. Yes, I made a pig of myself. Yes, I had three plates. And yes, the food was excellent, and I go a long, long time between Greek restaurants, so I have no shame at all.

Saturday I rode with the club aboard Stripe for the out-and-back run to Cedar Springs. I lagged a bit, but managed to finish with the bunch. Ainsley met us at the end with his daugher Miranda, and presented me with a batch of sugar-free ginger cookies (which were ideal with coffee as a post-Christmas Dinner dessert). I learned he had succumbed to temptation and had purchased a new KHS Solo-One single speed mountain bike. I think this leaves me as the last guy out there on a beater conversion.

I wound up with a hair over 35 miles for the day and got home in time to run errands and deliver presents. As always happens when I ride Stripe, I wondered when I would get around to putting the cash together to getting that bike repainted properly - it really does ride well.

Sunday and Monday were something of a blur, what with doing Christmas supper with my parents, then going to Ana's parents' place, then Christmas morning with our new nephew ... plus other meals, snacks, gatherings, socializing, all packed into a 48-hour period.

We had decided to ride out of Ware Shoals on Tuesday, so I dressed up in wool and loaded Belle into my truck and headed for that town's lovely old 20's high school. I was the last one there, but they hadn't taken off just yet. Jim and Bradley Cox were there, as were Zac and John Campbell Lake (the ride organizer), Bill and Andrew Evans, and Ainsley.

We had a few moments before we headed out. I admired Bill's new Carradice Barley in green he had strapped to his B17 on his Quickbeam, we chatted for a moment about the weather, and then we were all off, heading out onto the route I last did back at the beginning of the month.

I think it's Mill Street, which turns off of Main right around Katherine Hall, the old recreational center of Ware Shoals. Whichever street it is, you go right and then rapidly you go down, and fast, descending from pretty much the high ground of Ware Shoals down to the public park along the Saluda River as it pounds over the rocks, negotiating a wide curve to the left and then dropping even faster down to the bottom, where a stop sign awaits you.

I saw Bradley and Zac and Andrew charge off down the hill like the speedy young racers they are, with Campbell in pursuit, followed by Bill Evans. I passed Jim before the curve, tucked in and started descending, taking a second to glance back to be sure I had room. Ainsley and Jim were far enough back that I could ride freely. I looked ahead, about to go into full aero crouch in the hooks, and saw Campbell standing up right and slinging his front wheel out of the road.

I managed to pull over and stop (I was doing about 34 at the time) as Ainsley and Jim did the same. Campbell had apparently lost control on a hill he'd been down his whole life on bikes and cars and even pinewood derby carts, losing it and hitting the curb.

It was a very near thing, and only divine intervention kept him from having lots of nasty broken bones or worse. He was upright, with road rash on his right arm and leg and lots of bruises to come. His helmet vents were packed with mud and vegetation from where his head had mercifully landed in the soggy grass just beyond the sidewalk. He's all right now, and was able to catch up with us in a car later on to touch base - though I suspect that come Wednesday morning he was a sore and painfilled lad.

His Specialized Roubaix was another matter. Both tires were blown out with ragged holes in the side casings. The carbon fork was mangled and broken and bent back dramatically. Later, we would learn the front rim was broken; the rear rim out of true and badly scratched, possibly destroyed; chain and derailleur hanger bent; road rash to lots of parts; and possibly fatal damage to his front chainrings. According to his cycle computer, he was going 38.7 mph when he lost control. It remains to be seen if the bike can be salvaged - it's a carbon fiber frame, and really needs to be checked for safety issues.

We gathered around him and called for his eldest son to come pick him up. I glanced at my cycle computer - we'd come .76 of a mile. While we waited for Doc to come get him, we stood around on the unbelievably cold and windy hillside and shivered, cooling down rapidly. By the time his son arrived, I was chilled to the bone.

With Campbell taken care off, we set off again. Near the bottom of the hill, before the stop sign, we crossed the bridge over the Saluda. It was swollen and brown with lots of white showing as it splashed over rocks. The river looked to be well up on its banks and reaching beyond them. As we rode the parallel along the narrow park, I could feel the cold wind coming off the water.

Naturally, I fell off the back as we started the long trudge back out of the river basin. After a certain point, everyone was out of sight. Ainsley was waiting for me at the next intersection, and we met up with Jim about a mile later. We made the turn onto Ekom Beach Road only because I remembered it from earlier in December. Jim went on ahead while we stopped for naturals on a dirt road at the top of Gun Barrel Hill. Even without a running start, I hit 41 mph on the descent, the second-fastest speed I've been on Belle.

Of course I'd left my camera at home, which meant I had no means of capturing images of the Santa Cemetery. The various red St. Nicks were still out there, face-down in the field, looking for all the world as if they needed yellow crime scene tape around them.

Zac, Andrew, Dr. Bill and Bradley waited up for us. Zac pointed out the shortcut that Jim had taken to head on in, and I was sorely tempted. Ainsley promised to ride back with me, so I did the full length of the ride, including the scary descent down the narrow road off of Dairy that has the 90 degree turn on wet leaves at the bottom. Ouch.

We were climbing back up when Campbell pulled up in his Prius. We talked through his car window as we slogged up the spiky little climb, and it was only when it was too late that I realized I probably could have hung onto the window frame and talked while his car pulled me along, TdF fashion. Oh, well.

I felt slow, but I made it back in and wound up with a shade over 27 miles for the day.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent an hour or so doing something I should have done long ago - replacing the solid, nutted axle in Julius's Surly rear hub with a hollow quick release unit. It went better than I feared it would, even if I did have to break out the hacksaw to trim the axle. The old, straight-handled M.M. Atom skewer appears to be working pretty well. I'll know for sure on New Year's Day, if not sooner.

There are rides scheduled for tonight, Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon - will the accumulated mileage be sufficient to get me over the 4,500 mile line for the year?
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
  early December
Saturday I rode Stripe for something over 30 miles on a club ride with Jim C., Connie, Bill T., Grattan, Pepe Ronan, John Campbell Lake, Drew and Tommy Davis. It was the old loop, out the trail, through Wisewood, down Scotch Cross, right onto Louden and the John Lake Loop, and thence back to Greenwood.

Of course the group split up a couple of times, but generally the pace was reasonable - no complaints here, it was a good ride.

Sunday, I met Campbell and Drew at Ware Shoals High School for a ramble in the hillier part of the county. I initially worried I hadn't dressed properly - it was quite brisk at first, and I considered, then rejected turning back. For another mile or two, I thought about stopping and bumming a couple of sheets of newspaper to stuff between my wool jerseys, a la the old French guys.

The first long climb up out of the Saluda basin warmed me up quite nicely. I actually used my granny gear for the first time since Issaqueena back in May, but rapidly switched back to the middle ring. John took us out on a route that I'd been on before, maybe five years back or so. We wound up going down Dairy Road to a point immediately past a battered looking barn. From there, you can see the mountains, even if they were a bit hazy Sunday.

I got some pictures on the climb back up out of there - or so I thought. Turns out I managed to erase all the photos I had taken. Sheesh.

There were odd moments. I stopped for a natural at one point near Gun Barrel Hill and found myself regarding the severed head and feet of a doe dumped along the roadside. The best, by far, and the reason I most bitterly regretted losing the photos, was the house with all the outdoor decorations. The lady must have had a dozen or more Santas out there. Unfortunately, stiff winds had knocked them over. There was a large clump of Santas lying face-down in a field, looking like a crime scene at a mall Christmas training center. John referred to it as a Santa Cemetery, which was pretty much what I was looking at.

Monday we had a very active meeting of the Greenwood Cycling Club. There were a lot of good ideas thrown around, and I collected enough money from folks to pay for the new GCC website's domain registration and hosting.

Tuesday night I had the wierdest flat ever. Maybe two miles out, I heard a "p-tooonk" kinda sound (you try writing a funky sound out like that!), followed by a thunking sound. Flat. Great. I dismounted and found a 5-in stick about as big around as my pinky poking out of my back tire. Ainsley got a photo on his camera phone, but I haven't yet gotten a copy - alas. So I went to change out the tube, but we had no success inflating it. Swell. I managed to limp to the end of that section of trail and crawled back to the cars on the rim.

Today I met Jim and Rick Flowe downtown at the fountain. It was bitterly cold, so cold that I initially rode wearing wool gloves covered with leather work gloves. I had on three layers of wool on my torso, plus the wind-proof jacket, and I still wondered if it would be enough. It was, fortunately.

I rode the Julius the fixed-gear, which may have helped influence the pace. We took it easy, ambling around the Wednesday night course. Rick and I had a spirited discussion of the joys of riding road bikes on dirt roads, but I bet we still haven't convinced Jim. Not yet, anyway. I wound up with something over 20 miles for the day, which I can live with. Did I mention it was cold?
cycling through life is more than the cycling life

Location: Greenwood, South Carolina, United States
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