Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don't let the nice morning fool you. It will get HOT.

Some fortune-tellers are expecting triple digits by the time I get out of the office.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I am a car guy.

I always watch for road hazards. Usually, they are potholes, glass, tree limbs (especially after last night's storm) but this evening, it was a 1997 Ford Escort Wagon. I pulled up alongside the car, and the guy in the driver's seat looked at me wondering what in the world a helmet-wearing, bike-riding fat guy was going to be able to do to help.

As it turns out, I'm pretty good at working on cars, and I actually owned a nearly identical car for more than a decade. In broken English, the driver explained that  he was just driving along when his car stopped running.  Fuel gauge: half full. Lights are on. Starter cranks the engine. My first thought was timing belt. I had him try starting the car while I watched the valve rockers through the open oil cap. They were moving. That kind of narrows it down to ignition (spark plugs) or fuel delivery.  Given that Santa Fe Trail Drive is littered with gnarly railroad crossings, I decided to check the inertia switch in the trunk. This switch is designed to stop the fuel pump in a crash to prevent fuel fires. I opened the little access panel, pressed the turkey-thermometer-esque button back in, and the car fired right up.

I love my bikes, but I am still very much a car guy.

The Long Light

I wasn't  hugging the curb; the driver in front of me was trying to get in the turn lane. Bonus: I got through on the first green cycle this morning, a bit of a rarity.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Quote of the day

"If ever there was a guy to follow out of town when the zombies come, it's this guy." - commuterDude, about me.

I wonder if Keith knows about my stockpile of 12ga ammunition. Judging from this quote, I'm guessing he does. He certainly wasn't commenting on my ability to outrun a crowd of stumbling, brain-eating undead on my bicycle.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bicycle Camping at Middle Creek Fishing Lake

7 brave participants this time: Keith, Randy, Richard, Gene, Stephanie (Gene's daughter) and myself. 
Unfortunately, I didn't get nearly as many photos this year as I'd have liked. I was too busy trying to keep up with the pack. My decreased amount of riding this year really killed my speed. I made it. I had a good time, but I was Lanterne Rouge for most of the trip. That's okay, though, because Richard was on a Rockhopper, so I had company most of the time.

I got my panniers put together the night before. With a non-trivial chance of rain in the forecast for both Saturday and Sunday mornings, I eschewed the high-powered bicycle mobile ham radio setup with the Yaesu FT-90. I did still want to haul the 12V gel cell and solar panel, though. I had APRSDroid running on my phone, beaconing my location for the ride out. I had it rigged to the battery and solar panel. I used my VX-7R this trip, since it's waterproof. I figured the extra weight would be fine, as the rest of my gear was lighter than I've loaded on some previous bicycle camping trips by just as much. As for the tent: I found a really cheap mosquito net at a local sporting goods store, so I ditched it. Also along for the ride: My backpack fishing stuff, a tiny canvas stool, bedroll, ponchos, rope, my penny stove mess kit and water filter. Food: Freeze dried lasagna (I will do that again!), ramen and instant oatmeal. And coffee. Can't forget coffee. Gatorade powder, beef jerky and mixed nuts rounded out the fuel for the road.

I went to bed insanely late, but still got a good night's sleep. I woke up later than I'd wanted to, and ravenously snagged a granola bar on my way out the door. I was going to meet Richard in Olathe anyway, so we met at Perkin's for a quick brunch, then pointed our bikes south toward 179th St to get to the arboretum.

There, we met up with Keith, Josh and Randy.

As always, the variety never fails to disappoint. Richard is on a hardtail mountain bike with a minimalist setup in a backpack. Randy is on his LHT with front and rear panniers, Josh is riding a flipping-insane folding bike with a rear basket and front panniers (with a 3-speed internally geared fixed -- as in "not able to coast" -- hub). Keith is on his Kogswell and his loading strategy is similar to mine: Stuffed rear panniers with the bedroll strapped down to the rack.

I noticed I had missed a call from Gene, who was battling flat tires and running late. He told us to go forth.So go forth we did.

There's not much I can say about the trip between the Arboretum and Louisburg, KS. The rest of the riders moved onward at my request, while Richard and I kept our slow pace. Keith and I kept in contact with the radios, operating on 446.000 MHz. UHF is usually pretty good out in the open.

Richard hasn't lived in the area for very long, and he'd only seen most of the little townships we went through on maps: places like Stilwell, Aubrey, Bucyrus, Wea -- and later on, Rutlader. Most of these are remnants of railroad towns or military road towns between Forts Scott and Leavenworth. These days, the townships either look like the fringe of suburbia or nothing but farm land. Approaching Wea, I was already starting to get a headache as well as cramps in my calves and quads -- likely a combination of heat illness and just being undertrained for this kind of trip. I gulped down 32 ounces of gatorade, which helped with the cramps a bit. 

Getting to the convenience store in Louisburg took what seemed like an eternity, but upon our arrival, there everyone was. We decided to move around the corner to Sonic, grab a quick bite, and refill out water bottles. I snagged some electrolyte tablets from c'Dude, which helped quite a bit. I called Gene to ask where he and Stephanie were, figuring as slow as Richard and I had been traveling, they were certain to be hot on our trail. Gene had another round of flat tires just south of Wea township, and was pretty sure the cause was crappy rim tape. I called Dad for a SAG while Josh ran across the street for electrical tape. Gene and Stephanie arrived, bikes on the back of Dad's PT Cruiser, soon thereafter. In a feat of heroic blister-inducing madness, Keith gorilla'd the flat tire off, then I went to work taping up the rim ghetto-style with electrical tape. Hey, it works pretty well if you use a few layers!

The whole group of seven was finally on the road in the same place at the same time. That didn't last long, as Richard and I fell off the back of the peloton again a few miles south of Louisburg, and eventually out of radio range with Keith again. Eventually, we trudged past Rutlader Outpost.

Then we found the awesome camp site that the group had picked out: Shady, far away from obvious idiots, and not too far of a ride on gravel.

Commence unpacking!

I set my shelter up using the bug net. I'd initially thought of sleeping with my head toward the bike, but thought better of that plan later. I used my little tripod with only one set of legs extended to hold the head end of the net up. With a yellow poncho on the ground, my bedroll, and the bug net, I stayed really comfortable all night. This photo was actually taken Sunday morning.

Food came out, war stories were told, and a good time was had by all. More than half of us brought fishing poles, so it was off to the lake for some relaxation by the water's edge.
Fishing setup

Randy and Gene reeled in a few small panfish, catch and release style. I got some solid nibbles, but couldn't bring any fish to shore. That's fine, though, because I had a blast.  While fishing, we all watched as distinct thunderheads started building high in the atmosphere, trying their best to form a line of storms.

As the sun set, the thunder started rolling, the breeze picked up, and the once-isolated clouds coalesced. I packed up my fishing gear and wandered back to camp. It wasn't clear whether or not we should be prepared for rain. Looking at the sky, there was rain coming from the storm, but it was hard to judge where it was going or how it was building. I opted to put my Poncho Tarp plan into action. Wind was coming from the north, a bit of an oddity this time of year. I battened down the north face of my shelter with tent stakes, then ran rope through the southern grommets, and connected the poncho to my tripod along with the bug net. I tied the hoods of the ponchos shut, then anchored the west end of the poncho shelter to my bicycle wheels with the same bungee cords I held the bug net up with. It was ugly, like something you'd see in Survivorman, but it looked like it should work. By the time I was done setting up, it was completely dark, and the ominous storm was still building, without a drop of rain on our campsite.

We sat at the picnic table in awe, watching the light show. With the first sprinkles, we all decided to pack in for the night. The rain was light and came in waves, and I stayed dry. With a torrential downpour, my feet probably would have gotten soggy, and I don't think I'd trust this shelter in strong winds, but it did work. I had two "windows" with the poncho tent, one toward the lake, looking through the tripod, and the other toward the campsite, looking through the bike. There wasn't much to see, though. I left my VX-7R plugged into the battery overnight to charge, and had it scanning the weather band in "Weather Alert Radio" mode.

The view inside my poncho-covered bike & bug net shelter while it rained

I drifted in and out of sleep for a while, and when I started seeing stars overhead through the tripod window, I got out and rolled the poncho tarp off the bug net. The breeze felt awesome, and I actually got chilly enough to tuck into my flannel bedroll, then I was sound asleep. Apparently, I missed out on the pair of lumberjacks that decided to chop down a tree near our campsite at Ass:30 in the morning, all the way down to yelling "TIMBERRRRR!" before dashing out of the woods, dragging with them an entire tree. So much for not camping near the idiots, eh? I slept right through it, but it was the talk of the campground over breakfast.

I was rudely awakened at 6:30 AM, not by rowdy idiots, nor even the sun, for my head was under my bedroll. No, it was the cicadas that woke me up with their hideous hemipteran hubbub. I'd exhausted my supply of drinking water overnight, so it was time to fill a few bottles with lake water and filter that stuff. My headache, acquired some 15 hours prior, was still lingering.

We partook in our morning nosh, packed the things away...
Loaded up and ready to roll

...then headed back north. Riding didn't help my headache any, but we were just 7 miles away from a convenience store. More of the same with me being slow.

Richard and I caught up with the rest of the crew at BP in Louisburg. I bought some excedrin and some insane caffeinated crap to rinse it down with. I dumped a bunch of ice into all my water bottles, and went back outside. Randy, Keith, Josh, Gene and Stephanie were talking about a gravel tour to get back home. Richard and I decided to stick mostly to pavement. We parted ways with a farewell all around.

While Richard was pumping his tires up to their maximum PSI, I snapped this picture of his Garmin Montana handlebar mount, which I believe he made out of a car mount. Richard works at Garmin, and the Montana has a lot of stuff from his team inside.
Richard's homebrew handlebar mount for the Garmin Montana

Richard and I pressed onward toward Stilwell, stopping for shade a few times along the way. The headache went away quickly, and that raised my speed and morale quite a bit. Another water bottle top-off at Stilwell Station, then we made our way west to Pflumm. Pflumm is gravel, but north of 199th, there's only a mile of the stuff. Right after we hit pavement, we ran into the rest of the group one more time:

Unfortunately, the circumstances weren't that great. Gene had flatted twice more. Keith, close to home, darted north to pick up the SAG Van for Gene. We all parted once again. The rest of the riders were up the road long before Richard and I even got on our bikes. We made our way north again, saw Keith coming back with the van before we even got to 159th. Richard splitted off at 159th, then Keith and Gene passed me in the van at 151st.  From here, it was going to be a solo ride, and I was hurting all over.

I ducked into QT at College and Pflumm for a bathroom break and a V8 juice, and saw another bikey friend of mine, Bill Burns as I was rolling out. Keith texted me that he'd arrived back at home safe and sound, and with 4 miles or so left to cover, I pretty much had this trip in the bag.

I made it home at a little before 3:00 PM, so this was not a 'by the book' S24O. And despite all the suffering I was doing in the saddle, I needed this, and if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't change a thing. Now I just need to get back into shape, because there WILL be another bike camping trip this year. Stay tuned for the fall edition.

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