Mostly recaps of two wheeled rambles through the countryside, but sometimes thoughts on other things.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

3 Days on the MRT

Despite the various things that popped up prior to our going up to see friends in Dyersburg TN this week, I managed to finally do a multi day self supported ride. By "various things" I refer to the staph infection / painful ping pong ball by my left sit bone, last minute stuff at work, and the circuit through our office of colds and the flu. The weather this week was forecast to be poor as well. As it turned out, the stormy weather moved off till later in the week, the doctor was able to get the swollen lump down, and I stayed healthy.

We drove up here on Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning Sharon dropped me off just inside the KY state line.

Start Point for my 3 days on the MRT

 I used the Mississippi River Trail guide book as a starting point for route selection, but altered it to make the 2 day trans-Tennessee trip into 3 days. Since this is my 1st try at a ride like this, I wanted to keep it manageable. That turned out well, as I rode into very stiff headwinds all of days 1 and 2 and for part of day 3. Route changes had to be made as well, when I discovered 2 bridges out. I had to back track and then plot an alternate course. The new Garmin 705 was invaluable for this. Its map showed every little backwoods country road. I actually ended up with fewer miles due to taking more direct roads when the originals were blocked, but I felt no lack of enjoyment or exercise. There was still plenty of riding going on.

Day 1

Although the plan was to get underway by 8:00 AM (to let the Sun at least take the frost out of the air), it was more like 9:00 when I started to turn the cranks. We packed the gear and took off from Kevin and Diana's, but had to turn around a few minutes later to retrieve Sharon's forgotten cell phone. Then after we left again and got a mile or two down the road, we had to turn around and come back for the 3 water bottles that I left on the counter. All part of the adventure, I suppose.

It was 47F when I shoved off, wearing knee warmers and a wind jacket ("Randonneurs of China" from a BikeJournal buddy who teaches in Shanghai and tours cross country)

Almost ready to pedal

The ride started out with a climb into the breeze and by the time I had pedaled 5 miles, I decided to both take the jacket off and take advantage of the restroom at a park welcome center. As an unexpected bonus, the greeter there also gave me a 2010 pictorial national parks wall calendar.

I was pleased at how the bike handled both up and down the hills. I had about 30 lbs of gear and supplies added to the basic bike which weighs 27 lbs. Once I became comfortable with the slower pace demanded by a loaded touring bike, it was a very smooth trip. The route included a lot of coarse pavement, and some detours I took included dirt fire roads and 1 gravel road. The bike handled all them just fine. The loose gravel in particular was something that a lighter, skinny tire bike could not have negotiated. For those who might be interested: The bike is a lugged steel Rivendell Saluki (equivalent to the current A. H. Hilsen model) with 37 mm Grand Bois Ourson tires pumped to 65 lbs. I used a Selle Anatomica Titanico leather saddle (it was superb) and MKS Lambda platform pedals without cleats or straps. (cleats would have been deadly on the gravel and dirt roads) A Baggins L'il Loafer up front carried tools, 2 spare tubes, lube, rag, light set, spare batteries, sunscreen, rain cover. Nashbar panniers in back carried change of clothes, toiletries, jacket, knee warmers (when not on me), food, spare tire, complete rain suit, rain covers for panniers, bike lock, quick stand, maps. I carried 3 water bottles, a camera, a cell phone, and the Garmin. For cycling shoes, Mephisto Match walking shoes worked great.

For clothing in a daily temperature range of 47 - 71: thin wool socks, padded shorts liner, Joneswares wool shorts, a wool base layer shirt, wool jersey (one or the other was long sleeved) and a wool cap under the helmet. I wore nylon mountain bike shorts over the wool ones to look a bit more civilized when going in to stores and restaurants. I think it helped a little in cold mornings with wind proofing. The wool kept me warm early but was not too hot later.

I rode about 12 miles through Samburg and to ReelFoot Lake State Park. The lake was formed by the New Madrid earthquake, when the Mississippi River flowed backwards for a brief spell. There was a museum with local history and artifacts

Reelfoot Lake State Park

 and a raptor center. I snapped a shot of a pair of bald eagles.


Across the road from the museum was Boyette's Restaurant. The trip guide recommended it and so I stopped in for a slightly early lunch. The catfish was excellent! The servers and I also had a lively discussion of Meryl Streep.

After lunch, I saddled back up and faced a stiffening breeze. The trail is generally very well marked.


By the time I passed through Ridgely and got on Great River Road, it was a steady 15 - 20 mph dead into my face. In addition to slowing the pace to 10.6, I got a bit of wind burn on my face. the road runs along the levee, so there is no good view of the river. To the east, vast expanses of fields (already harvested or dead for the winter) allowed the wind to blow unimpeded.
1/2 the View

The sunshine was brilliant and traffic light, and I was blessed to be spending the day on a bike. The ride was really in 2 parts. I was either going up and down hills on and off the bluff overlooking the river side, or I was down on the flat lands along the river. The hills blocked the wind, but hauling 60 lbs of bike and gear up a 10% or more grade is plenty of work, so is pulling into the wind. I'm a winner either way, I suppose :)

The other 1/2 of the time

After an hour or two along the river, I realized that I was learning to be patient. I found a cadence and a level of energy output that I could maintain all day. That was a nice feeling. With no one pedaling ahead of me, I never thought about wanting to draft off another rider, and I never felt like I was being dropped. Solo riding does have advantages. I stopped about every 8 - 10 miles where handy traffic signs propped up the bike while I gave my bottom a break from sitting, and munched on a granola bar. I also made sure I drank plenty.

Typical Rest Stop

 In a wind, you can sweat without realizing it because it dries so quickly. I did duck down a dirt road to the water's edge for a picture or two. Here are the ride and the rider.

Down by the RiverQuiet eddy

Sadly, locals here use every opening in the trees for a garbage dump and it was some work to clear away a space large enough to photograph the bike in. The big excitement in this section though was when I came upon some trucks down in the gully alongside the road. I saw then from afar, and as I got closer I also saw a "cloud" swirling around them. Finally I was near enough to see more clearly, and realized they were bee keepers and the "cloud" was a huge swarm of bees! Talk about rocket assisted take off! You should have seen me accelerate! It was my Tour de France moment I am sure! When I was sure that none of the buzzing bugs were hitching a ride on me, I took a deep breath and slowed back down.

The final turn off Great River Rd was on to a gravel road

Rough Gravel Rd

that the maps were of divided opinion on. Map My ride showed it going through to my evening's lodging while Google showed it coming to two banks of a river with no bridge in between. Our host Kevin consulted his tax assessor's map on Sunday night and confirmed that the bridge was there. After 4 miles of gravel road, I can confidently report that the bridge is NOT there.

Yeah, there's a bridge!

 I did find many 45 cal shell casings and thought this would be a great place for mob hits though. After 4 miles of gravel road back to the highway, and a circuitous loop needed for another way over the stream, I called for a pick up. Sharon and Diana obliged and I was pleased with the 1st day's riding.

Day 2

Tuesday morning, Diana and I dropped her son Andrew off at school in downtown Dyersburg. It's a picturesque little place and I was pleased to see it. The weather was similar to Monday, except perhaps a tad warmer. We drove to where I would have picked up my ride again and I saddled up and moved along. Heading west for the first 6 miles, back to Great River Rd, I had a bit of a tailwind to warm up with. The winds were from the SE most of the 3 days of riding.

It was a delightful morning to be riding and I enjoyed the time to think. You hear the bike, the road, and sounds lost to your ears when driving a car. Time to sing to yourself, or pray, or work out some of the questions you face at work or in life. Diana asked me if I get bored, and the answer is no. There is a lot to take in from the world around you, when that is what you are focused on. Hawks hunting overhead, all sorts of other birds, cattle, occasional deer in the distance, farmers at work, the architecture of fields and forests you go by, and the features of the road itself all have more to see than you might imagine. Touring is slow enough that you get to savor the sights instead of just looking at the road or bike tire immediately in front of you.

Finally, the road along the levee was done and the MRT heads east towards Porter's Gap. Up the bluff and then up and down twisty turny roads with nice views of the fields and lots of DOGs. It was on this portion when after going all the way on Hobe Webb road, I came across the county road crew who had just torn up the highway and cut off my access to Chisholm Lake rd. I smiled at them and called out, "at least there's a tailwind on the backtrack!" And I get to visit the same stupid DOGs again. I did a map reconnoiter and selected a route to Edith, TN on highway 208. It was a very small town and the town's only store was a grocery place where the locals sit and chew the fat with the proprietor. I went in and ordered a ham & cheese sandwich ($1.95) and sat at the one and only table to eat it. The regulars all went out front to look at the bike. It was the big news in Edith on Tuesday, let me tell you. "I could get a used car for what that bike must of cost." Yes, you probably could. "You don't get a bike like that at Wal-Mart, do you?" No, you probably don't. "Where do you find bikes like that?" I can give you the website for Rivendell. "Website? Now what would I need with a computer?' You get a sense of life in Edith. Very, very, laid back. They liked the bike, and when I pointed out that it cost less than people spend on a bass boat, or hunting dogs, they agreed it was a great thing to have for the enjoyment it provided. They were more likely to buy the boat or the dogs than a bike though.

I continued on down to Ripley and caught Highway 51 there. Nice wide shoulders and more level topography, but more wind now that I was out of the shelter of the trees and hills. Hwy 51 was a nice enough way to Covington, which I made by 3:30 in the afternoon. I did detour into Henning, based on a highway sign for an antiques store. It was not worth the side trip. The Quality Inn in Covington was ready for me, and I unpacked and showered before heading out to find some dinner. I noticed after showering that my legs were different. Nothing major, but I could see changes in the muscles under the skin. Hauling weight around and into the wind must have an effect, and it made me smile. A fine meal was had (Pollo Barracho) at a Mexican place, and I ate ALL of it. A little TV and then it was lights out for this camper.

Day 3

I knew that Kevin was flying in today from Boston and we wanted to meet in Memphis so Sharon and Diana would not need to pick me up when I finished the ride. For that reason, I changed routes from the MRT all the way down to Hwy 51

TN has bike routes

 to just outside of Memphis, where I would get back on the trail for the scenic last 10 miles or so. This section of 51 was probably the most enjoyable of the trip. The winds were calm when I left extra early and I made good time for the first hour. The road was excellent with shoulders most of the way that allowed plenty of room between me and traffic. My second rest break was at a STARBUCK'S where I sat down for a venti coffee and vanilla scones! Yum.

The winning rest stop

 the trees were pretty and when the wind did pick up, it was mostly a quartering headwind rather than full on. As a result, avg speed was 13 instead of 10.6 as on Monday, or 11.5 as on Tuesday. The ride finished with a turn though a state park and a run along the riverfront past some grand homes and fancy condos. I got there a bit early and had time to pedal up the levee to downtown and find a great little deli (an O'Henry sandwich)

Walking in Memphis

 on Front St for lunch. Resting in Tom Lee park and watching the walkers and river traffic while waiting to be picked up as as relaxing a way to conclude the trip as could be.

Tom Lee

All in all it was a great time. The bike worked great. No flats, no cramps, no muscle strains, no saddle sores, no serious dog issues. I found that I can get up everyday and pedal. The legs work. I found my rhythm on the bike. It was a good ride.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Getting Ready to Ride the MRT

Well, we leave Sunday for points north. Tennessee in particular, where a visit with good friends Kevin and Diana will be combined with a solo 3 day bike tour by yours truly. Every year, something seems to pop up to get in the way, but so far this year is different. There's still time before Sunday of course :) Anyway, I got the trail guide and have mapped out 200 odd miles from KY to MS through TN, along the river trail route. It's 2 days in the guide book, but as this is my 1st try at solo touring, I've made it a 3 day excursion. I won't be pressed for time, so I can stop anywhere I feel like or need to. I'll go to Dyersburg the 1st night, Covington the 2d, and end up in Memphis along the river at days end on the 3rd, where I'll be picked up. Some museum and restaurant stops are already penciled in, along with wildlife preserves, but I am open to just seeing what is along the way. The trail runs from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Itasca and makes a nice long trip for those with time enough to do it.

I've test packed the panniers and they total only 10 lbs including clothes, rain gear, toiletries and spare tire. There is some more to add for food and of course 3 bottles of water. A front rack and small bag have tools and other needed things. The bike (Rivendell Saluki) handles quite well with the baggage (it is designed for this sort of thing) and there is less weight added to the bike than I have lost since starting to diet in mid June of this year. If I could ride then, I can ride now. The river side portions are flat, but the side trips and hauls to the nightly lodging are quite steeply hilled.

The weather outlook has improved somewhat as of today, with cold but sunny weather for days 1 and 2 and possibly dry weather on day 3, but that too is subject to change. I'll have a cell phone, so if it gets to be too much like work and not enough like fun, I'll call for an early extraction.

In the mean time, last weekend's Sunday ride was very good, and a shakedown for this bike set up as it is. (most comfortable saddle and saddle adjustments, tires pumped up, etc.) No issues needing to be fixed.

For the club ride this weekend, I'll probably use a different bike and just ride it like any regular weekend outing.

Updates as they happen!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Great day outside, less than great ride though

Sometimes it goes that way for all of us, I think. The day started very early for me. Tossing in my sleep and finally waking, I decided coffee sounded way better than fruitless attempts to get back to dream land. I got up (it was about 3:30) and made a pot. Alex was chatting away on his cell phone with some one, so he had not yet been to bed. At 5:15, I left for Wetumpka, to wrangle mountain bikes in preparation for today's Coosa River Challenge. It's a neat event, with running, rock climbing and rappelling, kayaking, mountain biking, and other stuff. 250 athletes were pre registered and more came today. Here's more on the event if you are interested:

The weather is perfect today. Temps in the 60s to 70s, light winds, and brilliant sunshine. I showed up in a long sleeve seersucker shirt, denim jeans, and a wide brim straw hat, and I wore gloves to haul bikes around. Why? Because the antibiotic pills I take make me sensitive to sunburn. You ask, "why are you taking antibiotics?" Well, because I have one heck of a saddle sore, that's why. As near as I can figure, I abraded some skin near the left sit bone some weeks back, and ever opportunistic staph bacteria took up residence there. At first it just looked like an ingrown hair so I pinched the zit and put a band aid with Neosporin over it. As the days went by, it started to get larger. I really noticed it last Saturday evening after Day 1 of the MS ride. I rode 80 miles on Sunday on what amounts to one sit bone, as I favored the sore side. After a couple of days of fruitless home care, I went in to the Dr on Wednesday. He shot me with 1000 units of rocephrin and put me on Bactrim DS tablets. The benefit was immediate. Swelling has gone steadily down all week, and I've tried each day to sit on a saddle. Through yesterday, it was still a no go, but I decided on the way home from the morning bike wrangle that I was GOING to ride today. The only issue was working out the details.

I took the Mark III because it is fun over short distances and light, and it has my most comfortable saddle on it. I just took the loop around Prattville. It's about 23 miles and 900' of climbing. There's one 20% grade, but the rest are in the 4% - 8% range. I still can't sit properly on a saddle so there was plenty of squiming around to relieve pain. My legs felt pep-less, Not sure why. Anyway, got 23 1/3 miles in ans some hills, and I am a cyclist once again.

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