All posts in the biking category

Not broken

Published September 28, 2012 by livinggraciously

I fell off my bike yesterday.

Actually, I sort of tipped over on my bike. Rather like Artie Johnson and his tricycle back in the Laugh-In days. I had to come to a stop when a car stopped in front of me, and I was trying to gear down with the last bit of speed I had available, and then my weight was on the wrong foot and I started tipping that way and there was no way for me to get my foot off the pedal to stop myself.

Ergo, plop.

I banged my elbow pretty hard, and as it was the thing hurting the most it wasn’t until later that I realized I’d also smacked my knee and scraped and bruised the inside of my thigh. I was mildly shaken up, but able to get back on my bike and have a good ride. Today I am a bit stiff and sore in my back and neck, in addition to being bruised and scraped, but it’s really not that bad.

And in a way, it was strangely liberating. No one likes to take a fall on a bike, but I have been experiencing a phobia of it that was out of proportion. I was absolutely certain that a fall on my bike would equate badly breaking myself in such a way that I would not recover quickly. I certainly am not looking forward to any kind of repeat performance, but I am gratified to learn that I’m at least a little sturdier than I feared.

Tonight is a 40+ mile ride. I am going to be a little creaky when I first get on that bike, but I am going to enjoy it.


Ride report – seeing success in the face of failure

Published August 6, 2012 by livinggraciously

As many of you know, this weekend I participated in Pedal to the Point, the Multiple Sclerosis 150-mile bike ride.

Except it turns out that the race organizers mapped out a 165-mile ride for us to enjoy. Which didn’t make any of us very happy. But, hey, you’re out there with almost 3,000 people, you do what you have to.

Also, it was supposed to be 92 degrees and sunny. Not my favorite riding weather. In preparation for the ride daughter Erin and I started drinking Powerade and hydrating like crazy.

Then on Friday afternoon, Ferrett and I had to get into our bee hives to add a new set of frames. The bees are usually very docile and I don’t even have to wear gloves. But the bees were agitated because a skunk had been after the hive, so they came after me and stung me twice on the right hand, one on the index finger and one on the base of the thumb.

Plus, there is still the badly bruised tailbone giving me trouble. This was an inauspicious beginning, to say the least.

But I was game anyway. So Erin and I were at the start by 5:30am. Start time was supposed to be 7, and we were anxious to get some miles behind us before it got warm. Unfortunately, the “guest of honor” was late and had to make a long speech. The whole crowd was highly irritated at the delay, all of us knowing that the cool weather was crawling away from us.

Finally at 7:25 the event started. We pulled out as quickly as possible and headed down the long hill that we groaned at the notion of coming back up on the second day (this year the race start had been moved to a location that was much hillier for who knows what reason). The first part of the ride wasn’t bad, and we reached the lunch break, 35 miles in, at 10:00. We ate quickly, but by the time we were done with lunch the cloud cover was burning off and it got really, really hot. With the heat, and the wind blowing into our faces, it got really uncomfortable really soon. By the time we got to the second to last break, SAG (Support and Gear) trucks were loaded down with bikes from people who were dropping out and two ambulances had passed by.

We were about 20 miles away from the finish line, and decided that this would be a good time for a long break in the shade. And man, were we going through the Gatorade!

We got back on the road and just about melted. But finally we turned north and had the wind behind us. We got in at just before 4pm with 80 miles done. With breaks, the riding time was just under 6 hours. We staggered off to the hotel, got showers, and went down to the pool to meet up with the rest of the team.

That’s when we found out that it had been 103 degrees that afternoon. One. Hundred. Three.

I’m really glad we didn’t know during the day, because it would have psyched us out.

This morning we got a decent start, but then rain came in. We got drenched, and at the second stop, which was at a little market store. We waited it out for about an hour and ate snacks. By the time the rain was slowing, though, the volunteers were pulling down the rest stop and we realized that we were really far behind. We got on the bikes and headed out and good clip. We caught up with and passed a lot of riders, and made the next 20 miles in about 90 minutes, pulling into the lunch location at 11:40.

But the ride was starting to tear up my back. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t get comfortable in the saddle. My tailbone was pretty much on fire. And then when I peeled my riding gloves off my hand was completely swollen, and my arm was swollen about halfway up the the elbow.

44 miles in, and I realized that I simply could not go on, not without risking really injuring myself. Erin, who is very much a cheerleader type, took a look at my hand and insisted that I stop. So I called Ferrett, who was at the finish line, and told him that I needed to be picked up.

Then I put my head down and cried a little. Erin went on, because she still had it in her, and I waited, watching more SAG trucks picking up bikes, watching an entire schoolbus of riders loading up for the ride back to the starting line. I watched the volunteers pull down the lunch stop. When Ferrett arrived, I cried a few more tears, then we headed back.

I almost refused to take the medal. But the race veterans pointed out to me that people who only ride one day get a medal. In fact, people who only ride the 35 miles to the lunch stop get a medal. They also pointed out that only a third of the people who ride the first day also ride a second day. They reassured me that I had nothing to be ashamed of.

So. I biked 125 miles over two days. I biked through staggering heat and humidity. I biked wet and cold.

And I was smart enough to stop before I hurt myself. The one thing Ferrett and I discussed before this was how important it was that I not let my obsessive nature overtake my common sense and end up injuring myself and losing the progress I’ve made. Calling it quits was actually harder than pushing through would have been.

I am not entirely happy with what happened. But I am satisfied.

A crash that almost happened

Published July 15, 2012 by livinggraciously

I almost hit a cyclist with my car last night in Lakewood. Why? Because he was riding on the sidewalk, and shot out into the crosswalk from behind parked cars just as I was turning right. He had the walk light, but he was in the blind spot caused by the pillar between my windshield and the passenger-side door, and I simply didn’t see him. Fortunately, my passengers saw him and yelled for me to stop. We were all shaken by the close call.

Following that, we were walking on the sidewalk and almost got hit by cyclists three times. They weren’t riding recklessly, they were just riding on busy sidewalks, and trying to weave around pedestrians.

This would all have been avoided if they had all been riding on the street where they belonged. It’s great seeing so many more bikes out there, but the education of both motorists and cyclists needs to continue. I’m seeing more bikes, yes, but I’m seeing a lot of them on sidewalks, which is dangerous to pedestrians and dangerous to the cyclists.

Sidewalks were okay for bikes when they weighed 40 pounds, had only one gear, and traveled about 8 miles an hour. Now, I can easily be flying along at 15 miles and hour, and I’m not a very fast cyclist. I know people who regularly ride about at 20+ mph.

Do you really want that barreling down on the small children playing in your yard? On your grandma?

Additionally, cars pulling out of side streets or onto the aprons of driveways are not going to be prepared to deal with a bike shooting toward them at 15 mph. Most of my close calls have been caused by the times I foolishly rode on the sidewalk and almost collided with the side of someone pulling up to the intersection from a parking lot. Bikes simply move too fast to be safely on sidewalks.

I’m tempted to counter-program the people who honk at me and yell for me to get back on the sidewalk. I’m tempted to honk and yell at sidewalk cyclists and tell them to get in the street where they belong.

Cooking from the back of my bike

Published July 8, 2012 by livinggraciously

Today was the first true long-distance ride in my training: riding out to Vermillion, Ohio, and back, a 60-mile trip. Erin, who has now signed up for Pedal to the Point and is planning to undertake this crazy ride with me.

We chose today because the weather forecast was for cooler temperatures, and in fact the worst of the heat did break last night. We planned on a 7am departure, riding along the shore to Vermillion, where we would stop for brunch before turning around and coming back.

But before we left, I wanted to make sure that there would be something for dinner this evening. And I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the mood to start cooking something after 60 miles of biking. So last night I got a nice roast out of the freezer and this morning I got up at 6 and chopped onion and garlic, then seared the roast, sauteed the aromatics, and added broth for a potroast.

Erin and I got on the road at about 7:30. The ride out was going well, but we got a little confused in Lorain we suddenly found ourselves getting cheers and encouragement from the people along the street. I mean, Lorain is certainly a friendly town, but this seemed a bit extreme.

It turns out that we had biked right into the middle of a triathlon in which the biking segment was well underway. So well underway, in fact, that we appeared to be stragglers in dire need of encouragement. We had no choice, really, but to keep biking along, returning the smiles of our supporters as bikers in sleek jerseys, leaning heavily into their drops and also giving us a sideways glance of pity.

When we started running into cops who asked if we’d taken a wrong turn, we realized how pitiful we appeared to everyone. But when we reached the turnaround, we were only a short distance behind the last turners. We waved off the last of the helpful police, explaining that we were on our way to Vermillion.

The rest of the ride out was uneventful. What I hadn’t taken into account was how quiet Sunday morning is in Vermillion. We managed to find one little place open and got some breakfast.

Then we started back. Into a headwind. This is when the started draining out of the day.

We eventually made it back, tired, sweaty, legs hurting, and pretty much beyond moving. Now dinner is about done, thanks to the addition of veggies. And I am very glad I took the time to start dinner this morning!

Biking to Death

Published July 6, 2012 by livinggraciously

How has more than a month passed since I last wrote in this journal? Time flies.

It’s been kind of crazy busy, and a lot of that has to do with the biking. I’m closing in on 1,000 miles for the year–assuming this weekend goes as planned, I will surpass that mark. And now I have a riding companion. My older daughter, Erin, is living with us temporarily while she is getting resettled here in Cleveland, and she has taken to this biking thing like the proverbial merganser to a lake. We are a well-matched team, and companionably putting in the miles.

July 4 was a bit of a challenge, though. Patti’s Paladin’s had a breakfast training ride, for which I assumed we would ride our usual 20-mile path. This is the path that is 5 miles steadily uphill, 10 miles of rollercoaster hills, then a 5 miles cruise back to Patti and Mike’s.

The predicted heat index for July 4 was 104 degrees.

So I was already steeling myself for this ride–though not really prepping myself, in that Ferrett’s birthday party was the night before and I didn’t actually get to bed until after 3am. And I had to get up at 6:30 in order to finish the fresh bagels I was making to take to the breakfast. (Which went over with great success, and many people being gobsmacked at the notion that anyone would make bagels at home!) So I wasn’t exactly rested and refreshed for the ride.

Then Mike informed us that the ride would be to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and back. Which meant that all the downhill was at the beginning of the ride. And we would have to climb back up the cliff face that is the climb back up to Cleveland Heights. At the end of the ride. In the mounting heat.


Erin and I started out with the rest of the pack. The rest of the pack consisted of 9 men who have a combined body fat of about 12 pounds, and that crazed look that says “25 miles an hour is an okay average speed, if you’re really not up to more” We were pedaling hard to keep up. On the downhill portion of the ride. Once we flattened out and headed west along the shoreway, I have to confess that I abandoned Erin to the tender mercies of one fellow rider who had stayed back to help her along. Mostly because I knew that if I slowed down to accommodate her, I would lose far too much momentum and we would just fall further and further behind. I had to just concentrate on the slowly receding rider in front of me and try to keep that distance from increasing.

By the time we pulled up under the trees at the Rock Hall, the temperature was 91, the heat index was 100, and I was vaguely nauseated. Erin pulled up behind me and said, “I think I hate you a little bit right now.”

It was all right, though; I hated me a little bit just then, too.

I could not imagine biking uphill all the way back to Mike and Patti’s. And I realized that we didn’t have to: we were already halfway to home, where Ferrett was still waiting for us to let him know we’d finished the ride and was planning to drive over for the post-ride picnic. Our house is at a much lower elevation. There would not be a steady, uphill ride with a big cliff in the middle!

Now, my friends on either coast will laugh at me for my struggle against this relatively minor elevation change. And I fully acknowledge that back when I lived in Alaska I used to bike up and down mountains. But I have to say this in my defense: I’m old and fat! Also, humidity is a bitch, and so is heat. If it had been in the 70s, I would have attempted the ride back.

With weather that felt like 100 degrees? No. Bloody. Way.

So Erin and I continued west, accompanied briefly by this collection of bike warriors. We biked along the shoreway and through shaded neighborhoods, and that part was good.

Then we got back out into the sun, and things began to go pear-shaped. Neither of us is good with heat, and the sun was beating down on us with mid-day intensity. We were still drinking water, and still moving forward, but our pace was going off and we were starting to get leg cramps. By the time we were 3 miles from home, I was genuinely worried about heat exhaustion.

Did I mention that there was a Severe Heat Warning in effect?

Fortunately, I remembered that there was a McDonald’s nearby and steered us toward those golden arches. I never imagined that I would find myself this grateful for the existence of fast food. We locked up our bikes and staggered into the blessed air conditioning. Erin was trembling. We ordered large drinks and grabbed packets of salt and sat for 20 minutes in the cool, gulping down iced beverages and eating salt straight from the packets. Recovered, we were able to finish the ride back to the house, showered, and went back for food and companionship. But it honestly took most of yesterday for us to really feel recovered. I honestly think we were on the edge of being in serious trouble. And I hope this heat breaks soon, because I can’t imagine going through this for 75 miles.

Oh, and I also made the next bread in the BBA challenge, cranberry celebration bread. I was just as unimpressed with it as I expected to be, but at least it’s over now!

Riding in a Critical Mass

Published May 26, 2012 by livinggraciously

Last night I attended my first Cleveland Critical Mass bike ride. Don’t feel badly that you don’t know what that means; I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago. Critical Mass rides happen on the last Friday of the month in about 300 different cities all over the states and in some other countries. Here in Cleveland we had about 400 riders. In other places they have over 1,000.

400 riders strung out along a roadway was an incredibly impressive sight. We must have stretched out close to half a mile. I can’t even imagine 1,000.

The point of Critical Mass is not speed or getting to a destination first. The point is to raise local awareness of bicyclists and our right–nay, requirement–to share the roads. Did you know that in many states, including Ohio, it’s a misdemeanor for adult cyclists to ride on the sidewalk? This is because sidewalks are for walking, and people walking are generally traveling at 2-5 miles per hour. Whereas cyclists are generally traveling at least 8 miles an hour, and easily can be traveling 18, 20, or more. Cyclists are a hazard to walkers. They are operating vehicles, and belong on the street.

And the fact is that cyclists are safer on the street. I have been clipped by a car once on the street, it’s true. But I’ve had many near-collisions when riding on the sidewalk, because people are not looking for a bike on the sidewalk moving at 12 mph when they back out of a driveway or pull up to an intersection. They see me when I’m on the street.

Still, there are people who don’t understand the law who still honk at cyclists, yell at them to get on the sidewalk, and even assault them. A recent instance I read about was someone whose kid was pelted with a milkshake that was thrown from a car window. I’ve had people swerve at me, and someone open a passenger-side door in my face just to frighten me.

I’m not sure where this level of anger comes from. Yes, you might have to slow down and pull over to the left to get around a cyclist. But you’d have to do the same if a UPS truck was stopped there, and I don’t see anyone honking at the UPS guy. I sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that some of the resentment comes from thinking that the cyclist feels superior to people driving the car, or a guilt that the driver feels for driving along, drinking a milkshake while these cyclists are exercising.

I know that I’ve been cursed at with “fatso, get off the road!” As if my wide hips are taking up more space. My very presence offends some people.

I’ve learned to be more assertive in my biking, and also more cautious. I try to stick to roads with four lanes, and to bike toward the middle of the right lane so people don’t try the slip past me when there really isn’t enough room. I also bike at off hours or against the rush hour traffic so that I’m not frustrating tired people who just want to get home from work as soon as possible. I take my share of the road, but try to do so with respect for drivers.

And I obey traffic laws. I stop for red lights. I yield at stop signs–a full stop is incredibly wearing on the knees, so I cheat a bit, but I give up the right-of-way when it’s not mine to take. I signal my turns. I try to be a good citizen.

Still, it’s hard to be a cyclist at times. And cycling alone always seems more subject to verbal abuse than cycling with a group, or even just two.

So last night, cycling with 400 people, was a kind of empowerment. We rode through neighborhoods where kids ran to the fences, waving wildly at us, adults smiled and called out encouragement, and drivers waiting at intersections honked their horns not with impatience but in celebration. We were a novelty, this enormous group of cyclists.

We were a parade.

Maybe the people who smiled at our dinging bells and honking horns and smiling waves will remember us. Maybe when they come along a solitary cyclist pedaling down a narrow street, they will recall the crazy, happy atmosphere of last night’s ride.

And maybe they will be just a little more patient, give just a little more room, and we can all be better citizens on the road together.

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