June 27, 2011

Thirty-seven miles

Last Saturday was the sixteenth Ride for Roswell, an annual fundraiser for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute here in Buffalo. Just over 7100 bicycle riders raised more than $3 million to fund cancer research and treatment.

The Ride starts and finishes at the University at Buffalo, which is certainly convenient for me. There are ten different routes, which all follow two basic paths, the shorter routes going generally west into urban Tonawanda, while the longer routes go generally east into more rural outskirts of Buffalo.

I got involved with the ride at the instigation of my girlfriend. Last year we did the 30 mile route, the longest of the western & urban path. This year we stepped up to the 33 mile route, the shortest trip going out into the bucolic countryside of Clarence, NY.

Although it was just ten miles longer, it was more than 10% more difficult, as the western routes are very very flat. While not as hilly as, say, Big Flats, Clarence does have some rolling terrain to liven things up a bit along the way.

The morning of the ride was dark, gray, and threateningly cloudy. I was taking my commuting bike, which has two rear baskets, which I filled with rain gear for two and a decent set of bike-repair tools, along with some spare tubes. Last year, we had a "mechanical" when Hil's chain jumped off the chainring. This year, there were no bike problems whatsoever.

It drizzled very gently as we cycled from my apartment to the starting grid. We'd decided it was easier to park at my place and ride, rather than search for a spot on-campus. The extra commute to and from UB gave us the four extra miles for thirty-seven total.

The rain stopped as soon as we were lined up, near the front of the grid. That position was perhaps unwise, as it meant we were passed by several thousand people as the ride went along, while only passing a few dozen ourselves. But hell, we were there for fundraising, fun, and exercise, not for a race. I kept telling myself that. It helped ease the pain when a pre-pubescent girl zipped past me just a few miles from the end.

While we didn't have any mechanical issues, we did have a medical one, when a gnat flew into Hil's eye and got caught under her eyelid. She had never been taught the trick to getting foreign debris out from there, and it's a hard trick to learn when in a pain. She eventually managed to flush it out, but I think it put a damper on the last part of the ride.

After a triumphant cruise across the finish line, we returned to my apartment. Hil took off to meet her sister and some friends at a strawberry festival. I took a nap.

The big question is, what route shall we do next year? Hil has been escalating distances in order, from 20 to 30 to 33. The next route up is 44 miles. I'm confident we can do it, she's not so sure. I guess we've got a good ten months to figure it out.

And finally, I'd like to offer a "thank you!" to the friends and family that donated to my ride. I appreciate it, and it goes to a good cause.

My GPS track, which for the second year in a row, I managed to not get started at the actual start line:
Prevailing winds in Buffalo are west-to-east, and it was a windy day. I am moderatly amused at the way our pace dropped even as my heart rate climbed on the return leg of the ride. You can watch that map above animated here, just click the "play" button at the top.

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June 21, 2011


Today's dose of alarmingly cute comes from BoingBoing.

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June 16, 2011


Seen at multiple places on the web.

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June 10, 2011

Epic Ride

I love riding my bike. It's the joy of running, without running's joint pain. I make a point of commuting by bike even in winter. There were three occasions when I didn't ride, when it was storming so badly I decided it was excessively dangerous.

In the summer, I've been biking for fun and fitness. Most of those rides are with my girlfriend, centering around her place. Why her place rather than mine? Because she's got a house while I've got an apartment, so the ride endpoint is much comfier.

Once in a while I do some riding solo. One reason I enjoy it is that my GF and I are at different fitness levels. She didn't hold a job for six years where physical fitness was a non-metaphorical matter of life and death. But when I go alone, I push the pace much harder, enough to get my heart into the aerobic zone.

So last week I rode across campus, then I noticed a bike trail that I'd been previously unaware of. It was glorious! It led through a mix of forest and grassy floodplain, then paralleled Ellicott Creek which is big enough to count as a river in my book.

Originally going south, the trail ran out into a little park. I followed another cyclist onto a road with a nice shoulder, but the scenery was less interesting. I pulled off into the town highway department's parking lot, did a U-turn between the two barns where they keep the road salt, and jammed on the brakes after seeing something interesting. In the middle of the floor of one of the nearly-empty salt barns was a peregrine falcon, standing on top of a just-killed pigeon. I crept closer. The falcon wasn't happy, but he wasn't willing to relinquish his kill either. I got to about 30 feet away, where I could see clearly but wouldn't drive him off. He must have made the kill just as I arrived, because the dead sky-rat was untouched. After a few minutes of staring at each other in silence, the falcon decided that I was nonthreatening enough to start eating. Nature red in tooth and claw– it was neat watching a falcon eat in the wild. (Well, if you consider the inside of a building "wild". I stared for a good ten minutes while he nibbled delicately, and by "nibbled delicately" I mean "messily ripped off chunks of flesh". The day was wearing on, though, and I wanted to check more of the trail. I headed back north and passed the fork that led back to campus.

After about 8.5 miles of riding, I got passed on the left by a faster cyclist, not for the first time. It was a dude that looked to be well into his retirement, and he zipped by like I was standing still. "This shall not stand!" I declared. (Note: it's more dramatic that way. What I really said was "Ah hell no!") I upshifted, stood in the pedals, and determined that I was going to catch that guy.

I'm proud to say I did. I got up on his rear wheel and hung there for two miles, cruising at 18 mph. Now, 18 mph is not all that fast, really. But this dude was on a Trek Madone, a carbon-fiber race machine that sells for between two and nine thousand dollars. I was on a Jamis Commuter which sold for… quite a bit less. My main problem was that the Commuter has a very upright posture, which is great for seeing traffic, but very unaerodynamic. Also, I use the Commuter 2 which has a seven-speed internally geared hub, while my nemesis had a high-end derailleur. Trek Madone's come standard with either twenty or thirty gears. So he was able to maintain a much more efficient pedaling cadence. It was great excercise for me, though– my heart rate monitor said I hit 98% of my theoretical max heart rate. Which explains why I couldn't maintain it for very long.

It was fun, though. What I was doing is sarcastically called "Cat Six racing". Amateur bike racers in the US are divided into five categories of competitiveness, with Cat One being the best and Cat Five being the sort that finish a race with beer and brats. Cat Six are people like me who get crazy competitive and attack other riders that are just out to get some exercise or commute to work or whatever.

Anyway, here's my route:

And I assume most of you were bored to tears by this long story that doesn't even contain a shaggy dog. Sorry!

And if you've made it this far, remember that Hil and I will be doing a charitable bike ride to benefit the Roswell Park Cancer Research Institute. You can donate to my ride here!

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June 03, 2011

Ditch Digging

Six months ago, by buddy Iggy and his wife had a detached garage and a large tree, both in their back yard. During a late winter storm, the tree and the garage came together.

The remains of the garage and the tree are gone now, and a new garage has been built. It's differently sized and located, because of changes in zoning laws. With no big tree, their back yard has a lot more sun. So Iggy wanted to put down soil where the old garage foundation was, and Iggy's wife wanted raised-bed gardens.

That's where I came in. As a favor, yesterday I came over and helped Iggy move a couple of cubic yards of fresh topsoil from the pile on his driveway where the dump truck left it, to an even layer over the back yard. Three of us (Iggy, me, and another buddy named Austin) did a pretty good job of trucking all that soil around using a wheelbarrow that could really use a new tire.

After the earthmoving was over, we went to a hardware store and picked up a bunch of lumber for the beds. I was on cut duty, using a sawsall because that's all we had. My cuts were pretty rough, as the boss (Iggy) figured this was all going into a garden and once you pile dirt in it, no one will notice if the beds aren't exactly square. It's not like his yard was level anyway, even after we were done raking out the soil.

Sadly, once we got all the wood cut, the plan was changed to make the beds narrower. So I had to repeat all my cuts. Iggy's got a fire-pit, so all those extra lumber scraps will just get turned into fuel. Anyway, with the wood properly sized, we started assembly. "Started" being the operative word, as we discovered that the fasteners on-hand were not as suitable as the boss had thought. It was dinner time, so we called it a day. Iggy can put them together by himself later, the heavy lifting is done. Well, except for putting dirt into the beds once they are in place. I may get another call.

I collected my wages from the paymaster: one 12" sub and a large iced tea.

Today, my plans to go for a bike ride came to a premature end. I've been doing enough biking this year to get a tan, or at least the bare hint of melanin that counts as a tan for my pale skin. But biking gives one some particular tan-lines. Most importantly to our story, I always wear a helmet when biking. But yesterday I certainly saw no need to wear a helmet while shoveling dirt all afternoon under the Buffalo sun. Now, when I was a younger man this would not have been a problem. But as I've continued to get smarter, my brain has expanded, and much more of my head is now exposed to the elements, if you catch my drift. The exposed portions are now a lovely shade of pink, and attempting to put on a helmet was rather unpleasant. I expect it'll heal in a day or two, but for now I will be doing bare-headed activities.

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