Tuesday, April 21, 2015

PACKING THE TANDEM (A Melodrama in Four Acts)

Cast of Characters:
Roger – a savvy cycle technician in late middle age, afflicted with ADHD.
Kathy – his nervous but ultimately supportive wife, in her mid-fifties and occasionally prone to bouts of OCD.

A patio in Southern California

*    3 mm Allen wrench
*    4 mm Allen wrench
*    5 mm Allen wrench
8 mm Allen wrench
Rubber mallet
*    CCP-4 Crank extractor (to be tightened with a crescent wrench)
*    Needle nose pliers
8 inch adjustable crescent wrench
8 mm open end wrench
Bike tool
10 mm box wrench
*    Cable clipper
Spare derailleur cable
Spare brake cable
Spare skewer
*    Drop cloth
*    Rags
      Chain oil and grease?  (for bolts and couplings)
      Plastic ties
      Plastic tape
      Tennis balls
      Ziploc bags (one for the linking chain; one for other small parts)
      The special coupling tool
(Starred items to be left with packing materials when the trip begins)

ACT I, SCENE 1:  In which all the extra bits are removed from the frame

The scene opens with Kathy spreading a drop cloth under the bike stand.  Roger impatiently begins to disassemble the bike while Kathy collects all the tiny screws, washers and other findings as Roger removes them from the bike.

The two bicker good-naturedly throughout the scene.

Roger starts the act by placing the bike into a stand using the front seat post, and cleaning the chains.  He then goes through the following actions, Kathy assisting as noted:
1.   Remove pedals (Kathy captures the washers).
2.   Remove the racks.
3.   Remove the water bottle cages and give to Kathy for wrapping.
4.   Unhook and remove the tool kit.
5.   Remove wheels.  (Kathy removes the skewers, places plastic end pieces into wheels and sets them aside.  Skewers go with the other little bits.)  Use rubber mallet to position axle replacements in the drop-outs.
6.   Remove the linking chain and place in Ziploc bag.  Remove the cranks.  Use the crescent wrench to tighten the crank extractor.  Give to Kathy to wrap in bubble wrap.

ACT I, SCENE 2:   In which the cables and derailleur are removed

1.   Unscrew the rear brake cable (running under the top tube) by using the 8 mm wrench and crescent wrench in opposition.  Remove from guides.  Coil cable loosely and secure with tie or tape.  Take care not to kink the cables.
2.   Remove the speed sensor from front fork.  (Kathy wraps and places with other small parts.)
3.   Unscrew the two derailleur cables beneath the bottom tube.  Remove from guides.  Coil each loosely and secure with tape or ties.  Note:  The right cable controls the rear derailleur (for the cluster) and the left controls the front derailleur.
4.   Remove the derailleur using the 5 mm Allen wrench (hold it up while unscrewing it) and then wrap it in bubble wrap.  Position the derailleur in the open space between the chain stays and secure with tape.
5.   Wrap the chain stay with the appropriate pieces of black wrap. 
6.   Remove the cable adjusters from the frame and pad them with wrap. 

The act ends with pieces of the bike scattered about the room, but all smallish pieces securely captured by Kathy.  Roger and Kathy exit stage right. 

ACT II:  In which the balance of the bike is disassembled

Roger and Kathy return to work after a short break to have lunch.  Roger begins the final breakdown:
1.   Remove cap from headset and hand to Kathy.
2.   Remove handlebars.   Remove three spacers in stem and hand to Kathy.
3.   Use rubber mallet to remove the steerer out of the headset (to remove the fork).  Roger swears, “THIS IS DAMN HARD!”   Kathy offers encouragement and wraps the headset with bubble wrap to protect it once it’s off the bike.
4.   Replace spacers on fork steerer. 
5.   Replace stem cap on stem.
6.   Remove rear seat. 
7.   Release the couplers.  Carefully separate the three sections of the bike frame.  Place the tennis balls over the threaded ends of the open tubes. 
8.   Release the last portion of the frame from the bike stand.
9.   Remove front seat post.  Confirm position mark for rear handlebars.  Remove rear handlebars from seat post. 

The action continues uninterrupted with Act III.  Kathy starts by opening the bike boxes and removing all the remaining packing materials, sorting them by type.

ACT III:  In which all the pieces get wrapped for protection

Kathy and Roger:
1.   Tuck the rear brake cable into the down tube and tape securely to avoid kinking the cable.
2.   Place the appropriate piece of black shield cloth on each portion of the frame, and secure with the velcro closing, tape or ties. 
3.   Let the air out of the tires.
4.   Assemble other gear that will be packed with the bike:  helmets and panniers.

Kathy and Roger argue briefly about the placement of the foam rubber mats, and agree to try using them between each layer of the bike.  The act ends with both parties in good spirits as they exit stage right for intermission.

ACT IV:  In which the bike’s parts are packed into the boxes

Roger and Kathy return to the stage with sodas in hand, following a short break.  Kathy is also carrying a set of instructions and photographs showing the position of the bike pieces in the boxes during a prior packing exercise.

Roger and Kathy fill the first box with the bike pieces in the following order, using the photos as a guide to placement:
1.   Bicycle middle section
2.   Front section, with fork and handlebars
3.   Rear section of bike
4.   Kathy’s seat
5.   Roger’s seat
6.   Kathy’s handlebars

The second box is filled with the wheels, helmets and other accessories:
1.   Position the front tire in the box.
2.   Add padding and other items.
3.   Position rear tire with cassette facing down.
4.   Wrap tools and place in box, taping to the lid to secure them.
5.   Fold drop cloth and place in box with rags and other props.

Kathy and Roger add additional padding to the top of each box and test them for closure, using ties, tape or additional padding or bubble wrap where necessary to secure the parts. 

Kathy tapes packets of small parts to the roof of the boxes.  Just before closing the boxes, she places re-assembly instructions and photos in the box and writes their name and address on the roof of each box in black marker.

Kathy and Roger exit stage left to the hot tub to relax and enjoy a well-deserved beer!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arivaca 400

We selected another desert ride for our 400.  This one was in Arizona, from Casa Grande (between Phoenix and Tucson) to Arivaca and back.  Basically, another ride from nowhere, to nowhere, through nowhere.  Interestingly, I found the 400 K brevet easier than the 300.  That just might have something to do with the brevets we selected, but in any case, we had another good day riding, we made it through the night okay, and we met our time mark with hours to spare.

We drove a mile to the Walmart parking lot where the ride was to begin, and met our fellow travelers.  Once again, a spot where we were supposed to make a control stop was declared defunct!  This was somewhere around 103 miles, and since there were not many other places to get food, the organizer had decided that he would get sandwiches for us and meet us somewhere there along the road.  I thought this sort of support was not valid for the qualifying brevets, but he said if the support is for ALL riders, not just a given one, and provided without exception to everyone, then it was okay.  Particularly so, I guess, if there is nothing else to eat or drink for miles!

Our first stretch was in the dark again.  The sun rose as we went alongside the highway (although blessedly not ON the highway but some sort of service road nearby.)   The landscape was beautiful.  Good thing I saw it this morning, because on the return trip, it would be dark!

Heading east to the sun
Amazingly enough, out here in the desert, they are growing cotton!  Yup.  Never mind that there is no rain.  The water is coming from somewhere.  I was astounded. 

Before long, we were into Saguaro National Park.  This had to be the highlight of the trip.  What an incredible landscape.  So many fantastical shapes of cactus.  It was stunningly beautiful. We were doing well for time.  We stopped in at the Visitor's Center, hit the bathroom, and filled our Camelbaks.  I figured we needed to head out but Roger suggested we watch the slide show.  Honestly!  We sat for 20 minutes and I felt refreshed, restored and as I always do in our national parks, so very grateful for the gifts of these parks.
Saguaro and other cactus in the landscape

There were so many is was just amazing.

View from the Visitor's Center

Close up with some other cactus plus the creosote, which was blooming everywhere.  Just gorgeous!
After the National Park, we headed off down Mission Road (remote) to Green Valley, where we should have had a stop at the Shell station.  But alas!  It was shuttered.  It seems that the fine folk of Green Valley thought their gas was too expensive, and since it's a retirement community with lots of people who have plenty of time to drive around in search of cheaper gas, it went out of business!  All over the town we saw little strip malls with closed businesses.  The place was full of golf courses, and lovely homes, but no services.  It was very odd.  We were glad that Carlton had said he'd find us on the route with sandwiches, and happy to see his van.  As it turned out, he was parked near one of the businesses that did seem to still be open, and so I used the restroom there.  It was just across the place from the Longhorn and I caught this shot of Roger before we headed off.  
One of the better doorways to a restaurant I have ever seen!
The next leg was rollers gently sloping up to Arivaca.  This is a little tiny place a dozen miles from the Mexican border.  We stopped to share a burger and a beer.  The locals were enjoying the basketball games on TV, shooting pool, and drinking beer.  Not a lot else to do in Arivaca! The Arizona visitor's website tells us it is "Quaint and quirky" and Wikipedia turned up a citation about a double homicide in 2009 by a nut job Minuteman.  Fun town!

Leaving Arivaca, we thought we'd mostly be heading downhill, and we were.  But again - compacting the profile leaves out a lot of little bumps!  We had gained about 800 feet before we eventually descended 500.  Roger kept asking, "what's our elevation?" and I had to say, "3400" over and over again.  In any case, it was a beautiful, solitary road.  

The only folks we saw on this segment were the Border Control agents.  One of them passed us about every 15 minutes.  The sun set while we were on this leg, and once again, it was stunning!  

Finally the sun went down - usually our cue to start having flats but we made it to the little grocers at the next corner and were pleased to see the van there.  We had a bit to eat, and connected with another rider who was on a recumbent bike.  He seemed a bit nervous about riding alone on the next bit, as he was getting tired.  I think it was about 9 pm by now.  We said we'd ride along with him, but when we headed out he actually pulled away from us, and then blam - we hit a bit of gravel, and had our first pinch flat of the night. I don't think he even knew it, and anyway, it's every man for himself at that point!  We had another flat or two as we rode the next stretch.  Somewhere in this next bit we were going through the saguaros again, and we could see them standing in the darkness.  The stars were wonderful - it's interesting to look up from the bike and see the Big Dipper!

Border Patrol agents snapped a shot of us at the checkpoint
By the time we arrived at the penultimate control (the McDonald's where we had been at 8:30 that morning), it was around midnight. Mile 211.  (Roger had called off my first "double century" a little bit before then, when we passed 200 miles.)  We had until 8 in the morning to finish the last 43 miles. We were pretty tired, but felt sure we would have no trouble getting in under our time limit.  I observed that it would not be any less dark if we rested a bit before we headed out, and so that is what we did.  We laid down on the benches as the McDonald's and took a short nap!  When we got ready to leave, it was about 1:30 am, and we road along through the night (one more flat) watching the stars and stopping every now and then so I could massage Roger's arms and shoulders.  We made it back to the Walmart at four minutes past five in the morning, put the bike on the car, and went back to the Denny's to change and have something to eat.  There we saw Chuck, the guy on the recumbent, who had made it in not too long before we did.  

We drove to Jennifer's house (Dana's friend who lives in Scottsdale) and crashed for a few hours before rising in mid day.  It was nice to visit with her and her family, and we were thankful for a chance to rest before heading home the next day.  As she told Dana later, "they looked like hell when they got here!"  It took several days to recover.  Neither Roger nor I have pulled an all-nighter for many years.  

So, here we are, on the brink of our 600 K brevet.  We are traveling to Texas for a combination visit with my family and attempt at the Luling 600.  If we can manage our stops on the first 400 K, the route circles back to the start so we can sleep in the hotel a bit before starting the last 200.  I'll let you know how that turns out!

So much to write, so little time!

I wanted to share a few of the long-ish training rides we've done along the way, but time has gotten away from me as other activities filled our life and so I will just cut to the chase and capture the two main rides we've completed recently:  the 300K through the desert and the 400K through the desert!

First, the 300K from 29 Palms to Las Vegas.  Wow.  If you were to try to design a ride that went from nowhere, to nowhere, through the middle of nowhere, you could not do better than this one. The route slip was deceptively simple.  Note the warnings here and there:  DO NOT MISS THIS TURN!  To do so would be to die, lost and out of water, I fear.

Thank God we had breakfast before beginning

For about the first 150 miles or so, from 29 Palms to the God forsaken little establishment of Primm on Interstate 15, there was not a place to eat or drink.  Well, practically.  There was life at the old Kelso Junction, and though the lunch counter was closed (looking for a new concessionaire) at least the gift shop had some chips for sale.  And there was water, and a restroom.  Not so much in Amboy, where Roy's - long an anticipated stop on the "mother road" of Route 66 - was shut despite the sign announcing "always open."  As a result, the ride organizer provided rolling sag of sorts, stopping here and there along the route to make sure we all had sufficient water to continue.
It did not look like it would be that difficult . . . but note the length of the ascending portions.  Tough on a tandem!
We began in a largish group, rolling slightly downhill so the tandem picked up speed and away we flew!  Roger asked if any of the group behind was with us.  No - they were maintaining their speed, riding their pace.
Sunrise as we left 20 Palms
And, when the road kicked up a bit and they came around us, he attempted to hang with them.  I did not help.  Remember, I told him - we are riding our pace and completing our 300.  I'm not going to help you try to ride their pace.  That took care of that!  We soon settled into our rhythm, and the first climb began.
Summit number one, then 20 miles down to Amboy
The thing about the desert is that you are likely to be able to see 10 or 15 miles down the road.  On these shallow grades of 3 to 5 percent (occasionally but not often slipping up to 7 or 8 for a few yards) that means that you can see about an hour down the road.  Ay yi yi! That gets dispiriting. We'd play that "how long until we get to that bluff?" game now and then, but really - it got old.

The first climb was about 5 miles, not really a stretch for us.  That ended with a nice (20 miles or so) descent into Amboy, at mile 65.  This was to be a hamburger stop, Roger had told me.  He'd even checked out Roy's on the Internet.  But alas!
Looks sort of like it's open, doesn't it?
Roger heads with purpose to Roy's
There was a little movie crew there, filming some horror movie, probably with a slasher inside.  We walked towards the door, where the sign clearly said, "Always Open."  But the guy with the camera said, "It's closed."  "But the sign says it's open."  "But it's not.  It's closed."  So I said, "So, it's Always Open, except when it's Not?"  That's about the size of it.
Always open, except when it's not
Well, I had packed some peanut butter sandwiches, and the organizer of the ride was there, refilling water bottles, so we had a little snack under a tree and headed out again.

Crew was not amused, and not even particularly gracious.  I assured them I would not sell the photo, thereby eliminating the need to gain their approval to be in it.
This time I think we had something like a 20 mile uphill.  It was interminable.  At one point, we sought shade under a creosote bush.  You know you're desperate when you look for shade under a creosote bush!

Shade is better earlier in the day, for sure!
Anyway, we passed a fascinating "chloride mine" (looked like they were mining salt from an old lake bed) and finally arrived at Kelso.  This is a super-cute restored old station, that used to have a wonderful lunch counter.  But no more.  So it was a couple of bars, the goop, some nuts and the last of our fruit.  At least the toilets flushed!
For years, I'd thought it would be fun to go out here and dine at the lunch counter.  Little did I know the counter had closed.
From here, about another 20+ miles of gradual climbing before we hit the summit and saw the sag wagon!  A welcome sight!  We beat the sun set, which was a good thing because the descent was an unholy stretch of pocked and ragged road.  We would not have wanted to do it in the dark.

Somewhere along the route, probably on the way to Kelso, we stopped for a moment and I took a set of pictures, capturing each aspect of the horizon.  You can see that it was beautiful, and quite desolate.  Few signs of mankind anywhere in the view finder.
Looking back down the road the way we came.
Off towards the right - nothing.
Back off towards the left - nothing.
Nothing here.

Just out of view to the right there was a cell tower, I think - that was it!
At the base of that gnarly descent, we put our clear glasses, vests and lights on, and began another climb up to I 15.  This is when it got dark, but climbing in the dark is really not much of a problem for us.  Roger's arms were worn out from handling the bike on that rough descent, so we'd stop every couple of miles and I'd massage them for a bit.  However, all in all, we were feeling pretty good - although getting hungry.
Well, things had been long, and hot, and hard, but generally beautiful in that solitary, desert vista kind of way. So it was fun in a weird fashion.  But when we got to the freeway, the not-fun started.  Which is to say, descending on the shoulder while traffic roared by in the dark = not fun.  Pretty soon, the inevitable happened:  we hit some scrabble and flatted.  By this point, we were close enough to Primm to see the lights.  Additionally, there was a 400 mile off-road race going on in the desert, so the dust, lights and noise combined to create some horrific scene out of Max Mad Thunderdome.  Roger got the bike fixed but we flatted again before we even made it to Primm.  Three times.  At last we got there and were able to have a burger.  This was at mile 155 - only 30 to go and it was mostly slowly rising, then falling to the finish.  Of course, when you are compacting 185 miles on a profile, you lose a lot of the detail!

We were somewhere between Primm and when we would leave the freeway at Jean (about 20 miles to go) when Roger's headlight went out.  Obviously we should not have been using it while we changed all those flats.  So I gave him my headlamp (which was about to run out of batteries) and we kept on going.  At the exit, we found a gas station where we were able to buy batteries for the head lamp.  At least we were off the freeway!

The last section was not bad.  It was an alternate route straight to the strip, where our hotel awaited.  Oh wait - let's back up just a bit.  Somehow, in all the communication with the ride organizer, Roger had failed to get the details of the return home straightened out.  So we did not know until some time in the middle of the ride that everyone would be sleeping in Vegas, and returning in the morning.  Damn! That's what the sentence "everyone is responsible for their own reservations" on the ride description had meant! So when we got to Primm and into cell-service-land, we called and got a room in the hotel where we were finishing the ride.  Those little details are so important!

We were within sight of the casino when we got our fourth and final flat.  We had a tube left, but no air cartridges.  The shoulder was littered with stones and debris, and I just could not imagine Roger pumping up the tire only to have it flat again in 200 yards.  I checked with Google maps, who said we were 2 miles from the hotel (a 40 minute walk) and said, "we're walking it in.  We have plenty of time and I can't stand another flat."  Roger didn't think that was such a great idea, but honestly, I thought we'd do better than 20 minutes a mile and I was already walking.  He followed me with the bike.  Well, sure enough, it was 40 minutes, damn it!  We arrived in the parking lot just before 1:00 am (the cut-off was 2:00) and found the van.  The guy sleeping in the van put the tandem on the roof, and we retrieved our bag, and we headed into the casino to get our room.

Now since we had not understood that we'd be spending the night, we only had "riding home in the car clothes" with us, but a T shirt will do double duty as jammies and so we showered, brushed our teeth (I had brought a little travel tube of toothpaste and a brush with us just in case) and hit the sack.  What a fabulous bed!  Of course, it might have been awful.  How would we have known?  We were so tired we could have slept on stone.

No danger of that, though.  We actually had a suite on the top floor of the hotel.  I guess the clerk checking us in took pity on us.  It had a living room, kitchenette, huge bath, three TVs (including one in the bathroom.)  It's a pity we only spent 5 hours there before getting up, getting some breakfast and meeting the group in the parking lot for our ride home.

So there you have it.  Even with 70+ miles of uphill, four flats and virtually no food, we made it in time.  I suggested that it would be okay with me if we stopped our pursuit at this one.  Roger asked that we just wait a couple of days before making that decision, and so on Tuesday or Wednesday I agreed that we could register for the 400 K in Arizona.  This one, he said, would be more suited to the tandem - not such long climbs.  Well, we'll see.  So Friday found us driving to Phoenix for the next brevet.  More on that later!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Backlog of Results

There's an old saw about how "good girls keep diaries . . .  bad girls don't have the time."  Well, I don't think I qualify as a "bad girl" but I have been a busy girl, so I am way behind on posting the results of our recent brevets.

No need to keep anyone guessing - we have successfully finished both our second attempt at the 300 K and the 400 K, and we've now registered for the 600 K.  Whew!  With that out of the way, I'll back up a bit and fill in the blanks.

First, a few photos from the "one that got away."  We attempted the 300 K Five Rivers brevet through LA and Orange County in early February.  Here we are at the start - everyone "glowing" in their reflective gear.
Russell Cammel and Steve Workman from our RWBTC cycling club with Roger before the start
We have ridden the Santa Ana River Trail along the Santa Ana River many times.  Here's an early morning shot as we approached the first crossing.
River Number One:  The Santa Ana, in one of the more scenic "restored" segments.
From the coast, we traveled north until we reached the San Gabriel River.  We traveled up that all the way to Duarte, I think.  Our second control was about at mile 80, and despite my best efforts to convince Roger that we could stop for "just a bit" somewhere along the way, we pretty much rolled onward until we go there.  This made for a roughly 50 mile stretch with no relief.  The control itself was a no-name stop-and-go next door to a non-descript pizza joint.  So we had a slice and rested a bit and then were on our way.  Portions of the San Gabriel River are very nice.  And then, there's the part where you are riding past the barrios where the guys are raising cocks for fighting.  Sigh.
One of the nicer parts of the San Gabriel River Trail, on River Number Two
After our stop, we returned to the trail and back-traced our route to a junction with the Rio Hondo River Trail.  This was a hoot!  There are some nice stretches of trail, but not much in the way of "river" on this one.  Here's a shot in the connecting stretch from San Gabriel to Rio Hondo.  

And, a nice shot of our friends, who enjoyed the benefits of riding the tandem train for many miles before leaving us (around mile 120 or so, at Long Beach).

Steve in the rear-view mirror
"River" Number Three:  The Rio Hondo

The Rio Hondo, like most LA rivers, has been charted into channels like what you see below.  In some cases, we're now breaking up the concrete, and attempting to return the river to some semblance of nature.  I far prefer those portions, where it's possible to observe lots of birds and, even at 18 or 20 miles an hour, identify species.  It gives me something to do as the miles churn by!

From the Rio Hondo, we connected to the Los Angeles River.  How about that shot of the confluence of the Rio Hondo and Los Angeles Rivers!?
I have to believe this could be thrilling to see in a heavy rainstorm, but otherwise -- not so much!

We took the LA River Trail back out to the coast, and then headed south to Long Beach for the next control.  In the meanwhile, nice views of the port and the Queen Mary.

River Number Four:  There actually is water in the LA River as you approach the coast.

Port of Long Beach

The Queen Mary
We arrived at the control right as the Mardi Gras parade was winding through the shopping and eating center.  By this point, I was ready for something "real" to eat.  Our friends seemed to be capable of going without any food, but they did join us for a bite and then, at our urging, headed on.  I was seriously ready to drop the pace a bit, and thankfully Roger was getting tired and okay with that.

Folks in the Mardi Gras parade seemed to be having a good time.

From this point, Roger's left side became increasingly weak.  We did not actually identify it at first - I just kept saying "why are you riding so close to the white line?"  This was annoying him, but it scared me and I couldn't see why he didn't move to the right.  As it was, his right side was dominating, and with the increased pressure from that side, we just kept drifting to the left.

We had some trouble following the route slip around the highway interchange near Balboa, but eventually found the bike trail and road above the back bay.  The sun was setting as we road above the bay - it was very pretty but I guess I didn't take any pictures.  From this point in, the route was known to us.  We just (just!) had to go back up the Peters Canyon Trail, head up Santiago, cross back over to the SART, and then retrace our steps to the start.  But it was not to be.
Along San Diego Creek, the Fifth and Final "River" of the route.
We wound along the trail for some time, stopping often to rest and, finally, somewhere out there in Orange County, stopping at a control and having a nice bowl at Chipotle.  This was heaven to me!  Real food!  After that point, we probably stopped every couple of miles.

We climbed up Santiago, and were there at the Chevron station where our group has stopped many times when Roger decided he was ready to quit.  I had no problem with that decision, as I had been growing increasingly concerned about the descent that awaited us on the way back to the Santa Ana River Trail.  I did not relish the thought of doing that with Roger being so out of it.

So, with help from our friend Steve, we were able to retrieve the car and head for home.  We phoned in that we were abandoning so the organizer would not have to sit around until 2 am waiting to see if we arrived.  No one came by to rip off our numbers, though!  So at least we got that going for us.