Friday, June 30, 2006


In regards to the article in the New York Times about the 100 Car Study and how so many crashes are due to distracted driving, today yields two relevant items.

First, in the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times there is an item about a hung jury in a homicide case. The particulars of the case?
Sorum was driving down Hope Road near his hometown of Cottage Grove on June 30, 2005, when his car struck and killed Jessica Bullen, 29, who was on a bicycle. Sorum told jurors he was suffering from strep throat and felt he had something lodged in his throat. He testified that he took his eyes off the road, opened his mouth and looked into the rear-view mirror to see what the problem was.

Before he looked back to the road, he struck the rear of Bullen's bicycle. Although she was wearing a helmet, Bullen suffered a severe head injury and died July 3.
Of course, such things are to be expected:
In closing arguments to jurors on Wednesday and in an interview today, defense attorney Stephen Eisenberg said: "This was just an accident."

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society just published a study showing that drivers talking on cell phones are just as likely to get into crashes as drunk drivers even if they are using a hands-free phone. A Detroit Free-Press article covers it, as do many others.
While many consider holding a cell phone to be a distraction, it is the actual conversation that distracts the driver, according to the researchers.

"These people reduce efficiency on the highway system," Drews said.

Those who talk on cell phones while driving are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident than undistracted drivers, the study found.

It's not like this is an isolated problem:
At any given moment during the day, 10% of drivers on U.S. roads are gabbing away on their wireless devices, according to a 2005 estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Don't worry, though, if you get mown down by one of these phone-impaired drivers, it'll just be "an accident".

You can read the actual study here. I like that the name of the PDF file is "celldrunk.pdf".

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

100 Cars Study

The New York Times ran an article June 18 entitled The In Car Camera Never Blinks, But Viewers Might. These are the opening paragraphs:
The screams and gasps were just what one might expect from an audience watching a horror movie, but the scenes on the screen were slices of everyday life: real-world traffic accidents in progress, seen in footage recorded inside the ill-fated cars as part of a study of driver attention patterns.

Playing on a digital screen, and eliciting alarm from a crowd of experts here for a conference on auto telematics, were some of the 82 crashes — and almost 10 times as many near misses — recorded during a yearlong research project by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Va. The goal of the study was to collect the kind of information that does not usually turn up in accident reports, insurance claims or other types of after-the-fact data gathering. It found that driver inattention was the overwhelming cause of the crashes in the study.

The study, in brief, place multiple cameras and recording devices in 100 cars in northern Virginia for 13 months and recorded every last mile they drove. That's 100 cars, 13 months, 42,300 hours of driving, 241 drivers, nearly 2,000,000 miles. During that time, the following data set was generated (according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute press release):

  • 15 police-reported and 67 non-police reported crashes. Crashes were defined as any physical contact between the subject vehicle and another vehicle, pedestrian, or object, including low impact events, such as striking curbs and parking blocks.

  • 761 near-crashes (situations requiring a rapid, severe evasive maneuver to avoid a crash).

  • 8,295 incidents (situations requiring an evasive maneuver occurring at less magnitude than a near-crash).

  • Nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes involved driver inattention, just prior (within 3 seconds) to the onset of the conflict.

  • In addition, the study showed that total crash involvement may be over five times higher than police reported crashes.

I work for an insurance company, and this is a startling set of numbers. You take 100 cars and in 13 months get over 9,100 "incidents"? Ninety-one per car? Seven a month? I think how often I have a driving experience that causes my adrenalin to flow. Hardly ever. I look at our hundreds of thousands of cars insured and wonder about all the near-misses going on out there.

The main cause of all this? Inattention. Back to the Times article:
In some cases, drivers who had ample warning to take evasive and preventive action failed to do so because they were distracted or drowsy. Analysis of the data found that in nearly 80 percent of actual crashes and 65 percent of near crashes, the driver was inattentive in some way within three seconds beforehand. In rear-end collisions, the drivers were distracted 93 percent of the time.

The study found that drivers were overconfident or very poor at predicting when it was safe to look away from the road to perform another task. Driving situations can change abruptly, but many drivers seem to be lured into thinking the world outside the moving car can be put on hold while they pay attention to other things.
Care to guess what were the worst diversions? You, in the back, did you say cellphones?
One of the distracting activities noted most often was what Dr. Hankey called a "complex multistep, multiglance secondary task," like pushing buttons on a cellphone or similar device. More than 22 percent of the crashes and near crashes involved that kind of distraction. Young drivers in the study were far more likely to be distracted by such tasks.

This might sound familiar. Read Atlanta By Bike's experience just a couple of days before this article came out.

So why do I run this in a bike blog?
An Unfortunate Incident

We're sharing the road with these folks, who I've referred to as Buffalo before, big, fast, heavy, ubiquitous, usually somewhere between cheerfully oblivious and actively stupid and therefore dangerous even without malicious intent. That last bit about young people being particularly susceptible to distraction rings true; recall that the person next to me at work had her 16-year-old daughter total the family Camry into one of our parking lot lightpoles last summer, and that our beloved Avalon has twice been clobbered in perfect conditions by 20-year-old females. Teenagers really really hate to be told by boring old middle-aged people that they're shitty drivers, but they are, and we've got forty years of loss experience to prove it. Maybe what this study shows is that they're not so much shitty as they are shittier, that the whole population (and the study's drivers aged 18-73) pretty much suck.

Us cyclists need to be wary of these Buffalo. We can ride with lights and reflectors, wear bright clothing, stay to the right, use approved hand signals, floss daily and keep our shoes shined but all it takes is some twit with a cell phone and a 4,000 pound car a few seconds before there's a horrible incident and the obligatory follow-up to the cop as the ambulance carries away the remains, "I didn't even see him."

Be careful out there.

PS The photo? Yep, that's me! I should have worn a helmet! This picture might be more convincing if I'd taken my glasses off. Despite its initial drama, it is actually me lying carefully next to a Cherry Icee that my buddy Paul ran over when parking a rental Camry in San Antonio in 2003. I lay down and looked dead (see the tongue hanging out? I'm a regular Laurence Olivier!) and his wife Anne took the photo.

PPS the deeply interested can read the 924 Meg PDF about the study available here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Paul's Ride Home

Paul made it safely home to Cedar Rapids. He writes about the trip below, with a few comments by me to clarify things:

I don't need Stainless Steel tools, [I'd emailed Paul a link to Steritool telling him he needs some $20-each stainless steel allen wrenches] but I do need to take a full length 5 mm allen wrench on tour. I tried to move my seat forward and the bolt was so tight I could not move it with the short wrench on my mini tool. I stopped at a nice bike shop near Fountain City, WI and borrowed a wrench. More on that later.

Like it or not, here is a stroke by stroke report of my trip home. I ended up riding all the way home rather than stopping at the Scout camp. I'm glad I rode home since it would have been no fun sitting wet and tired through the night's events. The route I took was 452 km (280 miles) long at an average speed of 24 kph (14.9 mph). Of course, that distance does not include the St Paul to south of Prescott distance, which would add almost 40 miles, I would guess. My route was WI 35 to La Crosse, where I stayed overnight, cross the Mississippi, Highway 26 to Lansing, lots o' hilly back roads to Elkader, where I stayed Tuesday night, then more hills to Manchester, then flat back roads to Cedar Rapids Wednesday. My average speed was close to what I expected. I plan for 25 kph average on a tour like this if there is no wind. On Monday I had a tailwind, but headwinds on Tuesday and Wednesday for a net +1 headwind-days. Also, I was taking it real easy on the hills onacounta my knee. I'd just jam it in my lowest gear (34 x 28 or 32 inch) and spin up the hills. I made it home, but my knee still hurts.

Overall, I think the St Paul-Winona-Decorah-Cedar Rapids route is better simply because is it shorter and no less scenic. However, I'm glad I rode this new route since I have never ridden most of these roads before.

You know the WI 35 route well so I won't spend too much time describing it. I paid careful attention to the North slope of the Bay City hill and it is no wonder I did not remember it before the Three Speed Tour. The steepest part is a little bit of 5% grade, with some 4%, a lot of 3%, and a lot of 1 and 2%. I would guess it averages 3% or less. By the time I got to that hill, my knee was warmed up and it didn't hurt very much.

After eating soup and ice cream in Nelson, my next stop was at that bike shop a little bit South of Fountain City. The place is owned by a 30-something road racer so it has a disproportionately large inventory of road bike stuff. He was in the Men's Amateur race at Stillwater on Sunday. He has a pair of fat sew ups (Del Mundo size, but cotton not silk) [Paul's referring here to Clement Campionato Del Mundo Seta 290g silk sew-ups, which I toured on in 1980 and were considered kind of heavy] that I almost bought but I didn't want to carry them home and I don't need tires. Maybe if he is still in business next year I'll buy them.

South of Winona Rt 35 starts stair stepping East and South on flat but busy roads. At Trempealeau I saw the trailhead of the Great River Off-Road Trail and decided to give it a try. It's crushed rock but definitely rideable with my 23 mm tires. Maybe after a good rain it would be muddy, but on Monday it was fine. It was an exception to my bad luck with bike trails. My only problem was that I got off too soon because I did not know where I was once I got to what I thought was the end of the trail.

La Crosse was uneventful. I didn't go on the brewery tour rather choosing to ice my knee and take drugs. I tried to buy some of the local brew, but I could not find it in a quantity less than a 12 pack. Not wanting to spend the next day hung over, I settled for a 24 oz Miller instead.

The weather forecast for Tuesday did not look good; SE winds and thunderstorms, possibly severe. Crossing the river I picked up Rt 26 south out of La Crescent. Hwy 26 is a really nice road; scenic, no big hills, not much traffic. When I got to Iowa I was afraid that the road would turn to crap because the state roads in Iowa tend to be the worst. I crossed into Iowa and immediately rode into New Albin. Sure enough, the road was bad. But it turned out that it was just the city streets. Once I got out to the state-maintained road, it was very nice. Rt 26 from New Albin to Lansing is a state scenic road so I think the state has spent some money to repave those roads.

In Lansing I stopped for some breakfast and tried to find out about the weather. When I was eating, it started to rain lightly. After I was done eating, the rain let up a bit. I walked over to the Bank across the street to see if the would let me look at the radar on the internet. They had a DTN terminal for public use. The radar showed solid light rain all the way West to Mason City, but nothing severe. Down in Clayton county it looked clear. If I got going (or if I had not spent so much time in Lansing) I might be able to miss it. About three miles down county X42, just as I was beginning the climb out of the Mississippi river valley, it started to sprinkle. By the time I got out of the valley, it was a steady rain, and I was soaked. Still, I was warm enough and my knee felt OK. But it kept raining harder and harder. The worst was when I was crossing the Yellow River on X26. It's a steep descent (9% in sections) and the wind was gusty. I almost lost it going down.

By the time I got to Monona I was just crawling down the road, it was raining, and my knee hurt. The only place I could find to eat in Monona was a greasy spoon that only served hot dogs and hamburgers. My goal for the day was Elkader, but I was not sure if I was going to make it there. But for some reason when I left Monona I felt much better. I guess it was the chili dog I ate. I had to ride about 2 miles on Hwy 18 which really, really sucks. One truck would not move over to pass me; he just blew his horn. That was the first time in a long time I have had to take the (unpaved) shoulder.

The rest of the way to Elkader was uneventful, but slow The rain let up but the wind picked up. I did see the max grade (10%) on my trip South when I rode through St Olaf. By the time I got to Elkaker I was ready to stop.

Wednesday's forecast was rain and SW winds; another fun day in the saddle. No wonder this bicycle touring thing hasn't really caught on. When I started riding at 5:30 it was already windy. That sucks. Plus, I had to start the day with some big hills. It seems that if I can get my knee warmed up slowly, it does not hurt too bad. There is no chance of doing that around Elkader. I rode down through Littleport which is quite a lovely ride except for the knee and the headwind. At least it had not started to rain yet.

I made it all the way to Manchester before the rain caught me. A brief downpour that stopped just as I got to a cafe for breakfast. I ate, and got about 4 miles out of town before it started raining again. Rained all the way to Cedar Rapids. I rode the whole stretch non-stop; I just wanted to get home.

Not the best trip I have ever had, but it could have been worse. I didn't get hurt and my knee held up OK. My knee feels much better today and I think a week off the bike is all it needs. Next year I'm going to get more miles in before this trip.



If you have an interest in riding the Great River Road in Wisconsin, you might want to look at these maps which have detailed instructions, distances and hills. The complete map is 3.8 Meg, or you can do it by sections.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Five More Days of Bikes

I volunteered at some of the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival/Nature Valley Grand Prix races this past week. Last year I carried along a digital camera and wove my experiences around that. This year, my son Henry took the camera with him Friday on a Minnesota Boychoir trip to New York City and I ended up using film, so it'll be a bit before my pictures will be done. So, you get mostly text, lots of it. Lucky you.

Wednesday June 14
Saint Paul Time Trials

My old friend Paul rode up from Iowa to volunteer just like he did last year. His departure was delayed a day as he got food poisoning from some loose meat sandwiches at a hospital food day, go figure, so Tuesday night found him in Alma, Wisconsin. He called to say he'd meet me at the Time Trial course in downtown about 2:30.

Paul had an interesting ride in. I'd scouted the way in from Prescott a couple of weeks ago and even left him a Twin Cities Bike Map, one of the old ones without all the detail in the outer 'burbs (you want the one with the Light Rail on the front cover, it's in all the local bike stores). He did fine until the end of Military Road when he turned too soon onto Sterling Road rather than go down the big hill to Point Douglas Road. I'd never seen or heard of this road, but weirdly, it dead-ends into the top of a ski-jump area next to I-494. There was a gravel road next to the this and Paul thought, Aha, that must be the bike trail. He headed down onto what proved to be a terrifying, death-defying plunge locking up his rear brake and fighting to keep control. The road, a service path for the ski jumps, apparently, dead-ends at the bottom, and he had to walk the bike back up. He went through a hole in a fence into a park, saw a woman walking who directed him towards a road, and eventually found his way down to Point Douglas Road and into town. When he described this to me I couldn't tell what he was talking about, not knowing we even had ski jumps on the east side.

We did some setup. This mostly involved moving fencing and putting up banners. We were both hungry and had a turkey burger from the Birchwood Cafe who had a food booth set up, but they couldn't serve beer, so we rode up to the Eagle Street Grille. It was Happy Hour, 3-6, and so we ordered a beer and drank it, then ordered another. At 6:03PM the waitress brought us the tab, and the first beers were half price and the second ones full price. I pointed out that it was 6:03 but that the tab said it was 6:23. She blithely informed us that the registers run on bar time, 15 minutes fast, that all bars do it, and happy hour is over at 6:00 bar time. There is, it is worth noting, no clock in the place showing this so-called Bar Time, and her register had printed 6:23 when it was 6:03, which is 20 minutes fast, not 15. I pointed out that we had just finished the beers and almost certainly ordered them prior to 6:00 even on this alleged Bar Time. No dice. We paid and as we left shook the dust of the place off our feet. We'd enjoyed the joint last year, when we ate there, and were happy to get a beer this year, but this kind of bullshit is what keeps me away from places. I will not be returning to the Eagle Street Grill and I would suggest to anyone there that they confirm what "Bar Time" is when they order. Sheesh. (Also check their math: the Summit Pale Ales were $4.25 full price, $2.25 half price, which I would think ought to be $2.13, they can't tell time or do math, but what do I know, I just work with a bunch of actuaries).

We went back down the hill to the races. There were plenty of course marshalls about and we'd had beers and Paul had ridden from Alma so we just watched for a while. Last year the pacing of the Time Trials was pretty stately and they took up a lot of the day with a big lull in the late afternoon. This year they tightened things up; the racers went out at 30 second intervals so that it was pretty common for one to overtake the next racer ahead and there was a pretty constant flow of cyclists going by.
Kodak rider at start
Here's a Kodak racer in the starting ramp. They get all clipped in and the guy behind supports the bike while the other guy does a countdown. I liked the colorful Kodak uniforms.

Rider starts out with motorcycle
Here's a guy taking off. He must be good or something as the video motorcycle is coming out after him.

Bianchi racer accelerating at the start
A Bianchi rider accelerating at the start. One of the nice things about bicycle races from a spectator's point of view is how close to the action you can get. Another nice thing is that you can cross and move up and down the course. Paul and I rode down to the turnaround to watch from there for a bit.

Two riders at turn
Here a couple of riders are at the turnaround. This wasn't common last year, when the riders were more spaced out, but with the 30-second intervals it happened more often.

Four riders on course
Here you can pick out four riders on the course; there are two coming towards the turnaround, one under the light pole heading back and one in the distance directly under the locomotive headlights. This kind of rider density made the time trial more interesting to watch.

Overtaking at the turn
Sometimes the overtake took place right by the turnaround. The bikes with a solid rear wheel made a sort of whoomp-whoomp-whoomp sound as the riders powered away from the turnaround back towards the finish line.

Empty barges moored alongside course
The course runs right by the Mississippi, very much a working river around downtown Saint Paul and downstream. Here is a view into some empty barges moored along the way.

My bike and incoming racer at finish
Here comes a guy at the finish. His bike is all light and whippy, mine is the red beast in the foreground. It's not in final form yet, but you can see the Topeak rear basket with bag in it and the eight-speed Nexus hub. These are different conceptions of cycling.

When the races were over we figured we'd better get moving or we'd end up tearing down as well, and we rode home.

Thursday June 15
Cannon Falls Road Race

We didn't volunteer for the Cannon Falls race, but decided to go watch it, after spending the day touring oddball bicycle shops of the Twin Cities. Sibley we left to later, Express Cyclery was closed still, but we hit up the Hub Bicycle Coop on Minnehaha and Lake (where Paul bought his Xtracycle a couple of years ago), Sunrise Cyclery, a pretty filthy Mexican restaurant on Lake near Sunrise, Hiawatha Cyclery where we met Jim's 13-month-old daughter and I bought his in-stock Swiss-made Esge two-legged kickstand, boring old Penn Cycles on Lake, racing-oriented Flanders Brothers and then, for my first time, One on One Bicycle Studio. I figured that being middle-aged and having driven there (Paul had stressed his left knee pretty badly and we didn't really ride at all once we were in from Wednesday's volunteer work) we might be at big risk for scorn and humiliation, but in fact the guys were pretty nice. Paul bought a long-sleeved wool jersey, I ordered a NOB and we spent some time rooting around in the basement. There was some total crap down there and some very cool old stuff. I may write about it later.

We got home, had a quick tea, and left for Cannon Falls. We were going to miss the start of the race so decided to go and catch them out on the course, which I had highlighted in my DeLorme Gazetteer. Here's a map of the route, scanned from my DeLorme. If you click on it, you'll get a big version on which I have marked the positions where we watched the racers out on the course. (A careful examination will reveal that there is a conflict between the race map and the DeLorme on the gravel bit's road number--my DeLorme is a 1994 edition and the road number has changed since then).
Cannon Falls Road Race course
We went south of Cannon Falls a bit, took a gravel road over to the Highway 25 part of the course and popped up wondering if we were ahead or behind the race. We quickly caught up to a Highway Patrol car and figured it was the rear of the race, so head down some more gravel and went to the turn we were most interested in, where the race went off the paved roads and onto a gravel road. We parked the car and got out with the cameras in hand (for you photo nerds, a Nikon FE with Ektachrome slide film I'm going to have processed using old Kodak PK-36 mailers). I had my motor on the camera and fired away. Nobody crashed, which would have made a dramatic photo but I am glad, it would have hurt a lot. Used as I am to seeing instantly how photos come out, using film again is feeling distinctly old-school though I do love the instant response of the Nikons.

Once the race had gone by, and they were already strung out over more than 5 minutes, we dashed off back down Highway 8 to Highway 1, then east to the 51/1 intersection. Here the race came down County 51 and turned east onto Highway 1. These poor buggers, the wind was directly out of the south at 20+ mph gusting to God knows what, and they had to come laboring down his long hill, across some flats and then turn east. They looked really tired. Headwinds like that would just about blow me whimpering to a stop. The race was now strung out over eight minutes and a final small group came by drafting a non-race related car. I don't blame them.

Racers turn east onto Highway 1
Here some racers come into the turn onto eastbound Highway 1. You can see another clot of racers back up the road. Paul took this with my daughter's digital camera, I was taking slides on a motor-driven Nikon FE.

We went off again, south along some gravel and then paved roads and to the intersection of Highways 8 & 9. Here the race would have a bit of tailwind as they came west and a ton of it as they turned north and disappeared down a steep hill. We parked the car and talked to a guy on the corner who'd been drafted by the official policeman to course-marshall Highway 8 from the south when the race came by. It took a while before they showed up, lugging up a long hill, around the corner and then I can just imagine the relief as they feel the wind at their back and start down the hill. A respite!

When these guys had all or at least mostly gone through, we left that corner and went west on 9 and then back up 52 into Cannon Falls to watch the circuit which finished off the race. We saw the men go by and caught the very end of the race. We stood right by the finish line and awaited the women, who had gone off half an hour after the men and were out there somewhere. They showed up and did their circuits and we watched the end of their race and then retired to a bar and grill for a burger and beer, stopping only to get a volunteer goodie bag which we had missed last night in Saint Paul. This bar, by the way, had a clock and was running five minutes fast for Bar Time. Done, we headed home.

Friday June 16
Minneapolis Criterium

Friday was a loooong day. Henry had to be at the airport at 4:30AM to get the plane to New York, another parent was picking him up at 3:50 and so we rustled him out of bed at just after 3:00AM. I'm not an early riser in the best of circumstances. Once he'd left, Karla and I enjoyed our second cup of tea in the quiet of the moonlit backyard. The paper showed up. We went back to bed for a bit, but then were up again by 6 and got up Paul and Geneva and went to the Day by Day Cafe on West 7th for the Very Early Bird Special (half price if you order by 7:00)(unclear if there is a Restaurant Time). I'd built a cedar garden border and we spent the morning at home digging up some grass, putting this in place, mixing the soil for it and putting it in, and cleaning up. Lunch came and went and we got ready for downtown. I thought we might end up wet, so took a goofy hat and rain poncho. Paul thought we'd be dry enough. We caught the bus downtown and showed up about 3:00. I hadn't ever actually gotten an email telling me what to do but figured if we set up, course-marshalled and tore down I'd probably catch my shift. We checked in, got t-shirts, ear plugs and yellow safety vests and got to work.

We soon found the white fencing truck. We did a bunch of work with this fencing last year at Minneapolis and Stillwater so know how to do it. A guy named Brian is in charge of it and we spent a couple of hours setting up fencing around the course area. I keep forgetting how many very nicely-dressed young attractive people there are working downtown. I used to be one of them except I wasn't all that attractive. We set the fencing up on the curbs to start with; the road closure permit runs only from 6 to 10, so we get it in place then move it at 6:00. That's the plan, anyway.

At about 5, setup was as complete as could be and we were hungry so we went to Chipotle, washed up and ordered burritos. It was early for dinner and we got the bar stools along the windows onto Nicollet Mall. We ate away while outside it got darker and darker and lightning began to flash. You know, I said, I think it's going to rain. Paul kept our seats while I ran down to the Caribou tent to get a couple of free ice cream cones, then came back just before the rain began to fall.

We had a great view, and we felt pretty smug about it. We watched the restaurant next door pulling in all their stuff, there was going to be no outdoor dining tonight! The tents all lowered their legs and the people held onto them as the wind picked up. Then it began to rain and blow hard and soon it looked like hurricane footage and the Culligan Water tent blew inside out and ripped up the frame and a couple of others tried to overturn and there were people huddled along the front of Chipotle from the rain then the hail started and it didn't hail for the normal 1 minute but went on for five or more minutes, not very big, mostly, but lots of it and it was shredding decorative flower plantings and stacking up in the chairs and more and more people piled into Chipotle out of the onslaught. Lighting was flashing, the hail dwindled, the rain kept lashing down as water ran curb-deep down the street. We sat warm and dry thinking, wow, that looks bad, glad I'm not out there.

A little after 6, the rain having dissipated and the hail mostly melted, except where it had drifted, we went to the volunteer tent and turned in our yellow safety vests for use while setting up and got orange ones indicating we would be course marshalls. We were issued flags and whistles and sent to the corner of 10th and Marquette. It wasn't too crowded, the bustling crowds of after-work Friday Minneapolis having been dispersed by the storms. The inside part of the corner, my part, was wide open, which wasn't good. I pointed out to a race guy with a radio that I could use another guy on the corner and that the next intersection (11th and Marquette) couldn't see us when we waved our flags if we were controlling pedestrians. He looked at the corner and said it wasn't properly set up, then radioed in for, what, backup? After a few minutes a piece of steel fencing showed up and some Do Not Cross yellow tape and some orange cones to mark the hazards (the handicapped access to the sidewalk corner) so the racers could see them and I had an intersection I could manage.

The women's race started later than scheduled and ran for 30 minutes. The roads were still wet and there were a couple of slides on the wet manhole covers at the start of the turn, but no crashes. I think the racers were taking it carefully. I don't know who won; as fun as it is to see bicycle races, it's tough to know what's going on out in the course. I wish they could work with a radio station to broadcast what was happening during the race so those of us away from the Start/Finish line could hear what was happening. As it happened, we were only a block away and could make out some of the commentary from time to time.

The men's race was a confused start. There was a two-minute warning at 7:43, then the announcer at the Start/Finish said it would start at 8:00. One of the guys with radios happened by. There was much animated discussion--people thinking the race was in two minutes, our guy radioing out that the announcer was saying 8:00. There was some urgency as there was another line of storms coming our way. The race ended up being run at 8:00, which is what the racers had been told. Our guy with the radio said that you couldn't run early because the racers had been told 8:00 and if they showed up at 7:55 and the race was already underway, they would be out of the whole Grand Prix.

With darkening skies looming, the men set off at 8:00. Again, they seemed to ride more gingerly than usual, picking their way through the corner. It began to rain. I saw a couple of slips and Paul, across the intersection and thus looking down-course, said one guy rode into the barriers after taking a bad line, but there were no big crashes like last year. It rained more and more heavily and lightning and thunder started booming. I think the racers can stay in the Grand Prix if they complete a minimum number of laps, and they get the time of the slowest rider to complete the race. As the rain really began belting down, the race got slower and a lot of riders withdrew, many through Paul's side of the intersection since we were the first exit after the Finish line. I had put on my poncho but Paul was just in a t-shirt and was starting to shiver as the rain came pelting down and the temperature dropped. For a few minutes the race continued in almost apocalyptic conditions, failing light, pouring rain, booming thunder, wet and cold. The racers went by in a spray of water, hissing through the intersection in a diminishing pack. I was thinking they could use lights in this race and maybe fenders! I believe it was 18 minutes in that the officials decided the conditions were too dangerous and called the race. I heard later that a 45-year-old won it, figuring it was going to get called early and poised in front. We course-marshalled for a few more minutes, keeping the intersection clear as the riders came through and rode to their dispersal areas, then set off back to the volunteer tent. Paul was very wet and cold and shivering badly.

At the volunteer tent we cowered under the canvas. Paul took off his sopping t-shirt and just left it there and put on three of the dry volunteer t shirts and his own tshirt besides. Now he was warm enough. I added my own shirt and another volunteer shirt under my poncho. We turned in the flags and orange vests and switched back to yellow for teardown. I had a feeling they'd be short of teardown people and the streets had to reopen by 10:00.

There's a Target downtown now, so Paul and I sloshed down there and he bought a $5 poncho in the freezing store. We waded back to the Volunteer tent again. I saw the strangely alluring sight of some young ladies in little black dresses with wet hair walking barefoot down the sidewalk. You don't see fetching barefoot women prancing around downtown too often. We stopped by the tent and things seemed a bit disorganized. A lot of volunteers had gone off to get free leftover food at the VIP tent. We set off down Nicollet figuring to find the fencing truck. We didn't see it and were assigned to gather the sandbags together.

By now the rain had picked up into a total deluge again. I felt like an extra in some war movie showing the utter misery of frontline conditions as we worked along across from Brit's, only a few hours ago full of happy drinking fashionable people. I hate carrying sandbags; I'll happily toss white steel fencing around all day long but if I have to bend over a lot to pick stuff up my back goes all stiff. We were working across from some gym where the well-off were walking nowhere on their treadmills and the indigent were cowering under an awning. They probably figured we were getting paid, possibly overtime, not that we were a bunch of middle-class white guys doing this miserable work for free. We had to open up the fencing to allow in an ambulance to help some homeless looking guy lying on the sidewalk, unable to sit up and drenched by the ongoing downpour.

We saw the fencing truck coming up 12th. Hallelujah! It was understaffed, so we happily left our sandbags and went down to the truck and got to work. Our group had enough experience that people didn't need to be told what to do and we gathered the fencing in around the course in the continued deluge. When that was done, we stacked the Finish line framework atop the fencing. We wandered back to the Volunteer tent, now being torn down, and set off to get the Red Bull displays and stunt rider scaffolding in. Now for our moment of fame.

This stuff was at the corner of the WCCO-TV building and they shoot their anchors in front of a window looking out onto Nicollet Mall. It was right before 10, so we loaded the stuff then stood in the rain with a couple of other volunteers and peered over the shoulders of the anchors as the news came on. If you were lucky, you might have seen us, though it would be hard to tell, as we looked like the Complimentary Color Brothers in our yellow and blue ponchos, peering in the window and making profound utterances like "Are we on?". If the evening's endeavours in the storms hadn't already alerted us, we could tell that the weather had been bad because Paul Douglas, the station's weather doofus, had his sleeves rolled up. They were preternaturaly neatly rolled up, like maybe he has them pressed that way at the cleaners and kept in the Stormwatch section of the wardrobe along with the loosened necktie.

Eventually our limited attention spans got the better of us and we wandered off. Our media-whoring had caused us to miss the last bus, so I called Karla to come and get us, to meet us at 1st Avenue and 5th Street. There were still hay bales to gather and I don't know who looked after the sandbags, but we'd been on since 3:00 and someone else could finish up. We walked through downtown to the meeting point, the rain diminishing to a slow drip so that the cool Club-going crowd was out now, dressed (or in some cases undressed) to the nines for a night of partying while Paul and I looked like the retreat from the Marne squishing our soggy way through downtown.

That's three years in a row now the Friday Criterium has been affected by rain, though last year it was at least before the races and the course was dry and the weather beautiful by the time the men raced. Two years ago I'd spent a wet and anxious hour at 11th and Marquette during a colossal thunderstorm that delayed the race starts. One of these years they'll have great weather and huge crowds. I'm still bringing my poncho, though.

Saturday June 17
Mankato Road Race

We didn't go. With the 3:00AM start to Friday and all the setup I didn't even wake up until 9:00. We all had breakfast and Paul and I went off to hit up Sibley Bike Depot and Express Cycles. Sibley, where I got my red Schwinn, was way down in inventory. Express Cyclery seems overpriced for what they're selling (all used bikes) and I don't think that I have ever bought anything there. My record remains intact. We went back to One on One to check out a couple of German 3-speeds dating from the late 1950s. Paul, who is of German extraction, was thinking this would be great for the next Three Speed Tour, he and his wife Anne on matched 1950s German bikes in Lederhosen, or perhaps Wermacht uniforms. We went down to look at the bikes in the gallery's dank basement and there were a couple of gay guys admiring the bikes. Oooo, look, they're so cute, and they're three speeds, said one in a mincing voice. Man, I thought, this is going to blow if these two pick up the bikes for a song. One of the guys went upstairs to ask how much they were and the guy from the store came down. Not for sale yet, he said, but they'll be expensive, and they would only sell as a pair. The gay guys moved on to other candidates and Paul and I reexamined the bikes, which we'd admired on Thursday.

They were Rabeneicks, not a brand I've ever heard of. Sturmey Archer hubs, an AM medium-range hub on the men's bike (rather than the common-as-dirt AW wide range, introduced in 1936) and the oddball SW on the women's. Later reading showed that the SW means Super Wide, had a bit bigger range than the AW, and a different mechanism which, in the words of one reviewer, shifted like a garbage truck. It was withdrawn after 3 years and the AW, which it was intended to replace, carried on in production. The women's frame had a small cylindrical tool box welded to the frame with a dogbone wrench in it. Both bikes had small Bakelite handgrips, dynamo lights, pumps, kickstands and little R hood ornaments on the front fenders. They were really cool. The hubs were 1956 (AM) and 1957 (SW, its first year), so these were late-50s bikes.

Upstairs, we had a coffee and pored over The Golden Age of Handmade Bicycles and I picked up the NOB I'd ordered Thursday. This book was alluring enough that, even with feeding the meter for the pickup, which I'd brought on the off-chance Paul bought these bikes, it expired and I got a $34 parking ticket. Grrrr.

Home again, we installed the Esge kickstand on the Schwinn. I love these kickstands and have one on my Marin. The Schwinn installation is very clean as this frame is nerdy enough to have a kickstand plate, so I didn't have to use the Esge clamp. It did necessitate a run over to the hardware store for a short stainless steel M10 bolt and a couple of tries at getting the leg length right but now I have two legs on my Schwinn. I also mounted the NOB on the left fork blade and put the Shimano dynamo-driven headlight down there, freeing up room on the handlebars. With the chainguard we'd put on Thursday the bike now looks, well, completely dorky. As Paul said, it's no poser's bike!

Sunday June 18
Stillwater Criterium

I was scheduled to show up at 1:00 in Stillwater for Course Marshalling and probably teardown. For all the work this five-day event involves and the thousand or so volunteers who help, it's not always as clear as it should be to the volunteers what to do. Paul and I went to Saint John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church on the way out, a cute and surprisingly busy church in White Bear Lake. We drove through Macdonalds, went out on Highway 96, parked and showed up at the Volunteer Tent at 12:30. They were short of people, especially Course Marshalls, and were in desperate need of bodies on Chilkoot Hill, a short but extremely steep climb with no fencing. The guy who organizes this and the Mankato races saw us and told the volunteer lady, send Matt and Paul, they know what they're doing, so off we went, with our flags, orange vests and whistles and scaled the hill to take up our positions.

Chilkoot Hill is a bastard, it has a 24% grade. This is pretty brutal, especially for the Midwest, and would even make the top 10 steepest hills in San Francisco judging by this list. The Stillwater race, another criterium, runs up this thing probably 10-14 times (the women's race is 10 minutes shorter so they are spared a couple of climbs relative to the men). From a spectator standpoint, it's pretty good as it's shaded, you're close to the action and even the fastest of the racers grinds slowly up so you get a really good look at them in contrast to the peloton flashing past at 30mph.

This went well. The weather was perfect, maybe 80-85 and sunny with gentle breezes and puffy clouds. The amateurs went first, then the women, the the Pro/Elite men. The crowds were generally well-behaved, the races got very spread out and a lot of riders got lapped and pulled from the race. One guy fell over right in front of me and had to be pushed uphill to get going again. These guys ought to try some lower gears, they were suffering. The finish line is at the top of the hill, so there was that final agonizing sprint to the top of this grind of a hill and the races were over.

We did the usual finishing routine--walk down the hill, have a drink, start taking down sponsor banners while the awards ceremonies took place, then to the fencing truck and take up all the white steel fencing around the course. One of the passing clouds got dark and there was a brief thunderstorm and rain shower, but it quickly passed and was as nothing compared to Friday's deluge. After an hour or so all the white fencing was in, the finish line gantry loaded, and we were done. We turned in our yellow teardown safety vests, had a beer, got a couple of goodie bags (we'd missed Friday's) and went home.

Monday June 19
Paul's Departure

The usual routine, up at six, to Day by Day for the Very Early Bird Special, and I drove Paul out past Prescott to start home. Last year I dropped him off right in Prescott, but the major hills on Wisconsin 35 happen in the first 10 miles out of town, so I took him past those, nearly to the County E intersection. This was because his left knee had been bothering him all week (he'd been icing it down with a bag of frozen peas and popping Advils) and I thought the best thing to do was start out in the flats with only the long but modest Bay City Hill to climb. He'd be three days getting home, the last thing he needed to do was screw up his knee in the first ten miles.

At 8:35 Paul set off southbound aiming for LaCrosse that evening. I headed back to the Cities, stopping home at 9:20 or so to change and then to work by 10:00. Another year's races done with.

Why do we do this? It's five days of bikes bikes bikes which, when you like bikes, is pretty fun. We also drink beer and cook out and did some needed gardening and just hung out. I don't actually care a lot about the sport of bike racing, I couldn't name more than maybe two of the racers from this past week, but it makes a fun event to hang other bikey stuff around. Last year it was the Atlantis buildout, this year it was the tour of offbeat bike shops and further tweaking of the Schwinn. Because Paul was resting his knee for the return trip, we didn't actually ride at all after coming home Wednesday night. I also don't mind the work; the white fencing in particular is something that all the races use and which I've done two years in a row now, so know how to do. It's kind of fun for a desk jockey like me to go out and toss around fencing for a couple of days, sore arms aren't something I get to experience in my daily work. Just keep me away from the sandbags! The course-marshalling is also pretty good, a good view and plenty of interaction with people, which I don't mind at all.

Karla reminded me of something I'd said when she asked me about why Paul would do this, why would he ride up here to work like a dog for several days? She said I responded "Oh, Paul's always up for a bad time". On the face of it, working nights like Friday moving fencing in an unbelievable downpour doesn't sound like a great time, but it's a bonding experience. I wouldn't even say male bonding, because there were several women out there in the rain working away as well. And as they say, of those to whom much is given, much is expected. We are blessed with decades of fun on bicycles, good health, the flexibility to get the time off and the attitude that hard work shared with old friends can be enjoyable. It's also a great time of year to be outside doing stuff. You should consider joining in next year.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Britain Embraces the Bicycle

The Independent has an article today headlined "Revolution! Britain Embraces the Bicycle". You can read it here.

Here are a couple of snippets:
Britain is in the grip of a cycling revolution as clogged roads, concern at global warming caused by air pollution and the quest for improved fitness persuade millions to opt for pedal power.

After a decade of stagnation in the number of bicycle journeys, new figures show there has been a dramatic leap in commuters and leisure cyclists focused on Britain's cities and the burgeoning network of cycle routes. In London, trips by bike have increased by 50 per cent in five years to 450,000 per day while figures obtained by The Independent show use of the National Cycle Network, covering 10,000 miles of urban and rural pathways, rose last year by 15 per cent to 232 million journeys.
Of course, Britain is way down the list in number of trips taken by bicycle:
Despite the phenomenal growth, Britain remains near the bottom of the European league of cycle use with just 2 per cent of all journeys made by bike - beating only Spain, Greece and Portugal. The Netherlands tops the league with 27 per cent.
I think the United States is in the same ballpark, 1-2% of trips by bicycle.

Separately, there's an article about Why Copenhagen is so Wonderful for Biking. Basically, they made a commitment in the 1970s to promote bike usage, which had reached a real low.
There are many reasons why Copenhagen, a city of 1.8 million, is thronged with cyclists. But mostly it is because the bicycle holds the same status as public transport when it comes to planning and funding matters. Bike paths and routes are clearly marked and often separated from cars and white vans by raised kerbs. The bike lanes even have their own traffic signals and where they meet cars, bicycles have right of way...

Some 32 per cent of workers cycle to work, a figure that traffic planners want to increase to 40 per cent.

For visitors or occasional cyclists there is the City Bikes programme, funded by advertising. Cyclists pay a refundable deposit to have unlimited use of a bike.
Another cool feature; if you drink too much, you call a cab for a ride and they have a bike rack they can slap on and take the bike at no extra charge.

It's breaking out all over the Commonwealth. This article is from Melbourne, Australia.
Cycling has become so popular that VicRoads is recording the number of riders along the city's bike paths. Initial results show at least 4000 people are cycling in and out of the CBD each day.

Some routes have become so popular that cyclists are experiencing their own version of peak hour. The results also reveal that more people are riding bikes on weekdays than weekends.
G'Day, mate!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Breakfast at Enrique's

My old friend Paul, recently seen nattily-attired on the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour, is returning to volunteer in the Great River Energy Bike Festival June 14-18 (they still need volunteers, by the way!). Just like last year, he's riding his bike up. Paul travels light, mailing a box of clothes up ahead of time and travelling with just a rack bag. Last year he rode up through Northfield and Highway 3 and then left from Prescott, Wisconsin and rode down Wisconsin 35, territory partially covered by the Three Speed Tour. He liked 35 quite a lot; it's scenic, fast, good riding and pretty flat once you get south of Bay City.

He left from Prescott last year because I drove him that far, not knowing a good way to get there. I haven't done much in the way of recreational rides in recent years, and none to southeast, so thought I'd figure out how to get to and from Prescott from Saint Paul. I got up uncharacteristically early on Saturday and rode out at 6:15AM after a couple of cups of tea, two pieces of toast with Nutella and a banana.

I figured out the route on the excellent Twin Cities Bike Map from Little Transport Press. I love this map and wish only that I had thought it up. From north of Como Park, where we live, I rode down Como Avenue and Rice Street to downtown Saint Paul, dropped down by the Post Office to the riverfront and got on the bike path there and headed east along the river. This much anyway was familiar; the GRE Bike Festival's Saint Paul Time Trials run out and back on Shepard Road here, and the turnaround is about at the end of the designated bike path. After that, it was terra incognito for me.

The Angela Kay nudges a barge
Even on a Saturday morning there's activity along the Saint Paul waterfront. Here the Angela Kay nudges a barge on the south bank.

Reflection of Wabasha Street bridge in Mississippi
More poetically, the reflection of the Wabasha Street Bridge was glowing on the river surface.

The sidewalk rises up to the east over the railway tracks as the road changes to Warner Road and then the Battle Creek Bike Path peels off to the right. I followed this. There is an actual Battle Creek, a babbling brook in some parts. I don't know why it's called Battle Creek, but across the river somewhere, maybe a bit farther south, there is a historical marker for an Indian battle. I wonder if they're related.

The bike path follows Highway 61 which is very familiar to me in a car, at least, but it was never clear where the bike path was or went. It runs along the west side for a while, then goes under a culvert I'd never noticed and is at a turnaround at the north end of Point Douglas Road and a parking lot for the Battle Creek Regional Park. Now I was on the east side of Highway 61. I rode off to the south.

Point Douglas Road isn't quite continuous, but where it goes away the bike path carries on, so the road and path combination carried me all the way to the approaches to Interstate 494. This is getting rebuilt in a big way as 494 gets a new pair of bridges over the Mississippi to replace the single bridge that's there now. This is a big project, started in 2002 and not scheduled for completion until 2008, though I wonder about that since they had to delay the opening of the first bridge a year to do some rework. When it's done, there will be a bike and pedestrian lane with trail approaches as part of the project, but at the moment there is no bikeable crossing between downtown Saint Paul and Hastings. (Last summer I wrote about the J.A.R. bridge, which used to provide a toll crossing at 66th Street South, but it closed because of structural defects and is unlikely ever to reopen).

Eastern approaches to Wacota Bridge work at I-494/Hwy 61
This is the Wacota Bridge/I-494/Highway 61 work going on. There are bridge fragments on the lower right, and in the distance the blue arch of the original Interstate 494 bridge over the Mississippi is visible.

I rode up Bailey Road, across I-494, and labored up the hill. I don't know how steep this hill is, but it's a good climb and on the way home I'd do 37mph on it even gently riding the brakes due to a red light at the bottom. The road becomes County 18 here and, not long after climbing out, I took a right onto County 20, also known as Military Road.

What followed was pretty delightful. I figured I'd be slogging through the sprawl metastizing around the fringes of the Cities, but in fact Military Road manages to pick a surprisingly rural path through Washington County. I went by a big 1858 country house called Cedarhurst set in 10 acres, whose existence I'd never heard of, but which does teas every day but Sunday (just like the Chickadee Cottage in Lake City!). To my English cousins or our East Coast brethern, 1858 sounds pretty contemporary, but that's pretty old around these parts, when the orignal Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers (and now right by the airport) was only established in 1829.

Cedarhurst one Saturday Morning
This is the Cedarhurst country house, set in ten rolling acres.

High Teas, except on Sundays
They do high teas. They may not welcome visitors in black cycling shorts and Crash Test Dummy jerseys, though I didn't try.

I turned south on Lamar Avenue through a little settlement the DeLorme calls East Cottage Grove, a snippet of old Minnesota with lovely old houses, a bar and a lawn mower service shop, then followed Lehigh Road as it angled southeast. At Manning Avenue, I moved south a few hundred yards, passing the first roadkill fox I've seen in ages, and took 110th Street S a couple of miles east, then south on Neal Avenue. I took 122nd Street South east another mile or two to Saint Croix Trail, and headed south past the Carpenter Saint Croix Valley Nature Center, another spot I've not heard of. I had to be getting close now, right, but still no downhill.

It came, but not before two odd motor vehicles caught up with me. A trike (like a motorcycle, but with two back wheels) and a motorcycle and sidecar, both with a couple of portly people aboard, overtook me as Saint Croix Trail turned and began to descend. The trike got by, but it was all the cycle and sidecar could do to get by me around the corner, as he can't really lean in the turn, and the Atlantis was beginning to accelerate on the downslope. He finally made it past on a bit of straightaway, but then the road does a sensuous series of curves as it sharply descends and I quickly caught back up to these oddities and had to ride my brakes down as they lumbered gingerly down the hill. Damn, it would have been fun to roll free and lean through those bends!

At the bottom of the hill the road intersects Highway 10 and Prescott, and Wisconsin, lies less than a mile to the east. The motorcycles and I both turned that way and headed across the drawbridge into town. I rolled down the main street to the south, then around behind the row of shops and bars. There was a marina there, and the train bridge, and a restaurant where I saw the motorcycle couples from the hill waddling into the place. Maybe I'd skip that one. I crossed the intersection and saw a Mexican place called Enrique's Taco House, and went in. It was about 9:15 and just over 30 miles from home.

Prescott's drawbridge crosses the Saint Croix River, which is about to run into the Mississippi just outside of town. I like the Saint Croix; not only is it really pretty, it's also part of a very old French trade route. The Frogs figured out early that you could paddle from Montreal, up the Ottawa River, across a lake, down the French River, traverse Georgian Bay and the top of Lake Huron, get past the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie and into Lake Superior, across that until nearly the western end, where you would find an unprepossessing river called the Brule flowing into the lake from the south, now Wisconsin, shore. Paddle up that, and when it got too shallow, you portaged two miles into the headwaters of the Saint Croix, and from there it was a straight shot down to the Mississippi and New Orleans. They pieced this together from local Indian knowledge all along the way and their own exploration. These guys were doing this by the late 1600s and first explored much of the region, part of the reason we have so many French street and city names (Duluth, Saint Cloud, Nicollet, Marquette, Hennepin, Larpenteur, LaSalle, etc). For all their trade through here, they left hardly any structures, civilization or imprint, which is why Fort Snelling, established 150 years later, represents the leading edge of modern settled civilization. They would have paddled right past here. You sit at Enrique's and defocus your eyes a bit and...well, it's still hard to imagine a bunch of smelly mosquito-bitten voyageurs coming through under the railway bridge and past the gas station, but it's still cool that they were doing it over 300 years ago deep in the interior of this wild continent.

I had a regular, non-breakfast, burrito at Enrique's. It came rice and beans and a bowl of chips and two tubs of salsa, once I'd consumed the first. I had a root beer, too. I sat on the deck, still nicely-shaded, and watched the world go by. A lot of the world is on loud Harleys who like to go rumbling up and down along the river. We are all to be impressed by the loud exhaust as the tear away from the traffic lights. Funny how many of these guys (and gals) are badly overweight. These bovine bikers like to wear black leather and often don't look that dissimilar from the leather's original owners straining at their hides.

The price of gasoline does not seem to be a concern in Prescott. A woman pulled up to the adjacent Subway and left her car idling while she went in to get a sandwich. This took about five minutes. She came out, put the sandwich in the car, then ran into the BP convenience station. Another couple of minutes of fruitless idling. You know, that oil took 250 million years to make and you only get to burn it once, then it's gone forever. It was about 68F outside, there were no pets or children in the car, it wasn't baking in hot sunshine, it was just pointless. She came out, got in, and drove off. I guess I will begin to believe that gas prices are high when regular people will at least turn off their stupid engines to go into Subway. I'm sure our troops in Iraq would thank her for her support.

I popped over to the BP as well, to get a pair of AAA batteries (I had been listening to the radio in one ear much of the morning) and some SPF45 sunblock. Thus equipped, a bit bloated from my brunch, I set off back home shortly before 10:00.

An odd boat in the Saint Croix off Point Douglas
This is a slightly odd-looking yacht moored off Point Douglas in the Saint Croix. I think this used to be moored in the Mississippi in Saint Paul next to an abandoned power station, and the vessel looks dire enough I have always imagined that someone bought it who couldn't quite afford it. I may have it all wrong, maybe it's charming as can be aboard, but I wonder.

The ride home was the exact reverse of the way out until downtown Saint Paul. I wanted to measure the checkpoints so I could send Paul detailed instructions, but certainly my mileages will drift as I go due to pulling off to put on sunscreen, looking in parking lots and otherwise poking around. The wind had breathed into life and mercifully was a tailwind, not much of one, but something to offset the burrito bloat and resulting lethargy as I rode home. I saw a number of other cyclists on this homeward leg, some by themselves, some in little Lycra clots pacing along. (I shouldn't mock Lycra--I was wearing black cycling shorts and my always-popular Crash Test Dummy jersey). I waved at the Mexican nursery workers on the plateau, enjoyed my dive back down towards I-494, checked out the Park N Ride at Lower Afton Road, and rolled on home through downtown and up the Grand Avenue Hill. Waiting to cross University at Chatsworth a guy came by in a big old shiny Monte Carlo or something, chrome spoked wheels nearly as big as mine, revving his engine and driving with his left foot hanging out the driver's window. He pulled into the convenience store, roared his engine again and started Wassupping his buddies. I wonder what the urban bling bling guys will do with all that heavy iron if gas does get significantly more expensive.

The informal Chatsworth crossing was blocked by a parked train, so I rode over on Lexington, through the park and home. It was 1:10, and about 33 miles from setting out from Prescott (I took a different way home through town), 63 for the day. I hadn't done that in a while, and it felt great.

From Paul's point of view, getting out of town to the southeast isn't that tough. This probably isn't news to east-side cyclists or those Lycra clots I saw out riding, but it was to me. On the other hand, the additional 30 miles and 2.5 to 3 hours of riding makes Winona into a loooong day, so maybe I'll dump him off in Prescott again this year. One thing he is considering is showing up in Cottage Grove during the evening rush hour and taking the Express Bus into town (and he could even transfer to the bus that goes right by our house). Another is riding to Winona and taking Amtrak into Saint Paul, which gets you here 10:30-ish at night. He could ride from Cedar Rapids to make Winona by the evening of the second day to catch the train for a night arrival. That would be cool.

Sunday I rode to church. This has been a routine ride for me, 12 miles on the efficient route, my most frequent ride through the cold of winter as I could ride on a Wednesday night to choir practice and come home with Karla in the car. Karla, my wife, is a superb musician and music director at Saint Luke's Episcopal in Minneapolis, and I'm a tenor in the choir, but last Wednesday's rehearsal and Sunday's service, Pentecost, mark the last week of the choir season. Now we (the choir, not Karla) are off for the summer, to reconvene in September with diminished voices, and probably the kids and I will go to church nearer to home and earlier than Saint Luke's who is (foolishly) keeping the 9 & 11 schedule all summer this year. That means I won't be doing that particular ride as much. Poor Karla's got to play a lot of those 11:00 AM services this summer in our un-air-conditioned church and I think they're going to be ill-attended. She is not happy.

Sunday, though, was fun, we did an 11:00 Festival service and I sang in choir and even filled in in Bell Choir. Pentecost is the speaking in tongues bit, all the discipiles could be understood by the masses in their own tongues, and the Holy Spirit was upon them, etc., so I wore my Pentecost socks, a pair of cycling socks with embroidered flames on them I got last summer for free along with the Crash Test Dummy jersey. Riding on a Sunday morning is just for sport (on Wednesday night, it actually saves a car trip as Karla is already there) but it was a beautiful morning and I even popped in to the Baker's Wife bakery at 42nd St and 28th Avenue to get a chocolate croissant on the way. After church, Karla, the kids and I met at Sea Salt over in Minnehaha Park and had lunch outside the Pavillion. It was slow due to the long line and fresh cooking, but we were in no real hurry and chatted for quite a while with some uncharacteristically friendly strangers. Sadly, this makes me wonder where they're from originally. Tons of bikes out, of all stripes, a beautiful day. I felt like we were tourists in our own city. After the fried calamari and my shrimp tacos, I rode home.

The kids are done with school the end of this week. Rides will often as not include them again, which is great, I love the children, but there is something fun about private rides, about poking along to Prescott and back to see what is there, or about zooming into church with my fastest run of the church year down streets grown familiar since last fall, with no duty to tend to the kids and fret about their traffic awareness and herd them along like some baying terrier. I love riding with them, and they are still at receptive ages (Henry's 14, Geneva 12) and in ten years I will miss them terribly. We have a busy summer coming up and I have some plans for rides with them, but this one private weekend was great fun.

Welcome to Summer!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

GRE Bike Festival Volunteers

The Great River Energy Bicycle Festival/Nature Valley Grand Prix bike races are coming up. This is a series of five races running Wednesday June 14 through Sunday June 18 (Fathers's Day!). I've volunteered as a crossing guard and for setup and teardown in the past, most notably last year, which you can read about in this blog at Saint Paul Time Trials and Five Days of Bikes. My buddy Paul, who just did the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour with me and 45 of our closest friends, rode up last year and is doing so again this year. We're volunteering at the Wednesday Time Trials in Saint Paul, Friday evening Criterium in Minneapolis and the Sunday afternoon Criterium in Stillwater. I think they still need volunteers, so if you have an interest, go to the site's Volunteer Page and sign up.

On the off-days, we're just going to hang out. Actually, the Thursday Cannon Falls road race stage looks like good fun. If you take a look at the Course Map, that bit on County 58 between Highways 8 and 19 is on gravel. We discovered this when we checked out some of the course on the way back from the Three Speed Tour and initially figured I must have highlighted my DeLorme map incorrectly, but, no, they send the whole road-racin' peloton onto a stretch of gravel road! Want to guess where I'll be when the race goes by? I figure that has to be an interesting transition.

Anyway, volunteering isn't too hard, you get a good view of the race and, if you see Paul and I around, you can join us for a beer afterwards.