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Best day ever?!! Greg Davis and I pose by my brand new Trek Madone!

Best day ever?!! Greg Davis and I pose by my brand new Trek Madone!

I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy about buying a bike since last night, and the best I’ve come up with is shoes.  I briefly entertained one based on eating spaghetti at Fazolis versus eating spaghetti in Italy, but it fell apart after I ate dinner and was no longer so fixated on food.  So wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah…

Buying a bike is a lot like buying shoes.  Maybe you stroll past the clearance rack and you see a cute pair of pumps at 80% off and they’re not your size but they’re kinda close so you buy them.  Then you wear them to the wedding reception and you’re miserable all night. By the time the DJ starts playing “Old Time Rock and Roll,” your “great buy” shoes are under the table and you’re wearing a hole in your pantyhose.  And the shoes?  They’re going straight to the back of your closet never to be seen again.

Listen, I understand the temptation to look for a used bike or to go out to Walmart and buy something for $200.   I really do.  My first bike as an adult was bought second hand, but as it happens, I just got extremely lucky and could make it work for a while.  When I bought it though, I didn’t know what a difference the right bike could make.

It's me and my bike again! Notice the matching Bontrager jersey!

It’s me and my bike again! Notice the matching Bontrager jersey!

The past couple of weeks, at least 4 different people have asked me to be on the lookout for used bikes for them.  I’m not saying there might not be a decent used bike out there for all of you, but buying used is much harder than buying new if you really want to get lots of use out of your new bike.  If you don’t want to banish your bike to the back of your garage like a pair of clearance shoes to the back of your closet, you’ve got to find a bike that fits YOU!

Let’s put it in perspective.  I rode my bike 2500 miles last year.  If I average 15 mph, hat’s 166 hours in the saddle.  6.94 DAYS on my bike.  Do you think I could have done that on a bike if it wasn’t super comfortable and built for me?!?!

Even if you don’t plan on riding thousands of miles, it’s easy to see you’ll get more enjoyment and more use out of a bike that works with your body instead of against it.

Your best bet is to go to a bike shop with knowledgeable people and learn about what type of bike you should buy.  There are two shops here in Quincy.  My personal endorsement goes to Madison Davis, a Trek retailer.   Gamemasters also has a nice department though, and carries Specialized bikes.

People can (and have) written whole books on choosing the right bike, but let me give you my two cent guide on what you need to do if you want to start riding road with me this year.

  1. I organized a Bridge to Bridge (Quincy to Hannibal and back) ride for the 4th of July, and despite the high temps, attendance was GREAT!  I'm so happy so many people came out for this and I hope we do it again next year!

    I organized a Bridge to Bridge (Quincy to Hannibal and back) ride for the 4th of July, and despite the high temps, attendance was GREAT! I’m so happy so many people came out for this and I hope we do it again next year!

    Get measured.  DO NOT just go a-Googling and find some height chart on the internet.  Your friendly bike shop will measure you for free and will tell you what size you need.  It’s worth noting that different brands measure bikes in different ways.  For example, I ride a 52 cm Trek or a Medium Women’s Specialized.

  2. Think about your goals.  Are you going to ride some 10-20 mile routes or do you hope to work your way up to riding centuries (100 miles)?  Do you want to be able to tow cargo and camp?  Or do you want to race and try triathlons?  If you’re just club riding and aren’t going super long distances,  things like carbon seat posts (which reduce road noise) might not really be worth the extra cost for you.  Buy the options you need!
  3.  Think about your budget.  Yes, I know. This is the least fun part.  If my budget was unlimited, I’d buy a beautiful Trek Project One Domane and I would customize the paint job myself and have all the bells and whistles.  But alas, my pocketbook has limits.
  4. Are you a lady???  In road bikes, the main differences in a women’s specific bike are the length of the top tube (from your seat post to your handle bars) and the angle at which you sit on the bike.   There are very good graphics on the Trek website that illustrate this. The advantage to a women’s fit bike is that you won’t be reaching as far to the handle bars and therefore will put less strain on your back and shoulders.  If you’ve got a nice long torso, this might not be an issue for you, but for me, the women’s fit really feels nice.  The disadvantages of women’s design are that the women’s bike geometry isn’t as aggressive (which is important to racers) and they tend to feature pastel colors or flower graphics.   The girly color/graphic package is a whole other rant though.
  5. Don’t fear the saddle!  I’ve seen it before.  People take one look at those skinny, rock hard saddles on road bikes and demand that it’s switched out to something with gel in it.  Don’t do it, my friend!  I should probably write a whole other blog post about saddles, but the short story is: they can be measured too.   You sit your cute little bottom on a piece of foam, the foam measures your sit bones, and then you get the right size saddle for you.  Let the bike shop show you how to position your saddle for maximum comfort and in just a few rides, you’ll like a road bike saddle too.
  6. Understand your bike and what it’s made of.  I suggest this blog post which I wrote last year on the subject!
I never get tired of bike pictures.

I never get tired of bike pictures.

In conclusion- even if you don’t buy a new bike, start your research by looking at new bikes.  If you know what you want is a Trek 1.2 in 54 cm, you can go look for that bike.  Then you can do your comparison pricing and see if it’s worthwhile to buy used.

If you’re wondering about my bike and the thought process I went through to buy it…

I have a Trek 3.1 WSD Madone.  I bought it because:

  1. It’s an entry level carbon bike.  Carbon is a tough material and it’s good at reducing road noise.  It’s lighter than aluminum and since I knew I’d be a long distance rider, I thought carbon was the right choice for me.
  2. I almost bought a Lexa, which is an aluminum bike with carbon seat posts and forks. I probably would have been happy on this bike too (and would have saved some money) but I knew I loved to cycle by this point because I had already put over 1000 miles on a steel bike.  So, I decided I wanted to get the best I could afford so that I wouldn’t want to upgrade in just a few years.  I wanted something that could grow with me.
  3. My bike has 105 Shimano shifters/derauillers etc.  That’s the middle of the Shimano line.  I don’t feel like I’m a biker who has to count every little ounce yet, so I didn’t want to upgrade to the Ultegra or Dura-Ace level sets, which are extremely light weight but also very pricey.
  4. I’ve got a short torso, so Women’s Specific Design was the right choice for me.  It’s plenty aggressive for the type of riding I do.
  5. The base price of the bike I picked is right around $2000.  After adding pedals, shoes, a helmet, computer, etc, it was more of course, but I didn’t purchase all of the accessories all at once.  It’s worth it in the long run!
  6. Trek and Specialized (and other major brands) often offer financing on bikes, and I took advantage of that.  I believe I had zero interest for 12 months or something.  It was a great deal.
  7. Most importantly: I have never regretted a dime I spent on buying the right bike. I love The Dream Machine! 
This is the 2013 Lexa.  It's a nice bike!

This is the 2013 Lexa. It’s a nice bike!

If I had to make a recommendation for a good all-around bike at a good price for anyone just getting started, I think I would recommend the Trek 1.2 (called a Lexa for women).  It’s their aluminum road bike with carbon fork and seat post and it’s a good compromise between the features of a more expensive full carbon bike and the aluminum frame.  (The Specialized equivalent is called an Allez. Other brands make something similar.  Felt and Giant are good brands to check out but you can’t buy them locally.)  The 1.2 is a great quality bike you can ride in the club rides, take on a triathlon, or commute to work on.  The 1.2 list price is $999 (and the 1.1 is $799.  This is a solid aluminum bike.)

So, there you have it.  Buy a bike! Come ride with me!!  I PROMISE cycling will make you smile.

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Baby it's cold outside!

Baby it’s cold outside!

I had a conversation with myself recently:

It’s cold outside.

Well it’s winter.  What’d you expect?

But I wanna go for a bike ride!

So go for a bike ride!

But it’s so coooooooold!

Suck it up! You’ve got a hat!

…And that conversation went on in my head for about a half an hour when I finally gave in and decided that I’d bundle up and try it out.  My hubby aired up the tires to the Dream Machine while I put on 2 Under Armor Cold Gear shirts, a pair of medium weight tights, a pair of fleece pants and a pair of wind pants (Yeah, I wore 3 pairs of pants.  If I had some fancy cold weather tights, I would have done that.  But I don’t, so I layered.)   I also donned a neoprene face mask, a fleece ear wrap, my helmet, 2 pairs of gloves, and my new neoprene toe covers. Oh, and my coat.

I’ll admit: it was a lot of work.

A picture I took of an eagle a few days before this ride but in the same area.

A picture I took of an eagle a few days before this ride but in the same area.

But then I rolled my bike out passed my snow covered lawn onto the slightly-icy street, hopped on, took off towards the river, and was immediately glad I’d talked myself into going!  Afterall, the day was sunny, and most of the ice was confined to the edges of the streets or occasional bad corners, so it wasn’t that bad outside. Once I reached the river road, it was smooth sailing and I cruised along.

I decided to ride a route most Quincy cyclists would be familiar with- the Knaphide Loop- and it was a great choice for the day.   I spotted no fewer than 5 bald eagles, probably a half dozen red tail hawks and even a triplet of kestrels all out hunting.  One of the red tails had a fish so big in tow that he couldn’t seem to make it higher than a couple of feet off the ground and occasionally had to land in the field and rest.  I followed him a while.  He really didn’t like me so close, but then again, he wasn’t going to leave his prize either, so he tolerated me for a while.

The 34 degree weather didn’t bother me much.  In fact, when I was heading North, I was almost overheating. I especially enjoyed my double pair of gloves.  I’ve been putting a pair of rubberized football receiver gloves over a cheap pair of cotton gloves and they’re just the right combination of wind-proof and warm while still being nice and thin.

Here's a picture of the complete get-up. Stylish, I know.

Here’s a picture of the complete get-up. Stylish, I know.

By the time I turned back to the South, a pretty decent breeze had picked up (an aside: can I ever go riding on the bottom road without a South wind!?!??!) and for the first time I felt a little chilled.  To combat the cold, I just pedaled harder, and before I knew it I was back in town.  I even stopped at River Skate, Quincy’s new outdoor ice rink, to say hello to my friend Chris before heading back up the bluff hill towards home.

It was a great solo ride and I was happy to get outside and enjoy the day.

What I learned is that it’s sometimes more work to talk yourself into going out the door on a cold day, but just like any other day, you’re going to be happy you found a reason to say YES to your Adventure Foot.

2012-milesThis little bike ride happened to be on December 30th and was my last bike ride of 2012.  It made my total miles this year 2504.  That’s well over double my 1230 miles registered in 2011 when I started this whole cycling thing.  As a matter of fact, that’s like leaving my house, biking to San Francisco then taking the coast up to Portland.  My 2013 plan? I guess I’ll just keep on riding.

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Justin, Jim and I will all be doing RAGBRAI this year. This will be Jim’s 5th RAGBRAI- he’s 73. Also: he’s awesome.

So it’s the Friday before RAGBRAI- The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa- the weeklong trip now in its 40th year, and all week I’ve been trying to think of what to say on my blog as I embark on the journey.

Most of the last week has been spent trying to figure out how to deal with the heat on this ride.  My hopes were for mid-eighties during the ride and sixties at night, but that’s not going to be the case.  The 10 day forecast now includes the entirety of the ride and every single day’s high temp starts with a 9 and ends with a heat advisory.  I’ve ridden in high temps before and survived; in fact, one of our training rides had a heat index of 115.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is sleeping at night in a stifling hot tent when it’s still 90 at 10 pm and then getting up the next day to do it all over again.  I’d say in order to perform my best, I really need to recover with a good night’s sleep.  We’re doing everything we can to prepare, including bringing fans for the tent, but I have the feeling sleep is going to be tough at times.

RAGBRAI Map 2012

The route itself is going to be a challenge of course.  The quick overview is:

Sunday: Sioux Center to Cherokee, 54 miles, 1675 ft of climb

Monday: Cherokee to Lake view, 62 miles, 2173 ft of climb

Tuesday: Lake View to Webster City: 81.2 miles, 1657ft of climb

Wednesday: Webster City to Marshalltown: 77 miles 1,997 ft of climb

Thursday: Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids: 84.5 miles 3576 ft of climb

Friday: Cedar Rapids to Anamosa: 42.2 miles 1907 ft of climb

Saturday: Anamosa to Clinton 69.4 miles 2,811 ft of climb

The standout as “Toughest Day” is already looking like the stretch from Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids.  Besides having the longest mileage and far and away the most climbing, it looks to be the day with the highest predicted temperatures. At least at the end of this day I can look forward to the Party on the Island; Cedar Rapids is throwing a big celebration for RAGBRAI’s 40th Anniversary and is featuring the band Counting Crows on the main stage!

The stretch from Lakeview to Webster City also is making a good case for possible “Toughest Day” contention.  This day is the one where you have the option to do the Karras Loop.  Karras is a tack on loop that adds enough mileage to give you a full century (100 mile) day.  This particular loop features 2 enormous climbs out of the Des Moines River Valley and is billed as the toughest Karras ever.  Riders who take on the loop and succeed earn a patch and a lot of pride.  We’ll just have to see how we’re doing when we get there.

It’s not all worry for me though.  I’m very much looking forward to getting out of the office, unplugging, and seeing Iowa again.  My friends Jim Cate, Jeff Spencer and David Mochnig are joining myself and my husband for the trip.  We’re going with the Keokuk, Iowa Bike Club- which has been organizing this group for many, many years now and seem to really know how to plan for every eventuality.   I’m also looking forward to seeing friends on the road including Marinan, Scott, and Jen, who all cycled the Tour of the Mississippi River Valley event with me this year.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to is the food.  There’s no excuse like riding 500 miles to eat… well … pretty much whatever you want.  What do I want? Pie, mostly.  Lots of pie.

Photo Credit Christopher Gannon/The Des Moines Register

My hopes for the trip are kind of simple.  I hope everyone, first and foremost, rides safe.  There will be a ton of riders and a lot of hazards, and I wish for a RAGBRAI free of injury and flat tires.  I hope that the sun is tempered with clouds and a beautiful tailwind to push us across the Hawkeye state.  I hope the food is as good as I’ve heard, and I hope that we take the time to stop and enjoy it.  I am confident I’ll have fun with my friends and that I’ll make some new ones.  I hope that when pedaling gets hard friends will lift me up, and I hope I can do the same for them. I also hope I don’t get to cranky about camping and I apologize in advance if I do.

I was just commenting to a friend today about the interesting nature of club sports like running or cycling.  You train with friends, you ride with friends and there is always someone experienced to learn from close at hand, but when the rubber meets the road, every pedal stroke or footfall belongs to you.  Nobody is getting my bike across Iowa but me.  But at the end, if I can do this, it’s going to be a goal that was 20 years in the making and one I can really be proud of.

Now listen, I’m not making any promises, but since we should be hitting the road early and arriving midday at our destination most days, I am planning on doing some mini-blogging from my iphone in my spare time.  Conditions, charging my phone, and distractions like pie may change that, but I’d really love it if you guys followed along next week for updates.  And I always appreciate comments on my blog, but I would especially like them while we’re out on the road.

Only one way to end this blog:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4ANP8g8wrE

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TOMRV Day 2- Laura, Justin, Stephen, Jen and Tony (left to right)

You know in the movie Forest Gump the way Tom Hanks describes all the ways that it rained in Vietnam (big rain, fat rain, stinging rain…) or how Bubba described all the ways to fix shrimp (boiled shrimp, shrimp gumbo, shrimp stew…)??  That’s the same sort of list I’d make to describe the hills of the 35th Annual Tour of the Mississsippi River Valley ride.

There were big hills, long hills, steep hills, false flat hills, round hills, hills with bumps, hills with more hills on top of them, barbequed hills… oh wait.  Strike that last one.  You get the point though. It was hilly.

TOMRV Route Map

The ride is presented by the Quad Cities Cycling Club and this was Justin and my first year to participate.  The ride gives you the option of doing 108 miles Saturday and 89 miles Sunday, or doing 70 miles Saturday and 50 miles Sunday.  Justin and I had originally signed up for the longer ride, but since he’s been fighting some IT band issues since he ran the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon (he placed 3rd in his age division!) a few weeks ago  and since we knew it was a tough route, we decided to check down and do the shorter route.  That was probably a good move for our first time at this event.

Crossing one of the first bridges of the day.

The ride started from the town of Preston, Iowa early Saturday morning.  We’d taken advantage of the Friday night check-in, so we had everything we needed to just air up our tires and get on the road when  we arrived at 7:30 am.  High temperatures were supposed to be in the 90s, so we figured getting going early was the best move.

Saturday morning is kind of a blur to me.  Let’s see.  The very beginning wasn’t bad and we warmed up on some low hills.  No big deal.  Then there was a nice section of rolling hills, and they were tough, but still not so bad if you got enough momentum going.  Almost immediately we got to cross a couple of pretty bridges with great views of the rivers (I think the first was causeway near Sabula and the second was the steel-grate bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois) and I really enjoyed the views at both of these locations.  When we hit the first SAG stop at Mississippi Palisades State Park (about 20 miles into the ride), I felt pretty good about everything.  I ate a banana and some grapes, some peanut butter on a bagel, and a little pile of fig newtons and we were on our way.

Here’s the thing about being in the bottom of river valleys: you’re going to have to climb out of them at some point.  The first major climbs of the route were not far down the road from the SAG stop.   They were tough but manageable- I don’t think I slipped into my easiest gear in this stretch.  But then…

We turned onto Blackjack Road: home of the Chestnut Mountain.  This little monster tried to warn us with a sign that said, “Ski Area Ahead,” but we didn’t listen.   Those hills meant business.  While at home, there are only 3 hills that come to mind that have me in my easiest gear- there were at least three climbs in this little stretch that had me there.   I did a little search on Google and found someone else’s GPS map of the ride- I bet you can spot the hills I’m talking about! http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313472

TOMRV Day One Climb. I wish I could credit the guy who made the GPS maps, but it doesn’t say on his website 😦

On the top of Chestnut Mountain… evidently near the Schwarz farm 🙂

This section was also home of the hill known as “The Wall.”  It’s one steep, mean, quarter mile climb.  Nothing to do but sit and spin for this one, guys.   Justin made it up to the top, but I ended up stopping in the middle with my heart rate that felt redlined… I walked a few steps and then thought to myself, “hell no, I’m not walking,” got back on and struggled up the thing.  It was super tough, but at least it was short.  At the top of the mountain, we were rewarded with gorgeous views over the river valley and a nice stretch of flat road to enjoy.  Justin started calling the hills “paying the toll for the view.”

I spent much of the remainder of both days of the ride deciding which was more difficult: short steep climbs or long low ones.  I think in the end, the one I like better is the one I’m not on when I’m thinking about it!

Justin and I on the Sebula Bridge over the Mississippi

Anyhow, it’s worth mentioning that when you climb up a crazy thing like Chestnut Mountain, you will eventually have to ride down it too- and ride down we did- at speeds well over 40 mph.  I hit a personal speed record of 45 miles an hour.  It was terrifying.  No, awesome! Or maybe terrifying.  But awesome!  Lol.

I believe it was at the second SAG stop that my college friend Marinan and her husband spotted me.  We caught up a while, soaked up some shade, ate some much needed food and the headed off for the next section.  Marinan has done TOMRV several times (6 I think?? ) so she knew that the route didn’t get any easier as we approached Galena and then Dubuque, but I had no idea what was still in store!

So, normally, I’d keep describing the route in detail but I’m going to give you cliff notes of the rest of day one:

–          There were bike races the same day in Galena that shared our course for a couple of miles and Justin and I were passed by the race peloton at one point.  It was amazing to see those tightly packed riders heading past us at those speeds.  I just tried to stay to the right and stay out of the way.

–          There was another huge climb and steep decent not far after Galena where I got over 40 mph.

Marinan and I spell out IOWA at the top of Victory Hill

–          We caught up with another friend, Stephen Rogers, at a SAG stop in a town called Menominee.  Steven did the longer routes both days- the only one of my friends to accomplish this.

–          At mile 60, we entered Wisconsin.  I didn’t find out that we’d been to Wisconsin until after the ride.  They should put up a welcome sign.  Silly Wisconsin.

–          There was another ridiculous hill carved into the bluffs 10 or so miles from the end of the ride.  Justin asked Stephen Rogers if this hill had a name like the other hills, so Stephen, taking a cue from a sign he just saw, dubbed the hill “The Weigh Station.”  We also met a guy we called Texas there.  Texas rode the rest of the way in with us.

–          The decent going into Dubuque was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen from my bike.  I wish I could show you a photo, but it wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

Justin enjoying a Fat Tire at the beer tent after Day One

–          The beautiful decent was followed by the second-steepest climb of the day- which also was the last quarter mile of the route.  I was so hot and tired by the time I got here, that it was really hard for me.  Half way up, Justin and Steven (who had already made the climb) started cheering me on, and at the top, Marinan was waiting for me to sing our college victory song: The Hawkeye Victory Polka.  (AKA “In Heaven There is No Beer!”)  It was a great moment.

–          The total elevation change for Day 1 of the Preston (shorter) start was +6554 ft. / -6365 ft.  Whoa. No wonder my quads were on fire.

–           At the top of Victory Hill (which is what I’m now calling it) was Clark College- our host for the night.  We enjoyed 2 Fat Tires apiece at the beer tent while we were waiting for two other friends to make it in from the long route.  Tony and Jen rolled up and we went and showered while they had a beer.  We dropped off our bikes in the tennis courts (all of those bikes in that tiny space made these the most valuable tennis courts ever!! )

–          Then we all went to the banquet!  I pretty much ate everything in sight.  Pasta, chicken, veggies, some really good coleslaw, corn, carrot cake…  Maybe it was just the heat and the exertion, but we all scarfed down a ton of food.

Most $ in a tennis court ever.

–          The accommodations we had signed up for were just sleeping bag space on the floor.  If we do this ride again, this wouldn’t be my pick because I had a hard time dealing with that many people moving around, snoring, turning on flashlights and the like.  Next go around, we’ll probably camp in a tent outside because it looked like fun and I imagine it would be quieter.  Barring that, I’d try to get one of the dorm rooms with beds.

Panoramic view near Bellview Iowa on Day 2

Day 2

I could hear people moving around and getting ready to go before light was even peaking in the window.  The heat had been pretty bad on Day 1 and was expected to be worse for Sunday so I guess everyone wanted to get an early start.  I was really exhausted from a long, restless night though, so I laid around as long as I could.  We packed up, dropped off our bags, retrieved our bikes and were ready to hit the road for Day 2.

Tony shows off his vintage Nishiki bike…

So Day 2 was 50 miles.  That’s chump-change for Justin and I anymore.  I mean, we do that distance regularly with no problem.  In fact, I had made plans for after the 50 mile ride (visiting a nearby cave) since I figured we’d be done in just a few hours.  But what I didn’t know was that Day 2’s climbs were even more gnarly than Day 1.

Justin, Jen, Tony, Stephen and I decided to ride as a group on Day 2.  We climbed a couple of decent hills coming out of Dubuque and had another beautiful, fast decent on to the floor of the valley (I got very comfortable with 35 mph on this ride. That’s pretty darned fast for me at home) but after that the climbs got crazy.

On the Mississippi River near Bellview, Iowa

And the crazy climbs? They were *not* helped at all by the straight-from-the-South headwind that started at about 10 mph in the morning but grew to 20+ mph by afternoon.  Every time you would crest a hill the wind would scream over the top and threaten to blow you back down.  In the late afternoon the wind was so strong that we’d have to downshift in the flats and even down some hills.  Talk about a momentum killer!  Anyway… what was I talking about? Oh, right, just the three hardest climbs ever…

The first climb out of the valley lasted for 1.7 miles and had an insane 7% grade in places.  Then we went back down.  The next climb out of the valley lasted almost 2 full miles and had a max of 6.8% grade.    I’m not kidding you- those were the toughest, slowest 10 miles I have ever done on my bike.  Then the last major valley climb was over the majority of a 4 mile stretch (one little downhill in the middle) and, frankly, I’m lucky to still have legs after the thing.  I stopped 3 times (walked none) to catch my breath and to make another go at that last climb.  It was so, so hard but I’m so, so glad we did it.  See GPS here http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313470

Day 2

More beautiful vistas were in store at the top of each one of these climbs, and the downhills all were over much too quickly.  I kept thinking that I’d never enjoyed a Midwestern landscape as much as I did at the top of these glacier-carved hills, but I’d never struggled uphill for a half an hour to earn a view either.

Tony at lunch!

We stopped in the picturesque riverside town of Bellveiw for lunch, where we once again were all quite ravenous.  We bypassed the Casey’s gas station where many bikers seemed to have stopped and found a lovely café in downtown Bellview that was serving a Biker’s Brunch.  We were treated to a leisurely and delicious meal before hitting the road. *My lunch, if you’re curious, was this terrific open-faced turkey sandwich on pumpernickel topped with charred tomatoes, béchamel (French-style milk sauce) and locally grown basil.

This is a pic from day one- all of us flashing W for the “Weigh Station” hill!

What else can I say about day 2?  It was great.  There were more hills, more climb, and more wind than I thought you could squeeze into 50 miles in the Midwest, but hey, we made it through just fine.  Catching up with my friends from far away and sharing a bicycle adventure made the weekend (and the sore quads I had on Monday) completely worth it.

The Quad Cities Bike Club deserves lots of credit for wonderful SAG stops, friendly volunteers, and a tough course that challenged every rider there.

And the views- earned the hard way- are something I’ll never be able to adequately describe;  their beauty makes me believe that the same farm-dotted landscape that inspired artists like Grant Wood will be around a long time to come.

As for my bike and I?  We’re feeling quite confident about our chances to complete the 500 miles of the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) which, as I write, is only 37 days away.   I’ve also vowed to never complain about the two hills on State Street or the ones coming up Hampshire again, because I’ve met their big brothers who live up river and are much worse!

Thanks for a great ride TOMRV!  See you next year!

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Quincy Ride of Silence- Photo by Brandon Glasgow

The first ever Quincy Ride of Silence was held Wednesday night at Madison Park in Quincy.  The event was just one of 300 similar rides held today nationwide as part of National Bike Safety Month.  Around 40 riders enjoyed perfect weather and a four mile ride across Quincy to promote awareness of cyclists on public roads.

The Ride of Silence near 8th and State Street. Photo by Brandon Glasgow

For this ride, we all wore white jerseys or shirts.  The white jersey riders symbolized the “Ghost Bike” of people who have been killed while riding their bicycles.  There have been several fatalities on tri-state area roads in the past few years, and it was touching to take a moment to remember those riders.  Some of the larger national rides spray painted actual bikes white and placed them at intersections where fatalities have occurred.  I think the Ghost Bike can serve as a very good reminder about just what’s at stake when we’re talking about bike safety.

Since I organized the ride, I thought it would be a good idea to say a few words before we left the park.  I thanked everyone for coming and explained the purpose of the ride was to promote safety for motorists and cyclists.

After the introduction, I asked the crowd if anyone there had been hit by a car.  At least a half a dozen people stuck a hand in the air.  6 out of 40.  That’s an incredible number.  Some later explained to me that they had some incredibly serious injuries ranging from broken bones, major lacerations and concussions.   So how can we be safer on roads?  It’s, of course, the responsibility of both cyclists and drivers to watch for each other, to be conscientious and to follow the rules of the road.

Here are 5 things you need to know to help everyone enjoy cycling this summer!

  1. Cyclists: Bike Safety Starts with the right gear!  Wear your helmet every time you ride and make sure your kids do too.  Wear bright colored clothes and use blinking headlights and tail lights- especially near dawn or dusk.  Mirrors are also very important to see traffic behind you.  There are helmet or handle bar mounted mirrors which are inexpensive and can help you avoid collisions from behind when changing lanes. Also, don’t forget to check that your bike is in good working order, that your tires are properly inflated and that you have tire changing or patching kits in your seat pouch.
  2. Cars: Stay 3 Feet from Bikes!  3 feet is the law around bicycles and is plenty of room to avoid a potentially fatal collision.  Bikes: Stay to the right wherever possible and use the lane responsibly.  Cyclists do have the right to the whole lane, but often there is plenty of room at the side.  Don’t be a jerk just because it’s legal- try to get out of the way of faster moving traffic.  That being said, sometimes it’s safer to be fully in the lane.  Just be aware of your surroundings and make a safe and courteous decision.
  3.  Slow down!  Cyclists should reduce speed in residential areas to avoid cars backing out of driveways, drivers opening car doors when they’re parked on the street, and any debris you might find in the road.  Cars should slow down around cyclists and be patient until they are sure it’s safe to pass a rider.  Some riders and I were already in a very close call this year when an SUV tried to get around us before he had checked for oncoming traffic.  Well, there was an oncoming car, and if that driver had not reacted quickly and driven off road into the grass, there would have been a major head-on collision.  I promise, as inconvenient as slowing down for a few seconds can be, hitting a cyclist or another car would be much, much worse.
  4. Avoid distractions!  Don’t text and drive!  Do pay attention to the road!  Spring and summer are prime time for walkers, runners, cyclists, and kids on and near the road.  It only takes one moment for something to go wrong, and that text message is simply not worth it.
  5. Do unto others…  If that cyclist was your son or daughter- would you drive your car so close or so fast?  If the driver of that car was your husband or wife, would you purposely slow them down?  It’s pretty simple.  Treat each other the way you’d want to be treated.

For more information about the Ride of Silence, please check out my blog from last week or the national Ride of Silence website.   Also, please take a look at this great website which details the most common car/bike accident types.  It has great illustrations and can teach you a lot about what to watch out for next time you’re on the road!  Also check this link to an aritcle I wrote last year after a collision claimed the life of a Ft. Madison, Iowa man.

Special thanks to KHQA TV Channel 7 for coming out to cover the Ride of Silence and for having me back on their morning show.  Also, thanks to Rodney Hart for writing a story about it in the Quincy Herald Whig.  And thanks to photographer Brandon Glasgow for taking some amazing photos.  And a HUGE thanks to all the riders who came to the first ever Quincy Ride of Silence!

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The redbud tree in my yard.

In the last 6 months, I rarely have gone to work out without a plan.  You’ll usually find me trying to run a set number of miles, working on tempo or speed, headed to pilates for core work or doing interval cycling to increase my endurance. Now, it’s all well and good to work towards an objective, but sometimes the goal-driven workouts can get in the way of the enjoyment of my active lifestyle in the “now.”

Anyway, without that particular thought consciously on my mind, I knew I wasn’t up for a planned workout on Monday afternoon.  I came out of my office to a pretty substantial rain shower, it had been a long day, and I didn’t feel like doing much of anything.

The dogwood trees are in full bloom.

When the rain started to let up, I had a decision to make.  Go work out, or go do something else.  I noticed the sun shining through the wet trees, so I grabbed my camera to snap a couple of pictures of the redbud tree in my yard.  It was about that time that I heard an owl hooting.  I’ve been trying to get owl photos for a couple of years now, and I’ve only managed to get one on film, so that hooting was enough for me.  I decided I would go on a bike ride and look for owls to photograph.

I holstered my camera in a small ripstop nylon backpack, put on my bike shoes and hit the road.  The streets were wet and my tires were loud if I was moving too fast, so I rode slowly trying to locate the hooter.

The one picture I have taken of an owl! This Barred Owl was hanging out near Warsaw, IL.

Ears perked like my cat hunting a mouse, I rode through my neighborhood, sure that I was close to my prey.  The familiar “who-cooks-for-you” hoot pattern of the owl let me know that I was looking for a Barred Owl, and that he might be closer to the ground than if he were a Great Horned or Screech Owl.

I caught the sound of some cardinals in a dogwood tree before I saw them; it seems like rain always gets the redbirds going.  A little further down the road, I spied the orange breast of a robin splashing about in a puddle; he was chirping and had clearly enjoyed the early spring shower.

The first owl had apparently had enough hooting and was now off my radar, but owl calls carry, and when I heard another in the distance, my hunch was that he might be hanging out in a nearby cemetery.  It’s hard to hear the low calls of an owl over traffic, so I was listening very closely to everything around me, and suddenly, I found myself immersed in the sounds of riding through town.

I passed a house where someone was practicing piano and playing  a jazzy riff over and over with the emphasis changed and a note missed here and there.  I heard grackles and finches carrying on.  I listened to car tires on wet streets, and noticed the different sound of my own bike tires on the road.  I rode near TCBY and heard the melodic laughter of children who were sitting eating frozen yogurt, and some twittering directed my attention to some enterprising house sparrows who were picking up bits of cone that had been dropped.  When the breeze blew, the trees shook and dropped big heavy drops of water that splashed loudly on the sidewalk.

This red tailed hawk was kind of a talker!

The whole of the ride became a journey in sound, and I experienced my town in a brand new way.  I entertained every noise that came my way whether it was the alarming sound of an ambulance, or the familiar bark of my neighbor’s dog, or the sounds of all the little birds that made their home in the city.  I chased the sounds of owls south and was briefly very excited to spot a large bird silhouette high in a tree, only to find that it was a red-tailed hawk hunting field mice in a small open space behind the park.  I hopped off my bike and snapped a few photos of the hawk, and he croaked an annoyed message at me that said I’d blown his cover and he’d rather I found something else to do before he flew off to another tree.

The one thing I didn’t do on my ride is turn on my bike computer.  I don’t know how far I went or how fast I was riding. I don’t have a maximum or average speed to report from my trip. I can’t tell you the route I took because I didn’t map it.  I just rode around and, for the first time in a long time, listened to all of the sounds of Quincy.

It’s nice to have no particular place to go.

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The Great Smoky Mountains; Easter 2011

This time of year is chock-full of Top Ten lists, and I didn’t want to be left out of the countdown fun.  Here are my Top Ten Adventures of 2011. Click on the links to read the archived articles about each of my top adventure picks.  I highly recommend any of these activities for your adventure planning in 2012!

1. Cycle Illinois. I hadn’t been on a bike in years when I bought one from a friend in February 2011. Now, I can’t get enough of this wonderful sport.  Bicycles truly embody freedom and speed, and the cycling community of Quincy is supportive, inclusive, and really fun.  Read about my two favorite rides of 2011 here and here!

2. Rock climbing.  Whether it was scaling the indoor Kroc Center Wall or rappelling down a cliff at an undisclosed location, hanging from walls is one of the most exhilarating things I tried in 2011.

3. Kayking on the Mississippi.  How had I lived so close to the Mississippi for so long without trying this activity?! Kayaking  is an easy hobby to learn and a tough one to master, but the feeling when you’re silently gliding through the backwaters of the Mississippi is incomparable. It’s nothing less than a completely new view of something you’ve seen a million times.

4. Roadrunning.  In January 2011, if you would have said that by the end of the year I’d be running regularly and signed up for a half marathon, I’d have told you that you were crazy.  But here we are in December and I’m running 5 days a week! This change in attitude is entirely due to the wonderful folks of the Heartland Roadrunners Club.
5. Katy Trail. This Missouri Rails-to-Trails project runs from St. Charles to Columbia and beyond.  The now defunct railway has been converted into flat-grade multi-use trails for biking, hiking, or running.  The beauty of the trail and the hospitality of the towns that surround it cannot be overstated!
6. Ski Jumping.  If kayaking is the most silent way to experience the river, then water ski jumping is its opposite.  The roar of the Quincy Ski Club’s Hydrodyne Boat and its twin 175 horsepower Evinrude motors shakes the bay, and the adrenaline of the approach to the ski jump shakes my knees.
7. The Great Smoky Mountains.  My husband and I took a trip to the Smokies over Easter.  We climbed small mountains, played Frisbee on Andrew’s Bald, hiked some of the Appalachian Trail and saw a bear.  Greatest Easter trip ever!

8. Ultimate Frisbee.  Quincy’s Ultimate Frisbee Pick-Up League provided great fun all summer long. Highlights included the Quincy Hat Tournament, Southern Illinois Tournament and the Jacksonville “Jax Hat” Tournament.  If you’re looking for a great way to stay fit and have fun in 2012, be sure to “like” the Quincy Ultimate Frisbee Facebook page!

9. Cuivre River State Park.  This Missouri State Park gets the nod as the #1 close by destination for hiking adventures.  The wildlife, well-kept trails, lake and beach area, neat campgrounds and close proximity to Quincy are all great reasons to visit this Troy, Missouri park.  It’s a mere hour and a half from Quincy, but somehow seems like a vacation.
10. Meramec River Float Trip.  Meramec State Park is located just west of St. Louis, and its hiking trails, biking trails, limestone bluffs and forested hills are second to none in our area.  Get a river’s-eye view of the whole park by renting a canoe or raft for a float trip down the Meramec.

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