Saturday, May 29, 2010

My favorite training ride

After riding a lot around Blacksburg in the past month or two, I’ve decided that my favorite place to ride is in the Ellet Valley.  It’s really beautiful, wide open, and rolling hills without any huge climbs (except to get back into town).  You just sort of go down a hill really fast and most of the time your momentum will push you up the next hill with minimal effort.  That’s my sort of riding.  A couple of days ago I rode about 50 miles down in the Valley for the last time until all of us ride into Blacksburg next Sunday.  003

As soon as I was 5 miles away from my house it started to rain.  Of course.  So for the first time I donned my rain jacket and pants for a ride.  I hadn’t given it much thought beforehand but WOW is raingear not fun to wear while riding.  I shelled out an extra couple of bucks for “nicer” stuff that is supposed to wick moisture away from your body while keeping you dry.  It’s definitely waterproof, but after sweating for an hour I think my clothes were as wet as they would have been if I were wearing no rain gear at all.  That probably sounds pretty disgusting.  It was.   I hope it never rains. 


Another old house I thought looked cool.


There are lots of cemeteries along Mount Tabor Road.  This is a good time to point out that I only stop to take pictures if I’m at the top of a hill or on flat land.  I can’t be bothered by anything that’s on an uphill or a downhill.  I can’t lose my momentum! 

008 Do you think they just buried everyone here?


015 016



This is a cool tunnel that you get to ride through.  It’s only one lane.  Scary!




These are my favorite signs to see when I ride.  It means exactly what you’d think- the property will never be developed into houses, a Wal-Mart, or anything.  A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner to permanently limit the type and amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership.  It’s one of several legal tools that urban planners can use to curb sprawl and development.  Right now I wouldn’t say that anywhere in the Ellet Valley is in immediate danger of being developed into anything but it’s nice to know that these fields and mountains will stay natural “forever”.   It’s obviously piecemeal because the landowners have to voluntarily work with the Virginia Land Trust in obtaining the easement, but most of the parcels are big enough to hopefully make a difference.  Virginia Beach used another method to try to stop sprawl; the urban growth boundary.  The City literally drew a line, called the “Green Line” horizontally across the map and decided that high density development should only occur in the northern half- hence Pungo, etc.  Do you think it’s working?  Is there any way to actually stop sprawling commercial and residential development?  Should we even bother?  Those are your urban planning questions to ponder for the long weekend. 

In other news, I leave tomorrow at noon for Yorktown.  That means that tonight I have to do laundry and pack everything I think I’ll need for the next two months into a small backpack.  I heard that you should “pack everything then take half of it out.”  I usually pack pretty light.  I hope I don’t go overboard.  How do you guys feel about jumpers?  Like the outfits that babies wear.  Apparently they’re in (?) for grown-ups now and I bought a couple because they’re comfortable and it’s a top and bottom in one!  You can’t get easier than that.  I’m going to look like an idiot, oh well.  I’m also going with the soap/body wash/shampoo/conditioner all in one stuff which is sure to leave my hair looking beautifully frizzy for the summer.  Good thing I’ll be wearing a helmet most of the time.

Since I’m procrastinating because packing looks to be really daunting, I think I’m going to go on a quick hour long ride.  Just to keep the blood flowing.   After that the next time I ride will be for 60 miles!  Yikes!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ride on the New River Trail

Look how good I’m getting at updating this blog!  What a change of pace!  Maybe next I’ll start waking up before noon.  I joke, but I seriously will have to start waking up before noon on when I’m on my bike trip and it is very disconcerting.  My body will be shocked at all of these changes. 

Anyhow, yesterday I went on a 45 mile ride of the New River Trail.  This is another rails-to-trails project.  The actual trail spans several counties and pretty much follows the New River.  The great part about any rails to trails path is that they are all generally flat because trains cannot (or could not?) handle any steep grades.  This is WONDERFUL news to me and my legs who despise any grade above –1.  The actual trail itself is isn’t paved but it’s the sort of packed down dirt that is really hard so it’s almost like pavement.  There are some gravel and dirt and rocks on the trail… remember this detail, it will become important later.  My friend Sarah Smith let me borrow her bike rack to drive down to Pulaski.


Guess which is worth more, the car or the bike?  Hint: I have faith that the bike can go 3,800 miles.  I was hesitant to drive the car 20 miles to Pulaski.

So the trail was pretty ho-hum.  Riding on a flat grade is a lot weirder than I thought.  I figured it would  be great, I could burn miles and go really fast and just zone out.  But flat is sort of boring.  I will stop short of saying that I like hills but boy, there’s nothing better than bombing down a hill in the drops.  It was really beautiful country.  Don’t believe me?   Here’s some pics.


I have an affinity t0wards old buildings, houses, barns, etc.  Maybe it’s a suburban child thing.  You’ll probably start to notice that most of my pictures are of old buildings or cemeteries.



This is “downtown” Allisonia. I’m at the point where I’m always thrilled to see a store so I know I can refill my water bottles if needed.  Looking back, I wish I would have gone in the general store and looked around. 



Posed bike pic.  They incorporated the old railroad trestle bridges into the path.


Bridges like this are obviously pretty cool to ride across.  I feel like I’m a train.  Choo chooooo!



The river here was so calm and flat it looked like a lake.  There were some big houses with awesome boats all along the banks.  I then decided that one day I was going to be rich and own one of these houses.  


I have a sort of morbid love of cemeteries.  I blame this on my grandma (thanks Mimi!) I really do love them and I always slow down and try to read the inscriptions on tombstones and therefore usually end up making up far-fetched stories about who the deceased was and how he lived and died, etc.  This one was really worn down so I couldn’t speculate much.


BUT I was able to make up a story about this building.  It was right across from what looked like used to be a train platform, so I decided it used to be an inn for travelers to stay in for the night.  You could still see old furniture and fireplaces.

Ok, I think this is the time for some sort of disclaimer.  Imagine that you are riding your bike for 4, 5, or 6 hours at a time.  You have no one to talk to, no music, no internet, nothing.  You’re totally alone with your thoughts.  This is me, everyday, for the past month.  I have made up so many stories and scenarios in my head about buildings, fields, cows, whatever, that I must sound like a crazy person.  I really don’t think I am, so please bear with me whenever I post things that may seem a little strange.


I took my bike to a park near the river and took this picture.  I got back on the path around the 22 mile mark.  It was near 5pm, so it was sunny but also shady and I was having a hard time telling blots of sunlight between branches from sticks and stones that I need to avoid on my road tires.  So I took off my sunglasses so I could better survey the terrain.  Rookie mistake.  A rock or something flew up and hit me in the eye, immediately causing me annoying pain.  I had to stop and go into someone’s yard to look in their cars side mirrors to try to see if I could get whatever it was out of my eye.  I couldn’t, so I turned around and spent the next 22 miles in a very annoying, painful condition.  My eye was swelling shut while crying involuntarily.  So here I was, pedaling at breakneck speed with tears streaming down one side of my face.  It hurt but I was more annoyed because I had only brought 4 water bottles and my eye was releasing valuable water that my body needed to stay hydrated.  I ended up tying one of my leg warmers around my head to keep my eye shut, sort of a homemade eyepatch.  THAT DEFINATELY looked REALLY cool.  After a horrible drive home, my boyfriend took me to the emergency room (for the first time in my life) where the doctor pulled some tiny grains of rocks out of my eye and gave me some medicine for a scratched cornea.  Long story short, the eye heals itself super fast and I’m fine now.  If that’s the worst injury I get during this whole trip than I’m happy as a clam.023

See that spot on my other eye lid?  That’s a bruise.  I knew that rubbing my hurt eye would just scratch the grit in more, so the whole time I was riding and driving I would rub my other eye as some sort of psychological release.  Apparently I rubbed it so much it bruised.  Oops.  Seriously though, I’m 100% recovered 24 hours later.  And hopefully my accident insurance will cover the ER visit. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ride to the River

Today I went on a 35 mile loop from my house to the New River and back.  It didn’t stop thunderstorming and raining until about 3pm, so I only had 4 hours to kill before I had to come into work.  I chose to ride this route because I know that I can do it in under 3 hours and it’s pretty fun.  Getting there is mostly downhill and awesome; unfortunately the way back is a lot of uphill.  It usually isn’t too grueling but I felt really off my game today.  I was dying out there for awhile.  You know, when you’re struggling to get up a hill and you say “ok, fine, I’m going to punch it into granny gear” only to try to shift and realize you’re already in the lowest possible gear.  I hate that.  I hope my occasional struggling isn’t a bad sign.  I was trying to force myself to eat but it was so hot and humid I wasn’t hungry at all so I probably just needed more energy.  My ride tomorrow should be mostly flat which will be a welcome break.  I accomplished my 35 mile loop in record time for me, so that’s exciting.  At least I’m getting a little bit faster.  I have hard days like today and I realize how daunting this cross country ride really is.  I’m so nervous.  I hope that I can physically handle this trip.  026

Here is me and my beautiful boy outside of my apartment.  I wish he could come with me this summer.  I’m going to miss him more than anything.  Sorry everyone else. 


Here’s a pretty landscape right off of Glade Road.  You don’t have to go very far from downtown Blacksburg to see some serious views.




My bike next to a mountain stream.  Yeah, I’ve turned into one of those people that poses their bike.  


Here is a shot of the New River.  It’s really big and full right now.   Not many people out there today because of the earlier thunderstorms.




Another pretty picture of the bank of the river.





No matter where you ride around here, you always have beautiful views of valleys, mountains, pastures… just lots of green wherever you look. I hope training in this terrain proves to be advantageous.


Ah, the Huckleberry Trail.  This is a walking/bike path that goes from Blacksburg to Christiansburg, approx. 5 miles.  It’s a rails-to-trails project, where they take old railroad tracks that are no longer in use and turn them into these neat paths.  I love this trail.  It is the reason I started cycling again a couple of summers ago.  If it weren’t for the Huckleberry, I guarantee you that I wouldn’t be going on this cross country trip this summer.  Having a bike path free of cars and on mostly even ground encourages cyclists and runners to simply get out there and GO.  It’s also a beautiful ride and I enjoy ending all of my training rides by coming home on the Huckleberry.  The trail is currently being extended farther into Christiansburg and one day (not soon enough) you will be able to ride all the way up the mountain and connect to the trail system in Jefferson National Forest.  As an urban planner and a cyclist, I can really appreciate how much something as small as a paved path can help the community.  I love seeing people of all ages and sizes running, walking, biking, and generally trying to be healthier people.  Most individuals love to be outdoors, but safe and near civilization at the same time.  Paths like this provide that sort of opportunity.  I would love it if my future career was somehow related to making the outdoors more accessible to the average person.

Right now I’m back at work and writing this blog in between making mixed drinks and pouring beers.  I am not sore at all from my ride earlier (!).  In other news, we have spent the past week painting and generally renovating the bar I work at, Hokie House.  Here’s some pics!



It’s still a college beer and bourbon  bar, but at least now it looks nicer and cleaner.   There’s actually customers here now.  That’s good, I need money for (shakes magic 8 ball)…. a new bathing suit for my trip.  Come out and order drinks everyone!

My Bike

It’s been many long months, but I am happy to announce that I think my bike is finally ready to go!  And not a moment too soon.  It’s been a lot harder than I expected to find parts that I like, that fit me, and that aren’t too expensive.  Overall I think that I did a pretty good job.   Here’s a tour…


Here she is, the 2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker, color Blue Velvet.  This bike is a favorite of long distance tourists, especially those brave  people that carry all of their own gear.   It’s made of steel which makes it durable but heavy.  It’s not a Lance Armstrong bike, but I am not Lance Armstrong, so that’s fine.  I like the “relaxed geometry”  because it allows me to sit up and look around instead of spending all my time hunched over staring at the road.  This bike is a 46cm, almost the smallest size available.  I understand it has smaller wheels, cranks, and brakes to accommodate all of us tiny people.  Well done, Surly.  I originally wanted an understated sort of olive color, but they were out of stock so they sent me this blue one instead.  At first I was thrown off by how bright and loud it was but now I love it and I’ve outfitted it with equally garish accessories to complete the look.


Here is a close up of the frame.  My favorite color is red so if there was ever an option for me to pick the color of anything on the bike, I always picked red.  Also, red white and blue = America! Here you see the red water bottle holders.  The pedals are dual-sided Shimanos.  I felt that these were an important investment for me.  I wanted to be able to use this bike to just ride around in wearing sneakers, sandals, whatever.  I figure I am never buying another bike again, so I am going to make it as functional as possible so I can enjoy it until I’m 75.  That being said, clipping in is awesome.  It’s really indescribably cool to me.  You learn to pedal more efficiently and the bike becomes part of you.  It sounds cheesy but that’s really how it feels. The bike and I are one.  


Here you see my Brooks Saddle.  It’s made out of leather like horse saddles.  It is literally as hard as plastic (or plywood?).  The idea is that if you spend enough hours sitting on it, it’ll start to break in and mold to the specific contours of your butt.  After 500 miles my saddle is still as hard as a rock, but it never hurts me and my butt doesn’t get sore even after 5 hours of riding.  So I guess it’s working?  The purpose of the springs on the back is to provide suspension and even out the bumps on the ride.   Really, I think all they do is make a squeaking noise whenever I sit down or bounce around on the seat that makes me feel like a fatass.


Here you can see some of my cool add-ons.  Fenders with mudflaps around the wheels so I don’t get mud and water flung up on my back.  A sound investment, I think.  Also a rear red light and a rear rack with bungee cords.  Right now I usually strap my rain gear on the back because you never know when it’s going to thunderstorm here in Blacksburg.  The whole back part of the bike is pretty heavy.  I had a rear rack bag but I exchanged it for012 this Ortleib handlebar bag.  This bad boy looks huge on front because it is.  It was sorta pricey and I didn’t want it, but now that I have it I think that it’s awesome.  It opens towards me when I’m riding, so I can reach in real fast and grab a snack or my GPS or whatever.  It’s also waterproof which is always a big plus.  Right now I have a whole really odd assortment of things in there… gummy worms, arm warmers, sunscreen, camera, apples and bananas, candy bars… etc.  I like to be over prepared as far as snacking is concerned. 


Just a close up view.  That little mesh pocket fits my cell phone perfectly and there is another one the other side that fits my camera.  The brakes the bike came with were way too big for my freakishly small hands.  I actually had two sprained thumbs from holding on to dear life going down Ellet Rd. because I could only wrap one and a half fingers around my brake levers.  So the good folks at Bike Barn specially ordered these brakes for me.  They are so much better.  My thumbs are still recovering (months later) but now I can use three whole fingers to brake.   To install the new levers they had to unwrap my handlebars which was a great opportunity to re-wrap them in gel tape; now they are nice and cushy.  I’m spoiled.


Here’s what things look like to me for hours while I’m riding.   A bar regular sold me his bike computer at a great price.  You install some magnets on the wheel and it knows how many times it spins around and how fast.  Then the computer displays your current speed, average speed, top speed, mileage, ride time and lots of other things, even the time and temperature.  Once again, it’s an upgrade that’s a lot cooler than I thought it would be.  Sometimes I’ll be dying trying to climb up a hill at 4mph.  I’ll play games where I try to get up to 4.1mph, then 4.2mph, then I’ll try to get to 4.5 by the time I get to turn, etc.  It’s neat to be able to measure your progress like that.  I’m not an adrenaline junkie at all, but too often I’ll find myself playing the “how fast can I go downhill” game and the “can I break the speed limit” game. 


I love this disclaimer!  I’m told it relates to add-ons and panniers and whatnot, but I like to think that Surly just wanted to tell me, “hey, we understand if you put on a few pounds.  Don’t worry fatty, you’ll fit fine on this hunk of steel!”


Here’s a picture of our pull out sofa, which is apparently pulled out at the moment for the purpose of holding all my crap.  Everyday I get a box or something from Amazon or REI.  It’s like Christmas except I had to pay for it all.  The green jacket is my breathable rain jacket that I’m in love with.  On top are my rain pants.  Let’s see…. I spy a sleeping pad, a box of cheap camping pots and pans, a backpack, a sleeping bag, and part of a tent I guess I forgot to pack.  I’m not looking forward to packing this stuff and have just let it pile up… obviously.

And there it is!  I thought my bike would never come together, and it’s still a work in progress, but I have everything for it I really wanted.  The saddle, the pedals, the bag… all of it was carefully researched and paid for by mixing bourbon with coke time and time again.  I put a lot of thought into some of this stuff and I really really hope it works out for me during this trip so that a) I don’t feel like an idiot and b) I don’t have to spend any more money on bike stuff.  

I’m so excited and nervous about our departure in a week.  I have a fun, new ride planned out tomorrow that I’m stoked about.  Now that I have a new camera (thanks Mimi and PopPop!), I’ll be posting pictures of my training rides for the next week.  The country around here is so beautiful and I cannot wait to share it with everyone.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"It's the emblematic American journey. In U.S. history there is always a tension between home and the road. We talk a good talk about the joys of home, but the truth is we are obsessed with the road."

~ Author James Ronda, quoted in Time Magazine