Gone Benting

Several years ago, my doctor decided that my cholesterol was too high, so he put me on Lipitor. Before doing so, he spent about 1/2 hour warning me about all the rare side effects, which included nerve problems in the hands and feet. After about a month on the drug, I developed a nasty nerve problem called a Morton’s neuroma in my left foot. It could have been a coincidence, but I wasn’t taking any chances. My doctor tried several different drugs of the same type (statins), but the nerve pain came back.

The pain was worst when I rode Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, in my Keen sandals. So I chucked the sandals. The problem persisted. I went to a podiatrist and had a series of rather painful injections to calm the nerve. These injections helped some but made my foot numb. I bought a couple of remedies off the Internet that look pretty goofy. (One’s a big foam donut I put on my ankle when I sleep. Another is a rubbery thing that separates my toes. Wearing them looks as dorky as one of those cones you see on dogs after they’ve had a procedure at the vet.) They worked okay but they are not a cure.

Over the course of the last few years, I’d ride my recumbent sporadically, but had to rely on my two upright bikes, The Mule and Little Nellie, for most of my miles. A switch from toe clips to oversized PowerGrips allowed me to move my foot around on the pedal. Still the pain kept coming back.

This year, I decided to try riding with my new Teva open-toed sandals and the PowerGrips. The pain still comes back but it is tolerable. I have put well over 1,000 miles on Big Nellie this year and have ridden it for all but one short ride this past month.

(I have thought about buying some Sidi cycling shoes but this would require switching to clipless pedals which I am no fan of.)

Another change I made was involuntary. My fairing, a Lexan windshield, broke. This was probably a good thing since I couldn’t see through it for all the scratches I had put in it. Without the fairing, the weight distribution of Big Nellie is different: the front end is lighter. The steering is a bit twitchier which can be interesting. And the lack of a fairing allows for a cooling breeze, as Jonathan Winters used to say, all over my body. It’s like having a new bike. Without the fairing, I give up a couple of miles per hour on my morning hill descent but it’s worth it. (33 miles per hour is fast enough at 7 a.m.) I’ll get another fairing when the temperatures drop this fall.

One thing that’s interesting about recumbents is that you use your leg muscles differently than on a conventional bike. The more you ride a bent, the more efficient your pedaling gets. After all this bent riding, I can feel a big difference. After about 2 miles of warm up, hills don’t much bother my legs. I just get into a rhythm and spin my butt off. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still slow but you won’t hear much huffing and puffing from me.

The best thing about recumbents is that you can ride them all day and your back, neck and shoulders don’t ache. (In fact, if I am having any back problems, riding my recumbent actually acts as physical therapy.) Last Saturday, I rode 109 miles. My legs were tired but the rest of me felt just fine.

So for the next couple of months, you’ll see me out benting. I’ll be the guy on the big black rolling lawn chair with the wind up his shorts and a smile on his face.

Big Nellie Naked

]I had intended to go for a monster ride today, drive out into the country, take Big Nellie off her leash and let her rip. I stupidly didn’t get my butt in gear until 10 so the opportunity for  a century an hour drive away was lost. Instead I went into my basement looking for a cue sheet for the Southern Maryland Century, which starts in Indian Head MD, only 20 minutes from my house. During my search I found a cue sheet for a metric century (64 miles) in eastern Prince Georges County MD 30 minutes from my house.

So I took off Big Nellie’s fairing (a windshield made of Lexan) and plopped my long wheel base recumbent on my bike rack. And off I drove.

When I pulled into the park where the ride began, I saw a couple hundred cars parked. What are the odds that I would randomly pick this cue sheet on the day of this year’s ride? I felt a bit like a gate crasher. Riders on fast bikes were finishing as I was getting my bike ready, so it was unlikely that my ride would overlap with anyone’s in today’s event.

As I went to put Big Nellie’s fairing back on, the Lexan around one of the mounting holes snapped off. I have literally had this fairing duct taped for a couple of years so this wasn’t really a surprise. It has taken an incredible beating for ten years and nearly 30,000  miles.  So we rode naked. (Good thing, too, because halfway through the ride the mounting hardware broke!)

Kaput
Kaput

The fairing helps a lot when riding in windy conditions. It adds a couple of miles per hour on descents. And it weighs down the front wheel, balancing the weight distribution of the bike. Riding without it, however, makes the bike feel completely different. The front end feels lighter. The bike climbs a little better because it is lighter. On a warm day, the breeze across my body feels great. The biggest benefit was entirely unexpected: I could see the road. The fairing had been scratched so badly that I could no longer see through it. I have been compensating by braking a lot and leaning to the side to get a better view of the road surface ahead of me. No more.

The ride does a big figure eight along the Patuxent River, which separates PG County from Calvert County. I doubt the terrain gets more than 200 feet above sea level. Never the less there is quite a bit of climbing because the rest areas are the banks of the river. Every rest is rewarded with honest work.

The first twenty miles were a blast. My legs were fresh and I was trucking. I had fun waving to the event riders coming my way. I did quite a bit of hill hopping, screaming down one hill and using my momentum to blast up the next. I knew I’d pay for my early speed later in the ride but I didn’t care. I was zipping along at over 20 miles per hour, something I never get to do during the workweek.

The first rest stop was deserted so I took a quick look at the river. A park employee commented on my bike. We chatted and she told me about kayak and canoe rentals. The river looked inviting but I had riding to do.

I kept trucking, perhaps a bit slower than before. I chalked it up to bigger hills and headwinds. About a mile before the next rest stop,  a car pulled along side me and the driver asked me if I was okay. Weird. Then it dawned on me that he was the sag wagon, looking for stragglers from the event. At the next rest stop, the volunteers were loading all the food and drinks into cars. I parked a discrete distance away. One of the volunteers came over and offered me some food and drink. Don’t mind if I do.

The ride up from the river was considerably harder than before. I was slightly over half way. No problemo. It was, however, getting hotter and the humidity was rising too. Pedal, pedal.

A guy on a fast looking road bike blew by me on a hill. He stopped at the top. I later found out that he was waiting for a friend. The two of them volunteered at a rest stop and were getting some miles in after their good works. We talked a bit at the next rest stop. His friend gave me some pretzels and I took some pictures of them with their camera. They loaded their bikes on two cars and I rode off. Uphill. Ugh.

The route diverted into Charles County for a few miles. I saw a vulture in the middle of the road. Do I look that bad? No, he was busy with some road kill.

The last few miles back to the start were flat or downhill. I finished strong but was plenty pooped. 64 miles. Naked. Big Nellie didn’t blush once.

Last Days of Blindness

Friday’s are usually tough.  This week was different. Wednesday brought a day off from work courtesy of some meteorological legerdemain. I took Thursday off in anticipation of ice on the Mount Vernon Trail. I woke this morning with fresh legs. I needed them.

This whole week has been day after day of  strong winds out of the northwest.  A headwind every morning.  It can be dispiriting. It feels as if you are trying to move forward with the huge hand pushing against your chest.  By the time I reached Old Town I was already sick of it and I was not even half way to DC. In my mirror I spotted a rider who eventually pulled up behind me for protection from the wind. This lasted for about a mile when the rider passed me, probably after realizing that my recumbent was too low to provide much of a wind break. To my surprise the trailing rider was using aero bars. Misery loves company.

I crossed the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge. The wind was now a cross wind. With the fairing on Big Nellie I can sometimes tack like a sailboat. I wasn’t having much luck though.

I walked into Friday Coffee Club well around 8 a.m. and it was already crowded. Two tables were full and it was still early. I newbie came in and took a spot at my table. He said I looked familiar. As it turns out, he lives in my neighborhood and has seen me voting in my cycling clothes on election day. Small world. Welcome to Coffee Club, Jeff.

Jeff - Friday Coffee Club Noobie

There were perhaps 20 people in attendance. Many of them I didn’t know. Some I had never seen before. And many of the regulars weren’t there. I can’t imagine how crowded it will get when it warms up. At least then we’ll be able to sit outside.

I left Coffee Club in the company of Brian, who works for American University. Brian has a tough uphill ride every morning that he chronicles in his entertaining, informative, witty and grumpy blog. You should read it. It’s way good. We fought our way up G Street through the George Washington University campus. (You can tell it’s a stellar school because they insist on using the word “The” in their name.)

After Brian turned for his long uphill slog, I made for the TR Bridge. It was particularly challenging in the strong cross wind that actually made my fairing flap. I made it without incident and spent the next 8 hours working for the man.

The man is merciful and let me go home to my wife and child. Once clear of the winds in Lynn Street Canyon, I turned onto the Mount Vernon Trail. Tailwind!!!!!  Big Nellie pretended to be going downhill the whole way home.  Near the airport the trail makes a big “S”. As I turned into the S, the tailwind became a cross wind. I literally had to lean into the wind to stay upright. Once out of the S, I could lose myself in thought.

This week the National Women’s Bicycling Forum was held near DC. One of the themes was that the cycling industry does a lousy job of meeting the needs of women cyclists and encouraging women to ride. As I saw tweets during the event, I thought of all the women I have met through Friday Coffee Club in the past year. According to Myers-Briggs I am a huge introvert, so it kind of flabbergasting to me that I know so many women cyclists around here.:

Charmaine, Reba, Mary, Laura, Lauren, Kirsten, Kristin, Kate, Kate, Kate, Kate, Katie Ann, Kathy, Rachel, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, Heather, Nancy, Jean, Jane, Liz, Crystal, Claire, Leslie, Meg, Florencia, Veronica, Amy, Erika, Shane, Alex, and Bec.

In the first 20 years of cycling as an adult, I can name a whopping total of six women that I rode with: Becca, Anne, Kate (not one of the above Kates), Bev, Jody, and Mrs. Rootchopper.  Times have definitely changed.

By the way, at least two of the women listed above had ridden coast to coast. (One of them actually did the ride during Bikecentennial in 1976.) If you guess who they are, I’ll buy you a coffee next week.

There’s one thing that I am troubled by: what the hell is with all the Kates?

Today marks the end of cycling during Eastern Standard Time. Beginning Monday, I can ride home without headlights in my eyes. It doesn’t take much to make me a happy camper.