Monday, March 29, 2010


There is a section of Louisville where cyclists strength, agility, and nerves are tested to the brink. Surprisingly, there are no steep hills, sharp curves or even a single speed bump involved. It is actually a fairly straight section of road with river views and amazing homesteads lining the landscape. The CHALLENGE of this ride is the road itself. It is a narrow 2-line road meant for far less traffic than it occupies now. Cars frequently ignore the 35mph posted signs and like to double or triple those numbers as they pass small, slow, cyclists. It is as close as cars can get to you without causing death or bodily harm (although death has occurred). It is not uncommon to hold your breath when you hear downshifting coming from behind or the high pitched squeal of a tire hugging the pavement to maneuver around you.

It is NOT a ride for the faint of heart. Beginner riders will often avoid this section even though it is a gateway path to scenic, challenging riding. For a “smooth” ride, you have to be comfortable on your bike, not too squeamish with cars, and generally prepared to make evasive maneuvers around tattered carcasses of creatures too slow for the speeding Porsche (R.I.P. possum). The phrase “holding your line” is a rule as only a few inches separate you from a littered strewn ditch (on your way out of town) or careening your bike into the murky, haphazard waters of the Ohio River (on the return trip). To cap off the challenge of the ride is the fact that a headwind will surface at times in BOTH directions forcing your calves, thighs and lungs to push for continuous momentum.

With all of this…you may even question why ANY cyclists would go through all this trouble to accomplish a ride. A new rider this weekend firmly indicated to the four woman group that she wanted to “push herself” and with little conversation, we all agreed that River Road will push your limits. One might have referred to this ride as the “Tour De Baptism” as in “Baptism by fire" while others may compare it to a hazing ritual reserved for some Greek sorority minus the secret handshake. We have rules for “newbies”…including (1) they never pull for the group. There is no sense in adding the pressure of setting pace, calling out maladies in the road, and pedaling until your knees blow out. (2) We never put a newbie in the rear. Again, no need to add pressure to the one pulling up the rear by announcing squirrelly cars or  suggesting pace adjustments. So, we put “newbies” in the middle. Their ONLY job is to pedal…not crash…and stay alive (these are really rules for EVERY ride).

As the one pulling up the rear this time, I can tell you that I rode a pace a bit slower than usual finally settling to “big ring” it. I offered the newbie encouragement who surprisingly took to this bike path like a  duck to water. She closed gaps and held her line amazingly. She even felt some of the full effects of drafting. Other than her own personal frustration in understanding her gearing, she found on the return trip a scenic picture in a final turn which is the Louisville downtown skyline. I told her I used that as a visual marker to indicate I was almost home and left with only a few more miles of truly dangerous road to travel.

Ironically, this treacherous and sometimes annoying section of cycling byway has become one of my favorite rides. It can set the tone for a upcoming challenging ride and offer a nice reprieve on the tiring return trip when all your legs can do is spin. It has become a rite of passage for several of my cycling friends. It is a moment where you may decide to abandon cycling all together or hopefully it will cause you to only want to do it more. Some people may call us masochists—I couldn’t agree with them more.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Have you spent much time around a 3 year old? If you have, you know that one of their favorite words is “why?” and can you blame them? Being three, you are quite limited on how the world works and everything in it… so of course, you are going to ask “why?” Curiosity is the footprint of man. Of course, you never have to stop asking why at any age. The truth is, we never really learn how everything works, including ourselves.

The strangest and one of the most common of all questions on the bike is “why do you ride?” This is a logical question usually asked after a long gut punching ride. Face it! Cyclists do not look good after a long, challenging, sweaty ride. It is a logical question with so many varied answers each as individual as the bikes we ride. I cannot answer for every rider, just myself.

I was a tom boy growing up (you are not surprised by this). I played every sport and to the dismay of my mother resisted all things “girly.” In adulthood, I struck a balance between a shoe loving, nail polished chick and a gritty, sweaty, pedal-pushing cyclist (mom is still disappointed—oh well). On a normal day, I have more energy bound up inside me than two Dalmatians running circles in a yard. If that is not enough, my mind goes at 90mph all day. Forget walks in the park, forget water aerobics, unless it is an hour of pain, sweating and suffering, it is NOT going to wear me out.

The bike not only breaks down my lactic acid threshold but it wears down my mind. A 36-mile ride is about what it takes to have all the conversations in my head with all the things I am confronted with on a daily basis meant to make me feel like less of a person…”why aren’t you married?”,why don’t you have kids?”, “what is your next career move?”,why didn’t you go to law school?”, “when are you going to quit this bike thing?”…and in my head I respond in proper order the answers I would really like to give if I had my wits about me…”I was married and when I do it again, it will not be because I think it is the next logical step but because I believe I can grow old and love someone as much as I could ever love someone and they can do the same for me,”… “I don’t have kids because I believe it takes two parents who are ready to sacrifice themselves—I do not want to do it alone,”… “my next career move is the best guess of anyone but I promise, it will not suck,”… “If I had gone to law school, I would likely be an unhappy nasty attorney that people would avoid at parties” and “quit this bike thing? Not anytime soon unless my legs fall off in my sleep.”

All the while these conversations are playing a reel in my head, I will come to realize at some point, that I have gone several miles, conquered multiple hills, and likely reached speeds exceeding 30mph. I push through the rides hoping to reach a new level each and every time. I never tire of the pursuit to push through and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with most rides. I chase after the perfect ride every time I step out my front door.

Everyone rides for his or her own reasons. I know women who use the bike as a cute puppy hoping to meet that perfect guy while I know men who ride for the sheer primal testosterone love. For some it is a simple hobby like knitting or bird watching. For others, like myself, it becomes a necessary part of life, a coping mechanism that makes those “why” moments make sense.  We can learn a lot from three-year olds.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Park rules no one really talks about…

Unbeknownst to me, probably while I slept because I am a sound sleeper, something horrible happened to my beautiful park. On a bright sunny afternoon, sneaking away from work a few minutes early, I came to discover that my park had been invaded by PEOPLE! Wild strollers, lose overjoyed pooches, and skinny jean wearing cigarette inhaling hipsters have taken over the hundreds of precious acres that I call MINE. Just because the mercury finally reached temperatures above 40 does not mean that every lame person on earth needs to visit the park. If you are lame and you still insist on using the public park, then observe some common courtesies.

1. Get out of my way: Yes, there is a pedestrian/ cycling lane all for us (walkers, joggers, cyclists, roller bladers). The concept of this lane was invented so we do not have to deal with automobiles and we can walk or cycle or inline skate (who the hell does this anyway?) without any worry about being mowed over. This means that pedestrians void of wheels between their crotches or under their feet should move to the side when a cyclist (or rollerblader) comes through. Instead of congregating and taking up the whole lane, step off to the side. This way, I do not have to worry about having a collision with your neighborhood gossip group.

2. Once you get out of my way, stay out of my way: Okay, so you need to cross the street to get to your car. The best time to do this task is when the path is clear, MEANING THERE IS NO TRAFFIC OR OBSTACLES IN YOUR PATH. Do not make direct prolonged eye contact with me as I am barreling towards you and then decide to “dash” to your car. This causes me to use my brakes and honestly, this could end badly for all of us. You will get across the street and to your car…promise. Wait for me to pass and then walk to your car.

3. DO NOT SMOKE…PERIOD: First, smoking is a nasty disgusting habit but it is MORE disgusting is to walk the park for some fresh air while you enjoy your Marlboro Red. How about a water bottle? Gum? Piece of fruit? The LAST thing I want to encounter on my ride is second hand smoke. Oh and when you finish your cigarettes and need a place to dump that filter…try a city provided receptacle…because cigarette butts do not fertilize the ground or make for a nice doggie treat-- ass hole.

4. Your baby is cute…but keep it out of my way too: I get it…you have been cooped up ALL WINTER like the rest of us but YOU have been surrounded by baby drool and soiled diapers. Your decision making skills may be challenged. You need an escape, so you go outside with the baby all bundled, wrapped and swaddled so tightly, his cheeks have a twinge of blue color. Here is a newsflash mom, TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR STROLLER. Do not let it roll without your hands on it and do not push it into my path. Nothing would make me more upset than if I ran over a baby.

5. Soccer moms need to learn to use turn signals: So it’s YOUR turn to drive and load up the minivan…haul the team to practice and pick them up. When dropping off your 7 or 8 future world cup champions, how about using the turn indicator instead of just STOPPING in the street? As a cyclist when I ride behind you, I rely on those standard safety features that came with your car when you bought it. If you insist on just stopping in the road…use your flashers. If you do not know how to use these features on your car, there should be a manual (with arrows and other pictures) under the parking tickets, gummi bears, and Nicorette gum in your glove box.

6. I will not give you directions: So you only come to the park twice a year because exercise you feel is best performed from your couch. Now, you realize your afternoon walk has lead you to the other side of the park and you do not know how to get back. Bummer. There are walkers, joggers, and other strangers all around but you want to flag down the cyclist. DON’T DO IT! I am not going to stop unless I can see that you have severed a limb, lost a large quantity of teeth, or have a sign reading “I want to give you money.” When I do pass you, do not call out names to me, curse me, or make middle finger gestures. I do NOT have to stop and I do NOT WANT to stop so I can tell you to follow the yellow line to get out of the park. Use bread crumbs next time!

7. All dogs poop, pick it up: Dogs poop. They poop anytime, anywhere. Because of this fact…take a bag with you and do not leave a craptastic pile for some unsuspecting cyclist to splatter through. Contrary to some unpopular belief…we do not want to spatter our bikes, our clothes, our shoes, and i-pods with your dogs excrement. Pick it up…throw it away. Yes, it stinks...but this is the responsibility of good dog owners anyway. The road is not a public toilet that will magically erase your dog’s turds.

Within the coming weeks, the plethora of people will dwindle. Some will tire of exercise, sunshine and fresh air (it gets old, right?). Others will make the park an occasional stop. I look forward to these days because there are fewer encounters with those who are inconsiderate and ill mannered. It turns my ride into something quiet and enjoyable. My heart rate goes up while my stress level goes down and thankfully no babies are harmed. These are the good days I look forward to.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nothing tests a relationship like Richmond, Virginia

My excitement runneth over just a couple of weeks ago…

The Original Plan: Take Friday off from work, load up the car, drive 7+ hours to Richmond, Virginia and surround myself with thousands of handbuilt bikes. The highlights of the weekend would include visiting the Richard Sachs booth (get a picture of the boyfriend and Richard Sachs) and drooling over Independent Fabrication’s latest creations. A nice king size bed, free flowing libations and uninterrupted cable awaited our arrival. The most complex part of the weekend would be driving 7+ hours in the car with the boyfriend. The first road trip can define (or end)  a relationship essentially as two people have to learn to navigate their needs in strange places while maintaining the “coolness” the other was attracted to in the first place.

What really happened? Under no fault of our own (directly), our plan was foiled as we crossed state lines. Looking back, maybe the details we ignored were the VERY details we should have paid attention to and turned the car around to head home. Friday night, with the car fully packed, we were crossing over from quiet suburbia into the mountain region of West Virginia. I have driven through mountains before…I have seen snow…I know how to drive. Well, that was all before an unbelievable snow storm from the bowels of hell sprang forth in front of the dash board leaving only inches of sight visible. Our car became a survival vehicle rolling at 20mph in endless darkened hills. What should have been an hour or so drive turned into a three hour nightmare of snow, blackness, and praying for working brakes. Communication dwindled to single words (right, left, center, over there) with added directional finger visualizations (which were needed) as we both tried to remain composed realizing that at any moment, the car could careen off into a cavern of frozen death. It was not until the last few miles that I found my neck dripping with sweat, my palms slammed shut and my sanity truly tested. There was no option to change drivers. There was NO where to change them. There were no exits to leave the highway, call it a night or simply pull over and cry. Our seven hour car ride turned into twelve. Our blown out selves startled the front desk workers but the weekend was still at hand and we made it intact, car and all.

Once settled and recharged with a full four hours of sleep, I finally found myself surrounded by handbuilt bicycles from all over the country. I would be lying if I said I did not think of them as sexy. Each bike is a single work of art and it is hard to not fawn over them like a child at a Christmas tree. These few moments in the early morning seemed to evaporate the nightmare of “the hills have eyes” driving experience some six or seven hours prior. The weekend, as originally planned, was looking up…and for a moment we found ourselves relaxing.

Then in the brief afternoon hours, our weekend rollercoaster took a nose dive, bounced off track, and landed in a volcanic pit of debt and anger. The Volvo wagon that had completed 556 miles through some of the most rugged terrain I have ever driven had now burned out an alternator. With each turn of the key, we had a mini, self contained fireworks display garnering “oohs” and “ahhs” from the valets. In a panic, our only reliable source for auto repair was a possible crack head mechanic named Kino with a knack for saying, “I got you” who took in my car like an adopted child replaced the alternator and sent us on our way over 24-hours later (only after we had visited an area of town known for drug dealing and consistent nightly murders). To add insult to our disaster weekend, we located the only cabbie in Richmond void of directional sense but filled with the love of New Orleans (his ring tone was “When the Saints Go Marching In”) and coconut interior spray. In a Pavlov response, we now twitch whenever we think of that song and dry heave at the smell of anything tropical.

We paid for our repairs the next dark evening in cash (as he requested) and I am pretty sure not only did we pay for an alternator but we also paid for our lives being spared in an area of town where we DID NOT belong. Only two exits into our lightening drive home in the pitch black of night did we soon discover our nightmare was not quite over. Our power steering pump literally pumped out fluid onto the ground like a geyser leaving us stranded an unexpected night as we waited hourly for a Volvo dealership to open its doors. Our refuge was a quaint Ramada Inn with possible bodily fluid stained walls, hair covered sheets, and odd cheap Diplomat Coffee sat next to the same sink I spit my toothpaste saliva in. We slept with our eyes open, stiff and too tired to even spoon.

The following morning, a AAA driver greeted us hoisting the Volvo yet again onto a flatbed and dragging us to a nearby dealership where the staff took pity on us. Out of clean underwear and possibly having to sell a kidney to pay for the remainder of the repairs, we sat anxiously for four hours hoping to get back on the highway soon. Once on the highway and $1,394 dollars later, we found not only a new appreciation for the little comforts of home like a lack of blood spattered walls or fully functional plumbing but we discovered that we travel well together. In a panicked moment, I found myself tired, stranded, and about to lose it on anyone around me. Thankfully someone was there to put a bit of calm into my day. Having spent the majority of our funds on the car, we ate meals at McDonalds and delighted in the sightseeing of trailer homes high atop a mountain with no obvious path leading to the front door.

 If there were an array of emotions to be had, we spent them all and yet remained on speaking terms with each other. Maybe it was the abundance of transfats and caffeine but we found ourselves laughing spontaneously through the mountains (which looked much different in the daylight hours). We reflected only briefly on the bike show debating if the show actually happened or had we fabricated it all in our heads. According to my checkbook, we did not dream this weekend up. In May there is a road trip planned to Asheville. I would be lying if I said I was not apprehensive but we will be fine and just as there is a Kino in Richmond, I am sure there is one in Asheville too waiting to take cash and repair a Volvo. The one task was accomplished, the picture was taken successfully. Thankfully, my boyfriend and I are still on speaking terms and no stitches were required for wound care. He is the best.