Author Archives: adamrice

Day 22: Burton to Coldspring

Started: Oct 13, 2010 7:24:12
Ride Time: 7:53:00
Stopped Time: 2:24:33
Distance: 109.80 miles
Average: 13.93 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 742.62 miles/h
Climb: 8016 feet
Calories: 4930

Another long day. While I was riding through the lost pines yesterday, I was riding through the piney woods of East Texas today. I spent quite a few idyllic miles riding through the Sam Houston National Forest, flanked on both sides by walls of tall pines, on a glassy road with minimal traffic. Some of the best cycling I’ve had during this trip.

Many of the roads I’ve been riding on are maintained by counties, and in Central and East Texas, I may criss-cross five counties in the course of a day. Today, in fact, I rode through six, and even if there weren’t county-line signs, I’d know by the quality of the road. I’ll just say that Montgomery and San Jacinto counties are the cyclist’s friends. Walker county, not so much.

Early in my ride today, in the community of William Penn (seriously), I met my second set of westbound Southern Tier riders, Sue and Ken from Canada. They’re apparently retired, and are very experienced cyclotourists—I think they said they’ve toured over 30,000 km in the USA. They were both riding Surlys with 2″ slick tires and a full set of bags. We traded tips and stories. They’re planning on taking a couple days’ break in Austin, and I was happy to be able to give them some pointers.

I pushed on to Navasota, the transition between Sections 4 and 5 in my maps. When I encounter a small town in Texas, I place it in a two-dimensional spectrum. On one axis is whether the town’s commerce is directed at locals or tourists. On the other is whether the businesses are succeeding or failing. It always makes me a little sad to see small towns that aren’t serving their local communities. Having seen Navasota, I think I need to add a third axis: nice or nasty place to live. Navasota’s main drag looks like most of the businesses are doing ok, and they’re clearly local-directed, but the place just has a nasty feel to it. La Grange, by contrast, is also local-directed and successful, but looks pretty pleasant.

I stopped at a café that was visible from the intersection that marks the transition from Section 4 to 5, and when I was paying my tab, got to chatting with the guy at the register who asked “are you riding east or west?”. He told me some stories about other riders who had stopped there, and told me that when I get to Louisiana, I should stop in the scariest, diviest restaurants I see—places I would never stop anywhere else—because they have the best food.

I had been riding mostly with strong crosswinds to this point (at one point, I saw a poorly secured barn roof being partly tugged off), but it was a few miles after Navasota that I found myself in the pines, and they shielded me from the worst of it.

By the time I was past the thickest of the pines, I was around New Waverly, on SH 150, a busy, chattery 2-lane road with nothing resembling a shoulder and a lot of redneck drivers who have no patience for cyclists. Not the best stretch of riding. But once I got past the town of Pumpkin (again, seriously), I entered a different county, the road improved, and the traffic diminished. I had a pleasant ride the rest of the way into Coldspring. Despite the fact that I already had a lot of miles behind me, I was feeling pretty good and still had about 90 minutes of daylight, so I thought about pushing on to the next town, Shepherd. But I decided to end on a high note.

Day 21: Austin to Burton

Started: Oct 12, 2010 9:55:54
Ride Time: 7:04:06
Stopped Time: 1:20:30
Distance: 101.85 miles
Average: 14.41 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 32.05 miles/h
Climb: 4002 feet
Calories: 4975

I rolled out from how at about 10:00 am today, a little later than I planned, but what can I say? It was hard to leave.

Feeling rested, re-energized by plenty of good eating, and renewed by time at home, with Gwen and the cats, and the company of friends, I made excellent time today. A tailwind that stayed with me all the way to La Grange didn’t hurt either—my average speed was above 15 mph for the first 40 miles, and stayed pretty high through the end of the day.

My route today took me through Bastop/Buescher state parks—they feel like one, but are really two. Lost Pines. I’d ridden through those parks before, bit more than a decade ago. It was really pleasant. After that, I was in pretty flat pastureland and farmland, all the way to La Grange. I had tentatively planned on stopping there for the day, but I had lots of daylight left and felt good, so I pushed on. Made it to Round Top and decided to push on some more to the next town, Burton.

The whole Round Top area is apparently a major antique mecca. There weren’t antique stores per se, there were warehouses that are apparently open during limited times of the year for big shows. Different warehouses had different dates. I saw a couple of sites where big event tents were being struck, so I must have just missed a show or two.

Also somewhere around there, I rode past what is billed as the smallest Catholic church in the world. I would have taken a picture, but I don’t have a macro lens.

Astute readers may notice that I completely ignored the Kerrville-Austin leg. If this invalidates my coast-to-coast ride, so be it. I am considering adding about 100 miles at the end anyhow.

Mid-tour report

A few random comments on how things are going on my tour.

Trike

Since I’ve never done anything quite like this tour before, I don’t have a basis of comparison for how well my recumbent trike works compared to anything else. I had picked the trike because I thought it would carry a load better, and because I expected it would leave me less beat up at the end of a long day.

Before beginning the tour, I rode repeatedly on an out-and-back route out to Bastrop that includes about 10 miles of really bad washboardy chipseal—so 20 miles out-and back. On my racing bike, I can only stand about 10 miles of that road before I feel really beat up. On my trike, I could ride all of that 20 miles (plus the remaining 40) without feeling very beat up at all, so that seemed like a win. Still, I’ve found that riding 100 miles in a day, all on rough roads, leaves me feeling pretty damned beat up. That may be exacerbated by the fact that I’m carrying 26 pounds directly over the rear axle.

Carrying the load directly over the rear axle points to another problem with the trike: torsional stiffness. Most recumbent trikes are built around a large-diameter tube that runs the entire length and serves as the main structural element, and a crossmember running supporting the front wheels. On very uneven surfaces, the rear can be twisting one way while the front is twisting the opposite, and I think this is exacerbated by how the load is carried.

Another negative handling feature that suffers for the same reason is on high-speed descents. Having that load cantilevered out over the rear wheel results in oversteer, which gets scary when descending a mountain pass at 45 mph. Still, I get the impression that I enjoy more stability, and can descend faster, than riders on similarly loaded conventional bikes. These problems could be solved by getting the load forward of the rear axle—as far as I know, no recumbent trike made today really permits this.

I had the trike tuned up right before dismantling it, boxing it, and flying with it to San Diego. By the time I reassembled it there, the brakes were somewhat out of adjustment. Each front wheel is controlled separately, and uneven braking can get a little hairy on twisty descents. I’ve learned to brake only with my inside wheel, which is entirely adequate, but I could imagine a separately controlled rear brake being useful for steep descents.

The seatback on my trike is a heavy mesh that is held in place by webbing straps and buckles, which allow the whole thing to be pulled taut. I think the mesh has permanently deformed, because no matter how tight I pull the straps, I have one vertebra that is hitting one of the buckles; this vertebra (or the soft tissue over it) is tender and visibly swollen. Have inserted some foam between the mesh and buckle.

On many recumbents (including Catrikes), leg length is accommodated by extending or shortening a telescopic boom that carries the crankset. Catrike has keyed the boom to keep the two parts axially aligned, but there’s still a little play. And Catrike’s booms tend to creep down, surprisingly, so I need to readjust the length every few days, and the axial adjustment has a chance to get off each time I do this. I’m pretty sure this resulted in a weird muscle tightness between my calf and ankle on my left leg.

Flats have been something of a problem: I’ve had a total of 8 so far. Having three tracks on the ground inevitably increases the odds of rolling over pointy debris. The fact that my trike uses two different wheels sizes, both rare, makes finding replacement tubes and tires impossible except in a city big enough to support a recumbent dealer. And of course, I shredded my rear tire, which I am choosing to view as a freak occurrence. If one is going to tour on a trike, it would be better to ride one that has 406-mm wheels all around, as they are a pretty common size (BMX bikes use them) and a wider range of tires are available in that size—the 451-mm wheel on the back of my trike limits my tire options severely, mostly to tires not really ideal for touring. I could swap in a 406, but I’m going to stick with what I’ve got. I knew about the wheel-size issue when I bought the trike, so I can’t fault anyone else for it. If I had been as happy with a different trike, I would have chosen a different trike

Despite these complaints, I’m pretty well satisfied with the trike. The trike is an excellent mountain-climber. I would probably have some physical complaints no matter what I rode, and I suspect I have fewer than I would otherwise. In addition to what I mentioned above, I had a calf cramp that lasted a few days and fairly frequent hotfoot, but that’s it. One frequent question I get is whether I’m worried about being invisible so low to the ground—I don’t use a flag. So far it hasn’t really been an issue, but I have to admit it could become one.

the iPhone

I’ve been running my life through my iPhone on tour. I take all my pictures and upload them to flickr with it. I track my daily route with it. I blog with it. I stay in touch via e-mail, twitter, and facebook with it.

Obviously it’s not really built for extended typing, but I’ve been managing to write fairly long blog posts with it, and it hasn’t been too painful. I have more typos, and inserting HTML tags is not worth the trouble (I should probably install a markdown plugin or something), but for my purposes on this tour, it hasn’t been bad. Unfortunately, the WordPress blogging app I use was updated in the middle of my tour, and that introduced some new bugs for me to work around, but it’s working.

For photography, I’ve been using Camera+, which is the best all-in one photo shooting/editing/uploading app I know of, but which has unfortunately has been pulled from the Apple store because they sneakily enabled the use of the volume-up button as a shutter release (a great feature), in violation of Apple’s guidelines. I have my flickr uploads automatically post to my blog as entries through an RSS aggregator plugin. I would prefer something better suited to the job, but haven’t found anything that quite works. I even tried hacking a plugin together myself, but quickly got bogged down.

I log all my rides with Cyclemeter. It’s designed more for fitness riding than touring, but I haven’t found any apps for bike touring that I really like, and I do like Cyclemeter in general. It makes it pretty easy for me to get my tracks into my blog, which is rendered using the XML Google Maps plugin. Anyone who has been reading this blog has noticed some crazy data in those tracks. This isn’t really Cyclemeter’s fault—it relies on the Location Services API from the iPhone for the raw data. I can imagine some workarounds.

I’m using the official Twitter iPhone app, and pulling in my tweets to my blog; I’ve used both an RSS aggregator plugin and the Twitter Tools plugin. The latter formats the posts better, but has had authentication issues with Twitter.

Other stuff

The rest of my gear has worked fine. The Ortlieb Sport Packer panniers are well-constructed and mount securely. The one ding against them is that each pannier is just one big bag, so it’s not easy to get at more than one thing in each pannier. Additional pockets would increase cost and be difficult to rainproof, and so would be a tradeoff. The solar panel I’ve been using to recharge batteries has worked fine. I bought a pair of REI climbing shorts and a pair of REI convertible pants to bring as street clothes; the shorts are fine, but the convertible pants are great—I should have bought two pair of those. Super-light, well-constructed, and about a dozen pockets. My Nike cycling cleats are starting to disintegrate: the velcro is only glued onto the top straps; one piece of velcro has come off entirely (I reglued it while in Phoenix) and the others have loose edges.

I’ve brought two pair of cycling shorts—some Castelli Endurance bib shorts, and some Louis Garneau bib shorts (not sure of the model). The Castellis are pretty fancy. They’re made of very light fabric, which is nice because when I rinse them out and wring them out at the end of each day (protip: to wring out lycra, roll it up in a towel and wring out the towel—it extracts more water), they’re always dry by the next morning, but it also means they’re visibly disintegrating. The Louis Garneaus are heavier material that is always a little damp in the morning but will probably wear better. I’ve also brought two jerseys—an ancient Assos jersey and an old Pearl Izumi. Apart from the fact that both have tar stuck to the back that will never come off, they’re fine. I’ve been carrying my phone, ID, and money in an Amphipod waist pouch that works fine. I had contemplated getting a bike mount for the phone, but I now think the constant road vibrations would have either shaken the phone loose or damaged it if I used one.

I haven’t used my camping gear much, but it’s fine, as far as it goes. I have a problem getting a good night’s sleep when the small of my back is unsupported, and my sleeping pad just isn’t fat enough to offer that support. It’s a funny thing: if I knew that I could get a meal and a place to sleep every day, I could be doing this tour with about one-quarter the amount of gear. That insurance policy is heavy.

The weather has been changing during the tour, and for the remainder, I’ll be bringing a cool-weather jersey and tights. Other than that, I’ve felt adequately equipped.

My health

I’ve already mentioned some minor biomechanical issues that relate to my equipment. Other than that, I’ve had few complaints. I’ve mostly managed to avoid sunburn except for my lips: I carry SPF 30 chapstick, but even with frequent applications, my lips have gotten pretty torn up. I developed a mysterious rash on my left shoulderblade that lasted a couple of days and seems to be gone now. I got some bug bites (fleas? bedbugs?) early in the tour.

I’ve been hydrating adequately, but I haven’t been eating enough. I lost at least 10 lb (I’ve been eating like a horse while home). It’s hard to get enough calories in a day, especially from decent-quality food.

On most days, my distance is limited not by my abilities but by the amount of daylight and the locations of town: one of my rules is to avoid riding in the dark, another is to end each day in a town. I’ve been pacing myself pretty well. My legs usually have some life left in them, even after 100 miles, although I’m slow rolling out in the morning.

Other observations

Bikers seem to be uniformly friendly, and I’ve had several nice chats with Harley riders pulled over on the shoulder. Semi drivers are pretty friendly too. New Mexico drivers almost always wave.

Riding in a car after 20 days of cycling is weird. The comfort, the quiet, and the speed—covering in one hour a distance that would be a respectable day’s riding is kind of mind-boggling.

Day 20: Camp Wood to Kerrville

Started: Oct 7, 2010 7:38:37
Ride Time: 6:13:34
Stopped Time: 2:09:21
Distance: 89.64 miles
Average: 14.40 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 964.56 miles/h
Climb: 22324 feet
Calories: 3740

The data above is pretty wonky, but I think the map is accurate.

Got rolling before the sun was showing over the hills, and it was downright cold. Had to keep my jacket on and zipped for the better part of an hour, at which point I got to the climbing. Steep climbing. That got me warmed right up. There was one long hill that just went straight up, and I had to take four or five breaks on the way to the top just to let my heart rate recover.

I spent a long stretch on Ranch Road 337 in the first part of the day (and at the end of the previous day as well). RR 337, along with 335 and 336, are known as the “three sisters” to car and motorcycle enthusiasts, who seek them out as a driving loop for the roller-coaster hills and curves. I know this because Gwen and I spent our anniversary in a cabin on RR 337; we had brought our bikes out but Gwen prudently refused to ride on the stretch of road right in front of our cabin (and several miles on each side) because the road was narrow, with no shoulder, and presents a lot of blind turns. We did do some riding nearby, and were puzzled to see six Porsches drive by at once, or a dozen Mazdas, or four Corvettes. Eventually we got to talking with some Mazda drivers and they explained the whole Three Sisters thing to us.

I didn’t put this together right away when I found myself riding on 337. I rolled through the town of Leakey and found it strangely familiar, but couldn’t put my finger on when I had been through there before. And then I saw a warning sign reading STEEP GRADES AND SHARP CURVES, and I knew exactly where I was. In fact, I saw a trio of identical Honda minivans with dealer plates and serial numbers stuck on the back windows driving back and forth here, presumably using the road to test their handling.

So, that was challenging. I rode right past our cabin. At the easternmost, and most notorious peak along 337, I saw a motorcycle rider pulled out at an overlook, so I joined him. We chatted for a while and took pictures for each other.

I pushed on to Hunt, where the road crisscrosses and then runs parallel to the Guadalupe River. It’s one of the prettiest areas I know in the state, with cypress and pine trees lining the banks. The road was mostly level with the river here, and the pavement quality was somewhat improved, so I was able to make better speed and enjoy the ride more. When I made it to “the store” in Hunt, I pulled over to get some water and Gatorade, and chatted with some motorcycle riders who had passed me on the road not long before. They were impressed at how quickly I had caught up with them.

I wound up taking a slightly extended break here and pushed on towards Kerrville. When I was just a couple miles away from town, I was startled by my first actual blowout. When I got up to examine the tire, I found a gash at least two inches long, with the cords completely frayed under the casing. I knew that trikes tend to wear out tires quickly, and I knew I was wearing my tires out faster than usual, probably because of the pack weight, rough roads, and heat. They had about 2200 miles on them (which includes pre-tour riding), which still seems pretty short.

In any case, that kind of damage is a showstopper. I might have been able to patch something together that would get me to the next town, but even that’s debatable. If this had happened anywhere else, I would have found my way to the next town and had a new tire overnighted to me. In this case, since I was so close to home (and would have ridden home the next day, had the tire held), the logical thing to do was to have Gwen pick me up. Which she did. So I got home a day early for the break I had intended to take anyhow, and I’ll be here for a few days. I’ll write an interim tour overview shortly.