Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cowling Road Loop

In northwest Denton County, Clear Creek dominates the topography. Whether it is the main channel or a major tributary, the most pronounced ups and downs are related to Clear Creek. Rolling hills are typical in this area and those rollers get notably larger as one rides closer to Creek. When riding the fixed gear bicycle, one is very aware of his surrounding topography.

I've named another cycling loop near our place; Cowling Road Loop. Cowling Road is an old, poorly maintained roadway that roughly parallels IH-35 south of Sanger, Texas. In this loop, Cowling Road approximately represents the southeastern limit (in which my home is near the northwest limit). Cowling Road also crosses Clear Creek and (according to Google Earth) the bridge deck represents the lowest point of elevation of the ride at 583 feet. The highest point on this loop is probably the farthest point away from the Creek bed at 817 feet. The road in front of my house, for comparison, is at about 778 feet. Here is Clear Creek flowling lazily by on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

It is a 22.6 mile loop that crosses Clear Creek twice and a major tributary one time. That means, on average, that there is a fairly steep climb of more than 100 feet every 7-8 miles. The Cowling Road loop is not a unique challenge for a cyclist. Many ride in mountainous terrain that poses much greater challenges. However, compared to my former home on the flat Gulf Coast, this area is more interesting and an aid to regaining fitness. Three weeks into a base miles program and I think there are few signs of progress.

Good Comp'ny

It was an early Saturday morning amble west of Ponder, Texas. Although I had the camera at the ready, the comp'ny and the surroundings were too pleasant to interrupt. No photos today.

Clear skies and brisk, still morning air. Conversation and story-telling. Pedaling and watching the world wake-up through hill and dale. Miles and minutes passed by with hardly a notice.

My buddy selected the route near his home and told me stories about local history and families in the area. He told me about their land and how well they managed things. I don't recall him making a negative comment about anyone. I don't think that is because nothing ever goes wrong. I think my friend doesn't waste time on those things. I think he likes to celebrate the good and keep negative things from spreading. I can learn a few things from this guy.

A far cry from New England, Ponder, Texas doesn't have the same dramatic visual slap-in-face impact of the northeast part of the country. However, during the fall, this pasture dominated landscape has its own subtle beauty including the occasional brilliant color. It seems there are more colors with richer tones than at other times of the year. The gold, green, and a thousand shades of orange and brown...all in the glowing light of the autumn morning sun. Subtle as it might be, it is treasure compared to this time of year in the city.

Good weather, great comp'ny. One can't help feeling like he is one of the most fortunate.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bridge Out

One of the affects of the prolific spring/summer rains (in Denton County, Texas) of 2007, is the damage done to infrastructure. Many local bridges were damaged or completely washed away. The replacement of those bridges has been underway ever since. Fortunately, most of the more highly used structures have been replaced. It is the lightly traveled county roads that seem to take awhile to be repaired.

Cycling loops that I have found in every direction are affected to some degree. Most, like the one shown above, are not passable by car. However, the adventurous cyclist can manage to cross with only a minor delay. This bridge is near our place and one that requires that I stop and walk the bike across frequently. Like the many short stretches of gravel roads nearby, it's just one more charming thing about living in a rural area.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Is It?

What is it about a woman driving a tractor with a dog that personifies beauty? It makes me want to hold her tight and proclaim, "Honey, I've never loved you more than I do right now".

It's no secret that we have some driveway maintenance issues. The driveway is a work in (very slow) progress. Janet found a few large-ish rocks piled up along the back fence and we figured maybe we'd put some in our driveway low spots before we bring in the next load of crushed limestone base. A little more bearing capacity was the basic line of thinking. Besides, those rocks aren't doing much along the back fence except getting in the way of mowing.

So she fires up the tractor, attaches the big dachshund, and ambles out to the rock pile. She transfers the rocks to the front-end loader and hauls them to the driveway. When I heard the rumble of the diesel on the way back, I looked out the window...and what a sight!

The rest of you guys just back off. She's incredibly attractive but, thankfully, she is all mine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The alarm jolted me awake at 5:30 am. Cycling's promise said, "Get up out of bed and get on the bike. The minor discomfort of an early morning departure in the cold and dark will eventually reward you with rich blessings."

My response was, "Oh yeah?...well, my bed rewards me immediately with the blessings of cozy warmth and rest without discomfort." And so it goes...the debate that occurs countless times across the world in the minds of those who plan to wake early to pursue any purposeful activity.

I know, of course, from experience that I would regret going back to sleep and letting an opportunity slip by. I know also that there often is a nice reward for a reasonable investment in cycling. Because I believed cycling's promise, I reluctantly crawled out of bed, quickly found some warm clothes, and took my time fueling up for a ride. At 6:15 am, I rolled out the front door into 42 degree darkness and pointed my headlight into the north wind.

When I start my rides northward, I gain elevation. The gradual climb, along with the brisk wind, lack of warm up time, and no gearing options, didn't take long to render me gasping. As the road leveled and breathing returned to a more comfortable rhythm, I noticed first the burning in my still-cold legs. Then I noticed the stars and the wind blowing into my ears.

It's a little creepy out there alone on deserted county roads in total darkness. The headlight provides plenty of bright light straight down the road, but it is a rather focused beam and there is no vision to either side. When dogs bark, the only way to tell whether they are chasing is to discern whether the barks are rapidly growing louder. There can be some very uneasy moments between barks. Unlike the daylight hours, there is no way to determine if they are behind a fence or roaming and ready for the kill.

After awhile, the body warms up the the effort, but the pace into the wind is slow. Fortunately, the limited field of view makes it seem like a reasonable pace. The creepy feeling of loneliness transitions into purpose, rhythm, and the preservation of momentum. The turn-around point almost comes as a surprise.

Turning around brings several rewards. First, there is the change in direction so the wind becomes an ally. Second, light on the eastern horizon becomes evident. On chilly mornings, that orange tint lining the earth-sky interface begins to give definition to a few otherwise invisibly grey clouds. It might as well be God's personal cheerful, "Good Morning!", exclusively to me. Finally, while riding the wind, the ride is amazingly quiet. There is nothing, but the faint hum of tires on pavement and a few sounds from the local surroundings. Passing by one farm, the creaking of a windmill swiveling to a slight wind shift was obvious to me before it was spotted visually. By this time, the rewards of the morning ride were abundantly evident. The cranks spun easily, the temperature was comfortable, and it felt good to be outside and moving.

Nearing home, each new thing becoming visible was as if it were a new greeting. The warm glow is a stunning contrast to the chilly air.

It occurred to me that cycling's promises are similar to God's promises. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." His promise is that if we choose the minor discomfort of giving up self to submit to His ways, He will provide us a full life. To the degree that I have believed the promise and submitted to Him, I have been rewarded with rich blessings. Just like it takes a while to warm up on the bike, it takes time to adjust to more selfless living. Just like it is a little scary to pedal in the dark, it is a little scary to trust Him to lead me and and use me for His purposes. Just as that sun rises in the horizon, He encourages me and gives me strength. Then I see Him more clearly and I rejoice in His blessings.

Hopefully, the trivial rewards of cycling's promises will continue to remind me of the infinitely more valuable rewards from the promises of God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Miss Becky

A beautiful, but windy, Sunday afternoon found me back on the bike. There have been days in the past, when speed was the objective. A strong wind in those days would have been a strong annoyance. In those days, there were strong limitations in my perspective. In these days, with perspective, each opportunity to roll out is a special privilege. Today's ride, in addition to the training benefits, included a short visit with Miss Becky.

Miss Becky, as I call her, lives at the FM 455/FM 2450 intersection. This unicorporated area is known to locals as Boliver. It is a four-way stop with a gas station/grocery on one corner. In the photo above, she's rolling in the grass on the southwest corner. She's homeless, but pampered. Several, including certain females in my family, have tried to rescue her. Miss Becky doesn't want to be rescued. Those in the grocery feed her by keeping a constant pile of food laying around. It is my understanding that others have brought her food as well. During my visit today, I noticed that someone had placed about a pound of fat trimmings from some kind of barbeque. I think it was from a brisket and it smelled delicious. No sir, Miss Becky, don't need no rescuing.

It is hard to get close to Miss Becky. She likes her freedom. While using the zoom feature on my camera, I was able to see that she apparently has a social life (see her friend at left in photo above). Either that, or Miss Becky likes to show-off her freedom to those less fortunate. It really looked like she was enjoying the Sunday afternoon sunshine and the breeze.

Back at the house, the new bike begged to strike a pose. Sometimes it is easier just to accomodate than it is to argue about it. Another show-off.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Little Things

This week goes down as a great example of how, without sufficient margin in life, little things can erode away important things. Many of us have schedules that are packed full. I suppose we do this because we wish to "miss" as little as possible...the old "I want to have it all" line of thinking. Maybe it is because we think that the whole world out there needs our special touch. Whatever the reason, without sufficient margin, life's little contingencies pop-up. When they do, they usually do not displace the urgent things in our schedule. It is the less urgent, but more important things, that are nudged aside.

For reasons of spiritual, emotional, and physical health, I've remembered the long-term importance of Bible study, prayer, and physical exercise (for me, cycling). Certain measures have been taken to re-emphasize these things and put them back in my weekly routine. The training log added to this blog (bottom of right hand column) is one visible example. Less visible examples include carving out some time daily for reading the Bible, meditation, and prayer. While things run smoothly, it feels great to balance the accomplishment of the "must be done today" things with some time to step back and sow the proverbial seeds for a future harvest. Then come the little things.

This week included its share of little things. Somehow I let the more valuable things slip out of my grasp. Isn't it amazing how well Jesus could focus? Maybe that is why God reminds us...

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
(1 Thess. 5:21)

Hold fast indeed! Let this serve as a reminder to us all. Focus on what is important and not on what is incidental.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mixed Bag

Those who aren't cyclists out there may have never experienced one of the less desirable aspects of cycling...the saddle sore. There is no need to go into details here except to say that we are not simply talking about a sore (bruised) posterior after riding a saddle to which you are not accustomed. This is a malady that those who race bikes for a living must endure from time to time. Experiencing one of the very few things I have in common with the cycling elite, the last 3 days have been my time to endure.

Here is what a bike does when its riding companion is not up to the task...

...kinda pathetic, isn't it?

On the positive side of things, I've still got the new bike which continues to impress, a few hours of training were completed during the first week, and I was able to get back on the bike again today to start the second week. Not fully recovered, one doesn't want to be greedy. Instead, I thought to myself, "Let's keep the ride duration well within the comfort zone...and survive to ride again."

Spinning slowly along, skooching around on the saddle to find the optimum position, was better than staying inside and let frustration build. Standing to climb the small hills nearby was an absolute joy.

Patience rewarded...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Will This Work?

(click image for larger view)

This is a sketch of an idea to attach a Berthoud (small) bag to a front rack without the use of a traditional decaleur. It is a modification of a method described in Rivendell Reader issue #36 (page 26) to possibly provide better stability.

I'd like to have an idiot check before I drill holes in my nice new (and expensive) bag.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Base Miles

The quest for a thousand base miles is back on.

Sunny skies, lower humidity, and slightly cooler temps (like lower 80s) provide pleasant surroundings for grinding out the miles. Squeezing an hour ride during a lunch break limits the number of miles somewhat, but given the current level of fitness, it is probably best to grind them out in smaller chunks for awhile.

Speaking of grinding, every little roller in north Denton County is a bit of a grind for me now. The fixed gear experience is good experience for the devoted cyclist. It teaches him about efficient power application at lower cadences, effective use of momentum, and how to spin like a freak on descents. Without concern for chosing optimal gearing, the focus is on technique. The amazing thing is that today's session was similar in average speed to many of my geared-bike rides lately...fat tires and all.

This dead stop at the bottom of a 95-foot gain in elevation is a poor example in the use of momentum...

...but it is a great example of the sacrifices I have to make so you guys can have pictures. I had to work to grind my way out of this valley.

Your welcome.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kogswell P/R

The consecutive training streak ended at two. No worries, however, because yesterday's training time was spent going to Trinity Bicycles to pick-up the new second generation Kogswell P/R.

This was the intended replacement of the failed Schwinn experiment months ago. The Schwinn seemed like a good plan, but the frame just didn't quite have the right design. So far, this new frame works very well.

Fixed gear (48x18), generator-hub-powered headlight, and Nitto M12 front rack.

There will be a few refinements in the build soon. Fenders and front bag are coming and consideration is being given to shellac on the bar tape. That green is just a little too bright. A nice olive green color would be about right.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lunch Ride

Two in a row.

It was a lunchtime break in the lingering hot weather. With the high sun and lack of clouds, there was anticipation of cooler fall weather going on.

On some lonely stretch of gravel road in north Denton County...

There was also thanksgiving for the opportunity to be out there to enjoy that lingering hot weather...and the two rides in a row.

It looks like I've got a streak going...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Better Late Than Never

This title was going to be used for the previous post, but really, it had a better use in mind. Really, it needed to be used for something more significant. More significant even than a new bike. This title was saved for a public committment to resume training. It is well past the appropriate time to resume some reasonable level of fitness. Today was the first day of a more disciplined program.

The ride started before sunrise and lasted only 45 minutes. But it is a start and included a magnificent sunrise. The pace was slow. However, when it comes to starting a pursuit of fitness, it is not only "better late than never", it is also "better to go short and slow than to not go out at all".

I am a cyclist again.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sneak Preview

The order was placed in April. The frame arrived at Trinity Bicycles in October. It has been a long wait and a long time missing the magic of a fixed gear bike.

The call came in a few days ago to say that it was in the build process. Today provided an opportunity to swing by the shop for a sneak preview.

It's looking pretty good. The plan for a steel framed, wider tired, front loaded, fixed gear, country bike with lights and fenders for all weather conditions is finally coming together. It should be quite nice for exploring north Texas county roads.