The Gavin Game

The rules of The Gavin Game are simple. You take a glass and a bottle of your preferred libation and pour yourself a large ration. I use Cote du Rhone vin rouge, but you can choose your personal favorite. Then settle in front of the TV for the Governor’s daily briefing. Every time Gavin says “meet this moment” or “in real time’ take a sip. Better make them really small sips. You will certainly need to refill the glass and probably uncork a second bottle. But that is nothing to worry about since you are not leaving the house anyway. Siesta time…

Let me say that here on Brumby Road we are following ALL of Gavin’s and SJ County’s rules. ALL of them. Stoker has not left home at all for weeks, except on the back of the CoMotion. I have only ventured out for groceries, prescriptions and bike rides. I only ride from my house, because to drive with my bike to where there are some hills to climb would be ‘non-essential’ travel. Mount Diablo is closed to cars but somehow they are allowing hikers and bike riders. The idea of driving over the Altamont to take advantage of this is incredibly tempting, but as I say I’m following ALL the rules.

Aren’t They Ever Going to Leave?

The rules are a real irritation, but at least I have a few distractions. First distraction is Luke. Luke cannot understand why his quiet time home alone has disappeared. His people normally vanish for long stretches of time during the day so he can get some of the 22 hours of sleep he needs in solitary peace. Now they are always around and he kind of mopes through the house looking confused and sleepy.

Also Luke cannot figure out why he is getting walked by Rich every morning. Rich makes him start his walk earlier than that lay-a-bed Stoker, and Rich also walks him about twice as long. Luke loves this, but every day? Should’t Rich be off riding in some hills getting ready for France?

Ah yes, another distraction to keep me entertained during this crisis. Watch our planned trip unravel in stages. This trip has several components all booked and paid for long ago. To make things interesting I have to deal with Air France, a tour company, a landlady, a hotel owner, an airport transportation company and a good friend who was going to join us for part of the journey. So far the only official cancellation is Air France. Our April 28 departure flight is grounded. We were planning to stay until June 7, and I doubt any part of the trip is going to happen, although the Cevennes tour scheduled for May 30 to June 6 hasn’t been officially scratched. But it likely will be.

Yet another distraction while stuck at home: watch a magic show. The trick is called ‘The Great Net Worth Disappearance”, and you can watch it ‘in real time’ (Thanks Gavin!) 6:30 am until 1 PM, Monday through Friday. Spare the jokes about 401 K’s turning into 201 K’s.

So as you can see, I have plenty of entertainment during this home confinement prison sentence. I even got out my pressure washer to clean the brick walkways and the siding of the house.

I’ve said we are following ALL the rules. But on the CoMotion Stoker and I are breaking the 6 foot rule, although we are trying to apply it to ourselves at all other times. Well, almost all other times…

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Cycling in the Time of Corona

The world has changed a bit since my last post. Toilet paper has replaced gold as a store of value. Empty shelves at supermarkets and lines to enter Costco are the norm. All non-essential businesses and institutions are closed, which means no schools, department stores, movie theaters, restaurants, golf courses, churches or sporting events. All group activities are cancelled and we are instructed to stay at home except for essential activities such as purchasing food or prescriptions.

Governor Newsom ordered a state lock down on March 19, although he told seniors over 65 to do so several days before that. Stoker (over 65 though she does not look it) has been complying, so she has not left Casa Brumby for over 2 weeks, except on the back of our CoMotion tandem. When we ride she is closer to me than the recommended (or mandated?) 6 feet of social distancing. But we are pretty sure the order does not apply to spouses, as much as one spouse may welcome it.

I am the designated shopper, which means I leave the house for groceries, prescriptions and take out meals. I went to Raley’s two weeks ago and was in for a shock. I expected no bottled water or toilet paper, but there was no chicken and no eggs or milk or very much bread. Also no potatoes, onions and very few vegetables. The store was crowded, and people were orderly if a little dazed. There was plenty of Cote du Rhone vin rouge, but no Stoli. Now we have a problem. Eggs I can take or leave, but vodka is a necessity.

Riches Beyond Measure

I’ve been to Costco twice since this started, and I’ve got to say this store has its act together. You grab a cart and get in a long line outside. Yesterday at the Lodi store the line stretched all along the south side of the building and around to the east side as well. But it moved pretty quickly. Everyone seemed orderly, no one jumped the queue and everyone kept their ‘social distance’. There were employees offering wipes, and they let shoppers enter only as others exited, so inside the store was not crowded at all. I picked up a prescription and then shopped for a few items, and there was a special lane for toilet paper and paper towels. The items were in stock, but there was a limit of 1 each, and employees were there to hand you the item and enforce the limit. Eggs were also in stock but you could only buy a single 24 pack. I wasn’t complaining. Checkout went quickly because there were plenty of staff. I was very impressed by how Costco was managing the situation and by the cooperative behavior of the customers.

Since this is supposed to be a cycling blog, let me describe ‘Cycling in the time of Corona’. Let’s start with the obvious: all club rides, group rides and organized fund raising rides are cancelled. We are allowed to exercise outdoors, but we are supposed to do it alone or in small groups keeping our distance. This means we are not supposed to draft while cycling, which will make life difficult for some riders. Fearless Frank is a nearly legendary wheel sucker, so he must be dismayed by this.

Stoker and I made a video of us on the tandem on an indoor trainer. We did it as a joke, trying to bring a little humor to the situation. We have been doing occasional tandem rides outside starting from home. I have also been doing solo rides from home, occasionally joining my friend Steve for a little company. No stop for coffee, just ride. And ride easy; I’m just not motivated to train right now. I haven’t climbed a hill in weeks other than a few rollers out toward Clements.

At least we can ride outside. Spain and Italy have banned ALL outdoor cycling. And France has severe ‘shelter at home’ restrictions. If you leave your house for anything you have to bring a form stating which of the 5 permitted reasons for being outside covers your activity. Authorities can ask (demand) to see the form, and if you are in violation of the permitted reasons you can be fined 100 euro for the first offence. And you are allowed outside for exercise, but only for 1 hour, within 1 km of your residence, and only once per day. This would make cycling pretty much impossible unless you want to do a few laps up and down your street within sight of your house.

I realize the world has a major problem right now. Stoker and I are healthy and have food and Cote du Rhone and a comfortable house to ride out this confinement order. We can get outside, do yard work, walk, and ride our bike. So we are lucky.

We are also supposed to fly to France on April 28 and stay there for 6 weeks. Steve is supposed to join us on May 13. We have it all planned and paid for, and what part of the trip is going to happen, if any, is uncertain at this time. ‘Uncertain’ is the only certain thing about cycling, or living, in the time of Corona.

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Katy and Me

I met Katy on a bike tour in Spain back in 2016. She is a much stronger climber than I am. But on the Rocacorba outside of Girona I made a big effort and stayed with her all the way up. I even got to the top about 10 seconds in front of her.

That was the first, last and only time that happened. I rode so hard to do it that my resting heart rate the next morning was 65 bpm, instead of my usual number in the 49 to 53 range. A higher than normal resting heart rate is a classic sign of over training. Chasing Katy up climbs will do that.

The Queen and her Subject: First Ride Together in the U.S.

Katy is not the typical bike touring company customer. She is young, less than half my age. At the risk of offending anyone in the ‘me too’ era, she is drop dead gorgeous. Stoker and I were on a tour once with her, and we both agree that Katy has a sweet disposition and a good heart. When she isn’t ripping your legs off as you try to keep up with her.

Katy lives in Vancouver, does something in the dot com world and seems to have plenty of time off to travel. I’ve been on tours with her in Spain, France and Italy. She isn’t afraid of anything on a bike. But off the bike some things really bug her. Specifically bugs: she found a spider in her room once and frantically called the tour guides to help her deal with it.

I received a Facebook message from Katy saying she was going to be in the Menlo Park area visiting her sister for a couple of weeks. Could we get together and maybe do lunch or a ride? We sure could. Since Katy loves to climb, I decided to have her take BART to Dublin and meet me for a romp up Mount Diablo. I borrowed a nice bike in her size from Dr. Carl, made sure the pedals were the correct model, and found her a suitable helmet. My friend Steve joined us.

We were blessed with a nearly perfect day; warm, sunny and not too windy. Since it was a weekday the traffic in the park was minimal, unlike the traffic on the highway getting to and from Dublin. Katy rode with us as far as the South Gate. I told her to go ahead and stop at the ranger station 5 miles ahead. She disappeared up the road and out of sight. Steve and I were climbing at a nice solid pace, but we were no match for the mountain goat.

At the ranger station we regrouped and Katy asked innocently “Why are we stopping?” I had to laugh. I told her it was because the two old geezers she was with were tired. “I’m tired too” she replied. Sure Katy. You once did three summits of Mont Ventoux in under 9 hours of riding. Diablo isn’t going to bother you.

The theme continued from the ranger station to the summit: Katy disappears up the road and the old guys get there eventually. The view from the summit on this perfect day was magnificent. We descended the Walnut Creek side to the North Gate, regrouped, then climbed back to the junction. We call this a 1 1/2 summit ride: 50 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing. I did it in just over 4 hours, and Katy was 30 minutes quicker. And made it look easy.

After the ride we dropped her at the BART Station and started our drive back to Stockton. About 10 minutes after we left her, we got a frantic call. She somehow had her credit card locked out of the fare machine and her ATM card wouldn’t work and she had no money and no way to get home. I know millennials are addicted to plastic, but walking around with no cash at all seems extreme. We drove back and handed her some greenbacks and resumed our drive home.

Our easiest ride ever, even with the ballast. Quality jersey pockets!

The next week Katy and I did a completely different ride. Her boyfriend Nico had joined her and they were staying in Napa. So we did a guided ride through the vineyards. Nico is strong and fit but he is not a cyclist, at least not yet. He rode an electric bike while Katy and I noodled along on the easiest ride we have ever done together: 35 miles, about 1,000 feet of little rollers, nothing over 6%. One vodka tasting (I abstained), one wine tasting (I used the spittoon and didn’t swallow: I had to drive home) and a really delicious lunch.

So Katy and I have now ridden together in four countries. When we said goodbye I gave her a hug and left wondering if our paths would ever cross again. But if not I will always remember the sight of her disappearing up the road on another long climb. The Queen of the Mountains conquers all before her.

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Stoker and I love France. We’ve been there 5 years in a row and we are going back in 2020. We love the beautiful countryside and the quiet cycling roads and the food.

We also love Tennessee. We’ve been there twice now. We love the beautiful countryside, the people, the music, and the food. (actually we don’t always love the food, but there are some really good places that serve something other than fried chicken or pulled pork).

But Tennessee and France do not always love each other. Remember ‘Freedom Fries’? The US did something France didn’t like, the French let us know about it, and some US citizens took umbrage. Hence the renaming of one of America’s favorite foods

But Tennessee and France must have kissed and made up. Look what we found in Pigeon Forge, only 1 kilometer from Dollywood.

Cultural Appropriation in Tennessee

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A Tack Attack

It is no secret that there are drivers who do not like cyclists using ‘their’ roads. Drivers offer one figured salutes, deliberately pass too close and too fast, yell “Get off the road!” or threaten to “Kick your a___”. Big duel wheeled pickup trucks will pass and the driver will deliberately hit the accelerator to leave a plume of black smoke for us to breath. I’ve even seen cars pass close and fast while leaning on their horn, then slam on their brakes in front of the rider trying to get him to crash. I’ve had soda cans thrown at me (missed, fortunately), and my friend Gary got hit in the face by a water bottle some years back.

In my experience this behavior is rare in rural San Joaquin County. But if you journey to the neighboring foothill counties of Calaveras and Amador with a bicycle be prepared to be harassed. Something like this happens at least once on nearly every ride.

The Calaveras anti-cycling forces took a new tack last Thursday. Literally.

I was climbing up the hill on South Comanche Parkway and I noticed some shiny objects on the ground. I thought they were pieces of glass. But when our Thursday riders regrouped at the ‘Y’ Gerry pointed out that he had a tack in his wheel. He also said that the shiny objects I noticed were tacks. We all checked our tires post haste, and Steve had also picked one up.

Cyclists Get the Point.

Some cyclists have put small video cameras on their bikes to document incidents like this. Gerry is ahead of most of us; he has cameras front and rear. He got a screenshot from his video of the tack attack.

I suppose there is a remote possibility that someone spilled a bunch of thumbtacks by accident. A clever defense lawyer would go on about ‘burden of proof’ and reasonable doubt. But is there really any reasonable doubt that someone deliberately threw a bunch of thumbtacks on the pavement on a stretch of road where cyclists often ride? With the intent to cause flat tires? When is the last time you met someone carrying thumbtacks openly in their car where they could fall out onto the road?

No, I am certain that this was sabotage intended to give cyclists flat tires. We were lucky that flat tires were the only consequence. If the tack had caused a blowout and a fall and perhaps a broken bone or worse, I wonder if the tack attacker would feel remorse?

I know some drivers dislike us and I can live with the one fingered salutes and derisive shouts. But the outright assaults have got me on edge and a little frightened every time I get on my bike from Ione or Wallace or Valley Springs.

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Starting From Zero

Chris Fromme, 4 time Tour de France Champion, needs more surgery to recover from his crash last June. He says that when he comes back to training, he will be starting from’ less than zero’ to recover his fitness. He also says he isn’t sure he will ever return to his former level. I think I know what he means.

Readers know that I am retired but take a month long job ‘counting nuts’. In fact the job is a little more complicated, but that description conveys the primary purpose of all my database and spreadsheet work. I also weigh the trucks and process the receiving paperwork and test deliveries for moisture. It is a busy month and I don’t have much time to ride.

Lots of counting means little cycling

This is my 13th season ‘counting nuts’, so I’m used to the effect that my reduced cycling has on my fitness. But this year I did a very mediocre job of trying to squeeze in rides either late in the afternoon on the road, or early in the morning on a trainer. I just didn’t feel like making the effort. My counting job is not strenuous but it is not sedentary either, and I’m tired at the end of the day. So I decided to give myself a mini vacation and not worry about how much fitness I might be losing. I also decided to take a vacation from weighing myself, which I normally do almost every day. I figured I’d deal with an excess of fat and dearth of fitness once the season ended.

For 4 weeks I rode a grand total of 112 miles, instead of the 700 or so I usually do. And all of that riding was on flat ground save for an occasional overpass crossing Hwy 99.

As of Saturday the busy part of the season is over. The scale says I didn’t gain any weight, which is nice. But the power meter and heart rate monitor tell a different story.

I worked Saturday morning, then went out for what was supposed to be a 34 mile steady and flat ride. There wasn’t a lot of wind and I didn’t ride hard. But right away I could tell something was off. I was doing 150 to 170 watts, which I can usually do with my heart rate at 110 to 115 beats per minute. But I was about 12 beats above that.

I deliberately decided to ride a bit easier and get my heart rate below 120, and I did. But when I was about 6 miles from home I started to feel really tired and lousy. My neck hurt and my hands were numb and I had to reduce my speed to a measly 13 mph. On flat ground with no wind I normally cruise at 18 mph with little effort, but today I was struggling to finish the ride even at my slow pace.

When I got home I took my blood pressure and it was 95/61, which is pretty low. And I recalled that almost exactly the same kind of collapse happened to me during walnut season last year. I had a similar rapid onset of exhaustion and low blood pressure then too. I wrote about it in my blog. That time I was stung by a wasp and thought that might have been a factor. But Saturday there was none of that. I was very discouraged at the end of the ride. I knew I had lost some fitness, but I didn’t think I was this close to ‘zero’.

7 weeks ago I was riding big climbs in the Dolomites, and I did fine. I wasn’t fast but I wasn’t that far behind my faster friends. I got to the top of some long and steep climbs without sagging, and I came back from Italy pretty strong and fit. I’ll get back to where I was 7 weeks ago. But for now I’m starting near ‘zero’.

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Soaked on the Stelvio

On the morning of the 6th day of 44|5’s Dolomites cycling adventure, the weather was cool, bordering on cold, with light to moderate rain. Since we were in Merano at an elevation of about 1,000 feet, and the plan for the day was to climb the giant Stelvio Pass at over 9,000 feet, there were some pretty nervous riders at breakfast. Our group was normally very chatty but today the conversation was muted.

Today’s Ride: Merano to the Stelvio Pass

The Stelvio is so high and the Alpine weather so variable that it is possible to have snow there all 12 months of the year. Just the day before we had been sweating in moderate heat in Bozzano, but the cold front moved in and now staying warm and dry was the concern. The climb would take care of the warm part, but dry was going to be impossible.

Before we could take on the Stelvio we had to ride 32 miles of gentle uphill along a rushing river. There was a wonderful bike path that kept us isolated from traffic. Unfortunately the delightful bike path had several kilometers of unpaved gravel that we had to ride and slog through. There were some short but steep pitches on this section, and as I struggled up an 8% unpaved muddy gravel path I felt like I was riding with flat tires. The ‘rolling resistance’ was off the charts.

So I arrived at the base of the pass in the village of Prato allo Stelvio wet and muddy with somewhat tired legs. And in front of me is a 15 mile, 6,000 foot climb that I know is going to take me close to 3 hours of uphill pedaling at gradients hovering around 8-9%. Not a single meter of downhill or even flat pavement to offer a second’s respite either.

A Very Long Way Up

On a nice day the Stelvio Pass has plenty of traffic: cyclists, cars, motorcycles, tour buses and camper vans parade up to the summit. But on this day the rainy weather and the fact that the road down to Bormio from the top was closed due to a landslide (more on that later) meant there was almost no one on the road. And the only cyclists in sight were the crazy clients of 44|5. I don’t know what it would take to get my fellow guests to blow off the ride and get into the van, but moderate rain and 40 degree conditions certainly were not going to stop us.

Climbing keeps me plenty warm, so I started up in a short sleeve jersey with a rain jacket and skull cap in my pocket. The Stelvio begins gently with a couple of km’s of 6 to 7% grades, but when the 48 numbered switchbacks start with 14 kilometers to the summit it is all 8-9%.

When I got to Switchback 8 at about 8,000 feet, the rain picked up a little and it was noticeably colder, so much so that I stopped to put on my jacket and skull cap for the final few turns. And eventually I made it to one of the most spectacular passes on the planet. The view looking down at the road we just climbed is incredible.

I headed for the ‘Cima Coppi’ sign with a few of my fellow riders. I was elated and relieved at having made it to the top, and the big smiles on our faces show I wasn’t the only one.

As soon as I stopped pedaling I started to get very cold. I grabbed my day bag out of the van (another reason I love riding with a tour company) and put on all the extra clothing I had. Arm warmers first, then a heavy vest, then my rain jacket, then my 44|5 vest, leg warmers and knee warmers on top of those, two skull caps and long fingered gloves. Then I headed for the pizzeria for a hot coffee followed by a hot pizza. The pizza was the most delicious ever, at least to my starving and freezing self.

Do All These Layers Make Me Look Fat?

After lunch the original plan was to get on our bikes and descend a mere 25 kilometers to our hotel in Bormio. Unfortunately the road was closed by a landslide. Some of our riders wanted to try it, thinking they could walk their bikes around or over any obstacle. But reason, encouraged by the potential for a 1000 Euro fine if authorities caught you, prevailed. So we got in the vans and took a different road down from the pass into Switzerland, then back into Italy. A very long detour: after almost 2 1/2 hours of driving we arrived at our Bormio hotel.

When I did this pass back in 2011, we were blessed with magnificent weather, sunny and comfortably cool and no wind at all. And we were lazy that year: our van drove us to the start of the climb in Prato so we could begin with fresh legs instead of slogging 32 miles of false flat uphill, including the aforementioned gravel. But now that the ride is behind me I’m kind of glad we had to battle a little more adversity this time. It is almost certainly my last climb up the Stelvio, and the conditions made it even more memorable.

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Mortirolo Mirage

“Tell my wife I love her!”

I was climbing the Mortirolo when something rare happened: I came up on a rider actually going slower than I was. Since I was doing about 4 mph he had to be crawling.

At these speeds it takes a long time to catch and pass someone, so I was able to listen to him for some time. He was making his opinion of the climb quite clear.

“(F word) this climb is steep! How much (F word)-ing longer to the top? Doesn’t it ever (F word)-ing end? This is (F word)-ed! I’m (F word)-ing dying!”

He was speaking English, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t from the US. He had an accent that could have been British or Australian or maybe South African. The latter is a real possibility because he was Black. I only mention this because I’ve been riding in Europe for the last six years, for over 6,000 miles, and this is the first time I can recall seeing a Black cyclist.

He was weaving back and forth across the very narrow road, trying to find some relief from the unrelenting gradient, which was about 16% at this point. His zigzag course was going to make it hard to pass, but as he moved to the right side of the road I made a big effort and ‘accelerated’ to about 6 mph and squeezed by on his left. As I passed he gasped out instructions about informing his wife of his fealty and devotion, I suppose in case he expired before he made it to the top.

I was climbing the Mortirolo on the last day of 44|5’s Dolomites tour. I did this climb back in 2011, so I knew what to expect. Even so the length and steep gradients came as a shock. Here is the profile:

The 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) in the middle of this climb average 12.5%. One of those kilometers is 13%, followed by a km averaging an incredible 14.5%. I was watching the gradient on my Garmin GPS device, and I saw extended stretches of 15, 16, 17 and even 18%. My fellow tour guest Katy said she saw 21% at some point. But she is a much, much stronger rider and climber than I am, so perhaps she was going too fast for the device to read accurately.

After 8 km (4.8 miles) there is a monument to Marco Pantani. I was the only rider in our group to stop here, and I added about 3 minutes to my Strava segment time by doing so. If you don’t know about Marco, his cycling career and glorious and tragic life, I’m not going to fill you in here. But I wanted to stop, pay respects, reflect, and maybe pray a quick prayer for all cyclists.

After the brief stop, I headed toward the top, and when the grade eases to a mere 9.5% the road feels almost flat and my pace picked up towards 5 mph. There are 33 numbered switchback signs to help you realize just how far you have to go, and as I came around Switchback 1 near the top I knew my suffering was almost over. The Mortirolo does not end on a barren rocky summit mountain pass with stunning views; rather it ends in a cow pasture. There are some very handsome animals with very large and loud cowbells around their necks, and the cacophony accompanies you up the final straight to the GPM line. Other riders who have also reached the summit and are milling around cheer and clap for new arrivals. No matter how long it takes, just getting to the top of the Mortirolo under your own power is quite an achievement.

The Summit of the Mortirolo is in sight!

The stats: Strava tells me it took 1 hour 43 minutes to get to the top, but since I stopped at the monument it was really 1:40. I climbed 4,130 feet over 7.09 miles, and averaged an even 200 watts. And I didn’t use the (F word) a single time.

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A Good Idea…

At least it seemed so at the time. Now I’m not so sure.

The last night’s dinner after a week long bicycle trip is always a festive affair. Especially if the riding has been good and the riders all enjoy each other’s company.

That was certainly the case in Annecy in France last August at the end of 44|5’s High Road Northern Alps Tour. Our guides chose a really outstanding restaurant and we enjoyed delicious food and a few glasses of wine to celebrate. After 7 days of major climbing rides (I did 45,000 feet on that irritating rental bike I wrote about, and four riders did over 50,000) we all felt like celebrating.

The conversation flowed like the wine, and after the dessert a digestif appeared, ordered and paid for by those troublemakers Tom and Doug. I have dubbed them ‘The DC Boys’ and for reasons too complicated to relate here they call me “Rico” or “Rico Suave”. I’ve been on multiple tours with these two and they are good company at dinner but I don’t see much of them on the rides: they are younger and stronger than I am.

The talk turned to what tours we wanted to do next, but the DC Boys were adamant: They were going to the Dolomites in 2019. They told John and Gerry (44|5’s owners) that the DC Boys would love do the trip with them, but if 44|5 couldn’t make it work they would go with another tour company.

Since 44|5 is based in France, putting together such a tour would be a lot of work, and what if it didn’t sell? Here is where the wine and the digestif came into play.

I think I was the first one to declare that if 44|5 came up with a Dolomites tour and the DC Boys did it I would join them. Katy said the same, and pretty soon Lyle and Lauren decided they could make it work too. So right there 6 potential customers had pretty much committed themselves, a year in advance. I had been to the Dolomites in 2011 and I knew how hard the climbs were, but I was feeling a post tour satisfied glow, aided by a few mood improving glasses of excellent wines. Another trip by an older me (8 years older) seemed like a fine idea, especially with such good traveling companions.

So 44|5 got to work. They knew a local contact in Italy from some of the Gran Fondo rides they had done there. Last October they did a road trip to scout routes, restaurants and hotels. More repeat customers from previous tours signed up, including my fellow SBC members Bill and Margaret (Club members know those two will have to wait until 2020. Stuff happens). There were 10 clients signed up before New Years Day.

Starting 2019 Diane and I had a very mediocre 4 months of tandem ‘training’ for Malaucene. I did not think our trip would be a success. But our month of May in France went superbly, better than I could have hoped. We rode more tandem miles and climbed more than on previous trips. We even set a couple of tandem PR’s on Strava. So when we returned to California in early June I felt good and was ready to climb everything I could to get ready for a very hard tour in late August.

But for whatever reason, my summer training did not go well. I went to Mammoth a couple of times, and did Rock Creek Road, but one time was awful (the other was a bit better). I went to Bear Valley several times and did both sides of Ebbets Pass with Pacific Grade. That ride is almost as hard as some of the Dolomites climbs. But Strava is merciless: it tracks everything you do and I can see that I am climbing slower than in recent years. I think age is catching up to me.

On paper this is my most ambitious tour ever. I’m pretty certain I will be doing some sagging. There have been tours where I was the strongest rider, or among the strongest. That is not going to be the case on this trip. 5 or 6 or possibly 7 of the other guests are clearly stronger, and I might be able to keep up with the others. Or I might not, especially on the very long days. I tell myself it does not matter, it is a vacation, and that I am still a fairly strong rider, etc. All true. But I’m starting this tour with a few doubts and a little apprehension. Take a look at the profiles below and you may understand why.

I also tell myself that it is better to do one epic bike tour too many than one too few. Perhaps this one is the last one, perhaps not. Two years ago in the Pyrenees I surprised myself and rode pretty well. Last year in the Northern Alps I was fine when I wasn’t hating the rental I was forced to ride after Air France lost my bike. So that wasn’t one tour too many.

But if the Dolomites prove to be that ‘one too many’, perhaps it is because ‘one too many’ at that dinner convinced me that it was a good idea. Blame the digestif.

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Tubeless Troubles 2

My last blog described the most serious type of tubeless trouble I could imagine. I’ve never had the kind of problem poor Bill had. His tubeless tire suffered an explosive decompression, and his tire blew off of the rim and caused a crash. I have been riding tubeless tires on most of my bikes since 2010, and I probably have over 30,000 tubeless miles of cycling. Mostly trouble free too.

Tubeless tires have some notable advantages. You can run them at lower pressure, because the lack of a tube eliminates the ‘pinch flat’ problem. Lower pressure can be more comfortable, and the ride of my Schwalbe tires is first class. Sealant is added into the tire, which will prevent tiny punctures from causing a flat, which is really handy when the goat heads start going to seed.

Today I rode standard clincher tires for the first time this year. I decided to put on a set for my upcoming trip to Italy, because if I have tubeless problems away from home they can be difficult and messy to fix. I rode all of 5 miles with brand new clincher tires and tubes before I got a flat caused by a goathead. My tubeless tire with sealant would have been untroubled by such a tiny thorn, but the tube was no match for it.

Tubeless Tires Fight Goathead Flats.

But not all is wonderful: tubeless tires can be very difficult to install. The bead is made of special material that goes on tight and will not stretch. Once you have wrestled it onto the rim you need to seat the bead. I use a compressor to try to generate the rush of air needed to get the bead to snap onto the rim. It isn’t always easy to do. And for most rims you must install special tape to seal the spoke holes. This tape rarely fails, but when it does it can be startling and lead to a rapid decompression. It happened to me three years ago in the Alps. I have said that only retired people with plenty of time to work on their bikes should tackle tubeless.

My recent troubles started at Mammoth in late June. I was there doing some high altitude riding with some friends. On the morning of our last planned ride my tubeless front tire was flat. I have lots of ways to deal with that, but away from home my solution was to put a tube into the tire and ride it like a traditional clincher. I did so, but I did not like the look of the bead on the rim, and I certainly did not want to pinch the tube and have a blow out going 40 mph down a hill. So I skipped the ride. When I got home I installed a new tire.

The subsequent Thursday I drove to Wallace for the Stockton Bike Club ride, with a different bike. When I took the bike out of my Honda Element, the front tire was flat. Rather than try to repair things I decided to simply drive home. I did a short ride on an alternate bike, and then started to repair the flat.

I could not find anything puncturing the casing, so I got out my compressor and tried to re-seat the tire. I assumed it would snap on and I would be able to find a slow leak which I could then patch. But the air hissed out and the bead wouldn’t seat. When I looked closely I found out why.

There was a hole in the rim, about the diameter of a small nail. It went through the rim, then through the spoke hole and punctured the tape, which must have failed sometime later. Or perhaps the tape pushed out against the hole and eventually failed. Regardless, this wheel is headed for metal recycling.

So 10 days later I am back up at Mammoth planning 4 days of riding to myself get ready for an upcoming Dolomites tour. This time I brought 2 bikes in case of mechanical issues. On the very first ride on the Tarmac, I heard a PSST at mile 30, and sealant was spewing all over the place. But it soon plugged up the hole and I was able to limp back to our base camp.

So the next day I rode the Sampson, and after about 45 miles I noticed a film of sealant on my seat tube, so this tire was punctured too, but not as badly as the Tarmac. We ride quite a few miles along Highway 395, which has a big shoulder. But there pieces of tire treads everywhere, and while you can steer away from the large ones there are lots of tiny fragments of wire that can puncture tires. My friend Bennie had a small wire piece penetrate his tire, so he had to put in a new tube. The sealant did its job for me.

The hole in the Tarmac’s tire was pretty big to rely on sealant, so I put a plug into it and then added some sealant just to be sure. The bike worked fine on the rest of the trip, though I was a little nervous on the descents.

Plugs and patches and sealant sealed small holes are fine for local riding, but on my Italy tour I’m taking standard clincher tires. If something goes wrong I know how to fix it. I won’t need a compressor or have to clean up any messy sealant. And I’ve been fortunate to ride in Europe many times, and I have yet to see a goathead.

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