Monday, January 30, 2017

Asheville to Jackson: Plan B

There was no way I was going to finish my ride to Jackson, MS.  I looked up the price of car rentals, and it was only going to be $100 for a one day, one-way rental, which wasn't terrible.  In case you've never driven a rental car cross country, they really get you with one-way surcharges.  Like, over a thousand terrible.  Anyway, with Jackson only 600 miles away, I could knock out the drive in 10 hours and spend way less than $100 on gas.  Also, that would all be done from the comfort of an air conditioned car.  Whereas if I rode, that distance, five hotel stays alone would be over $300, plus other expenses like food, water, and postcards.

The biggest push, though, was the fact that I was going to be riding back along a similar route in a little over a month and a half.  When the weather was more temperate, so I could ride during the day as well as camp at night.  I was willing to lose the battle.  I didn't have anything to prove to myself or anyone else by suffering for another week on the road.  Not my first tour, not my last.

With that in mind, I just relaxed and enjoyed my time in Asheville, something that's not difficult to accomplish in a town with over a hundred local beers and less than 100,000 people.  If anything, they would need me to stay and help them with their surplus.  Also, I had a sweet spot to stay at, my tent nestled between spider-filled trees in the backyard of a large house.  And that house had a puppy named Wylie!

Don't let his age fool you, he's still a puppy.  As a wise Tumblr probably once said, "All good doggos are puppers."

So with a week of riding consolidated into a single day, a spot to crash at (more or less indefinitely, as was the feeling I got), a little less financial burden, beer, flip flops, loose fitting clothes, sun glasses, and all of the other things that made days off so pleasant, I explored downtown Asheville for a few days.  Some highlights include buying underwear at a flea market and learning that there is a Harris Teeter chain of grocery stores with the nickname of Hairy Teets.

Hand sewn undies.
The one thing I wanted to do most in Asheville was hike, but once I was down there, I found out that all of the most exciting hikes start a few miles out of the city.  Riding to them wasn't going to be a pleasant option, so I decided to save that for the drive out.  Probably for the best that I waited, because after the ride down, I needed a few days off to decompress.

Friday, January 27, 2017

It Rains Everyday in Asheville

Anyone who's been to Asheville, NC knows that it rains everyday, whether it needs to or not.  Even the most crystal clear blue skies can unleash torrents of rain turning its hilly streets into ankle deep, Class 5 rapids.  I'm not sure how this happens exactly, but I've been told it has to do with its location within the mountains.  I know enough about the unpredictability of mountain-based weather to find that answer acceptable.

That said, I did not give much thought to setting up my tent next to a trickle of a creek when I arrived at my Asheville home.  With the sun as hot as it was and the creek as low as it was, what was the worst that could happen?

Fortunately, that was as high as the water got during that storm.  Unfortunately, this was information I wouldn't be privy to until after I'd already run out in the downpour to move my tent and all the gear within up onto a covered porch.  Better safe than sorry, I sometimes say.

Oh, wait, I think I figured the rain out.  It's not the mountains, it's the hippies.  Those hippies aren't going to wash themselves, so if the clouds didn't do it, Asheville would be one smelly city.  Might get bad enough to stink out all of Appalachia.  This would explain frequency, duration, and volume of the rainfall.  It's just a natural shower.

I am a genius.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Asheville or Bust: Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Night 8 - July 28, 2016 - Johnson City > Asheville, NC
This was it.  My last day on the road for a while.  Well, last day on the road on a bicycle for a while.  In about 70 miles, I would be sipping Piña Coladas on the beach in Asheville.  Just like in the Jimmy Buffett song.  Yup, only 70 miles to the promised land.  Only 70 miles through the mountainous Cherokee and Pisgah National Forest.  Yup, only.  Oh, and it was raining.

Fortunately, I had about 25 miles of flat before the mountains started, giving me some time to ride out the rain in the Cherokee National Forest.  It was in that flat, dark, damp National Forest that I had a close encounter of the chuffing kind.  I had to take a quick pee break, so I pulled off to the side of the road, propped my bike up against a sign post, and ventured into a wooded patch so as to stay hidden from any late night drivers with halogen high beams.  The area I headed off into was near a small creek, and while I stood there taking care of things, a loud grunting noise came from the woods not too far off.   I instantly assumed it was a razor-fanged bear, engaging a primal survival reflex that clamped my ureter shut.  Apparently I didn't have to go that bad.  After hightailing it to my bike, I headed south less afraid of the impending vertical doom and more so of the potential furry doom.

I later spoke with an animal expert friend who explained that the sound I'd heard was chuffing (a non-threatening greeting), not grunting, and that it likely wasn't a bear.  In fact, it was more likely to have been a badger, muskrat, otter, or weasel, especially considering there was water nearby.  I still think it was a bear and that I had once again slipped through the icy grasp of the grim reaper.  Not my first bicycle bear, nor my first badger.

Around the 21 mile mark, I reached Erwin, TN, the last stop for a soon-to-be weary, southbound, uphill cyclist.  After grabbing a coffee and stowing a Skittles reward for when I reached the top of the biggest climb, I started the ascent.  I had four ascents ahead of me, actually:
  1. Miles 21-22: 250'
  2. Miles 23-30: 920'
  3. Miles 31-38: 1600'
  4. Miles 41-44: 500'
It was on that first climb that I had my second animal encounter of the day, this time with a juvenile opossum.  As I slowly chugged up the hill, there it was, all fuzzy and creepy faced in the middle of the shoulder.  Not one to be bullied out of a lane by a rodent, I hollered at it to get out of my way.  In response to my request, it froze in place, playing possum.  I was forced to ride around it, as it never moved the entire time that I watched it, bringing me to a point learned a few months back.  In North America, we have opossums, not possums.  So that opossum was not playing possum, it was oplaying opossum.  I have used possum wrong in the past, and I will use it wrong in the future.  Much like when pronouncing Pho.  I know that it's 'fuh', not 'foe', but everyone else calls it 'foe', so why rock the boat?  Also, if you think our opossums are creeps, check out Australia's phalangeriformes.

After that, it was climb, climb, climb in the dark, dark, dark, winding through the heavily forested and appropriately designated Pisgah.  There was even a real butt of a climb just before reaching my third summit involving a 100' climb over .1 miles.  Mathing that out, it appears to have been over a 17% grade.

Going up that third summit, the sun started to rise, exposing the animals that had remained hidden under the cover of night.  While riding past a wide field, I noticed a large deer standing and staring at me.  He was a few hundred feet away and was not breaking eye contact.  I wasn't sure why he was staring or what he wanted.  Was it my bike?  Why would a deer even want my bike?  I'd let him try to ride it, but I doubt he'd get anywhere.  Oh man, I would feel like an idiot if that deer actually could ride a bike and he took off with all my gear while I stood there incredulously.  Anyway, we stared at each other for a while before I finally rode past a large patch of tall bushes that were obscuring three other deer (including a baby) from my sight.  That papa deer was the decoy, and the others had been walking away from me towards the safety of the woods.  Once they caught sight of me, they took off, only needing a few leaps to reach the tree line.

After the deer I saw a baby cow sleeping in a field.  It was adorable.  Here's a picture of that baby cow:

Baby Cow!

After all the climbing, I was beat, but I still had about 25 miles to go.  I was done going upwards, though, and that was as good as being in Asheville, even if the sun was already out and starting to roast me.  Those last 25 zipped by effortlessly, with the only memorable aspect being my last animal encounter of the day.  I watched two hummingbirds fly around seeming to kiss each other, doing what I hoped was a sexy, flitting mating dance.  This was probably not the case, though, as hummingbirds are fiercely territorial, and the kisses were likely beaked assaults.

By the time I reached Asheville, all of my climbing sweat had evaporated and been replaced by summer sun sweat which was then washed away by Asheville rain.  It does that a lot in Asheville.  Between the rain and sweat, there's just no way to stay dry.

And that was that.  The end of the southbound ride.  I only went half as far as I'd planned, but it was as far as I was willing to go.  Aside from my new knee brace, everything went as well as I could have hoped.  I didn't die and I saw some things.  Good enough.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Philly Pedals Repost: Oh, snap! I broke it!

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.
Hey Pedalers, Troy Mustache here.  While riding up from the Royal Tavern to “Live Band Karaoke” at Fergie’s the other night, I had a near disaster.  I’d just turned left onto Catherine St. when all of a sudden my right foot slammed into the ground, my butt hopped out of the saddle, and I lurched forward into my handlebars.  As confused as I was about what had just happened, I had the wherewithal to grab onto my left brake lever and run my bike to a stop.  Once I came to a stop, I looked down and saw this:

Whaaaat???  Holy moly!  That was a new one for me.  I have broken many parts on my bike, but I’d never ripped a crank arm in half before.  I can only assume it was the fault of my piston-like thighs, and not the 10,000+ miles of abuse slowly wearing down a hollow crank arm.
Anyway, that crank got me thinking about all the different things I’ve broken on a bike over the years (chains, frames, rims, and more), and it made me curious about the stories you might have about your own bicycle breakdowns.  Have you ever broken your bike in a way you didn’t think was possible?  Ever have a near disaster where you were able to save yourself but not your bike?  How about a break down in the middle of nowhere that resulted in you hitchhiking to a bike shop in the back of a chicken truck?
In any case, throw some comments down at the bottom if you have any stories about bonkers breakdowns.  Go ahead and give 'em to me.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Preventing Bicycle Theft in Philadelphia

If you've ever had your bicycle stolen, you know it sucks.  How much it sucks depends on its value both financially and emotionally.  Losing a beater with sentimental value can hurt just as much as losing one that was worth more than a few months rent.  That said, I'm here to help.  So here is the best tip I can give you for not getting your bicycle stolen in Philly: 

Do not leave your bicycle locked up in Kensington.

Kenzo is full of desperate junkies, and junkies will steal anything so they can sell it to get high one more time.  Junkies will even try to steal your bike while you're riding it.  If you're going to Kenzo, either bring your bike inside when you reach your destination or just take the subway.  Better yet, just don't go to Kensington.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hippie Review: Thai Crystal Deodorant

Before getting started, I just wanted to say that if I were you, I would be skeptical too.  Even knowing me, as I am myself, I am still a bit skeptical of what I'm about to write.  But Thai Crystal hippie deodorant actually works.  I've been wearing it a few months now, and I even took it on tour with me over the summer.  To be completely honest, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Stop judging me.
I stopped wearing deodorant a few months ago.  May or June, I can't remember which.  In any case, as an Old Spice lifer, it was a big move.  I started with regular, grandfather scent back in the 90's, moved onto High Endurance when it was first released, and had my body odor firmly banished by Red Zone in the mid 2000's.  Swagger, Denali, Showtime... I've used and loved them all.  Sure, I've tried some other deodorants along the way, most notably gel deodorant in its early days, which required a five minute dry time, but I always ended up back at Old Spice.  And over the years I'd received many a compliment for my armpit cologne, even in some of the sweatiest times.  Old Spice had never let me down.

But during all that time, I was hiding a secret.  A secret that I didn't dare expose to the world.  A secret that I'm finally strong enough to share now that I'm out of that abusive deodorant relationship.  My armpits... were irritated.  My armpits were always red and irritated, which having been that way since I first used deodorant, I assumed that was just how deodorant works.  It just figured it was a trade-off we all made.  Pleasant armpit odor in exchange for unpleasant armpit discomfort. 

And then my upstairs neighbor got on Team Thai Crystal, vouched for it, and recommended it to me.  Credit where due, I did not venture out into the new age wilds on my own.  I quit Old Spice cold turkey, and since kicking the habit, I couldn't be happier.  After a few days, my armpits were completely free of all irritation, and I'm never going back.  You probably have questions, so here goes:
  • What is it?  It's a stick of mineral salts.  That is literally all the label says it is, mineral salts.  
  • How does it work?  I have no idea.  All I know is the salts kill the desire to make stink.
  • How do I use it?  Get it wet, rub it on, let your pits dry for a ten seconds or so.
  • Does it have an odor of its own?  No, it does not.
  • Will it kill existing odor?  No, was your pits with soap and water (or a baby wipe) before rubbing it on.
  • Does it prevent sweating?  No, you'll still sweat the same, which is probably good for your poor clogged pores.
  • Does it only work on armpits?  No, it apparently also works on feet.  So says the label.
  • How much does it cost?  I think I paid about $7 at the local co-op
  • How long does it last?  I'm at most halfway through my stick after 8 months, even with improper use.  Always wipe it dry with a towel after you use it to make it last longer.  Also, it comes in a durable plastic container that's easy to take on the road.
  • Is it hypoallergenic?  Yes.
  • Will it stain clothing?  No.
  • Are you being paid to promote this?  Why?  Are you offering?
Anyway, I took it on tour and it did a great job of keeping me presentable, even while riding in sweltering Southern heat.  It didn't keep me odor free (I got stanky by the end of a long day), but no deodorants do that (I always get stanky by the end of a long day).  It kept me stink free for a long time, but the only way to really stay stink free is to wear antimicrobial clothing.  Even if the stink-causing bacteria can't make their stink in your pits, they'll still be able to make it in your clothes.  If you're a clean person that washes their armpits every day, then this should work for you.  You can't just slap on a new coat in the morning and expect it to fix everything.

On a side note, I just want to bring up something a friend of mine was telling me about a few months back.  Mostly, standard deodorants just mask your scent with a strong scent of their own.  Masking your own scent rather than just slowing down its amplification can be a real problem, and can even lead to divorce.  Read that article, it will give you second thoughts before you slather yourself in Axe body spray.

In closing, I give Thai Crystal Deodorant two thumbs up.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Philly Pedals Repost: Bonding with your Bicycle

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Thom Carroll Photography
Does your bike have a name? Do you refer to your bike by that name when talking to others? Do you assume that they know who you’re talking about? When your friends tell you that they don’t know who you’re talking about, do you get upset? Visibly upset? Twitching-eyelid, shaking-hands upset?
If you’ve answered “yes” to all of the above, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you, it just means that you’ve just bonded with your bike. You’re a mama bear that’s willing to eat someone’s face in order to maintain the safety of her bear cub. Except that you have less hair and your “cub” is a bike.
If you answered “no” to all of the above and you thought the second paragraph was some sort of joke, you are a heartless monster that is possibly incapable of ever finding a true emotional connection in life. Shame on you, sir or madam.
On a tour, your bike isn’t just a bike. It’s also your closest, most reliable, most forgiving friend. Who else is going to stick with you through the thunderstorms without telling you to run for cover? Who else will plod along with you on 100 degree days without ever raising their voice in frustration? Above all, who else is always going to forgive you for the torrents of obscenities you unleash upon them when you’re at your worst? That’s right, only your bike.
Everyone’s bonding process is different with their bike. For some, they fell in love the first time they saw their bicycle on the showroom floor. That paint job… that carbon fork and frame… those STI shifters… Baby, if you were sandpaper, you’d be 220 grit, ’cause you’re so fine. For others, their bond was built piece by piece, just like the bike: hand selecting each component, each having their own small story. That seatpost isn’t just a seatpost. It’s a negotiation at 8 a.m. on a Saturday at a flea market over a bottle of Bud Light Lime to get a seller down from $50 to $20. Regardless of how it starts, the real bond is built over miles of riding.

Photo courtesy of Thom Carroll Photography
The bond forged by saddle time is the most complete. Each mile builds a two-way connection between you and your bike. You’ll make changes so your bike better fits you and your personality, but the bike will also make changes in you and how you ride. A wise person once asked, “Is it the ass that breaks in the saddle, or the saddle that breaks in the ass?”
However you have your bike set up when you first get/build it, you’re going to make changes. After the first ride or two, you’ll get your saddle to the height and tilt that’s perfect for you. A month or two later, maybe you’ll decide that drop bars aren’t the bars for you (since you never drop), so you throw on some bullhorns or a nice mustache. Then maybe you decide to upgrade your canties to a slightly nicer model for easier upkeep. The changes will get smaller and smaller with time, but each of them will make the bike more and more “your” bike.
While this is going on, you’ll also learn how to understand your bike and how it likes to be ridden. You’ll start being able to identify the causes of rubs just based on their feel (rim out of true? misaligned brake caliper? just a rubbing fender? loose axle in a generator hub?). You’ll gain fluency in the “clicking noise” bicycle dialect (worn bottom bracket? loose chain pin? filthy cassette?). You’ll start to realize that there’s a rhyme and reason to everything that goes on with your bike, and you’ll know when it doesn’t like what you’re doing. There are very few surprises once you understand what your bike is telling you.
By this point, you will be comfortable with your bike (more saddle time), and your bike will be comfortable with you (fewer breakdowns), and your bond will be strong. You’ll have appropriately named your bike. You’ll set a picture of it as the background on your smartphone and/or laptop. You’ll list it as your emergency contact on hospital forms. Once you reach this point, please go back and re-read the first paragraph. Those people in paragraph three are real bastards, aren’t they?
Photo courtesy of Thom Carroll Photography

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rain, Rain, You're Okay

Night 7 - July 27, 2016 - Wytheville > Johnson City, TN
Before I took off from Wytheville, I needed to get some affairs in order.  First off, I needed to figure out where I was staying once I got to Asheville.  I figured I had to know at least one person that lived down there, so I put out a message on Facebook.  A short while later, I found tent space in the yard of a friend of a friend.  Check.  Next, I needed to catch up on Law & Order: SVU.  Every night when I went to bed and every morning when I woke up, SVU was playing on one channel or another.  I know the over-availability of SVU re-runs is a tired joke, but I have to admit that it's kind of nice to see familiar faces while on the road.  Even if they are late-run faces, after the Stabler years, which aren't nearly as good, but still, Benson is there, kidnapped or not, so it's like home.

Once I had eaten breakfast, gotten dressed, packed my gear, and loaded my bike, I opened the door to my little room, ready to tackle a near-century.  When I arrive at a motel room, the first thing I usually do is close the curtain on the large window next to the door.  The motels I usually stay at are at most two stories high, and always have that window.  There is always bound to be foot traffic heading past, so I close it to spare them from my post-ride, nekkid cool-down.  I need to get out of that lycra!  Anyway, with that curtain closed, I have no visual clues as to what's going on in the outside world, so when I opened the door, I was not expecting to see the pouring rain that had overtaken Wytheville.  I quickly closed the door and went back to SVU.

A half hour later, I tried again, and with the bulk of the storm already gone by, I hit the road.  Having climbed my way into Wytheville, I assumed I was at the top of a ridge.  Fifteen miles of off and on climbing later, I finally found that summit, and from my high view, I could see that a storm was raging south of me.  Lightning bolts lit up the night sky off to my left, and I was hopeful that it wasn't headed northward.  As I started my twenty mile descent, the rain started.  And when it started to rain, the temperature dropped considerably.  I had been riding in a sleeveless shirt and lycra shorts since I'd left Philly, and up until now, I'd only felt overheated.  I was finally cold, and I was not handling it well.  Cold Troy needed to hide from the rain, so when I reached the small town of Chilhowie, VA, I hid under the awning in front of the New People's Bank.  It was around 2am, so no one cared about the beardo hanging out at the bank with no banking needs.  

At around 37 miles in, I still had another 60 to go before reaching my destination of Johnson City, TN.  With the late start and this extended break, I knew it was going to be a hot one eventually, so I just enjoyed the relaxing break in cool weather while I could.  After twenty minutes, the rain slowed, and I was itching to get riding.  Actually, I was just itching in general.  Does anyone else experience the wet butt phenomenon of itchy cheeks?  If I sit in a pair of wet shorts long enough, lycra or not, eventually my butt cheeks start to get really itchy.  Is this normal?  In any case, riding relieves the itch with the constant rubbing of cheek on saddle, so I had no desire to stand around longer than I needed.  Also, after a week on the road, my legs were finally broken in properly, and didn't need long breaks.

As the rain clouds passed, warm air trailed in their wake, creating a surprising natural sauna.  The temperature quickly jumped into the 80s, even though it was the middle of the night, and I found myself riding through a world of smoky clouds.  Half expecting ride past an overweight Russian wearing a felt hat, it was an unexpected change.  To the South, a storm still raged.

I rode in that cloud cover until close to day break, when the impending arrival of the sun scared it off.  Only the smoke left, though, and the heat and humidity not only stayed, but doubled-down.  By the time I reached Bristol, I was still over 25 miles from my destination and the temperature was already in the 90s.  Sweat dominated my life and I had no idea how people could possibly sit in this weather all day watching car drive in circles.

Vroom, sweat, vroom.
Confession time.  I've been to NASCAR races before.  My mom loves NASCAR and took me to some races when I was little.  I don't recommend them.

By the time I reached Johnson City, I was soaked.  Again, I was at a Red Roof Inn, the big difference being that Tennessee has a 14% hospitality tax on hotel stays.  Geez, Tennessee... give people one more reason not to visit your sweat lodge of a state.  After settling in and finding some dinner at a nearby Target, I checked Strava to see if I had any words of praise or encouragement before getting some sleep.  There was one message, and it was from a friend who was giving me shit about the route I was taking since I was not riding on the considerably more beautiful (and difficult) Blue Ridge Parkway.  Ah... ball-busting comments on my Strava feed made me feel even more at home than SVU.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's a Long Way to the Top (of Christiansburg)

Night 6 - July 26, 2016 - Roanoke > Wytheville, VA
After two nights of lovely weather, I was finally looking forward to riding again.  I wasn't sure if the night into Staunton had been a fluke, but after the long ride into Roanoke went so smoothly, any misgivings I had about night riding had all evaporated.  Now that I seemed to have figured out the trick to riding through miserably hot weather, Mississippi was feeling like a physical possibility, if not a financial one.  If I had buckets of money, I could ride all night and sleep in hotels the whole way down there.  I could probably even get some fancy riding outfit with cooling units built into it so I could ride during the day.  The military must have invented them by now, right?  Have we talked about how anything is possible with money?  It's true!  The only limit for a fabulously wealthy person is their imagination and their need for attention.

It was going to be a long dark night and Google Maps had lined up a route full of questionable side roads.  I had lucked out the night prior by only having a short stretch of rough riding, and I wasn't going to roll the dice.  I quickly re-routed to major roads, thus taking all of the potential excitement out of my ride.  Next stop Wytheville (which I incorrectly pronounced as 'Wyeth-Ville').

When I'd ridden cross country a few years back, I never really looked at my route ahead of time.  I especially didn't look at elevation changes.  Remembering back, I don't think Google Maps was quite as evolved as it is today, because now maps have elevation charts right along side them.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing, as those charts can save me from terrible routes, but can also make unavoidable routes seem ominous.  Tonight was an ominous night.  I knew that up ahead of me was Christiansburg, and that there was a ten mile, 1000' climb to get into town, with a 600' wall the last mile or two.  While this distracted me from all the potential podcast serial killers in the woods, it narrowed my focus and dread onto that midpoint of the night.

Well, all that worry was pointless.  Yeah, sure, it was a big climb through unlit woods on a desolate highway, but at the top were convenience stores.  Convenience stores with pimento cheese sandwiches.  If pimento cheese is the "caviar of the South", does that make egg salad the "caviar of the North?"  I do believe.

Refueled, I hit the road with about 50 miles left in the day.  I still had a fairly large chunk of that mileage left when the sun started to rise behind me.  That beautiful harbinger of doom.  Aside from bringing pastel streaks, now that I was really in the mountains, the sunrise also brought a rising, smoky mist.

Have you ever seen Stephen King's The Mist?  That movie is messed up.

Along with the mist came the reappearance of animals.  Animals that had likely been out all night long, but that I couldn't see because of my human eyes.  Up first was a deer that I came close enough to touch.  It was standing right along the side of the road, hind legs on the ground, front legs up on a small hill so it could eat some vegetation, and so greatly enjoying it's morning nosh that it didn't even realize I was coming.  So as I sped by, close enough to pet it's back, but not doing so for fear of a startled kick to the face, I said, "Hi, Deer."  That deer did a double-take that would've made Bugs Bunny proud.  Ugh.  I wish it would've been drinking water instead of eating leaves.  A spit-take would've been even better.

After that, I saw two kittens playing in a front yard.  As I got closer, it looked like a mostly white mama cat with a little black kitten.  As I got even closer, I realized that they were not kittens at all, but skunks, which I probably shouldn't be getting cat-close to, and are probably more appealing to a dog person than a cat ever would be.  On a side note, I've heard that skunks (de-scented, obviously) make pretty great pets, with the playful nature of dogs and soft cuddliness of kitties.  If anyone has a pet skunk that I could meet, please let me know.

As the sun rose higher, so did the heat index.  And as that heat index rose, my animal sightings slowed down, with a few more skunks, some ground hogs, and a cartoonishly adorable bambi.  Animals know how to survive in nature way better than we do; always listen to them.  They were currently telling me to get the hell out of the summer sun.  A caribou once showed me how to get off of a ridgeline.  True story.  Ask me about it over a beer.

Holy moly was it getting hot.  It wasn't even 8am, and I was cooking.  That was a great reminder that switching back to days was not an option.  Not that I had much desire to switch back.  The heat index was out of control for the last 20 miles of byway that led up to Wytheville.  I was riding on a motorcycle alt route that ran parallel to 81, with no protection from the now risen sun.  If a silver lining needed to be found, it was that my hippie deodorant was proving its worth.

Obviously, Wytheville was situated at the top of a final climb (this 84-mile day featured over 5,100').  As I crawled into town, I scanned for cheap motels.  The Budget Inn looked like my best bet, but after their quick attempt at a price gouge, I ended up at a Motel 6 that had no early check-in fees and a swimming pool.  Settling into my home for the day, I found out that it's actually pronounced 'With-Ville' and that it only exists for the sake of truckers.  There is nothing in Wytheville except for gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and motels.  Oh, and that swimming pool, which was my first stop after a quick rinse in my room.  There was already a lady with a big sun hat sleeping by the pool.  It was around 10am.  She knew what was up.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Animal Crash Concerns: A Breakdown

When asked recently if I ever worried about crashing into a deer or some other wild animal while riding late at night, and the answer I gave was a definite no.  The reason I never worried about it was because I'd never really given any real thought to it.  But since I've been asked and am now thinking about it, yeah, that sounds pretty awful.

Squirrels - Risk: High, Danger: Low
I have never run over an animal with my bicycle, and as far as I can remember, I've never hit one with my car either.  That said, I do know of at least one person that has hit a squirrel with their bicycle, and while they still feel bad about it to this day, they were in no way injured as a result of that vehicular rodent homicide.  At an average of 1lb, even a large squirrel would be a hardly noticeable bump if one was riding with their eyes closed.  Overall, it seems that running of a squirrel is only damaging psychologically/emotionally, not physically, and even then should incur a low level of psychic damage, as squirrels often run into you rather than the other way around.  In other words, they made the conscious decision to run under your bike, so it's their fault, not yours.

Cats - Risk: Low, Danger: Low to Death
As a cat owner, this is a tough one to consider.  If you're a dog-person riding on an unloaded bicycle, a low wheely or beginner bunny hop could get you through a cat without sustaining any real damage to you or your bicycle.  Now if that bike was fully loaded, the best bet would be to ride straight through the cat and hope that you don't skid out on any entrails or get something in your eyes causing a loss of bicycle control.  If you're a cat person, in either case you are likely to swerve wildly, losing control of the bicycle, wiping out, and in the process, losing a fair amount of leg skin.  Worst case scenario is that you swerve off the side of a narrow road and plummet to your death.  Seems very unlikely, though, as most cats will avoid you like the plague.

Dogs - Risk: Medium, Danger: Low

I think we can all agree that dogs are pretty dumb.  Dogs will get in your way for one of two reasons, either they want to lick you (right dog) or they want to bite you (wrong dog).  From my experience, most dogs just want to get within five feet of your bicycle and bark until you're off their turf.  Making actual contact isn't a priority, and in a lot of cases, completely avoided.  In either case, as dumb as they are, they have no idea how mass and velocity relate to force, and this can be a real problem for you.

The amount of damage you're going to sustain really depends on the size of the dog and its intent.  Small licking dogs can usually be avoided without much swerving due to a lack of speed on their part.  Small biting dogs can be run over with cat-level damage.  Large licking dogs can also usually be avoided and are often scared off with a simple "Git," command.  Large biting dogs, though, are the real problem.  Stay on your bicycle at all cost and keep your bicycle moving in a straight line.  If a large biting dog is able to grab hold of your leg, your danger rating is going to quickly move up to High from both slamming into the ground and from the painful clamp of locking jaws as they attempt to rip your leg out of socket.  Remember, if a vicious dog is able to lock onto you, you always have the last resort of a what this lady did.  Overall, dogs likely aren't going to do much more than bark at you.

Raccoons/Groundhogs - Risk: Low, Danger: Medium to Rabies

These little guys are pretty avoidable, but in the off-chance you do hit one, it probably won't be head-on.  Smarter than the average squirrel, which will run confusing circles in front of you, these critters take off in one direction.  If you should hit one, though, you're definitely going over your handlebars if you can't get your front wheel up.  Raccoons are not small animals and groundhogs can get mighty thick.  Your best bet for this is to yell loudly before you're near them, as the only time they'll get near you is if they don't realize you're heading their way.  Should you yell, and instead of running away from you, they run towards you, then you're dealing with rabies.  Get away from that animal.

Deer - Risk: Low-Medium, Danger: High

This is the animal that started it all.  Pennsylvania highways are littered with deer all summer long, and the thought of hitting one with a bicycle instead of a car sounds just awful.  Flying down a hill in the middle of the night and slamming into a deer?  Oof.  Internet says male white-tailed deer average out around 150lbs, but I think the average deer would be fast enough to get out of my way.  To me, it seems more likely to hit a deer that was bigger and slower, which would put them in the 300-400lbs range.  That's the fuzzy equivalent of a brick wall.

While I've seen plenty of deer over the years, the only time I've been close enough to touch one has been when I snuck up on it around daybreak.  Deer are hit by cars for reasons that don't apply to bicycles, and hit bicycles for reasons that don't apply to cars.  When a deer sees and hears a car, it freaks out, runs around confusedly, and gets hit.  With a lack of sound and light, bicycles appear to be standard predators, which cause either a flight response or a decoy response (in the case of parents with babes).  In either case, they will not run at you.  Of course, there are exceptions, which will put a cyclist in a dangerous situation.

When deer do hit bicycles, it's usually because a cyclist is in the middle of the woods.  Deer encounters are more of a risk for MTB folk, but even then, the risk is low.  Mountain bikes are not quiet as they crash through the woods, providing plenty of warning for deer.  As with all animals other than dogs, your best bet is to be loud if you're worried about an unwanted encounter.

Here's a deer trying to eat my hand after a ride.  I miss those gloves.

 - Risk: Low, Danger: High to Death

A bear will not think twice about Revenanting your ass if the conditions are right.  If you surprise them, you will be Revenanted.  If you get between them and their young (most often without even realizing you've done so), you will be Revenanted.  If it's late in the season and they haven't eaten enough to hibernate, they will Revenant you and then eat you.  If you should find yourself within arms reach of a bear, there are no two ways about it, you are in trouble.  In a worst case scenario, just remember this simple rule: 

  • Brown Bears - Play dead.  Brown bears are gigantic and you cannot win.  They will beat you around until you're no longer a threat and then leave you to die.

  • Black Bears - Fight back.  While still large animals, they are around Las Vegas bouncer size, so you have some chance.  Also, these critters will not just walk away from you the way a brown bear will.  

Fortunately, bears can usually smell you from miles away.  Especially with that long haul armpit stank you've developed on the road.  Bears want nothing to do with you 99% of the time.  At most, a juvenile may show some passing interest but will then see some berries and remember that berries taste better than people.  If you should find yourself alone in bear country and are genuinely starting to worry, simply start yelling, "Hey Bear," every minute or so.  Bears will hear that and either head the other direction or stay where they are, but with the knowledge of your presence.  It's infinitely better for a bear to know where you are than to surprise it.

Moose - Risk: Medium, Danger: Low to Death
Moose are dumb, blind, possess no fear, and have the potential for great violence.  Luckily, their lack of fear also leads to a generally docile nature, as without fear, there is no anger, hate, or suffering.  A large moose is close to 7' tall and weighs upwards of 1,500lbs.  If you should ride into one of these at top speed, they will not even flinch as your internal organs turn to mush.  Alternatively, should one attack you (don't go near their babies ever), they will stomp on you until you are dead, and then they will continue to stomp on you until every last cell in your body has been returned to an atomic state.

Most often, though, moose will not even acknowledge your existence as you pass them by.  Having no fear of proximity, moose are often seen on the Anchorage Coastal Trail and in Kincaid Park, sometimes munching on trees right along the different trails, and very seldom do they ever acknowledge a cyclist's presence.

Don't try this at home.  Try it in the woods.

Animalia Miscellanea

  • Both mountain lions and coyote will attach children.  For this reason, it's best to not have children.

  • Giant snakes can be found across America.  I've even seen them along the side of the road as far north as Wisconsin.  Make sure to always keep some live mice in a pannier to use as a distraction, should you ever need to venture into tall grass to relieve yourself.

  • Skunks are very active from late day to early morning.  They will put their butt up in their air as a warning before they spray, so if you see buns, give it room.

  • Turtles are dumber than dogs.  If you find one in the middle of the road, stop, pick it up, and move it 10' from the road with it's head facing away from danger.

  • Antelope are really fast.

  • Badgers are the coolest.  If you see one, stop to take pictures.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Piece of Shit Hub: Shutter Precision PV-8 (Updated Review)

Well... a little more than a month after I posted about how much I loved my new Shutter Precision PV-8 hub, I had to make a warranty claim.  After fewer than 100 miles of usage, my hub stopped spinning smoothly and started generating less than 30mV of electricity.  For those that aren't up on dynamo hubs, the PV-8 is supposed to put out 3V, an industry standard.  Those 3V can then power my headlight and taillight without issue.  I can even add a USB charger into the mix, which slightly dims my lights but keeps them functional.  But after just a few weeks of use, my hub was generating 1/100th of the electricity it was guaranteed for, which couldn't even tickle a mouse if it was hooked straight up to their little mouse nipples.

As for the increased rotational drag, when I spun my wheel in my form, it vibrated the whole bike as it shook to a halt.  With my bike flipped in my living room, once the wheel lost it's initial speed, it shook Bionic Tibor enough to rattle the trinkets and what nots on my book shelf.

Luckily Shutter Precision has a 2-year warranty.  This is all well and good, but they don't have any policy about reimbursing people for costs associated with replacing a hub.  Here's what it takes:
  1. Unlace the wheel. ($)
  2. Mail the hub back. ($)
  3. Wait...
  4. Build new wheel.  Two options for that:
    • Reuse the spokes - Different mechanics have different opinions on this.  Some say that once a spoke's been tensioned it shouldn't be recycled. ($)
    • Use new spokes - Dollar a spoke?  C'mon... ($$)
  5. Re-tape the rim. ($)
With parts, labor, and shipping, that can easily cost over $100.  The PV-8 is a $100 hub.  To get this fixed with a replacement hub is basically the same cost of buying another hub.  Shutter Precision said they were sorry about the hub failing, but that they only replace the hub.  So this tells me that while Shutter Precision is at fault, they believe that burden of replacement should be on the customer.  They make a crappy product and the customer gets to pay extra for that crappy product.

In summary, you probably don't want to buy a Shutter Precision hub.  They are not very good.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Philly Pedals Repost: Making Friends While Touring

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

Who needs friends when you have The Badlands?
While you’re touring, you’ll likely meet people. Maybe they’re on tour too, maybe they’re just weekend warriors riding their workday worries away on their weight weenie Pinarellos, or maybe they’re just some kid who has a flat tire and is in desperate need of help. You’ll likely get the urge to stop, talk to them, and possibly even befriend them. Don’t.
Did you forget why you’re on tour? You didn’t strap everything you need to your bike so you could ride through busy city intersections screaming, “Hey everyone, who wants to talk about some stupid BS?” You strapped all that stuff on your bike so when people try to talk to you, you can say, “Sorry, I have to get to camp before dark. You know how it is.”
In most situations, conversation with strangers is 90-95% garbage small talk. Use your time and tires to free yourself from these social shackles! You already have enough gear tied down to your racks, there’s no need to further burden yourself.
You’re going to meet all sorts of people on the road, and here’s why you should avoid them all:
Touring Cyclists
Touring is a boring narrative. It’s like fishing or collecting stamps. If you’re the one doing it, it’s great, but if you try to verbalize why it’s so great, hearing the words out loud really makes you wonder why you’re having such a great time. “Today I rode my bike for 10 hours. There wasn’t much headwind, so as you can imagine, it was pretty rock ’n’ roll.” Now imagine a conversation between two people that are both touring. That’s right; it’s twice as boring.
If you should find yourself at a campground full of people on tour, just explain that you’re tired and need to sleep. Otherwise, you’re going to end up at a campfire listening to talk of how great it is to have a West Coast microbrew after a long day of riding, the virtues of dynamo hubs over solar panels (or vice versa), and uninterestingly personal explanations of why people are on the road. Just because you’re on tour doesn’t mean all you have to talk about is touring, but as it’s your only known common ground, it’s all you will talk about. And then guess what? In the morning, you’ll wake up and start doing what you spent all night talking about. Do yourself a favor and just go to bed.
A perfect day (because there’s no one here to ruin it).
Touring Cyclists of Yore
Do not allow these people to regale you with tales of tours gone by. Their memories have all been rose-tinted by the passage of time and the death of aged brain cells. Do not allow these people to live vicariously through you. You’re only stirring up memories of better days gone by that they’ll never experience again. People who have toured will assume that you share a kindred spirit. Don’t indulge this naiveté. Just keep pedaling.
Road Cyclists
This one really shouldn’t be a problem. About 99% of road cyclists will not acknowledge your existence. You’re not wearing a kit, your bike isn’t made of carbon, and you clearly have no idea how important spinning is during the off season. Most likely, they’ll be able to sense your inferiority from about a quarter of a mile away and won’t even look up at you as they pass by.
There are two types of locals: the good ones and the bad ones. You’re just as likely to be offered a bottle of beer as you are to get one chucked at your head. Why risk it? Ignore them all.
Motorcyclists & Hitchhikers
These two groups are alright. They will exchange pleasantries and then dig no deeper into your life. Be respectful and extend the same courtesy.
Remember: If you’re touring to make friends, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Philly Pedals Repost: How to be a Bicycle Tourist

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

A bike shop is a bike shop is a bike shop. Don’t let language be a barrier to riding.
Note to the reader: This piece is about being a Tourist, not a Touring Cyclist.

Do you love to travel, but hate not knowing your way around? Do you eagerly anticipate visiting new places, but cringe at the thought of being lost in an unfamiliar place? Do you prefer to hit the ground running on vacation, but fear the thought of having to ask someone for directions because you don’t know if the person is going to be a jackass and point you in the wrong direction, or worse, lead you to an abandoned hospital where black market surgeons pay him $50 (USD) per healthy kidney?
If so, then you’re just like me. In every way imaginable. We are clearly twins separated at birth. What am I thinking right now? That’s right! “Popsicle!” Separated fraternal twins and ESP — such a strange phenomenon.
My recommendation for combatting this situation is to take a bicycle tour of whatever town, city, or countryside you are in as soon as you get there! Most major cities either have bicycle tour companies or bicycle shops that offer tours. Philadelphia, for example, has the Philly Bike Tour Company, which is an offshoot of Fairmount Bicycles (two birds). These types of companies offer tours that help you get to know a city, and many of them offer different ride options based on skill sets and interests.  Maybe you want a fast paced city sweep to help you get your bearings while learning something about your temporary home, or maybe a leisurely nightlife tour to get yourself ready for evening events, or if you’re really lucky, you could take a fancy, day-long wine tour through rolling hills and vineyards. It doesn’t matter which type you choose, though, as all of them will help set your inner compass.
Additionally, these companies usually provide you with everything you’ll need for the tour. Bicycle, helmet, lock, water, and if you’re lucky, lunch. In most cases, all you need to do is show up, and they take care of the rest. One less thing to worry about.
Dalian, China via local bike rental from Bǎikē Danche
As with any endeavor, planning is important. Prior to departing for your destination city, do an Internet search for bicycle tours within your destination city. For example: “bicycle tour chicago“. That search returned three different tours on the first page (and more can be found if you dig). Now that you have your tour companies, do a little research. Give the tour companies a call; don’t rely on what’s on their webpage. Talk to a representative of the company, tell them what you’re looking for, your skill level, and when you’re arriving. They’ll be able to tell you exactly which tour is perfect for you and can even make sure they wait for you on the off chance you’re late due to travel delays.
Once you’ve decided on a tour, book it! Don’t wait until you’re on vacation; book now. If you can, book it for as soon as you get to the city. If your flight lands at 8, get on that tour by 10. That’s plenty of time to drop your luggage off, put on some shorts (not lycra), and get a cab to the tour. By noon, you’ll already start to feel at home. You’ll also have a ton of pictures so you won’t have to carry your camera around and look like a tourist the rest of the time you’re there. Not that anyone uses cameras anymore.
Do you know why you need to book the tour now? Because when you get off of that plane, the last thing you’re going to want to do is go for a bike ride. You just spent hours crammed in a tiny seat with some kid kicking your back. All you’ll want to do is get a shower, stretch out, and watch some HBO. In reality, a bicycle ride will make you feel 100x better than lounging, but your mind will be too clouded with post-flight irritation to realize it. This is why you book prior to departure. That and who knows if the tours fill up quickly.
Plaza de Armas (Santiago, Chile) via La Bicicleta Verde tours.
Once you’ve booked, all you need to do is show up. If you can, try to get there a little early so you have time to adjust your helmet and your saddle height. Then hit the road. The most important part of this ride will be to keep your eyes open and listen to your guide. Everything you do and see now will make your stay more enjoyable because your comfort level within your new location will be that much greater. Take pictures. Take notes. Ask questions. Be a participant not an attendee.
After the tour’s over, thank your guide, and if you can, get their information in case you have any questions while you’re in town. You now know at least one person in this town, if even for only a few short hours. You could also get to know your fellow tour takers and make potential plans with them. This is great if you’re in town on business and are traveling alone.

Finally, if you’re feeling adventurous, find out if the shop rents out bicycles. There’s no better way to get around a city than on a bicycle, and after a week of cycling in a city, you may know it better than some of its residents. Once that happens, you’ll be the one making $50 per kidney!