Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Half Acre Skills Ride

I've obviously had a major absence from writing the longest ever since keeping this page.  Its not because of a lack of adventure.  It might actually be just the opposite.  Any how here is a video I made of some team bike ride action. Enjoy it.  Hopefully it is the catalyst that inspires some new writing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Winnebago Stories

I am a road tripper.  My siblings are road trippers.  My parents are road trippers.  We might not be if not for my mother's parents.  In the post-war years my maternal grandparents embraced the open road with all the optimism that a young family could have.  My grandmother was from Oklahoma so trips to the plains were an annual occurrence.  When the Worlds Fair came to New York in 1964 all 7 kids were packed up in the station wagon and they headed to Queens.  They even road tripped to Mexico.

The open road was certainly a romantic notion for my mother.  The farthest my father had ever been from Chicago was Ohio until he married my mom.  When my folks got hitched they hit the road for their honeymoon in their '65 Ford Galaxie.  The two of them saved their pennies and later bought a window van.  During the height of the 70's muscle car era when my dad's friends were buying Mustangs and Corvettes my parents bought a tan Ford Econoline with nothing inside but two seats.  They would transform it into their ultimate road trip machine complete with a bed, refrigerator and a two burner stove.  With friends redistributed all over the country due to wartime service they had no shortage of destinations.  The miles piled on.

The New Ford In the Badlands

As they built on to the family the bed became a convertible bench with seat belts.  Driver's and passenger seats got upgraded to captain's chairs that swiveled and folded flat for my sister and I to sleep on.   The van would get a ton of TLC one winter as it lay in pieces in my uncle's garage as Dad  rebuilt the engine and patched up some rusty panels.  The following summer all of Dad's hard work paid off on the drive to California.  The grandaddy of all road trips.  Three weeks were spent on the road as we saw the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Disneyland.  By this time the family had grown to the six of us.  A double hammock was fashioned as my big sister and I had outgrown the front seats and relinquished them to our younger siblings.

With an aunt firmly rooted in Colorado Springs and an uncle in the Air Force stationed around the eastern United States we spent most summers alternating between visiting one or the other.  Stopping to see the sights in between.  Most years the Ford ran like a song, just an occasional flat tire or blowout.  There was a bad alternator once and a bad radiator another trip.  But for the most part it was a faithful steed.  The 90's came along with children in their teenage years and the Ford was sent to the crusher.  My parents made the plunge to buy a Winnebago.  They decided on a LeSharo model that looked like the size of a van but you could stand up in it.  Deluxe for sure.

The Riley Mobile in Virginia
At some point before kids my parents went to Disney World and camped at the resort campground.  With Campers idyllically parked all around them a seed was planted to one day come back with a Camper full of kids.  This is what the Winnebago was all about.  Having spent all their money on the new machine, the big trip would have to wait.  We stuck to the staples of Colorado and the East or we stayed nearby and saw the Midwest.  Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky became a favorite.  We got as far south as Georgia once.  But the Florida trip kept getting pushed back not that us kids were any the wiser.  The road had firmly taken the hold of us too and we didn't care where the destination was.  Our lives were altered for two weeks out of the year.   Our friends were not missed.  My shitty grades and looming summer school weren't a thought.  Being on vacation was all that mattered.   To this day I can't remember a single argument we ever had on a vacation.  Those trips always felt like an adventure where cooperation was important for a successful trip.   The "adventure" was amped up once the Winnebago was brought into the equation.

The French engine that made up the camper was not as sound as the V8 from Detroit.  It became apparent when we took the camper up a Colorado switchback to the top of some mountain peak that the machine had its limitations.  The motor labored as we crawled up the peak with a line of cars behind it.  The foreign fuel sipping engine barely had the horsepower to get us to the top.  Dad was white-knuckled the entire time.  It was a real possibility that the power to weight ratio would top out and we would be a sitting duck with a mile of cars behind us.  We did make it to the top and once the blood pressure was back to normal we drove back down.    It might have been less arduous had we hiked up.  The view was not as enjoyed as it should have been and yet the real adventure was yet to come.  We took the southern route back to Illinois on I-70 through Kansas.  Little did we know that we would see more of the Sunflower State than we bargained for.  In the middle of the heartland the the Winnebago spit out the serpentine belt and we rolled to a stop in front of the only house we had seen for miles.  (My mother would later say that the camper was always polite when it broke down: always on the way home and as conveniently as possible, and God bless Dad who had to deal with all those random mechanics)  This would be the first time we spent the night stranded in the camper.  In the morning the local tow truck came to drag us to town.  Unfortunately the small town hook was no match and we quickly broke the boom and had to wait for a heavy duty machine to come.  The local mechanic shop was next door to a cattle auction so Mom, never missing an opportunity,  took us to the all under the tent and with her best mom voice told us all to sit on our hands "we are NOT going home with a cow".  Talk about your "Not for Tourist Guide" it was the real Kansas full of real ranchers and the auctioneer had a motor mouth that would have shut up the Mini Machines guy.  As I remember the belt took some hunting down and we ended up with a replacement that was not exact but would get us home.

Plenty of trips came and went with nothing forcing us off the road.  Weekend trips to Michigan, and day trips to the beach along with youth football games were the Winnebago's unsung hero moments.  When your stuck at a freezing football game after your game is over but you have to wait for your sister to finish cheer leading for the second game, the shelter of the camper could not be beat.  The ability to enjoy a camp fire and then sleep in air conditioning in the humid south was another shining moment.

The next time the family had to spend the night stranded in the camper was years later in Pennsylvania.  We spent the whole trip with a loud muffler and, again, on the way home driving through the night, the camper started loosing power and we crawled to a stop.  Dad lifted the hood in an unpopulated stretch of road under a pitch black sky lit up only by the stars above.  It was so dark that in the engine bay you could see the glowing red of the cast iron exhaust manifold.  What the hell do you do in the middle of the night on the shoulder of the expressway with major engine failure?  We slept and waited.  There is truly nothing more unnerving than being stranded on the side of the road rocking back and forth with every passing semi truck.  After a while a state trooper came along and radioed for a tow truck to take us to town where we spent the night waiting for the mechanic to open the bay doors in the morning.  The shop we were dropped at was run by Appalachian Good Ol' Boys whose bathroom was plastered floor to ceiling with nudie pinups.  For some reason water went through me like a zipline in a Costa Rica Rainforest.

This shop really had no business working on anything that couldn't be fixed with a coffee can and a hose clamp.  It was quickly realized we needed a rental car to go home.  Their entire road tripping career my parents never had a casualty before.  We were going home a man down and it took its toll on my folks.  They were not pleased with the situation at all, divided in how to handle it we spent the night in the wounded camper waiting for a rental car to be delivered the next day.  It was a somber drive home.  The next weekend my parents rented a U-Haul with a trailer and brought back the rental planning to drag the camper back to our trusted mechanic back home.   Some how the plan was altered and the Good Ol' Boys kept the camper another week or so and fixed it.  The Riley Mobile came home under its own power a few weeks later.  However much like any wounded soldier it was never really the same.  It would never leave the Midwest again.

The late nineties were a boom time and my parents finally were able to put away some money to hit the road to that magical place in the swamps of the Orange State.  The Rileys were Florida bound and we were practically adults at this point.  My older sister and I were in college and in fact would not be along for the whole trip.  She would fly out to meet us in Orlando and I would fly back with her.  The Camper would be given one last chance.  I think we all wanted it so bad that we just had to try.  After all we had been driving it around town, it was like taking it to the store and back...but nonstop...and all at once.  Where we broke down you could have still listened to Chicago radio stations.  The final defeat.  It was towed back to the South Suburbs and we transferred everything to the car.  You could say we got back to basics.  When my Mom was that age she road tripped Mexico in a car without air conditioning.  In that respect we were still cruising in style.  We arrived without any lost time and when it was all said and done my parents took every single one of their kids on a trip that was 25 years in the making.        

The Winnebago is still parked on a concrete slab behind the garage.  It enjoyed a retirement as a hostel when we made international friends in college.  My parents still road trip albeit behind the wheel of a Pontiac Grand Prix these days, but they don't have a van load of kids either.  Just like how they started.  My older sister and younger brother both have families of their own and are extremely accomplished road trippers.  My youngest sister has taken some epic cross country trips, again visiting friends dispersed throughout the country due to wartime service and I'll hit the road on a moments notice with just about anybody because there is just something romantic about the road.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fox River Grove 5/20

View Fox River Grove Criterium in a larger map

Known for the Norge Ski Jump the town also plays host for the Psimet Fox River Omnium.  Its a multiple day points road race for the bikes.  The first day was in Elgin and I attended the second day in Fox River Grove.  The race was a Criterium, with a monster climb right out of the gate.  There isn't much elevation to train on within city limits so I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.  I woke up early and packed up the Go Fast bike and was about an hour early for my 10 am race time.   Perfect for pre riding the course.  In my smallest chainring and largest cog I crawled up the incline at 9 mph.  It was probably a good 2-3 min climb.  Once at the top the winding suburban subdivision street, complete with hay bales padding mailboxes, there was a wide and smooth down hill allowing me to easily reach speeds north of 30 mph.  If you were confident you could really lean into the corners taking them at speed without hitting the brakes and slingshot yourself into the next climb.  I rode the course a few times planning where and when to shift to higher and lower gearing.  I felt my confidence building.  I lined up at the start/finish and eaves dropped on racers' plans to kill themselves to grab points and fall back.  I was collecting all this race intelligence to make my own plan.  The whistle blew and the climb started.  I let the points racers go figuring I would pass them late.  At the summit I geared down to gain any lost position, banked in the corners and then shifted to my small chainring on a false flat of the course only to drop my chain.  My legs spun like a silent movie sped up for comedic effect.  I didn't know what happened right away, was I just in too high a gear?  Nope.  I had to stop.  I pulled off to the side forcing another rider into the grass.  Sorry bud.  The intangible happened.  All that strategy now meant nothing.  With the adrenaline pumping, and not wanting to unclip entirely from my pedals, it took me 3 tries to get my chain back on.  I went from the front of the peloton to the back in the longest 15 seconds ever.  I got back in the action passing one or two riders and then came the climb again.  There would be no passing on this beast.  There is a cheering section on the left.  I'm being yelled at to go faster, stand up on those pedals, pass that guy.  Equal parts encouragement/annoyance.  I'm at the top, I take a deep breath and down shift.  My legs are shaking but I'm determined to pass everyone in sight on the way down.  I take every corner on the inside and sprint on the straightaways.  I will regain my position.  Now more climbing and no passing.  My manhood is now being challenged by hecklers/cheerleaders.  At the summit I go for my water bottle.  The sugary sports drink makes my lips sticky and its an extra effort just to open my mouth, I wish it was water.  I'm passed and I can't even be bothered to use his draft I so I over take him on the down hill along with a hand full of other riders.  Finally I see some teammates.  The top 20 must be right around the corner.  More climbing.  The cheering section.  I don't even know how many times I've done this now.  With a glance, my bike computer read the ride time at 22 min.  This is either the finial lap or I have one more to go.  I'll give it all I got just in case.  I sprint to the finish.  Its the last lap.  The run out is strait ahead and I'm so happy I don't have to climb that hill again.  I finally see the riders ahead of me.  I was kidding myself, there are a lot of riders in front of me.  If I cracked the top 20 Ill be happy...wait, no scratch that, I'm happy now.  I don't have to climb that hill any more.  Where is the water?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Matteson and Hyde Park Crit Racing

Last weekend I couldn't get down to Champaign Urbana for the bike racing so I decided to check out the Matteson Tuesday Night Race series.  I love these races.  The first Criterium race I ever competed in was here.  Of course I lived on the south side then and it was so much easier to get to.  If I lived down there for sure I'd be a regular.  3 races 1 night back to back to back.  They start at 6pm so leaving work early is a must.  I staged my bike at my folks house and took the Metra to their house where they picked me up and drove me to the race.  The South Chicago Wheelmen host the night at the ACE Hardware paint factory at Central and Rt. 30.  Its a 4 corner course with wide 90° corners.  I raced in the B group set up for Cat4/5 racers and had a great time.  I had 2 top 5 finishes and posted the in the 1 spot in the finale which placed my at 3rd overall for the night.  Its such a fun evening of racing.  Its pretty chill and everyone there is out for a low key, smart race.

View Larger Map
Racin' 'Round the 'ol Paint Factory

On Saturday I pointed the compass south to my old neighborhood and competed in the Monsters of the Midway race.  My event wasn't until 4:30pm but the women's race was at 12:30 so I packed a lunch and cheered on 6 of the Half Acre women.  The entire race the clouds opened up and rained on them and there were plenty of spills on the four corner course which broke up the field and scattered racers in small packs 15 seconds behind each other.  Robin H. was able to hold on to the lead group and earned herself a podium finish at 3rd.

IMG_6678 Photo Thanks to Velogrrl

 I missed most of the Men's category 4 race warming up for my upcoming cat 4/5 heat.  However I did manage to see a handful of slips and slides.  I'm told there was a line for the ambulance to get cleaned up after.  My race started out wet and quickly dried up as the laps were counted down.  It was a pretty fast race and I was doing my best to stay in the front 5 but I didn't see myself gaining a whole lot of ground.  After sprinting for a mid race prime (prize) I was reminded of a conversation I had with Mike A., the road race captain, about breaking away.  I decided to give it a go and I sprinted like a madman about half a lap in front of the field and held it for almost two laps.  Once the pack caught up to me I settled in for a mediocre finale.  With most of the fuel out of my tank I stood up for a sprint and crossed the finish 20th.  Little did I know Mike A. was going to convince me to line up for the second race.  Had I known that would have been an option I probably wouldn't have gassed it so hard.  Erica pinned a new number on me, Mike hydrated me and Bevan gave me an energy bar.  They should have slapped my ass and yelled "giddy up" as I rode to the start line.   It was all good fun.  The second race started and I settled in the back of the pack and started taking the turns.  Eventually I progressed to the middle and then I found myself in the top ten.  At this point I had my legs back under me and feeling good when a rider veered into my front wheel with his rear.  It was on a straight away and I had some room to move but my recovery took me into his wheel 2 more times in the matter of 3 seconds.  I didn't panic and was able to stay upright, much to my amazement and to the pleasure of the riders behind me.  I had a solid sprint to the finish and grabbed the 9 spot, happy to be in one piece.  The team went out for dinner and drinks afterward and I spent the night pretty geeked about the day of racing.

Photo Thanks to Velogrrl

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cobb Park 4/29

View Cobb Park Crit in a larger map
I must really be digging this racing action.  Little habits are changing and forming like spending the evening carb loading for the morning's race.  I even decided to spend the night at my sister's house in the south 'burbs on Saturday night so I would only have a 40 min drive to Kankakee on Sunday allowing me to sleep in for an extra hour.  The only bummer with that was no carpool with the team.  Unlike last week I got to the race early enough to ride the course before the start time.  The criterium was set up great with a long stretch along the Kankakee River and then through side streets of a historic homes district, with some tight 90° turns, a dog leg, and a nice sloping curve that was uber fun.  Besides overdressing for the race I felt great going into the start.  If last week taught me anything it was to stay with the lead right out of the gate so I stuck to it this time too.  The tempo really picked up after lap 7 and one of the tighter turns I tried to pedal through and struck my inside pedal on the pavement.  It was never more evident that I was surrounded by five racers at speed.  The sloping turn became more and more fun with every revolution.  If you found yourself on the inside corner you could really lean into it and pedal out of the turn and gain a ton of ground.  I did this the second to last lap and it shot me to the front five competitors.  It was the key to a nice finish.  With that in mind, I don't know what happened on the last lap 'cause I ended up on the outside and took the turn wide for the final sprint.  As I got on it I saw a top ten finish slipping away and gave out a rebel yell as I pedaled.  I do believe that war cry freaked out some other riders.  In fact teammate Mike H. the only other Half Acre rider in the pack told me so.  Not a big deal for me, you should hear me on the crux of a climb.  I'm nothing but grunts.  No harm no foul it kept me in the top ten at 9th and quite possibly encouraged Mike to get away from me fast.  He came away with 7th.  Two Half Acre riders making up the top ten.  I like the way that looks.

I stuck around for the women's race to cheer on the Half Acre ladies.  They put a great race together and I like cheering.  The race made for some great photos too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 22- Alderman James Cappleman's 46th Ward Lincoln Park Criterium

Someone caught my Grrr Face.
Titled Grrr by: ewwhite
Race Day comes again.  This time at Montrose Beach.  The first races I attended were organized by my team and this race was set up by the racers at xXx-Athletico.  They are a pretty large team.  I think I see at least one of them every day on the lakefront path.  Complete with announcers and a pace car it was apparent this race was not a training or intro to racing race.  I planned to get to the event early to ride the course before it was being raced.  I knew the races were back to back and I would have no time to scope it out before my start time.  However with freezing temps I figured any knowledge I would have gained would not have benefited cold bones.  The time was better spent eating and keeping warm.  With a lousy warmup ride I got to the course, registered and found the new Half Acre Team tent waiting for me.  I tossed my messenger bag inside ditched my water bottles and started riding around to keep loose.  I had invited a cheering section consisting of a half a dozen or so relatives that gladly froze while rooting on Half Acre racers.

View xXx Lincoln Park Criterium in a larger map
 Team captain, Mike A., tipped me to position myself away from the wind at certain spots and it helped tenfold throughout the race.  The course contained a hairpin turn that was at the bottom of a hill.  After the turn my climb slowed me down a few positions but was easily regained positioning myself with riders between me and the crosswind.  The tip was the difference maker that kept me in contention for the half hour.  Surprisingly, the pace was extremely manageable and had I not taken the lead earlier in the race I might have placed higher but I'm pretty geeked with a 7th place finish.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trek to Three Floyds Brewery

The Riders at Queen's Landing
Making the trek to Munster, Indiana is one of the mainstay bike rides in Chicago's bicycle touring community.  Having grown up nearby and being extremely familiar with the area its a wonder why I have never made the trip before, by car or bike.  It was high time to join some friends and make some new ones on the ride down.  So on Saturday the 10th of April I did a brewery to brewery bike ride.  I began at (a still closed) Half Acre at 9:15am and met up with a group of riders at Queen's Landing across from the Buckingham Fountain at 10:30am.  We introduced ourselves and waited for the rest of the group and hit the path south at 11am.  Along with a few Half Acre teammates there were another handful of riders all as nice as can be.

View Three Floyds Trek in a larger map
The bike path ends at the South Shore Cultural Center so we took the street bike lane on Rt. 41 down to the Burnham Greenway bike path.   I have never been on this path and loved it.  It bisects the East Side Neighborhood and the town of Burnham Il. The bath abruptly ends and turns into Ave O which then becomes Burnham Ave. where the two towns meet.  We continued south on Burnham Ave until State St where you can head east or west to meet up with an unknown Indiana bike path to the east or pick up the Burnham Greenway path again to the west (recommended).  The path ends at the state line so the best bet is to take Ridge road east to Calumet Ave and head south.  The brew pub is across from the Centennial Park in an industrial corridor.  If you choose to take the eastern route which we did on the way down I would suggest exiting the path on Columbia Ave south.  It dead ends at Rt. 45 and that is where you can pick up Calumet Ave just to the west.  Its about 25 miles from Queens Landing and a 35 mile one way trip for me starting in North Center.  Its a great trip unfortunately the kitchen at the brew pub is under construction and the BBQ they were serving was way overpriced.  For $12 dollars a four inch bun with a couple cuts of pork roast and a bag of chips did not cut the mustard.  The beers I had were excellent Belgium style ales and most of their fans are in love with beers hoppy enough to wake the dead i.e. Zombie Dust so for y'all its a super treat.
Some of our group split off to take the Metra Electric Line back to the city.  Its about 10 miles to the west in Flossmoor Il.  Which incidentally also has a brew pub in it.  I could have made it a Triple Brewery Trip.  Hey, I might be on to something there.  The rest of us bought some beers to imbibe along a secluded point of the path for the ride home.

Peel back some layers.

Pit stop with the Chicago Skyway in the background.

Underneath the Skyway is the Burnham Greenway Path.

As the sun was coming down we got back into city limits and as we cornered the South Shore Cultural Center heading north we got the big skyline reveal which really made the entire trip top notch.  About a mile later I got a flat.  Booooo.  We were back to it in no time and we one by one peeled off the path to go home or make evening plans.