Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sensible Cycling; Colorado Culture

OK, when I started this endevour, I was determined that it would not be a training log or ride report as my daily activities just aren't that interesting. Instead, I aspire to entertain and inform in a more "general interest" mode, so I'm happy to continue with:


Catchy, huh?

Salida, Co. and the other small towns strung along the Arkansas River Valley are mostly compact and, being in the Valley, relatively flat in spite of the fact that the altitude is 7000-8000 feet. Salida and Buena Vista both have vibrant downtowns with whitewater parks, hiking and mountain biking within sight of their main drags in addition to funky bars, good restaurants, outdoor stores, bike shops, etc. In short, the layout makes these towns ideal for the use of bikes as transportation. The top shot is of one of the many clusters on cruisers and utility bikes that you see around town during festivities. It seems like almost everybody has a bike, some of which are shiny new Electras and many of which are cobbled up beaters with a lot of cargo capacity.The second photo is the rig of a boater named Kevin Jacobi who is travelling the state running Class V water (really hard stuff!), towing his kayak behind the bike (on platform pedals no less) to raise cancer awareness and to raise funds for American Whitewater. You can read more details in the link below, but he was quite a character. http://www.9news.com/rss/article.aspx?storyid=118594
It is definitely a mountain bike scene and roadies criss-cross the state all summer, but that is recreation. This is transportation.
Salida has a population of about 6000 and has three bike shops that I know of.
doesn't mean the culture is much different. Hey, they're just a little further upstream and share our agricultural roots. This is clearly demonstrated by the fresh mullet and the turkey legs. Hell, put 80 pounds and some ink on everybody and we could have been at Riverfest. Mullet boy is a pro boater who allowed his curly red locks to be shorn into a mullet on stage by a beginner barber as a fundraiser for American Whitewater. The turkey legs.....well, the turkey legs looked a little better before gnawing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

FIBArk Hooligan Race

Well, we had a blast in Colorado. Though we didn't ride much (one road ride, one mtb), we got to do some great boating on the Arkansas River in the Salida/Buena Vista area and enjoyed the FIBArk festival.
This is the 61st year of what started as a bet about racing down the raging rapids of the Arkansas, then became an annual down river race and has now evolved into one of the biggest whitewater events around. All of the major industry folks have booths there, many of them with sponsored pro riders on site participating in white water rodeo, slalom and down river races.

One of our favorite events is the Hooligan Race. There are no rules, but rafts are to be built from anything "not intended to float". If you use a real raft or boat, you will be ridiculed. Salida has a whitewater park on the Arkansas right downtown and there are some really nice, big holes (a big breaking standing waves designed to allow rodeo boaters to get in and surf while doing a variety of tricks). The problem for the Hooligan racers is that they have to get home made crap of boats through the hole and then avoid the piling of the F Street Bridge 60 yards downstream. They seldom do both. Many fall apart before the hole, like the beer keg and nylon strap model shown above. Next are two of the better contrivances, a dragon,which turned over, but was righted just in time to crash into the bridge, and a load of firemen with a gas powered pump on board, hosing the crowd.
They always have a hot band for a headliner, in this case, Lez Zeppelin, an all-girl cover band.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Riding at 7000 Feet, Boating Big Water, Relaxing

The , gasp, altitude is hard on me. I know people who trek out to Colorado and romp their way through the Leadville 100 mountain bike race at altitudes of well over 10,000 feet and who run the Pike's Peak Marathon, topping out at over 14,000 feet, and, while they are typically more athletic than I am, I still don't see how they do it. . Salida is at about 7000 feet above sea level and the altitude just kicks my ass on the bike. My host took me on a little spin yesterday and the pace could only be described as very casual, yet every time the road went slightly uphill, I was reaching for my 27 tooth cog and sounding like an asthmatic breathing through a snorkel.Kent is one of the tough guys, doing events like Leadville and major adventure races, so he was definitely taking it easy on me, and his ease allowing him plenty of capacity to laugh at my struggles. Even in my distress, I was able to appreciate the clear blue skys, comfortable dry climate and spectacuar scenary.

I aspire to ride some of the big passes of the Continental Divide, like Independence or Cottonwood, but it would be a multiday trip in my present condition for me to cover the 20 odd miles up to either of their 12,000 foot crests. Perhaps at some point I'll have more time to spend out here getting accustomed to the altitude , but based on my experience down here in the Arkansas River Valley at 7000-8000 feet, it will take some doing for me to reach those lofty heights.

Our friends live on some acreage outside of town and Kent has built miles of single-track on his property and that of friends owning adjoining tracts. The system is extensive enough for me to get lost, which I did this morning while out knocking around with the dogs. While I was always certain that I could make my way back to the house, I just wasn't sure when that would be.


I started coming out here many years ago in pursuit of whitewater and I found it, with the upper Arkansas becoming my favorite stretch of water. Diane and I spent our honeymoon here and I've spent most of my birthdays here since the early '80s. This year has turned out to be a fine year for boating on the Arkansas. I'm not as rabid about chasing water as I was a few years ago, but we've been on the water for three of the last four days and the levels are great, peaking a couple of days ago just on the big side of fun! The great thing about the Arkansas Valley is that you can pick runs from ranging from easy to very pushy just by driving up or down the road a few miles. Perfect for a boating vacation! Variety without much driving.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Flagrant Mis-statements and Hitting the Road

Well, in my last post, I extolled the merits of the CARTI Tour De Rock by referring to it as the "Tour de Cure" twice in the opening paragraph. David Holsted dropped me a note to tell me that some big improvements are in store for next year (and this year's event was VERY well done, so that can only mean an outstanding Tour!) and he was too gracious to point out my errors, though I'm surprised the rest of you let me get away with it. Most folks know my hide is pretty thick, so I assume that both of my other readers just chuckled and let me dangle in the full light of my ineptitude. Thanks folks!
Diane and I, along with our pure-bred blue-eyed, flop-eared, leopard-spotted, bob-tailed dog, Zuli, headed out for Colorado this week. Old dog Josie is just too feeble to travel much these days, so she is hanging at home in the care of family while we visit friends in the Salida area to do some riding and boating. The drive across western Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and NE New Mexico always makes me ponder a few things. For one, you've got time to ponder a lot because it is, for the most part, some damn boring country with expansive views of, well, not much. I always wonder about the kids who grow up on these isolated farms and ranches, where the nearest neighbor is miles away. Their ties to their families and their world view have just got to be much different from those of us who are exposed daily to masses of other people.

We make this trip almost every summer and for years we made it a point to stop in Clayton, NM, at the HiHo Cafe for huevos rancheros. Three years back, a kitchen fire shut the HiHo for good. This year, Diane noticed that it had re-opened under the name of Desperados, or at least that's that the large new sign said. We wheeled in and I noticed the the menus said, "Rabbit Ear Cafe". Turns out Desperados was short-lived, but the sign is a good one and it out-lasted the entity. The Rabbit Ear had previously occupied a shabby little spot down the road and we had only joked about trying it. Turns out they can turn out the huevos, so the spot is back on our list of irregular stops. I'm off to bed before I say anything else that doesn't make sense, but look forward to filling you in on FIBArk and the Hooligan Race, along with whatever else we run across.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tour de Rock

2009 CARTI Tour de Rock

The Tour de Rock went off last Saturday and, after having decided to ride 50 or 62 miles, I immediately wimped out and signed up for the hundred miles. I saw friend David Wonn at the packet pick up and asked him what he was riding, as if there was a question with this endurance machine.

"The hundred. Might as well get your money's worth." David says.

"Yeah, me too", I says.

To myself, I said, "Damn, why did I say that!?"

I'm not put off by knocking out 100 miles, but my most recent century was the Ture de Cure, which took place back in April over some of the same geography, and was an exercise in pain for me. It's table flat and on that day we were a group of six facing 20-25 mile an hour winds and a wicked pace laid down by David and his merry band of Iron People.

Ouchie! I was determined to have more fun on this ride and did, for the most part. We rolled out of town in a BIG pack of probably 80-100 riders. I stayed close to the front until we cleared the River Trail and hit the road, not wanting to get caught in any crashes or back-ups. As we headed out of town, I drifted back until I accounted for David, Jo, Jmar, Mike Collier and a bunch of other friends. After a time of riding the yo-yo that is the back of a big pack, we had enough and moved to the front. The ride was fast and variations in speed in a group like this, which takes it's toll anyway, and is exaggerated in the back. The move up also allowed me to miss the squirrel-o-matic (It slices! It dices! It's a wheel with bladed spokes!) and the crash that took Mike down.To shorten the story, I hung with the ever-dwindling pack until about mile 78. We were cruising pretty comfortably after surviving a few splits, and then somebody got into their aero bars on the front and pushed me right out of my comfort zone. Done! Friend Charlie came off right after I did, so we rode in together, crossing the line at 4hrs 35 min. My fastest century but, damn, I wanted to come in with the pack, which dwindled to about six by the finish. Good job, guys!! Next time!

Thanks to David Holsted and his crew. They had over 1000 riders, raised a bunch of money and put on a first class event. (One suggestion: The food could use some improvement. Meat and beans sit a little heavy after 100 miles on a hot day. At least dig up some cole slaw.)
Thanks to Garver Engineers for sponsoring Diane and I as part of a big group of Team Garver riders.

The Ups and Downs

All week long, I'd felt like crap on the bike and kind of dreaded this ride. On Saturday, my legs felt great (well, for about 80 miles!). I'm analytical about such things, but all I can point to is a day off, good hydration and nutrition plans, and a Friday night quad session with my massage stick.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On The Subject of Boys and Dogs

I love dogs. When I encounter them on the road, I'm more likely to talk to them than yell at them unless they are overtly aggressive. If you are around dogs a lot, you come to understand the signals they send with their bark, posture, tail position, etc., and soon understand that most dogs that chase cyclists fall into one of two categories:
They will either run to the edge of their territory and stop, their job of protecting the homestead well done, or, as is often the case with hounds, they'll lope along beside you because they just love to run!
That said, I've been frightened by dogs and understand that they are the bane of many cyclists. And,of course, there remains the third category of dogs which are intent on doing you harm.

A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on a 12 mile road ride with my 10-year old nephew, Jack, and his buddy, Jake. It was quite an adventure, needless to say, and early in the ride as the boys pushed their mountain bikes the steepest hill in our Little Red River area neighborhood, we encountered a young lab, barking ferociously, full grown, but obviously a harmless pup. He was soon joined by an older, bigger and much more aggressive yellow lab mix. I was circling around on my bike and asked Jack if he knew the dogs, as he and Jake seemed to barely have noticed the two big barking dogs a couple of feet away. He said, "No, but you just ignore 'em and they get bored."

Hmm..never thought of it that way, but he's got a point.

Jack had just turned 10 and when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted to "go on a 20 mile bike ride.", so we went. We were short a few miles, but 12 miles was enough for the boys on their 20" Giants. Of course, I had to demonstrate the vast superiority of my speedy, hill-climbing titanium road machine to these impressionable youngsters. Just as naturally, Jack got the chance to set me up for a demonstration of fat tire dominance when he suggested a short cut home that included a gravel path, golf course cart path, more gravel, a single mower swath cut through chest high grass, and short path through some woods. His Dad had just passed us on the road as he headed home with their catfish dinner, so Jack's haste was legitimate.

I was pleased that my nephew wanted the gift of a bike ride for his birthday and it was fun to spend time with he and Jake. They are some smart, insightful boys who are blessed with the chance to grow up living beside the Little Red River where they can ride, run, fish and learn all over the neighborhood. I'd like to think he's an aspiring roadie, but he's still just a kid that likes to ride his bike.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The River Trail is a great asset to our community, as I've professed repeatedly in this space. Local government has tried to make it user-friendly and accessible to visitors and, as a result, there are a couple of versions of maps floating around. One nifty little number from MetroPlan folds up card-sized and includes rides all over the Central Arkansas area. Unfortunately, none of these well-intentioned efforts really contain information that an out-of-towner could use to interpret directions from a local.

I can hear it now:

OOT calling local friend to meet him on the trail: "Ok, I'm at North Shore Landing. Where are you?"

LOCAL: "What? You're where? oh, oh, you're at the sub. I'm at Junior Deputy. Meet me at the Roundabout."

OOT: "What?"

Local: "Just head upstream. After you leave the downtown park, you'll hit the street and go past the Crack House, the Skate Park and the FOP. Then just stick to the Trail past the Quarry, the Wooden Bridge and the golf course.... "

You get it. Confusion reigns. Rendezvous go wrong. Friendships falter.

In an attempt to remedy this possibly tragic situation, I've added some frequently used landmarks to the trail map above, along with the localspeak names for them. You may know of others but these are the ones that came to me.

Here are most of the points:

The Sand Man: East end of the trail in NLR

The Sub: We're in Arkansas and we have a submarine. How could it NOT be a landmark.

Crack House: Ok, OK! I know that it is not politically correct to refer the Rehabilitation Center as "The Crack House", but I didn't start it. I'm sure they do the good work there, but riders call it the Crack House. I'm just communicating that fact.

Fort Roots: Can refer to the climb, the facility or the turn off of River Road. The turn is on Paul Duke Drive, but I've never heard it called that.

Skate Park: NLR got the taxpayers' moneys worth here. This place is always in use. Black T-shirts are de rigueur.

FOP: Fraternal Order of Police. Glad to have those guys around, even when they're just hanging out.

Quarry: The Big Rock of Little Rock

The Woods: you're entering Burns Park

Wooden Bridge: will rattle your teeth if you're on a stiff bike

Switchbacks: the Emerald Park trail

Dirt Jump Park: the free ride crowd worked with the city to build this little playground at the the gravel quarry west of the Burns Park Golf Course.

Ski Lake: officially Victory Lake. It was cleaned up and maintained by a water ski club before being incorporated into the park, as I recall, so they retain some access privileges. They hold several pretty big competitive events each year.

Dog Park: Our dogs were bored here, but they have high expectations when it comes to outdoor recreation.

Soccer Fields: Yep, they sure are.

Deer Field (formerly the RC Field): go any morning or evening and the name will be self-explanatory.

S-Turn Bridge (at Barton Bypass, but that's a different story.): banked turns give it that NASCAR feel.

The Pavilion: you know which one.

The Exit Ramp: a thoughtful feature to ease the exit and entry to the bridge from the NLR side of the BDB

BDB: Big Dam Bridge, of course.

The Roundabout (RAB in text): On the Little Rock side, west of the BDB, and a frequent meeting place. It marks the end of closed trail and the beginning of road open to auto traffic.

Verizon ( formerly Alltel):

Junior Deputy: watch for for wandering kids and parents

Old Competitive Cyclist: commercial building east of Junior Deputy Park. This reference will fade with time since CC moved across the river to the Promised Land

Good News: River Trail Rentals has Brews!!

River Trail Rentals has received their beer permit, so drop in after you ride and have a cold one with David. With the recent trail flooding and the temporary closure of the Junction Bridge, things probably could have been better in the bike rental business, but RVR is in a great spot and we all hope to see the business flourish. David is still in the process of selecting his brands, so stop in, enjoy a cold beer and voice your opinion. I can see this as a prime spot for the inevitable post-ride wind-down BS sessions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Trail Snacks

Top Photo: wild plums along the River Trail at the Deer Fields, just west of the soccer fields
Bottom Photo: Mulberries on a tree just across from the Dog Park parking lot
The River Trail offers more than just an opportunity to ride, run, skate and stroll. Though it is in a more or less urban environment, the Trail passes through a variety of terrain as it follows the Arkansas River along bottom land and rocky slopes. The result is that we have a unique opportunity to observe a wide range of wildlife from deer to groundhogs, from eagles to hummingbirds and cottontails to cottonmouths. In addition to the animal life along the River, there is a rich system of plant life which offers up, free for the taking, some very tasty varieties of fruits and berries.
Diane and I stopped near the Burns Park Dog Park last week to sample mulberries from a large tree that occupies the river bank directly across the River Trail from parking lot there. The location is easily identified at this time by the purple stains of crushed berries clearly visible on the Trail. Neither of us had ever eaten mulberries before and we were surprised by the really great taste and remarkably sweetness. The berries, which are not technically berries but a "collective fruit", are coming off in great abundance right now, so make it a point to stop and sample a few. The ripe ones are near black in color and you will be delighted by the flavor.
A little further upstream, along the area know as the Deer Fields, the riverside is covered with a thicket of wild plums, which are now becoming ripe. The trees are heavy with fruit and, though the plums are small, they are nonetheless quite tasty.
In addition to the mulberries and plums, blackberries are commonplace and I'm still looking for a motherload of muscadines, which I'm sure exist somewhere along the trail. I haven't found any yet, but when I do, you can be assured that I'll be there in late summer picking berries for my annual batch of muscadine jelly.
Many of us hesitate to pick things out of the wild and eat them, as we have become far too accustomed to the packaging and homogenization of our food, but I delight in picking off a stalk of asparagus along a fence row or popping a few fat,ripe blackberries in my mouth as I walk around my pond. Of course, you want to be sure of what you're eating, but give it a try. Nature is even better than Nature Valley!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Observations on Riverfest

Little Rock's big Spring event, Riverfest, occurred over the Memorial Day weekend. Diane and I went down early to catch Nik and Sam, very cute, talented 17-year old twins from Dover, Ar. We had read a couple of positive blurbs on them and they lived up to the billing. Short skirts and cowboy boots , Nik played guitar and her lead vocals reminded me a bit of Lucinda Williams while Sam was dead on with the harmony and played banjo and guitar. She also had a mandolin but we bailed out to meet friends for dinner before she whipped it out. The girls have some style and a pretty tight band that included their Dad as the "last resort bass player". Diane opined that he probably wasn't going to let them hit the road in those hot little outfits unless he was the bass player.

After dinner, we gathered with a group of friends to see Heart. I'm a lukewarm Heart fan at best, but I must admit that they can still kick some major ass.

The crowd on Saturday was impressive in its size, and I could allow you to construe that statement in a couple of ways. There were many people there and there also seemed to be an inordinate number of very large people with many tattoos, intent on displaying their body art for fellow fans of ink. I'll remain neutral on the idea of tattoos, but I will say that I noted a disturbing pattern when it comes to body art:
It seems the larger the canvas, the less discerning the artist.

Granted, this perspective comes from one who associates regularly with skinny people, but my observation on at least one point seems to have been confirmed. I decided to have a little tofu Pad Thai at the River Market today, so I parked at the sub and walked across the Junction Bridge. I usually climb the steps but didn't want to work up a sweat, so I took the elevator up to the navigation span. Apparently left over from Riverfest, a temporary sign in the elevator stated "Capacity: 5 people including operator". The manufacturer's plate mounted on the opposite wall of the elevator stated, "Weight Limit 2500 lbs."

I'm glad that Riverfest had a boomin' Saturday, because Sunday was a total wash out. There are always some good musical acts, a few arrests and a lot of local culture, so we usually make it down for at least a few hours every year. It's cheap entertainment if you don't require too many $5.00 beers to wash down the corn dogs and giant turkey legs.