Sunday, February 28, 2010

Local Cycling Safety Instructor Struck By Car

While engaged in a Sunday afternoon bride ride, Diane and I came upon the scene of an accident involving a bicyclist, Tom Ezell, and a compact pickup truck. The incident occurred just before 2:00PM at the intersection of Markham and Arch Street, within sight of the Little Rock Police Department, as Tom prepared to pull away from the traffic light. A motorist in a pickup had stopped behind him and, as the light changed to green, the driver accelerated and simply ran Tom down! Tom was apparently not injured, but was thrown to the pavement in front of the truck. The rear wheel of the bike was under the front left wheel of the truck and the bike was firmly pinned under the front bumper.

The bike of local cyclist Tom Ezell remained pinned under the small truck that struck it from behind at the intersection of Markham and Arch. We arrived on the scene as Tom was being helped to the curb.

Ironically, Tom is a League Cycling Instructor* and regularly teaches the fine art of riding in traffic to other cyclists. The incident demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists even when they are doing everything right. Tom was riding in broad daylight, brightly attired and in the company of other highly visible cyclists, on a designated bike route and obeying traffic laws. The driver, on the other hand, will likely suffer from more repercussions than Tom's bumps and bruises. He got out of the truck, asked Tom if he was OK, and then took off on foot. A driver who witnessed the incident followed him until he was apprehended by police in the area of 8th and Broadway. In the cup holders of the truck were a bottle of vodka, an open bottle of daiquiri mix and a cocktail glass, leading us to believe that the driver was probably intoxicated. I heard later (OK, on Fox 16 news) that the driver was charged with careless and prohibited driving and leaving the scene of an injury accident.

The likely reason for the drivers actions: the console port-a-bar. Tom's riding companions are reflected in the truck window as they direct traffic

Tom had a close-up of truck tires as he scrambled away, remarkably without apparent injury, though his bike and helmet were trashed.

"He went thataway!" Tom describes events for the late arriving Fox news camera. Remember, you saw this breaking news here first!

As Tom gets more comfortable with the camera, he regales the newsman with tall tales of a recent fishing trip. I made that up.
 I think he's actually describing the distance of the truck's tire from his head.

Note the first three digits of the license plate. Dialing instructions?

By this time, Tom had been given a quick evaluation by emergency personnel, the ambulance had departed, and the runaway driver had been apprehended. A police officer backed the truck off of Tom's wheel so we could pull the bike out in order to allow the wrecker to tow the truck.

Folks, there is no way to predict or prepare for this kind of driver behavior. All we can do is use caution and wear a helmet. Tom's helmet was broken, so though Tom escaped injury in this incident, that probably would not have been the case if he had not been wearing a helmet. 

Be safe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disappointed and Disillusioned

I’m disappointed and disillusioned. For years, I’ve held Lance Armstrong in high regard in spite of all of the doping suspicions, control freak antics, and generally egocentric behavior. None of this really bothered me. If he doped, he did so when the whole top end of the peloton doped ( See: Ulrich, Vinokourov, Pantani, Hamilton, Landis, Mancebo, Miller, etc, etc.), which doesn’t make it acceptable, but I’m a realist and I don’t condemn him for my suspicions. I don’t care that he flies around in his private jet or that he had a string of young hottie star girlfriends after Cheryl Crowe flew the coop. It seemed natural that he would return to cycling with Johan Bruyneel, though as the 800 pound gorilla in the kitchen of the Astana team, it was with little regard for the situation of Alberto Contador as an established team leader.

I respected his accomplishments and his style and  his recognition of the power that they brought him. He turned himself into a billion dollar marketing machine and did good work through LiveStrong. Now he's fueling the machine with a return to racing, a great built-in rivalry with Alberto Contador likely to turn the publicity noise up for the Tour and he has a whole new round of endorsement deals. This is where Lance loses me a little bit.

It doesn’t bother me that he pimps for Nike and FRS, Trek, Oakley, 24 Hour Fitness, and others. It doesn’t bother me that he was paid a huge appearance fee to ride the Tour Down Under, while promoting his very noble LiveStrong cancer message, and it doesn’t bother me a bit that, as a speaker, he can demand a fee listed as “above $100,000.00”*. I’ve heard him speak to a group of about 5000 contractors who could give a rat’s ass about bike racing and many of whom would be voted “most likely to throw a beer bottle at cyclists”. By the time he was through with them, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and they would have put him right up there with Old Glory and the Right To Bear Arms as a part of everything that is good about this great land of ours. He's worth the money.
So, what has Big Tex done to piss me off, you might ask?
He's always come across to me as a regular guy with remarkable abilities who has been dealt one hell of a hand and he's played it well. He could just as easily hang around  with his riding buddies in Austin as he could hop a jet to Paris.

This is it:

The Look? What kind of look is this? Is Lance waiting for a friend to bring real beer?

Everybody who has been exposed to the  years of Lance publicity knows that Lance is supposed to be a Shiner Bock guy. You know, when he retired, he was the guy who calls up some buds to ride around the ranch on mountain bikes, then rolls back to the hacienda for Mex food and a few Shiners. The good life of off-season. And now he's shilling for Michelob Ultra. Michelob Ultra. He can't really drink that shit, can he? No more beer? I knew the ranch was for sale, but did he leave Texas, already? Did the Texas leave Lance? Colorado has a bunch of really good beer, too, so we can't blame the move to Aspen. My friend, Mooney, and the many others who are loyal fans of both Lance and Shiner Bock, have got to feel a little slighted by this betrayal of the Shiner brotherhood.

C'mon, the cooler is full of Shiner. Gotta be! Take the check, Lance, but please don't try to tell me you'd drink that stuff.

Let's hope not, anyway.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

With Progress Comes Sacrifice

It's a small sacrifice for big progress, in this case.

The road and parking areas between the foot of River Mountain Road and the Roundabout have been closed to vehicular traffic as the construction site for the Two Rivers Bridge takes shape. It remains open to cyclists and pedestrians.

Trail users are directed to use the launching ramp parking area. Things could get a little crowded as spring arrives and boaters come out in force. I don't have any information at this time as to the plans for trail traffic during construction.

This is really not much room between the bridge site and the railroad tracks. It will be interesting to see how trail use is managed when construction gets into full swing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Plane Crash

A pilot friend of mine once described a plane crash as an incident in which the pilot "ran out of airspeed, altitude and ideas, all at the same time".

That came to mind as I failed to clear a log jump the other day on the Syllamo Trail. The photograph shows my bike's landing spot after I spiraled to earth, somehow making a 180 around the tree that is in the foreground. I was supposed to be cleanly clearing the log to the left of the tree, where the chainrings of many more capable riders have worn down the sweet spot. I noticed the jump a little late, as the woods were full of downed trees and therefore logs weren't attracting much of my attention. It was also uphill and probably bigger than anything I've attempted, and I had a moment of indecision as I quickly evaluated my situation: I was totally alone on the trail, having seen no other cars or people at any of the trailheads or anywhere along the 5 miles of access road for that matter, I only had a vague notion of where I was, I had already gone 5 miles down the wrong trail, had a business meeting involving a video shoot three hours later and 50 miles away and the area was littered with jagged branches of shattered trees, so breaking my bike would be bad and getting hurt would be very bad on many levels. I did the only rational thing and went for it, stalled out  as I failed to attack aggressively enough to climb over on my chainring ( I can't jump a line on the pavement), fell to my right from high-center on the big ring, landed on the log and rolled back over it, still clipped in and on the bars, being very aware of ducking one of those jagged branches as my head approached the ground. The result left my bike on the other side of the tree and facing in the opposite direction from my intended direction of travel. I landed hard on my shoulder but was otherwise little the worse for wear, fortunately. I was going way too slow, I can't jump for shit and I had no friggin' clue what I was going to do as I approached the log.
Bad things happen when you run out of airspeed, altitude and ideas, all at the same time.

I had read and heard good things about the Syllamo Trail system and managed to carve out a couple of hours of time from a long day of travel to grab a ride after a customer cancelled an appointment. At the direction of experienced friends, I went to the Bad Branch trailhead to ride the Red Trail, but ended up launching on to the Yellow Trail, realized my mistake only after several miles. Both Red and Yellow trails are pretty easy and I got back on the righteous path, but ended up adding 6 miles to the 8 that I had intended. The woods still show the devastation from last year's ice storms, with much of the area looking like a sloppy clear cut, though the trails are remarkably clear due to an amazing amount of work on the part of, I assume, the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers.

It was a warm day, but there was still quite a bit of snow around from the previous week and not all of the woods suffered as much damage as what is shown above.

It took a lot of work to clear all of the trail miles in the Syllamo system, which has about 50 miles of single-track

I'm looking forward to going back to Syllamo when I have more time and some friends along for company and safety. Road riding can be dangerous, but at least in the event of trouble, you're likely to be found before becoming critter chow.  Camping is available at nearby Blanchard Springs and you could easily spend a few days exploring the trails. There is a trail link to the camp ground, but I think the climb up from Sylamore Creek encourages many folks to drive the few miles to Green Mountain Road off of Highway 5 near Jack's Resort. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow, Snow, Go Away. It's Time, OK?

Well, the snow is finally melting and the roads are more or less clear. Whitey the Snow Spaniel has faded and run off down the gutter, though as I write, it's Sunday afternoon and our 40% chance of showers is pouring from the sky in the form of chicken feather snow flakes. Fortunately for the alert road rider, both Saturday and Sunday offered decent windows of opportunity to get in a ride. I joined friends to ride some hilly miles out west on Saturday and found myself to be in embarrassingly poor shape, stark proof that I really needed to be riding more! It was not a "wake-to-music" kind of alarm, but a harsh buzzer of the most offensive motel alarm clock variety. I did some quick calculations as I rode alone back to my car, having dropped off of the group and cut short my ride (they offered to slow the pace, but I have a hard time accepting those offers. No legs, but a small bit of pride!), and determined that I've gone though more cookies than road miles in the last couple of weeks. The feeling is somewhat like the feeling of remorse that can follow a few too many beers, except that it takes longer to work through. I've been told that I'd feel better about myself if I rode with a crowd other than a bunch of full-time-training 10-to-20-year-younger some-kind-of-racing marathon-running athlete types, but I like them in spite of their aforementioned flaws.

Whining aside, it was a beautiful day to be on the road after the snow-imposed down time of the last couple of weeks.
Denny Road was clear, but the woods are still full of snow.

The forecast for Sunday was for showers, so I was glad to see a sliver of blue sky as I got ready for a town ride. My plan was to go ride a few hills to begin my recovery from a slovenly few weeks. First stop, River Mountain Road, and along the way, I saw the first sign of progress on the Two Rivers Bridge in the form of a construction trailer and mail box near the location of the mainland foot of the bridge.

Jensen Construction will build the Two Rivers Bridge and their jobsite trailer is near where the bridge will tie into the trail. Two Rivers Park is visible across Little Maumelle River in background. The bridge will add a whole new realm of opportunities to River Trail rides.

Here's a view to the east showing the proximity to I-430 and the BDB in the background.

On Sunday, the sun turned to clouds, then rain and snow, but the weather outlook is better for the next few days. Now, if I can just get a little gap on the cookies, maybe I can work my way back into the pack.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In Case You Wondered....

The roads are slowly becoming clear of snow and ice, but the frozen stuff still lurks. I had to make a trip to the North Shore Park on business this afternoon and decided to check out conditions on the BDB in anticipation of weekend rides. The picture tells it.

OK, things were not quite good-to-go as of about 2:00PM Friday.

Sooo...... I realized that sunset has crept out to about 6:00, so I threw the mountain bike in the truck and headed out to Camp Robinson for an hour on the trail. Probably not one of my better ideas, but what the hell? Of course, nobody had signed in for like four days and I was alone as usual. That should be a sign, but I headed out anyway. We'd had a big time rolling in a couple of inches of slushy snow a couple of weeks ago, but this was a whole 'nother level. In places where the sun had hit the trail, the track was fairly well clear of snow, but it was mostly crusty snow, poor traction and in places that had any shade, like every hill I tried to ride, the snow was still very deep.  I did a little hike-a-bike, fell once, but managed to ride Yucca, Airport and Ten Bridges. It was nice being in the woods, but I was glad to get out before dark, as it was slow going!
It was easy to see the rock gardens.

This was the look of the better stretches of trail.

This section of Airport Loop was fairly typical. Most of the trails at Camp have a solid bottom, but things were pretty slick. I got off-trail a few times to avoid downed limbs or water features, but the deep snow stalled me more times than not.

We've all got a little cabin fever, so I'm jumping on a midmorning road ride tomorrow. Get out and play. You're looking a little pale.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

After The Flood...and the ice...and the snow.....

..we can look forward to potholes.

Big gaping potholes. Potholes that can flatten your tires and throw you to the pavement. Potholes that can swallow your wheel and spit out a mangled, partially digested mass of aluminum, its spokes splayed like the whiskers of a retarded cartoon cat. Familiar roads will now be like mine fields, with danger lurking in every shadow. They come and go all the time, growing and eventually getting repaired, but the weather of the last few months has potholes appearing like mushrooms in a cow pasture. They'll be with us for awhile, so be careful!

Even a small pothole can cause a pinch flat, so it is good policy to keep your tires topped off. Eighty pounds may feel cushy, but you may well regret the comfort when a snakebite strikes.
These longitudinal wheel grabbers are most common along the shoulder or the crown of the road.

New potholes aren't the only hazards that follow winter weather. Most hills in and around urban areas have been generously covered with a serving of sand, salt and other traction-enhancing and ice-melting materials. Unfortunately, the same sand that allows the minivan to get up a hill to pick up the kiddos can feel like tiny ball bearings under the tiny contact patch of a road bike tire. It will take time, traffic and some good rains to clear all of this stuff away, so keep that in mind when you release the brakes and start a screaming descent of your favorite hill.

Dog Town

The recent round of snow and ice has put a real damper on our riding here in Dog Town and I've admittedly been a little bored. That, and the e-mailed photos of snow people created by the artistically gifted children of friends, motivated me to get out in the yard last night while Diane whipped up a little dinner. The result.......

Whitey, The Snow Spaniel

Hmmm...strange, this dog doesn't really smell like...anything

What the heck is he looking at, anyway?
Ok, he doesn't compete for treats and he sleeps outside. We guess he can stay.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cold+Snow+Ice+Mud =

Fat Tire Time!

I continue to be surprised at how much fun I'm having on the mountain bike. Until recently, it was my "ride of last resort" and reserved for those days that were just too damn harsh for the road to have its usual appeal, but now I look forward to saddling up. And except for pouring rain, I haven't seen weather conditions foul enough keep me out of the woods and, frankly, as trashed as my bike gets anyway, the rain probably won't matter once things warm up a bit. I just can't do that to my road bike.

Last Sunday, after a couple of days of ice-enforced confinement, I met friends Chris and Patrick at Camp Robinson for some riding. I had no idea what conditions would be like, other than sloppy. It turned out to be an enjoyable and educational experience.

Hmmmm..., things might get a little messy!

Ya' Think?

This is better, but stay off of those front brakes!

Clipping in was a problem as snow and ice seemed
to love the cold metal of our cleats.

There were a few folks and about, but many of the trails
 were unmarked except for those tracks left by the deer, birds and squirrels.

Our drive trains were not enjoying this as much as we were.This component of mountain biking is taking some getting used to!I really thought we'd be carrying more mud but the creek crossings gave the bikes an occasional rinse....and gave us some very cold feet.

The sunshine was a welcome addition after several grey days.

Ahhhh..... the happy bike!

By Sunday night, my bike and I were both clean and dry (I went first!). A good workout in the cold can leave you with a very satisfying sense of tired. With the bike clean, I tuned in a basketball game on the radio (yes, radio. ref: Marconi wireless) and was soon dozing contentedly on the couch with a couple of medium sized dogs. Zuli and Willie are experts at couch napping, so I was once again in good company.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Along The River Before The Trail

We all enjoy the River Trail and the string of parks that are linked by it, but as much as it has become a part of the character of our city, it is a recent development. It is easy to forget that for many years, the riverfront was very much undervalued. Until the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was built in the late 60's and early 70's, the river was prone to flooding and low water, making life alongside its banks pretty sketchy. Stability and a more desirable quality-of-life was found on higher ground.
A few weeks ago, someone posted some old whitewater photos on the Arkansas canoe Club message board and called for others to do the same.*

I looking through my very large and very disorganized photo collection, I came across some photos taken in around 1976 at what is now Victory Lake, the ski at Burns Park. The view is down river toward downtown Little Rock and includes what is now Emerald Park and the Big Rock Quarry. The quarry was mined for rock from at least 1849 until it quite recently became the property of the city for use as park land.

I'm not sure if the quarry was still active at this time, but the barren eroded hillside shown in this photo has a pretty good stand of timber today.
This view is upriver from the same area. Notice the dirt road about where the River Trail now runs. At this time, the area was used mostly by fishermen and  n'er-do-wells like us in search of a place to drink a few beers, throw a little mud and swim off of the sandbars in the river.
This is the view downriver from Burns Park at Victory Lake as it appears now. Compare it to the photos above, taken in around 1976.

This image of Big Rock,circa 1870 from the Arkansas Historical Society, is a view from the Little Rock side of the river and is even older than my photographs! Over a century of mining changed the shape of this landmark.