Too dark to ride… oh wait!


Bullshit didn’t ride excuse #1: The sun sets too early.

I totally figured I wouldn’t be able to ride today due to an all-day seminar, but I got out at 4 pm, felt the mild temps (mid-40s), looked at the sun still hovering tantalizingly high in the sky, and decided if I raced back to the office and changed I could be on the bike with enough daylight left. Of course, things always take longer than you think they will, and by the time I was rolling it was a little before 5 pm with sunset looming at 5:18 pm. Okay, so this was my chance to seriously test out the sleek, stylish Lezyne headlight that I got for Christmas, which to this point I’d not had the courage to try beyond flashing mode during early dusk. Heading out at dusk felt a bit weird—like I was doing something naughty—but the crisp air was invigorating and my legs quickly showed themselves to be on good form. I got to the Spoede/Clayton turnaround right at sunset, and as I trialed back along Clayton I watched the western sky morph from light yellow to burnt orange to fire red! Things started getting seriously dark as I approached Hwy 141, and I switched the headlight from flash to continuous mode. At that point 400 lumens seemed quite bright enough, and with my crazily flashing tail light all cars coming from behind seemed to have no problem seeing me and moving over well before passing me. Just as the darkness started spooking me I turned down Baxter and away from all the traffic on Clayton. The dark solitude of the empty road was a completely different experience, and I almost automatically I got in the drops and started pushing hard on the smooth, brightly lit pavement in front of me. By now darkness had completely taken hold, and I switched the headlight to overdrive (800 lumens), which was more than enough to see the road in front of me and not feel like I was flying blind. One last effort up the Highcroft climb produced not only a nice PR but nabbed 3rd overall before the final stretch back to the office. I think now that I’ve experienced night riding, I’ll try doing some of the lightly traveled country roads out where I live and see what real night riding is like.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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LOOK KG486 Resurrection

LOOK KG486 w/ Dura Ace 10-speed components and Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset.

LOOK KG486 w/ Dura Ace 10-speed components and Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset.

After hanging in my garage for six years with a cracked top tube, I had my 2005 LOOK KG486 frame repaired by Calfee Design. (You may recall that I crashed this bike in the 2008 Missouri State Time Trial.) Calfee did a beautiful job, and the frame looks brand new. All three main tubes were clear coat carbon finish in the middle fading to black at the junction points, and the crack on the top tube was right at the transition from the clear coat to black finish with a LOOK logo on the top tube right at the break point. Replicating the original finish with logo would have been quite expensive, so I opted to just have the whole top tube finished in black without a logo, while the down tube and seat tubes remain in the original condition. I think it looks great and cannot tell where the repaired area is or that it’s not the original finish.

The repaired section of top tube is right in the middle of this photograph.

The repaired section of top tube is right in the middle of this photograph.

I had the bike rebuilt as part of a larger project to upgrade my 2009 LOOK 585 Pro Team by transferring the Dura Ace 10-speed drivetrain from the 585 to the 486. I also had the rear rim of my 2013 Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset repaired and put these on the 486. These aero wheels and the aero shaping of the slightly heavier 486 frameset will make this a nice ride for milder, open terrain and the occasional time trial. My 585, on the other hand, is getting all new Dura Ace 11-speed drivetrain with DA-24 carbon clincher wheelset. Über light frame with light, low profile wheels will make this an awesome bike for the hills in my area. I’ll have pics as soon as that bike is done, but first I need to send the replacement fork to Calfee for repainting (original LOOK forks are hard to find, and when came across a silver one I grabbed it!).

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

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My first dog bite

It was another cool (58°F) but gorgeously sunny day with little wind. I felt awesome from the start and could tell I was going to ride well, and the stats prove it – PR on 4 out of 7 climbs, and on the other 3 I was within 3-7 seconds of my best time. I wanted to add the Allenton Loop but turned left at Six Flags because I was worried about being late to my nephew Jack’s confirmation party. Bad choice, because coming back along Melrose between Manchester and Ossenfort I got bit by a dog! I didn’t see him until he already had a beat on me, so there was no time to grab the pump. I kicked him away from my right side, but he crossed in front of the bike and circled around and came up behind me on the left and then clamped down on my calf. I’ve got two deep punctures and a lot of flesh trauma. I’ve been chased by a lot of dogs, but I could tell there was something different about this one and that he meant business. Police, ambulance, fire truck, the whole she-bang, but after they field dressed the wounds I decided to ride the rest of the way home, get cleaned up, and drive myself to urgent care. The owner kept saying, “He’s really not a mean dog.” I beg to differ. Turns out the owner normally keeps him penned but had let him out while he was mowing the grass – he never even knew what had happened until he saw all the emergency vehicles on the road. He got a summons and the dog was taken by animal control for 10-day quarantine because his rabies and other shots weren’t up to date – of course! What a bitch of a thing to happen when I was having one of my best rides of the season.
© Ted C. MacRae 2014

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The day everything changed

The following is an entry dated October 10 from my 2003 Training Log. It was my normal 22-mile lunchtime ride from Chesterfield to Frontenac along Conway and back to Chesterfield along Clayton and Baxter. I was near the end of the ride when my  world was (literally) turned upside down:

Solo ride on a beautiful day. Today, however, everything changed. I was descending at ~30 mph down Baxter just N of Clayton. There’s a sewer grate about halfway down the hill – I look back and I see this landscaper’s type truck behind me. He wasn’t real close, so I signal left, take the middle of the lane until I pass the grate, then move back over to the right. I hear the trunk revving up – he passes me fast and close and then veers hard into my line – that’s when I realize he’s also pulling a trailer! The trailer broadsides me before I have a chance to react, and I go down hard. I remember hitting the back of my head on the street and tumbling over several times. As soon as I stopped, I crawled over the curb onto the grass and just layed there face down. People were there to help me within seconds, including several witnesses. The driver left the scene, but one of the witnesses chased him down and got his license. I spent the next 8 hours in the ER at St. John in a neck brace. Eventually, x-rays cleared me and they let me go with a bruised back and shoulder, a wrenched knee, a few stitches, and lots of road rash. My helmet is destroyed – big cracks all over the back half with chunks of foam missing – it saved my life!

No broken bones makes it seem like I got off easy, and considering I was still alive I guess that was the case. However, it would be ten weeks before my knee heeled and I could get back on the bike (a loaner from Mike W—my Kestrel was destroyed). Here is the entry from my training log dated December 12—the day I first got back on the bike:

Solo ride on cold, gray day. FIRST ride back after being hit by the truck. Not surprisingly, I’ve lost a lot of strength and stamina. I winded quickly and had to use very low gears on the hills, and my butt really hurts! My knee twinged a couple of times on me – it still has some pain – but overall it held up fine. I’ve got a long road back – which is depressing, but it was really great to be on a bike again. The cold didn’t bother me even though the last time I rode I wore short sleeves. Mike W. gave me loaner to use for now – a Cannondale CAAD7 will full DuraAce and Ksyrium wheels. It’s an all out racing machine – quick and super responsive. The frame is much stiffer than my Kestrel (may she rest in peace!), so I’m not sure how much I’d like it for long training rides.

 I didn’t know it at the time, but that ride was the first small step towards what turned out to be my breakout season as a bike racer.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2003, 2013

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2003 Missouri State Time Trial—my first state TT

I’ve been reading through some of my old training logs and found this entry dated June 8, 2003—almost exactly 10 years ago—for the Missouri State Time Trial Championships in Jefferson City. I was a 2nd year racer and had just moved up to Cat 4, and by this time I had done only a few very short time trials and was still racing my old Kestrel with standard wheels and clip-on aerobars. Despite all this, for some reason I had the feeling that time trialing was something I would enjoy. After reading this entry, considering how excruciatingly painful an experience I describe it being, I’m almost amazed that I ever did another time trial. However, I guess that first tantalizingly close taste of success was enough to light the fire.

ABSOLUTELY THE HARDEST RACE I HAVE EVER DONE!!! The course was along Hwy 94 in the Missouri River bottoms north of Jefferson City – 20 km (12.4 miles) straight out and 20 km straight back. I raced Masters 45-49, got an early start time (#8), did a 45 minute warmup with three progressive intervals, and arrived at the start line about 3 minutes before I was set to go. Awesome tailwind going out, but I pushed as hard as I could anyway to try to make up as much time as possible. I passed #6 just before the split (25:51, 29.4 mph), made a nice, sharp, quick turnaround and started back into a BRUTAL headwind! I held 22-23 mph the first 2-3 miles and passed a tandem (#7). Then the winds became excruciating – I struggled to keep it above 20 mph. I started playing mind games to force myself to keep cadence and not shift down a gear – counting pedal strokes, counting my breathing and matching it to my pedal strokes. I passed #5 with a decked out tri-bike. I switch my computer from avg speed to distance traveled and counted down the 1/10th miles. I hummed Slayer’s Angel of Death. The last 4 miles I thought I was gonna die – my thighs were on fire, I couldn’t get comfortable on the saddle, my mouth was dry but I couldn’t risk interrupting my cadence to drink. I was going about 17. 5 mph. Then, finally, I could see the finish line. I had nothing extra to give – no standup sprint or anything. All I could do was just keep doing what I was doing until at last I crossed the line. My time was right at 64:04 (23.2 mph). At first, I was a little disappointed, but as more and more people came back and I heard them talk, it looked like times were off by about 2 minutes from last year (which was a straight crosswind out and back). Everybody was saying this was the toughest TT they’d ever done. I started feeling pretty good about my time. Then the officials came back, and I learned that I got 2nd place. I got a silver medal that says “State Championships” on it. The winning time was 62:35. I would’ve also gotten 2nd place had I done the Men’s 4/5.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2003, 2013.

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1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Finale

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 10

[Saturday] 9/3/88—Didn’t get up today until 11 AM! I slept for about 10 hours and I could have slept longer but I made myself get up so I didn’t waste the whole day. Today was the most relaxed day of the whole trip and it was very enjoyable. We just kind of sat around this morning listening to albums [yes, albums—those big, round, plastic discs that you set a needle on!], eating that wonderful bread that he buys, and drinking coffee. We finally got going around 1:30 PM, we decided to hang out downtown and do some petty shopping. And of course, hit the cafés. We started out at this one café where the passing women had been especially beautiful last time and had coffee. Then we wandered down to the Grand Place and experimented with some more Belgian 12% beer. This time we had Duval. By now, I have really developed a taste for the European beers (biers, I mean) and the coffee. Both are much stronger, bolder taste, it’s going to be interesting going back to the American styles. Not to mention how good the 12% makes you feel. We both bought some Leonidas chocolates for gifts and ordered some pita gyros at one of the many Greek pita stands, it was great (especially for only 100 fr.). By then it started raining so we used that as an excuse to duck into another café and try still another Belgian beer, this time Kwak. It was similar to the others, a little darker and only 8.5%. I never thought I would actually enjoy dark beer.

Eventually it stopped raining and we headed home after buying train tickets for the airport for tomorrow. We played some more albums, drank some more coffee, and continued our diverse conversations. I was really having fun with Bill today, he’s such a good friend and I had really missed being able to hang out with him like we did before he moved to Brussells. [Bill and I hung out almost every weekend for the seven years we were in St. Louis together after finishing college. He called to tell me he was moving to Brussels a few days after my wife and I split but before I had told anybody—even him. I think that hurt almost as much as the split with my wife. I know he felt horrible about it later when he learned what had happened.] I wanted to go to dinner at Prince d’Orange, but we were afraid it was a suit & tie dress code. We walked there anyway (it turned out to be about 2 miles) and our fears were confirmed. Also, I had only about 1300 fr. left total cash so we decided to go to a little French restaurant near his house that he likes to go to.

Inexplicably, the journal ends there. I vaguely recall intending to finish up during the plane ride the next day but just never getting around to it, and by the time I got back and resumed my familiar routine the details began to fade quickly. I do remember having roasted duck at the restaurant (my first experience with duck) and thinking it tasted a little “gamey” but still enjoying it. I also remember the next morning being quite hectic—to avoid paying another $50 to hire a truck to bring my bike to the airport, Bill actually rode my bike to the airport while I lugged my bags there on the train (probably should’ve been the other way around!). From that point on it was the unmemorable vagaries of travel, although I still remember the shocked look on the airport security officer’s face when he asked me if I had any weapons and I replied “Knives!” The Henkel set was in my checked luggage, and he was eventually satisfied with my explanation that they were fine cooking cutlery purchased as my souvenir for the trip.

This may conclude my 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip series, but for me the trip really marks the beginning of what I consider my adult life. It was the first time I had done something so adventurous, so challenging. It required a lot of self confidence—something that I had lacked for most of my life up until that point. Shortly afterwards I would find the courage to leave the safe but unsatisfying security of state employment and pursue a more challenging but also more stimulating career path in industry, move to California (if only temporarily), and marry my current wife (of 22 years now!). With her and on my own, I’ve pursued dreams that I would have been too afraid to pursue before—traveling to many other parts of the world (both professionally and on my own), adopting two beautiful Russian princesses, and pursuing jobs I previously thought beyond reach. Not to mention the cycling, eventually taking it on as a lifestyle choice with an eight-year stint as a racer and twice completing the Etape du Tour!

For those of you who have read all the way through to this point, I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into one of the watershed periods of my life. It’s been an enjoyable, almost cathartic, exercise for me to relive these moments after having set this journal aside for 25 years! If you’re interested in more of my trip journalism, I highly recommend my 2007 l’Etape du Tour experience—not only is it richly augmented with photographs, but I promise the writing is also much more polished!

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1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 10

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 9

[Friday] 9/2/88—I got up this morning at around 8 AM. The plan was to delay my departure for Brussells till around noon and spend the morning here in Maastricht. It’s such a pretty city with lots of things to look at. I walked around the centrum some more, there was a bronze sculpture right by the hotel that I really liked, a man with his body segmented in a stairstep fashion [here it is]. Outside of the centrum I came across an old fort. A long row of cannons faced the Maas River, and a scenic park surrounded the remainder of it. It was built in 1516 and had been left in a condition of partial decay. I actually preferred it that way rather than if it had been restored to its original condition, it had a lot more flavor to it the way it was. Maastricht is very close to Germany [right, Germany bombed an abandoned fort and left the rest of the city alone…], I suspect that the damage to the fort may have been incurred during WWII. There was a little lake in the park with lots of geese & ducks, it is apparently popular with the residents to go there and feed the birds. I got some terrific photographs of an elderly lady and a small girl feeding them. I would be leaving Holland for good today so I wanted to spend what little Dutch money I had left. I only had 80¢ and some Belgian francs, so I went to a bakery, showed them what I had and asked if I could buy anything. They took most of it and gave me two, delicious, custard-filled donuts with white icing.

By the time I got on the bicycle, it was about 11:30 AM. It was about 70 miles to Brussells, so I figured it would be a nice 6 hours ride or so to complete the trip. What actually lay in store for me that day was the most brutal, grueling, willpower-testing ride of the entire trip. It made the first part of the trip to Amsterdam seem like a piece of cake. To begin with, I immediately encountered stiff, persistent headwind. It would be a headwind that would not let up during the entire day. Under the best of circumstances, the headwind was strong enough to make 70 miles a very tiring trip. However, I was not graced with the best of circumstances either. Next was the terrain. To start with, it was rather dull. I crossed the border into Belgium shortly after leaving Maastricht, and the countryside that I encountered was mostly crops and rangeland. There was not much forest and the scenery was not too interesting. The bad thing, however, were the rather long, steep grades. The terrain was fairly hilly, though not quite like southern Holland, and that combined with the headwind made the hills tortuous to ascend. I spent much of the ride in first gear, and at times wished I had an even lower gear. The next difficulty was the weather. It was very cool, one of the coolest days of the trip. The sun came out only for very brief periods. Much of the time there was a very light drizzle, and actually rained very hard three different times. Fortunately, I happened to be in towns where I was able to duck out of the rain whenever it came. It made for a very slow ride, but I would not have been able to make any better time had I not had the rain to contend with. Because of the strong headwind and the steep grades, I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I reached each town. The towns were spaced about 12–15 miles apart, and it was all I could do to make it to the next one, find a café or bakery, and rest and refuel.

After several eternities, I made it to Leuven and refueled with an ice cream dessert. It was the last city before Brussells and I was ready to start the last leg of the trip. I had just gotten out of Leuven when the bike started riding funny. I looked down at the rear tire and it looked low on air. I didn’t think too much of it at first because I had had to add air to the rear a few times during the entire trip. But when I got off to pump it up I was it was getting very low. When I checked the tire close, I found a nail and when I pulled it out, all the rest of the air gushed out. I was never so disenchanted. Here I was, I had already travelled over 400 miles, I had only 15 miles to go, and after the brutal ride I had been experiencing today, now I have to get a flat tire. And of course the rear tire so that I have to remove all the luggage from the bike in order to take the wheel off. It was almost as if somebody was saying, “OK, he’s made it this far and been able to overcome everything, let’s dump it all on him at once and see how he does” [a little melodramatic, wasn’t I?]. I repaired the tire on the side of the  road with cars zooming by, and it seemed to be holding air so I was on my way again.

After about 10 miles I could see another storm rolling in up ahead. It looked like a monster and I knew I didn’t have long to find shelter. I saw a frituur up ahead so I ducked in there and ordered up some frites and a Jupiler. Then it hit! The rain came down in sheets, and then it started hailing. At the rate I was going, it was going to be a close call to get to Bill’s house before dark. When I finished the frites, the rain had stopped and for the first time all day the sky looked mostly sunny. I hoped there would be no more delays. I got back on the road (by the way, I do mean the road! The bicycle paths once entering Belgium were almost nonexistent. There would be a nice path for small stretches, much of the time there was simply a wide asphalt shoulder directly on the road, and the majority of the time there was not even that, I had to ride on the edge of the actual traffic lane [and to think now I routinely take the right tire track in the lane]). It didn’t take long for me to get soaked. Even though it wasn’t raining, the traffic rushing by continually sprayed me and the front wheel from my bike sprayed onto the frame by my feet, completely waterlogging my shoes. At this point, I really didn’t care anymore, I had encountered so much adversity that my only thought was to make it to Brussells in spite of everything.

I finally got to Brussells around 7 PM. Believe it or not, the worst part of the day was yet to come! I thought I knew the way back to Bill’s house. I found the main boulevard connecting the east part of the city to the south part. I figured all I had to do was go south on the street until I recognized the area around the Forest where Bill lives. I was on the right track, I recognized his office building and knew I didn’t have much farther. Then things began to look unfamiliar and I began to fear that I had passed up his area. I stopped at a bus stop to look at the maps (which were no help) and a lady waiting there spoke just enough English to tell me to turn left at the next street. Wrong! As it turned out, I hadn’t gone far enough and if I had gone just a little bit farther I would have reached the forest and known exactly where I was. Instead I turned left, and so began the most frustrating wild goose chase of the entire trip. To make matters worse, my rear tire was slowly beginning to lose air again, and it was getting close to dusk. I couldn’t find any maps other than the bus stops, nobody I stopped to ask how to get to the forest knew what I was talking about, and I couldn’t find a telephone anywhere. Because it was starting to get dark, I eventually lost my sense of direction and gradually became totally and utterly lost. I wound up in a residential area and I figured I better get help quick. I came upon a rather posh-looking French restaurant and decided to go in and ask for a telephone, regardless of how scummy I looked. The maitre-d was very nice and pointed the way. Wouldn’t you know it, Bill was not home! So I went up to the maitre-d and asked him if he could draw me a map to Avenue de la Floride. He discussed it with an attractive woman behind the desk, then the woman told me that it was nowhere around here. She spoke with a very heavy French accent, but I was still able to converse with her easily. I was not surprised to hear that I was way off course by then, and I replied, “I’m really lost.” There must have been some desparation in my reply, or I must have looked awfully pitiful, because after further discussion with the maitre-d, she asked me if I would like to put my bike in her car and she would take me there. They had another restaurant that was not far, she said, and she needed to go there tonight anyway. I was stunned by such a gracious offer of assistance and accepted without hesitation, thanking them profusely. She took me right up to Bill’s doorstep, and I was very happy about it because it had gotten totally dark by then, my tire was totally flat, and the drive from the restaurant to Bill’s house was a rather long one. My legs were totally shot and I couldn’t have faced the prospect of several more miles of riding.

When we arrived at Bill’s house, I again thanked her and offered to pay her for the trouble. She stiffly refused, explaining to me that she was the owner of the restaurants (Prince d’Orange) and that I should tell my friend to try them sometime. It had been an unbelievably brutal day, but that act of kindness combined with the fact that I was finally at Bill’s made me feel real good inside. Bill was still not home so I let myself in with the key he had given me, put on some Black Sabbath at a suitably deafening volume, and jumped in the shower. Bill came home shortly, he had given up on me arriving that night because of the weather and late hour, and had gone to the train station to check about bringing my bicycle to the airport. I relayed my tale of horror and then we went out for dinner. It was getting to be an emergency situation and I didn’t want to spend much money (which is hard to do in Bill’s neighborhood) so we ended up at a Mexican restaurant that had an all-you-can-eat buffet for 695 fr. ($17.50). Yes, that’s inexpensive in that neighborhood! The food was very good and featured a do-it-yourself shish-ka-bob, quite unlike most Mexican food I’ve had. The atmosphere, however, was very crowded and noisy. It did the job, however. We got back to his house, put on some music and talked. I had fun with him that night, it was good to see him again after having been on my own for the past week. When I went to bed, I told him not to expect me up early in the morning ’cause I was really exhausted.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013

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