Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Winter Solstice 200 km brevet

Friday 21st was the winter solstice and Kerin hosted her annual 200k brevet.

Twelve riders met at Pasadena's Sierra Madre Gold Line station at 7pm. The weather prediction was perfect with no rain, favorable winds, and temperatures in the 50's. Many riders decorated their bikes with tinsel and Christmas lights. I was just glad to be there.

Start of ride

After a tour of the lights of Pasadena we hit the San Gabriel bike path and flew to the beach with a strong group and a tail wind. My rwgps says we took 1h35m to cover 30 miles. It seemed faster in the dark. We passed through several bands of fog on the way to the beach - some of it very thick.

At Huntington Beach I rode on the beach path for safety but the fog was quite thick. One hundred yards inland on PCH, where the rest of the group was riding, there was almost no fog at all; so I moved over and rode with everyone else. Weird how fog works sometimes.

The second control is at the Harbor House which is a 24 hour restaurant with decent food and a great atmosphere. It always takes a while to get a large group through there - this year it took over an hour - but it's a great control for this kind of ride.

Harbor House at one a.m.

The control at Dana Point was closed with a sign saying "back in 15 minutes" - rando's dilemma - do you wait or push on? I pushed on, relying on the pro-bar in my top tube bag. If I had known I would miss the train by 30 seconds I would have waited.

It's 3:15 am and they "say" they'll be back by 3:30. 
We continued on the usual route down the coast staying more-or-less as a group. I split off at San Clemente to ride the beach path while the others went up PCH. After San Clemente I caught up with the lead group and we went through San Onofre state park and then onto the shoulder of the I5 for the last ten miles or so. The freeway shoulder is the only bad part of the route.

I got to Oceanside desperate to use the rest room and by the time I got out I missed the 5:37 train by about 30 seconds so I had to wait for the 7:00 instead. Ate at the terrible Burger King but at least I got to chat with Jeff and Lori Arita who are planning to ride PBP next year. I really hope it goes well for them.

My ankle felt sore at the end of the ride, but I knew it would. I probably set the healing process back a month but I really wanted to do this ride :-)

Total riding time was 8:43 (14.5 mph average) which wasn't bad considering it was dark and there was a lot of fog.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Riding with a sprained ankle

It has been a while since I posted. RUSA has entered and emerged from an insurance nightmare. I'm sure all the RBA's and ride organizers are now suitably paranoid about waivers. I suspect we will see more reluctance to embrace the risk of litigation considering there is no benefit other than helping our fellow randonneurs.

I sprained my ankle a couple of weeks ago and it's still too swollen to fit into my cycling shoes but fortunately I bought a pair of cheap Nashbar SPD sandals a couple of years ago and they are flexible enough to accommodate my foot.

I met Amber at the Anaheim Artic. She still had her Topeak MTX rack and panniers on her bike. This is a very cool rack bag that has side pockets that open into capacious panniers. We started pedaling, but I didn't know if I'd make it out of the parking lot, to the beach, or what. Fortunately the pain wasn't to bad so we got all the way to Seal Beach and I had an idea.

I have recently discovered a Danish mead but the restaurant I found it at wants $42 a bottle whereas Total Wine only charges $30. There's a Total Wine just off the San Gabriel bikeway (this shopping center would make a great control) so we rode there.

We tried eating at Charo's, a Peruvian restaurant, but the service was so slow they hadn't even taken our order after 20 minutes so we walked across to a PizzaRev which we had never heard of. We had a custom made pizza within 10 minutes of walking in. It was really good and we would definitely go back. There must be at least 20 places to eat in the Long Beach Town Center and you don't even have to ride on the road to get there - there's a bike path straight from the San Gabriel bike path into the shopping center.

PizzaRev - very good

After PizzaRev we headed over to Total Wine to see what meads they had in stock. I bought six bottles and we put them in Amber's panniers. They we very heavy so it's a good thing there were no hills on the way back. I can tell you that the MDX panniers can comfortably carry half a case of wine. I don't know why they don't put this in the documentation - it's a major selling point.

Six bottles of wine - perfect fit

We ended up with 66 miles and I gave Amber a bottle of wine. I hope she likes it. My foot hurt a bit the next day but it was totally worth it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Another 200k

Greg, Stacey, Amber, and I rode my Four Rivers 200km permanent on Saturday. Greg and Stacey started from their house which is only three miles from the southern most point on the ride and headed inland to meet us at the official start. The new RUSA rules that allow a permanent to be started at any point works very well for them.

By the time they met us at 8:00 am Yorba Linda they had already ridden 24 miles. It was chilly and a bit breezy so I was wearing my RUSA vest to keep the wind from biting.

I have just installed a dynamo tail light, the Secula Plus, purchased from Peter White. I had trouble figuring out how to wire it because the spade terminal on my Edelux II was almost invisible, but with a lot of help from the seller, I was able to find it. It comes on automatically when the front light comes on and has a stand light so I feel very safe with it.

Secula Plus - the Plus means it has a stand light
The breeze died down quickly as we headed to the coast. Those of you who are familiar with the east end of the Huntington Beach trail will be pleased to hear they are repaving it. Currently the two miles between the Santa Ana river and the pier are ripped up and not rideable.  Your options are to ride through the parking lot, along PCH, or even Atlanta Ave. There is a rumor they are going to mark separate pedestrian and cycling sections. We shall see.

We ate at The Crema in Seal Beach and, as the wait was very long, we grabbed ham and brie baguettes to go with Thai iced tea and ate on the benches outside. Wonderful.

We then headed inland to El Monte where there was only one person working at the Subway there. Each sandwich took several minutes to prepare and pay for so I had to wait 20 minutes to get my sandwich. Poor woman - I felt so sorry for her.

Greg and Stacey outside the Subway as Amber and I eat inside

Headed back on the Rio Hondo bike path we saw a cyclist coming the other way while peeing out the side. Disgusting. I hope I never see that again. Actually I hope he crashes and has to ride home covered in his own blood and urine. Is that mean of me?

The head wind into Long Beach was quite mild for a change and we headed over to Belmont for our Chronic Tacos fix. According to the electronic counter there we were about the 3,000th cyclists for the day. One carnitas quesadilla later I was stuffed and ready to finish the ride.

Greg and Stacey stopped off at the Ballast Point in Seal Beach for a quick drink and Amber and I headed back to Yorba Linda. We finished the ride in 9:59 which is pretty good considering the amount of time off the bike. It was dark for the last 20 miles and my new tail light worked great.

The Woolsey fire is burning in Ventura county right now and the entire northern sky is thick with smoke. As the sun headed West during the afternoon the smoke started to obscure it and it got so dark that my automatic lights came on at three in the afternoon. I swear it even felt a little colder than usual.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

When is a gate not a gate?

When it's ajar (a jar, get it?)

I expected to ride the SART to Katella and back twice last night because the gate at Katella is supposed to be locked at 6pm in Nov, Dec, and Jan. However, when I got there the gate was unlocked and open even at 8:50pm. I'm not sure if the city is planning on locking the gate any earlier now that the SART is "officially" closed at 6pm.

Perhaps I'll be able to ride my normal route down to the beach after all. If I try that, though, I bet the gate will be locked for my return trip forcing me to make a nasty detour. What a pain those homeless people are, even when they're gone. The good new is they aren't returning so perhaps the gate policy is worth it.

The take-away from this is that the City does not seem to be enforcing the early closing policy on the SART in any way.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Malibu Creek State Park

On Sunday Glen, Amber, Sherry and I went hiking in Malibu Creek State Park. There were many film scenes shot here over the years, the most famous of which being M*A*S*H, Planet of the Apes, From Here to Eternity, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, etc. We hiked 5 miles and back to the old MASH set which still has a few ancient trucks lying around.

M*A*S*H ambulance

Group of mountain biking unicycles - I thought I'd seen it all.

Bloody Tourists!

Nightmare before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl

My daughter treated us to tickets to A Nightmare before Christmas at the Hollwood Bowl on Saturday. It's the 25 anniversary of the film and the orchestra was playing the music live as they showed the film.

There's a great scam you can do. You sell your event tickets to StubHub and then claim a refund from the issuers. Then some patsy buys your, now worthless, tickets and when they get to the gate they can't get in. If anyone reading this thinks this is a something you'd do, please let me have your name and address so I can drop by and PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE. This is what happened to us. My daughter spent 40 minutes on the phone with StubHub to get our tickets back. The good news is that we got incredible upgrades. We were now five rows back in seats costing about $200 :-)

I didn't realize Danny Elfman was going to sing the entire part of Jack. I certainly didn't expect all the original singer to perform their parts live. Amazing!

The singers from the original film

Danny Elfman sings Jack

Lock, Stock, and Barrel

Oogie Boogie


Curtain call
As if that wasn't enough, Danny Elfman brought the members of Oingo Boingo out on stage and they performed a track live.

Oingo Boingo

Then, to cap it all, Danny Elfman brought out an inebriated Tim Burton who promptly dropped the F-bomb and stole Danny's microphone.

Another Friday night on the SART

I rode my last Friday night on the SART for a while. Starting next weekend the city will be locking the gates at Katella at 6pm which means I can't get past in time.

It was a great ride - cool (mid 60's) and with almost no wind. There were very few idiots on the trail for a change and I didn't almost crash into a cyclist with no lights on the wrong side of the trail at midnight - in fact I didn't even see one.

I rode down to Newport Beach but the new guy behind the counter of NBC wouldn't serve me pastries so I went to Burger Boss instead. The service and food were great but I thought $8.50 was too steep for a single burger. Coming back I didn't really feel any energy from the food.

$8.50 burger?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What's its gots in its pocketses?

As my riding evolves and I discover new products I like to post a list of the things I take along on rides. This is one of those posts.

Before I start on that, I want to share the latest updates on the SART at night. I rode 90 miles on the SART last Friday after work and noted that the gates at Katella are not locked strictly at 9pm. However, by the time I returned at 11pm they were locked. It seems the security guard starts locking the entrances at the beach end about 9pm and finishes at Imperial by 11pm. Parks and Recs does not seem to be paying for a security guard to sleep on the trail anymore. It is still possible to avoid the locked gates at both Memory Lane and Taft.

I now carry stuff in a handlebar bag, a top tube bag, and a saddle bag.

The most versatile option I have is the handlebar bag. There are several companies making bags like this. They are easy to attach and detach and this one even comes with a shoulder strap which turns it into a small hand bag. It has an external pocket, an internal zippered pocket, and two internal elasticated pockets. I use it to carry my navigation device (smart phone running the rwgps app) and external power pack.

I could use it to carry much more such as my wallet and it's easy to remove from the bike and carry with me for security. I configure the rwgps app to speak directions to me, and the location on the handlebars makes it easy to hear the instructions.

It's much cheaper and more convenient than full fledged randonneuring handlebar bags, but not as capacious.

Handlebar bag and external battery pack
I have a large top tube bag and I wrapped a ponytail holder around the top of my stem to improve stability. This is where I put things I want to get to quickly.

I normally carry a spare pair of bifocal sun glasses (clear if I'm wearing the tinted or vice versa). Also butt cream (Lantiseptic is my preference), single use sun block sachets, an energy bar, Go Cubes caffeine chew (not pictured),  and an iodine prep pad for sterilizing road rash. You can buy a lifetime (hopefully) supply of these for under $10.

Top tube bag and contents
Most of my stuff is carried in the saddlebag. I have become a huge fan of Acorn bags made by a husband and wife team here in Southern California. The only problem is some of their models sell out VERY quickly so get on their email list and make the purchase within an hour of the release.

I keep my tools in their trifold bag. There's a set of Pedro tire levers (Topeak stopped making their wonderful telescoping tire lever), some instapatches, a CO2 cartridge and Shiny Object inflator, a spare tube, a Topeak mini tool, a chain tool, and a spoke wrench. This is my minimum toolkit.


A word about instapatches. Most people think they don't work very well. I agree. They just need to get me home. I don't ride on tubes that have patches so when they get me home I replace the tube. I wish my local bike shop had a bin I could drop old tubes into. An enterprising person with a $10 patch kit could get ten usable tubes for a little effort. Recycling at its best.

The trifold has leather straps that roll it up so it can be used as a saddle bag itself or it can be tossed into a larger saddle bag. I use Acorn's medium saddlebag (it's huge) so I can add a few non-tool items.

Extra stuff in my saddle bag
In addition to my trifold, my saddle bag contains a reflective vest, toilet paper, and a lock and cable.

This selection of gear is good up to a double-century. For longer distances I add a second tube, a folding tire, and a bigger multi-tool with pliers.

Here are all three bags in use.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

New cycling speed record

I saw on the bbc.com website that the cycling speed record has been broken again. This time by a woman, proving that men aren't the only ones that do crazy dangerous stuff. Denise Mueller-Koronek shattered the men's and women's speed record drafting a speedster on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah today by exceeding 296 km/h and she didn't even need a rocket attached to the bike.

For those of us who don't speak metric, that's a hair shy of 184 miles per hour.

Denise Mueller-Koronek

Here's the full story.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A sub one hour 300k?

I stumbled upon this video of a cyclist clocking 207 mph on TopGear.com today. That's 333 kph! He could complete a 300k brevet in less than an hour. Of course, I'd have to DQ him for not stopping at controls and having a rocket pack on his bicycle.

At 200+ mph, I'm not sure how much that helmet would help.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Stupid Accident

It has been a while since I last posted. I've been riding the SART every Friday evening after work from the trail head at Green River Road, down to Newport Beach, back to the trail head making sure I got through Katella before they lock it at 9pm. Then eat at the car and back to Katella and return to the trail head for a total of 90 miles.

That's the theory anyway. One week I got an unfixable flat about two miles from the car and had to abort. Another week I got an upset stomach and could not get off the trail to a rest room because they lock all the exits - I had to make an emergency sprint back to the car so I could drive to the Jack-in-the-Box and use their restroom.

This week I had bad luck too. I misjudged the gap between the edge of the sidewalk and a lamppost in the gloaming at Newport Beach and smashed my shoulder into the lamppost, which knocked me off the sidewalk and down an embankment. Fortunately I didn't break anything and ended up with a sprained shoulder and some scrapes.

I squirted water from my water bottles over the scrapes and put some Providone on them (don't use an alcohol pad) and rode 30 miles back to my car. At first I thought my collar bone might be fractured but the pain wasn't bad enough. It still got very painful over the rough parts and also when I tried to raise my hand off the handlebars.

I was able to do a workout on my stationary recumbent 24 hours later which is a good sign. I hope I can ride with Amber tomorrow if I'm careful. As bicycle accidents go, this was trivial. I'm still waiting for my shoulder to go pretty colors. When it does I'll post a picture.

Interestingly, for the past two weeks they have not been locking the gates at Lakeview or Imperial. If they have decided to stop locking those gates my 400/600k next year will flow better.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

SART night closures

For the past two Friday evenings I've been riding the SART solo because Amber has been working all weekend. The county has been locking the SART up at night to keep the homeless people out which is a pain because it's too hot to ride during the day.

I've been trying to figure out when the SART is getting locked up. The county says it's 9pm but I think it's closer to 10pm. The big issue I have is that if you start riding at the top of the SART at Green River Road and ride down to the beach there are no signs visible. The first clue you get is a locked gate across the SART at Katella. If you back track you find all the exit gates are locked. You're trapped.

It's pretty easy to get your bike around the gate at Memory Lane and also at Taft. If you are North bound you exit on Memory Lane, go right over the river, then left on La Veta, left on Main, left on Taft, the enter the SART again on your right. it's a pretty unpleasant, four mile diversion.

I took the opportunity to try yet another pair of video sunglasses. This is the fourth pair I've owned. No matter how much I pay for them they never last more than a year so I decided to go cheap for a change. They're not bad at all and have excellent low-light performance. Here's a video I shot about 30 minutes after sunset. It was pretty dark.

Here's a video taken at night illuminated by a Cygolight on the low setting.

Because of the trail closure, I've reluctantly decided to cancel the 200 Night Audax ride :-(

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Unexpected downside to e-bikes

From this article in The Guardian I see that the rate of deaths among cyclists in the Netherlands has increased sharply in the past year. The majority of the increase comes from elderly gentlemen (65+) who overestimate their ability to ride e-bikes.

E-bikes are certainly cheaper to buy and run than cars and more convenient in many ways. They can travel at 20mph and are a great way to move around town. It seems many of these fatalities are caused by the difficulty of mounting and dismounting heavy e-bikes as well as failing to realize that hitting things at 20mph is actually quite dangerous.

I have to wonder exactly how much cycling is actually being done here. I suspect these e-bikes are being treated as electric scooters and that very little cycling is occurring. The article doesn't go into the health benefits obtained by having septuagenarians on bicycles in any depth.

Pete could teach them a thing or two!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Bicycle themed license plates

Did you know the State of California is going to introduce a bicycle themed license plate and they want you to vote on your preferred graphic. They claim fees will go towards bicycle infrastructure funding (yeah, right).

There's a Facebook page for discussion and a survey to register your preference.

I rejected the bear graphics because they're too cartoonish and make bicycles look like toys. I liked the poppy and sea/sun graphics but I felt the bicycles were too de-emphasized. In the end I opted for the Healthy California graphic.

Take a look and make your choice.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Test ride of Catrike Dumont

After last week's evaluation of three different folding, suspended, recumbent tricycles I took my favorite, the Catrike, out for a long spin today. Dana, of Bent-up Cycles, lent me one of his so I could take it for a longer ride.

I drove over to the San Gabriel trail head in Duarte and rode down the bike trail to El Monte and back. I wasn't too worried about my speed because it was so hot I knew I was going to ride slowly. I was more concerned with the comfort of my backside and shoulder. I'm very pleased to say that neither of them bothered me. It was a very enjoyable ride.

The width of the bicycle was a concern at first. I have about a foot on either side of the front wheels while on the bike path. I noticed a distinct power-wobble - when I applied power I moved an inch or so from side to side. It was disconcerting when I had so little room for error.

It seems I was over-steering. The steering is so sensitive that all you really need is a little pressure on the wrist pads. I didn't really need to hold the steerers at all. When I realized this I found it very easy to follow a smooth, straight line. I only needed to use the steerers on very tight corners.

I'm used to two wheels in the same line. Dodging potholes on the Dumont is almost impossible. At least one of the three wheels is going to go over any moderately large hazard. Thank goodness for suspension and Schwalbe tires.

Even though it was far hotter than my comfort zone, I found the action of the wind along my entire body was quite refreshing and kept me feeling cooler than my regular bike would have. This effect might not be so great when it's cold, though. The sweat, sunblock, and recumbent position turned me into a giant fly paper. I was covered in them.

My ride started on the flat and I held 15mph with roughly the same effort that would have got me 17mph on my bike. There's a steep descent (6%) that got me over 25mph quickly. I would have gone much faster but I had to limit my speed due to unfamiliarity with the trike. I came back up at 3.8mph which is probably about the same speed I would have climbed on my bike considering it was now over 95F. With the gears available on the Catrike, the climb was not strenuous.

The seat was incredibly comfortable compared to the recumbent bike I used to own. I put a bath towel on the seat to protect it from my sweat but I doubt that improved comfort. It's a well designed seat and the suspension and fat rear tire (32mm) improved it even more. The rear tire can go up to 50mm with the mudguard and more without it. That would be a very plush ride.

The Dumont has a pouch under the seat for a small bike pump like the Topeak Morph and a second pouch for flat repair and small tools. Carrying food, clothes, etc is going to take some thought. The bottle mounting position isn't very good - I can't see ever being comfortable using it while riding in a group. You can buy a side mount bar that you can mount bags or water bottle cages on. That would be really convenient.

It was almost 100F by the time I got back to Duarte. Yuck.

I'm going to try my Night Audax 200k in September on my regular bike. If I have any shoulder pain I will be buying one of these beauties.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reviews of three folding, recumbent trikes with suspension

You wouldn't think there would be a whole lot of choice of folding, recumbent, suspension tricycles but these are starting to become quite popular. I have injured my shoulder and it looks like it may never recover to the point where I can ride a 200k so I'm looking for ways to keep cycling.

I used to own a recumbent Bacchetta but I was never comfortable pulling away, especially uphill. I also found the seat to be incredibly uncomfortable and, as you can't stand to take the weight off, I had to stop and stand for a few minutes every 20 miles or so. Lastly, I now own a Prius so a regular recumbent is impossible for me to carry.

The trike solves the pulling away issue and I hope the suspension solves the backside issues. The folding feature allows me to easily stow the bike in the back of the car.

I went to Bent up Cycles in North Hollywood. The owner, Dana, takes appointments only but as I'm a repeat customer and an old riding buddy he was happy to fit me into his schedule. He had the three bikes we had discussed ready for me to try. You will notice they all have 26" rear wheels and long wheelbases which is supposed to make them more comfortable than all 20" bikes.

The first was a Catrike Dumont - I liked the yellow one but it comes in quite a few different colors. This is the bike that my online research drew me to.

Catrike Dumont

Dana showed me how it  folds down. It takes about two minutes. You pull the seat off (velcro) and unlock the seat quick release which also controls the seat angle. Then you release the quick release on the main hinge and fold the bike in half. It locks into a folded position and has travel wheels and a kick stand so it doesn't fall over. Set up is just as quick as easy. The hinge is at 45 degrees which means the rear wheel turns as you fold it. All three bikes folded similarly.

I grabbed my helmet and jumped on. Dana joined me on an HP Velotechnic Scorpion, and we went for a test ride.

The first thing that struck me about the Dumont was the stability. I could pull away at any speed I wanted and my line was perfectly straight. You might be able to tell from the photo that it comes with a rear-view mirror. I've never found a mirror for a bicycle that worked for me. It was always too difficult to get the bike or my helmet perfectly aligned for me to see what was behind me. But the trike is so stable that once I adjusted the mirror it was always perfectly aligned. Finally a mirror that works.

I was concerned the extra weigh might make it significantly slower but the more aerodynamic position largely compensates for this. We rode on a flat street, and I'm sure the hills would be more work, but this will fly down them. I would be OK with 10% slower rides - better than not being able to ride at all. Dana suggested replacing the tires with something a little more slick when they wear out. That's a good idea.

Some of the standard features on the Catrike are a rear mudguard, a flag holder and flag, a pump pouch, a tool pouch, a rear view mirror, reversible SPD pedals, computer mount, and wrist supports.

Half way through the ride Dana and I swapped so I could try the Scorpion. I found the Scorpion's steering was too sensitive although that might have simply been because the pedals were too close to me. We quickly swapped back.

After five miles we were back at the store and I tried the ICE sprint.

ICE Sprint
I immediately noticed the seat was not as comfortable as the Dumont or Scorpion and the turning circle was larger. Unlike the Dumont I could not do a u-turn in the alley behind Dana's store. Dana confirmed there was no upgrade option on the seat, so I ruled it out. However I have to say it was very stylish.

What I'd really like to do now is take the Dumont out for an extended ride. Twenty miles up and down the bike path would be idea. I'm also going to have to look for good bag options.

If I can't fix my shoulder to the point where I can ride a 200k I will be buying a Catrike Dumont. They're not cheap, but I made my current bike last 20 years so I'll get my money's worth out of this one too.

Here's a quick summary.

Catrike Dumont
Pros: Made in USA, lowest price, many extra's included, stable steering, manouverable
Cons: Minimal front suspension, no rack option

HP Velotechnic Scorpion
Pros: manouverable, good front suspension
Cons: Made in Germany, expensive, twitchy steering? Everything is extra

ICE Sprint
Pros: Good front suspension, stylish
Cons: Made in UK, uncomfortable seat, poor maneuverability, expensive

Thursday, June 28, 2018

LEJOG with Peak Tours

When Amber and I decided to ride LEJOG (Land's End to John O'Groats) we decided to look for a tour company to deal with the logistics. After some research we settled on Peak Tours because they have a professional website (I'm a web site designer) and they provide catered lunches, morning and afternoon snack stops, full support, and optional bike rentals.

Right from the start they answered questions about bike rentals quickly, often within the hour even on weekends. We found the cost of flying our bikes to the UK and back to the USA was prohibitive and the reasonable cost of renting Peak Tours' excellent bikes made renting the better option. We had the choice of light road bikes with 28mm tires or heavier touring bikes with 32mm tires. We had other options too, but these were the ones that looked best to us because we like drop handlebars. In the end we chose the 32mm tires which, given the state of the roads in Monmouthshire, Cheshire, and most of Scotland, was the right choice.

We confirmed the availability of the rental bikes and paid our deposit. Two months before the ride we received detailed cue sheets and paid the rest of the fees. With the weakness of the pound right now, we Americans are getting a great deal. Three weeks before the start we received the GPS files which I annotated and loaded into my smart phone (I use the ridewithgps app for navigation). One week before the ride we got the accommodation details. There were 25 riders in the group, and most nights we were at different overnight locations. Most of the time we were only a few hundred yards apart but one night we were split into two groups ten miles apart. I tweaked the GPS files to take me door to door and reloaded them onto my smart phone.

One thing about modern living is that I always seem to be charging something - lights, phone, external battery pack, watch, etc. Amber and I both bought international USB chargers which worked really well. In the UK the wall outlets have switches next to them - don't forget to turn them on. We also saw something odd in two hotels we hadn't seen before. By the door to the room is a slot on the wall that you have to put your key card into to get the power on. When you leave the room you must remember to take your card and when you remove it the power goes off. We had to call reception at the first hotel that had one of these to figure out how to turn the power on. We felt a bit silly.

We flew over on Norwegian Airlines, which we were pleased with. The price was very reasonable and we got two meals and a wide selection of current movies and TV shows included. It's a long flight and it's important to be comfortable. I managed to snag an emergency exit row for no extra charge. We arrived in Gatwick two days before the start of the ride and stayed at the Airport Inn at Gatwick. I wouldn't recommend it. We were in England almost an hour before it started to rain.

We took the train down to Penzance (first class - very nice) and stayed at the Union Hotel which had a bluegrass band playing that evening that was a blast. One problem with England is that much of the accommodation is in public houses (bars) which can be very noisy. We didn't get to sleep until after 1am because of Saturday night revelers. We were pleased that Peak Tours put us into quiet B&Bs and hotels. In fact that's one of the advantages of a tour organizer - they've weeded out the noisy hotels and grumpy landlords.

The following day Peak Tours dropped by to carry us to St. Just which is six miles from Land's End. It's a lovely little town. Amber and I were introduced to our rental bikes at the Commercial Hotel and we installed our pedals, saddles, and aerobars and went for a test ride to Land's End and back. Amber discovered her rear brakes didn't work very well so we told David and he arranged for new pads to be installed before we started the next day. Meanwhile we walked around and found a small eatery called the Cook Book. We ate one of the best cream teas ever there. I sent a photo to my wife just to tease her. Then we headed to the pre-ride get together to meet each other, our guides, and receive our Peak Tours cycling jerseys which, for some reason, are sized at least two sizes smaller than normal. It's the first time Amber has ever worn a large!

We started the tour the next day. I'll walk you through the first day - the other thirteen are pretty similar. Breakfast was provided by our overnight location. We could have anything up to and including a full English or Scottish breakfast which top out at around 1500 calories. We packed our bags and took them down to the reception to be picked up by Peak Tours. Our itinerary told us when and where we would meet to start. Normally we met around 8:45 at or very near our overnight location. David or one of the other guides would give us a quick overview of the day indicating the distance and climbing, and notable hazards, and most importantly the location of lunch and the morning and afternoon brew stops. Fifteen minutes later we'd be off. The guides took it in turns to ride at the back of the pack each day so they could provide assistance.

Ken would shoot off the front chased by some of the stronger riders such as Adrian or Ian. We would ride about 20 miles or so to the morning brew stop. Being a seasoned randonneur I thought brew stops would be a waste of time, but I was wrong. I came to see them as an essential part of civilized bicycle touring. The van would stop at the appointed place and tables set out with table cloths and a small vase of flowers. Hot tea or coffee would be offered to the riders together with a selection of fresh fruit, cake, biscuits, sweets, and other goodies. Quite often Amber would discover a new goody such as millionaire's shortbread or battenburg that she had never had before. We also filled up with water and had access to our drop bags. Our main bags would be in the main van being delivered to our hotel rooms.

Lunch would normally be at a pub and we were very well fed. It would sometimes be a huge buffet or a generous meal. We would pay for our own drinks. I got to like an orange juice in a pint glass topped up with lemonade. It is very thirst quenching. One meal included a cream tea! At one lunch stop we met some cyclists that were touring with another company but their lunches weren't catered so they were having a beer and a bag of crisps. When they saw the food we were being given they were jealous. We encouraged them to give Peak Tours a try next time.

After a leisurely lunch we rode on to the afternoon brew stop which was pretty much the same as the morning one except that the guides had done some shopping and some of the food would be different. It was lovely to try all the different stuff they bought for us. I really want to try to do something like a brew stop at the Five Rivers 300k brevet I host each year. I think the riders would love it.

After the afternoon brew stop we rode on to our overnight accommodation. Our bags would already be in our rooms. All we had to do was shower and change. Then we went out for a walk to stretch our legs and find somewhere to eat. This was the only meal not provide by Peak Tours. We would also try to buy any new foods that we'd enjoyed during the day to take home with us. The guides joked that Amber's suitcase was rapidly approaching the density of shortbread. Many of the overnights are in beautiful towns with rivers, castles, and many interesting things to investigate. We probably walked an average of three to five miles each evening.

Laundry became a bit of an issue. For some reason even moderate sized towns have no public laundry facilities. When we found them we used them even if we didn't have a full load. Even so, we had to sink wash clothes a couple of times. We had three sets of cycling and evening clothes. I would recommend at least four sets and bring or buy a bottle of liquid detergent both for sink washing and because launderettes don't have detergent vending machines. Also save your pound coins.

At the end of the tour, we had a final dinner at John O'Groats where we were presented with certificates of completion and one of the mugs we drank so much tea from at the brew stops. We had a whip-round and a card for our guides. I hope they got a huge tip - they earned it.

The Sunday after the ride ended we all jumped onto a coach that drove us to Inverness - first to the station and then to the airport. It's a long three hour drive and considering we had been sitting on bicycle saddles for two weeks it was surprisingly uncomfortable. Remember to use the rest room before getting onto the coach!

We were so impressed by Peak Tours that we are planning a hiking vacation in a couple of years in the Peak District. Touring with Peak Tours is like a luxury cruise where you spend a lot of time in the gym.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lejog day 14.- 6/16/2018

Today was the last day and we rode from Crask to John O'Groats.

Although Crask is the ideal distance from John O'Groats there's only room for a small number of guests there so the slowest riders were booked at Crask and the rest of the us spent the night at Lairg in the Highland Hotel. We were driven back to Crask this morning and reunited with our riding buddies.

The first 30 miles North to the coast at Bettyhill were absolutely gorgeous and slightly downhill.

First sign to John O'Groats

After Bettyhill the road got very lumpy but fortunately it flattened out again after about twenty miles. Lunch was in the Halladale Inn near Portskerra. Last lunch - I'm starting to feel sad.

At the afternoon brew stop I felt a few drops of rain, looked up, and foolishly said to the sky "Don't you dare". Within seconds it was raining and Julie had to get the canopy out to protect the goodies and keep the rain out of our tea. Last brew stop - I'm going to miss this.

Putting up the canopy, I'm too busy taking photographs and apologizing to help

The wet roads are all my fault
About ten miles from John O'Groats we all regrouped at the Northern Sands hotel.

Northern Sands hotel

We all agreed we should let Mike and Liz finish the ride first. We rode at a relaxed pace for the last ten miles. I dropped to the back then rode forward through the pack saying hi to everyone.

We finally got to the famous signpost and then it was all over.

Mike and Liz at the John O'Groats signpost.

We rode 83.3 miles and climbed 4380'.

I'm getting all nostalgic writing about this day. It was a wonderful holiday and I rode a great route, with lovely riders, and with the best touring company. Before we started, Julie told me she had ridden this route twice. I asked her why. Now I understand.

Lejog day 13 - 7/15/2018

Today we rode from Inverness to Crask.

After the best porridge of the vacation we were reunited with our bikes and, after the obligatory kilted Scotsman, we headed out over yet another impressive bridge over the River Ness.

Kilted Scotsman

Crossing the mouth of the River Ness

The roads to the morning brew stop were hilly, rough, and lovely.

Morning brew stop - no haggis fortunately
Afternoon brew stop (I think)

After the morning brew stop the scenery just kept getting better.

We almost got stuck at some kind of police incident but they re-opened the road just as we got there which was a stroke of good fortune. We ended up on a dirt road that went down to some kind of river rapids. Some of the riders, including Amber, hiked down to this salmon leap but I didn't feel like it so I took a rest while I waited.

The last twelve miles to Crask were hard. There was a headwind and a slight uphill. The road was single track but the oncoming traffic was frequent enough to make passing difficult. There are only two buildings in Crask - the pub and a house. The crazy thing is once we got to Crask a minibus picked us up and took us 12 miles back to Lairg while we left our bikes in Crask. I didn't make the mistake of leaving my meds on the bike this time.

We had a group meal at Lairg. I don't remember much about it except it was a good meal. Today we rode about 70 miles and climbed a mere 3800'.