Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year in review

I'm not going to review the highs and lows of the year that was. I certainly didn't foresee sitting where I am tonight as I unceremoniously ushered in the new year at the Naples, Fla., condo I was staying at while attending my cousin's wedding.

But I have wanted to look back at the bicycling year that was. Tonight I will.

It's hard to guess how many miles I biked in 1997 or 1998, the first years I began pushing myself to do distance riding. I bicycled the MS TRAM both summers. That ride is 300 miles over five days. And in 1998 I also bicycled the MS 150. Did I bike more than 2,000 miles those years? I have no idea, but based upon my experiences of the past few years, I doubt I ever made it to 2,000.

It wasn't until 2004 that it made sense to log my annual mileage. I don't know why it took me that long to do so, but that's the first year I did. I pushed myself in 2005 to better my 2004 performance, and I raised the bar again in 2006. It was in 2006 that I first reached 2,000 miles in a season. I finished with 2,120.

2007 was a letdown of sorts. Maybe I wasn't as committed to bicycling, but there were factors that definitely curtailed my bicycling at the end of the season. I finished with about 1,600 miles. I'm too lazy to go look up the final tally right now.

Given last year's letdown, there was a renewed sense of urgency to reach the 2,000-mile mark this season. Thankfully I made it, even if it took until Halloween to get there. I finished with 2,053 miles.

Most years I get started in April. It's not a substantial month of bicycling, but it's a good month for working out the rust. That didn't happen this year, however, as I was living with my mother in April. That pesky fire that drove me from my apartment in January resulted in nearly four months of temporary housing with mom. I didn't move into my new apartment until May 5, which meant I didn't have access to my bicycling clothes or gear until then.

Even though I moved in on May 5, it took time to get my act together. My first ride of the year: May 18. That 13-mile day is probably the latest I have begun a bicycling season . That date was less than a week before my annual spring camping trip over Memorial Day weekend. I was home by Memorial Day, but very tired from the weekend, and ultimately too lazy to bicycle that day...something that would not be forgotten by me for the remainder of the season.

some years I bike 100 miles or more in April. By the conclusion of Memorial Day weekend this year I had biked all of 52 miles. It certainly didn't look like I'd make it to 2,000 miles in 2008.

I began to pick up the pace after Memorial Day and finished May with 127 miles. That's not the least bit impressive, some years I bike 300 miles in May.

I quickly worked my way up to 40-mile rides, however, which helped me catch up for lost time. Ironically my June total doesn't include 150 miles of bicycling during the MS 150. For the first time in five years I skipped it, despite being registered. I wasn't as well prepared for it as I have been in years past, there was a slight chance of it being a rainy weekend and my friend Margaret, whom I have biked the MS 150 with during the past four years, was behind on her training, too, and didn't think she was prepared for the challenge this year. Put those factors together and it wasn't too hard to take the easy way out.

Despite that I pushed myself just about every weekend in June, thanks to the fact my life is relatively empty and meaningless. The high cost of gas this past summer helped encourage me to limit my travels. Instead of driving all over town I dedicated a few hours to bicycling each weekend. No, I'm not trying to kid myself. I wasn't exactly turning down social invitations left and right, but I didn't look for things to do, either. Like I said, my life is rather empty and meaningless these days.

During the end of June, however, I did something unusual by my standards. I took a week off from work. I usually take my time off in small increments, but with the Fourth of July being on a Friday, I used four vacation days and took the entire week off. I went up north and stayed at my friends' cabin that week, the site of my legendary 112-mile bike trips.

As noted previously, I wasn't prepared on Monday, June 30, to make the round trip to Fergus Falls, but I managed to do so in less-than-impressive fashion, finishing the trip after sunset, but finishing it nonetheless. With that last day ride I tallied 663 miles in June....probably a June record.

I did another 142 miles of riding during the rest of my stay that week. I had hoped to do even more than that, but getting out four times over six days wasn't too bad. I logged 250+ miles during my week up north, and that's better than most weeks of the summer.

Despite the 142+ miles of riding that first week of July, I managed just 410 miles that month. That put my seasonal total at 1,200 miles...which isn't bad, but I am underwhelmed by my July performance, and am at a bit of a loss to explain why I didn't do more.

With the sun setting earlier each night in August I hoped for a big month to get me on the doorstep of 2,000 miles. That push included the third annual Tour de Tonka on Aug. 2. The tour is an organized ride with three routes, the longest being 65 miles or so. Margaret and I planned to bike the 65-mile route, and that's what we started out to do that morning. And it was a beautiful day for bicycling.

Unfortunately for me, the gear-shift cable to my rear derailer snapped about three miles before the 30-mile rest stop. I was able to bike my way to the rest stop, but I couldn't shift gears, and I was stuck in the high gear. I had hoped I could get my bike repaired at the rest stop, but that didn't happen. It was the end of the day for me, less than half way to 65 miles.

I took my bike to my bike shop that afternoon and didn't get it back for several days. It was a serious setback to my bicycling aspirations.

When I did get my bike back, not all was kosher. I got a tune-up and new parts for the bike, but I had problems with my shifting, problems I hadn't had up until that point. I took the bike back and it was recommended I get a new chain. I did, and that didn't help. I continued to have problems shifting, problems that make a routine 25-mile bike ride less than enjoyable. I took the bike back to the shop yet again in hopes of solving the problem. While my situation improved, I managed to drop my chain periodically, much to my frustration. It became troublesome to bike uphill, and shifting while biking uphill was a recipe for disaster. I was not happy.

There was a point I was ready to give up on my bike. The costs of maintenance, and the inability to obtain a smooth ride, were starting to try my patience. I could have easily justified throwing in the towel on my dream of a 2,000-mile season, but I sallied forth.

I even managed a couple of back-to-back 40+ mile days in August, somehow. By the time the Minnesota State Fair rolled around, I was up to 215 miles.

For the second consecutive year I worked during the state fair. Given the hours I work, and the fact I'm on my feet all day, I had no energy to bike before working at noon during 10 of 12 days at the fair. This year, however, I did bike a few miles during the two days I didn't work at the fair. My total mileage for August: an unimpressive 245. My season-to-date total: 1,445.

Summer unofficially ends on Labor Day and I was more than 500 miles away from 2,000. By Labor Day the sun is setting before 8 p.m., and daylight is fading fast with each passing week. Despite that I managed to find time to push myself on evenings and weekends following Labor Day. I managed 48 miles on the first Saturday following Labor Day, and 30 miles one night the following week. It was downright hot on Labor Day, yet the day after the temperature dropped noticeably. Most Septembers feature a few days that are painful reminders of the dog days of summer. But that wasn't the case this year, it was as if the 70-degree valve was shut off after Labor Day.

And to complicate things, I got a cold Labor Day weekend. While I wasn't on my death bed, a cold provides no incentive whatsoever to pedal your ass off on a 62-degree evening. Nonetheless I pushed myself through September and finished with 315 miles. It's unusual for me to bike more in September than in August, but I'm a strange bird.

Honestly, my monthly totals for August and September would have been comparable had I not biked the Headwaters 100 on the final Saturday of September in northern Minnesota. Margaret and I had been planning to bike the event for months, and we had outstanding weather that day, making the mission far more pleasant to accomplish.

But the bottom line, I was 240 miles away from my goal on Oct. 1.

October has become a challenging month for me in the past few years. Besides the early-evening darkness and the dropping temperatures, I now work weekends in October at a local Halloween attraction. I love it, but the late nights and long hours on Friday and Saturdays makes it a challenge to motivate myself to bicycle on the weekend. Long before those weekends rolled around I was determined I would push myself to bike during the weekends in October, regardless of where my bicycling total was at. The fact I needed 240 miles to reach my goal provided extra incentive.

Even with dedication to my goal, those 240 miles didn't come easy. I didn't plan to take time off from the newspaper at the end of October, but when above-average temps were forecast at the end of the month, I seized the opportunity to burn off some of my vacation days to finish the mission. I biked 49 miles on Oct. 30 and biked my standard 24-mile route on Halloween to break the 2,000-mile threshold. I managed a decent 254-mile month in October.

November can provide several bonus days, and it can be a cruel reminder I live in Minnesota. I took a couple of days off before capitalizing on a stunning 74-degree day on Nov. 3. By my calculations, the last day of the bicycling season was Nov. 5. From that point forward it was too cold for me. I would have loved a bonus day or two in mid-November, but it was not to be.

Despite the obstacles, I persevered, and biked 2,000+ miles for the second time in three years. As always I can find a lot of fault with my efforts, but at the end of the year, I'm satisfied with the result.

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