Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Elusive Howlin' Grits

History repeats itself...

A few years ago I bought an inexpensive fixie to use on the local Saturday morning fitness ride. Part of the appeal of riding fixed is that it is lightweight and simple. But prior to this acquisition, I'd often use my commuter fixie, with its lights and racks and fenders and studded tires. That bike is definitely not lightweight, and those studded tires can be a real drag.  But it is such a joy to ride a stripped down lightweight fixie, so I got the new bike purely for fun spirited group rides, like the Saturday ride.

Of course, next thing I knew I was using it on brevets, and soon I added race-blade fenders and a bar bag, and eventually, lights. Voila I had a fixie-brevet bike! Not so lightweight and stripped down, although easy enough to rectify that! But it's still lighter and more spritely than my commuter, and it's still good for those short spirited group rides, but it's also great for brevet-type distances.

Folks may tell you that you need a special bike for brevets, with mounts for bags and fenders, or even gears. Or that you need to spend a lot of money for a brevet bike...

Yeh, Whatever!

Anyway, a couple of years ago, when I started making frequent trips to visit my dad in North Carolina, I bought another inexpensive fixie to leave at his place, so I could occasionally get out for short rides when I was there. Well, next thing I knew, I was doing longer rides on it and then a few weeks ago, I met up with a group from NC Randonneurs to do a 100km permanent. I realized during that ride that I really missed my handlebar bag where I normally keep my wallet, camera, and route card. My pockets were jammed, and at some point, I managed to loose something important.  Since I have a few extra bar bags at home, I decided to pack a one for my next visit. Then after looking at the forecast, I also packed some race-blades. And just like that that... I had yet another fixie-brevet bike!

Efland - land of the fixies?
When I was planning this most recent trip, I sent off email to the NC Randonneurs list, again looking for fixie company. My dad had an appointment on a Monday morning, so I thought with my track record of seemingly causing flight delays merely by having a plane ticket, that I should fly down several days early and maybe get in some riding in milder weather than we've had in Boston recently. I received a couple of responses from fellow fixie riders and lined up rides for both Saturday and Sunday.

Sadly, Saturday started with cold steady rain, but after carefully studying multiple forecasts, Cyndy and I determined that heading out in the afternoon might not be awful, since the rain was actually due to stop around then. The still wet roads made fenders appealing, so I threw on the race blades. While they aren't as good as proper fenders, they are a lot better than nothing, and they will work on bikes with tight clearances!

When we headed out, in addition to being damp, it was a bit chilly, so I  wore a fair amount of warm clothing. Cyndy and I had a wonderful afternoon ride.  But the thermometer never budged, so we passed on an ice-cream stop - a real rarity for me, and I didn't need any storage space for discarded clothing.

Sunday, however, was a very different story. The day started clear and crisp at 40F. But the high for the day was predicted to be 60F. I was joining Jerry and a few others that he had recruited for his Howlin' Grits 100km permanent.

The start was about 15km from my dad's apartment. Given the prediction of a fine day, I decided add a few miles and to ride over to the start. Since it was still rather chilly at 8AM,  I started out with a jacket and medium gloves and overshoes. Yes, after my feet nearly froze on my previous visit, I wasn't about to go out again without overshoes in February! In addition to the chilly temperature, the roads were still wet. The race-blades, while helpful keeping a muddy stripe off my back, don't actually do much to keep the spray off my feet.  So the overshoes would help keep my feet that bit drier. However, it didn't take long to realize that I was wearing too much clothing. I stopped and stuffed my jacket in my little seatbag and swapped to lighter gloves. I also tried to readjust the front fender so it didn't rub. With lots of care, one can get these faux-fenders to work, but this pair had previously been mounted on another bike, and it took me a while to get the front one set up just right for this fork.

Anyway back to the clothing and storage issue...

As I mentioned, it was very chilly for my first permanent here a few weeks ago and it never really warmed up on that day, so I didn't remove any clothing during that ride. Good thing, since I had nowhere to put anything. This time I at least had my little bar bag, but quickly realized that I had on way too much stuff and I really missed having my larger seatbag with extra storage capacity!

So today's challenge would not actually be about riding a 100km on a fixie. It would really be about how much clothing could I stuff into that little seatbag, the small bar bag and my two rear pockets.

To his credit, Jerry had planned a rather civilized start time of 10AM. This gave me plenty of time to ride over to the start while I worked out the various kinks with fenders and clothing. Shortly after I arrived, several cars pulled in and I saw that we would have quite a bit of company on this very fine February day.  Martin arrived with Jerry. John, Geoff, and Maria pulled in soon after.

The first and toughest hill on the route came immediately on Lystra Road. I had vague memories of this road from riding it many years ago, and folks talked about it in such reverent tones that I knew I should warm up before tackling it, part of my reason for riding to the start. It started innocently enough, but then kicked up quite noticeably. Our group split up phonetically, with Jerry, John and Geoff off the front and Martin and Maria taking it a bit easier. I tried to hang with Team "J".

My back gave me a bit of grief for doing so. I had taken a hard fall on some boiler-plate ice while skate-skiing in very mixed conditions on the previous Monday. I had done several long rides since the fall, so it can't be anything major, but my lower back has been complaining when I walk up stairs and when I do a steep climb on the bike. I dropped off pace a little on the top part of the climb as my back started to make noise. The lads waited on the far side, but the 4 of us decided to continue on a couple of miles and regroup with Team "M" at the Open Eye Cafe. Once there, we all enjoyed delicious coffee and pastries as we sat at a picnic table under the warm sun. Jerry knows how much I love my espresso, and seemingly selected this route specifically for the coffee! How thoughtful!

He also took into account my reputation as a cycling loiterer! The ride name was inspired by the designated lunch stop - yes lunch stop - again very civilized! Back when he first created the route, lunch was at a cafe in Pittsboro that served Howlin' Grits. I can't say I was too disappointed to learn than it would not be a requirement to actually eat Howlin' Grits, but I was sad to see the original cafe had closed. A new restaurant has taken its place, but it isn't open early or on Sundays. So we continued around the courthouse rotary and stopped for lunch at a nice pizza place.

The four of us lingered over 2 pizzas as we were in no rush and no one was worried about setting any speed records. This restaurant was a little off-route, so Jerry sent a text to Maria advising her of our location, but I don't think she saw the text until many hours later.

I thoroughly enjoyed checking out the lawn ornament shop next the the pizza place. I'll have to go back some time with more carry-capacity!

I removed a lot of clothing at lunch. I replaced legwarmers with knee-warmers, and pulled off my arm-warmers and overshoes. I was about to violate my own rule about the maximum weight of my bar bag, when John pointed out his completely empty bag. Given the design of his bike, it actually handles better with a load, so Jerry and I happily contributed some ballast - purely to help him out! Really, so self-sacrificing and considerate of us!

It's rare for me to expose my ears at this time of year!

Jerry was the only other rider on fixed this time. But amazingly his gold-bling bike was barely visible in the shadow of the pink machine Geoff was riding!

John had a brand new bike himself on its maiden voyage. He seemed quite happy with it, especially once his front bag was properly loaded.

All in all it was a glorious day for a ride. Not only did Jerry put together a great route. He ordered up spectacular weather.

Maria and I expressed our appreciation to Jerry for the fine day...

The weather was so spectacular that I decided to make it into a full 100 miles, as I took the long way back to my dad's. John had unloaded my excess clothing from his bag, so I now got to really test the carry capacity of my bags and pockets. Happy to report that I managed to get all my clothing home! My pockets are only a little stretched out!

And now I'm back in Boston and the cold dreary weather, so I won't have to worry about taking off and storing so much clothing for a while!

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