Tips for self-supported, long-distance bike rides

When I first started bike riding as an adult, it was with friends, a few coworkers, and family members on long-distance weekend rallies such as the Collin Classic, and Hotter’n Hell 100. I enjoyed spending the day with friends and family and seeing the countryside of rural Texas. I would studiously watch the Bicycle Stuff calendar and plan the summer of rides. These events were great motivation for me to put in the miles during the week and conquer longer and longer distances.

Wild Ride

After awhile, though, I got tired of paying the fees, putting my bike on a car, driving lots of miles to a start location, and then riding with folks with dubious road handling skills. As I became familiar with CyclingSavvy techniques, my eyes were opened even further to how poor most folks bike handling and traffic skills really are. Since CyclingSavvy gave me the skills to ride comfortably in the city, I started exploring urban Dallas with small groups of friends–rolling straight from my door. Instead of spending money on rally fees and yet another t-shirt, I can buy coffee and snacks wherever I want, and I can make the route as long or as short as I want.

Country Ride

That’s why I’m excited about the Greater Dallas 100 ride. This is a self-supported, self-organized, free ride with only two fixed bits of information: May 18 & Beltline Road. You can pick the direction, length, start time, stop time, break times, etc. The entire loop of Beltline Road is 100 miles, but you can pick any segment you want. But that may be intimidating to some folks who enjoy the mass start and organized break stops of typical summer rallies.

To ease your concerns, here’s some tips for enjoying this ride (and, really, any self-supported ride):

  • Make sure your bike is in good shape.
  • Eat well the night before & have a solid breakfast.
  • Go to the bathroom before you start. :-)
  • Have a complete emergency kit (CO2 cartridge(s), inflator, spare tube(s), multi-tool). Don’t know how to use a CO2 cartridge? Read this great little guide.
  • Bring some cash, a credit card, your insurance card, and your drivers license.
  • Put a couple quarters in your emergency kit and write down a few phone numbers of friends/family who can help in a pinch.
  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged. I do not recommend using your phone for GPS tracking because it’s better to have an available charge to look at maps or call for help.
  • Bring your cell phone. I usually pack mine in a little zip lock bag along with my wallet in a back pocket.
  • Pack a few of your favorite energy boosters like gel packs, honey, etc.
    • If you’re feeling adventurous, my buddy Clifford recommended “Feed Zone Portables” to me and I’ve found the recipes to be pretty amazing.
  • Make sure to drink water while riding and know when you need to refill. Don’t let your bottles or Camelbak go dry. I did that once and got stuck too far away from any gas station!
  • Use gas stations and coffee shops as your break stops. There’s LOTS of them and you can buy some water or energy drinks and use the rest room. I’ve put together a map for Greater Dallas 100 with some popular chains along the route.
  • Spend a little time looking at the route on Google Maps. Print out a cue sheet if you need a reference. (I usually print two.. one for taping on to my handle bars, and one to stuff into my saddle bag.)
  • If it’s deep into the heat of summer, get out early and know how long it will take to get home. Might also want some sunblock.
  • Remember that the Dallas light rail system can be a handy way to get back closer to home.

If you’ve never done a self-supported ride like this before, get out and try it with a few friends! Just pick a destination like a coffee shop or brewery and roll. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have to call a friend for support. A few weeks ago I had to call Daniel because I forgot an inflator for my CO2 cartridge. Whoops.

If you don’t have anyone to ride with on the Greater Dallas 100, Mike Keel is organizing a group to leave the Richardson Square Mall at 7am. This is a great way to get to meet folks and enjoy this unique event together. Details for that roll-out are posted here.

Greater Dallas 100

As I mentioned above, I’ve put together a map of the route with all the DART train stations, bike shops, Starbucks, QTs, 7-11s, and Racetracs marked. I’m happy to add any other items to this map if anyone has suggestions. Check the map out here.

Besides logistics questions, you may be concerned about riding on some sections of Beltline Road. This is where skills from CyclingSavvy are especially useful. Since Beltline is a multi-lane road with some higher speed sections, you want to be sure to always ride in a way that makes you most visible to motorists, and to help them make good passing decisions. There’s tons of great information about that in this post on Commute Orlando: Helping Motorists with Lane Positioning. Essentially: ride like you would a motorcycle.

Change Lanes to Pass

 

Do you have any tips for riding self-supported? Will you be riding the Greater Dallas 100?

Clichéd In

How often do we short-circuit our own intellectual integrity by using clichés? I'm sure that most of us would say “never”! But, I'm starting to think that it is a lot more often than we'd like to admit. We don't really have a cultural basis for rejecting clichés. Yet, we allow regurgitated clichés to end discussions in a second. I've often observed this in cycling discussions, as there seems to be an abundance of clever and wholesome sounding clichés in bicycling advocacy. I had no idea this had a name until John Allen pointed out a fascinating Wikipedia article on the subject: Thought Terminating Cliche:

This refers to a cliché that is a commonly used phrase, or folk wisdom, sometimes used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the clichéd phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian and plotter of a failed Hitler assassination, grew up in a home where clichés were strictly forbidden. His father, Karl, was firm about that:

Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride.

Dietrich's sister, Sabine, recalls:

[Karl Bonhoeffer's] dislike of clichés did at times make some of us inarticulate and uncertain of ourselves. But it has the effect that as adults we no longer had any taste for catchwords, gossip, commonplaces or loquacity. He, himself, would never have used a catchword or a “trendy” phrase.

This childhood rejection of clichés served Dietrich well in university:

Bonhoeffer was a remarkably independent thinker, especially for one so young. Some professors regarded him as arrogant, especially because he refused to come too directly under the influence of any one of them, always preferring to maintain some distance. But someone who grew up dining with Karl Bonhoeffer, and who was allowed to speak only when he could justify every syllable, had probably developed a certain intellectual confidence and may be somewhat excused if he was not intimidated by other great minds.

(Quotes from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.)

Clearly Bonhoeffer's father's disapproval of using clichés contributed to fiercely independent thinkers.

Having not grown up in a society that rejects clichés, nor a household that identified and abolished them, how can I avoid the groupspeak in my own thought and discussions?

 

Never Trapped

2013-01-19 17.16.25

I use the words “freedom” and “empowerment” frequently to describe the profound impact that CyclingSavvy has had on my life.

But I don’t think most folks believe that I really mean it. One reason, among several, is that bicycling is not seen as a real transportation option. Using a bicycle in Dallas is, for most people, including myself, a recreational activity. If my bicycle was taken away today, I would be sad but my livelihood would not be taken away from me; I can still do my job, go to church, visit my friends, and enjoy life (quite a bit less fun, though!).

Some of you know and have followed Eli Damon’s story over the past few years. Even though we have only met in person twice, I am proud to call him a friend and cycling educator colleague. Last September I wrote about his police harassment and legal issues on the I Am Traffic site (Reality Check: The Hadley Harrassment Case).

Since I wrote that article, Eli has won a landmark case against the Hadley Police Department and is finally able to share his own story. I highly recommend reading his post on I Am Traffic: “Overcoming Ignorance and Fear“. If you’re more in the mood for listening, Eli also shared an overview on Diane Lees’ “Outspoken Cyclist” podcast, show #178.

I take for granted the ability and freedom to move around my city. Rarely do I feel trapped or unable to go where I want, whenever I want. Eli, however, had been trapped for the majority of his life…until he found true freedom and empowerment through driving his bicycle.

I continued to exploit my newfound freedom and expand my sense of possibility, cycling on a wide variety of roads under a wide variety of conditions, even making a couple of three-day, two-hundred-mile journeys. I made these trips because there were opportunities at the end that I wanted to take. I could never have made those trips or taken those opportunities before my transformation. It would have been overwhelmingly difficult, stressful, and scary.

The “transformation” that he refers to is his understanding and practice of the techniques that CyclingSavvy teaches.

2011-10-23 13.02.46

One of the reasons that Eli’s story excites me is that, for Eli, bicycling isn’t a fad or a lifestyle. It is now critical to his livelihood. And society didn’t just hand it to him. He had to work at it, practice at it, and persevere through overwhelming circumstances.

How many more people like Eli are out there that can find such personal freedom through cycling?

A Big Easy Birthday

Jackson Square

Way back in early January, I organized a quick trip to New Orleans for my birthday. I’d been wanting to re-visit NOLA for awhile and experience some more of the food, music, and atmosphere of the French Quarter. After a quick wedding trip a few years ago, I’ve had it on my travel wish list to go back. My birthday was a great excuse, and I managed to round up Curtis, my brother, and Tyler, a good friend, to come along with–even though it was right after the holidays. That’s the problem with an early January birthday… everyone is usually travel and spent out to be interested in doing something out of the ordinary.

The weekend went off great. We found some amazing food, cigars, coffee, beer, and music… exactly as I’d hoped. All within the French Quarter and no car required. As a bonus, the weather was brilliant. I left loving New Orleans even more than I had before, and can’t wait to go back to explore more.

Oh, and I also got myself a snazzy new hat.

2014-01-05 14.35.12

Foggy Dusk

A few nights ago, an interesting fog rolled over East Dallas just after the sun set. I rushed over to White Rock Lake with my camera to capture a few shots of the skyline as the fog moved in. Click each photo to see it larger.

WordPress Essentials

Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of malware on WordPress sites that either I manage or my friends manage. Here’s a little collection of plugins and sites that I use to mitigate the risk, protect against common hacks, and track down the issues:

  • WordPress Backup to Dropbox – This is a simple plugin that keeps a live backup of your WordPress site to Dropbox. I check on the backups occasionally and am always pleased that the files and database exports are current. There might be better ones out there with more options, but I’ve been happy with this one (and donated some cash to the author too).
  • BulletProof Security – I’ve been using this on all my sites to protect against common threats. However, it’s kind of nerdy and doesn’t have a smooth administrative side. You really have to read all of the directions on this thing. Also, one of my sites running this did get some malware through another plugin that I hadn’t kept updated, so that is a good reminder to keep things current!
  • Sucuri Security Malware Scanner – Great tool to check the integrity of WordPress files and help narrow down security issues. Their website is also excellent for doing a scan of your site.
  • Google Webmaster Tools - Really great at helping track down issues, especially if you’ve been blacklisted.
  • The most important thing to do, though, is keep your site completely updated. I use WPRemote to monitor all the plugins and WordPress versions on all of my sites. I admit, though, I was lazy and didn’t keep a few of my sites updated which is why one of them got hacked. Been thinking today about maybe upgrading to get the automatic updating service. They also have a backup service that could replace using that WordPress to Dropbox plugin.

Do you have any plugins or sites that you deem essential for using with WordPress? Would love to hear about them in the comments!

Update 25 Feb 2015: 

  • Wordfence. Fantastic plugin to scan ALL files, including plugins. I would scratch out Sucuri and go with this instead. Also gives you alerts to bad user passwords and blocks multiple suspicious login attempts. This tool saved my butt on several sites. Love!

Dropcam for the win

Following the theft of my bicycle in broad daylight from my attached garage… I’ve been looking at security cameras again.

Dropcam Mounted

A few years ago, I had searched high and low for a simple WiFi security camera to watch my driveway. I ended up trying a cheap model found on eBay that looked a bit shady. Everything I looked at was hundreds of dollars, but this one was only $100. Worth a try, I figured.

Driveway Cam

After a few tweaks to the settings, that camera turned out to perform well. Unfortunately, what I didn’t think about was the software side. For awhile I used SecuritySpy on my Mac Mini, but then my Mini died and left my camera sending signals to no one. Now it seems there’s a few web-based monitoring packages, so, after the theft, I decided to give CamCloud and Sensr.net a try. Sensr.net’s app and website is far superior to CamCloud, however, it is twice the price. I am still not sure if I can stomach $100/year for Sensr.net. I’d prefer a buy-once plan.

Driveway Watching

Another new development since I initially got my outdoor security camera is Dropcam. This camera is really impressive. It has HD video, two-way-audio, WiFi, and, best of all… a fantastic website and apps (iOS and Android). The only downside? It’s not weather-proof.

Since I can’t easily tell when my garage is open, I decided inside the garage would be a great place to try the Dropcam. I ordered it right before my vacation, so it was waiting for me when I got home. I popped open the little box, and followed the simple directions:

  1. Connect USB cable to camera and computer.
  2. Run application from camera’s disk.
  3. Create a Dropcam account.
  4. Type in a name for the camera and the WiFi info.
  5. Unplug the camera.
  6. Mount it somewhere and plug it in.

Done! Live footage streaming to my phone or website. The simple timeline shows when events are and lets you scroll around and replay. My phone gets push notifications when motion is detected, and lets me go to live view. The novel feature is that I can actually talk back to the garage via my phone!

Messy Garage

I’m really, really impressed with the Dropcam. Live monitoring, motion detection, and alerts are always free. I am currently using the 2 week free trial of the “Cloud Video Recording”, but that is $100/year and I’m not certain if that’s valuable enough for me. I’m really impressed with the tight integration of the camera with the app and website. By far the best combo I’ve seen. Hopefully they’ll do a weather-proof version at some point and I can replace my no-name driveway camera and consolidate to one software system.

For now, I’m wondering where else I could put another Dropcam… I have noticed a few Oreos missing from my stash…

 

 

Avoiding Mindlessness

For awhile now I have struggled to find a balance between the usefulness and wastefulness of social media. Like many aspects of life, I’ve found that the best “spot” on the spectrum must be constantly evaluated and adjusted. Unfortunately, as many of us have come to realize, social media, in particular, Facebook, has an addictive side that pulls hard toward the wastefulness side of the spectrum. Mindlessness is easy to fall into; mindfulness is difficult to maintain.

The usefulness side of social media is indeed valuable. I’m very grateful for the real-life connections and opportunities I’ve had from the internet over the past 14 years or so. There’s no doubt that my life has been more interesting and better by the online connections I’ve made through various forums, chat rooms, and now social media.

New Singapore Friends

New friends met in Singapore over beer and Internet.

One of the books I finished this week was Enough by Patrick Rhone. One chapter in particular struck a chord for me. In the chapter “On Sabbatical”, Patrick mentions some of the benefits he has seen in taking periodic sabbaticals:

I can tell you from my personal experience that I always seem to return with clearer intentions, with better ways to approach technology, and a renewed charge to value the world around me. I use that solitary time to find a deeper understanding of myself and what really is important to me. I also find that there are some things I miss in my time away. With that knowledge, I can now make sure to apply my time and attention wisely.

DSC00368-2

Last week I had the opportunity to unplug and relax on the beach with friends and family. I checked in on Facebook and Instagram occasionally, but kept the phone off or in the condo most of the time. When I checked in, I didn’t seen much that I really missed. When I return to every day life this week, I’ll be faced with the challenge to push more towards the usefulness side of social media. A lot of hard work is required for the things that I am passionate about; when I distract myself from that hard work by wasting time on social media, I let valuable hours slip away and those dreams slip further away from reality.

In the past, I’ve tried time-based limits to reduce wastefulness and increase usefulness. Yet that hasn’t seemed to work well. At various times I’ve removed easy access from my phone, but that doesn’t last long either. I haven’t seen any simple answers, but that’s probably because it’s a hard problem. I’ve watched friends “solve” the problem by simply deleting or ignoring their accounts. I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer for me at this time; there’s still a lot of real-world value for me participating in social media.

Social Biking

Friends in Florida I would have never met without blogs.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Every now and then I find myself wrapped up in a story that is rich and beautiful. A story that captures my spare thoughts and pulls me back until it’s over. When the end comes, usually too quickly, I replay the characters and wonder about the works they live in. I relish the last page and hope the next story is like this one. A beautiful escape into my own imagination.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Last week I found myself unexpectedly engrossed in “The Ocean at the End of the Lane“, a novel by Neil Gaiman. Every paragraph is exquisite and each character crisp and alive. My imagination spun up a little farm in rural England and put me into this young boy’s strange events. The young boy in the story is a book lover and devours every book he can get his hands on. His quiet farm life suddenly starts getting… strange… and he discovers there’s more to the real world than he thought.

Every moment of this story is beautiful and perfect. I devoured it in a couple of days and wished there was more.

On The Road

Folks who don’t travel often for work have the mistaken idea that being on the road is glamorous and interesting. While there definitely are some interesting moments, most of the time on the road is full of decidedly un-glamorous hours, days, and weeks.

EVAC

EVAC

Travel for vacation is simply not even close to the same thing. Travel for vacation is about choices… the people you’re with, the places you’ll visit, the food you’ll eat, and the activities you’ll do. Travel for work, on the other hand, is about none of those things. At best, when traveling for work you can choose a decent place to eat and which hotel chain to stay.

Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

Still, I try my best to take advantage of work travel as much as possible. For the first few years of my career, I worked on projects in Seattle, Lake Tahoe, and Amsterdam. Recently I’ve been able to visit Singapore. If I can manage to put some bumper days around the trip, I’ll venture off and explore a local site, find the best coffee shop in town, or go for a bike ride.

In between those amazing opportunities, though, are day after day in tiny towns in the middle of Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio, Connecticut, Texas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Illinois. Fly, drive, work, eat, sleep. Visit the same chain restaurant for a week in a row; desperately wishing for a simple bowl of cheerios.

Hunting for Work

Hunting for Work

What I have the hardest time with, though, is disconnection. When I’m gone from home, life continues for my friends and family. Parties are had, new friends are made, and new jokes are going around. But for me, it’s like time has stopped for a few weeks. I’ve learned to be extra out going when I return… invite myself to things, create events, and call up lots of folks. But still, there’s a tinge of feeling that everyone has gone on without me.

This all sounds like I’m complaining. I’m not. I just don’t want people to think that work travel is glamorous and cool. I post a few pictures on Facebook or Instagram of unique things I see, but most of my time is spent in a server room in the middle of a factory with my hair net on. Definitely not Instagram-able.

Where'd I park my car?

Where’d I park my car?

The interesting parts are far outweighed by the bland hotel, the lame continental breakfast, and the hours in the airport waiting for the connection.

Most of all, though, I really miss all the time I could have spent with friends and family.

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