The time has come. My beloved entry-level Shimano WR-41 shoes are on their last legs.

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I learned how to ride with clipless pedals on these, I’ve soaked them to the core from Palm Desert to Long Island, from Seward to Mobile. They even survived an overnight dunking in a gallon of white vinegar, followed by a box of baking soda apiece. (Thanks to friends of new GCI Relay friends for that mold-removing solution!)

But my pretty girly bike and my sexy beast road bike apparently hooked up when I wasn’t looking, and the new bike I was promised for my 50th birthday arrived just in time for Easter:

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Pretty! Girly! Sexy! Beast!

I need new bike shoes, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’d like them to color-coordinate with the new bike:

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Yes, I deliberately wore a skirt that matched the bike when I went into the shop to pick it up.

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Clearly, I can handle the color-coordination part. Here’s where I need your guidance: my feet are challenging.

1. My feet are fat. Wide. Big balls.
2. My arches are high. Like, Harold and Kumar high. Like, you can putt a golf ball in there.
3. Corollary to #2: my insteps are high. They seriously limit my boot and sandal options.

I’m a US 7.5-8, which puts me between Euro 38 and 39. I tried on the Giros (see above) in a 38 and that was a Cinderella stepsister experience, but it was my insteps that killed those for me.

I haven’t had any fit issues with the Shimanos. Stick with them? What else should I try? Please comment below:

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the bike choir I’m preaching to. You know that riding a bicycle, whether it’s for your commute or your errands, is reducing your carbon footprint. You’re not only taking a car out of traffic, you’re creating space for the motorists and speeding their journey home. You’re improving the situation in the Whole Foods parking lot. You’re setting a good example for others, especially if you’re an “indicator species” like I am. You might even be riding your bike for a larger cause, such as…

The National Bike Challenge https://nationalbikechallenge.org/ (A good way to continue your 30 Days of Biking momentum)

Climate Ride http://www.climateride.org/ (more environmental beneficiaries than I could even begin to name)

Cycle Greater Yellowstone http://cyclegreateryellowstone.com/

In this past year, I’ve tried to ride my bike in all 50 states, and I’m at 34 and counting. I’ve visited the first state and the fiftieth, ridden in Hawaii and Maine and Alaska and all the states bordering Florida.

Today, on Earth Day, with the 30 Days of Biking community of joyful cyclists, I’d like to reflect a little on all the beautiful places my bike has taken me this year and they joy they’ve brought me:

From California…
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…to the New York Highway
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From the Redwood Forest…
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(Also some other trees)
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(From Arizona to Hawaii, the rain clouds follow me)

..to the Gulf Coast waters
GCI team finish

I rode this ribbon of highway…
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I saw above me many endless skyways…
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I saw below me many valleys, golden and otherwise…
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Okay, start singing along with Woody.

Here’s a link to the lyrics:

http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/This_Land.htm

Feel free to insert “riding” for “walking”

The last few stanzas are pretty political. I don’t remember learning them, even in the late ’60s at my pretty progressive “school for gifted children”. Sing them, too.

This land is ours. This planet is ours. Let’s ride it joyfully and remember why we fight to save it.

Having motive and opportunity, I decided to ride the Pretty Girly Bike to meet with a student this afternoon.

I wish the motorists on Fountain didn’t get so angry when cyclists interfere with driving 50 in a 35 zone. It would be nice if the “sharrows” the City of West Hollywood painted and the “Share the Road” signs didn’t seem to prompt motorists to yell, “get off the road” at cyclists or drive perilously close when passing. I wonder if they feel like jerks when I catch up to them at the lights – because it doesn’t matter how fast they go, the lights are timed. They probably just hate me more.

On the way home, I decided to stick to Santa Monica Boulevard as far as possible, even though that meant abandoning the bike lane for the sidewalk around City Hall. Biking through WeHo on a Sunday afternoon – the overlap between late brunch and cocktail hour – is always hazardous. Add that it’s 4/20 and a lot of self-medicating is going on. Every storefront had an interesting aroma emanating. Now add in dog-walking, people using the bike lane as the loading/unloading zone, and a few really angry homeless people…

If the pretty girly bike were faster, I might have braved the street and taken the lane, but angry impaired motorists have the potential to do more damage than a skateboard or scooter or grocery cart.

A pretty nerve-wracking day out there. I was happy to be out there on the bike, but I am grateful to have made it home safely.

I’ve been really slow lately. Stuck with the slower group on Ride2Recovery, couldn’t hang with the fast kids (who actually have bad weather keeping them from training) at the Wine Country 100, was so slow on the GCI Relay that we DNF‘d and I have to go back to Florida, and you can see from the last two posts that I rolled in almost DFL on my last two rides in Kentucky and Tennessee.

So, when my GCI teammate and coach Kate of Happy Hour Body suggested I go out for the Helen’s Cycles Women-only group ride, I rsvp’d. (If you don’t want to follow the link, the only relevant detail is that I needed to be comfortable riding 18-20 mph, which hasn’t been the case for the past few weeks) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Won’t be the first time I’ve been dropped.

Saturday morning, I wake up at 5:30, so I can eat and caffeinate properly. I find parking a couple miles away so I can warm up on my way to the start.

I haven’t been on MY road bike in a month and it is a happy reunion. I cruise slowly down San Vicente, compared to my usual breakneck pace. I marvel at how right this bike feels, and think happy thoughts about the virtue of a good bike fit.

When I get to the start, the Helen’s crew is setting up. Women start arriving: older, younger, all shapes and sizes. Men stop by, intentionally and unintentionally snarky, unless they want to borrow the stand pump. Everyone else has a newish road or time trial bike. My vintage bike is an anomaly. The size of my gearing gets me, “You do know we’re going up Latigo, right?”

Right. And I’ve sucked on hills as of late, and haven’t climbed Nichols in months. The specifics of Latigo are unknown to me. I’m not even sure how far north it is. I just know it’s steep, and this is not going to be pretty.

We roll out a little after 8. I’m happy to be headed up PCH in such a large group, two abreast. I’m too focused on the wheel ahead of me to notice speed, but I’m keeping up without suffering. For now.

We make it to the Malibu Country Mart and take a rest stop. It’s determined that some will hang on as long as they can, then turn around. Not long after, we get to the bottom of Latigo, and I take a head start with two other riders while the team members leading the ride wait for the stragglers.

Up, up, at some point I’m told it’s eight miles to the top and note the mileage numbers on my Garmin. I’m not fast, but it’s not the worst day ever. The views are spectacular and the breezes helpful. The women I start with peel off. Others overtake me. The “sweeper” from the team catches up to me and insists on staying with me. Apparently, I’m not last; there’s a group behind.

“When we get to the winery, we’re almost there,” she tells me.

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We get to the winery.

Top of the world, ma!

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Eventually, it’s determined that no one else is coming up, and the other riders will be swept up on the descent.

I stop for photos when one of the riders loses her front brake.
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Some stay behind for repairs. As a slow rider, a timid descender, and no help at all with mechanicals, I take the head start.

When I finally hit the bottom, it’s a long wait for traffic to clear on PCH. The riders ahead of me are long gone. I get my chance and start heading south, wondering if I’ll be alone all the way in. Traffic is heavier as midday approaches. I pass (and am passed by) other groups of riders.

It’s a gorgeous day, and sights and sounds and smells of the Pacific are wonderful. It’s so easy to lock yourself away in your climate-controlled car and miss all of this.

A little after the less-than-fragrant Malibu Lagoon (the bad comes with the good), the riders who had stayed behind with the brake malfunction catch up to me. We ride back in a paceline, the racers up front, the non-racers hanging on for dear life.

After we cross PCH, we have one last big climb to Ocean Avenue, and I still have the legs for it. We all regroup at the start, then go our separate ways.

The ride leaders were wonderful and generous. Looking at my Strava stats, (the Latigo descents are sad – I’m DFL on “down Latigo fast”), it’s not a day to boast about, but I left feeling exhilarated and eager for my next adventure with these women!

Once again, the alarm didn’t quire go off on time, so I was scrambling at the start. The hotel buffet breakfasts have been diminishing since Texas and Arkansas, so all I could grab on my way to the ride was a banana. There were donuts and scones at the start, but no coffee. No coffee.

Still, 400+ riders did show up for a good cause!

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Once again, I was off to a good start until I tried to go into the big ring and dropped the chain. By an hour in, I was bonking hard. Time for the Bonk Breaker! It helped, as did some air in my tires at the first rest stop.

(ps ride organizers, 1st rest stop at Mile 24?)

Realizing that I wasn’t going to get to my goal of a 4-hour metric, I decided to get the picture of the beautiful purple trees I’d been seeing for days. They were these lone bursts of color, usually against a barren backdrop, like this:

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Nashville! Live music in the airport terminal!

After the rental car, off to Trace Bikes for a pretty girly Trek Lexa and some bike-related jewelry that supports their junior racing team:

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When I arrived at the hotel, I knew I was among my people:

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But I still loaded my bike into the room.

I saw a stray kitty in the parking lot. The desk attendant assured me they fed her.

It seemed crazy late when I wandered over to the Mexican restaurant next door, but my ride wasn’t early, so…

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The warmup ride was about a half hour south at Union College in Barbourville. It’s election season here, for everything from judge to jailer.

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I arrived right when registration opened at 10 – for a noon start – so I wandered around the festival of Appalachian culture.

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I also saw a quilting exhibit from a preacher’s personal collection. As far as I could tell, his parishioners would give him biblical-themed quilts (and many of those themes seemed a serious stretch). There was a video playing of him discussing the quilts… it all had a weird performance-art feeling to it.

A little after noon, the ride started, and it felt good – until I dropped my chain shifting up into the big ring and lost the group I was riding with. And that’s how the day went. Lots of rollers, lots of wind, and a constant feeling of being behind, even though I wasn’t DFL. I kept seeing these amazing purple trees, but didn’t want to stop to take any pictures, because I knew I still had to drive hours back to Tennessee that night. By the time I got back to the start, the t-shirts and food were packed up and gone.

But Kentucky was done!
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On my drive back, starving and in need of protein, I saw a sign… and took a detour:
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In which the best laid plans…

Bicycle and teammate Kate of Happy Hour Body in the French Quarter:

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In retrospect, I should’ve asked for gatorskins on both wheels…

We had the good fortune to have a friend with roots on both sides of the relay and willingness to fly in to be our getaway driver. Melissa is from New Orleans, has family in Pensacola, and worked as an assistant director. In other words, fun and organized. Exactly what you need when you’re jet-lagged or bike-brained, or just in need of a good time.

Old-school carboloading at Morning Call:

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Warm up ride (to cover the Louisiana miles the course wouldn’t in advance) on Lake Pontchartrain:

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Which was 8 miles of twilight gnattiness out and 8 miles of headwind back. It occurred to me that there shouldn’t be headwinds in that direction…

The next morning, our crew arrived at the East New Orleans Comfort Inn, and no sooner was I set up on the bike but I was off!

GCI start

The first leg was a loop. My legs felt good, the course had blinky lights at the turns, and then I made the second turn, and…

Headwinds (please hear Jerry Seinfeld saying, “Newman” here).

Headwinds and the realization that this was the direction we’d be heading all day.

Still, I found a good group to ride with – three solo riders who were pushing the pace a little, but good to hang with in the dark.

Past refineries, past pho restaurants, through deserted industrial regions and out into the middle of nowhere. A rest stop at a dive bar that opened its doors for us to use the bathrooms well before dawn.

And then at 30 miles, Amy, one if the soloists, flatted, and our entire group (eight or so) stopped to help. Ricky, the guy who was with the two soloing women, changed it and urged us to check our own. Sure enough, my front tire (I had been on Amy’s now-flat back wheel) was flat, too. Ricky had it changed and we were rolling in no time at all!

Me and my hero at the Mississippi State line:

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Louisiana, DONE!

Shortly thereafter, I handed off to Kate, who had no problem keeping up with Amy and Ricky’s friend Jocelyn’s blistering pace. (Her middle name on Facebook is “Quadzilla” and they were using this as a training ride for the Texas Ironman.) The plan was to trade off every 16-18 miles throughout the day, get to near the Florida border before dark, and let me ride in the last 41 miles (and pick up 20 some miles in Florida on a recovery ride Sunday morning).

The plan went well in Mississippi. Ricky would drop back from the lead girls to help me with the headwinds. At each stop, we’d adjust the seat, swap shoes, send off the other rider, and stretch, eat, drive up to the next turn.

Melissa did an amazing job of staying on top of directions, snapping shots for the scavenger hunt, and generally boosting morale. She gets her own post about the adventure, because getaway drivers deserve their due.

She also gets credit for these photos of me at the Mississippi-Alabama border, 80 miles in to my mileage, but almost the halfway point of the ride:

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Mississippi, DONE!

We rode up to exchange #18 – the halfway point of the ride and a major exchange, with food and a drugstore to visit. As Melissa was down at the tent (and I was inside), she saw a wall of rain appear in the distance, and engulf everyone. Kate took the worst of it, her quads pelted at first by rain, then by hail.

The weather had begun.

My first leg in Alabama might have been my best – it certainly felt my best, although the Strava data suggests otherwise.

The only place a marker board was stolen was in front of FBI headquarters in Mobile – where I ran a red light (I had stopped, no one was coming) with impunity:

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I handed off to Kate at the USS Alabama, and we lingered for some photos:

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On my last leg, I needed to stop for food at one of the turns before I handed off again. Poor Kate headed out into what was now a rainstorm. Amy and Jocelyn decided to stop for good, but Ricky persisted on. Night was falling quickly, and we were diligent about stopping the car at every turn to make sure we stayed on course.

As we passed Kate, she asked us to get a picture of her in the rain gear. This was the best I could do:

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We got to the next turn, we saw her get through the turn, and we zoomed up to the next turn, a few miles away, to wait. I ate. We waited. We waited some more. We thought we saw the headlight on the bike. Some motorists stopped to see if we needed help. (We had the hazards on.)

At 8:15, we decided to go back and see if Kate needed help. We hadn’t seen Ricky either. As we approached the turn where we’d last stopped, we grew apprehensive. They’d disappeared. We retraced our steps, driving slowly, looking apprehensively into ditches in the dark. Nothing. We tried to persuade ourselves that they’d somehow passed us when we were looking at the maps and rode up to exchange 29. They hadn’t been there. I texted on the team leader group thread, asking if anyone had seen Kate or Ricky. I texted Kate.

Finally, a response. Kate and Ricky were at a toll booth. Not on the course. We got their location and sped there, letting Amy and Jocelyn know where to find us. Their phones were dying, and toll booths are tricky to find in the pitch black during a thunderstorm.

We found our teammates, who had followed arrows painted on the road – they just weren’t our event’s arrows. It was close to 9pm, and I couldn’t ask Kate to get back out there again (the rules specified that lost riders had to ride back to where they got lost, and it simply wasn’t a safe road for that). We called it, with about 50 miles to go. We waited to reunite Ricky with his teammates while Melissa called her uncle in Pensacola to let him know our ETA.

Weirdly, it didn’t feel like defeat. It felt as if we’d done the smart thing, under the circumstances. Hail and headwinds had made the goal unattainable for us, and it was better to get a good night’s sleep than get hit by a car – or worse, lightning – trying to avoid a DNF. After all, isn’t death the ultimate DNF?

An hour or so later, we were in a warm house in Pensacola, having a drink and regaling Melissa’s uncle with tales of our adventures. He thought we were insane. I’m not sure he was wrong. He also had a kitty welcoming committee!
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Miss Judy

Which kind of resembled my home team:
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In the morning, we headed to the finish line to turn in our scavenger hunt (we won by default), get some photo ops and swag, and pick up a cocktail for Uncle Butch:

GCI team finish

GCI finish pelican

And then we headed back to New Orleans, stopping in Alabama to let me pick up my 10 missing miles there.

So, 3 of 4 states done, and I’ll have to head back to Florida at some point to pick that one off. Still, way more fun than almost any event so far. It’s really great to ride with friends!

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