Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ride Across Indiana

Guest post by Keith

On Saturday, July 18, Mac and I completed our long anticipated Ride Across Indiana (RAIN). This annual event is organized by the Bloomington Bicycle Club, and typically attracts over one thousand challenge-seeking riders. The route covers 160 miles and begins at the Illinois/Indiana state line west of Terre Haute, and ends at Earlham College in Richmond, near the Ohio border. Participants are given 14 hours to complete the timed event, and although it is not a race, many riders treat it as such given that they are racing against the clock. The fastest, elite riders can complete the route in about 6.5 hours. Those of us who are not superhuman take considerably longer. Here's a picture of some friends from the club who finished in about 8 hours (photo by Klaus Rothe):

I have completed the ride twice on my own for the past two years. To my surprise, Mac told me in the spring that he wanted to do the RAIN with me this year. He agreed to train with me on the tandem and on his own bike as often as possible, and we put in hundreds of training miles over the past several weeks. I told Mac that if we could complete a century ride in hilly Southern Indiana, then we’d know we were strong enough to complete the much flatter RAIN route, most of which uses U.S. Highway 40. The weekend before RAIN, we completed the very hilly Nashville 90, riding through thundershowers in the process, and so we felt reasonably well prepared for the grueling trek across the state. Here we are departing for the Nashville 90:

Kim drove us and our bike to Terre Haute Friday afternoon, where we checked into a hotel room. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening helping to process riders through registration. We needed a good night’s sleep, and headed back to our hotel room around 8:30. After a while, I discovered that the asthma inhaler we packed for Mac was empty and called Kim to find out how we could get a replacement inhaler—it would not be wise to embark on a long bike ride without this emergency medicine. After a flurry of phone calls from Kim, a dedicated CVS pharmacy technician, and a nurse who had once treated Mac, we hopped on our bike and sprinted to the nearest CVS pharmacy and arrived just minutes before closing time. We had our medicine, but now the hour was late and we really needed our sleep.

The starting line was about 9 miles from our hotel, so Mac and I planned to depart early so that we could be at the line for the 7:00AM starting time. We were running late, but got to the line with a few minutes to spare. The start of the RAIN is very exciting—and a bit dangerous—as hundreds of tightly packed cyclists jockey for space and position. Terre Haute police normally escort the riders out of town at about a 20 mph pace, but for some reason, they didn’t show up this year. Thus, the starting pace was unusually fast, with bikes flying through town. We kept up, for the most part, averaging 19 mph through the city, until some of the hills outside of town slowed our pace. Here's a picture sent by a friend (Klaus Rothe) of the starting line:

For the first 32 miles, our average speed was much faster than I had anticipated, at well over 18 mph. I had expected us to average 15-16 mph, as Mac’s power delivery as a stoker is less consistent than my power as the bike’s captain. He pushes hard up the hills, but tends to ease up on the flats. Tandems can be exceptionally fast on flats and down hills, but struggle going up hills, so I had hoped to make good time whenever the terrain was favorable to make up for all the slow climbs.

At about 32 miles, our front derailleur broke. I pulled over to assess the damage, and decided to just remove the part from the bike so that we could continue the ride. Earlier in the ride, we had stopped to lend a tool to a rider who needed to tighten his saddle, and now, we were in need of a tool that I could use to cut my shifter cable. Many riders offered help, but none had the right tool, so I decided just to tie the cable out of the way and fixed the chain onto the middle chain ring. From this point on, our ride would be slower because we lacked the ability to use our hill-climbing small ring and our big downhill ring.

The unseasonably cool weather was welcome, from my perspective, but Mac was a bit cold most of the day, and we neglected to bring along a windbreaker. I began to think about where along the route we could acquire a windbreaker. There weren’t many shopping centers along the largely rural route, but fortunately, there were yard sales. I noticed one with several tables full of clothes and a collection of children’s bikes, so I pulled over. The proprietor was really surprised to see any of the hundreds of cyclists that had been steadily streaming by all day actually stop to shop! For a dollar, we picked up a light jacket that fit Mac well enough to keep him comfortable the rest of the way. We even felt a few rain drops shortly thereafter, so the short delay was worthwhile.

At around the 50 mile mark, Mac became curious about the purpose of the mile markers along the side of the road. Because I had recently changed tire sizes, and forgot to re-calibrate the tandem’s cycling computer accordingly, we decided to use the mile posts to check our computer’s accuracy. We discovered our computer logged slightly over 1/100th of a mile more with each mile, which meant that by the time we arrived at the finish line, we expected our computer to show an extra 1.6 to 2 miles. Not a huge error, but one that would certainly add up over time. Here's a view from the road as a group of riders head toward Indianapolis (photo by Klaus Rothe):

Mac looked forward to the rest stops because he could fill his pockets with snacks and munch along the way. A rider of my size could expect to burn somewhere between 6500 and 7500 calories to complete the route, and Mac probably required around 3500 calories. Thus, we consumed a lot of energy-dense food throughout the day, but there really is no way to keep up with what our bodies needed. Any deficit was made up by burning fat reserves (hopefully) and not muscle. Unfortunately, we were too slow to grab the limited number of Payday candy bars at the second rest stop—those are really popular cycling treats. Maybe next time. Our lunch stop took us about 45 minutes—a bit longer than intended, but it felt good to take a break from the bike. And we contemplated finding a mechanic who could fix our derailleur, but decided that even if the right part could be found, which was unlikely, the service time required would not leave us enough time to officially finish the ride. So we pressed on stuck in our middle ring, relying on the 9 speeds in our rear cog to cover the rest of the state.

The volunteer fire station in Dunreith was our last rest stop, and one of my favorites. The volunteers there are always very nice and provide frozen treats and plenty of encouragement to weary riders. With only about 28 miles left, why would we want to quit now? Mac declined every opportunity I gave him to just call it a day and have Kim pick us up. He would tell me, “Just go!” Other riders were impressed with his tenacity and endurance, and helped to keep us motivated. We especially enjoyed being cheered on by groups of kids along the way, some of whom would give us high-fives. Another group had fun handing out cups of water to riders as they zoomed by.

Finally, we were nearing the finish line. By this point, our overall speed had ratcheted down to a 15 mph average, but our pace picked up during our last 10 miles, and we finished strong, at a little over 13 hours. Of the over 1300 riders that were expected to start, we placed 1107 and 1108. It’s not clear how many of those actually started the ride, but we were proud to have finished. Mac kept saying he wanted to ride a few more miles to actually cross into Ohio, but I was exhausted, and I know he was, too. Our butts were sore, my knees ached, and I was famished from the calorie deficit. We were grateful that Kim and Ethan met us at the finish line with dinner. We showered, and ate our dinner in the car while Kim made the long drive back to Bloomington. Maybe next year, Mac can try the ride on his own bike?

Thanks to Jim Lang for the above finish line photo, and to Ethan and Kim for the others.

And the best part? Kim made us a fabulous cake!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ode To A Beagle

Ode To A Beagle

We are sad today because we miss our friend.
He was a hound dog—a mixed-breed beagle with a coat of white, black, and plenty of auburn brown. Highway was his name, but he answered to most anything, especially if the call promised food, pets, or walks.

Highway LOVED food, and would gladly steal any morsel left unattended. His favorite was butter or leftover butter wrappers, which were always plentiful in our house. If there were any wrappers left unattended or in the trash, we would often find a tipped-over trash can with a trail of wrappers leading into the living room. Chairs and tables were rarely good defenses against this hungry hound dog, as he would climb and leap with amazing agility to follow his nose. If you turned your back to food set on the counter it would be gone in seconds, even including a cooling cake. One of Highway’s care-takers lovingly referred to him as Houdini.

Highway’s poor table manners were one of the first things we learned about him when we adopted him about five years ago. We were his second or third family—no one is really sure as he was abandoned as a puppy along State Route 37. Highway was already an old dog when we adopted him, and was not interested in learning too many new tricks.
Highway also loved his comfort, and would help himself to whatever vacant spot could be found on the furniture.

We caved to his demands for comfort and tried to restrict him to just using one sofa in the family room. But Highway wanted access to all the furniture he could reach or climb upon. He was not allowed on our blue, sleeper sofa, and when discovered on it, he would humor us by getting down—sometimes. He knew that all he had to do was wait until we left the room.

He especially loved to be near people, and rest his head on someone’s lap while they watched a video or read a book. As a beagle, Highway loved to track and chase rabbits. He never caught any, as far as we know, but his nose could usually detect them long before his eyes, and he would plunge his head into any suspected burrow, and dig enthusiastically for his prey.

Highway inspired stories and art projects for the kids. When in 4th grade, Mac wrote a story that won third place in a Humane Society Essay Contest. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s an interesting story of how Highway got his name, and how he came to live with us. One day a woman was driving along State Road 37, when something caught her eye. It was a straggly, little, beagle puppy sitting on the side of the highway. She pulled over to help him. She decided to take him home. She gave him the name Highway, because she found him on the highway. She kept him for five years, and during that time she had a baby. With two dogs, her baby and her husband, their small house was very crowded. So they decided to move to Indianapolis. They couldn’t bring two dogs with them so they put Highway up for adoption. We heard about Highway from our friends, and after we spent a lot of time thinking about it, we decided to adopt him.

Highway is really cute and fun to have around. He’s especially cute when he begs for food, because his ears perk up. He also likes to play, not with toys, but with humans. Sometimes Highway and I play chase. I know he wants to play, when he starts running around the house like crazy. I chase him into a room so he thinks he’s safe, but when I come charging in, he ZOOMS out like a race car. He also enjoys being petted and having his belly scratched. When you stop petting him, he’ll put his snout under your hand and push on it until you start petting him again. I’m really glad we adopted Highway. He is a true friend.

Ethan also wrote a poem titled A Beagle in the Fridge. Here it is:

A Beagle in the Fridge

There is a beagle in my fridge
With his butt in the hot sauce
And his nose in the chicken
And his paw in the mashed potatoes.
His tail is frozen and solid
While he’s slurping the milk
With cracked egg shells on his back.
And when you open the door
He only whines for MORE!

Highway taught us what it means to be a hound. He would hound us for walks, hound us for snacks, and hound us for pets and affection. Highway had no interest in toys, and quickly lost interest in other dogs once he exchanged sniffs. He would bark and bay at the neighborhood dogs he could see walking by our house, but only whine gently when he saw Sammie, his dog friend from across the street.

We are grateful for the all things Highway taught us, including patience, diligence, commitment, loyalty and compassion. Beagles tend to be independent thinkers due to their breeding history, and as such, he had little use for blind obedience. While this trait can be frustrating to impatient humans, upon reflection, we can appreciate the benefits of not following the herd. We have even become more open minded about the virtues of sniffing butts.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In a Pickle

Since I seem to find myself "in a pickle" these days, I thought it was an appropriate time to make pickles. Pickled cucumbers that is.

The idiom "in a pickle" refers to being in a disagreeable situation. It's kind of a mysterious figure of speech because "pickle" usually means something preserved in a brine or vinegar solution. So metaphorically you could conjure up the image of sitting in a sour, vinegar bath. Hmm.....sounds about a pickle.

However, explaining how I got my cucumbers "in a pickle" is a lot more interesting than explaining how I got myself "in a pickle."

This was my first attempt at making pickles. When I brought the pickling cucumber plants home from the Farmer's Market, I think Keith was worried that there wasn't enough space to plant them. But being the nice accommodating husband that he is, he found room for all four plants and this week we harvested the first bunch of cucumbers.

As a child, homemade pickles were one of my fondest memories of my Grandma Smith, who died recently. She canned so many things but the little baby pickles were one of my favorites. Her pickles were in high demand by everyone who tried them. I even remember a time that my parents transported a gallon ice cream tub full of them home on an airplane for one of their friends. Of course that was before the 3 ounce liquid rule. I can still picture the plastic tub sloshing with pickle juice as they carried it through the terminal.

I didn't have my grandmother's recipe so I "loosely" followed one from the Martha Stewart website. Nor did I have all the ingredients that the recipe called for so I just left them out and added a few of my own.

After sterilizing my jars, and preparing the cucs, I filled each 12 ounce jar with a dill flower from our garden. I also added some peppercorns to the jars as well. I think you could add just about anything you wanted to, garlic, spicy peppers, onions, all of which would enhance the flavor. But this was my first try and I wanted to start out simple. The brine that I made consisted of vinegar, water, salt and cumin. Once the cucs were packed in the jars, I poured the brine over them, put on the lids and processed them in a water bath. The hard part is having to wait to eat them. They need a good two weeks before opening so that flavors can mingle. Yum! They might not be as good as my grandma's but I can't wait to try them!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Culinary Garden

I'm so lucky to be married to a man whose passion is sustainable gardening. My husband painstakingly turned our yard into a chef's dream. He has provided me, the chef (and my family), with a wonderful array of fruits and vegetables that are at my disposal day and night.

Our gardens have made cooking a delight, when all I have to do is walk out into my yard to clip some fresh herbs, or veggies for our dinner. I find myself planning our meals around what's available in our garden, like eating a big salad almost every night. There's nothing better then freshly picked greens and herbs topped with spicy peppers, cucumbers, green beans, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes -- all from our garden!

In May we took pleasure in eating strawberries from the planter below. We also have several young blueberry plants that have provided us with a handful of berries every other day for the past couple of weeks.
Newly planted this spring are 18 grape vines of three different varieties. However, as you can see the Japanese beetles have been getting the best of them. Keith is in search of a way to get rid of the pests without using any chemicals. For now, the boys go out and pick off as many as they can find, and drop them into a jar of rubbing alcohol to kill them. Aren't boys awesome!

Some of the other produce that Keith has planted, and that we can look forward to eating later this summer and in early fall, are sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, squash, several varieties of peppers and tomatoes, broccoli, beets, onions, and garlic.

We also have some newly planted raspberry and blackberry bushes that will hopefully produce berries for us by next summer, along with about 100 asparagus plants that should be ready for picking by next spring.

I know how lucky I am to be able to access fresh, pesticide-free produce right from my yard, and I count my blessings every day for my sweet, sustainable-gardener-husband who provides it for me.


A couple of friends and I made our annual trip out to Bray's Blueberries last week. It was a perfect day for picking with overcast skies and mild temperatures. We had a great time visiting, as we dropped blueberries into our pails, so early in the morning.

It took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes to fill up this bucket which turned out to be 11 pounds of blueberries.

I think I ate at least a quart of blueberries when I got home. I also made 14 jars of jam, a festive berry tart for the 4th of July, and froze a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of berries. We are still enjoying a few of the remaining fresh blueberries that are in the fridge. We'll see if all the jam and frozen berries will last us until next year's picking.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Disney Adventure

The boys were fortunate enough to visit Disney World for the first time thanks to Grandma R. Not only did Grandma treat the boys to this once in a life time adventure, she flew them there and back and shared in their Disney experience.

Grandpa was not able to join them because he is scheduled to have knee surgery soon and wouldn't have been able to keep up with all the walking. But Grandma and the boys were troopers, and aside from a few minor snafus they all had a wonderful time. Thanks, Grandma!