Biologist on a Bike

Detours. T-minus 50 days.

I had planned to update once a week as I trained and prepared for the big ride. It’s been 63 days. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.

The tale of this detour begins with a downstairs neighbor who hates the sound of my trainer, even when I place it on a wooden frame sitting atop a several-inch-thick futon mattress. She complained last year but the complaints stopped after I started putting the trainer on the mattress. This year, I built the wooden frame to stabilize it there. Apparently, it didn’t do the trick as well as I thought, however, since shortly after my last post she called to tell me the sound was very loud and disturbing to her. It’s not loud to me, but I can hardly ask her to hop on my bike and let me have a listen in her unit. (I’m chuckling as I write this because she’s also about a foot shorter than I am; the mental image of her riding my bike is a mildly amusing one.)

A politely complaining neighbor (there were no obscenities, just a complaint and a request to stop) doesn’t sound like much, but I was maintaining a precarious balance of work and training and this upset was enough to send me into a minor depressive episode. My sleep schedule fell apart and my anxiety was easily exacerbated to the point where little things caused unreasonable upset. This is not an ideal situation for anyone who is not a hermit and who might then be tempted to snap at people who don’t deserve it. I think I managed, but it was mentally exhausting.

I spent several days pondering what to do when I remembered that several years ago I had bought some vibration absorbing pads to dampen the shaking of my front-load washer’s spin cycle. I ended up not trusting the washer to stay on them (they were only 2” x 2” and I was afraid it would walk itself right off when unbalanced), but I had never thrown them out. I had a brilliant idea!

I tried placing the wooden frame I had built (the one meant to keep the bike steady on the futon mattress) on top of the anti-vibration pads. I then called my neighbor to ask her to let me know if she still heard the noise. Sadly, the answer was yes. Not such a brilliant idea after all.

I was left with several expensive suggestions gleaned from the internet (most regarding viscoelastics) or paying to join a gym.

It took about a week, but I solved the immediate problem

Three plastic tags on a keychain (two for planet fitness, one for LA Fitness) with a key and a hair elastic.

Three different ID tags for three different gyms.

by joining the gym program offered by my health insurance. It’s not a bad deal, and since I now have access to all kinds of equipment and weights, I started in on a weightlifting program, too. I’m hoping this will allow me to avoid injuries from unbalanced muscle pairs. I now pay a monthly fee for access to a network of participating gyms around the country. The amusing is, each gym signs you up separately, so within a week I had three separate key tags.

With regular access to training, things started looking up again. Even more fun, I took my first ever spin class. It can’t replace real riding, but it is a good strength/speed workout. The instructors are great as well; when I asked the one instructor for more hills, the following week the ride was 90% climbs. I think the rest of the class hated me for that, but I kept smiling as I pictured conquering Hoosier Pass—11,542 feet and the highest point of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. There are no real hills to speak of in the Chicago area, so I’ll get my training in where I can, thank you very much.

Things were back on track….

And then my 94-year-old grandfather had a stroke. This was a bit of a surprise, as he was raking his own yard a few months ago and was generally pretty healthy as these things go. There was an initial period of recovery and hope but it was not to last. He passed several days later. The death of a loved one is difficult whether or not you are prepared, but for all that it was a shock for me, there is some comfort in the thought that he never lost his independence or spirit. I only wish I lived closer so I could have been there. I think about him often, and I admit to a small smile every time I think that now he knows about my trip. (I hadn’t planned to inform the grandparents of the exact nature of the trip until I got back to spare them the worry. I still intend on telling my grandmother that I’m on a road trip. It’s true. Sort of.)

And by this point blog inertia had set in. An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Likewise, when I stop an activity, I will tend to put off resuming that activity until an external impetus gives me motivation. Whatever motivation I had to resume posting after my grandfather’s passing was temporarily dampened by a big project coming due at work. Our five-person team had to put together a major crunch in the last few days (which were supposed to be my spring break), but finally the grant application was submitted! Twenty minutes before the deadline. And I chide my students for procrastinating.

Now I’m behind on other work because the grant application took more time than expected. Add to that the fact that classes resumed today after spring break and there are papers to grade and assignments to prepare. Only now the building excitement (and anxiety) is enough to spur me to resume my chronicles.

Why? Because my trip begins in only FIFTY DAYS!!!

The biggest preparatory excitement of the last few weeks: the purchase of a hub dynamo and USB stem cap! The wheel was built at Tamago, a one-man local bike shop which also sells excellent coffee, delicious Publican bread, and donuts.

I once mentioned wanting a dynamo charger setup at a larger local bike shop and the reaction was one of surprise. When I walked into Tamago and said I wanted a dynamo hub, I got an entirely different reaction. “Oh, I’m building 4 dynamo wheels right now.” I was asked about my bike and the purpose of my setup (gear charging, not lights) and shown example wheels. We talked about quality ranges, discussed weight versus sturdiness, and I held a dynamo hub while it spun to feel the resistance it would add to the ride. He also offered a trial wheel, but I declined. First because I wasn’t riding outside yet (it was still very cold) and second because he didn’t have a trial wheel with disc brakes. As always, I was thrilled with the knowledge and service provided. And I had a lot more confidence in the quality of the build than I would have from somebody who was surprised by the request.

upper left: bike wheel; upper right: close up on dynamo hub exterior showing the charging attachment; bottom: body of the dynamo hub.

This hub is a thing of beauty


I ordered the Cycle2Charge USB charger a few days after retrieving the completed wheel. Yesterday, it arrived! It was surprisingly easy to install, and I was so excited to try it out that I even managed to haul my lazy bum out of bed to ride to work in the springtime cold. I have a bunch of pictures from the instillation that I’ll post soon.

Cycle2Charge dynamo to USB stem cap: box; top view; top view, zip ties, and cable in the box; side/bottom view.

My level of excitement over this purchase only goes to show just how nerdy I am.

I’ve also made what I hope will be the last of the big-ticket gear purchases: a sleeping bag upgrade. My old bag is synthetic, heavy, and not terribly warm. Now, I know that by the end of my trip warmth will be the least of my worries, but the start of the trip is an entirely different story. Late May and early April in the mountains can still be literally freezing cold. After a day of cycling in the chilly air, I at least want to be warm in the evening, especially since I won’t always have the luxury of a hot shower to bring my core temperature back up. I have purchased a 30F Revelation quilt from Enlightened Equipment  and am eagerly awaiting delivery.

There are a few more small things I need to get and one more very large thing: my plane ticket, but preparations are coming along nicely and I’m excited.

However, there’s still a semester to finish before I reach that point and a pile of papers awaits the attention of my green pen.

3 thoughts on “Detours. T-minus 50 days.

  1. Pingback: Gear List: Part 2: The Bike – Biologist on a Bike