There is long-distance cycling and then there’s long-distance cycling over hills.
We’ve heard the cycling routes around Austin are hilly but not entirely sure how it compares to Ontario. Houston, is fairly flat, so I haven’t been doing many hills, unless it is an overpass over a highway. I stumbled upon Lori’s recap of last year’s Shiner GASP. She wrote:
This course was going to be challenging because of the sheer number of inclines and hills (Esmeralda said she stopped counting at 23 last year), and the wind that it was famous for. I had hoped that with the front it would be a tail wind, but at mile 30 the wind shifted and was either a head wind or cross wind. Oh well, it was nice to dream.
With a month away from our own hilly 100-mile adventure, it instilled a fear of hills. So, this weekend, we sought out something to climb.
Earlier this year, we were planning to do the “Bike Through the Forest and Hills” 80-km ride in Coldspring, Texas. We had already registered and picked up our packages (the first ones, at that, bib numbers 1 and 2). It was scheduled right after I sprained both knees, so understandably, we didn’t go. However, with such a descriptive name, we figured it would be a hilly ride. Rob saved the course maps, though. He ended up modified the route so that we had a 50 km loop. The original ride had you return in the opposite direction, but we just repeated the same loop once we were familiar with the course.
The 100-km ride wasn’t the hard part. It was the hills! After 8 minutes, I wasn’t sure I was up for this many hills. Rob clocked an incline that lasted 3 km. The worst part, though, was the wind. Wind + hills = a definite challenge. A strong wind with a loopy course meant the wind was, sadly, only helping us 25% of the time. In any case, we were positively pooped after our “short” 100-km ride.
We ended up stopping off at our favourite Mexican grocer on the way home: Mi Tienda. It reminds us of our trip to Mexico City, with lots of fun food, load music and random decor. We treated ourselves to fresh guanabana juice and a mix of celery-pineapple-cactus juices. If you have never tried guanabana, I highly recommend it. We fell in love with it in Colombia. We also had some fresh (and warm- this is KEY) churros. After our bellies were content, I scurried back in for our weekly grocery expedition.
I try am trying to balance emptying my pantry along with trying everything that I can while in Texas/America. This time, I bought some cactus (aka nopales). You can find it fresh as a giant paddle or pre-chopped with the spikes removed. I gather you can also find it brined in jars or cans. In any case, I first tried it while in Mexico City. Cooked simply, it was a vegetable side or topping. One of the dishes I had it with was as tlacoyo from a street vendor: a blue corn masa dough that she stuffed with refried beans and topped with a nopales salsa. was I really liked it: the texture of a bell pepper with the taste of a green bean.
In truth, Rob and I were too zonked to do any cooking when we returned post-ride and post-Mi Tienda. We went out for tacos. The following day, we did another cycling jaunt. Not too long, and all flat, we were still battling the wind and the possibility of rain. However, the shorter ride meant I had enough energy to tend to errands and do some cooking.
I simply ran with the idea of tlacoyo. It is more like a cheese-less quesadilla. We had fresh corn tortillas so I used that instead of the masa dough. I already have a favourite (unfried) refried bean recipe. The problem was the cactus. I wasn’t entirely sure how to cook it, but I eventually decided to boil it first, then saute it with some leftover roasted onions. It may not have been authentic at all, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
Have you ever tried nopales/cactus? What are your favourite recipes?
I have discovered the secret to living in Houston’s summer. You need to fall into one of these two groups of people:
1. The people who wake up early before the sun rises
2. The people who stay up late after the sun sets
Rob and I have been exploring Houston by bicycle on the weekends. At 7am, we’ll cycle the deserted streets, only to find the paths at the parks literally packed with joggers and walkers. We must be thinking along the same lines: if you are going to be outdoors, best to do it before the sweltering heat arrives.
We quickly learned that Houston is wonderful after sunset. Many public events start late in the day, again to beat the heat.
The problem is trying to fit into category 1 and 2, on the same day. Suffice it to say, after a long bike ride in the morning, I was almost asleep mid-way through a Shakespeare in the Park production later that evening. The comfortable, balmy weather was a bit too conducive to napping. We didn’t even last past the intermission, HA! It was a splendid day, though.
Speaking of cycling in the Houston heat, it is very, very important to keep hydrated and fuelled. Even short runs are more demanding. This is a portable snack recipe I promised a while back. I whipped them up with the odds and ends in my mom’s kitchen before we left for our cycle to Kingston. I must have had some forethought because I remember bringing the coconut flour with me. My master plan for a chocolate date and peanut butter combo was thwarted because the dough was just too runny. But the magic of coconut flour did the trick. It is a very thirsty flour, so it sopped up the batter into portable chewy balls. The peanut butter made them rich and decadent, balanced by the sweetness of the dates and cocoa flavour.
A treat like this is perfect for fuelling during long rides. While our weekend rides are more around 50km now; in this heat, we feel like it gets a conversion factor of 1.5x for intensity. We are still a long way from the MS 150, but we’re hoping to improve our distance as the weather improves…. you know, in October, when it is supposed to cool down.
Are you a morning person, a night person, both or neither?
As you may have guessed, yes, I am still alive.
I survived my crazy Rideau Lakes cycle.
My focus this year was to pass my exam (which I did!) and then I quickly ramped up to cycle to Kingston. I cycled another 50 km during the week leading up to the weekend and took Thursday and Friday off as rest days. My final pre-event odometer reading was 560 km, 150km within the previous week.
That weekend, though, I cycled over 200 km. Not too shabby. This was my second time on the course, so I know that the hardest part is between Perth and Kingston. This is where most of the hills lie, including the dreaded Westport hill. The nice thing about repeating the course is that I did not feel compelled to conquer the entire course. Been there, done that. Enjoying the ride with a great group of friends was more important.
Our Cobra biker gang consisted of my Dad, Rob and Sue. While Sue and I had already decided we wanted the shorter route from Perth, the boys wanted the full route. However, due to an early rain shower, we all ended up starting from Perth on Saturday. A later start meant the roads would be dry, but more importantly so would our shoes and clothes. I was positively soaked during my training ride, and I simply hate cold, wet shoes.
Turns out we had my ideal cycling weather: overcast and not too hot. We were having a great time and I was positively giddy once we smoked down Westport’s hill. Sue pummelled it at 69 km/h. I had my brakes on and my max was 59 km/h. As we lounged at the gas station at the bottom, other cyclists reminded me that the hardest part would be the next day, tackling that hill in the opposite direction.
The only wrinkle in our day was my slow-leaking flat at around the 80 km mark. My Dad pumped it up and we crossed our fingers, hoping I could make it to Kingston without changing the tube. Lucky me, we made it and found an on-site technician to change my tube for me.
As we stood in line at the maintenance tent, I chatted with the guy in front of me. He did the whole cycle from Ottawa. And yes, do the math, he lapped me. He arrived before me, covering an extra 77km in the 2 hours it took us to start in Perth. His average speed put ours to shame: 35 km/h. Ours was more like 23 km/h, and we probably took way more breaks, HA!
We arrived early enough that we beat the late afternoon sudden rainfall, and with enough time to relax and clean up before having an early dinner. While none of the heated mains were vegan, I picked up cooked carrots, corns and a marinara sauce and then loaded up at the salad bar where I made my own salad with greens, carrots, cabbage, kidney beans and chickpeas with a balsamic dressing. Strawberries for dessert.
The next morning, we met bright and early over my peanut butter oatmeal with fruit. Both my Dad and I snagged a bunch of bananas for the road.
This time, the weather was a beautiful sunny day. The wind was barely moving and any breeze was from us, or when the pentalon would pass us. HA! And the dreaded Westport hill? I was quickly reminded how difficult it was – I remembered it being not that hard. The steep incline comes early but it is short-lived. The hill continues at less steep incline afterwards, for around another 1 km. A quick break at the top had us re-energized to tackle the next set of rolling hills.
We made it to Perth by lunch time when Rob and my Dad waved us goodbye as they cycled the rest of the way home. Sure enough, they covered the last 77 km in 2.5 hours. Their 28 km/h average was impressive at the end of such a weekend. Sue and I were perfectly content to call it a day at Perth. Thankfully, I wasn’t as tired as I feared (judging by my fatigue after my training ride) and even had the gusto collect our luggage and then bake cookies for Rob before he came home. My Mom made her lovely quinoa pilaf again along with roasted asparagus and peppers.
However, now Rob calls me a monkey. I think I ate 5 bananas on Sunday, in addition to my homemade chocolate peanut butter balls. And while I would love to share the delicious chocolate peanut butter balls I brought with me, the photos are still in Ottawa. So, I am sharing these treats that I brought with me on my training run.
After really enjoying the Nut-free Raw Carrot Cake made with coconut flour, I wanted to try something similar but with zucchini and chocolate, instead. So I experimented. Instead of grated carrots, I used grated zucchini. Instead of the cinnamon and nutmeg, I used cocoa powder. Instead of the apple-cashew frosting, I used cacao nibs for easier transport. And I really liked them. Asterisk, though. I would add more cocoa powder next time. I used up the end of my supply so I worked with what I had. Furthermore, while I ate these as cycling treats, they do not travel well at all. They worked for me with a short ride, since I popped them out frozen. Within 2 hours, they are at their perfect consistency: chilled and firm. Once they became warm, they were mushy and messy. Still delicious but not ideal. Definitely not portable to/from Ottawa and Kingston. Thus, I made new snacks that were uber portable. And once I get the photos from my parents, I will share that delightful recipe with you, too.
I miss the long-distance cycling trips. Two summers ago, Rob and I would jaunt around Southwestern Ontario on our bikes. Anything within 180km was fair game. We cycled from Toronto to see his parents in Woodstock and the following year, I cycled to Kitchener/Waterloo for a party. While it was fun, there was pain, too. This was challenging training. I had never done this much cycling before.
Unfortunately, after tackling the Kingston cycle last summer, Rob and I have not really done much long-distance cycling. Life gets busy. Weekends get booked up. It wasn’t until I cycled to Niagara Falls recently, that I realized how much I miss it. The cycling, the camaraderie, exploring the countryside, and of course, the multitude of snacks I would create every week. Not the pain, of course.
These are the snacks that I toted with me to Niagara Falls. A quick whirl in the food processor combines walnuts, raisins, dates, cinnamon and nutmeg into a delicious snack. Chewy from the raisins but with a big whiff of cinnamon. A great pick-me-up before and during long exercises. I should remind myself that they are good any time, really. I may have made 2 batches of it because I ate the first one through numerous “sampling” (and before I photographed it). Sweet and chewy cinnamon treats, oh yeah. As I gear into studying lock-down mode, they may turn into my late night studying snacks, though. Swapping cycling for studying seems so sad, eh?
Other sport snacks I have made:
Homemade Almond Chocolate Lärabars
Chocolate Brownie Power Nibbles
Cocoa Mint Nibbles
Maca Chip Energy Balls
Carob Blueberry Energy Bars
Peanutty Energy Bars
Paley’s Energy Bars
Blueberry Oat Bars
Fruit, Nut and Seed Power Bars
Cacao-Cacao Chip Cookies (recipe elsewhere)
Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies (recipe elsewhere)
Gingersnap Nuggets from Radiance 4 Life
I had a love/hate relationship with my bicycle last week. I still loved my bike, but I think she had enough of me after I biked 250km last weekend to/from Woodstock. It wasn’t the distance that bothered her, it was the rain. The light rain, we could deal with, but the torrential downpour, is what she was complaining about.
When I arrived to greet her Monday morning, a bit earlier than usual to take her down to get cleaned before heading to work, her back tire was flat. I can do this, I thought to myself. So I removed the tire, replaced the tube and put the tire back on. It took me a good 30-45 minutes, but I was still pleased with myself. My first time changing a tire solo!
Then I pumped up the tire. I almost had it at 120 psi. I know it can be difficult to pump it up that high, so I almost left it at 90. Nah, I’ll give it a good push or two, I can do it! So I pumped, and pumped… and then FOOSH!! My inner tube exploded and popped off my tire! Without any extra inner tubes, I had to hightail it to work by subway instead.
Emails flew between my family and friends. I obviously squished my tube between the rim and tire, they told me. I figured that could be the culprit because I didn’t really check to make sure it wasn’t squished. Next time, I’ll know.
But my woes, don’t end there. I felt pretty silly having only 1 spare inner tube, so I wandered over to Bikechain, the student-run group at the University of Toronto that teaches you how to fix your own bike – and also sells cheap inner tubes. There was only one staff at the time, and I was sans bike, so I quickly picked up 5 inner tubes and brought them home.
So I lugged out my old bike (I have no clue how I lasted 7 months with a daily commute on that heavy clunker!), and rode to the closest bicycle shop. To clear them out of inner tubes. I only bought 2. And they were over $1 more expensive than those from Bikechain, and the exact same inner tube.
Armed with the proper inner tube, I decided to replace my inner tube yet again. It didn’t take me nearly as long; I must be improving, I thought. Next, I checked to make sure I had no squished tire. I didn’t. Great! And then I pumped up the tire. And pumped, and pumped, and got it up to 120 psi! Woohoo! I removed the pump and took a sigh of relief. Not an instant later, the tube explodes AGAIN! Now I am positively in tears, and know I need someone to help me figure this out.
Thankfully, Rob was coming over. I told him it was do or die because I only had one tube left. He supervised me and showed me a different way to assemble the inner tube and tire. I was putting the inner tube on first, then the tire. He assembled the inner tube inside the tire first, and then mounted the whole thing on the rim. Sounded good to me. So we pumped, and pumped, and pumped. 120 PSI! No blow-out! We pumped my front tire to 120 psi. I was good to go! I just need to get more tubes since my back-up tubes are down to zero, but no rush..
The next morning I ride to work. Perfect! It was just technique that was the problem. I return to my bike after work, drive it no more than 6 feet, when I feel like my breaks are rubbing my tire. I look down and I have a flat! No way! Not again! And I have no spare tube.. gah!
I take the subway home, grab 2 new tubes from another bike store. Another $2 more per tube. I ask whether some inner tubes are more prone to leaking. I only biked 5 km before I got a new flat, I explained. He suggested that perhaps I had something stuck inside my tire that I couldn’t see. I should clean the inside really well. Excellent suggestion, I thought, and planned to do that next.
Before I went to bed, I cleaned the inside of my tire, feeling nothing, but thinking it was something small I couldn’t see. I made sure my inner tube didn’t touch the floor and mistakenly pick up rocks, etc. I replaced the inner tube, with the new Rob-style technique. I pumped it up. And no explosions! Woohoo!
Two days go by… I bike to/from work. I rack up 20km. No problem. Those invisible rocks sure were problematic. Or maybe it was the even more expensive inner tube that did the trick. Who knows. I was doing a little cheer every time my bike still had a tire full of air.
Friday morning, my bike greets me with yet another flat tire. I am almost not surprised. What am I doing wrong? I notice that there’s an actual direction for my tire. Maybe I had it backwards and that was the problem? I don’t know.. this is all voodoo. I replace my tire again. I figured out where my leak was. Reasonably close to my valve. Maybe it was the metal hooks I was using to help reassemble my inner tube. Apparently that’s a no-no known to cause small leaks if you squish the inner tube. OK, I will look for my plastic ones. I clean it, I replace it, I pump it up. It doesn’t explode. I ride to work.
Now I am paranoid. I have no explanations for these flat tires.
So far so good, though. I make it to work intact.
I meet Rob after work to cycle to a friend’s house. I tell him about my flat tire woes and about my paranoia. How far will I get this time? The first time was 5km. Then 20km. Now what?
He looks down at my tire nonchalantly. What’s this?, he says, pointing to a small matte area on my tire. It was less than 1 mm. I have no clue but it looked like a small rock attached to the tire. I try to flick it off but it is wedged in nicely. I use my key to dislodge it and out we pull a big piece of glass! My culprit! My front tire had a smaller piece wedged in as well.
After successfully cycling 100km the following day, I knew I was in the clear.
While there are many great tutorials on how to change your tire online, here my tips that I have each learned the hard way:
1) Ride your bike with a spare tube (with the proper valve), pump and plastic hooks to change a spare tire. Try to repump your tire to see if it is a slow leak.
2) Remove the tire first with the hooks
3) Remove the inner tube, including any valvular attachment to the rim. If you can figure out where the hole is, great! You might be able to patch it too. Soapy water helps but I also tried to squish out any air all along the inner tube.
4) Try to figure out WHY you got the flat tire. Check the outside, inside of the tire and rim. Sometimes you won’t see anything if it is from having low tire pressure that gets squished over a bump, etc. Even if you can’t see anything, clean everything.
5) Pump up the inner tube slightly, then reassemble it inside the tire. Reattach this to your rim without any hooks, if possible, and make sure your tire is in the right direction. Make sure the tube is not being squished by the rim. Be careful around the valve because that area can easily be damaged, so I usually tried to push the final bit of tire in the rim away from the valve.
6) Slowly re-inflate the tire, making sure nothing got caught. Pump up until you get to your max pressure. Make sure you have your pump on with a straight valve. Once that breaks, you need a new tube, too (a lesson from my first lat tire change).
7) Reattach your tire to your bike, making sure it is properly positioned without any friction from the breaks. Re-hook your breaks.
It seems so simple, but it can be so complicated. :)
And now, about the recipe: Chocolate Brownie Power Bars. This has been my favourite energy bar for biking so far. I prefer moist, not so sweet bars that travel well. I really liked the cocoa mint nibbles, but they tasted like dates after they had been warmed in the sun. They were much better straight from the fridge for their fudge-y texture.
Adapted from Enlightened Cooking, these are similar to the cocoa nibbles but had more substance to them. They tasted more like a brownie and stayed that way after travelling with me all day. They also had a creamy taste which I think came from the milk powder. I originally threw it in because I had leftovers without a purpose (I originally bought some from the bulk store to make Momofuku’s Crack Pie). Now I think I have a super purpose for it, though, and will have to get myself some more.