Spring is in the air?

After last winter’s record 9 feet of snow in Boston for 2014-15, we are being treated to some very mild temps. Here are some ideas on how to take advantage of the unseasonable weather. (And don’t get me started on the difference between weather and climate!)

What to do now?

Ride! With weekend temps going up to the mid-50s, hop on your bike. Without Greenland-size snowbanks, the roads are fairly dry with only a little sand, and most of the salt has washed away. Pump up those tires, put a little lube on your chain, and wipe it clean as you are going to have some fun.

Now is the time for LSD – Long, Slow, Distance rides, though you might want to go easy on the Long part. Unless you have been on your wind trainer or doing spin classes this winter, your legs are not ready for the stresses of a typical summer ride. Go up a few steep hills and your knees could be complaining for a month, and you don’t want to sit around waiting for that throbbing to go away. So pick some short flat routes for the first few rides. Keep off the hills for the first 200 miles.

And then what?

This is New England, so old man Winter still has a few more tricks up his sleeves. If the forecast calls for snow, especially mid-week, head to your local bike store and get a tuneup. Avoid the warm weather crush by taking your favorite steel / aluminum / carbon fiber / titanium friend in now for a mid-winter makeover. Trust me, those shop mechanics are just as stir crazy as you, and can probably get everything done in a day or three. Pick up a rear fender so you can ride even if the roads are a little sloppy.

I’ve seen dozens of cyclists in the last few weekends – come join the crowds. Just start slow and steady. Those mountains will still be there.

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Find yourself by getting lost

It’s 3am and I can’t sleep. Laying in my bed, my mind races over bills, kids, jobs, and that dream I just had with Pee Wee Herman and Selma Hayek. So I do the same thing I do every night, pretend to ride my favorite routes through Harvard, Stow, or Bolton. I know these roads so well, every turn, dip, and town line just flows through my mind. In a few minutes I’m snoring again. (Sorry Laura!)

Today I rode some new roads, through Miles Standish Park, Plymouth, Bourne, Onset, and who knows where else. Stopped 4 times in 30 miles to check my phone to find where the heck I was. Rode 3 miles under power lines. The good news is that I had a MTB, the bad was that I had my bald tires pumped to 60psi for better traction on pavement, but terrible handling on gravel and sand. Didn’t matter. In the end I rode almost 45 miles and probably knew where I was less than half the time. Didn’t matter. Followed markers for two different club rides, not sure where they went. Didn’t matter.

Now is the time of year to take it easy, recover, and enjoy yourself. Who needs goals when it is freezing outside yet you hop on your street bike rather than the trainer.

Consider getting a mountain bike or fixie for winter riding. The fixie has no derailleurs and is much easier to clean, and encourages you to ride smoothly. Best of all – your LBS (Local Bike Shop) is almost deserted so you’ll get great service and a nice price.

Go out, remember what riding a bike was before you learned about training, heart rate zones, and carbon fiber. Enjoy yourself and get lost as you can’t ride fast if you don’t know where you are going.

40 is the new 60

Don’t look now, but the forecast for eastern Mass for Saturday is supposed to be not too bad, high around 40 in the afternoon. “Brrr!” is the first reaction from most of you, but don’t give up yet. With just two more layers you can easily ride at this temperature and stay fairly warm. For $100-200 you can easily add an extra month or two to your riding season.
The goal for winter and spring riding is LSD – Long Slow Distance. Save the town line sprints for summer; you want to burn off some of those Christmas cookies and keep your legs in shape.

40 is warmer than you think

40 is warmer than you think

I rode both days last weekend and hardly felt chilled. Start from the top. Get a thin cap made for cycling that fits under your helmet. Its main goal is to keep the wind from cooling down the hottest part of your body, especially for those of us whose hair has become more theoretical. As long as it is above freezing, I don’t bother with a balaclava. Or baklava. Carry a headband in case the cap is too warm.
For your chest, try something warm such as a base layer or synthetic sweat shirt like Under Armor. (When it is in the 50s, I just wear a v-neck cotton shirt. Cheap and effective.) On top wear a good cycling jacket, perhaps with some lining.
For gloves, head over to EMS. They sell a great glove liner that slips under your regular cycling glove and keeps your fingers extra toasty. Also get some Wind Blocker outer gloves that you can take on or off as the temps vary. These layers don’t add bulk and are very flexible. I once tried lobster gloves and after 5 miles my hands were sweating like Nixon under the lights.
I have a heavier pair of tights that I wear to keep my legs comfortable. The PMC leg warmers are in the back of my closet and may never come out. Not my speed. Poly or wool hiking socks in my shoes and either booties or just toe covers and I’m all set.
Lastly, chose your route well. I like to start with a modest climb up Rt. 62 in Stow to get the fires stoked. Avoid exposed areas where the wind can hammer you, like that stretch of 117 I rode Sunday that was a hair too chilly. Dunkin Donuts is always a great destination as you can fill your insulated water bottle with some hot cocoa. Just watch that first sip – it might burn your tongue.
Sounds chilly? Beats the alternative – spin classes or pedaling in your basement!
(Thanks to the Lexington PMC team for the title inspiration.)

After the bike rush

Sitting at your desk

The bike ride is over, what’s new, what’s next? One of the organizers said that no one loses weight on the Tour, but almost everyone gets stronger. Weight loss is achieved by burning more calories than you take in, which on a bike ride could mean bonking, a bad experience. We were provided with several types of energy drinks to keep us fueled at all times. What about getting stronger?

Chances are that you are sitting down while reading this, on a couch, in front of a desk. Put your thumb on the edge of your jaw, below the front of your ear and move it back and forth until you feel the pulsing vein. Look at a clock, breath slowly and count how beats happen in a minute. If this is your first time, if you don’t exercise much, your pulse might be 70-80 beats per minute, or in the 60s if you do aerobic activity like running or biking. Mine ranges from the low 50s to the high 40s and has not moved much in the last month. What has changed is how my body reacts to exercise.

When riding this summer I kept my heart rate in the 120-140 range, with spikes to 160-170. When I coasted downhill, my heart rate dropped to 100 as I drifted along. During the PAC Tour this “recovery rate”, how quickly my heart slowed down when not under stress, dropped dramatically, to the 80s, 70s, and finally as low as 64 when rolling downhill, following another rider. Essentially, my body treated sitting on a bike and not pedaling to be as non-stressful as your sitting at a desk. When the next hill started, bang! my BPM shot up to 120-130.

Hopefully this conditioning will last more than a few weeks. Right now my feet are still too sore to squeeze into bike shoes, and even walking is painful, so I will probably not ride again until November. “Too early!” says my behind,

Visiting Savannah

Laura and I planned a post-Tour long weekend in Savannah. One highlight was the family-friendly Midnight Garden Ride leaving Ellis Square. Many families and individuals got dressed up for the occasion.

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Bike helmets should not inhibit your imagination.

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Some were somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Suess..

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The colorful 10-mile ride departure was at 8pm. Herb from the Tour jumped in too!

Have a happy October and enjoy life on or off the bike.

Day 27 Metter to Tybee Island GA – Arrival!

Coast to coast

On October 9th, our final day, we rode 89 miles from Metter GA to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah. We started in San Diego four weeks ago, rode over mountains, deserts, plains, and almost 3000 miles of road.

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While I was relieved to finally complete the trip, this was still a long ride. Not counting the PAC Tour, this was my the 4th longest ride of 2015. On the last Groundhog Day, we got up, had breakfast(s), packed our bags and lined up for the ride. Lynn took the opportunity to get rid of the oatmeal bowl that she bought especially for the trip.

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The sun was just peeking over the horizon when we started and the fog made the trip down Rt. 46 a little mystical. None of the photos show this so instead you get a view of riding behind Jay, trying to remember some Allman Brothers songs.

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Back home, group rides are often chaotic, especially at the start, with everyone trying to jockey for position, catching up and slowing down. Even on the Tour this happened most days. On our last day everyone was content to get in a line or two and hammer into town.

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One small gotcha – there was an automobile accident on the route and we were diverted to a branching road and told to look for Central St. Luckily Jay’s cellphone navigation saved the day and brought us back on course with just a 2 mile detour. Soon we were lined up and headed into the first water stop.

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Note Herb right behind Jay. It was very rare to see any cyclists on any day of the Tour. Two riders went by wearing the same distinctive Mt. Clemens, Michigan jersey that Herb often wore. Turns out they were two friends from home who came to surprise Herb and join us on the last day.

One thing I won’t miss is doing my business in the bushes by the side of the road. Especially under a large beehive.

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I finally got a (bad) photo of a dog chasing us. Okay, this guy was more of a road hazard than biting, and could barely waddle out of our way.

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We rode into Savannah, winding though the streets, past the visitor center and train museum with a steam engine tooting its whistle. Then we headed out to the barrier islands on a narrow causeway that passed by several harbors. Remember, I’m taking these shots while trying to keep in my lane, avoid cars and debris, and not slow down and cause havoc with the person behind me.

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We arrived at the Hotel Tybee and took our bikes to the beach to dip them in the Atlantic, finishing our coast to coast trip.

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Jim’s wife, Kathy, was there with an appropriate t-shirt for someone who just biked 2900 miles. Jim was an excellent roommate through this entire trip and a great training and riding companion.

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I would also like to thank the PAC Tour crew who worked very long hours, day after day, for four weeks (plus more before and after) to give is an amazing experience. They deserve a better photo than this one snapped at the final buffet.

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Now I’m in Savannah, resting after a long trip, dreading returning to work, and enjoying time with Laura.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 26 Perry to Metter GA

The last big day

On the penultimate day, we rode 118 miles from Perry to Metter, Georgia.

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We got off to a good start and I drafted the Turners on their tandem for a mile or two.

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Eddy came along so we rode together the rest of the day, with his usual lectures on how I can become a better rider if I just … He is a very nice guy and I have become even more steady and smooth under his tutelage. Too bad I don’t have a better picture of him.

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We rode through several smaller towns, some thriving, some not. Montrose has decided to take advantage of several rundown buildings on the main drag.

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We went through Dudley and Dublin, some very nice little towns.2015-10-08 P1020157

I have not seen one of these grocery stores since I was a kid in Anchorage. Didn’t know they still existed.

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Eddy has been looking for the following since we entered Oklahoma. The Stars and Bars have been invisible in the South.

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Right next door was a very nice barn and horse.

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We have been passed by at least a hundred logging trucks, all very polite, safe drivers. We finally got to see the logging operation in passing.

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Gerry asked his wife to send him new “shorts” but due to Auto-Correct, he got a new “shirt”. At least it looks nice.

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When Jim and I signed up for the PAC Tour we were concerned about how we would do, then heard that there were a lot of retired people so we thought, “Hey, we are can keep up with them.” Any group can be divided using a bell curve, so we compared ourselves to PMC riders and decided that this was going to be a piece of cake.

What we didn’t realize is that PAC riders are the far right end of the bell curve in terms of ability. While the average age is around 57, the fastest guys are the ones with white hair, like Gerry. There are plenty of average riders and I have enjoyed the last four weeks with all of them.

After being on a bike for a month, cars are starting to see a little foreign. Is it me, or is there something odd about this van?

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Tomorrow is the last day of the ride. One big change is that I will no longer be eating two breakfasts, snacking constantly through the day on chips and cookies, having two desserts for lunch, and a mid-afternoon McShake.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 25 Eufaula AL to Perry GA

Pithy title

Today we rode from Eufaula AL to Perry GA, two more towns I have never been to before. Have you? The route was 120 miles and we were losing an hour going from CDT to EDT.

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This is our last state line crossing so expectations were high. We rode across Lake Eufaula and saw ….

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No sign. Sigh. The Stow Independent will have to wait until the finish Friday. The forests looked very spooky.

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Too bad I missed the sign “Two Bucks Deer Cleaning Service” and had to settle for this estate entrance.

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I rode with Jay most of the day. Just before the 60 mile rest stop we were pursued by a tractor. Hey, life on the tour is always exciting.

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The lunch stop was in Andersonville, a POW camp during the Civil War and now the National Prisoner of War Museum. It was a very sobering exhibit, covering several wars.

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After dinner at Cracker Barrel, I’m ready to sign off and call it a night.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 24 Greenville to Eufaula AL

Another Beautiful Day in Alabama

Today we rode about 112 miles from Greenville to Eufaula, Alabama with lots of rolling hills.

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For the first 25 miles of the ride I wondered if there was going to be anything worth taking a picture, then we rode through Brundidge and went past The Sign Man store.

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Across the street was a great mural for the hardware store.

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The roads in Alabama were generally very smooth, allowing us to ride quickly even with the headwind. Brundidge had the best pavement of all, probably funded by the Wal-Mart distribution center.

Alabama is the nicest looking state since we left California. Lots of rolling hills, farms, woods, a mix of houses, and friendly people. This reminds me of farms back home.

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The only problem with nice homes is that they make boring photos compared to an abandoned one like this.

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We were chased by a few dogs today, and these cattle.

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This cow (steer?) had a nice log cabin of her (his?) own.

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We could barely see the house behind this gate, but it had to be impressive. Click on the photo to see more detail including the white letters on the gate.

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Further down the road: For sale – all the parts to build your own Tow-Mater!

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My new shoes worked out well, and the “hotfoot” from being squeeze for 8 hours a day is slowly abating. Thank you Cycle Loft in Mass for overnight shipping these to me, and for Lon fast install of the cleats.

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As we approached our destination, past the Choctawhatchee River, we were sent down Five Mile Road which had nasty chip seal. Jay and I rode together all day and discovered the hammering from the pavement was just a little easier if we rode on the center yellow line. Luckily there were almost no cars on this section. The PAC Tour organizers sent us this way as the alternative was a busy 4-lane road with no shoulder and way too many cars.

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At the end of the ride we all head to the nearest restaurant within walking distance. Pity the poor place that suddenly has 45 customers at 5:30pm, all very hungry. Tonight we overwhelmed the Mexican place next to our hotel. Several of us wanted dessert, but settled for getting a check a half hour after we finished eating. Good thing I treated several people to McShakes beforehand. (Sorry Lynn!)

Three more days, about 300 miles, and we can dip our bikes in the Atlantic Ocean, or toss them in depending on how we feel about ever going for another ride in 2015.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 23 Livingston to Greenville AL

Keeping up with Gerry

Today we rode 129 miles from Livingston to Greenville, Alabama. It was the last really long day, however the roads were smooth so the ride went quickly. Only four more days left.

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First of all, I would like to say how nice Alabama is, with nice people and drivers (all the recent states could teach Masshole drivers a thing or two), good pavement, clean yards and nice houses. Sorry, I prejudged the state – it seems very pleasant.

Today I decided to take the Jay Train again, not just for a few stops like yesterday, but the whole way. That man can fly down hills and build up to a very high speed on the flats. This was one of the few times that I actually got ahead of him, crossing over the Tombigbee Waterway Bridge, with Herb in the back. (Note my PMC 2013 jersey!)

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Our first water stop was next to the Jefferson Country Store with an old guy in a rocking chair and modern touches like an owner taking our pictures to post on his Facebook page. Does anyone know what is Hoop Cheese, Souse, or Rag Bologna?

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There were lots of trees to shield us from the cross winds and when the road pointed in the right direction we were pushed along by a tail wind, and Jay’s strong legs. Before I knew it, we crossed the Alabama River and had a cookout in the state park, with both carrot cake and chocolate cake. Life is good! By noon we were back on the road, with Herb on the Jay Train too.

Back home, riding a century in one day is a big deal, but on the PAC Tour that only gets you to the last water stop. This was in the cute little town of Pine Apple, by Banana St., around the corner from Cherry St. Check out Town Hall, below. I peeked inside to inquire about a bathroom and met the town administrator who explained the building was so small she just went to her home next door.

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She directed me to the general store where I met her husband. I complimented him on such a pretty town and he described the civic association that gets everyone to clean up their yards. From what I saw, people take a lot of pride in their hamlet, and rightly so.

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While taking pictures of the horses below, we met their owner who jokingly offered to trade one for a bike. When I inquired, he said that no, the horse could not travel 100 miles a day like we were doing. (Also, I doubt the Holiday Inn Express would let me bring a horse into my room.)

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Herb bonked a few miles back, so Jay and I rode together for the last 30 miles. We saw Gerry in the distance and chased him for 5 miles before we caught up, at the base of a hill. Gerry said to me, “Put that Seven to work” (we both ride the same brand bike) and took off so fast we were flabbergasted. He quickly became a small green dot in the distance that we could never draw closer. Did I mention that Gerry is 76?

My feet have been bothering me for a few thousand miles on this trip and today is the day my replacement shoes were supposed to arrive. I spent big bucks on the shoes plus the special delivery to my hotel, and they were not there! Wait – the PAC Tour switched hotels at the last minute, so I hobbled over to the original hotel and found my box. Lon installed the Speedplay cleats and Tuesday I will see if these larger shoes eliminate the “hotfoot” that has numbed my toes since California. Wish me luck!

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 22 Kosciusko MS to Livingston AL

Sweet Home Alabama

Today we rode 116 miles from Kosciusko MS to Livingston AL.

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First, the weather. Yesterday the forecasters blew it and it never got warm. Today was supposed to start cool, then the sun was going to come out mid-day and warm us to 70 balmy degrees. Didn’t happen. I started with arm warmers and a vest in 52 degree weather – fall has come to the south. When it got over 60 I left my vest in a PAC Tour van and quickly regretted it. Overcast and low 60’s makes for a chilly ride.

Next, the motel flat. The bad news is that my rear tire was flat when I took the bike down to the start. The good news is that I could use my stash of tubes to fix it, and the PAC Tour pumps to inflate, so I hardly minded. Much better than the flats in the middle of nowhere.

Most of today was going up and down the hills of eastern Mississippi. It seems that there is not a flat spot in this half of the state. Very few steep or long hills, just the same thing over and over, rolling past pine trees and kudzu spilling down hillsides like a flood of green.

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At the first water stop we got to meet the local sheriff who ask Susan who all these cyclists were cluttering his back roads. Luckily he didn’t spot any of us “emptying the coffee” by the side of the road. Susan told us that she hoped we got thrown in the pokey, and hopefully our roommate too so that she wouldn’t have to pay for our hotel room. Lovely woman.

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Not all the cars in the state looked as shiny and clean. I think this is a 1963 Impala.

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We rode through Philadelphia, MS.

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This is the city where three civil rights workers were killed in 1964. We stopped at the courthouse where . Ironically, this is the only place where I saw the MS flag with its Stars and Bars.

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The city is also the seat of Neshoba County, including the local high school. Click on the photo below for a larger image.

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The roads in this part of the start were not only hilly but also covered with chip seal, which is a layer of tar and rocks. Big rocks. The type of rocks that hammer your hands, feet, and backsides for dozens of miles. My legs were sore from the constant vibrations, not the repetitive climbs.

I rode with Jim S, Jim M, and Lynn until lunch, when we became separated due to limited facilities. Jay from Sleepy Hollow was heading out so I took another ride on the Jay Train. Unlike my previous time, we talked for 15 miles then hammered the last few miles in. This is NOT the Jay Train, just the first time I have seen this maintenance vehicle.

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We passed a house with the Ten Commandments displayed in the front yard. This is a sign that we were getting close to Alabama. (I asked several people if they took a photo, and all were concerned about agitating the owner.)  About 50 feet later, with little notice, we crossed the border. Nothing special, really.

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But on the other side of the street was the matching MS sign, which was a real collectible as there was no sign when we entered the state.

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Jay immediately put on “Sweet Home Alabama” as we pedaled away on smooth roads without chip seal.

Now that we have left MS, I can bring up the topic of dogs. Jim S had a book about a guy who rode solo following much of the same route as us, and he was literally hounded by dogs across Mississippi more than any other state. When I rode in a group, a half mile behind Jay, the dogs were all lethargic and not interested. Jay said the reason was that they were all tuckered out from chasing him! I guess the dogs prefer to chase solo riders instead of a pack.

In western states we often followed a road for 40, 60, or even 80 miles during the day. Now out east the roads have more twists and change often, so the PAC Tour has started spraying arrows on the roads. Keep them from having to find lost riders scattered across several counties.

Lastly, I had a nice dinner at Pizza Hut with cousins who are circumnavigating the US, and re-arraigned their trip to meet me in Livingston. It was nice to see a friendly face and catch up on family. (Their names are being withheld until they return home, safe and sound.) Only 5 more days until we finish in Savannah!

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog