It took a 630-mile bike ride on the historic Natchez Trace to hash out the finer points of a raging debate, but in my humble opinion, the scores have finally been tabulated.
In the battle of skin v. shorts, skin wins.
In the battle of skin v. shorts, skin wins.
At issue: the best way to apply Lantiseptic, the sticky cream with the intoxicating nursing home aroma that is used to prevent chafing on long rides.
Two schools of thought have developed. Some believe that Lantiseptic should be applied to the short's chamois. They argue this approach allows the lanolin and bee's wax to open up and breathe, like a fine French Bordeaux, before filling the various nooks and crannies in the nether regions. Count riding buddy Capn Ende among this camp.
Footnote: Newer riders may be unaware that Capn Ende is largely credited with introducing the randonneuring community to the wonders of Lantiseptic. Sadly, Capn has developed something of a Lantiseptic "problem." He now freely admits to liberally applying the substance to his knees, toes and other body parts that are best left unnamed.
Other hardy randonneurs, including myself, believe Lantiseptic is best applied directly to the gluteus maximus, known in scientific circles as "the fanny." The cycling shorts are then quickly pulled into place, creating an airtight seal, much like the submarine door in The Abyss.
Until now, there has not been an adequate proving ground for a death match of these competing philosophies. Then came last week's 1000K on the Natchez Trace, a centuries-old Indian and settler's trading route that slices through the heart of Dixie. Our route took us from just south of Nashville, the Music City, to the showcase of central Mississippi, Red Dog Road.
Ende and I, looking for a way to sweat out the espresso toxins that had built up in our systems over the summer, both signed up, as did riding buddy Carol, aka Bossy Girl. At the left is her fender from a previous event. She did not install it on the Natchez ride since it had been billed as a family event.
I didn't know much about the Trace before heading out to Tennessee. From what I was able to glean during the event, if you were an explorer, your best shot at having a car named after you was to hike the Trace. Witness the popular but short-lived De Soto.
Capn, Bossy Girl and myself drifted along at a tourist pace, gathering various guest riders along the way, including Rorie from Florida and RBA Jeff Sammons, who did a spectacular job with the route, the planning, and the volunteers. A tip of the hat to all who helped out and our sincere thanks.
The Natchez is a lot like her older sister, the Blue Ridge Parkway, but without the annoying mood swings. Both are federal roads overseen by the National Park Service. The Trace itself is hundreds of years old; the original walking trail crisscrosses the modern road at a dozen or more places. Finally completed in 2005, the Natchez Parkway is 444 miles long and has a land buffer of about 800 feet, often forested, making the road seem more remote than it is. It's exceptionally quiet, with mostly hard, smooth pavement, no driveways, no dogs and very, very light car traffic. ESPN named the Natchez Trace Parkway as one of the country's top 10 road biking destinations. Having now ridden a big chunk of it, I heartily agree.
The first two days of the event featured oppressive heat. Nothing new to the Tar Heel crew, but it proved to be the undoing of some riders from cooler climes. I've never gone through so much water on a ride. Even at a tourist pace (or perhaps because of it?) we often consumed two water bottles every 15 miles.
I have drifted into a ride report, and I know you're all waiting with bated breath -- as opposed to baited breath, which is what carp have -- for the Lantiseptic showdown.
I find in warm weather I like to apply five or six of the small Lantiseptic packets before the ride starts. Since I slather the stuff directly on the old can, I need to do this in a restroom with a sink. The stuff is indeed tenacious; it's easier, and quicker, to expunge a felony conviction than to scrub Lantiseptic residue from your fingers. But once the hands are clean, you're good to go for the rest of the day. A little front-end prep heads off any back-end issues, so to speak. I haven't had a saddle sore since PBP 2003, an event I did on a wing and a prayer rather than a proper anti-chafing lotion.
In contrast to my skin-on-skin approach, Capn applies Lantiseptic by carefully squeezing out two packets on each side of his chamois. He also applies auxiliary packets along the way, as needed. Let's listen to him describe his technique.....
The problem with Capn's approach became apparent on Day 2, shortly after that video was shot. As we headed north up the Trace after an afternoon of blistering heat, I thought I was hallucinating or having a disturbing spiritual experience.... Was that... was that Richard Nixon on the back of Capn's shorts? His Lantiseptic had begun to ooze through the lycra, creating a milky apparition with a striking resemblance to our 36th President. In all fairness, it was not the jowly Nixon, but the younger Dick in his Checkers era.
Unfortunately, my phone battery had run down or I would have snapped a picture. However, I was able to locate a very close approximation online.
Shaken badly, I immediately charged to the front of our little peleton, where I stayed for much of the rest of the ride. My riding buddies thought I was playing the hero with those big pulls. Just the opposite -- I was a full-blown coward, fearful of what I might see when I drifted to the back of the paceline. What would be next -- Spiro Agnew?
I finally confronted Ende at the Collinwood control, 90 miles from the finish, and tactfully suggested it was time to abandon his severely flawed application technique. His brazen response: "When your method produces a chance for the visage of the blessed mother to appear on your cycling shorts then we'll talk."
Fellow hardy randonneurs, I implore you, it is time to relegate Ende's application technique to the garbage heap of other discounted theories, like cold fusion and phrenology. These randonneuring events are hard enough without unnerving visions such as the one I witnessed on the Natchez Trace.
Respectfully, Mike Dayton / Raleigh