Monday, April 30, 2007

Bike Ride Report - The Mother

Now that the pain has subsided, it's time to write a report on the DC Randonneurs' Lost River 300k, commonly referred to as "The Mother of All 300ks", or as I like to think of it, just "The Mother."

It's so bad. It's so hard. It has so many hills. And they are so steep. 192 miles. 14000 feet of climb. Several 20% grades.

It's so bad I forgot to take a picture of myself at the end of it.

It started at 5:00 am, in Middletown, VA, at the Super 8. I slept in the back of the Element parked on the street in a nearby residential neighborhood.

For me, the night before a brevet is like the night before Christmas. I never sleep well because I'm always waking up to see if it's time to start yet. I didn't sleep well, but I was up at 4:15 raring to go. I managed to be on the road only 6 minutes after everyone left.

I started with the idea that I would stop and eat something after each hour of pedaling and then take a picture. I made myself some ham and cheese wraps, and also had a good supply of goo packs and energy bars. I was drinking Cytomax in a Camelback bladder.

Here's the scene after the first hour of riding. It's just getting light on Middle Rd.

Here is a couple hours later, climbing up Wolf Gap, near the top. This is looking down the way I came, but it's hard to tell.

Here's just past the Lost River control. The creek is Kimsey Run.

The scenery on this ride is fabulous, and this was a perfect week because all the redbuds and apple trees were in bloom. There was phlox all over the hillsides. There were many birds newly back for spring. I saw a wood thrush, several brown thrashers, a pair of hairy woodpeckers, a cerulean warbler, and I heard a northern parula. This was along with all the usual cardinals and goldfinches and so on.

Despite the wonderful views, I felt weak all day, and I was not in the least speedy. I was dragging, and I never managed more than about a 90 minute cushion, which would drop down to less than an hour every time I had to grind up yet another giant hill. The payback was fun though, I was over 45 mph on the downhills a couple times.

I don't know where this picture was taken. It's after Lost River and before Slanesville.

Maybe it's Points. I know it's not Kirby, because when I got to Kirby, I was out of water. I remembered there was a store there, but I forgot it is now an antique store and not a grocery. It wasn't a grocery anymore last year either. The guy in the antique store said I could get some water from the spigot behind the house across the street, though. I took the opportunity to clean out my Camelback bladder and mix up another batch of Cytomax.

Every brevet I try a new fuel experiment. This time was a half a wrap or an energy bar every hour, and no sit-down meals. As it happened the time I spent snacking by the side of the road added up, and I never had enough cushion for a sit-down mean anyway. I have to figure out how to eat while riding a recumbent.

I was doing pretty good with my snack-an-hour plan, which I stuck with to the Slanesville control.

At Slanesville, I had a wrap *and* a goo pack, and I decided to try to push it clear through to Wardensville. In retrospect, this was unwise.

Here is the 7-11 at Wardensville, three hours later, where I had a V8 and a giant hot dog.

That blue thing on the left is a kerosene pump. The grassy area behind it is where I threw up.

There is nothing that really takes the life out of you when you need to eat, but then you throw up and you are still 50 miles out and you still have to climb over Wolf Gap. And it was 7:00 and 13 miles and 1500 feet of climb from the top, which pretty much ruled out any hope of going down the very steep and twisty descent on the other side in daylight. Also, it was raining.

I was pretty much convinced at this point I would be getting in around 2:00 am, well after the 1:00 am limit. So I rinsed out the Camelback and filled it with two bottles of Gatorade. I set out slowly up the big climb as it got darker and darker.

By the time I got to the petting zoo (elk! monkeys!) just below the steep part before the top, it was thoroughly dark, and I set up all my lights and put on a fresh hat so I wouldn't freeze on the descent. I was over the top around 8:30. I rode the brakes the whole way down, keeping myself under 20 mph so I wouldn't plunge over the edge and die.

At the bottom of the hill when it flattens out, about two miles from the Larkin's store control, I saw another cyclist riding towards me. At this point, I was not in a particularly coherent state of mind. I was convinced I was by far the last person left on the ride, and I decided it was so late that Larkins had closed, and Liz or somebody was manning the control after hours and was riding back to tell me to get a move on so they could go home. But the rider went by me, and I figured it was just some person out for a bike ride. In the dark. In the middle of nowhere. With a really high quality headlight.

They turned around and started following me and catching up. When they caught up all I could do is incoherently holler "WHO IS IT? WHAT? ARE YOU RIDING A BREVET?"

It turns out it was another randonneur, named Andrea, and she couldn't figure out where the Larkin's store was, and she'd been riding all over looking for it. I told her don't worry, I know exactly where it is. She followed me there. We decided to ride in together, and she said she didn't mind at all if I was pitifully slow because she didn't want to get lost out by herself anymore. She also said this was her first ever brevet! I assured her that this was by far the hardest brevet on the DC Rand schedule. She said if she had known that, it would have made her even more determined to do it. I like Andrea. She is all right. I feel kind of bad for hustling her out of Larkins, but at that point it was 9:20, with 31 miles to go in 3:40, and I had my doubts about making it in on time. Those 31 miles include the "scenic but gruelling" Back Road with it's relentless rollers, and the unspeakable misery of Minebank Road, which is twisty, steep, hilly, stripeless, and utterly dark.

But it's so nice to have another person to ride with in the dark. That extra headlight makes so much difference. And somehow, for the first time all day, I started to feel strong. The moon came out, and there was a tailwind as we rode Back Rd. Back Road runs along a ridge, and it was incredibly beautiful in the moonlight.

We got to the end of Back Rd. at 11:00, with only 12 miles left. We were home free! I felt so good. I faced the Merciless Minebank with grit and determination. So did Andrea. It was smooth sailing on Chapel Road into town, and we got in at midnight.

There were still people up, and everyone applauded when we rolled in to the Super 8!

Here's the map for the route, with the very generous DeLorme elevation.

Here's the MotionBased link.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bike Ride Report - Fleche 2007

Here I am home at last after our failed attempt at the fleche.

I did 120 miles yesterday, and 70 today, almost all into strong headwinds. The high temperature for all of this was 42. It took me 20:30 to do this, which is not quite good enough a pace to complete a fleche.

It was a bad year for Team Torque (Jim, Drew, Scott, l to r)

Here we are about to set off from Dewey Beach at 8:00 am. Note that it is snowing. There is also a very strong wind blowing right from the direction where we will be riding.

Jim was the first casualty.

If you are a glass-half-full sort of person, you would say that Jim toughed it out for 2 hours. On the other hand, the glass-half-empty sort of person would note that Jim toughed it out for 11 miles.

We did lose 40 minutes due to Jim getting a flat tire at mile 3.5, so it wasn't as if he was only riding 5.5 mph. He was making nearly 8 into the wind.

Anyway, Jim went home because it was apparent there was no way he was going to finish in these conditions.

Once we got up to Route 16, Scott and I made some serious time, since the wind was blowing across. We were able to maintain about 17 mph, and by the time we got to the control at NASCAR Al's, were were back on the pace of 10 mph. (238 miles in 24 hours for our route)

It seems another Fleche team, the Chain Gang, had passed through Al's 3 1/2 hours earlier. They left us words of encouragement.

But right after Al's the route turned north into the wind, and we were unable to add much cushion. We stopped at mile 78 in Sudlersville. We found a great cafe about a quarter mile off the route. Turn right at the stoplight, it's on the right just past the meat packers.

Both Scott and I had open-faced roast beef sandwiches, with gravy on them fries, hon. Yum!

Note Drew's clean plate and Scott's half-eaten meal. This marked the beginning of the end for Scott. He was unable to hold down food or liquid.

He realized severe dehydration was inevitable by Bethel (mile 85) and called his wife to pick him up in Chesapeake City, which was the first town where there was a warm place to wait around in.

Here's Scott at the end in Chesapeake City. He was dragging badly at this point.

I pressed on.

The route gets quite hilly after Elkton. By the time I got to Oxford, PA (mile 120), it was 8:00 and dark. It was also getting pretty cold, and I was starting to get second thoughts about riding all night alone in these conditions. I decided to find a good meal, and then see how I felt, and maybe just get a room if I didn't start feeling better.

I found a diner about a quarter mile off the route, and it had just closed. I inquired at the nearest gas station if there was a motel in town. The guys at the gas station didn't speak English so well. The first one said no motel. The second one said there was a hotel. Go down the road to the first light and look to your left.

Here it is. (taken this morning in the daylight)

I went and looked in the window. There were people inside, there was a dining room, a bar, and pool tables in the back. Food!

I went in. There was a man and a woman sitting at the counter in the dining room who looked like they might be in charge.

I asked "Are you guys actually a hotel?" They looked at each other kind of puzzled.

"Why do you want to know?"

"Well, I'd like to get a room."

This seemed to confuse them more. They didn't know what to do. I explained to them about the fleche, and how I had had enough after 120 miles of cold and headwinds. I also said how it would make my day if I could just sit here and eat and then go to sleep and ride home tomorrow.

They explained the situation. They rent rooms, but only by the week, typically to laborers. There are two shared showers for all rooms, and they provide no sheets, blankets, towels or toiletries.

I observed that they had a Dangerously Delicious pie box on the counter, which was the pie shop in my former neighborhood run by Rodney the retired punk rocker and notable neighborhood character. They said they drive to Baltimore every week and load up on pies, and that's actually all the food they serve any more, and pretty much all the food they themselves eat.

I told them at this point I have no standards and I would take whatever room they had. Since we had bonded over our love of Rodney's pie, they set out to figure out how to accommodate me. I ordered a slice of sausage pie for dinner, and slice of custard pie ("white trash creme brulee" according to Rodney) for dessert. And a hot chocolate and a Yuengling.

First they had to figure out what a room cost for one night. They decided $20. The weekly rate is $120. Then there was the matter of blankets. They found some sheets and blankets upstairs, which I suspect were the spares from their own room. They found a bar of soap! But the towel had them stumped. They eventually handed me a new roll of paper towels from behind the bar. Finally we had to figure out what to do with my bike. The room was on the third floor, and of course there is no elevator. We chained it to the radiator pipe in the hallway.

Here's the room.

No, there was no heat to speak of, but the blankets were plenty warm, and I slept in the fleece pants I rode in (they weren't too soggy) and my reserve base layer and down sweater. I was very comfy, and as far as I am concerned this place was a complete score.

It only took about 20 paper towels to dry off from my shower.

Now the next day, all I had to do was ride home. Since I no longer had to worry about our Approved Fleche Route and control cards and all that, I decided there was no way I was going to ride 12 miles of very hilly roads north to Quarryville and cross the Susquehanna at Holtville. Instead I'll just ride on US 1 and go over the Conowingo dam. Everyone says it's horrible to ride over the Conowingo dam, but I had never done it so I figured it was time for the direct experience. Also maybe the grades on Route 1 wouldn't be so bad and maybe there would be places to eat.

So I fired up my GPS and headed out of town on Locust St. to Route 1. I discovered in Pennsylvania, Route 1 is a limited access highway, and there is no access from Locust St. Four very hilly miles later, I made it to Nottingham, PA, home of a giant Herr's chip plant, and a tasty breakfast restaraunt. I was feeling quite ragged at this point, but a good breakfast fixed me right up.

So I headed out on Route 1 the limited access freeway, on the smooth and spacious shoulder, and into Maryland where Route 1 is a regular road, which still has a smooth and spacious shoulder, and over the Conowingo Dam, which was not so bad at all. It's really not much different than crossing Liberty Reservoir on Deer Park Road. Don't believe the hype.

In fact I was feeling so confident I decided to abandon my notion of riding Route 1 all the way to Bel Air, and instead I would take one of my favorite scenic ride routes and go down MD 136 and head into Baltimore on MD 7, Philadelphia Rd. Perhaps I had an oxygen deficiency in my brain and all the brain cells that were involved with remembering just how hilly that route was were disabled at the time. It was bad. I wound up climbing 5400 feet on a 70 mile ride. Into a 15+ mph headwind the whole time. I was about spent when I got to the Double T at White Marsh, which was still about 25 miles from home.

Hot turkey sandwich with gravy on them fries, hon fixed me right up. Also, it flattens out a bit on the back roads I take through Middle River and Essex.

I also figured out why subconsciously I had to go this way.

No fleche success this year, those frigid headwinds are brutal, but it was a good adventure.

Here's the map for the first day, and the MotionBased page.

Here's the map for the second day, and the MotionBased page.

Max is still cute!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bike Ride Report - Urbana 200k

I rode the DC Randonneurs Urbana 200k yesterday. It was a really nice ride.

It was a cool early spring day. The route spent a lot of time climbing up and down ridges, where the very first signs of spring were just appearing. There was 9000 feet of climb. There were a lot of short steep climbs. My Garmin Training Center chart shows 16 climbs over 10%, and 1 over 15%.

I rode the T-Bone.

You will note there are no other cyclists in this picture. That's because they all left 20 minutes ago. I thought that I'd just drive from home, since Urbana is not that far away instead of driving out the night before and sleeping in Debra's Element. Well, I got up at 5:30, and due to my dysfunctional nature in the morning, here I am all alone at 7:20.

I have the T-Bone set up as my flat-land go-fast bike. It has new Q-Rings, and an 11-26 10 speed cassette. This gives me a low gear of only 28 gear inches. I usually ride the Cobrabike on brevets, which has 90 speeds and a low gear of 16 gear inches. (That's more like it.) But I got the T-Bone up Gun Road in its current setup, so I figured this would be a good experiment to see just how hard it would be.

I managed. It was pretty hard at the end, and my knees were pretty stiff today. On the other hand, I was very fast on this ride. I think the T-Bone might be a bit faster than the Cobrabike, although I'm not sure why that is.

Here's the first control, in Union Bridge. The ridge in the background is the Catoctin Mountains, which is the big, big climb of the day.

Here is Smithville, on the other side of the Catoctins. I made myself wraps of corned beef and swiss cheese, and ate one about every 90 minutes to two hours. I sipped Cytomax continuously. This worked very well, although I did feel a bit jagged towards the end.

Here's the next control at the KOA outside of Williamsport. Time for another wrap.

Gapland. It's always great to see this. That's because it's payback time. This was my last snack stop.

Here's the map.

Here's the MotionBased page. It ends a mile short because the battery died on the GPS.