Saturday, May 11, 2013
I was alerted to this challenge by my employers at Knapp's Cyclery. They explained that the goal was to ride 1,319 kilometers (818 miles) in the month of April. This would represent the cumulative distance of the five professional bike races taking place in Europe during this same time period. Right off I stated that I would likely log 500 more miles in April than the challenge called for. It seemed like a fun idea to sign up. When I logged on to the Strava site I was awestruck to see that there were 28,000 riders participating in the month long challenge.
On April 1st I begin downloading my Garmin 800 to Strava at the end of each day of riding. I noticed that the participants were ranked by the total number of kilometers ridden. This added a competitive element above and beyond the initial goal. After three days I was ranked 145th out of all the riders. I was surprised to see that participants were from all over the world, the current leader residing in Australia. The United States had 9,000 riders of which I was ranked 45th. With my competitive nature kicking in I began plotting how I would get in extra distance to move my number up. I started adding more miles to my commuting by riding more circuitous routes, averaging fifty miles per day on work days. I would shoot for one-hundred or more on my days off. I rode in this manner for the first eleven days of April before my body demanded a rest day.
As the month went on I sort of adapted to the increase, which was one-hundred miles per-week more than my normal. The average went from 300 hundred to 400 hundred weekly just like that. I was feeling pretty tired most of the time, but I had learned how to cope with it. Deep down I was afraid of getting sick or injured. When I rode over a bump and felt my calve muscle knot up I thought that would be it. Miraculously, by virtue of icing it twice a day and wearing compression socks when off the bike it steadily improved without rest.
Besides the Strava challenge I had other things planned for the month like the hilly Lake Nockamixon 200k and the vertically challenging Princeton 300k. In a pure mileage contest heavy climbing is a dumb idea, but if I had any sense I wouldn't be riding a fixed-gear. I did every ride as planned.
The final week was the hardest. I needed two rest days, but still kept the same average daily miles. The final day of the month I rode just thirty-two miles to bring my total for April to 1703 miles. I finished the challenge in 49th place, world-wide, and 16th in the United States. Not too bad for a fixie.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
At 5am our group of 30 riders starts out from the front of the Comfort Inn for the first leg of 56 miles. It's a cool 45 degrees with a light breeze. The group quickly splinters with about six fast riders pulling ahead at a very brisk pace. I settle in with the second group of about eight riders. Some rolling hills present themselves early on as does one very steep kicker named Thrill Hill Road. I maintain pace with the group, on my fixed-gear, by sprinting to the top ahead of everyone only to be re-joined on the downside. I spend a lot of time at the front pulling through an increasing head wind. We pick up a couple of riders who were dropped by the lead group. The first glimpses of daylight begin just after 7am. It is sometime later before the warming effect of the sun is noticed. The skies are cloudless which will make way for a very warm afternoon. By the time we reach the control the temperature has risen dramatically. I spend time removing a layer of clothing and making a quick adjustment to the bike. The group I was riding with departs a few minutes before me.
After just a few miles Buckhill Road is repeated in the opposite direction. It feels about the same as the other way. After some milder miles on county roads I am directed onto a bicycle trail which is followed for 22 miles. The West Orange Trail is a wide recreational path which is mostly flat with some shade. It passes through the towns of Wintergarden and Apopka. It's not particularly crowded and I am able to make good time through it. About half way through I see a rider, who appears to be on the brevet, fixing a flat. I ask if everything is okay and am assured that it is. I continue to the exit of trail. Back on regular roads there are ten miles of somewhat hilly terrain to be covered before the control. I manage a good pace with the help of some favorable wind and arrive at the Citgo Mart in Tangerine, Florida. I'm refilling my water bottles when the guy who was fixing the flat comes in. We chat for a minute. I tell him I'm ready to go and that he should be able to catch me on this next leg. As I pull out to the road a large group is on the way in. Again, I imagine they will catch me before the next control.
The route does a lot of doubling back on itself, sort of going around in circles. I notice that some of the roads and intersections I've been on before. Mostly going the opposite way. I am directed back to Sugarloaf Mountain for a climb up from the other direction. It's a bit shorter and steeper this way, but presents no problem. When not climbing one of the bigger hills the route is mostly rolling. I'm able to maintain a pretty good rhythm on these type of hills. There is no sign of anyone coming up from behind, which I find surprising. Daylight begins to run out necessitating a stop for night gear. I use the sidewalk where there is a fence to lean my bike against. It takes about five minutes before I'm underway again. Given the clear skies all day I expect the air will cool considerably with night fall. There is one control before the finish at mile 221. I'm making a bee line for it. At this point I don't want any riders catching me. I've ridden most of the day alone, I am happy to finish it that way. With full darkness the bottoms of hills are cold spots where I feel quite chilled. Climbing up to the top of hills feels warm and I relish it. I arrive at the control, in Mascotter, Fl, realizing I need to add a layer of clothes as well as my long fingered gloves. I take a bit more time than at other controls and two groups of riders arrive while I'm there. By the time I depart I estimate there are about a dozen milling about. There are thirty miles to the finish.
The first few miles feel a bit chilly despite the additional clothes. Soon enough my internal body heat rises enough to make me comfortable. In keeping with the idea that I don't want anyone catching me I amp it up a bit. The rollers continue and I am in tune with them. There are some long stretches of six to eight miles on dark lonely roads. I particularly enjoy this type of isolation when night riding. For me these moments are the highlight of the ride. Not that I don't like being around people, but sometimes it's fun to feel like the only one on the planet for a little while. I keep my pace and occasionally look back for bicycle head lamps only to see more darkness. My Garmin occasionally chirps reminding me of upcoming turns. Everything flows perfectly, almost effortlessly. When the rural setting gives way to a more suburban area I am only a few miles from the end. I give what I have left in my legs to cover the remaining distance quickly. In short order I am at the front of the hotel. I ride through the automatic opening doors into the lobby where the organizer, RBA Paul Rozelle, and a few riders are waiting. Paul is indeed surprised to see me this early. He tells me that there are lots of good riders behind me and only five have finished so far. My time is 19 hours and 22 minutes. I eat two slices of pizza before any other finishers arrive. Just maybe I'm starting to get the hang of this fixed-gear thing.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
On December 19, while commuting to work, I unceremoniously rolled past the 14,000 mile mark for the year. Just one mile later I would surpass my highest annual mileage total ever, which was set last year at 14,001 road miles. The one difference this year is that every mile was ridden on a fixed-gear bike. There was not a single gear shift nor even a second of coasting anywhere along the way. Two weeks later, upon arriving home from work, on a chilly New Year's Eve, I would finish the year with 14,352 miles.
As I look back on the experience I'm not sure exactly how to feel about it. I wasn't awed by the accomplishment, it was just another year of riding a lot. I've had a number of those years. This didn't really feel any different. It was like becoming a vegetarian, which I did many years ago. I never missed the meat and I didn't really miss the gears. But, if asked why I made the choice the only answer I have is that it raised the level of difficulty, presenting a greater challenge.
In reality, the fixie year was kind of a fluke. Near the end of 2011 I was headed to Arkansas for a couple of weeks to visit with family. I decided to take a bike with me. I selected the fixed-gear for it's low maintenance and simplicity. Also, reasoning it would be great off-season training. Unforeseen circumstances had me staying in Arkansas for the better part of four months. I spent a lot of time slogging that bike up and down the Ozark Mountains. I even traveled to nearby Missouri and Tennessee to sample the riding there. It was all hilly terrain, but I was managing quite well without gears. When I set a 200k PR on a hilly Missouri brevet I thought maybe I should just stick with this bike for awhile. In early April I rode a pretty wet 300k, also in Missouri. That was followed by a 400k on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee. That represented my longest fixed-gear ride ever. By the time I arrived home in May I was committed to finishing 2012 as it was started. The geared bikes in my garage were gathering dust, but I wasn't changing horses anytime soon.
Back in familiar territory the brevet season was at full boil. I participated in an early May point-to-point fleche from New York City to Westfield, Mass. Our team of four riders, The Shiftless Vagabonds, were all on fixed-gear. I rode a second 300k and 400k, locally in New Jersey. At some point I realized I had three of the four components to the Cyclos Montagardes R-80 recognition. The R-80 is a full brevet series with all rides completed within 80% of the time limit. The 600k was the missing link. To meet the mark I would need to complete the ride in under 32 hours. For me that would require a straight through effort with no allowance for sleep. The New Jersey East Creek 600k fit the criteria. I would end up finishing the ride in 31 hours and 17 minutes. That event also represented my 10th brevet series and brought me the Ultra Randonneur Award. Yet, there was still more to accomplish as the Mondial and K-Hound awards were both in my sights for 2012. I was constantly riding permanents of 100k and 200k distances to rack up the RUSA kilometers. The numbers were looking good, but at some point I began to feel burned out. All the riding, combined with working full time in a very busy bike shop (Knapp's Cyclery) was making the activity feel like a bit of a chore. I needed a fresh perspective to keep things interesting.
|Cross-State Record 4hrs 27min|
|Specialized Langster - The Fast Fixie|
I would still ride five permanents in the month of December, more out of habit than any other reason. Despite having done hundreds of them, sometimes riding the same routes many times over, I still take pleasure in it. The highlight of December was our NJ Randonneur holiday ride and celebration with 14 local riders clipping in for a 100k permanent. At the conclusion of the ride we all ate, drank and socialized. For all the lonely solo miles I've done the chance to mix with a group of friends is a solid-gold event. I hope to do more of that in 2013.
The beginning of a New Year is a mixed blessing. All that has been accomplished the prior year is erased. The goal setting, planning, and self-motivating has to begin all over again. I awoke on New Years Day with zero miles. Fortunately, that would only last a few hours before the first miles and kilometers of the year began accumulating. There is much to decide about 2013. Should the fixed-gear only mode continue? I can only say that it will initially, but, I'm not sure about the entire year. I do find myself gazing fondly at the carbon fiber multi-gear bikes which are neatly lined up at the bike shop. I can't promise I won't give in to the temptation and end up with one of them. Also, the much neglected tandem that sits in my garage is silently beckoning to me. I am thinking I would like to find a stoker to share some of the adventures. I could stand to cut back a little on the solo riding.
Although I've been cycling since 1984 I only have accurate records from 2006 until present. In the past seven years I have logged 72,100 outdoor road miles. I didn't know the number for sure until I totaled it all up on January 1st. Should the last two years be an indication of future mileage I will then hit 100,000 miles in two more years. That will be the only goal I will set right now. The rest of them will come along as the season approaches. For now I need to ponder things.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
A truck stop with a motel on top and a couple of fast food restaurants is the official starting point. The accommodations are not luxurious, but they are clean and very adequate for our needs. Arriving on Friday night we meet many of the local group for dinner at the Subway. The Lone Star Randonneurs are a friendly bunch. We have a good time conversing with them about all things Rando. They have many big achievers including Dan and Gary who have both completed over 100,000 kilometers of RUSA brevets and permanents. After spending a couple of hours we reluctantly move on to the motel to get some sleep for the 7am start.
LSR 600k Day One
It's a chilly morning (40F) as we take out from the parking area with fourteen riders, eleven of us on the 600k. One rider doing the 400k and two on the 200k. The 300k route would go unused today. The group takes out very fast. I look down to see we are clipping along at about 20mph on chip and seal road surface. This is faster than I care to go this early in the ride, so, I back down some. Paul agrees with the decision to let the pack go. One other rider stays with us, Matt from New Mexico, riding the 400k. We are on the first of two out and back sections. This one being 220 miles long. At the conclusion of which we will be back at the motel. The plan is to take some sleep before starting the second 153 mile out and back.
|Dan Driscoll - RBA Dallas Region|
|Paul and Matt - Day One|
Leaving the control we navigate a couple of quick turns to get to FM 39 where we continue for thirty miles. The terrain is mildly rolling with some longer upgrades of light gradient. I've warmed up nicely and am able to pull us along at a good pace. After a time Paul informs me that Matt has fallen back. Given that we are on different rides, and will have to separate at some point anyway, we decide to continue at our pace, hoping we will see Matt again at the control. The miles tick off efficiently on this section. Before we know it we are at the turn off for the control at US-79. The gas station/market is one mile up. Again the main group of riders is there. Most of them depart a minute or two before us, with one rider, John from Connecticut, lingering a bit longer. John has done some of our New Jersey rides and recognized us. We leave the control at the same time and fall into pace together. There is no sign of Matt.
|John - Day One|
|The speed limit on a two lane Farm Road in rural Texas|
|Making the push to Dawson|
After some miles on a somewhat busy State Highway 31 we are back on Farm Roads. The temperature has steadily fallen. I'm feeling pretty chilled. Knowing we are knocking off the final miles to a hot shower and warm bed keeps me going. Most of our time is spent on FM 667 which features the same chip and seal road surface as most of the other roads. I've become somewhat conditioned to it and am no longer bothered by the vibration and reduced speed. I rejoice when we reach the left turn which takes us through the small downtown area of Italy. Our motel is just the other side of the Interstate. Dan and Stephen are waiting for us at the finish to sign our brevet cards. We agree to meet in the morning at 6am to start day two. Meanwhile, for me it's food, shower and sleep, in that order.
LSR 600 - Day 2
The agreed meeting place for our group to begin day two is conveniently at the McDonald's just beneath our motel. I'm having a bowl of oatmeal. The temperature is a bit colder than the prior day's start. John arrives and we talk about today's ride. Mostly how to deal with the high wind predication. Paul arrives just prior to our start time. By 6am the group is gathered and nine riders take to the roads. Starting out I feel the chip and seal road surface immediately. I guess it will take some time to re-condition myself to it. The pace this morning is considerably milder than the start of day one. A few hours sleep does not erase the two-hundred and twenty miles already accumulated in one's legs. After a few miles we see Matt coming at us at the end of his 400k. I can't help but think it must have been a long, cold and lonely night for him out on the Texas Prairie. I'm happy to know he made it safely with a few hours to spare.
|Sun Rise on the prairie|
|Power Generating plant ahead|
|Houses come with lots of open space around|
There are only three roads involved with the next leg. They all feature similar terrain and road surface, somewhat hilly and chip sealed. Wide tires and cushy handlebar tape are good equipment in this part of Texas. I'm happy I brought the fixie with the Specialized 25mm's and the Bar Phat tape. I have had no issues other than moving along a little slower than preferred.
|Paul with 'bent rider Michael ahead|
As we near the control we see Gary and Charlie, the lead riders, heading back to Wortham. Vicky on the recumbent, now riding alone, is not far behind them. We arrive at the Sunmart in Prairie Hill, which is today's turn-around. Stephen and Sharon with the tandem are there, as is Michael on the other recumbent. I am being bothered by a case of hot-feet. I purchase a bag of ice and sit outside with both feet resting on the cold plastic bag. Since the day has warmed considerably it is not uncomfortable to be using the ice. After a rather long break we head out as a group following the same roads back to Wortham.
Given the reversal of direction we now can enjoy some assistance from the wind. It is noticeable as we work our way up the back side of the same hills. The terrain feels flatter this way thanks to the invisible helping hand from the wind. Combined with the comfortable temperature I am enjoying myself as much as it is possible for a person with three-hundred miles in their legs. On the flat ground the geared bikes are at an advantage with the tailwind. With just the one gear I have to spin faster to keep up. No matter, as no one is complaining. It is all good. We arrive in Wortham having dwindled to just four of us. The tandem along with Dan and Janet are slightly behind.
|Janet on her way to first 600k finish|
|Dan sporting Texas Rando Stampede 1200k jersey|
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Just past the middle of October my RUSA kilometer total reached an even 9800k. Just 200k away from K-Hound status. I'd ridden so many permanents lately that I had a hankering for a regular brevet. As luck would have it the PA Randonneurs were hosting 200 and 150 kilometer rides on Saturday. There is generally a good turn-out for their rides, and, I might even know some of the riders. I informed the RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, I would be coming. Remembering how hilly the PA rides are I checked the route profile only to have my stomach tighten when I saw the elevation gain to be over 10,000 feet. Shortly after I received an e-mail from Tom confirming my entry and suggesting I bring low gears. He was not aware that I've been only riding fixed-gear this year. I felt committed to the ride but could not help being a bit nervous about it.
I undertook the drive to Quakertown early in the morning to arrive at the Weisel Youth Hostel in time for breakfast. A nice array of foods were on offer including hot oatmeal. There were a few riders milling about that I did indeed know, although most of them were doing the 150k. That option seemed very reasonable to me, but would fall short of the total I needed. I remained committed to the 200k. A regular PA rider, Johnathan, recognized me and inquired if I was riding fixed. I confirmed that I was to which he replied with just two words, "Fox Gap", referring to the 1,000 foot climb that appears at mile fifty-five. I simply shrugged admitting that I expected to struggle.
|Riders milling about at the start. Weisel Youth Hostel, Quakertown, PA|
|Crossing the Appalachian Trail|
|Information control at the top of Fox Gap|
|When not climbing there are always mountains to look at.|
|The sun on it's way down.|
Epilogue, Plans and Goals
I've done far more solo riding this year than ever before. The fixed-gear is isolating, unless riding with other fixies. I enjoy riding with others, but have learned to appreciate being alone as well. I'm not reliant on companionship to enjoy a long day on the bike. I've become proficient at controls. Managing to keep my time off the bike to a bare minimum on most rides. Due to an affliction known as ADD I've not been the best at navigation. When I ride a new route, alone, it is highly possible, even likely, I will make an error adding additional miles to the distance. Usually it is a miss-read of the cue sheet that causes this. I've since purchased a Garmin and am slowly learning how to use it. Hopefully, this will help, but it is not a simple device to use. At least not for me.
It was satisfying to reach the K-Hound level again this year. With the difference being that I have ridden only fixed-gear for every kilometer in 2012. I am planning to travel to Texas next month for a 600k hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs, the original K-hounds. I'm much looking forward to meeting them, and riding with their group.
To finish off the year I hope to ride at least 1,000 more official kilometers which will put my all time RUSA total to 40,000, which is known as the Mondial level. A finish of the Dallas 600k will complete a second SR Series for me, this year. Two thousand more fixed-gear miles by the year end will bring my total to 14,000 for 2012. The R-12 quest is still intact with 45 consecutive months accumulated so far. The P-12 stands at 22 consecutive months. All of it is lots of motivation to keep me riding as the weather turns colder.
Friday, September 14, 2012
The wind feels cool blowing through my one piece cycling suit. It's just a few minutes past eight on a cloudy Sunday morning. The aforementioned wind is coming off the Great Bay in Little Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. I'm at the center of a small gathering making final preparations to ride my bike to the western end of the state where the pavement will end at the Delaware River, some eighty miles from the starting point. The purpose of the gathering is to attempt to break a standing UMCA record for crossing the state from east to west. That record stands at 5 hours, 55 minutes. I'm hoping to beat that time by a substantial margin, perhaps an hour or more.
At thirteen minutes past the hour I'm ready to go. My nervousness begins to fade away as I turn the pedals on the Specialized Langster fixed gear. My wife, son and David, the UMCA official, pile into the follow vehicle to trail behind me. This is a requirement for a UMCA record. I question whether it will be a distraction. As it turns out I quickly forget it's there. Focusing on maintaining a brisk pace for the miles ahead requires most of my concentration. With the remaining mental capacity I am making sure I don't miss a turn. I am to stay on Great Bay Boulevard for over six miles. The area is very open and quiet at this early hour. I can see the water to my left. There are multiple narrow bridges with traffic lights to ensure no two vehicles meet on the wooden section, which is only wide enough for one vehicle. The UMCA rules require adherence to all traffic laws. I lose a couple of minutes waiting at these lights, even though no vehicle comes through. After crossing US-9 I am headed to the heart of the Pine Barrens region. This is a good place to be when the wind direction is opposite of helpful. The trees make a nice blockade allowing a steady pace to be maintained. My goal is to manage the full distance without a stop.
|Waiting at one of many traffic light crossings|
|Official UMCA follow vehicle|
After a sixteen mile stretch on a single county road, CR 690, we find ourselves close to fifty miles. With about thirty left to the finish. It looks as if we are going to shatter the record. Although, I'm trying hard to block out that thought. I think about the expression "counting chickens before they hatch". I need to concentrate on nothing but staying on course and giving what I can to the momentum of the bike.
Soon enough I begin to see the cooling tower of the Salem Nuclear Plant looming up ahead with steam steadily flowing from it's top. Our destination is quite near the plant, which uses the Delaware River to cool the reactor core. The wind has picked up quite a bit, and for now, I am right into it. With about ten miles left I pick up my effort to compensate. Mostly, it is effective. My average speed is holding fairly well.
The final miles are exposed land, mostly corn fields. When the turn for Fort Elfsborg road comes up I know we are within a few miles of the end. The road twists its way through some farmland and makes a hard left to become a residential road. I fly by the small houses until the tiny park at the end of the road is in sight. Not much point in sprinting , but, for the benefit of the crew I pump my fist int he air as I hit the transition from road to dirt, which is where the land yields to the river. We have taken more than 1.5 hours off of the existing record using a fixed-gear bike. Needless to say we are a happy little group at the finish. The finish time is 4 hours, 27 minutes.
|At the finish on the Delaware River. Notice the flags.|
|A hug for the crew chief and vehicle driver, my son Charlie|
|Left to right: David, UMCA Official, Charlie (son), Crew Chief, Lucy (wife) support crew|
A UMCA event is an unusual practice for me. The past seven years have been largely spent randoneuriing. While much has been accomplished in that time the repetitiveness of the activity can make one weary. Something different than the routine can be refreshing. Preparing for the record attempt took incredible time and energy. And, much of it was off the bike. In fact, meeting the UMCA paperwork and vehicle signage requirements where quite time consuming. As was designing and driving the route. With the experience gained in this successful attempt I feel that future participation will be easier. There are literally scads of records across the country that are ripe for the picking. I'm hoping to find the time and a willing crew to take a shot at another one. Stay tuned.