Saturday, April 8, 2017

Luna Bars - For Women Only?

The question I'm often asked by riders new to longer events is what do you eat?  How do you get enough calories to sustain your body for all day and multi day long rides?  

The truth is I believe most people take in many more calories than is needed on these rides.  At the moderate pace maintained over long distance by most  Randonneurs it is possible to burn a high percentage of stored body fat in relationship to carbohydrate intake.  The carbs are the flame and the fat is the fuel.  So the question remaining is how many carbs does it take to keep one going?   My answer is very little!  On average I can get by with about 100 calories per hour, or less.  

Typically, I eat a 200 calorie item between controls of 35 to 50 miles.  There are many pocket food items that work out to about that calorie content. Snickers Bars, which are available at any convenience store, fit the bill. Though, it is important to take in a small amount of protein with the carbs for proper absorption.  Failure to do so will cause your body to cannibalize the protein from your muscles.  The Snickers Bars, and other reasonable sports energy bars, have enough protein to get the job done.  

As for the energy bar category I always have a couple in my back pocket.  My bar of choice for many years was the Clif Bar.  Typically, I eat everything on a ride while pedaling my bike.  I found the Clif Bars stored well in the jersey pocket and could be opened and consumed while riding.  These are a very efficient food choice, but somewhat lacking in enjoyment.  I never remember savoring them, no matter what flavor I was carrying.  None the less, I continued to purchase them by the box.  

One day while perusing the shelves of the market for interesting Clif Bar flavors I came across Luna Bars.  These were made by Clif, but were marketed as women's specific nutrition.  I wondered what could really be different about a bar meant to be consumed by women.  It was slightly lower in calorie then the men's product by a very small amount.  The shape of the packaging was a bit different too.  And, the flavors looked much more interesting.  Like; Caramel Walnut Brownie, Chocolate Dipped Coconut, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Chunk, Lemon Zest, Blueberry Bliss, Iced Oatmeal Raisin and Honey Salted Peanut for starters.  There are more.  I purchased a half dozen of these bars in the flavors I found most interesting.  I would try them the next time out.   

I reached for that first bar tearing open the package with my teeth while riding down the road.  The first bite of the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut was really a different experience.  The texture was easier to consume and more enjoyable than the highly compressed Clif Bars.  And, the flavors really came alive, actually stimulating the taste buds.  I quickly ate the whole bar.  It was a much more enjoyable experience than other bars I've tried.  More on par with the enjoyment level of the sugary candy bars, though this product contained far less sugar.  Which, in my opinion, is a good thing.  Especially, if the bars are consumed as food while not exercising.   Which I do when I'm busy working.         

 Since then I've been only buying the Luna Bars and have not touched a Clif Bar. I've really sort of forgotten that they were meant for women. They work well for me so I buy them and consume them. Possibly they will work for you as well.  One doesn't have to be any particular gender to enjoy a well designed and tasty energy bar.  

See you on the roads.

Joe Kratovil is a Randonneur and Ultra Distance Rider.  In the pursuit of these activities he has logged over 120,000 road miles. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Specialized Roubaix - Is Smoother Faster?

The New Roubaix upfitted with 32mm tubeless tires plays well on unpaved

Product Review of New Specialized Roubaix

I confess to being a long time fan of Specialized Bicycle Company products.   I've ridden their bikes since 2007 and have used much of their rider gear with good success.  In 2012 I began working at a bike shop that carried the line exclusively.  It was an immersion into a culture where new technology was constantly being developed.  It was exciting to see new innovations come into production.  Not only bikes but rider gear as well.  Much of the new tech stuff was going to the mountain bike genre as that style of riding seemed to benefit the most from improvements in suspension, braking systems, and tires.   None the less, the road side was not ignored as Shimano's Di2 Electronic Shifting became available on some of the higher end bikes.  Later disc brakes, including fully hydraulic systems, began appearing on road bikes as well.  Both these products were controversial among roadies at first, but would eventually be accepted and acknowledged as improvements.  This may have been partially due to the growing interest in gravel and mixed surface riding.  Not to forget the popularity of Cyclo-Cross, which benefited greatly from much of this technology.  What followed were continual further improvements of shifting and braking systems to the point where these can now be considered highly refined.  Through axles, which were found to work best with disc brakes, found their way from Mountain to Cyclo-Cross and are slowly being introduced to Road Bikes, especially those designated for adventure or endurance.  Someone was destined to find a way to utilize this technology by packaging it into something entirely new.

Specialized answered the call with the development of the all new Roubaix, an endurance road bike.  They added some of their own innovations such as the Future Shock (headset suspension), Cobble Gobbler (seat post), and Hover Bar (road riser bar) to a newly designed carbon frame.  The final touches like Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, Ultegra components, available with electronic shifting, SWAT box storage compartment, clearance for 32mm tires, tubeless ready rims, and through axles made for quite a package.  The Specialized mantra for the Roubaix, even on the older versions, is Smoother is Faster.  This comes from their history of racing at the famous Paris-Roubaix over the roughly cobbled roads in France.  To which their namesake model has taken some wins.  A decal on the top tube in view of the rider serves as a reminder,

I rode over 1,000 miles split over two new Roubaix models, one with electronic shifting and one without.   The first one I tested was a brand new bike designated to be a demo model for Pete's Bike Shop.  It was a Roubaix Expert with full Ultegra 11 (mechanical) and Shimano Hydraulic disc brakes.  I was asked to try it on some rides up to 200k.  What follows is my personal experience.

First Rides

It came out of the box with 26mm tires, though there was clearance for 32mm.  I took a few short rides on the stock set up.  The bike felt pretty amazing.  Even with the 26mm pressured to 90 psi it was the smoothest riding road bike I'd ever been on.  The shock inside the headset, which Specialized calls the "Future Shock", really took out roughness and vibration from the front of the bike.  Paired with the GCR seat post's lower seat clamp and elongated diameter seat tube above the clamp the ride was pretty cushy from the rear.   While riders alongside would comment on noticeable fore-aft movement of the carbon seat post I only felt smoothness.   The up and down movement of the handlebars was also noticeable by anyone watching from alongside.  Again, my perception was just smoothness.  The concept that's employed is to suspend the rider instead of using more traditional methods.  Specialized chose this approach because other suspension options, including increased frame / fork compliance,  have been proven to reduce speed and power transfer.  This Roubaix features a stiffer frame and fork from prior versions yet is more comfortable to ride.

Making a few Changes

Before moving on to the 100k and 200k distance I changed out the tires for Specialized 30/32 Roubaix Pros and experimented with tire pressures in an attempt to find the optimum balance between comfort and performance.  I  also changed out the CGR seat post for a Specialized Carbon post with a two bolt clamp instead of the single side bolt on the Gobbler. I was having problems with my saddle shifting while riding. I was betting that running wide tires negated the need for the added suspension from the post.  I would still have the fore-aft movement of the standard post due to the clamp and seat tube design.  I was confident that with the cushier tire I would not notice a difference.  I felt ready for the first 100k.   I purposely chose a route with lots of pavement flaws and even found a few miles of unpaved surface as the icing on the cake.  The bike took it all in stride.  I'd become accustomed to standing and gliding over rough pavement, or dodging around the imperfections whenever possible.  The realization that this was not necessary took awhile to set in.  Keeping power on through rough patches of road has appeal,  And, tends to support the Smoother is Faster philosophy.  Late in the ride I transitioned onto the unpaved section with growing confidence in this bike.  It seemed right at home with the looser surface.  For the first time in as long as I could remember I was having fun on a dirt road.  At the end of the 100k, which actually was a little long at 70 miles,  I was loving life and the new Roubaix.

Moving on to 200k

Less than a week later I was set to ride a 200k.   Still fiddling with tire pressure I started out at a meager 35 psi.  Simple reason dictated this had to be at, or below, the lower limit.  Things were going well until I hit a metal object which cut the tire and left me with my first flat.  With a boot over the cut my friend Brandon and I continued the route knowing there was a bike shop along the way about 10 miles further.  We procured a new Panaracer 32mm tire and a new tube.  I kept both in my backpack as a spare opting to continue on the booted tire for as long as possible.  I was enjoying the bike as much as the earlier rides for the next 40 miles when I got a puncture on the rear tire again.  We changed it out with the new Panaracer using the new tube I purchased as well.  It was a simple puncture not related to the prior cut.  Once underway we had a rather lengthily discussion about switching over to a tubeless set up which would have at least prevented one of the two flats.  Overall, the bike was fine on the 200k despite the unfortunate flats.  A subsequent 200k with a large group of riders went quite well using 40 psi in the tires.  I had zero flats.

The next test was an all unpaved 100k ride on the D & R Canal.  We rode from Princeton, NJ to Lumberville, PA and back.  I used the same tires that were on the bike pressured to 40 psi.   This resulted in good ride quality and zero flats.  I found myself really enjoying this style of riding and began to see the allure of gravel and mixed surface events.  While there are bikes that are more specifically designed for this purpose the Roubaix would surely get the job done in fine style.  This versatility brings added appeal.
The New Roubaix Expert with Ultegra 11 
Climbing on the New Roubaix

Before turning this bike back in I did one more 100k ride on a route with some good size climbs.  I was used to a Tarmac Pro which is a very good climbing bike and quite light at just under 16 lbs.  The Roubaix weighed in at 19 lbs out of the box, which is good for a disc brake bike, but I wondered how it would compare.  I was pleased to learn that it is a competent climber, but a bit different.  The Roubaix features a compact double with a large cog of 32T on the rear.  I was used to bigger gearing, so I didn't think I would use the 32.  I was surprised to find myself in it on sizable hills.  I was using higher cadence than I normally do and found that difference enjoyable. Initially, standing climbing feels a bit odd due to the slight movement of the Future Shock.  In time one adapts and the movement is no longer noticed.
Future Shock headset suspension with 20mm of travel

Descending.  Wow!!!

The one area where the Roubaix hands down shines is descending.  The suspension and disc brakes combine to give the rider unparalleled confidence. It tracks straight and true, soaks up road imperfections like they are not even there, and brakes effectively with one finger gently pulling the lever.  It's possible to let it go completely, then reign it in with little effort.  The bikes superior descending  advances the case for Smoother is Faster.

Upgrading to Di2 and Tubless Tires

I turned the mechanical shifting Roubaix over to another store employee for further testing.  A few days later a box arrived from Specialized containing a brand new Roubaix Expert UDi2 painted in Neon Yellow / Monster Green.   The color was in huge contrast to the Flat Black of my former demo Roubaix and would require a little getting used to.  During assembly we changed out the stock tires for 32mm Panaracers and set them up tubeless.  The DT Swiss 2Bliss ready rims worked perfectly sealing the tires up with minimal effort.  My first ride would be with 40 PSI, which turns out to be the ideal pressure for a rider of my weight (164 lbs).   I did many rides from 20 mile commutes to 130 miles on this bike with excellent results.  I've committed to ride it for a minimum of one year.  I look forward to some challenging rides on this machine during the brevet season when fitness is at a higher level.  If there is a conclusive way to prove Smoother is Faster I hope to find it.

Rando Ready?

The question I expect from rando friends is: if the bike is suitable for our style of riding?  For me personally the answer is a solid YES!   The big stopper for many of the brevet crowd will be no easy fender solution or rack mounts.  This bike will suit those who want a comfortable bike for multiple purposes.  It will be fast, fun and comfortable on brevets even though non-conforming to traditions.  Also, it will work well for many other styles of riding.

More detailed information of some of the features of the New Roubaix are detailed below.

Future Shock

Perhaps the most unique and talked about feature of the new Roubaix is the coil spring shock located inside the headset.  Specialized provides three different tensions from light to stiff for rider preferences.  Installed in the bike from the factory is the medium, which I found a little too light so we switched to the stiffest one.  It still worked well soaking up bumps but gave minimal movement during standing climbs.  This little movement is disconcerting at first but after adapting seems unnoticeable.  The use of the Future Shock allowed for a stiffer fork to be used on the bike.  Extensive tests have shown that forks that flex to allow absorption of  shock slow the bike during this motion.  The Future Shock Isolates the rider from these forces above the headset without the speed scrubbing of other methods.

Cobble Gobbler Seat Post

Specialzed has offered this product for awhile on some older Roubaix models and as an over the counter upgrade for any road bike for $250.  It gives additional vertical compliance for shock picked up by the rear wheel.  This is accomplished by a carbon spring inside the large section of the post. On the new Roubaix this is combined with an elongated upper seat tube giving the freedom of  fore-aft motion for shock transferred through the frame in that manner.  I could not feel the movement, but riders alongside told me it was visible.  I found the CGR seat post unnecessary when running wide tires and am using a standard carbon seat post from Specialized on my Roubaix.  Any carbon post clamped into the unique seat post design of the Roubaix will be more flexible than on another bike due to the lower seat clamp and larger diameter upper seat tube.
Oversize upper seat tube allows fore-aft movement of the Carbon Seat Post.
The seat post clamp is several inches below to allow for the flexing.

Shimano Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Without doubt the most amazing braking experience ever!  This system offers one finger control of a powerful braking system.   The only issue I had was road grit from a wet road kicked up into the front rotor causing a rubbing sound.  I was able to clean it out quickly by squirting water from my bottle between the pads.  The Shimano Brake Pads are finned for better heat distribution which keeps the system cooler on long descents with lots of braking.
Flat Mounted Calipers with Ice Tech Pads for added cooling, 160mm Front Roter

Thru Axles

The best possible way to hold a wheel securely in a bike frame is to bolt it in with a Thru-Axle.  This system does not allow for misalignment of the wheel to the fork or frame.  The drop outs have no opening at the bottom.  The axle passes through the circular drop out and the hub then screws securely into threads on the opposite side.   It looks a little like a fat skewer with a threaded end.  A road bike with disc brakes is best managed with a thru-axle as even slight wheel misalignment in a traditional skewer, drop out, set up can cause disc rubbing.
Thru Axles keep wheels perfectly aligned in the frame

Hover Bar

This is simply a riser bar designed for a road-bike.  Surprising it has not been used until now.  This is standard on the New Roubaix model.  It is a short reach bar with 1.5 centimeter rise from the stem.  This allows for a more upright rider position without a radical change to bike geometry.  With a neutral stem the drop is minimal, although this varies depending on seat height.  Riders looking for an aggressive position will have difficulty achieving this without sizing down a frame size.  The appearance of the bar is not off putting. It's gull wing shape has a serious, appealing look to it.  It is also comfortable with a somewhat flattened top.

Swat Box

This is a storage compartment which is bolted onto the frame at the bottom bracket area.  It can handle a spare tube, a C02 inflator, and a small tire lever.  All the items are fastened into special holders so they don't rattle around.  It has an odd look to it and somewhat takes away from the beautifully designed frame.  I chose to remove it from both demo models after realizing it's position interfered with putting a dropped chain back on.

Shimano Ultegra 11

The first bike I tested had full Ultegra 11 mechanical shifting.  I found the system to be very precise and effortless to use.  It's a compact double with 11-32T rear cassette.   The shifters were comfortable, smooth and fast.

Shimano UDi2

I really wasn't looking for an electronic shifting bike, but this is what was offered so I took the opportunity to learn the pros and cons of it.  It is beautifully engineered shifting smoothly, efficiently every time with full range of the drive train.  Front derailleur rub is eliminated with it's auto trim feature.  The rider makes a shift on the rear cassette and the Di2 controller handles the front trim automatically.  Additionally, it makes it possible for a rider to make shifts that are simply not advisable on a mechanical system.  This would include dropping onto the small chain ring while standing with pressure on the pedals.  I did find the shifters difficult to operate with bulky gloves.  I then learned that it could be programmed to use any of the four switches for any shift function.  Connecting a computer or tablet with the Shimano Di2 software loaded on it allows the user to choose many options.  I wound up going with a set up that had the right side shifter controlling all shifts to larger gear ratios both front and rear, with the left side doing the opposite.  It helped prevent the errant shifts with bulky gloves.  On warmer days when only light gloves were needed it was easy to be spot on.  


Hats off to Specialized for daring to bring out a bike that is so innovative and unique. Suspension has been tried on road bikes before, but never a set up as well thought out and refined as this one is.  On a whole the bike should find a large following of riders looking for diversity in their next ride.   Is Smoother Faster?  I hope so.

See you on the roads.

Joe Kratovil is an employee of Pete's Bike Shop in Flemington, NJ.  An Ultra Distance cyclist he has ridden over 120,000 road miles in the pursuit of these activities.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Florida Cross State Permanent and Reverse

The Florida Cracker Trail was originally a cattle trail traversing the state from Gulf Coast to Atlantic.  Despite the little remaining physical evidence of the original trail the historical significance is not forgotten.
  While winter rages in the northeast I manage a breakaway to warmer climates for the purpose of riding as many kilometers as possible.  Considerable time was spent plotting and planning how and where to get some of this riding done.  First on the agenda is the Cracker Trail Permanent.  This 225k, point to point, route crosses the state from coast to coast.  One chooses to ride East to West or, the opposite direction.  My plan is to start the ride in Bradenton, Florida on the Gulf Coast. Then ride the 140 miles to Fort Pierce on the Atlantic Coast.  After an overnight stay in a hotel I reverse direction back to Bradenton accumulating 450k in the process. 

It's a cool 45 degrees at 7:30am on Saturday morning which is the warmest start I've enjoyed in at least two months.  I'm looking at a cue sheet with about eight total lines on it for 139 miles of navigation.  The entire route is on numbered roads.  The first 43.6 miles are spent on Florida Route 64.  A dedicated bike lane leads me out of the congested area of Bradenton. Then the road narrows to a two-lane with shoulder.  The traffic is light, though vehicles do pass by quickly with a posted speed limit of 60 miles per hour.  The road shoulder is smooth and the local drivers appear courteous.  It doesn't take long before the area takes on a very rural, everglades, kind of look.

As advertised Florida is sunny.  The temperature rises twenty degrees in just a few hours.  Along with it the wind picks up to the foretasted 10 to 15 mph from the NNW.  The westerly component gives the wind a friendly, helpful feel.  I pedal easily on the fixed-gear at 19 miles per hour while enjoying the view of ranches, farms and orchards.  With the help of the wind the first turn arrives quickly.  The Garmin having been silent for hours happily chirps off the two turns which is a quick zig-zag onto Florida 66.  The device then goes silent awaiting the 54.8 miles to the next change of direction.
A selfie on The Cracker Trail
There is little difference between SR 64 and SR 66.  They both travel the same direction, have similar road surface and scenery.  What is required is the mental capacity to ride for several hours without change.  There is a part of the brain dedicated to just this purpose.  The body becomes robotic performing it's monotonous task while the brain is free to solve all the problems of the world.  With the mind engaged I barely notice that I pass the Sebring International Speedway or that an air boat crosses under the highway with the wind from its propeller whipping the marsh reeds into a frenzy.  Fortunately I do notice the Circle K convenience store control and the intersection of US27.  This marks the half-way point to the ride and is the only intermediate control.

After a brief pause to refresh fluids I continue on the same road, which changes name to US 98.  There are 69 miles behind and the same ahead.  The next planned stop is a General Store in 44 miles, although it is not a control.  The miles tick-off methodically and the quaint store appropriately named The Cracker Trail Country Store approaches on the left side of the highway.  I stop to re-fill fluids.  Without lingering I continue the easterly trek having ridden 97 miles.    

In just a few miles there is a turn off from the highway onto a county road.  CR-68 is narrower with no useable shoulder, but is almost totally void of traffic.  The ten mile stretch on this lonely road is enjoyed.  This is followed by a four mile stretch to the north on US 441.  I now get to feel the effect of the wind as it hits me head on.  Funny how it doesn't feel like much when it's whisking you down the road. Pushing into it is a whole other matter.  The four miles seems to take forever.  At its end I make the final turn towards my destination and a return to favorable winds.  The final 25 miles are quickly covered on a county road.  I arrive at the Flying J Travel Plaza in under 10 hours and in full daylight,  There is even time enough to enjoy dinner and ride to the motel before sun-down.  It was a good day.

After a pleasant nights rest the trip is resumed in the opposite direction, beginning with the ride to the Travel Plaza.  Again it is chilly and windy, although the wind will not be my friend today.  At the early morning hour it is already brisk and predicted to reach 25mph from the northwest.  Most of my journey will be to the west.

Everything on the return trip is the same as the day before only slower.  My only goal is to be at the finish before the sun sets.  It's quite the grind compared to just one day before, but I'm determined to keep at it with minimal time off the bike.

After riding non-stop for 42 miles I accidentally pass by the country store without stopping.  While mentally zoning out I didn't notice it.  I'm several miles past before I realize it.  I only have a little fluids left in one bottle.  Just a few sips.  It's twenty miles to the mid-way control and quite remote in between.  To make things worse it's gotten pretty warm.  I'm not used to temperatures over 40 degrees.  I plan to ration the little I have left by taking a sip every five miles. This will consist of three swigs starting from this point.  After eight miles I've used up two of the three sips when unexpectedly I come upon a gas station on the left side of the road.  It has a small store attached which appears to be open.  After topping up one bottle I cover the remaining miles to the control.  When I get off the bike I feel wobbly in the legs from the heat, lack of fluids,  and the exertion of riding into the wind.  I typically make a practice of getting in and out of controls quickly.  However, this time I feel a different approach is called for.  I spend about 20 minutes inside at a table drinking and eating salty snacks.  I resume the ride feeling better.  I still have a chance at beating the sunset with half the distance still to cover.

As the day moves into late afternoon the wind dies down to a lesser degree.  I'm able to maintain a little better pace.  The earlier fatigue appears to have dissipated as well.  One quick stop at mile 95 is needed to top up fluids.  Besides that there is zero planned off the bike.  The path of the sun as it lowers in the sky is directly in front of me.  I can see it's height above the horizon and gauge the pace needed to beat it to the finish.  When it begins to blind me I need to be close to the end.  The final few miles have the busiest traffic of the day coming into Bradenton.  I ride in the dedicated bike lane with the sun shining into my eyes.  The control can be seen off to the right and I make it in before the last sliver of sun is gone. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes longer than the trip out.  None the less I have no complaints.  It was a great way to spend a weekend.

The Cracker Trail is a road Florida's pioneers used during the early 1800's to move cattle to ports along the Gulf Coast the Atlantic Coast. Today, the Cracker Trail spans parts of State Road 66, State Road 64 and U.S. Highway 98.
Thanks to Permanent owner John Preston for making all the arrangements for me to ride this route on short notice.  And, for taking extra care to make sure the cue sheet was up to date.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

K-Hounding - Growing the Pack

Bill Olsen is New Jersey's First K-Hound (2009)
I'd heard about the K-Hound club soon after my entry into the Randonneur style of riding.  My impression was that it was limited to a group of mileage junkies from Texas.  It was amazing the numbers these folks were racking up.  I didn't think it was achievable so I didn't dwell much on it. Those first years of Randonneuring I averaged only about 2,000 RUSA kilometers per year, far short of the required K-Hound minimum of 10,000.  We didn't really have any permanent routes in the region back then so all the official k's were achieved by brevets.  The majority of my bike mileage consisted of commuting and free rides.  I often did the free rides with friends.  We would just sort of decide where we would go on any given day.  Sometimes just making up the route as we went along.

At the finish of my first K-Hound 2011
From the start I dutifully logged all my mileage and was steadily increasing my annual totals.  The first big mileage year happened in 2010 where I logged over 12,000 miles on the roads.  Despite all those miles my official RUSA total was just over 6,000k for the year.  At that point we had a few 200k permanents available in the state. Some of us were doing the R-12.  While perusing through a back issue of the American Randonneur magazine I came across an article on K-Hounds. This time I read through it with more interest.  It really got me thinking that with 12,000 miles in a single year it would only require me to partake in more official rides, cutting back on the free rides, to get the required 10,000k.  I looked up the results history of a few of the highest kilometer riders and noticed a strong trend to 100k permanents.  Some of the heavy hitters were knocking off several of these a week.  This made perfect sense as 100k rides take less time and are easier to recover from.  Currently, we had none of this type of permanent in the region.  I quickly went through the process of developing the first one.

From that initial 100k permanent others were spawned off.  RUSA announced the P-12 award that year which gave lots of riders an incentive to undertake these routes.  I found myself doing a lot more structured riding, many of it with fellow randonneurs.  It was easy to understand why the Texas crowd was so taken by the lifestyle. It really became a lot of fun doing these rides. Many more riders were getting on the R-12 and P-12 bandwagon as a result of the increase in permanents.  We rode anytime we could.  Even late at night.  We would work them in whenever we had a window of time and acceptable weather.  My kilometer totals accumulated quickly.  By October I was over the 10,000k threshold.  Bill Olsen of New Jersey also made the list by the end of the year.


There was never any question in my mind about continuing the K-Hound pursuit after that initial year.  It had become an enjoyable way of life.  While structured riding required a bit more planning than free riding it had one huge thing going for it.  It was purposeful.  I never bailed out on a permanent that I had started.  There were no half-way measures.  Either finish the ride or receive zero credit.  That wasn't the case on a free ride.  Often a 100 mile ride gets cut short because it's windy, or cold, or it's taking longer that what was planned.  A permanent doesn't work that way it's PASS or FAIL.  No middle ground.  Most of us are not fond of failing so we soldier on even when things are unpleasant.  In 2012 I made the list for the second time.  Bill Olsen did as well.  Mostly he was doing PA Brevets and 1200k's all over the country.  Many of his kilometers were earned on Grand Randonnees which was quite a bit different than what I was doing.  Only on occasion would we see each other on the same ride. At our year end Holiday get together a couple of riders let me know they had taken the K-Hound as a goal for the next year.  One of them was my friend Paul. A frequent riding companion of permanents and brevets. He's known by the rando community as PJ Lang.


It was nice having a friend in the chase that year.  Although, everyone's situation is unique.  Paul is a busy guy and deals with a long commute to work, typically undertaken by train.  This was a lemon that he quickly turned into lemonade.   He developed a 100k permanent route to his job.  Getting up at an ungodly early hour he would ride this point to point permanent, work all day, then take the train home.  Some weeks he managed it two or three times.  Along with the longer brevets this was a sure fire plan to meet the goal.  It took a lot of determination on his part to follow through on those early morning rides.  Some were unpleasantly cold, wet, or both, but he did them anyway.  I remember joining him for his final K-Hound ride in early December.  He had an ear to ear smile on his face when we pulled into the final control. I thought it was great that he was now part of the club.  Bill Olsen would repeat as a K-Hound.  And, another New Jersey Randonneur, Patrick Chin-Hong. made the list as well.  The pack was slowly growing.

Paul a two time K-Hound (2013, 2014)

I had asked Paul at the end of 2013 if he expected to chase the K-Hound for another year.  He instantly said yes, which did not surprise me.  What was a bit of a surprise was another friend Chris Newman announced she would be going for it too.  I was delighted to have another frequent riding companion and ecstatic that New Jersey had its first female K-Hound in the making.  Most will remember the winter of this year as none less than horrific.  Frigid temperatures combined with frequent snow and sleet made any riding a challenge.  I managed only two official rides in January, which met the R-12 and P-12 requirement.  Fortunately in February I spent some time in California and racked up 800 k's.  I was hoping for better weather in March, but it never happened.  Again, I only managed the minimum.  Meantime, Paul was doing well with his commuter permanent.  Amazingly, Chris was joining him for some of these early morning rides.  They both had totals far above mine.  I began to question whether I would make the goal this year.  I was a little nervous about it.  Most of April was cold and windy, but there was not a lot of precipitation.  I finally got in a decent month totaling 1200k.  Both Paul and Chris were still tearing it up and were far ahead of me.  It took me until July to hit full stride with a 1900k month.  This was followed by a 2200k month in August.  I joined Paul for his K-Hound ride and was thrilled to see him be the first NJR to make K-Hound for the year.  He met the goal by the middle of September.  Before the end of September I had my biggest monthly total of 2500 kilometers and my fourth K-Hound Award.  This was thanks largely to the Natchez Trace 1500k which I rode with Chris.  She still needed another 1,100k after the finish of the NT.  A lull in riding due to work and family had her playing catch up as the fall approached.  An experienced and accomplished randonneur always finds a way to get it done.  Paul and I joined in on her K-Hound ride in late November.  Neither Patrick or Bill would make the list this year leaving just the three of us as the local dog pack.


After four years in a row I don't have to actively think about whether I will attempt the K-Hound next year.  It's on auto-pilot now.  Rarely, does it feel like a chore, mostly it's just fun,  I'm hoping that there are others who want to go for it.  Group rides are typically more fun than solo rides.  I can tolerate being alone, but I'm not a loner.  Both Paul and Chris prove that you can be a person with a busy life and manage this award.  Determination is the only requirement.  All other skills will be picked up along the way.   Howl if you want to join the pack.


There are now five New Jersey Randonneurs who have made the K-Hound award.  While he wasn't awarded it at the time Bill Olsen is actually the first to achieve this when he accumulated 9,308 RUSA kilometers in 2009.  While the total is less than the required 10,000k a retro-active rule change in 2011, which allowed for the inclusion of foreign earned kilometers, brought his total above the minimum.  Bill then earned two K-Hound awards in 2011, although one was for 2009.   The five recipients have earned a total of 11 of the annual awards. 

As of the end of 2013 New Jersey is only surpassed by four other regions in the total number of K-Hound Awards earned (Lone Star Randonneurs, Seattle, North Carolina, San Fransisco).

A Happy Chris on the final K-Hound ride of 2014

Christine Newman's K-Hound Story written in September of 2014:

I fell in with the wrong crowd. That’s the simplest explanation I can give for how I came to be pursuing the RUSA K-Hound award. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I fell in with the wrong pack if we are going to stick with the canine analogy.

My buddy and NJ RBA (does that make him the “top dog”?)  Joe Kratovil earned his first K-Hound award in 2011.  I was not too aware of the award at that point although I have a vague recollection of thinking it was an unobtainable prize created by those crazy Texans who all appeared to be members of some rabid K-Hound cult.  Joe was only the second rando from NJ to earn K-Hound status and we had a nice little pizza celebration after he pedaled his 10,000th K. I secretly thought he had taken randonneur lunacy to a whole new level but he’s a nice guy and I like pizza so I was happy to help him celebrate his achievement. Fast forward to 2013 and now another riding buddy, Paul Shapiro was in hot pursuit of his own K-Hound award having being influenced by Joe, who had become something of a K-Hound whisperer. I watched Paul’s end of year, “mad dog” efforts to reach 10,000Ks  which involved riding 1100Ks in November in New Jersey.

Well now I know how Paul fell under Joe’s spell. Joe is very subtle. During a ride he will casually say something like “You are riding really well this year. I bet you could get K-Hound”. Or “K-Hound isn’t that hard only 200Ks per week”. Or, most insidiously “I can e-mail you my mileage spread sheet which makes it really easy to chart your kilometers and will keep you motivated to reach the 10,000K mark.”
As I write this I have ridden 6920Ks, all of which I have recorded on my Mileage Quest 2014 spread sheet.  I have gotten up at 4:15 am more times than I care to acknowledge to get in early 100Ks on my days off from work. I have been roped into riding the Natchez Trace  and now have to ride even more Ks to train for a brevet I never even contemplated attempting before Joe whispered in my ear (“1500K!! All in one ride! 15% of K-Hound status in one brevet – it’s like they are giving you the award!!!) At this point, I feel pretty good about my chances of achieving k-Hound status although I know that anything can happen and it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. I do know one thing for certain. If those Texans think up some new and even more extreme award, I am wearing earplugs when I ride with Joe and Paul!



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Fix-ing the Natchez Trace 1500k

There is a magical roadway to the west.  It is a strip of smooth two-lane blacktop 444 miles long.  It is bordered by trees, fields, rivers, streams and many sights of historical significance.  Perhaps its most unique feature is that it is a National Historical Park maintained and operated with Federal funding.  It is the eighth most visited National Park in the country.  Its northern terminus abuts Nashville, Tennessee while the southernmost part is in Natchez, Mississippi.  The main purpose is recreation therefore no commercial vehicles are allowed.  The speed limit is never higher than 50 mph, which discourages vehicles from using it for transportation.  It is a perfect environment for the cyclist.  Neither hilly nor flat, slightly winding, and, impeccably maintained.  The roadway is known as the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Folks residing in the proximity of it refer to it as the "Trace".

I've had the good fortune of riding on the Trace several times. Always starting at the northern end in Nashville.  My furthest venture to the south was as far as Tupelo, Missisippi, which is less than half of the entire length.  I always vowed that one day I would ride the entire distance.  I hadn't gotten around to that yet when the Nashville Randonneur group announced that they would be hosting a 1500 kilometer Grand Randonnee on that very roadway.  Designated The Natchez Trace 1500k the route would use the entire length north to south and back.  I'd always thought I would ride it in just one direction, but the opportunity to ride it both ways, getting credit for 1500k in the process, seemed like something I needed to do.

The Start - Nashville, TN
On a Tuesday morning at the early hour of 03:55 I am lined up with 55 other riders awaiting the start.  There are a few other riders from New Jersey in the cue.  The plan is to ride with my friend Chris.  Should we successfully finish within the 120 hour time limit I will be over the threshold for the K-Hound award and Chris will be about 1,000k away.  I'm hoping that incentive will keep us going during the low moments.

DAY-1 (269 Miles) Nashville, TN to French Camp, MS

We are given the off  signal and immediately descend to the start of the Trace, which is only about a mile away.  I recognize the stone wall entrance as we transition onto the historic roadway.  The surface is totally free of potholes and debris.  I'm awaiting the arrival of daylight to begin taking in the scenery.  When sunrise does occur there is a misty cloud cover in the valley.  A rather dense fog.  We stop at the overlook to take a photo of it.  It's like looking at a cloud from above.  Rather quickly we resume riding,  The organizer's plan is for riders to make 270 miles this first day ending up at French Camp, Mississippi where there are cabins for sleeping.  Chris and I are hoping to override the sleep stop to gain some extra miles the first day.  There are few other choices to sleep so doing so would require catching a couple of hours shut eye at one of the many rest stops along the roadway.  Some have covered picnic areas.  Though first we have to cover the 270 before we can think about moving on.
Morning Fog Hangs in the Valley
The first sixty miles or so are on the hilly side. The grades are not particularly steep but the rollers keep on coming rather relentlessly.  The first control comes up at Collinwood, TN, ninety miles into the ride.  There is a gas station and restaurant which is buzzing with riders.  We take the opportunity to grab a quick bite of food, refill water bottles, then move on.

The terrain is somewhat more moderate south of Collinwood.  Shortly we hit the Alabama border and ride past cotton fields for about thirty miles.  After which we cross into Mississippi, which hosts the majority of the Trace.  Our next official control is Tupelo, which is 300 kilometers into the ride.  Volunteers position themselves in between these distances offering riders food and water.  There are some gradual inclines that present themselves.  Nothing difficult to climb, but some require me to stand in order to manage my 74 inch fixed-gearing.  The temperature begins to climb as the afternoon progresses.  We approach the city of Tupelo at the early part of rush hour.  Traffic is heavy and this is further complicated by road construction.  We are glad when the exit appears.  We have our choice of establishments to use for food and beverage.  We select a Subway restaurant.  There are a few other riders there as well, including Bob from New Jersey.  We spend forty-five minutes total consuming calories, chatting, re-filling fluids and organizing gear for the next leg.

The Border of Alabama Day-One
Tupelo, Mississippi is very hospitable and is known as the Birthplace of Elvis
We are back on the Trace in just a few tenths of a mile.  The next control is the sleep stop at French Camp.  We are making good time and expect to arrive between 12 and 1 am.  As the night rolls in the temperature begins to drop.  We had anticipated a low overnight temperature in the upper 50's to low 60's.  It began to look like we'd have to tolerate lows in the upper 40's.  The plan to ride on past the sleep stop starts to feel like a bad idea in light of this new information.  While the temps continued to drop we pedaled on to French Camp, which was just off the Trace.  It's a summer camp which the organizer rented for our use.  We checked in at the dining room.  We'd decided to stay the night and were given cabin and bunk assignments.  Chris in the women's cabin and me in one of the men's. Typically, I don't sleep well in a group environment.  This is most especially true on the first night. After showering I rested in my bunk without sleeping for five hours.  I got up at 6am on my own to prepare for the day's ride to Natchez,
The Dining Hall at French Camp

Sleeping Cabin
Day-2 (187 Miles) French Camp, MS to Natchez, MS
Passing by Jackson, Mississippi
Chris and I depart French Camp at 7:15 prepared for a 187 mile day (300k).  Chris admits to a similar lack of sleep.  We are anticipating it will be a tough day.  Our next official control is in Clinton, which is a suburb just south of Mississippi's major city, Jackson.  This is about a ninety mile stretch.  As was the case on day one we encounter volunteer support at Parkway rest stops.  They have everything needed to keep riders moving.  The temps heat up under very strong sun. The skies are perfectly clear,  The terrain has changed to mostly flat while still presenting interesting scenery and frequent historical landmarks.  Although, we typically pass by these without stopping.  The traffic is heavier as we pass by Jackson, but very tolerable given we are outside of rush hour.  Soon enough we reach our exit and head for a strip mall where volunteers advised there would be a selection of food places.  We select a Mexican place and are quickly scarfing down enchiladas and burritos.  The waiter kindly fills our water bottles with ice water as we get ready to depart.
One-hundred miles to the Southern end of the Parkway
View from the Lower Section of the Natchez Trace Parkway
Back on the Trace headed south we settle in for another 90 mile stretch to the sleep stop at Natchez.  Once again volunteers are encountered at many places along the way.  The terrain remains flat for awhile then becomes more rolling.  While the rollers are gentle they become continual.  Night time is encountered quickly, which tends to dampen my spirit a bit.  I'm feeling the miles and the effect of the fixed-gear and must find a mental state that allows me to endure.  I feel that things have suddenly turned and I am now questioning my ability to complete this ride.  Hands, feet and butt are all hurting. Blocking it out is only marginally working. I focus on just getting through this day.  Stopping for brief periods helps and we do this for bathroom breaks and water re-filling.  The counting down of the final thirty-miles to the hotel in Natchez is excruciating. The Trace has a certain sameness about it through this part.  There are few historical points, and not much of anything else, except a two-lane road with rolling hills. I've released from my head all thoughts of a spiffy fast finish.  Now I only  want the maximum rest and recovery possible.  Any finish time in advance of the 120 hour limit will do.  At the last few miles of the Trace a support car coming from the south pulls over to tell us the hotel is behind another hotel and some riders have been missing it. We thank them and continue on. The thought of a hotel bed and a full nights sleep keeps me going to the end of the Trace, and the four miles further to the Holiday Inn in Natchez.
Heading South to Natchez

Twilight on the Trace

Moving into Darkness
Upon arrival we check-in with volunteers and claim our hotel rooms.  We agree on a plan to meet at 7am for breakfast.  This will allow for a full nights sleep of about eight hours.  Typically, this length of a break is unheard of on long brevets. Due to the more generous time allowances on the 1500k many riders are taking advantage of this and getting more sleep.  After showering and teeth brushing I stagger to the bed and instantly fall asleep. The next sound is the alarm at 6am.

Day-3 (187 Miles) Natchez, MS to French Camp, MS.

After a quickly consumed breakfast we organize gear and get back on the road for another 300k day,  We both are feeling a bit stiff and sore, but we have a full nights sleep working for us.  I'm confident that we will warm up and feel better after a couple of hours.  After a few miles of riding in the city of Natchez we enter the Trace at the southern terminus.  Riding this section is more pleasant in the daylight.  Also, we have the mental boost of heading toward the finish not away.   I'm considering this a pivotal day.  Getting through today will put us over 1,000k, which is 75% of the total distance.  The remaining 500k is broken up over two days and should be easier to manage.
A Church in the City of Natchez, Mississippi
The Marker of the Southern Terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway
While riding along I mention to Chris how inept I feel at the longer distances.  I'm really not very practiced at anything over 600k.  I've only ever completed one 1,000k and one 1,200k, while there are riders on this very ride that have done eight or nine 1,200k's in a single year.  I'm a little disappointed in how beat-up I am just half way into it.  Chris said I should take a look at the bike I'm riding in case I didn't notice it was a fixed-gear.  She said, "No one else is doing that for a good reason.  It's harder."  While I suppose there is something to that I couldn't settle with the idea of doing this ride on anything else.  I'm not at all certain why, but I felt compelled to bring the fixed. 
I love this Bike!
The next control is Clinton, MS.  We decide to return to the same Mexican restaurant we visited on the way down.  We are fortunate enough to get the same nice waiter.  We stuff ourselves with quality carbs.  Again our water bottles are topped up and iced before we are back on the road.  The rest of our needs are seen to by the volunteers along the route.  We've been seeing these same people for three days and we look forward to our roadside meetings.  They are a fun group and we enjoy chatting with them.  Chris and I have been wearing matching jerseys.  Only two of three days were intentional while one day was just a coincidence.  None the less riders and volunteers seemed to get a kick out of it.  We were becoming known as the matching jersey people from Jersey.

Chris' Food = Carbo Loading - Mexican Style

Chris heading to French Camp
Posing by a Historical Marker with matching Knapps Cyclery Jerseys
The final miles to the French Camp sleep stop are fairly difficult for me.  Once again, I have issues to deal with requiring a lot of determination to keep riding.  I am looking forward to the shorter day tomorrow.  After some food we are shown to our respective cabins.  I sleep some, but not fully.  At 5am I decide to get up and organize my gear for the day.  I meet Chris in the dining room for breakfast at 6:30am.  We plan to get underway at 7am,  By sheer coincidence our jerseys match again.

Day-4 (141 Miles) French Camp, MS to Tishimingo, MS

Info for the Day Ahead
 Back on the Trace for this reduced mileage day we are both in good spirits.  The doubts of finishing are beginning to fade as the next two days have mileage well below 300k each.  The terrain for today may be the mildest to date.  We will be largely on flat to lightly rolling all the way.  With some climbing as we near the sleep stop.  The early morning passes pleasantly with the usual roadside rest stops on the Parkway.  Unusually, we have an additional control which will consist of twenty miles off the Trace.  We are to visit the town of Okolona, Mississippi.  We take the exit as directed and find ourselves on a two-lane highway with no shoulder.  There is brisk traffic consisting of many large trucks, some pass by with little space between.  For the first time in over 700 miles we are uneasy.  This lasts for ten miles before we reach the small town, and the safe haven of the local grocery store.  The people in the store are extremely nice.  Our cycling jerseys have New Jersey printed on them so everyone asks if we are from there.  The second question is did we ride our bikes to here?  We take a short break and chat a bit with the locals before heading back to the Trace.  This time we are directed to a different, more bike friendly, route.  After the twenty mile off Parkway excursion we are delighted to be back on the beautiful roadway headed to our next stop in Tupelo. 
The road to Okolona is loaded with Log Trucks.  Little room for bikes!

Entering Okolona, Mississippi
We arrive Tupelo outside of rush hour and have no traffic problems.  We opt to eat at the same Subway used on the way south.  Chris finishes quickly and heads to a nearby WalMart for batteries.  I move on to Starbucks for coffee.  We meet up there enjoying an additional break before heading out.  I'm not used to spending such a large amount of time off the bike. I've trained myself to get through controls quickly.  I now find it difficult to relax when at them. I'm trying to unlearn my "in and out" style.  In this 1500 kilometer format taking longer stops seems acceptable and should be enjoyable.  I'd long ago abandoned any idea of an aggressive finish time. So, it makes perfect sense to take the time.  I just need to wrap my mind around it. 

Back on the Trace we have forty-nine miles to the Tishomingo State Park sleep stop.  We expect to arrive just after dark.  The miles pass by uneventfully.  There is a roadside rest stop about half-way manned by volunteers.  When we arrive they congratulate us on completing 1200k, which is the standard Grand Randonee distance.  I'm kind of glad that we still have 300k to go. Despite the challenge of it the ride is basically fun.  We spend some time chatting with the two men who have been helping us through the ride all week.  By now they know our favorite beverages and snack foods. They are always upbeat despite how tired they must be.  I'm sure it's hard work supporting this group of riders day and night though they never appear weary from it. 

Chatting it up with two of our Favorite Volunteers
Upon reaching the exit to Tishomingo State Park we have a final climb of the day.  There is five miles of roadway with a pretty steep kicker on it.  It is a final chore for tired legs and we both get it done without a problem.  The bikes get parked and we head into the main cabin where there is food waiting.  A pleasant meal is enjoyed while chatting with other riders and the organizer, Jeff Sammons.  We are given sleep cabin assignments.  Chris and I agree to meet at 6:30 am for breakfast as we are escorted to our different cabins.  I look forward to a hot shower and sleep.

The Entrance to Tishomingo State Park
It's about 10pm by the time I lay my head down.  I sleep reasonably well until 5am when I wake on my own.  The cabin which was full is now only half full as some riders departed in the night.  I decide to get organized for the day since I am sure I will not be able to sleep more.  I re-arrange all my gear in the drop bag and organize the things I will need with me for the day.  Once dressed and ready I head up to the main cabin.  It's only 6am, but breakfast is ready.  I text Chris to let her know.  She arrives in the dining room about 6:45 the wake-up call for her was missed.  She is willing to depart right away.  I insist that she have breakfast first.  These are nice hot meals including eggs, pancakes, sausage and potatoes.  I decide she shouldn't dine alone so I indulge in a second breakfast for myself.  There is plenty of extra food as many riders left during the night.  Soon after eating we leave for the final miles of the ride.  It's just a little past 7am.

Day-5 (155 Miles) Tishomingo, MS to Nashville, TN

Cotton Field
We retrace the five miles, mostly downhill, to the Trace.  The weather predicted some chance of showers, but for now it's just cloudy and mild.  We both are in good spirits.  We've been getting lots of rest and are still way ahead of cut-off times.  We expect to arrive the finish before sunset, which will be ten hours in advance of the control closing time.  The terrain to the next control, in Collinwood, TN, is mostly mild.  After that point we will be looking at more serious rolling terrain to the finish.  In the meantime life is good.

Sweet Home Alabama
Road Closed - Detour to Cherokee, Alabama
 We cross the border into Alabama in good time.  Shortly after the crossing we come across a blockade across the entire roadway.  We were made aware there may be a detour for road construction.  Deep down I was holding on to the hope that we would be able to get through as we do most of the time.  However, in this case there is a construction guy present who will not let us pass by the barriers.  He quite politely explains that we must take the detour, which adds five miles to the trip.  We exit as directed and are riding along a highway in Cherokee, Alabama.  I look down and notice my rear wheel appears out of true.  Chris confirms that it looks that way to her as well.  Stopping along the shoulder of the highway for closer inspection, I find a broken spoke.  While somewhat out of true the wheel is ridable so I continue with it.  Typically with 32 spokes, one broken one is not a big deal.  Quickly it leaves my mind.  The remaining miles on the detour pass by without incident.  Although, the entrance to the Trace is a welcome sight.  The roads are superior than anything else and the scenery is more pleasant,  We continue north soon entering the state of Tennessee and arriving at our control, which requires another exit from the Trace.
Collinwood, Tennesee - The Penultimate Control
We are directed by volunteers to a small hotel in the small town.  We are treated to food prepared by the ride staff.  It's an enjoyable lunch spent chatting with volunteers and riders who continue to arrive.  Reluctantly we leave quickly to undertake the ninety remaining miles to the finish.  We expect we will see some of these folks along the way.

Michelle from Minnesota riding with Jim from Ohio
Jeff Another Favorite Roadside Volunteer

Vicky from Texas on the Recumbent
Things are looking good as we work our way to the Trace and continue our northerly trek towards Nashville.  Soon the bigger hills begin to appear.  I feel good climbing them and Chris is having no trouble as well.  We cover about forty miles when I hear a loud snapping sound at the bottom of a descent.  I stop and check the rear wheel and notice a second broken spoke.  The wheel is significantly wobbly and I must open the rear brake up to clear it. The tire is within a couple of millimeters of rubbing on the frame.  I decide to continue but have much less confidence in the wheel holding up.  When we come to one of the rest stops I decide I should call the ride organizer's SAG number in case someone can help me with a wheel or spokes.  I place the call and speak with Bill.  After listening to my predicament he thinks he can have someone drive a fixed-gear rear wheel out to me, but it may take a little while.  I give him my current location and explain that I intend to keep moving until the wheel either breaks or someone arrives with a replacement.  He agrees that is the best plan.

I'm now riding more gently and slowly, especially on descents.  I suggest to Chris that she go on ahead as I will be slowing her down at this point.  She insists on staying together.  We cover about ten miles when we notice a pick-up coming the other way slowing up while eyeballing us.  The truck pulls to the side of the road. I notice it's the RBA Jeff Sammons.  He asks me if I want a new wheel which he pulls from the back of the truck.  It's a complete fixie wheel and tire with the correct 17 tooth rear cog.  Five minutes later I've got the wheel on and tight and we are heading to the finish with less than forty miles to go.
Wheel Delivery From RBA Jeff Sammons
 After riding for awhile it becomes clear we will not make the finish before sunset.  We pull over to the side of the road at a bridge to put on night gear before continuing. As anticipated the last miles are the hilliest.  It's pretty constant up or down with little flat ground in between.  Near the top of one of the climbs I just miss rolling over a large brown snake laying in the road.  I point it out to Chris who is just behind.  She thinks it might be a Copperhead.  I silently wonder if a snake can puncture a tire by biting it. Fortunately, the creature remains still.  A car approaches from behind and moves over to pass us.  This in essence saves the snake from being run over.  One good deed for the day.

As we near the final mile markers I begin to think about the steep climb just before the finish.  Off and on it has entered my mind whether or not I will make it up with so many miles in my legs.  I've climbed it on prior occasions, with a fixed-gear, but never with over 900 miles behind me.  I'd mentioned it to Chris a couple of times and she would just say; "Walk it. No big deal."  At this point, or at any point, I don't want to walk up this hill one-half mile from the finish.  I'm pretty determined to climb it.  If I had a roll of duct tape I might tape my feet to the pedals so I can't clip out.  It's climb or fall.  With no duct tape on board I decide to pretend I'm locked in.  I will not clip out no matter what.  We pass by the final marker of the Trace and bear right to the big hill.  The road connects Route 100 and I-40, so there is lots of traffic.  Falling could be deadly, but I hold onto the thought that I won't clip out.  With the hill now under us it's time to stand and push the pedals.  It steepens a bit more past the half-way point, but we both continue to climb.  It hurts some, but not as bad as I anticipated.  I don't have to fight the thought of clipping out because it never enters my head. The finish is at the top and Chris and I arrive together.  The longest brevet in the country is behind us.  Boo-ya!!
At the Finish!!!

At the barn which serves as the finish we are treated to food and beverage while celebrating with other riders and volunteers.  A tired, but happy group sharing thoughts of the adventure just behind us.

I'm appreciative for the companionship of Chris during the entire adventure.  She has a very pleasant personality.  Always looking at the positive side of things.  For me our riding together was the perfect offset to my rather sour disposition and negativity.  We rode every mile within ten feet of each other and never had any kind of serious disagreement.  I suggested all kinds of crazy plans to finish the ride in a faster time.  In retrospect, they were all dumb. None the less Chris listened to them patiently without criticizing.  In the end we wound up riding the plan which was the design of the organizer.  Ride, eat and sleep lots.  This worked fine.  Anything else would have been less enjoyable, if not down right disastrous.  

Speaking for myself this was a unique and fantastic event.  The venue of the historical park built around a roadway was the perfect setting.  The organization of the Tennessee group was no less than superb.  Clearly much thought and effort went into the planning.  And, much hard work went into putting it on and supporting the riders.  We couldn't help but feel well looked after. Several riders suffered mechanical issues besides myself.  All were given assistance and those riders finished.  Little details like charging stations at the sleep stops for phones and GPS units were provided.  Cremes, ointments and pain relieving gels were on hand to help ease some of the suffering.  There were too many volunteers to count.  All performed their tasks in good spirits.  All of this combined made the event enjoyable and memorable.  It is likely to be held again and I would be just as likely to return.

All the riders from New Jersey finished successfully.  We represented our region well.  Something to take pride in for sure. 
Bill R. a New Jersey Randonneur from up North
Bob a true blue NJ Rando
Bill O. A long time NJ Rando with brother Mark and Tom from Minnesota