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.
 
2011

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.

 2012

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.

2013

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)
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.

2015

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.

Epilouge

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.
video

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.
video

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. 

Hay
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!!!
Epilogue:

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

 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Jersey Double Crossing Record

 There is something about a state crossing record attempt that inspires me.  I seem to come alive when I have one in mind.  I've had my eye on three records in my home state of New Jersey for over five years.  The three records would be the lateral crossings of the state.  At the widest part, where the records were established, the state borders are separated by just under 80 miles.  The borders are quite distinct as one side is the Delaware River and the other the Atlantic Ocean.  No way to overshoot the goal.  At least not on a bike.

In 2012 I undertook the East to West Crossing and successfully broke the record by a wide margin on a fixed-gear.  It was my first try at a UMCA Record.  Needless to say I was pleased with the result and vowed to undertake more of these.  Most especially, the two remaining cross-state records in New Jersey.  Two years passed before the planets aligned for me and I could get things together to have a go at it.  With the double-crossing as part of the mix preparations had to be made for a longer day.  This required more crew and two vehicles instead of one.  The logistics and details were all more complicated.  We settled on a plan to have a lead car and a follow car.  The team of two in the lead car would scout the route ahead and confirm with us by radio the upcoming turns.  In addition, they would keep track of time, distance and inform me how the pacing was working out.  The follow car would perform the normal function of seeing to the rider's safety, nutritional and mechanical needs. Also, the official would ride in the follow car and document the attempts.

On a warm Saturday morning of June 28 the crew of five, including the official and myself met at a Denny's Restaurant near the start.  After some breakfast we moved over to a small park on the Delaware River right by the Salem Nuclear Power Facility.  Final last minute preparations were attended to and we set off to the Eastern end of the state.  The wind direction is typically westerly, which would have been favorable.  Unfortunately it was one of those rare times when the wind is coming from the east.  Also, it felt stronger than the predicted eight miles per hour.  I settled into a rhythm using the Garmin's Virtual Partner as my pacer.  I set his speed to 0.5mph higher than needed and attempted to drop him.  After a time I had gained 2 miles on him, but refused to become complacent as I knew there were many long traffic lights ahead which would erode my average.  This proved to be true as the wind felt stronger as I continued further east and the intersections got busier.  Traffic signals favored the busier north south roads.  Waiting at some seemed to take forever.  At more than halfway through the first record attempt I was still staying ahead of the VP, but my lead was eroding.  I could see it was going to be a close one.  Fortunately, the open farmland terrain gave way to a bit more of a wooded area.  The pine type of trees which are prevalent near the Jersey coastline offered some wind block.  This allowed me to keep the little computer image of my virtual opponent at bay until just ten miles from the finish.  The area opened up again as we headed onto Great Bay Blvd, which would end at the water.  The head wind howled at me while I strained to keep pace. Two single lane bridges which were traffic signal controlled delayed me only slightly.  The black top surface yielded to sand signaling the finish.  I was eight minutes ahead of the old record.

After only a few minutes I headed back out.  There were two other records that potentially could be broken.  The one I set myself in 2012 for the East to West, and the West-East-West which was set by the same rider whose record we just broke.  I thought I would have a tail wind on the return trip making this all very easy.  Indeed it seemed to be the case as I motored back up Great Bay Blvd at a nice wind assisted clip.  Unfortunately, this was very short lived.  The wind took a quick shift to the south before I made ten miles.  Immediately, I saw my speed drop.  At the same time I realized my legs sort of lacked the snap I would have liked with almost seventy miles remaining.  I also took notice that my shorts and jersey were covered with salt. When did it get so hot?  Why did I not notice it?  I called back to the follow car that I would need more water and electrolytes.  As soon as I got the hand off I began guzzling water and swallowing pills.  I could only hope that it wasn't too late.  The next thirty miles were just miserable.  I never felt good for even a minute.  I could think of nothing but quitting.  Which was not an option for me as I wouldn't dream of dishonoring the crew like that.  I ground on in what must have been perceived as painfully slow by the follow car team.  A case of hot foot that just wouldn't quit forced me to pull over to walk it off for a few minutes.  One of the team held my bike.  I resumed riding within just a few minutes feeling a bit better.  I knew there was no way I would beat my old record at this point, but the West-East-West was still very much on the table.  I raised my son (crew chief) on the radio and asked him what pace was needed to break that record.  After some time calculating he responded with 12 miles an hour.  I think I actually smiled hearing that. I set the VP to a gentle 15 mph and watched him fall off my wheel and off the screen.  I needed one more two minute hot foot break just 5 miles from the finish.  Upon resuming I could see the cooling tower of the nuclear plant spewing out steam off in the distance.  I would have never thought that such a thing could be so beautiful, but it was.  Almost imperceptibly I increased my pace.  The lead car announced the final turn and I amped it up a bit more.  The road ended at the park.  We had beaten the record by 54 minutes. 
The Team L to R - Charlie K, Joe K, Lucy K, Greg B, Christine N, Steve H.
It was a happy little celebration at that park by the nuke plant.  The whole team was elated with the result.  The crew had done everything perfectly all day.  They guided me around the route and saw to every detail.  They worked together in absolute harmony, even though some had just met for the first time that morning.  I couldn't have been more grateful to them.  They are the best!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Long Island 300k - Inaugrial Event!




At 4am the group of riders leaves from a parking lot across from the train station in Bethpage, New York.  The Specialized Tarmac Pro feels responsive and fast as we take to the roads.  It's the first time I've started a brevet on anything other than a fixed-gear in almost two years.  My friend Jon and I agreed to ride together promising each other we would shoot for a fast paced ride.  For the time being we are leading the parade with fourteen riders following our tail lights into the darkness.   After about ten miles of easy terrain we make a turn up a steep hill, appropriately named Snake Hill Road.  Someone from behind yells out the suggestion that we should shift into our easiest gear.  I shift down a bit, but not to the easiest.  I'm used to climbing everything with a 72 inch gear, so how bad can this be.  The climb is quite steep, which requires me to stand at times.  It winds to the left and the right as the pavement snakes it's way to the top.  When we reach the apex I look around to see only five of us.  Everyone else is behind and out of view.  The hills keep coming as we dwindle to four riders leading the way.  With the arrival of daylight a secret control is encountered with first time RBA Paul Murray taking photos and verifying brevet cards.  We move on only to encounter more hilly terrain. 
Coming into the Secret Control
The riders around us are Steve and Bob.  Steve is riding his first 300k.  He is pushing the pace up the hills forcing us to ride aggressively to keep up.  I am managing, but would typically not ride this hard so early into the ride.  There is yet a long way to go.  I'm hoping he is not making a mistake.  And, if he is, that his miscalculation won't undo me as well.  The other rider, Bob, is a strong climber and at times shoots past me smoothly on the way up.  Frequently, I need to resort to my standing climb, which is well developed from many fixed-gear miles.  In the standing position I am not easily dropped on a hill. The terrain continues in the same way along the north shore of the island to the first control at Port Jefferson.

Bob who rode with us on the first section
A pleasant little deli/bagel shop serves as the control.  Our group of four are the first to arrive.  Paul, the RBA, and fellow Randonneur, Steve, are there to check-in the riders.  After my brevet card is signed I refill water and look to leave.  My riding companions are all at a table enjoying some breakfast.  I've learned to be quick through controls and now find it impossible to relax at one.  I inform them that I need to move on, but will ride at an easy pace until they can catch up.  This proves to be no problem as there is a huge climb just as I get underway.  After which I keep it slow just spinning easily.  The relaxed pace feels good and helps to loosen up stressed muscles from the earlier intense climbing.  Before long Jon and Steve catch up.  I ask about Bob.  I learn that he decided to back off a bit dropping from the group.  Eventually, the hilly terrain gives way to pancake flat roads as we follow the coast to the end of the island.  Additionally, we are favored with a tailwind.  The three of us move along well working together to maximize our pace.  I'm working hard, but not as hard as the climbing.  An errant piece of metal on the roadway punctures my rear tire bringing the fun to a halt.  I tell my riding companions to go on ahead, but they insist on staying together.  I speedily change out the tube and re-pressure with a quick-fill.  We get right back at it with me taking a long pull as a small pay back to Jon and Steve for waiting.  With the help of the wind we quickly arrive at Orient Point, on the north fork of the whale shaped island.  The north fork is the upper tail fin.  The view is of the Long Island Sound and the state of Connecticut on the other side.  A large ferry is loading up cars and passengers for a trip across.  Our control is a small deli right by the ferry dock.  As we are replenishing our bottles Paul arrives and verifies our brevet cards.  He informs us that the nearest rider to us is about twenty minutes behind.
Rocky section of beach by Ferry Dock, Orient Point, NY
Heading back to the west is not nearly as pleasant.  We now cut through the wind that blew us out here.  Our pace is slowed to 17-18 mph with us giving a good effort.  Having three to share the work at the front is quite helpful.  After a few miles we see Bob heading east riding alone.  Some miles later we see Erica and Gwynna making their way to the turn around.  For the first nine miles we are retracing our route.  We then arrive at a control point in Greenport where we branch off to different roads for the return.  The control is a 7-11 store.  We've only ridden nine miles so are able to make quick work of the stop.  The effect of the wind is somewhat reduced by the buildings around the town.  There are 21 miles to the next control.

No time to stop in, but good to know
The terrain remains mostly flat with the constant head wind.  We are skirting along the Peconic Bay, which is the body of water between the two whale fins.  There are not a lot of road choices on this narrow land mass so we are riding on Route 25, a fairly busy state road.  The good news is the car traffic actually helps shield us from wind.  I'm mostly feeling good, but detect an underlying layer of fatigue.  Thanks to the lightweight carbon bike the pace so far is my fastest for a 300k.  There is still about 100 kilometers to cover.  I'm hoping I can hold out for that much longer.  To make matters worse I'm starting to notice how warm the day has gotten.  Steve is beginning to show signs of wearing down. On one of the few rolling hills we encounter I can hear him struggling behind me and dropping off the pace briefly.  Jon continues to look strong.  We are directed off of the main route as we enter the town of Riverhead.  This is where the two whale fins merge into the main body of the whale.  After a few turns we arrive at a Subway store which is designated as control number four.  I refill my fluids and prepare to depart.  I notice Steve and Jon have settled at one of the tables in front of the store.  They are looking to take a break.  Resting doesn't help me much, typically I just stiffen up and wind up feeling awful when I start riding again.  I tell them I want to go now, but will ride easily so they can catch up.

Steve, our riding companion for many miles
I spin smoothly away from the control.  I'm directed back on Route 25 for a couple of miles, then to River Road which will be followed for six miles.  I keep my speed to a meager 14 miles per hour to allow Jon and Steve to get back.  I'm surprised when I still haven't seen them after nine miles.  As I approach an overpass for the Long Island Expressway I notice a single rider coming up from behind.  Jon pulls alongside and informs me that Steve needed to rest at the side of the road a short ways back.  He doesn't expect he would be able to catch up to us again.  Steve had helped us get to this point taking some strong pulls on the front.  It's too bad he won't be finishing together with us.  With a little less than fifty miles to go Jon and I fall into sync.  The flat terrain continues as does the constant head wind and heat.  I'm starting to feel a little fried.   The easy miles I rode alone waiting for Jon to catch up have helped some, but there is no way to totally reverse the effect of the all the hard miles.  I'm resigned to the fact that feeling bad for the remainder of the ride is inevitable.  I just want to push on to the finish and get it done.  We enter a very populated area with lots of traffic and many stop lights.  We are close to the last control in Ronkonkoma, which is the last one before the end.  We spot the Dunkin Donuts shop on the right side of the busy thoroughfare.  Given how hot it is I'm thinking about a frozen beverage.

We both dump the contents of two Coolada drinks into our water bottles and head out for the final 27 miles.  We  quickly turn off the high traffic roads in favor of less populated, although somewhat hillier pavement.  The hills are not as serious as the ones this morning,  None the less my legs feel the strain.  Jon seems undaunted on the climbs, as is usually the case with him.  He is quite light and has a nifty fast spin which seems to propel him to the top smoothly.  All the while I am cursing any gradient over four percent.  The headwind is still ever present.  We stop briefly at an information control, which is a local park.  With the question answered succesfully, which verifies our passage to this point  We move on for the final seven miles. 

It remains hot and windy for every final inch of the ride.  The miles tick off a little slower than on the outbound. But, soon enough we make the final turn to the finish.  Paul sees us approaching and begins taking photos as we ride down the road and into the parking lot.  The same lot we departed from 13 hours and 10 minutes earlier.  Jon and I share the course record for this first time ride.  It is a personal best time for both of us at the 300k distance.
Jon (L) and myself (R) coming in to the finish

Epilouge: Parts I & II

Part I

Paul Murray and the Long Island Randonneurs came up with a fine brevet.  It had all the elements one hopes for when looking for a ride with a challenge to it.  Which came in the form of hills, heat and wind.  Also, the scenic quality of the route was excellent.  We went by more parks then I could count and the view of the Long Island Sound was terrific. Everything was organized superbly and it was a pleasure to partake.  I highly recommend this ride for next season.  I hope to see you there.

Part II

Making the switch to a geared bike was not an easy decision for me.  I'd ridden exclusively fixed-gear for close to two years.  Prior to that fixie riding has represented a good percentage of my miles since 2006, and I expect it always will going forward.  Having traveled around a bit I happened to meet some of the other riders who ride long distance in this style.  Most do not use that format exclusively, although a few do.  Those who do know nothing different.  Fixed riding feels routine, normal.  Some of these riders will actually claim that it is no harder, just different.  But, in truth it is harder.  By my reckoning between 10% to 30% more difficulr based on terrain.  Sometimes it's just fun doing things the hard way.  Sort of like fingertip push-ups.   I've enjoyed my fixed-gear endeavors immensely.  It's satisfying to finish a long challenging ride using a machine that wasn't really designed for the job.  Just recently, I enjoyed riding the Catskill 600k fixed.  It was a great feeling to have made it around in good condition on a bike that didn't made little sense given the route parameters.   

The reason for the change is simply that I tend to get bored doing the same thing all the time.  I love cycling and hope to never lose interest in it.  The wonderful thing is there is so much variety within the activity.  I lean towards brevets, but have dabbled in UMCA racing as well.  There are very few UMCA activities where a fixed-gear is the appropriate choice.  Since racing is competitive one's gear needs to be competitive as well.  I have aspirations of accomplishing some things in this arena.  The lightweight carbon bike is the right tool for the job.  Now I only need to train myself to be the right rider for the job.  I'll get back to you on how this works out. 
Boo-Ya!