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!
  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Catskill 600k - Fixed Gear!

Photo by Nigel
 The hotel clock on the end table reads 3:55am as I hear the distinct beep of my cell phone indicating a text message awaits.  I'm expecting to start a 600k bike ride at 5am from this very hotel, but, who could be texting me now?  I fumble my way in the darkened room to the phone, where it is plugged into its charger.  The message reads: "Are you coming to the start?"  It is from Katie, the ride organizer.  I text back: "Yes.  At 5am right?"  Her reply is quick and succinct: "No! 4".  Damn!  I messed up the start time!  I'm in disbelief at my stupidity.  The next half hour becomes a fire drill for me as I ready my gear in hurried fashion.  Once downstairs I go through the check-in procedure with Katie and receive my brevet card.  Patrick takes my photo, as was done with the group of starters who made it on time.  I then take to the roads, which are still wet from early morning showers.  The time is 4:45am.

My Specialized Langster feels smooth beneath me on the flat roads leading out of the northern New Jersey town of Rochelle Park.  The drive train hums quietly as I maintain a snappy cadence.  The air feels both chilly and humid at the same time.  I'm comfortable with arm warmers and knee warmers.  The jacket remains in my pack.  This is my third time on this particular 600k.  Although the route has varied some over the years the basic nature of it, mondo hilly, has remained throughout its history.  It's not an annual event, this being only the fourth running since 2006.  I was a DNF that first year.  A 90 degree day combined with poor pacing on my part had me calling for a ride home after only 130 miles.  Five years passed before I tried it again, fairing far better with a successful finish on that attempt.   Today I risk another DNF by riding a fixie.  Three friends, who had ridden the exact route one week prior, on the pre-ride check, had politely advised me against attempting it fixed.  These guys are highly experienced and I respect them immensely.  Despite it all I still wanted the added challenge.  The thought that I might not be able to make it felt exciting.  I probably wouldn't feel that bad if I had to pack it in.  After all, it is a crazy thing to do.  Yet, on the other hand if I succeeded?  Well, that would be immensely satisfying.  It seemed like there was no way to lose.  I advised my wife, who kindly drove many hours to retrieve me back in 2006, of the possibility I would need such assistance again.  After which I committed myself to the plan.
photo by Chris N.
As the darkness slowly yields to daylight on this overcast morning I am crossing into the state of New York, where I will remain for most of the adventure.  The terrain of the early miles is quite gentle.  I find myself making good time.  I'm hoping I can catch up to some of the riders by the first control at mile sixty-one.  In the meantime, I'm passing by reservoirs and lakes with little to no traffic around. I reach route 9W which also has low traffic due to the early hour.  I'm riding next to the Hudson River passing the Stony Point nuclear power plant.  After a hefty climb and descent the river is crossed at the Bear Mountain Bridge.  I enjoy the spectacular view in every direction.   Route 9D follows the river on the east side up to the town of Fishkill.  My direction is north and will continue to be for many miles.  I soon find myself at Hopewell Junction which is the control.  There are numerous riders there, some appearing to have just recently arrived.

61 miles from the start.
Rail Trail photo by Chris N.
After refreshing my bottles and removing knee and arm warmers, I depart the control with Christine and Janice. We enjoy more mild terrain some of which is on rail trails and the Walkway over the Hudson.  This pedestrian and bicycle specific bridge is the longest of it's type in the country.  Soon after crossing the Hudson for the second time the terrain turns more hilly.  The rhythm of the fixie calls for aggressive climbing.  My riding companions fall back.  I find myself riding solo again.  I begin to pass by other riders, all of whom I know by name.  I see my friend Nigel ducking into a small general store to re-fill water bottles.  I opt to push on to the next control before stopping.  The hilly terrain leads to the massive Ashoken Reservoir which is then crossed over on a bridge.  So far the climbing is not terribly difficult and the scenery is outstanding.  My spirits are high as my confidence soars.  A few miles later I am at the Bread Alone bakery in Boiseville, along with many other riders.  Apparently, I've caught up to the main group.
Boiceville Control with Jon the other fixie rider photo Chris N.

111 miles from the start.

I follow the practiced steps of quick controlling.  Check-in, bathroom, get a food item to eat on the bike, fill water bottles, flip cue-sheet, load the next leg into the Garmin and depart.  Because of the crowd at this control it takes about ten minutes to accomplish all of the above.  At C-Store controls it usually takes about five.  About a mile up the road a rider pulls alongside.  It is Jon from the PA Randonneurs.  He is also riding a fixed-gear and is preparing for LEL which is in just a few weeks.  We fall into sync together chatting for a bit before taking turns pulling into a mild headwind.  After about twelve miles we begin to climb a mild grade for six miles.  The climb causes neither of us much stress.  The remaining miles to the next control are lightly rolling and pleasant.  We arrive at the country store in Grand Gorge in fine shape.  There are three riders there when we arrive, all of whom I recognize.  Jon is quite friendly with the two PA riders in the control, Tim and Bill.

147 miles from the start. 
photo by Chris N.
 We all manage to make short order of it and depart as a group of four.  The terrain features some rolling hills, but nothing daunting up ahead for awhile.  We move along well as the three PA riders chat excitedly about all things rando.  I pedal along quietly conserving energy for the miles ahead.  The sleep stop control is still ninety miles further.  The twenty-eight miles to the next control pass uneventfully.  We arrive at the Express Mart in Dehli still in full daylight.  One rider, David, is in the control.

175 miles since the start.
photo by Chris N.
David departs ahead of us, but only by a few minutes.  The next control is a mere 12 miles featuring more mild terrain.  One could start to think that this ride has a bad rap for being more challenging than it really is.  But, I know better.  My information from the pre-riders is solid.  This ride will get tougher before this day is out, and, even tougher the next day.  After completing a short uneventful segment our group arrives in Andes to be greeted by Bob a fellow Randonneur doing duty as the control volunteer.  Bob lives in the region.  He previews the next thirty miles for us describing a 3.5 mile climb we will be dealing with up ahead.   Darkness will be upon us soon so we spend the time to ready our night gear.  The temperature has dropped a bit requiring an extra layer.  Once again David has left the control ahead of us.  We prepare to leave soon after.
Photo by Chris N.

187 miles since the start.

We ride out of the control trending downhill to the Pepacton Reservoir.  We parrellell the large body of water for many miles.  Once again it is not very challenging terrain.  The PA riders start to think this is an easy ride compared to what they face in their home region.  I know better.  The hammer will fall at some point, and I want to stay mentally prepared for it, or things will become miserable.  As soon as we turn away from the water the road pitches up for the big climb.  Darkness is upon us as we head up the six percent gradient.  As is typical of night climbs the top of the climb cannot be seen.  There are a couple of false peaks where the grade lessens briefly leading the rider to believe he is done, only to pitch up again at an even steeper angle.  I'm suffering a bit from a case of hot foot and I begin falling back.  I work hard to ignore the pain catching back up to Bill who has separated from Jon and Tim.  Bill mentions that the grade feels steeper than advertised.  My foot flares with so much pain I can only mutter something unintelligible.  Finally, I clip out to walk off the pain for a hundred feet or so.  After some improvement I get back on the bike and finish the climb.   At the top the three riders are waiting for me.  We continue together on the long descent ahead.  The two geared bikes fly down ahead.  Jon and I must keep up our leg speed with the speed of our bikes.  The descent continues for six miles tapering off some near the bottom.  As we reach flat ground we arrive at the Roscoe control. Bill and Tim are already there waiting.  We are greeted by the volunteer, Mordecai, who is also the designer of the route, and, one of the pre-riders.  He is happy to see me and tells me I am doing very well so far.

219 miles from the start. 

The air has become a bit chilly at this point.  I pull out a light jacket from my pack to wear on the 17 mile leg to the sleep stop in Liberty.  Our group departs the control together.  David who was there ahead of us remains at the control.  He was under dressed and was looking for a solution to keep warm.  As we get going I notice I'm feeling a little sluggish.  The big climb and subsequent descent has apparently taken a toll on me.  My three riding companions seem no worse for the wear as they are amping up the pace to make the sleep stop quickly.  Back at the control they were discussing a minimal sleep plan of one-hour.  That strategy does not align with mine.  I simply want to survive.  I will leave enough time cushion to allow for any problems that may arise, the rest will be spent eating, showering and sleeping.   After a few flat miles we encounter some rollers.  The PA riders take them on aggressively.  I do not make the effort to match their pace.  I'll finish this day riding conservatively. I enjoy riding with others, but am not dependent on it.  I am quite comfortable riding solo anywhere.  I let the gap open watching their taillights blinking up in the distance.  Now alone I embrace the solitude of the night.  The elevation profile trends upward for most of the miles of this section.  There is a final descent into the town, but all prior to that is gentle gradient upward.  The longest is three miles at about 3% gradient.  I work my way up alternating standing and seated to mix up the muscle use.  I hear an odd sound behind.  Sort of a flapping noise.  I look back to see David catching up to me.  I ask what is making that noise.  He explains that he is wearing a garbage bag on his torso to keep warm.  He slowly passes by.  I could increase my effort a bit to stay with him, but opt not to.  There are only a few miles left to the hotel.  I'm happiest to ride them on my own.  Dropping down into the town, making the quick few turns required to navigate to the Day's Inn all happen quick enough.  The automatic doors at the front of the hotel whoosh open as I approach inviting me to ride into the lobby.  It is just past 11pm.

236 miles from the start.

A large conference room is reserved for our use.  Katie, Todd and Leslie have set up the room with a large buffet table filled with hot and cold foods.  There are tables in the middle of the room for dining and the perimeter is used for our bikes.  Each rider has a bag of personal items which has been transported by the volunteers from the start.  I enjoy a hearty meal.  The first time I'm sitting down and eating all day.  Jon, Bill, Tim and David are all there partaking in the food.  Todd assigns me a room for sleeping which will be shared with Jon.  By the time I get my bag and work my way to the room Jon is asleep in one of the two beds.  I quietly shower and brush my teeth.  I find my way to the unused bed.  It is about mid-night.  My plan is to depart on my bike at 4am.  I should net about three hours of sleep, which is quite adequate.  Jon is planning on riding out at 2am.  Not surprisingly I don't fall right asleep.  It takes awhile before the exhaustion overcomes the hyperactive feeling one has from so many hours of activity.  I probably wind up getting an hour and a half of actual sleep.  That should be enough to see me through.

I'm up at 3:15.  After dressing in fresh cycling kit I head for the conference room where breakfast is waiting.  All the volunteers are there, if they've slept it must have been very brief as the food table is entirely changed from just a few hours ago.   Christine and Janice come in for breakfast.  I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal while chatting with everyone.  The two ladies depart on their bikes with me just a few minutes behind.  Despite the early hour it is a pleasant 55 degrees.  I'm looking forward to the sunrise, which will take place at about 5:30am. After only two miles I spot Christine and Janice.  They have overshot a turn by a few hundred feet.  I spot the headlights as they are back tracking to it.  I ride alongside for a bit while we discuss the nuances of the Garmin 800, the cycling navigation unit we both use.  An occasional glitch is common with these units.  They are best utilized in combination with a cue-sheet.  Mostly, I find the device extremely useful and have not had a serious navigation error with it.  On conclusion of our discussion I move on ahead trying to gain back some of the time cushion I had at the end of yesterday.  The roads on this 39 mile section have horrible pavement.  The elevation profile is trending downhill which normally would allow one to move quickly.  In this case the roads are so rough and gravelly that I spend most of my time braking and weaving around pot holes.  The effort involved is as tiring as riding up hills.  I am happy to arrive at the control at Stone Ridge where my friend Jon is the volunteer.  He was one of the pre-riders of the route.  I'm given the run down on the terrain ahead to the next two controls.  Jon describes roads with relentless rollers and climbs for the next 77 miles.  I feel the need to keep moving.
Photo by Chris N.

276 miles from the start.

Back on the roads for this next 47 mile segment the pavement has improved.  As promised the rolling hills begin.  Only to be followed by a 2.5 mile climb up Mount Minnewaska.  I manage the climb in good form.  The five hours spent off the bike at the hotel have been of benefit.  After the descent the rollers return, but they are mostly the gentle variety.  The kind that allow one to maintain somewhat of a rhythm.  They take a toll on the energy level, but are preferable to steeper terrain.  As I work my way up one of the larger ones a couple on carbon race bikes in racing kit pass by at a really good pace.  I assume they are local riders out for a short morning sprint.  Typically, I rise to the challenge when coming across other riders, but on this day I decide to hold steady as I still have a long way to go.  Some steep kickers appear as I get nearer to the control at Monroe.  To my surprise I come across the fast riding couple again as I'm headed up one of the grades.  They are moving much slower.  I pass by the woman and start to overtake the guy.  When he spots me he starts furiously spinning his legs to prevent me going by.  I drop in behind him in the opening left by the woman.  We've come in to the town and ride through an intersection and into a shopping center which has our control.  A bagel store.  They are headed there also.  I spot the volunteer who is David E, a friend and fellow NJ rando rider.  It turns out that the couple is on the 600k also.  After checking in I opt for a bagel sandwich to give me energy for the next leg.  As I prepare to depart Christine arrives alone.  Janice fell off the pace a bit and had suggested she go on ahead.
Speedy Rando riders Kate and Victor photo by Chris N.

323 miles from the start.

Back out on the route I recall an e-mail from my friend Jon received soon after his pre-ride.  He described the current section as "not easy".  I know Jon for a long time and when he uses that phrase it is a red flag.  What it really means is that it will eviscerate you.   Initially out of the control there are the same type of rolling hills that were experienced on the way in.  I'm managing good spirits as I approach Greenwood Lake from the New York side.  The other half of the lake resides in New Jersey which is reached after a couple of rolling miles.  Rather suddenly the road takes a wild pitch up.  This turns into a climb which stair steps up for some distance.  Soon follows a steep descent, a right turn and an immediate climb back up, also quite long.  After many miles of heavy rollers this climb on Awosting Road is starting to hurt.  I reach a county road as things level out. After less than a mile I'm directed to turn on Marshall Hill Road, which of course goes up more.  After which comes Ridge Road which is also a climb, long and stair stepped.  Then comes Otterhole which is a climb followed by a long descent. It was like a furious round in a boxing ring where the only thing that can save you is the bell.  For me the bell is the control in Bloomingdale.  I pull into the tiny convenience store dazed from the last 16 miles.

353 miles from the start.

Despite being exhausted I don't take any rest.  I re-fill my water, intake a gel and ride out for the final 21 miles.  This section was described as flat.  I'm hoping that is the case, but a nagging suspicion tells me it's not likely to be so.  Indeed it begins as flat with only very minor, almost unnoticeable gradient.  At about six miles into the segment a climb is encountered.  Not a killer climb, but one that required increased, out of the saddle, effort.  This is followed by a couple miles of smaller rolling hills, then a long downhill trend.  Going down hurts almost as much as going up at this point.  The final few miles are indeed flat and welcomed.  I arrive at the finish and am greeted by Katie and Steve. I am glad to see them and truly grateful to be done.  While I didn't gain much time over the course of the day I didn't lose any either.  My finish time is 36:45, not that it mattered as I would have been happy with anything less than 40 hours.

374 miles from the start.     

Epilogue:

I find challenging long rides to be fun.  This one certainly was for me.  The added difficulty factor of the fixed-gear was just the motivation I needed.  It's easy to become bored with long rides. I was told by a very experienced rider that using a fixed drive train on this route would be very risky.  That was exactly what I was looking for.  An uncertain outcome.  Maybe I won't make it, but I'll have fun trying.  Motivation can be found in many ways.  Setting out to ride a PR for a distance is one. Handicapping oneself by using less than the ideal bike for the job is another. This time I chose option two.  We'll figure out the next one when we get there.  In the meantime...............Boo-ya!