Thursday, September 16, 2010

PA Randonneurs - Hawk Mountain 200k - Hills and Scenery A-Plenty

My friend Al was in need of his September R-12 Ride.  Given that our local rando group has no more brevets scheduled this year that left us with the choice of riding one of the three nearby permanents, or traveling to a brevet elsewhere.  I spotted a dandy looking 200k on the PA Rando calendar which was touted as a beautiful, hilly tour of Lancaster County, aka known as the Amish country.  Despite it being over a two-hour drive for us Al agreed to go for it.
Old fashioned transport at its best.  A common sight in Lancaster County.
We undertook the drive the night before on Friday, staying at a small inexpensive motel one mile from the start.  In the morning we left our vehicle in the motel lot riding to the start in Ephrata, Pa.  It was a a crisp, clear morning with the air temperature in the upper fifties and little to no wind.  A field of 27 riders clipped in at 7am sharp heading for the first control 48 miles to the northeast in Kempton.  We encounter a few hearty climbs on the way there.  Also, we pass through a small town that was having a yard sale en-masse.  About half of the homes had stuff for sale.  At 8am the streets were crowded with people looking at the used merchandise.  There were even some sidewalk food vendors offering breakfast.  It was quite the sight.

The day would just get nicer and nicer as the temperature rose up into the upper sixties with sunshine and light winds.  The challenge of the course was off-set by the beautiful scenic vistas that were omni-present.  We come across a rider, Eric K, a regular on the PA brevets.  Eric would ride with us for most of the way.  He traveled over two hours from State College, PA for the event.  An engineer starting a new business as a  bicycle frame builder, he was riding one of his own creations.  I enjoyed conversing with him about all things bicycle and randonneuring.
Eric at the top of one of many climbs.  Panoramic views made the climbing more worthwhile.

We arrive at the first control on Hawk Mountain Road, just a few miles from the rides namesake climb.  There were other riders I know there,  Len Z, riding a recumbent that looked a lot like "Mellow Yellow."   Also, Ron and Barb, aboard the purple tandem.  They are all regulars on the New Jersey and Pa brevets.  Despite the control being close to fifty miles in we manage a relatively quick stop.  As we ride out we eye the mountainous landscape knowing we will soon be working our way up.
The mountain ridge beckons us
Al riding smoothly on traffic free roads
Len on the Bacchetta high racer.  Al in background.
 After a few gradual miles on Hawk Mountain Road we start going up what has to be Hawk Mountain itself.  The climb starts gradually.  I manage in my middle chain ring as the switchbacks keep coming.  I'm feeling quite good for the first mile.  As the climb goes on the grade steepens.  I decide to visit granny and save the legs for the sixty plus miles of hilly terrain yet to come.  The rest of the climb goes smoothly for me. On the way up I passed by Ron and Barb, who were so enthralled with the scenery they were not aware they were on the signature climb of the day.  I also passed by Len who had generated enough internal heat on the way up that he needed to peel off a layer.  At the top I wait for Al and Eric who climbed a bit more conservatively than me.  I use the time to send a Twitter message updating the ride progress for our faithful followers.  That would consists of my family and Al's.  The message goes through just as Al crests the top of the climb.  We descend together with Eric not far behind.

Al on the descent
The three of us re-group shortly after the descent only to begin more climbing.  Hill View Road and Summer Road are one continuous hill, but the pretty view makes it worth the effort.  After encountering a few more shorter knee breakers the control in Pine Grove appears. Not being sure what is ahead we agree to take some time to eat some solid food and rest a bit.  The last 33 miles were the hilliest so far.  As we're resting outside the mini-market a rider arrives.  I ask him how it's going and he shows  me a rear derailleur that he's holding in his hand.  He explains that he over shifted on a hill mashing the derailleur into the spokes, breaking off a spoke and the derailleur.  I look at his drive train and see that he has shortened the chain and is running as a single speed in a fairly small gear.  With plenty of time left and only about 45 miles to go he should make it.  Although it won't be the most fun he's ever had.  We leave the control having spent about a half hour.  The next leg is only 14 miles, we all agree to keep the next control to a minimum of time.

The next 14 mile leg consists of pleasantly rolling terrain, which I enjoy more than any other.  We make good time flying up the rollers with momentum gained from the one before.  It's lots of fun and I'm almost sorry when the control point arrives.  I felt like I could have ridden like that all day.  We are now 33 miles from the finish, and having taken a substantial break at the last control we keep this one brief.  Just as we get ready to leave the single speed guy rolls in.  He comments to us that he thinks he may shorten the chain to go with a bigger gear.  After a total of only fifteen minutes the three of us leave together.

The last leg is a fairly tame one.  We manage a steady pace without pushing it.  Al's shoulders begins to bother him, but he keeps rolling,  The scenery is as pleasant as all the miles before and the weather is perfect.  With about 10 miles to go Al announces that he needs to stop for a few minutes to stretch his shoulders.  I agree to stop with him, as Eric continues on the finish.  It takes Al about 10 minutes to loosen up to the point of being able to ride with out excruciating pain.  I take a scenic photo while waiting for him. When he's ready we move on headed for the barn.
My Salsa takes in the local scenery while on a short break near the end.
The final ten miles are on moderate terrain.  Despite Al's pain we manage to keep good time and arrive at the Turkey Hill convenience store, just a few minutes behind Eric.  Tom Rosenbauer, RBA, and Andrew Mead, organizer, are there to greet us.  We process our paperwork and undertake the one mile climb back to our car.  It was a bit of an effort to come out here for this ride with a total of four hours of driving, but as I reflect back it was well worth it.

The next day I make the decision to enter the Natchez Trace 600k in Nashville.  If I can complete the brevet that will give me a second (RUSA) series for the year.  Which will be a fine finish for this season, which so far has been my best ever.

Stay tuned. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

NJ 300k - Englewood

This late season 300k is a new edition to the NJ Randonneurs calendar this year. Organized by Laurent Chambard, with the start in Englewood on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The route heads north to West Milford near Greenwood Lake, then on to Port Jervis, Cornwall, through Harriman State Park and Congers before returning to Englewood.

I joined my friends Paul and Jon at the 4am start.  I began by riding slow to warm up a somewhat sore hamstring.  Paul, Jon and just about everybody else were quite a bit ahead of me.  After about five miles I came across my two friends waiting for me at the side of the road.  We continued on together over rolling to moderately hilly terrain.  After a few more miles Paul mentioned that his right knee was hurting pretty bad.  We continued on until about the twenty mile point where Paul reached the conclusion that the knee would not get him through the day.  As luck would have it the organizer drove up at that exact moment.  Paul would take a ride in the car to the train station in Port Jervis.

Jon had stated in advance that he needed to ride the route quickly, as he had a commitment later in the evening at home.  I would not be able to match his pace up the big hills, that would be presenting themselves shortly, so I told him he should move on whenever it suited him.  Shortly before the control he put the hammer down on a good sized roller.  I didn't see him again until the control at West Milford.  Paul was there also, as Laurent had stopped at  the control to confer with the volunteer.  Jon left a few minutes after my arrival.  I chatted with Paul while eating a bagel.  Knowing the stage ahead was hilly, Paul suggested I not linger.  He assisted me with re-filling my camelbak and preparing a fresh bottle of Sustained Energy.  I then headed out towards Port Jervis on my own.
I came across this sleepy little lake while riding on my own in the early morning hours.

These guys were local roadies out enjoying the cool morning near Port Jervis

This is Lou who was together with the two riders above.  Lou took my photo using my camera. 
I'm settling in for a long day.  Photo by Lou.

The riding was quite pleasant with a sixty-five degree air temperature and clear skies.  There was a slight headwind, but not significant enough to matter.  I was enjoying the scenery as the route took on a hillier profile.  I caught up to a group of three guys riding together thinking they might be on the brevet.  As it turned out they were just local roadies out enjoying the day.  We rode together for a few miles and chatted.  They had seen a couple of riders that were obviously with our group.  I took some rolling photos of the three of them.  Then one of them borrowed my camera to take a shot of me.  The picture taker was named Lou.  I memorized his e-mail address so I could send him the photos.  We parted company shortly thereafter as they arrived at their turn-off.  It was a pleasant meeting which left me in good spirits.  I was zeroing in on Port Jervis, but not before encountering a pretty substantial climb of about 1,000 feet of elevation gain.  I would come across a few more of those over the course of the day.  After a little difficulty finding the control, thanks to a turned street sign, I finally arrive at the coffee house control in Port Jervis.  I come across Bill, who struggled to find the place as well.  Laurent verifies our brevet cards and informs me that Paul is safely en-route to home via NJ Transit Service.  Bill heads immediately back out on the route.  I take some time to refresh water and energy drink and am back on the road having spent about a total of 15 minutes at the stop.  I leave with about an hour and a half in hand.
Entering New York State shortly before Port Jervis

Shortly into the segment I come across one of the biggest single climbs of the day on Guymard Turnpike.  Fortunately the gradient isn't killer steep.  I also have some wind at my back.  The climb tops out at close to 1,200 feet with the steepest section at about 12% grade.  None the less it was not unpleasant.  About a mile later I come across Bill off to the side of the road attending to some personal business.  I continue on for another mile or so and come across a view that calls out for me to take a photo.  I stop and position my bike in the foreground capturing a photo of the scenic vista.  Bill happens along and stops for me to take his photo as well.  After which we begin riding together.  The rest of this leg goes quite smoothly as we enter the town of Goshen, where there is an information control.  We then continue on to Conrnwall New York.  With exception to the one big climb this section was so far the easiest.   The control in Cornwall is a busy pizza place.  My friend Todd is the volunteer there, accompanied by his two young sons.  There are about five other brevet riders inside the place, most of whom I know.  I enjoy a slice of veggie pizza.  Then re-fill water, and energy drink. Bill and I depart together en-route to some more sizable hills.
A scenic vista worth taking the time to stop
Bill at the same scenic spot

The elevation profile showed this next section in excess of 4,000 feet of vertical gain.  Making it the undisputed winner of the toughest leg category.  Several good size knee breakers of 600 feet or more show up rather quickly.  After which it's on to some familiar climbing on East Mombasha and Bramertown Roads.  Then the all too familiar Harriman Park whose paved road leads one over the top of Bear Mountain. With the nice scenery, moderate temperature and slight tail wind it is all enjoyable to me today.  The roads are almost traffic free through all of the park.  I'm enjoying every minute of it.    Daylight is dimishing rapidly as we pass by Lechworth Village.  By the time we reach Havestraw we need to switch to night riding gear.  The control in Congers is only about 4 miles further, but I don't want to risk an accident, or be DQ'd.   We take ten minutes in a parking lot to don reflective gear and turn on lighting.  We arrive at the Dunkin Donuts in Congers about fifteen minutes later in full darkness. The volunteer, Brain, checks us in with about two hours to spare.  We take a nice 30 minute break, then head out for the final 22 miles to the finish.

There is a good size climb on Rt 9W shortly after leaving the control.  We grind up it, our legs finally feeling the effects of all the hills that are behind us.  After making it to the top we know the rest of the terrain is fairly tame. We only need to stay on course to make it in plenty of time.  I become fastidious about the cue sheet.  Making sure each turn we make is correct.  It's easy to make an error in the dark of night, especially when tired from almost two-hundred tough miles.  Working together with Bill we manage to stay on the route. We are on much busier roads along the Jersey side of the Hudson River.  There are lots of turns but soon enough the turn to the hotel comes up and we are in.  With more than an hour and a half to spare,  A small group is on hand to greet us as we enter the lobby.  Laurent verifies our brevet cards with a final time of 17hrs 29minutes.

I was very pleased with the this new 300k.  The route design by fellow NJ Randonnuer, Mordecai, was superb.  It was plenty challenging, but well worth it. I would sign up again without hesitation. Also, running into Bill was fortuitous.  It would have seemed like a longer day had I gone it all alone. It was nice to have help with navigation and company along the way.  It is also safer to ride with others in the dark.  All in all it was a good day on the bike.   

Although this ride is the last on the NJ Randonneurs calendar, my season is not yet over.  I'm planning a 200k in central PA next weekend.  Also, I'm hoping to finish the year with a 400 or 600 kilometer.  I'm looking into rides from Pittsburgh, High Point, NC, and Nashville, TN.

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NJ Randonneurs - Annual Meeting and Ride

The day after my return from Canada was the annual meeting for my rando club, New Jersey Randonneurs.  As in the past a pre-meeting 25 mile bike ride was available for all who wished to attend.  The ride is a casual-social-get-together attended by the RBA and a few of the ride organizers and volunteers. Just to make it more fun and interesting we try to schedule it on a rainy day.  This year we were successful.  Five bikes with six riders showed up at the appointed meeting place The Hibernia Diner in Rockaway, NJ.   The sixth rider would be the stoker of the tandem.  What was rather interesting was that no two bikes were of the same type.  There was a fixed gear, a recumbent, a folding bike, a tandem and one standard upright.  The uniqueness of it combined with the rain (heavy at times) made it one of the zaniest and fun rides I've ever been on.
Left to right: Yours truly (Jamis Sputnik Fixie); Len  (Rans Recumbent); Leroy (Specialized Roubaix); Paul  (Bike Friday) Katie  (Co-Motion Tandem); Jon (not pictured is tandem partner taking photo)
All riders including tandem stoker Jon
  After toweling off and heading to the Legion Hall in nearby Dover, NJ we would enjoy a catered lunch arranged by club secretary extraordinaire Katie.  After which we got down to business hammering out our events schedule for the 2011 season.  The club enjoyed a large increase in participation this year.  Next year should prove to be even better.  For info on our meeting an event schedule for 2011 visit the web site at

Pro Bike Mechanic School - Canada

Some time ago, thanks to the Ontario Randonneurs on line forum, I became aware of a pro-level bike mechanic course offered in Guelph, Ontario.  When I found myself with enough time available to attend the two-week course I signed up.  The program is administered by the Conestoga College offering college credits for successful completion.  The Winterborne Bicycling Institute provided the facility, and the instructors.   There were eleven full day sessions in the classroom/shop.  I found affordable accommodations at a Travelodge motel about 12 miles away in the town of Cambridge. I would commute to the class by bike to keep my fitness up over the two weeks.
City limits of Guelph, Ontario (pronounced "Gwolf")

 When the class began on Monday morning I was welcomed by Jay Filer, owner of Winterborne Bicycle Institute (WBI) and lead instructor for the course.  I was shown a convenient indoor parking spot for my bike and almost immediately was immersed in the world of bicycle repair along with nine other eager students.  Jay and a second instructor Alberto De Ciccio, who also arrived by bike, seemed to know all there is to know about the mechanical workings of bicycles.  Jay's background as a custom bike builder was key, as he was able to help us understand why things were done a certain way.  Alberto, a former WBI graduate, had much to share with us from having worked in many shops.  He was able to demonstrate safe, efficient techniques to perform specific functions of assembling and repair.  About half of our time was spent with books.  Also, watching Jay and Alberto demonstrate procedures.  The other half was spent actually performing procedures on bikes that were provided by the class.  At the end of the day we would leave with approximately two to three hours of assigned home work.
Instructors Jay (right) and Alberto (left) demonstrate wheel building

I fell into the routine that was to be my life for weeks.  I would get up early, ride my bike 12 miles to the Starbucks for breakfast.  Then ride two miles to the class. I would ride back to the Starbucks at lunch time to get coffee.  At the end of the day I would ride the 12 miles back to the hotel.  I typically would eat dinner in my hotel room while doing the daily home work assignments.

The first week consisted of six full days of class leaving us with the Sunday off.   Alberto asked me if I wanted to join him on a road ride starting at his hotel in Guelph.  I agreed to meet him riding over on Sunday morning. We went on a brisk 40 mile ride through the countryside.  I learned Alberto had spent 14 years as a bike courier in Toronto.  He had incredible bike handling skills.  I watched him balance his Cervello at a traffic light by clipping out one foot, turning the front wheel to the side, then keeping the bike stationary with his foot on the front tire. After returning to Guelph I rode back to my hotel for a total of 62 miles. I spent the rest of the day doing laundry, food shopping and homework. The microwave and mini-fridge in my hotel room were getting used extensively as I was preparing most of my meals there. 
Scene along the bike route to class
Another farm. Note the Canadian flag
This private pond was one of  my favorite views
Entering the industrial area where Winterborne Bicycle Institute is located

Beginning  the second week I started to feel tired. The daily commute, the intense day of learning and the never ending home work were wearing me down.  I was not fully confident I could absorb enough of the material to pass the final written exam and the bike assembly evaluation.  A failing grade would result in no credit for the course and no certificate.  Of course, I would still come away with any knowledge and skill  I was capable of retaining.  I made peace with that concept taking the pressure off myself.  I wanted to enjoy the experience and not be stressed out for the remainder of the course.  Despite being tired I stuck with the daily bike commute. It was so enjoyable to ride there I looked forward to it each day.  I worked on my home work assignments to the best of my ability, sometimes lugging three volumes of text books back and forth in a back pack. I also made an effort to retain as much as I could from the classroom sessions.
A relaxing break is taken as Jay demonstrates his technique with the "Spud Launcher".  The gophers in the adjacent field quake with fear at the sound of those potatoes flying overhead.

As usual, I arrived by bike on the final day, which would consist of a three hour written exam and a three hour bike assembly.  The written exam was the first business of the day.  It was an open book test, so we could use the five classroom text books provided to us.  There were 103 questions in total. A score of 70% would be needed to pass.  I took the entire three hours to complete mine. After the lunch break we would begin the evaluated bike assembly.  We were given brand new bikes in boxes and would completely assemble them taking care that all the components were correctly set up and all fasteners were torqued to specifications.  It would take three hours to complete the project.  Jay and Alberto carefully inspected the project bikes grading the students on the quality of the work.  We took a break while waiting for our final grades.  When the calculations were complete I learned I had passed the course. While I could have lived with myself if I had failed passing was far better.  Despite being hard the two weeks were enjoyable. The nine other participants were all fellow bike enthusiasts some were already employed as bike mechanics. The time spent with this group and the instructors was pleasant and memorable.
The graduating class and instructors at the end of the two week program.  The vintage cruiser was the property of WBI, not my daily commuter.

I would recommend this program to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of the mechanical workings of the bicycle.  Enrollment is through Conestoga College the course number is: MECH 1234.