Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NJ Randonneurs Holiday Ride

photo by Shane
 With the Holidays rapidly approaching it seemed appropriate to get together with Rando friends for a ride and celebration.  My Great Adventure 112k Permanent would satisfy the ride part of the plan.  The Plaza Deli and Caterers, who have been the headquarters for my permanent routes, would be our venue for the post ride celebration.  As the date approached the weather forecast began to look a bit ominous with possible snow showers and cold temperatures.  We would escape the snow showers, but the cold was to be a reality. 
Katie and Jon working on getting the tandem off the rack photo by Shane
 A chilly 23 degree air temperature was felt as we met at the deli for the pre-ride buffet breakfast.  After fueling up, fourteen riders clipped in for the start.  It was a few degrees warmer, but still quite cold with a steady wind blowing from the northwest.  My friend Al and I would undertake the ride on the tandem. Which turned out to be a good choice for the windy day.  There was one other tandem on the ride ridden by Katie and Jon. Two riders, Paul and Nigel, were on fixed gear bikes.
Waiting at the start in the cold air    photo by Shane
 At 9am we pulled out as one big group headed south on 206 for the first mile.  Once on Township Line Road the wind could be felt blowing at our backs.  The direction of travel to Jackson is predominantly southwest which would give us a tailwind for most of the way.  We split into a couple of groups with about half of us in the lead group.  The terrain is largely flat with some small hills and upgrades throughout.  With the wind assist we built up a head of steam covering the 35 miles to the A-Plus Market in Jackson in 2hrs 05 minutes.  Others would begin arriving a few minutes later.  The second group having fragmented on the trip down. 

Bob and Patrick headed south to Jackson photo by Shane
Paul on the fixer rides past a fixer upper photo by Shane
Our group at the Jackson Control; Robin, Paul and Shane standing
 Wanting to stay warmed up Al and I agreed to keep the stop to 10 minutes. Five riders departed Jackson with us for the return trip home.  Immediately, the head wind could be felt as we crossed West Monmouth Road.   The tandem has the power of two riders with an aerodynamic profile of a single.  For long grinds into the wind it is as good a weapon as any.  The riders who left the control with us line up on our rear wheel.  We do our best to keep the pace lively over the small hills that are prevalent in the first ten miles.  Upon reaching Monroe Township the roads flatten out and the area becomes more exposed.  The wind is strongly felt for the next ten miles.  Personally, I get a perverse enjoyment out of riding in headwind.  I've learned to mentally and physically endure long windy stretches to the point where it actually feels good.  Sort of  how it feels to climb big hills.  We pull our group through this section with Al delivering steady power from the stoker position.  Upon crossing US 1 on New Road more wind block is available from the reappearance of hills, trees and buildings.  Over the next five miles we begin losing riders off the back.  At Bunker Hill Road, after the crossing of Route 27, there are only two still with us, Bob and Paul (fixed gear).  On a long gradual downhill the tandem builds up too much speed for the single cog bike to keep up.  This leaves only Bob hanging on when we reach Griggstown.  After a short rolling ride up River Road we reach the windiest stretch of the day on Township Line Road.  It is about a four-mile headlong battle across open farmlands to Route 206.  Bob is still glued to us when we make the turn for the final one-mile run to the finish.  We are in at 4hrs and 43 minutes, having taken 22 minutes longer on the return trip then the ride down.
Team work in progress            photo by Shane
Settled in at a table in the nice warm environment of the Plaza Deli, I check-in all the riders as they arrive.  Everyone finishes in good spirits.  The next few hours are spent eating, drinking and socializing.  Our group has a lot to celebrate.  Many riders have reached new highs this season.  Several have achieved new RUSA kilometer goals with the finish of today's permanent. It was a pleasure to be in the company of this group as we all reminisced on a very full season.  Tentative plans are made for future R-12 rides, and a possible road trip to the south is discussed.  Typically the year after PBP is a low point for many.  In the past participation at brevets falls off as does rider's interest.  However, this does not seem to be the case as everyone appears excited for the 2012 season.   Katie, our new RBA, has a full schedule of events planned.  I'm much looking forward to the opportunity of sharing many miles with this group. 

Enjoying the post ride buffet lunch at the Plaza Deli photo by Shane
Paul, Patrick, Steve and Robin        photo by Shane

List of Finshers: Great Adventure 112k (12/18/11)

Beake, Shane
Blanchette, Alan
Chernekoff, Janice
Chin-Hong, Patrick
Costello, Jim
Greene, Nigel
Kratovil, Joe
Landis, Robin
Lentz, Rick
Levitt, Jonathan
Olsen, William
Raschdorf, Katie
Shapiro, Paul
Torres, Robert

Honorable mention:  Though they did not partake in the ride; Leroy Varga, Christine Newman and Steve Yesko stopped in to visit.  Also, Al's wife, Sue joined us for lunch as did my wife Lucy and son Charlie.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cycling in the Mid-West - Arkansas, Missouri, Tennesee

Without returning home from the Maryland Flatbread 200k I headed to the west to attend to some family business in Arkansas.  The fixed gear bike (my choice of ride in MD)  was mounted securely on the roof rack.  I hoped to find some time to ride while away from home.  I wasn't sure the fixie was the ideal bike for the terrain I would encounter in the region known as the Ozarks, but, it was what I had with me so it would have to do.

Arkansas Riding
Lake Norfork viewed from Mountain Home, Arkansas
After two days of travel to northern Arkansas followed by three days full of activities not related to cycling I finally got out for my first ride. Ideally, I would have liked to knock off a 100k permanent.  Alas, the nearest one was in Springfield, MO, over 100 miles away.  With the time I had available the only choice would be an unsanctioned ride.  I mapped out a 100k route from Lake Norfork through Mountain Home, Lakeview, Bull Shoals and return.  There was only one real steep challenging hill, that had me struggling to make it up without walking.  The remaining climbs were just large rollers.  Once out of the Mountain Home area the traffic was light and the drivers were courteous.  The weather was pleasant in the 60 degree range with some sunshine.  I stopped atop the Bull Shoals Dam to take in the view and snap a photo.  I finished with exactly 62 miles, which was my total accumulated miles for the week, so far. I would go out for a 40 mile ride to Southern Missouri the next day to bring my week's total to just over 100 miles.  Which is less than half of my normal 250-300 per week during the season.  On the bright side, I was getting a good workout on the fixie, and enjoying new scenery.
The view of the River from Bull Shoals Dam

Marshfield Mash 112k Permanent, Springfield, MO
Life in northern Arkansas requires one to travel a bit to attend to everyday needs.  I would experience this when my Mom's car had a problem requiring the services of the dealer.  The nearest one was in Springfield, MO, over 100 miles away.  Smelling an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone I e-mailed the permanent route owner of the 100k which started in the same town.  I  explained that I would be in the area in two days from now and would like to ride his route.  He agreed to meet me at the start and bring me a brevet card.  An unbelievable stroke of luck had the start location at a convenience store exactly next door to the car dealership.  With my Jamis Sputnik partially disassembled in the trunk I left at 6am to undertake the 2 1/2 hour drive.

Upon arrival I spent ten minutes assembling the bike.  After which I relinquished the car to the dealer's service department.  I rode  next door to the "Kum and Go" Market to meet Ralph who arrived just after nine to complete paperwork for a 9:30am start.  We spent the remaining time talking about all things Rando.  Ralph is well in tune with the small but lively Randonneuring group in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.  At the designated start time Ralph headed off to work and I took to the road.  The temperature was in the forties with overcast skies.
The quiet roads of southern Missouri
After a few miles on a busier road leading out of Springfield the route would turn off onto more quiet rural roads. These roads designated by one or two letters or by "FR" (Farm Road) followed by a route number were extremely quiet and smoothly paved.  It was rural riding at its best.  The first 14 miles featured mostly mild terrain to the control at Rogersville.  I had some difficulty locating the control as the store was named differently from the cue sheet.  It was known to local riders as the Snack Shack, but the sign said Connoco.  I had forgotten that Ralph warned me about that in an earlier e-mail.  I obtained proof of passage at a nearby market, then resumed the route to the next control in Marshfield.
Riding the Missouri KK
After riding for some time the cue sheet directed me to turn onto the Missouri KK and follow for 13 miles.  This pleasant two lane road would feature some good climbs as well as some loose dogs.  One rather clever hound got out in the road ahead of me attempting to bite my leg as I passed.  I clipped out one foot and kicked in the general direction of his head.  This seemed to discourage him long enough for me to get away.  It was no easy task kicking with one leg while continuing to pedal with the other.  Lacking the ability to coast has its drawbacks.  The KK ended at a T-intersection about one mile from the control.  With minimal difficulty I located the country store.  After a purchase of water and cookies I was quickly back underway.  The route being an out-and-back would use the same roads for the return.

The hills on the KK felt a little harder on the return, but none were terribly daunting.  Although, I was resigned to completing the ride under drab gray skies the sun finally burned its way through delivering brightness and warmth.  Again I encountered the same dog up to his same old tricks.  This time I employed a strategy I'd seen demonstrated by my friend Paul.  I sprinted directly at the dog screaming aloud that I was going to run him over.  The startled animal darted out of the way seemingly forgetting that he was supposed to be trying to bite me.  I pedaled on to Rogersville, stopping at the Concocco Market and discovering that it was the proper control stop.  I peeled off a layer and applied sun screen before departing for the last 14 miles.
Nice of them to point out the best spots for nature breaks
The Farm Roads and Missouri Highway J would deliver me back to Springfield and the Kum and Go Market.  I finished the 112k in 5hrs and 55 minutes.  After documenting my finish at the control I rode next door to retrieve the car.  Everything went smoothly.  I was back at Lake Norfork by dinner time.  Happy to have had the opportunity for a nice day on the bike.

Turkey Trot 200k, Nashville, TN
After spending a pleasant Thanksgiving Day in Arkansas with family I departed for home on Friday.  I had decided to route myself via Nashville, TN.  As luck would have it there was a 200k scheduled there on Saturday.  I had on a previous trip enjoyed a 600k with the Nashville group. I found their rides to be well organized and attended by friendly riders who made me feel welcome.  The six hour drive was pleasant with nice weather.  I checked into a motel three miles from the ride start in Brentwood, TN,  a suburb of Nashville.  By coincidence, there was a Whole Foods Market within a five minute drive.  I dined on my favorite foods, then returned to the hotel to ready my bike and gear for the morning..  I planned on riding over to the start from the hotel..

Leaving the hotel at 6:15am, by bike, in the darkness felt fine as the temperature was pleasantly in the fifties.   Although, there was a noticeable wind blowing.  I took that as a sign that the forecast calling for 18 mph winds during the day was likely to be accurate.  After navigating through three miles of traffic-free roads in the Nashville suburbs I arrived at the YMCA of Brentwood, which would serve as the ride start and finish.  I was greeted by Jeff Sammons the region's RBA.  I remembered Jeff from my prior Nashville ride.  A few riders were gathered around.  Jeff Bauer, who I had met before, arrived a few minutes after.  Jeff is known nationally as an accomplished fixed gear rider.  My stomach tightened a bit when I saw him pull from his vehicle a fully geared bike.  I was told the route had some steep hills on it, but Jeff had ridden the Rocky Mountain 1200k, RAAM and PBP on fixed.  It made me nervous to learn I would be the only one without gears.  Our group swelled to eleven riders by the start time.  Seven would be on the 200k with the other four riding the 100k optional route which started at the same time.

As the clock hit 7am Jeff signaled for us to go.  We took to the roads with Jeff Bauer quickly establishing a lead and steadily opening a gap on the group.  His mission was to assist the RBA by manning the finish for the 200k riders.  Ideally, to accomplish this he needed to be the first one in.  Although, he did leave the passenger window on his vehicle cracked open as a back up.   Anyone who finished before him could complete the brevet card and slide it into the vehicle.  I've seen this system used effectively on other brevets.  However, early indications were that Jeff would be there first.  I assumed that was his reason for choosing the geared bike.  After about 10 miles we came to the first substantial climb.  It was fairly steep for about a mile.  Jeff was out of sight by this point.  Two other riders, one named Jeremy, climbed quickly and were over the top ahead of the group.  I hung in there with the main cluster of riders only to be dropped on the descent, which was quite long.  The terrain remained moderate for awhile, I enjoyed the scenery and traffic-free roads.  The first control was an information point at 28 miles into the route.  The few miles preceding were quite hilly.  I clearly recall one steep knee breaker, named Anderson Road, that had me traversing side to side.  I came close to walking on that one.  My only salvation was that I vowed to  fall over before clipping out.  That conviction kept me grinding to the top.  The info control came shortly after.  I answered the question which was found on a billboard positioned for the highway that passed overhead.  There was no access to the interstate from the lower road so traffic was non-existent.

It was 12 more miles to the first commercial control.  There were some hills, but nothing as bad as Anderson Road.  Some of the miles were on numbered roads, which feature more traffic, but, typically have more modest hills.  I arrived at the small grocery store control in Harpeth Valley.  I was surprised to discover there were no riders there.  All had made it through before me. I was resigning myself to finishing last and seeing no one for the rest of the day.  I was 41 miles into the route.
Riding by a pleasant river on a Tennessee state highway
The next control was 38 miles away.  I moved out quickly, but did not hold out much hope of catching anyone. Fortunately, the cue sheet was very accurate and I was having no problem following the route.  At mile 58 I stopped at an intersection where I was directed to turn left onto Spencer Mill Road.  To my surprise a rider pulled up alongside.  I recognized him from the start.  I commented that one of us has to have messed up because to this point everyone was in front of me.  He explained that he and two other riders had missed a turn resulting in some hilly bonus miles.  The other two riders quickly arrived, one of them being Jeremy, the other Jeff Bauer.  We hit a medium sized climb with two of the guys moving out in front and to my surprise Jeff falling back behind me.  I picked it up a bit at the top of the hill and caught up to the other riders.  They told me Jeff was not feeling well and was riding conservatively, which explained what happened on the hill.  I rode with the two of them for a few miles until they stepped up the pace beyond what I was comfortable with.  On my own again the remaining miles to the control were hilly and windy.  Upon arrival at the market in Fly Tennesee I noticed every 200k rider was there relaxing on the porch of the old fashioned store, with exception to Jeff who arrived a few minutes later.  I managed to pull off a very efficient stop leaving out of the control first.   The next control was in 27 miles.

Both the wind and the terrain softened somewhat.  There were still some hills, but nothing particularly steep or long.  I made about 12 miles before Jeremy and his riding buddy passed by me.  They were moving quite well over the gentle terrain.  I didn't think I would see them again.  None the less I was happy with my progress.  I was riding efficiently.  Outside of the brief control stops I just kept moving steadily.  There was an outside chance that I would make the finish by dark, but I wasn't counting on it.  When I arrived at the control the two riders were just heading out giving me the thumbs up sign.  I intended to make the stop brief.  A quick bathroom break, a purchase of Gatorade, then out the door.  Jeff rode in as I was dumping the Gatorade into my bike bottle.  He said he was feeling better as he entered the store.  I headed back out for the final section.  Twenty miles to go.
Rural Tennessee
Again the terrain was very manageable as was the wind.  I might have made about seven miles when I saw Jeff back off in the distance steadily gaining ground.  In another mile he passed me moving quite well.  I doubted anyone else would be catching him.  At most only two riders would be sliding their cards through the car window.  I was still holding out hope that I could get in before dark when the sun dipped behind some low clouds on the horizon.  The sunset would take place under cloud cover which diminished the useable light to the point that continuing without lighting and reflective gear was unwise.  I stopped in a driveway to switch to night riding mode.

I continued on, fully visible from all directions.  I encountered a minor navigation problem with a missing street sign, which caused me to ride up and down the road looking for the proper turn.  When I finally figured it out I lost another 10 minutes.  It was difficult for me to read the cue sheet as the print was quite small.  Even with my helmet light it was difficult.  This caused me to ride even slower.  While I was stopped at a traffic light one of the riders from behind pulled alongside.  We rode to the finish which was only a couple of miles further, all ridden on a bike path.  We popped out of the woods into the parking lot where Jeff was waiting for us.  We were clocked in a 10hrs 18minutes.  After chatting a bit I departed by bike for my motel.  There was a Whole Foods Market nearby I desperately wanted to visit again.


For all the regional differences Randonneur riding seems pretty similar wherever I've traveled .  RBA's and riders are friendly and supportive.  The routes are similar in design mostly utilizing lightly traveled rural roads.  Although, terrain can vary somewhat, an attempt is generally made to add sufficient challenge to the course.  While at times I cursed my choice of bike, mostly I was very happy to have accomplished all the rides on the fixed.  Two weeks of nothing but one gear and constant pedaling gave me a bit more confidence in my riding overall. 

I left Nashville early the next morning to undertake an 880 mile one day car trip home. Which equated in my mind  to something along the lines of the motorized version of a 400k.  I arrived home at 10pm exhausted from the days drive.  Fortunately, I recovered well enough to take on a 112k Permanent Populaire the next morning.  On gears.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

DC Randonneur's Eastern Shore Flatbread 200k - A windy day on the fixie!

photo by Christine
 There was a lot of buzz about the Flatbread 200k   This late season offering by the DC group features a pancake flat tour of the eastern shore.  There were several New Jersey riders intent on going, most were talking about undertaking the ride on fixed gears.  It all sounded like good fun to me.  I didn't give it much thought. I would go and the fixed gear would be my choice of ride. 

On Saturday morning at 7am sharp a field of 79 riders took the start from the Good Guys Sports Bar in Centerville, Maryland.  From our local group Katie, Christine, Ron, Barb and Nigel were in attendance.  Ron and Barb would be one of many tandem teams in attendance while Nigel was attempting the ride on his recently acquired Raleigh fixed gear.

After a pretty chilly start the sun began to warm things up quickly.  Upon leaving the information control at only 8 miles into the ride I started to feel quite comfortable.  I rode for a bit with riders from home.  Nigel was anxious to test himself on the fixie and picked up the pace putting a gap on us.  I asked Katie and Chris if they wanted to catch him.  They said they were out for a more leisurely tour.  I slowly closed the gap to Nigel.  We were joined by another rider, on a Rivendell, named Steve.  We established a nice three man pace line which helped with the ever increasing wind.  A fourth rider tagged on as we were passing by.  He worked the rotation with us until Nigel took a mighty pull, which effectively burned the guy out.  He fell off the pace, and was gone.  On a subsequent effort by Nigel, Steve began to falter.  We decided to  keep him with us, easing up to let him hook back on.  We continued to the 50 mile point where Steve opted out to stop at a coffee shop. 

Steve with Rivendell at dolce bakery    photo Daily Randonneur
The two of us continued on taking only a brief bathroom break prior to the first official control at mile 61.  The wind was really getting serious.  Although, more than not it was favorable.  We were doing very well time wise to this point.  We caught up to a small group at a stop sign, riding in to the control with them. At the control, in Slaughter Beach, I suggested to Nigel that if we keep close to the same pace, and the stops brief, we would be done before dark.  He was game to give it a shot.  Neither of us may have realized at that point how hearty a challenge it would be.  The wind factor would take a dramatic turn for the worse.
The Pavilion at Slaughter Beach         photo by Christine
Immediately upon leaving the control we turned dead into a very strong headwind.  The area was quite open with zero wind block.  The next control in Milton was only 10 miles away, but it felt much further.  I watched my computer display read between 11 to 12 mph.  Nigel was showing the first tiny signs of faltering, although he was still taking pulls.  I tried to subtly convey to him to just let me pull.  One of the things I'm suited for is grinding through the wind for indefinite periods of time.  I believe it to be a by product of riding a higher than average amount of mileage over the past three years.  I'm happy to pull a friend through a windy section, or an entire ride if the situation requires.   We reached the control and opted to keep it brief.  The purchase of a pack of gum for me and Fig Newtons for Nigel got us the necessary proof of passage receipts.  We were quickly on our way.  Back into the wind. 

The next control stop in Bridgeville, Delaware was 18 miles away, most of it into a ferocious headwind.  Once on the front I would stay there, trying to give Nigel some relief.  Although, he did sprint past a couple of times to take a turn.  There were a few wooded sections which provided a much appreciated break from the relentless air currents that gusted to 40 mph at times.  We slowly pass by riders who were too weary to bother jumping on the back.  Wind can be mentally fatiguing as well as physical.  It dampens one's spirit to the point that pedaling the bike becomes robotic, totally absent of mental function.  The mind retreats to a safe zone, separating itself from the misery the rider is enduring.  In this way the function can be maintained for long periods of time.  Certainly by no means a happy experience, but it becomes manageable and sustainable.  The final turn to the control is reached and for a brief period the air is still.  I'm welcoming the break and purchase a Gatorade, something I rarely consume.  The sugary liquid will provide some much needed energy, at least for the short term.
Nigel on the Raleigh One Way (right) Me (left) photo by MG
True to our plan we leave the control quickly.  We have 40 miles left to cover, much of it into the wind.  The grind continues, but somehow feels a little less ominous due to the more frequent appearance of wind blocking surfaces like buildings, trees, etc.  I'm able to keep the speed up to 14-17 most of the time.  The strain of riding the fixed for considerably longer than he is used to takes its toll on Nigel.  At one point he drops off.  When we re-group he suggests I go on without him.  Since we have made it for about 100 miles together it seems wrong to separate at this point.  I ease the pace and he settles back in.  We ride this way for awhile which seems comfortable and efficient.  We are joined at an intersection by the DC tandem team known as Felkerino and MG.  With them are a small group of "klingons" taking advantage of the enhanced drafting properties of the tandem.  We join the fun and are soon making our way at 19-23 mph for long stretches of road.  This goes on for quite some time.  It is not easy as the spin rate needed to maintain this speed with 70 gear inches is substantial.  But, given the choice between the present situation and fighting the wind? This will end sooner. We'll take it.  I marvel at the skill and strength of the tandem team pulling us along.  They are navigating seamlessly with both captain and stoker snapping photos for the two blogs they maintain, all the while efficiently spinning the pedals.  They are highly experienced, working in perfect unison, and seemingly enjoying themselves.

MG and Felkerino at the ocean        photo Daily Randonneur
Life remains good for our fortunate little group until we encounter a bridge which is covered with fresh gravel.  We break apart each rider picking their own line.  The tandem, with its wide tires,  rolls through unaffected.  A gap is opened between them and the group.  I take up a sprint bridging the gap.  The other klingons also quickly get back into the line.  I take a long look back and notice Nigel is not among them.  I spot him about 50 yards back.  He doesn't have enough snap left in his legs to close the gap.  He graciously motions for me to go on. While the pace line was fun I prefer to finish in the same company I'd been with all day.  I peel off the line for the final 12 miles with Nigel.  We quickly orient ourselves to the cue sheet and resume our slower, yet efficient pace to the finish.  We arrive at 4:20pm, with a considerable margin to darkness.  Our time was 9hrs 20min, which was a 200k PR for Nigel and a fixed gear PR for me. 
New Jersey's Ron and Barb on the purple Burley  photo Daily Randonneur

Katie (left) working her way to the 5,000k award photo by Christine
 The Good Guys Sports Bar was a nice spot to rest and replenish while we waited for other NJ riders to finish. It was a party atmosphere which grew exponentially while other riders arrived.  A perfect ending to what will be remembered as a perfect day on the bike.        


While it is nice to strive for goals and to achieve, I find it is equally rewarding to revel in the accomplishments of others. While devouring a veggie pizza I enjoyed chatting with Nigel who was obviously pleased with his fixed gear debut.  Sometime later I enjoyed seeing Katie at the finish, which put her past the RUSA 5,000 kilometer total for the first time.  Many riders I know have reached new heights this year.  It speaks well to the supportive nature of our group.  We are not individuals solely out for our own gratification.  We motivate and encourage each other.  The camaraderie works wonders.  In my opinion, the respect and support of fellow riders is far better than a chest full of shiny medals.  Although, there is no reason why one can't have both.  Enjoy!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

K Hounding - The ongoing quest for kilometers

Posing for a K-Hound photo after the Great Adventure ride (10/2)
 As I've confessed to before, I am a mileage addict.  Along those lines I've focused much of my late season activities on the K-Hound award.  The K-Hound Club, as it is known, was established by the Lone Star Randonneurs of Texas.  These folks gained a reputation for racking up impressive mileage and RUSA kilometer totals year after year. In an effort to motivate others they established the now coveted award.  It is available to RUSA  riders everywhere.

To be recognized as a K-Hound one must accumulate 10,000 kilomters of RUSA sanctioned brevets and permanents. The closest I'd ever come was in 2010 with a total of 6651 K.  Although, in the 2010 season I'd logged a total of road miles exceeding 12,000.  I reviewed the results of the riders with the highest kilometer totals in the nation.  What I learned is these folks did very little unsanctioned riding.  Most of their bike time was spent on brevets and permanents.  The Randonneuring groups with the most K-Hound riders had lots of local permanents to ride.   With the 100k variety being a popular method in the accumulation of sanctioned k's.  With that I established two 100 kilometer RUSA permanent routes starting within three miles from my home.  In the past I was always going out for unsanctioned rides of 60-80 miles.  This season I would make those rides count by frequenting these permanent routes.  Soon other 100k routes became available in the area and for variety I would ride these, along with some longer permanents as well.  On October 2nd while riding my Great Adventure permanent, in the company of  a few friends, I rolled past the 10,000 kilometers.  My total of road miles were almost 11,000.  I had improved my ratio of RUSA kilometers over prior years by the frequent riding of permanents.

To keep myself motivated I will attempt to reach a total of 13,000 RUSA kilometers and 13,000 logged road miles.  Also, I will continue to chase the P-12 and R-12 awards.  With the P-12 concluding in December and the R-12 in March.  These goals are important to keep me on the bike when the weather in our region becomes less cycling friendly.  I'm not a fan of cold weather, but through practice I've learned to deal with it.  Fortunately, I will not be alone.  I have friends chasing the same goals.  I look forward to their company and the motivation that comes from sharing common goals.

Friday, September 30, 2011

North Carolina 600k Coastal Route - Volunteer Pre-Ride

My friend Paul was in need of a 600k to complete his SR Series for the year.  With little on the calendar this late in the season it looked like North Carolina was the best bet.  After some communication with Tony Goodnight, Regional RBA, Paul learned that volunteers were needed for a pre-ride checkout two-weeks before the main event.  Seeking some company for the unsupported 378 mile ride he asked if I wanted to join.  It seemed like a good opportunity to get in one more late season long ride.

The ride starts in Lumberton, NC, which is right off I-95 quite near the South Carolina border.  The starting point is a Super 8 Motel.  We undertook the 10 hour drive on Friday to be ready for a Saturday 7:30 am start.  The route was advertised as quite flat running near the coast.  There was a suggested sleep stop at Sunset Beach, mile 270.  We both felt that was a little too far for us (the NC riders are very fast).  We opted for Shalotte at mile 258.  Our conservative ride plan projected our arrival at 5:40am.  I hoped we could better that by riding efficiently.  I was considering the ride plan as the worst case scenario.  

The Ride - Day 1

We pushed off from the motel right on time at 7:30am, a very civilized hour to begin a long bike ride.  The first leg was 44 miles north to Roseboro.   After some initial quick turns to get out of Lumberton we found ourselves in rural surroundings with minimal traffic.  The route used some country lanes and state roads which were all of good quality.  There were nice long stretches without turns.  I favor pulling rather than drafting so after we established a nice rhythm I stayed on the front holding a steady pace.  The cue sheet was quite accurate, the roads well marked, and not a single pothole to be found.  The only obstacle were the dogs.  It seems like every home in North Carolina comes with at least one dog and zero leashes.  We lost count of how many times we were chased.  Mostly, they were friendly pets and were just playing the game.  But, one needed to be aware of them or a crash could result.  Rain was predicted for much of the day.  However, we arrived in Roseboro at 10:30 without a drop having fallen.  The skies were decidedly overcast with the air temperature in a comfortable range (70-80F).  Neither of us had any complaints.
Paul riding past blueberry fields
We departed the control at Roseboro in short order headed south east to Maple Hill, which is a little over 100k.  The terrain and scenery were much the same as the prior section, as was the occasional dog chase.  I kept my position on the front continuing to hold a steady, but not too fast pace.  I was enjoying myself and feeling like I could pull all day.  There were not many cues for such a long section.  There were roads that we would remain on for over 11 miles at a time.  It made for easy navigation, but required mental discipline.  I played mileage games in my head to keep from getting bored.  Of course, sprinting away from dogs also provided some entertainment.  After a 7 mile stint on NC-50 we arrived at the control in Maple Hill.

The next section would be a short one.  South for 24 miles to Rocky Point.   There were only four cues needed to cover the distance.  I remained on the front maintaining the same steady rhythm.  We experienced some light rain for very brief periods, but not enough to matter.  As of yet we'd not felt the need for any rain gear.  We arrived at the control, which was at mile 132.  The distance being covered in a total of 9 hours and 40 minutes.  We were steadily gaining time on our ride plan, which would get us to our sleep stop at a more reasonable hour.  Our arrival at Rocky Point marked the furthest point from the start.  The route design has the entire 600k contained in the southeast corner of the state.  This would require some tacking around to achieve the required distance.  We would double back to the northwest before heading south again.  The strategy would make it easier from an organization standpoint to provide support for the riders.  No one could ever be further than 80 miles from the starting location.  In addition, the terrain would remain relatively the same throughout.  We would not reach any of the hillier areas of the state.   After a brief break at the control store we pushed off for the 54 mile segment to Garland, which was a town we passed through on the way.
Passing by Pinelands wooded area
A total of seven cues would direct us through the next 54 mile segment.  The road selection continued to be pleasant.  At times it was very like riding through the Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey.  Darkness came upon us during this stretch.  Although, the day had been very overcast the sky cleared considerably by nightfall.  We could see many stars overhead.  The temperature remained mild.  Despite having covered over 150 miles I was still feeling good and enjoying the ride.  I continued my position on the front holding our pace to what it had been during the day.  Our arrival at the Garland control marked the half-way point.  We had managed to cover the 300k in 13 hours 40 minutes.  We were holding over six hours in hand and were ahead of our ride plan by almost two hours.  Things were looking good.

After some initial confusion about which direction to head from the control we resumed the route.  We rode about 11 miles to Elizabethtown and stopped briefly to top our water.  There would be no opportunity to do so for the next 61 miles.  We became confused as we tried to move on.  As it turned out we passed by a turn and had to go back.   Then, we missed a cue and came upon a highway, at which point we thought we were off route.  Paul's Garmin helped us sort things out, but we lost a little time.  To make matters worse I hit a low energy point and was struggling a bit.  Paul was feeling good and eagerly took over the front.  He picked the pace up to a point that I just couldn't hold his wheel.  I could not roll faster than 14 or 15 mph for the next hour.  After which, my energy level started to return to normal.  We arrived at the control in Hallsboro which, as expected, was closed.  We developed an information control question for riders to use on the main ride.   Continuing, we had thirty miles left to cover to the sleep stop.  It was currently 1:08am.  Our ride plan predicted our arrival in Shallotte at 5:41am.  Barring any unforeseen problems we would beat that by more than two hours.

My energy level returned to near normal as Paul resumed on the front.  I shortly went by him to take my turn at a pull.  He quickly went around me again continuing at a faster pace.  I was able to hold on as we sped toward the control, which would be our opportunity to sleep.  I took a few turns at the front, but mostly Paul was pulling and setting the pace.  He had not eaten any solid food for the entire day, being totally sustained by a liquid nutrition system he recently subscribed to.  It seemed to be working for him as we rolled by the 400k point in 19 hrs and 10 minutes.  The final eight miles to the control went by equally fast and we arrived at 3:08am. Over eight hours ahead of the control closing time.  The Comfort Inn and Waffle House were adjacent businesses.  I agreed to go to the motel and check-in, while Paul rode over to restaurant to order food for us.  Within ten minutes I was sitting in front of a plate of waffles and a steaming bowl of grits.  Paul finally went off his liquid diet in favor of a waffle and hamburger.  Fully stuffed with food we went to the motel to sleep.  I fell asleep the second my head went down.

The Ride - Day #2 
Paul on the bridge to Sunset Beach
I awoke without the alarm at 6:30am.  We had decided we would be back to riding by 7:30am.  I wanted to get some breakfast before heading out.  Paul was going back to his liquid nutrition, so would not be eating.  I dressed in fresh bike clothes, which were carried with me from the start.  I then re-fueled on the free breakfast in the hotel lobby.  When I returned to the room Paul was dressed and ready.  We headed out to another pleasantly overcast morning.  After refilling our water at the convenience store across the street we headed southwest to Sunset Beach just 12 miles away.  The roads took on the look of the Jersey Shore as we made our way over the flat terrain.  The sun broke through making for a bright warm morning.  I took my position on the front for most of this leg.  I was rested and felt good.  The approach to the beach was a bridge over the inlet which resembled that of Cape May, NJ.  The climb up felt familiar in many ways.  It was by far the largest climb of the ride.  We were directed into the parking area by the pier and immediately some folks asked us if we were on the MS ride.  They were volunteers waiting for hundreds of riders to be passing through.  We answered the information control question at the pier and stopped at the nearby store to buy sunscreen.  Since rain was expected for the two days I didn't pack any.   Soon thereafter we were off to the next control, 100k to the northwest.
My Salsa rests on the pier at Sunset Beach
The distance to the finish was less than 110 miles, and we had until  11:30pm to get there.  That was over 14 hours from the current time.  I really liked our chances of finishing.  We crossed the same bridge leaving the beach.  We got the first taste of a headwind which would be with us for most of the remaining miles.  We alternated our position on the front.  Both of us felt strong and cutting through the wind was not a problem early on.  The scenery transformed back to the pine tree look for awhile and then became more open.  We started to see the MS riders heading the opposite way of us.  Small groups at first then larger packs.  We exchanged greetings with many of them.  It was a good twenty miles before we turned off away from the stream of riders.  We reached an optional store stop, which was actually just across the border in South Carolina.  We had pulled through the wind for 35 miles and needed to replace some water.  I also wanted to pick up some food to carry with me.  We made the stop brief and were back underway.
Icing the bottles at the control in South Carolina just past Tabor City
We crossed back into North Carolina in just a few hundred feet.  The wind kept coming at us as we continued to head north.  There was not much in the way of wind block through this open rural part of the state.  We shared the work equally with both of us holding up well.  The dogs were back out and we found ourselves either sprinting away or yelling at them depending on the circumstances.  In one instance some dogs came from the ride side and were close to Paul.  He asked me to move it.  I sprinted away quickly and looked back to empty road.  At that moment two other dogs ran out from a field on my left.  I really didn't like the look of one of them.  I was still going quite fast so they had no chance at me.  But, I thought about Paul who would be coming along any moment.  I reversed course following the retreating hounds.  Just then Paul came into view and I yelled to him to beware of the brown dog.  His reaction was to take the offensive steering his bike directly at the oncoming animal and yelling incoherently.  The dog's partner wanted nothing further to do with the situation and took off into the field.  The brown dog held his ground.  It wasn't until Paul was about fifty feet from running him down that the potential danger registered in the animal's brain, prompting him to scamper into the field.  We laughed about the episode for many miles.

Despite fighting the wind I was pleased with our progress.  We were sharing the work on the front and ticking off the miles.  We arrived at the control in Boardman by 1:30pm, seven and one-half hours in advance of the closing time.  I would treat myself to a lunch of mac and cheese while Paul mixed up more of his magic powder.  We were back underway with just one final control to reach before the finish, 18.5 miles in a northeast direction.
Paul pushing through the wind
The wind may have been the worst yet on this leg.  Fortunately, it was a short stretch as the miles ticked off rather slowly, despite us sharing the work.  The area was quite exposed with little wind block so there was no choice but to grind it out.  We were still almost three hours ahead of our ride plan and oodles ahead of the official cut-off times.  With nothing to worry about I did my best to just enjoy the challenge.  I would make note of my odometer mileage when I took the front and try to hold the pace for five miles.  If I held on then Paul would not pass me and take over the front.  It became a mental game that helped me get through the section.  We made it to the control in Clarkton almost six hours ahead of the closing time.  We were 28 miles from the finish.

The final leg was almost due west.  The wind that had plagued us all day was predominantly from the east.  We should get some assist for the last miles.  After a quick stop we headed out in good spirits.  The terrain and scenery were much of the same, but the wind assist was noticeable to our speed.  I continued my mental game using the five mile increments.  It was no longer necessary, but it helped to pass the time.  The occasional dog chase helped as well.  At fifteen miles out it was quite clear that we would finish the ride with lots of time to spare.  We both continued to ride strong as we began to recognize the road names from the ride out of Lumberton the day before.  As luck would have it we caught the green light to cross the busy road to the finish at the motel.  We pulled up at 5:13pm for a time of 33:43.  Six hours and seventeen minutes ahead of the closing time.  It was my fastest 600k that I could remember.


I enjoy traveling to rides outside the home region.  I have ridden in more than half of the fifty states in the US.  Each area has it's own nuances that make cycling there a little different.  North Carolina offered roads that were incredibly well maintained and motorists that demonstrated the utmost of courteousness.  Most importantly, the people we encountered along the way were as nice as they could be.  At every stop strangers would approach us and inquire about our ride.  They were friendly and seemed genuinely interested in the details of our adventure. To the point of being excited when we told them the distance we were covering.  The local people had an appreciation for cyclists and it showed in the way we were treated.  The route was cleverly crafted by Tony Goodnight, an experienced Randonneur and Ultra Racer.  Tony represents the non-profit group Bicycle for Life.  They present a very full calendar of Randonneur events.  This late season offering, for which we tested the 600k route, takes place on October 8th.  A full line of rides from 200k to 1000k, and all distances in between, are scheduled on that date from Lumberton, North Carolina.  It's a great thing to get in on.

Most gratifying about the trip was Paul's successful completion of his SR Series.  His list of accomplishments include a full series each year since 2004.  It is a streak he very much wanted to maintain.  A stomach ailment made this especially difficult for the last two years.  His body would simply rebel somewhere over the 200 mile mark making the long rides nearly impossible to finish.  He sought help from various medical professionals for the baffling problem.  After two years with no improvement a medication was located that had promise.  Also, he added a liquid nutrition program, custom designed to his needs, to be used while riding.  With two prior 600k's earlier this season ending in a DNF this ride represented his final chance at the series.  His perseverance and unwavering dedication to the goal finally paid off. He finished the ride feeling like his problems may be behind him.  I couldn't be any happier for him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Central Jersey 200k aka The Ron Anderson Special

 I had the pleasure of testing a brand new 200k route on the NJ Randonneurs calendar.  The final NJ brevet of this season is totally due to the efforts of one Ron Anderson, a first time volunteer brevet organizer.  My friend Paul Shapiro and I would pre-ride the course, performing the mandatory check of  the cue sheet, roads, traffic, and establishing information control questions to be used on the calendar day.  We decided in advance we would both ride fixed gears over the modestly rolling route.

Princeton Junction to Englishtown - 19.7 Miles

On Saturday, September 17th, Ron met us at the start in Princeton Junction to see us off promptly at 7:30.  We were headed for the first information control in Englishtown.  Out of the shopping center we headed towards Cranbury.  It was a cool morning with mostly cloudy skies.  I wore a windbreaker and leg warmers to ward off the chill.  We quickly passed through Cranbury using CR 615 to cross Route 130.  We followed the county route for a number of miles turning off on Gravel Hill Road.  On this section most of the roads had modest amounts of traffic, with the one exception being CR 522 which we rode on for awhile with a steady stream of cars. However, there was a shoulder with enough room that neither of us felt at all uncomfortable.  Soon afterward we had covered the 19.7 miles arriving at the Monmouth Battlefield State Park.  We came up with an information control question and pushed off.    

Englishtown to Clarksburg - 10.6 Miles

Almost immediately after turning out of the park the aroma of fresh baked goods permeated the air.  It smelled to me like apple pie.  Paul said he thought it was cider doughnuts.  Whatever it was we were very tempted to stop at that roadside business, which was conveniently  located right on the route at the corner of Rt 33 and Wemrock Road.  Somehow, we managed to restrain ourselves and instead enjoyed the light rolling terrain.  We rode on a number of roads I recognized, all nicely paved with low traffic. And, just hilly enough to make it fun on the fixed gear.  Stagecoach Road lead us into the Clarksburg General Store, which is the control.  A number of riders from other rides were coming and going.  Needing just to top up fluids we were on our way quickly.

Clarksburg to Whiting - 19.2 Miles

This section represented a mixture of quiet country lanes and some busier county roads.  None were unpleasant, just different in nature.  Again, many of the roads were familiar to us (Yellow Meeting House, Red Valley, Emeley's Hill).  They've been used in part by other rides.  Given the late September date the traffic was lighter than what it had been during the summer.  That is until we came to CR 539,  We encountered a serious back up of traffic which we conveniently rolled past on the shoulder. As we got closer to the front of the jam we saw emergency vehicles blocking the road.  There was a phone pole sheered off and the crews were preparing to replace it.  The wires were hanging quite low across the road.  We snaked our way through without being told to stop.  I was a bit surprised at this as the wires were hanging rather precariously,  It may have been that by the time we were noticed by the police we were almost past.  We then had the pleasure of having the entire roadway to ourselves for the eight miles to the Super Wawa control at Rt 70.  What a hoot!
The over the shoulder shot of Paul riding on traffic free Rt 539
Whiting to Chatsworth - 13.4 Miles

After a fairly brief stop refreshing water and eating a half of a PBJ sandwich while Paul refreshed his Sustained Energy Mix we headed for the info control in Chatsworth.  Ron had found some new roads which were virtually void of traffic.  For much of the ride to this point we'd had benefit a slight tail wind.  This would soon change as our direction would be heading back to the north.  Of course, as things generally work out, it would pick up a bit once we were into it.  We arrived at the Volunteer Fire Company information control and established another question.  Our goal was easy one word answers, which so far we accomplished.  With out further delay we departed.

Chatsworth to Tabernacle 9.7 Miles

I recall this section as one of the flattest and also perhaps the nicest.  The roads were butter smooth, with that Pinelands look about them.  Again, traffic was minimal.  The day remained overcast and somewhat cool.  With the wind I needed my arm warmers to feel comfortable.  Paul managed without, but said he was a little chilly at times.  We cruised into the control which is a quaint country store called Nixon's.  It had rocking chairs lined up out front for store customers to sit, relax, eat and drink.  It was quite unique.  We purchased some snack foods and refreshed our water, taking a short break on the rockers.  After about 15 minutes we pushed off into the wind.
Those rocking chairs are inviting after 70 miles

Tabernacle to Columbus -17.2 Miles

We enjoyed more flat terrain with light traffic.  We crossed a number of busier roads, all documented on the cue sheet.  Mostly, the road selection here used country lanes.  We crossed, but did not ride on, the busier thoroughfares.  Paul and I continually commented on the accuracy of the cue sheet.  All the cues were impeccably written to avoid confusion. Both of us had done numerous check out rides.  We could never remember a cue sheet being this problem free. It was another enjoyable section which ended with our arrival at the control.

Columbus to Imlaystown - 19.7 Miles

Our stop at the Wawa control was brief.  We each mixed up fresh powdered beverages.  Other than an info control there would be no other stop until the finish, which was 35 miles away.  The wind still persisted, at times slowing us to about 13 miles per hour.  None the less we were comfortable with our progress and were not suffering in any way.  We found ourselves on some other familiar roads going through Georgetown, Chesterfield, and Crosswicks.  One of the fall century rides I'd done for the last six years uses some of this route.  The road markings were still visible from last years ride.  Once again, the riding was pleasant on this section.  We soon found ourselves at the intersection in Imlaystown, where we would establish an info control and corresponding question.  A quaint country inn located at the intersection had everything we were looking for. We had succeeded in our goal of easy one word answers for all the info questions.

Imlaystown to Finish 14.2 Miles

The final section was on roads a bit more open, which made the wind factor more difficult.  I projected we would finish before 6pm (under10hr 30minutes) which, for me, was a decent time on fixed.  That of course assumed that everything would go smoothly.  We'd not really encountered any kind of trouble.  But,  finally we did hit a snag when the cue sheet directed us to turn on Bresnahan Road, just after crossing over the NJ Turnpike.  The road at that spot was missing the sign.  We made the turn onto it, but at first appearance it seemed to be under construction.  There were orange barrels a few hundred feet ahead.  Thinking this was not the right road we reversed to check further up.  After continuing to the next intersection, over a mile, without finding another Bresnahan Road we took an alternate way to the opposite end of it.  Since there were no closed signs we decided to ride down it.  We found it was indeed open and safe to ride on.  The barrels did not actually block the road it just looked that way from a distance.  We were glad it was open as it is actually a nice road.  A little over three bonus miles where racked up in the process, which is why we test ride the routes before the official date.  We pushed through the final six miles to the finish getting back to the coffee shop at 6:06pm (10hrs 36minutes).


This ride is a fine addition to the New Jersey calendar, and the last offering of the season.  It is a prime opportunity to socialize with folks who are back from riding various1200k's.  The route is friendly for fixed gears, tandems and recumbents.  Or, just cruise it on your geared bike swapping stories with old friends along the way.  I encourage everyone to get out there so all Ron's hard work can be put to good use.  Ron himself will be riding along with you.  If you do see him on the course, piloting the purple Burley tandem, accompanied by stoker and wife Barb, take a minute to thank him for the great job.  Ride organizers receive no compensation, other than the appreciation of their fellow randonneurs.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Alpe d Huez - An Adventure in the French Alps

The Dream

I always had the desire to climb one of the famous mountains of the Tour de France.  Foremost in my mind was the Alpe d Huez.  A famous ski resort in the French Alps.  It is perhaps one of the most notorious Tour climbs with many fierce battles having taken place there.  While I was in France for the Paris-Brest 1200k it was in the back of my mind to try and visit that region of the country and undertake the climb.

My primary goal and number one priority was to finish PBP.  After finishing the ride on Thursday, and getting some much needed sleep, my mind began focusing on traveling south to the Alps.  I settled on the Alpe D Huez as the climb to attempt.  Feeling better than I thought I would just one day after the 1200k I decided to book my travel for Sunday.  I planned to accomplish the trip, the climb, and the return to Paris all in a single day.

Getting There

I left my hotel in Voisins, on the bike, at 9am.  I rode to Saint Quentin en Yvellines and boarded the RER train to the Paris Austerlitz station.  Upon arrival there I rode about 2 miles, in the city, to the Gare de Lyon which is the station in Paris where the high speed TGV operates.  I was booked on an 11:40 departure to the city of Grenoble, which is about a one hour car/bus ride to Le Bourg d Oisans, the small village at the foot of the Alpe D Huez.

Upon boarding the train I was shown to a bike storage area with vertical bike racks.  I secured the Bike Friday there using a bike lock for good measure.  I then took a seat in the comfortable passenger coach for the non-stop trip to Grenoble.  The TGV runs at a top speed of 340 kph (over 200 mph).  It would cover the 400 mile distance in a total of three hours.  Once underway, and clear of the city, the train did indeed appear to be traveling at a high rate of speed.  Although, it rode so smoothly the only indication of speed was how fast things were going by.  I greatly enjoyed the panoramic views as we sped further south to the mountains.  The scenery changed from flat farmland to more mountain like as we approached Grenoble, the one time host city of the Winter Olympics.  We arrived on time at 2:40pm.

I claimed my bike and headed to the bus station next door only to find the next bus to depart to the Alpe D Huez would not be until 5:00pm.  That would not suit my time frame as I needed to make the climb and return in time for an 8:00pm train to Paris.  I next visited the taxi stand out front.  After unsuccessful negotiations with two cab drivers I was starting to get nervous about accomplishing my goal.  I decided to talk to yet a third cab driver, who had a friendly look about him.  I then met Nicholas who was as friendly as he looked, and, spoke fluent English.  We agreed upon a fee for him to drive me to the foot of the climb, then wait while I climbed and descended.  After which he would return me to the train station.  He said the schedule was a tight one, but he would do his best on his end.  The rest was up to me.

The Climb
The finish line of Alpe d Huez
Nicholas parked in a small lot just 300 meters prior to the start of the climb.  He retrieved my bike from the back of the cab and pointed to the direction I should ride.  I took out immediately, excited to finally be underway.  It was easy to tell when the climb began.  The road pitched up severely and there were markings on the black top left over from this years Tour de France.  It was fun reading the riders names and messages.  Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador. and Andy Schleck all had fans who encouraged them with inscriptions on the road.  The Alpe d Huez is nicknamed the "Twenty one Steps to Heaven" as there are numbered markers at each of the 21 switchbacks.  They count downward from 21, at the bottom of the mountain, to number one just prior to the finish line.  As I rounded switchback 21 it became clear this would be no easy climb.  It was eight miles to the top and the pitch was pretty steep.  My heavy back pack and bike lock added to the challenge.  I was determined to climb the eight miles to the top without stopping.

The switchback markers were my main mental focus. They provided both motivation and information which was better than using the mileage reading on my odometer.  It took me a few turns to figure out that not each turn would have a marker.  Only every other one, indicating a full step up the side of the mountain.  Essentially, one would turn twice for each of the 21 steps.  The pitch was steep, but the turns were much less so.  I looked forward to them.  Although, at times they were as much as a kilometer apart.  Nearer the top the turns became closer together.  There were many other cyclists climbing and descending,  Riders from near and far would come to test themselves.  Most rode bikes set up for racing.  My folding bike got more than a few curious looks from other cyclists and passing cars.  I felt like I was quite slow when two riders went by me at a brisk pace.  After just a few minutes I passed by them as they were stopped at a rest area with a scenic overlook off the side of the road.  I was tempted to pull off for a rest, and to enjoy the nice view, but I stuck to my plan to ride to the top without stopping.

The view off the side of the mountain became more impressive with altitude.  I would be reaching the highest elevation level I'd ever climbed  (over 11,000 feet), and the most altitude ever gained on a single climb (over 3,700 feet).  Whether real, or imagined, I felt as if my breathing had become more labored near the top.  The ski resort above appeared closer with each turn.  The last few steps seemed the steepest.  I passed marker number two which turned out to be the last one, as marker number one was missing.  At the final bend I saw the finish banner and pedaled underneath in my best impersonation of a standing sprint.  Which I'm sure in reality was quite lame.  My odometer read just over eight miles.  I had climbed in just under one and a half hours.  About twice the time of a pro Tour rider, and, about a half-hour longer than the fastest of the amateurs.  I wondered if there were others with folding bikes that made the climb.  Surely there must be with so many visiting here.  But, I saw none other on that Sunday.

Like a Mount Everest climber I had little time to enjoy the summit.  I took  a couple of photos.  Some nice German tourists took one of me in front of the finish banner.  After which I began my descent.  Nicholas would be waiting for me in the parking area below.  I needed to get there to make my return train. 

The Descent
The view from switchback # 3 - Alpe d Huez
 While physically the descent presented little challenge it did require much in the way of bike handling.  The hair pin turns were highly technical, especially on a 20" wheeled bike.  I smelled my brakes heating up as I scrubbed off speed before each turn.  The views were incredible (I stopped on turn three for a photo).  At times I was shivering  from the windchill, although the air temperature was over 70F.  The trip down was  75%  faster then the one up, but still seemed long.  The numbered markers went by and I hit bottom in just over 20 minutes.  I pedaled to the parking lot to find Nicholas waiting patiently for my arrival.

Getting Back
A brief glimpse of Nicholas - who was quite camera shy
 Nicholas helped me place my bike in the cab.  It was about 6pm.  He said traffic would be heavy on the way back to Grenoble, but we should have no problem making the train at 8pm.  He knew the back roads, which were rather scenic.  He took time to point out the sights, even stopping briefly to show me a castle.  We had a nice conversation about life in France.  He would be taking a vacation to Corsica in one weeks time, and would stay there for a full month.  I learned it was routine for citizens of France to take long vacations.  At least long by US standards.    By 7:30 we were back at the train station in Grenoble.  I had time for a croissant and coffee before boarding the train.  We pulled out on time.  The train appeared nearly empty. What I didn't know was that we would stop in the city of Lyon to pick up more passengers.  I didn't recall the ticket agent telling me that. We took on a lot of passengers, filling most of the remaining seats.  We then resumed our high speed journey to Paris.  I purchased a late meal which I ate in my seat on the folding tray table.  After which I closed my eyes for a brief nap.  Soon enough we pulled into the station in Paris.

I bolted from the train with my bike as quickly as possible.  I needed to get to the RER station just the other side of the Sienne, two miles away, to catch the last train to SQV.  In the dark it took me longer than I had hoped to locate the station. By the time I got there I had missed the train.  I noticed on the departure board another train scheduled to leave for Versailles in 40 minutes.  I'd  visited there the first day in France with my friend Chris on our bikes.  It was only about 5 miles from SQV.  I sort of remembered the route to take.  It was the only choice, other than riding my bike the entire way.  It was nearly 1am when the train delivered me to Versailles.  The village was dark and quiet.  I found the D-10 which I remembered was the road Chris and I had used.  It looked a bit different at night, but I recognized some things along the way, including a village we had passed through on our prior trip.  Once arriving in Saint Quentin I knew my way back to Voisins quite well.  I arrived at my hotel at nearly 2am.  A long day, but one I'll happily remember.


To some folks a full day of travel for a single climb would hardly be worth it.  However, from my perspective, it represented a unique adventure.  The sights and feelings of that day will stay with me for a long time. The traveling back and forth was as much a part of the fun as was climbing in the Alps.  I rode a high speed train, for the first time, and loved it.  I met Nicholas the cab driver who taught me much about the French culture.  I was enamored with the general beauty of the countryside, and simply awed by the Alps.  Finally, I made it up the mountain, on my little folding bike, and, on my own terms. I felt as good about that as if I had won the King of the Mountains Jersey.