Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Great (Tandem) Adventure - 112k

Al and Yours Truly near the finish of the Great Adventure 112k
Anyone who's viewed my prior blog entries has heard of my friend Al.  I've been riding regularly with him since January of 2006.  Meeting up with Al was by pure chance.  I had just picked up a new road bike with the intention of doing some long rides.  Up until then my riding of late was mostly commuting, riding to the gym, and running errands.  I was using a 14 year old aluminum bike and I was always riding alone. I'm out on this new bike just a couple of miles from home when I see a rider coming the other way on a sharp looking Giant.  We both wave as we pass by.  Given that I didn't really have any particular place to go I think maybe I should turn around and see if I can catch up to him.  I execute a quick U-Turn and amp up the speed.  In about a mile I pull alongside.  We start a conversation and I learn he has just picked up his bike recently.  We had similar agendas for the day and decided to ride together for awhile.  We toured through the Sourland Mountains and much of the surrounding area.  Before going our separate ways we exchanged numbers.  That would be the beginning of thousands of road miles shared with Al over the past five years.  At first he was reluctant to do the longer rides keeping to 50 - 75 miles as an upper limit.  After a time he joined me on a century.  Eventually, he would move up to 200k's.  In 2010 he earned an R-12.  Some of the rides he completed were the hilliest routes in the region.  And, some were done in extreme cold, others in extreme heat.  He's a complete rider and regularly participates in road racing and time trialing in addition to his randonneuring pursuits. 

Recently, Al and I were riding a 200k permanent with a group of local rando's.  Two of the bikes on the ride were tandems.  While watching the tandem riders efficiently work their way around the route I mentioned to Al that maybe we should be riding one of those.   I'm not sure I was even serious when I said it, but somehow we both kind of got interested in the idea.  Two weeks later we were at a tandem store in southern New Jersey taking test rides.  We came back that day with a bright red Burly tandem.  After a few rides of distances up to 40 miles we became more acclimated to this new style of riding.  We were comfortable trying something a bit longer so we decided to ride the Great Adventure 112k Permanent. 

We started out at 10am the Friday of President's weekend.  Katie would join us on the ride with her single bike.  The day turned out to be one of the warmest of the year with a high temperature close to 70 degrees.  We managed to make it to Jackson and back with time to spare.  It was only the second time the route had been ridden since being approved as a permanent.  We were 10 minutes faster than the first time.   Although, we would both have some aches and pains to show for it.  I always find that any new bike requires some getting used to.  However, the tandem seems more challenging than most.  Despite that there were times we were flying along the flat route.  At one point Al and I stopped at a bike shop while Katie continued to ride.  After stopping for twenty minutes we managed to catch back up to her in about ten miles.  We were managing over 30 mph on flat road some of the time.  Not unlike my prior recumbent experience the tandem has its strong points.  On flats, down hills and light rolling terrain it is a lion.  But, rather timid on steep up hills   We are quickly discovering the nuances of the bike, having become more efficient at starting, stopping and standing in unison.  For sure there is much potential for fun and accomplishment.  As a first step we are planning on a tandem 200k brevet in April.  With a goal of a sub 10hr finish time.  Besides that there is no long term goal other than to enjoy the experience. 

Katie cruising on the return from Jackson, NJ on the Great Adventure
The stoker's view

I see tandem riding as an exercise in team work requiring communication, coordination and cooperation from both riders.   Male tandem teams are somewhat rare.  Mel, the owner of the shop where we purchased the bike told us most are sold to couples.  I clearly remember the Lon Haldeman, Pete Pensyres US crossing record that was set over twenty years ago on a tandem.  That record still stands today.  It seems efficient to me that two guys who set out on the same long ride, intending to ride together, do so on the same bike. 

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Riding in Florida - Part IV - Central Florida 300k - Melbourne

One of the many Causeway bridges we would encounter
Saturday morning at 5:00am a group of over 30 riders, gathered under the Lexington Hotel canopy, await the go signal from Central Florida RBA, Tim Bol.  It is 50 degrees, chilly by local standards, and there is a brisk wind from the north.  No surprise that we would head mostly into the wind for the first 116 miles.  The primary rule in scheduling a brevet is to try for a rainy day.  When this is not possible a windy day is the second choice. 

At the stroke of 5:00am we are off navigating our way to the causeway which leads us off the island.  The causeway, which is considered a climb in these parts, serves to break up the group considerably.  I'm riding with Katie, also from the New Jersey Randonneurs.  We settle into a rhythm with me taking the front position through the wind.  We are at or near the waters edge, which is void of wind block.  We quickly pick up one rider, a local named David.  Soon after a recumbent falls into step with us. The recumbent rider, Greg from South Florida, tells us he is not used to these cool temperatures. I continue to pull our small group through persistent headwinds to the first control, a Shell Station on State Route 50, forty miles north of the start.

David, a Florida resident, spent most of the ride with us
After a brief stop to refresh water and Perpetuem three of us depart together.  Greg on the recumbent got out a few minutes ahead.  I continue to take the lead and before long we are reeling Greg back in.  He drops onto the back of the line.  The difficulty factor is compounded by what is a gradual elevation gain.  We are on very slight inclines for much of the first 75 miles.  The combination of the gaining elevation into the wind makes the going a little slow.  Rarely am I seeing my speed over 14 miles per hour.  It's really starting to look like we are in for a long day.  Katie is adhering to specific heart rate guidelines.  Occasionally, she asks me to back off a bit so as not to exceed the target zone.  Despite everything we are grinding out the miles and staying well ahead of the control closing times.  We arrive with time to spare at the next control, a Kangaroo store on SR 46, at mile 76.
Back on the road in short order we continue our trek into the wind until mile 82.  We then turn onto Florida Avenue which puts the wind on our left side.  The cue sheet has us on this same road for the next 22 miles.  The beauty of that is the road is wooded on both sides providing the first shelter from the wind we've had so far.  Our speed picks up a bit and we come across another local rider named Bruce.  He joins us explaining that he's not having much fun.  He wants to drop out having already called for a ride.  No one was available to pick him up so for lack of anything else to do he continued to pedal his bike.  He is hoping he can catch a ride from the next control at mile 116.   Finally, the 22 mile long road ends at US 1, where we are directed to turn left.  Which is directly into the wind for 8 more miles.  It's another grind for the rest of the way to the control.  We finally arrive seeing an RUSA banner at a very pleasant looking park along the river.  The volunteers have food set up for us.  It's cool and windy,  but mild enough to enjoy sitting on picnic tables while we refuel and chat.  We take a bit of time at this control since we will be spending most of the remaining miles with the wind in our favor.  When it's time to depart Bruce decides to continue.  His mood has brightened considerably.  He is optimistic about his chances for completing the ride. 
Bruce, considered abandoning for a time, then soldiered on to the finish
Katie, David and Bruce in the Wild Life Preservation
David and Bruce, same location.  I never did get a photo of Greg on the recumbent as he wasn't with us during favorable winds when I had the energy and desire to take pics.
Four of us depart together with Greg again having gotten out of the control ahead of us.  The cue sheet directs us on a little loop around the town of New Smyrna before we head back to the south in the direction of the finish.  Once pointed south we immediately feel the relief of the wind pushing us.  The remaining miles should be considerably easier.   We are on Route 1, going south this time, for a 10 mile stretch.  Our speed is significantly higher than in the opposite direction.  After some initial  confusion as to where to turn off the highway we locate Kennedy Parkway entering the wild life preservation.  The area is quite open and the wind is still our friend.  Quicker than I could have imagined we are out of the preservation and negotiating suburban roads to Veteran's Memorial Park, where our penultimate control awaits, at mile 156.   Upon arrival we are once again offered food from the volunteer, whom we saw at an earlier control as well.   We refresh ourselves and ready our night riding gear.  We will be finishing under darkness.
Katie at the control prior to the finsh.  Poised and ready to set her best time at 300k
The four of us leave together for the final 37 miles to the finish.  Greg on the recumbent was still in front having made it in and out of the control before we arrived.   I take the lead and start by inching the pace up a bit higher than what we've been averaging.  Katie has an excellent shot at a PR for the 300k distance.  I'm hoping to help by keeping us moving briskly right to the finish. We work our way to US 1 continuing south for an 11 mile stretch.  This passes quickly and are directed to cross over a bridge span. David and Bruce fall back on the overpass. We pedal easy waiting for them to catch up, but it doesn't happen. I suggest to Katie that we simply continue without them. With only17 miles left they should be able to make it in on their own.  She reluctantly agrees.  I quickly up the pace with Katie hanging right on my rear wheel.  With full darkness on us it feels like we are flying.  I'm busy scanning the road for obstacles, as there are a lot of tree branches lying around due to the breezy day.  Katie spots it before me, pointing out the blinking tail light far ahead in the distance.  It has to be Greg on the recumbent.  Anyone who knows me is aware that nothing motivates me like a good chase.  A chance to catch someone in the final few miles before the finish rates far above a good chase.  It is a primo, numero uno, gift from the heavens.  I'm determined to catch up to that tail light.  I jack up our speed a bit hoping that Katie has decided to ignore her heart rate guidelines for these last miles.  It takes a little while before I can say with any certainty that we are gaining ground.  After a bit longer we are close enough to determine that it is the bent.  When we finally pull alongside I see it is indeed Greg piloting the Bachetta.  As we pull past I can hear him shift up a cog to tag on the back.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work out.  Bents don't sprint very well.  I see his headlight falling away.  We keep the pace for the last few miles and we are in.  Katie can indeed celebrate a new PR. 

Upon surrendering our brevet cards to Tim, the RBA, he tells us our time is 14 hours 32 minutes.  I realized that I'd done the math wrong in my head and Katie's PR is actually an hour faster than we thought.  Shattering her prior best time by hours.  She is pretty ecstatic with the result. 

Soon after Greg arrives on the recumbent.  And some time later David and Bruce find there way in.  David has finished his first 300k.  As for Bruce he is quite pleased to have finished at all since he had mentally thrown in the towel over eighty miles back.


With the conclusion of this ride so ends my Florida adventure.  The riding here has been great.  While the weather was spotty with a fair amount rain and wind it was far better than what was going on in New Jersey.  The brevet and permanent routes were scenic, interesting and challenging in ways that are unique to the region.  And, perhaps most importantly the local riders, RBA's and route owners were friendly and helpful in every instance.  I'm pleased to report that Randonneuring is alive and well in Florida.  

I will pack up and head home in the morning.  I'm looking forward to some much needed rest.  In reviewing the trip I logged a total of 638 miles in less than two weeks.  Of that 900km were added to my RUSA total.  This represents a dramatic increase over this time last year.  I set my annual RUSA kilometer goal to 10,000k for 2011.  I have a good leg up on it with over 1300k in the bank before our season even begins back home. 

While I get some enjoyment from the mile/km counting the real upside is I got to spend a good amount of time sharing the road with friends from home, and new found friends far from home.  What can be better than that.  
Boo Ya!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riding in Florida, Part III - Melbourne Cape Explorer 200k Permanent

Short Sleeves in February! Melbourne Beach, Florida on a pre-ride exploration
The next stop on the Florida tour was Melbourne Beach on the east coast.  I was scheduled to ride a 200k permanent on Thursday and a 300k brevet on Saturday.  Katie from the New Jersey Randonneurs flew in late Wednesday night to join me on the permanent.  She was also planning on staying on for the 300k.  We would meet at the hotel Thursday morning for a 7am start.

The day arrived with a strong threat of rain.  It was dry for the start with a temperature in the upper fifties.  The current wind direction would favor the first half of the ride.  The forecast was predicting a wind shift, which if the timing was right could give us a boost on the return as well. 
Posting to Twitter from the Panera Bread at the start 6:45am
We take out from the start which is a Panera Bread located just a few miles from the hotel.  After only one half mile I run through a hole causing a flat tire on the rear.  We lose about 15 minutes while I change out the tube and search carefully for any foriegn object in the tire.  It appeared to just be a pinch flat.  Resuming the route we can feel the benefit of the tailwind.  We make good time over the flat terrain clearing through the 1st control at 20 miles, Hess Express at Merritt Island, before 9am.

After a quick stop we head out towards the cape and Kennedy Space Center.  The wind is still favorable making the going relatively easy.  We turn onto Space Commerce Way just on the outskirts of the Space Center.  NASA Parkway comes up at mile 32.  Before we can make the turn a ferrocious wind blast almost knocks us off our bikes.  The wind shift has arrived, bringing with it a driving rain.  We make the left turn putting the wind on our right side.  It is all we can do to keep the bikes on our side of the road.  The gusts have to be about 50 miles per hour wanting to blow us into the opposite lane.  The terrain to our right is open water so there is absolutely no wind block.  The water is wind whipped into white caps and the rain is coming sideways.  The going is slow and miserable. I'm cold and wet.  I want to put on my rain jacket, but it's too windy.  After a couple of miles we come to a draw brigde.  There is three foot high cement on the sides of the bridge which I reason can be used to shield me while I don my jacket.  With some effort I manage to get it on.  Once at the top of the bridge on the metal gratings I think the wind will blow me right off the other side.  If I've ever ridden in worse conditions, I can't remember it.   After a bit we come upon a museum dedicated to law enforcement.  We opt to take temporary refuge there and get organized.  The friendly folks there allow us to use the rest rooms and warm up inside.  There is also a canopy on the building which is away from the wind.  I put on every piece of clothing I have in an attempt to keep warm.  We use up about a half-hour at this unsheduled stop, but it was well worth it.  When we finally depart the rain has abated, but the wind has not.

Katie smiling just before the rain and wind hit
Our turn onto US 1 North comes up within a mile.  We now are dead into the wind for the next twenty-five miles to the Oak Hill control.  The going is quite tough, we keep up a steady 12 to 13 miles per hour.  By no means a blistering pace, but, by my math, we will arrive at the next control with some time in hand. With the extra layers of clothes I'm managing to keep warm enough.  I numb over the brain and mechanicaly turn the pedals until the control appears.  We arrive at Kelly's Bait and Tackle at 1pm with over an hour to spare.  I can't say I've ever had lunch at a live bait shop before, but I am delighted to be here none the less.  Fortunately, they have a deli as well, so we are not relegated to eating crawlers or the other stuff swimming around in tanks.  We eat our food outside on a bench.  My mood brightens even more when Katie points out that the cue sheet directs us to leave in a southerly direction.  With the wind still prevailing strong from the north and no rain in sight things are definately looking up.

After peeling off a few layers of extra clothes we leave the control turning south on US 1.  Viva le differance!  The wind at our backs makes me feel like the space shuttle gliding in for a landing.   The miles magically tick off as we navigate our way on roads named after astronauts.  Gus Grissom would be proud of the pace we manage on his road, as would John Glenn and Wally Shirra.  It's a great day to be an American.  It also doesn't hurt to be a fan of the space program.  Our final control before the finish comes up quickly.  Our mood being light we waste no time. We are quickly back to enjoying the benefits of a tail wind. 

The final twenty-two miles are equally efficient.  I do the math in my head projecting our finish time.  I expect we will arrive before dark.  The wind shift, which I cursed when it happened, has been a boon for the second half of the ride.  With no hills in our way it was smooth and easy sailing for the last 100k.  As predicted, we arrive at the finish in 10 hours and 17 minutes.  More than ten minutes ahead of sunset.  The Panera Bread couldn't have been a more convenient location to end the ride.  A bowl of black bean soup was much enjoyed.


The most scenic parts of the ride were that of the cape and wildlife refuge within.  Unfortunately the horrendous conditions would hamper the enjoyment of it, at least for me.  This prompted a return trip by car and a bus tour of the Space Center and wildlife preserve the next day.  Another great day to be an American.

Next up the Central Florida 300k - Stay Tuned!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Riding in Florida - Part II - Giro d' Blanton 100k - Tampa

Yours truly about to climb Happy Hill Road
After our succesful 300k in Gainesville, Paul and I looked forward to the 100k permanent we had signed up for in Tampa.  We would take a day off from riding on Sunday, undertaking the two and half hour drive from Gainesville, and readying the bikes and gear for Monday morning.  The start of the ride was just a mile from our hotel. 

At 7:30am we depart the hotel riding on roads still wet from overnight rain.  It is overcast and mild, in the low sixties, as we head to the 7-11 one mile down the road.  Which is the official ride start.  After getting documented we set out on the 100k route promptly at 8am.  After a mile or two on a bike path we are routed through suburban streets to the outskirts of the Tampa area.  We quickly reach the first control in San Antonio, Fl.  The surroundings become significantly more rural at this point.  Also, the terrain changes from flat to rolling.  I enjoy the mild hills as the day warms pleasantly into the upper sixties.  The scenery is pleasant with a mixture of horse and cattle farms.  Frequently we pass by orange groves as well. The traffic is extremely light. On the occasions we do encounter vehicles we are treated with great courtesy.  It is really a pleasurable experience.  We continue with rolling to mildly hilly terrain to the Blanton control.  After a quick stop we encounter more of the same landscape for the next 10 miles.   As we make the turn onto County Road 579 things flatten out again.  However, the wind has picked up dramatically and we are dead into it.  We grind our way through the remaning eight miles to the control.
Pancho Villa's in downtown San Antonio, Fl
After a short break we head out, which is back into the wind for another eight miles.  It seems like an eternity before we finally make the turn into Flat Rock Park.  Immediate relief is felt as we enter the tree lined entrace to the Park.  The route utilizes an 11 mile roadway dedicated to cycling and pedestrian pursuits.  It is beautifully maintained and resembles a wildlife refuge.  Within a quarter mile a cyclist on a nice looking race bike zips past.  He offers no response to my cheery hello and wave.  This never sits well with me.  I ask Paul if he is up for chasing the guy down.  He agrees and we take off, but, we now have quite a lot of ground to make up.   Our speed is quickly up to the 23 to 24 mph area as we gain on the unsuspecting rider.  I pull us to within striking distance, then Paul moves to the front and pulls us past. I forget to say hello this time as we pass by.  We keep the pace up until he is well out of sight.  We have only about two miles left to our exit which is near the finish.  We back off some reasoning we will not be caught.  Unfortunately, we miss a turn allowing the guy to roll by us while we are retracing our steps.  The park roadway quickly ends and the rider heads back for another loop.  We exit onto the bike path adjacent to the main road less than two miles from the finish.  We arrive at the 7-11 and are politely welcomed back by the same clerk who signed us out in the morning a little over five hours ago. 

The 100k was most definately a nice experience for both of us.  The route had memorable scenery and the rolling terrain was an enjoyable change from the normal flat routes that prevail in Florida.  The brutal head winds we encountered added to the challenge making the experience that much more worthwhile.  We were both pleased with the decision to include this ride with the trip.
Paul at the finish
Next up Cape Canerval Explorer 200k.  Stay tuned!      

Friday, February 11, 2011

Riding in Florida - Gainesville 300k

Our group rides through the Florida version of our Pine Barrens
The sheer drudgery of this winter in the north east had me yearning for a change of scenery.  The view of piled snow in every direction was simply too much to bear for the remaining weeks until spring.  I needed a break from it.  After much planning I departed for points south.  My initial destination was Gainsville, Florida to partake in a 300k brevet.  My friend Paul would join me for the ride and stay on a couple of days for some additional riding which I'll detail later on. 

We arrived a full day in advance.  We utilized the time by organizing our gear and getting out for a 40 mile warm up ride.  We enjoyed temperatures in the 60's, which may be cool by local standards, but felt incredibly warm to us.  The pre-ride loosened me up and helped me get a decent nights sleep for the big ride the next day.  My longest of 2011.

Saturday morning at 5am sharp the 300k started from the University of Florida Parking Deck.  The temperature was in the upper 50's with light wind and no precipation.  The route winds it's way through the rather sizeable city limits of Gainesville for the first twenty miles then becomes incredible rural.  At times absolutely devoid of human inhabitants.  The terrain would be best described as flat.  There was pleasant scenery in what was similar to the New Jersey Pine Barrens region.  We would also traverse through areas with orchards and horse farms.  Vehicle traffic was mostly light to non-existant.

We fell in with a group right from the start which included a Florida native and aquantance of Paul named Paul R.  He is a very solid fixed gear rider and is known for taking huge turns at the front of pace lines making him a popular riding companion.  Fortunately, I felt good enough to offer Paul R some significant relief at the front.  We mostly shared the duties of pulling an ever increasing group of riders around the course.  There was some head wind to work through, but mostly we were fortunate enough to have the wind in the favor our direction of travel. 

At the Gulf Hammock Post Office: left to right - Paul R, Paul S, Dave B 
As for other weather factors the forecast predicted a high probability of precipatation.  It would prove to be correct as rain began falling shortly after daylight.  We would have periods of rain, sometimes hard driving rain, for the morning and early afternoon hours.  After which it dried out nicely and warmed to a comfortable mid-sixties.  Our group, which originally was four riders swelled to about a dozen by the 200k point, which we hit at 9.5 hours.  With winds mostly in our favor it was looking like we would finish with a respectable time.

Paul S and Dave B at the Orange Springs Post Office control
In the later part of the ride we got some additional help at the front from riders who joined us along the way.  Tim from southern Florida took some hearty turns at the front.  Many of the group simply did not have the energy reserves to contribute and wisely chose to sit in.  They were all welcome as the mood was very friendly.  Everyone appeared to be enjoying the experience.  The few of us that could help further the cause took pleasure in doing so.

We approached the outskirts of Gainesville not long after darkness fell, picking up another rider or two.  As we would blow by they would jump on the back for the final miles.  The philosphy was the more the merrier and newcomers were welcome.  We pulled into the finish just after 7pm for a time of 14hrs 11min which represented a new PR for me, and Paul, at the distance.

My friend Paul cruising to a personal record 300k
While downing a plate of blueberry pancakes at the Gainesville I-Hop I reflected on our succesful ride.  Both Paul and I were pleased with our decision to have come here.  In addition to posting a PR I widened my circle of Randonneuring friends.  Meeting and riding with veterans like Paul R and Dave B from Ohio was very worthwhile. 

My next stop on the Florida tour is Tampa to undertake the Giro d' Blanton 100k permanent.  The route owner, none other then Paul R, billed the ride as one of the hillier Florida offerings.  New Jersey Paul would travel along to Tampa to join me on the ride, which was scheduled for Monday.

Stay tuned!