Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nockamixon 200k Permanent - R-12 Ride (Fixie)

The Jamis Sputnik by frozen Lake Nockamixon
As the ground hog predicted March opened with some milder days.  The timing seemed appropriate to knock off the monthly 200k.  My friend and frequent R-12 riding companion, Al, would join me for a 7am start from Princeton Junction.   I had decided to attempt the ride on my fixed gear, after making it through a hilly 100k a few days prior.  Still, I was having a few doubts about this ride.  The Nockamixon route offers some robust climbing.  Having completed the course a number of times, all with gears, I figured on there being a strong chance I would need to walk up a few steep pitches.

We depart Princeton Junction at 7am with the air temperature in the low thirties and a 12 mph wind.  The wind, which is ever present this time of year, would fight us for the first 57 miles to Richlaytown Pa.  Although, mostly on my mind is the first major climb in Pennington, Poor Farm Road.  Prior to arriving there we would skirt through the trafficky boro of Princeton by the university.  Given we were undertaking the ride on a weekday the place was bustling with vehicles of all types.  After just a few miles we find ourselves in much more rural surroundings.  The sun is doing its thing, warming the air, but the wind chill is still keeping us cold.  We make the turn onto the lower section of the Poor Farm climb.  The road features two hills.  The first is sort of a nice warm up which I manage quite nicely.  After a short fast descent we hit phase two of the climb.  This section pitches up wildly as it intersects with Harbourtown-Woodsville Road.  I need to use both upper and lower body strength just to keep the pedals turning at a cadence slow enough to be computed with an hour glass.  To my surprise I stay upright to the top.  Al passes by me on the fast descent as I max out my spin at 32 mph.  I manage with somewhat less effort the two other more gradual climbs, Valley Road and Goat Hill Road. The two consecutive inclines link together for three miles of steady ascent before dropping down to  the control at Lambertville.    

After a short coffee break at the Lambertville Trading Company we are on the bikes for a couple of hundred yards before walking them over the footpath section of the bridge into New Hope, PA.  The terrain for the next five miles is rolling with some flat sections.  But, after that there is a hill on Street Road which is forever burned into my memory.  I fell over on it two years ago trying to get up on the original Mellow Yellow (recumbent).  One doesn't easily forget things like that, despite the fact that I later achieved the top without incident on that same machine.  I'm hoping I won't need two attempts this time.

Once we arrive at the bottom I warn Al that it's best not to be too close to me as my track record on this climb isn't so good.  The switchbacks loom up ahead where the pitch steepens.  Again, it requires my full effort to make it.  I rue the fact that I haven't been doing much to strengthen my upper body this year.  Stronger arms would be useful at this point.  Once I'm on level ground I start going through the route in my head mentally preparing for the next tough climb.  I clearly recall Elephant Road which is just prior to the rides namesake, Lake Nockamixon.  There are a few hearty rollers in between, but those don't concern me.   Elephant road requires somewhat less effort after which we drop to the frozen lake.  Seeing the icy surface makes me feel cold despite the ever increasing temperature.   We stop for a photo and head out to quickly encounter the longish climb up Dublin Pike. Which, fortunately, is not quite as steep as the others.  After a few more small kickers we are on the flat section to the control.  Our only adversary is the relentless wind which is at about 14mph.  We slowly make our way to the stop at the 7-11 store in Richlaytown.  As soon as I dismount my bike I feel pain in my left hamstring.  At only 57 miles it's a bit concerning.  My low back hurts also, but less so. 
Feeling cold by the iced up lake
After a fairly lengthly control break we get on the road headed once again to the Delaware River, where we will cross back into New Jersey at the more northerly location of Frenchtown.  There are twelve miles of scenic flat to rolling roads before we come to the climb I've been dreading.  Center Hill Road.  Which is a two mile grade to the top of the ridge.  There is a steep pitch just a little before the peak.  While standing for the climb I discover that adjusting my technique to minimize pulling up on the left side reduces the strain on my hamstring.  It makes the pedaling rhythm a little awkward, but the muscle remains dormant during the push down phase.  Climbing in this fashion is a little slower.  At which point Al goes past me in his granny gear spinning smoothly.  As the grade lessens he attempts a shift up that doesn't take.  He slows quickly and I grind my way back to the front.  When we regroup he says he wanted to beat me to top.  If not for the errant shift he surely would have. 

At this point we are following a revision in the route that has not yet been tested.  I'd agreed to test it out for the route owner, who is a friend.  Unfortunately, the road we were to descend to the river on is barricaded.  We have to back track to find another way down.  Jugtown Hill Road which we passed about a mile back is our next best option.  We fly down it to River Road and continue to the bridge.  As we are walking across the footpath Al mentions we have over an hour in hand.  I reason that the lack of headwind allowed us to gain back some time as we were not ahead when we left the Richlaytown control.  Upon arriving at the Citgo, in Frenchtown, I'm getting the card signed when it appears that Al was mistaken.  The time on the brevet card shows us late to the control.  Since I've never had this happen before I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do.  I have the lady sign the card with the current, albeit late, time filled in.  I can think of nothing else to do but continue the route.  Al seems to take it in stride as I tell him we better leave right away.  We head off towards the next control in Ringoes, less than twenty miles away.

I'm a little glum as we start the climb up Horseshoe Bend Road.  I've never had a DNF, or DNQ on a 200k before.  My goal is to push us to the next control so we arrive on time.   Then later ask the route owner for a time allowance to compensate for the road closure prior to the last control.  I feel kind of remiss for not paying closer attention to the control times, but, I normally never have to.  With the exception of catastrophic circumstances I usually have time to spare.  The three plus miles of Horseshoe Bend Road is an up and down affair, as I'm grinding up one of the hills it dawns on me.  The control closing time on the brevet card did not match that of the cue sheet.  The end time on the card was 15:07, the cue sheet 15:32.  We arrived at 15:20!  Due to bridge construction up river the control was moved several miles further south.  The cue sheet reflected the correct closing time, the brevet card did not. We were legit!  My mood brightened immediately. I pulled to the side to wait for Al who was further down the hill.  I wanted to tell him the news. After conveying the new circumstances I suggest we try our best to pick up a little time on the upcoming flat section on Route 519.  When we make the turn we have a moderate wind in our favor (Why is it the strong wind fades when we head in that direction?).  The terrain for the next six miles is mildly rolling.  We average a good clip with my computer reading between 19-23 mph for much of the way.   Soon after we arrive at Ringoes. We opt to use the ATM as proof of passage.  In no more than five minutes we are out on the way to Kendall Park. 

We do well on the first miles of this section, which is Wertsville Road.  The terrain is rolling and Al appears willing to push himself here.  We quickly arrive at the first of two major climbs on this leg.  Lindbergh Road gets us to the top of the Sourland Mountain Ridge.  It's a hill we are both familiar with so it goes fairly well.  The next nine miles are either slightly downhill, or flat.  We average a good pace along this piece, but need to make one unscheduled stop to put on night gear.  We choose a fire house parking lot for this task.  The temperature is quickly dropping so we add a layer as well.  Back on the road we continue briskly until we hit Georgetown Road, the final serious climb of the day.  We work our way up efficiently, then arrive at the control shortly thereafter.  Another ATM is used and we are quickly en-route to the finish. 

Eleven miles remain to the Shopping Center in Princeton Junction.  They are not particularly difficult miles at that.  We are comfortable with our current time cushion of about forty minutes.  We roll the last section at a comfortable, safe pace for night riding.  At this hour traffic is light, the night air is clear and cold.  Once again, I'm enjoying myself.  I reflect back on the day and I remember all of it as fun.  The mind quickly forgets pain and stress in the light of accomplishment.  We arrive at the Southfield Shopping Center in Princeton Junction with an overall time of 12hrs 42minutes.

This ride completes my second consecutive R-12.   As well as my first, and possibly last, hilly fixed gear 200k.  All reasons to celebrate with some good food.  


Fixed gear riding is perhaps my favorite style of cycling.  The simplicity of the machine and the direct connection of legs to continuously moving pedals is a joy.  It's no wonder there are some that get so caught up in it they permanently forgo the use of gears.  Of course, these folks are solidly in the minority.  Especially, when it comes to the distance riding arena.  As enjoyable as it is to ride fixed, it is a distinct disadvantage when covering lots of miles over varying terrain.  A bike equipped with a modern derailleur, and a selection of gears, is considerably more suitable to the task.  While the fixie can get the job done it is at much greater physical cost to the rider.  My normal recovery for a hilly 200k is to spend the next day riding an easy 20-25 miles.  Now at three full days I'm still not right.  I plan to be out on my fixie again soon.  However, I will think hard before taking on another hilly brevet with it.  To the rugged riders who undertake those challenges on a regular basis.  Chapeau!



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