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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Four Days of Paris-Brest-Paris

On August 21st at 7:20pm I started the 2011 PBP with a few friends and close to 5,000 riders not known to me.  A full report of the four day trek through the countryside of France is available at: