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.