Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lone Star Randonneurs 600k - Italy, Texas

As the season in the northeast grinds to a halt I search feverishly for events to complete my yearly goals.  Fortunately, the highly motivated K-hounds in the great state of Texas keep their long rides going up until Thanksgiving.  A full series of brevets, including a 600k,  are held in late November starting in the small town of Italy.  Finishing the 600k would net me a second brevet series and the Mondial award for 40,000 lifetime RUSA kilometers.  My friend Paul needed a long ride for the Ultimate Randonneur award and a double series.  He agreed to join me.

Italy, TX

A truck stop with a motel on top and a couple of fast food restaurants is the official starting point.  The accommodations are not luxurious, but they are clean and very adequate for our needs.  Arriving on Friday night we meet many of the local group for dinner at the Subway.  The Lone Star Randonneurs are a friendly bunch.  We have a good time conversing with them about all things Rando.  They have many big achievers including Dan and Gary who have both completed over 100,000 kilometers of RUSA brevets and permanents.  After spending a couple of hours we reluctantly move on to the motel to get some sleep for the 7am start.

LSR 600k Day One

It's a chilly morning (40F) as we take out from the parking area with fourteen riders, eleven of us on the 600k.  One rider doing the 400k and two on the 200k.  The 300k route would go unused today.   The group takes out very fast.  I look down to see we are clipping along at about 20mph on chip and seal road surface.  This is faster than I care to go this early in the ride, so, I back down some.  Paul agrees with the decision to let the pack go.  One other rider stays with us,  Matt from New Mexico, riding the 400k.  We are on the first of two out and back sections.  This one being 220 miles long.  At the conclusion of which we will be back at the motel.  The plan is to take some sleep before starting the second 153 mile out and back.
Dan Driscoll - RBA Dallas Region
The sun begins to warm things up.  There is minimal wind and the terrain is mild.  The only impediment is the ever present chip and seal road surface, which actually takes more energy to maintain a given speed than a smoother surface would.  The route consists primarily of Farm Roads.  These roads are designated as FM (Farm to Market) followed by a number.  The traffic is quite light so we are able to ride along chatting comfortably.  The first control is 28 miles out in Dawson.  Much of the main group is still there when we arrive.  Matt controls very quickly and leaves with a few of the local riders.  Paul and I depart some minutes later.
Paul and Matt - Day One
Navigation is fairly easy as we are on most roads for many miles.  En-route to the next control in Mexia we spend more than half of the miles on a single road, FM 638.  The day has become quite pleasant with mild temperatures, low wind, and lots of sunshine.  I begin to enjoy myself on this section.   While riding along we come across a huge bull on the side of the road.  I notice the creature is not contained by any fencing.  He is just loose eating grass at the shoulder of the road.  We give him a wide berth passing by on the far side of the road.  He pays us little mind and continues munching the grass.  I want to take a photo of him, but Paul says it might startle him into chasing us.  Not knowing whether a bull can outrun a bicycle I pass up on the photo.  Soon after we pull into the control.  A large number of riders are there including Matt.  We make quick work of it inviting Matt to join us on the next leg.  He departs with us to begin this 32 mile section to Jewett.

Leaving the control we navigate a couple of quick turns to get to FM 39 where we continue for thirty miles.  The terrain is mildly rolling with some longer upgrades of light gradient.  I've warmed up nicely and am able to pull us along at a good pace.  After a time Paul informs me that Matt has fallen back.  Given that we are on different rides, and will have to separate at some point anyway, we decide to continue at our pace, hoping we will see Matt again at the control.  The miles tick off efficiently on this section.  Before we know it we are at the turn off for the control at US-79.  The gas station/market is one mile up.  Again the main group of riders is there.  Most of them depart a minute or two before us, with one rider, John from Connecticut, lingering a bit longer.  John has done some of our New Jersey rides and recognized us.  We leave the control at the same time and fall into pace together.  There is no sign of Matt.
John - Day One
After backtracking on US-79 we turn north again on FM 39.  This is the single road used to the next control, which is Normangee, 28 miles away.  I take the front pulling John and Paul along.  The road surface seems smoother on this section.  I maintain a steady pace for the entire distance to the control.  We arrive in good time within a minute or two of the group in front.  Normangee is the turn-around point for day one at mile 110.  From here we will follow the same roads back to Italy and the motel.  We are ready to leave as Dan and the others are departing.  Dan takes the front and pulls us all back to the control in Jewett.  He is helping Janet from North Carolina get through her first 600k.  So far things are going very well.
The speed limit on a two lane Farm Road in rural Texas
We all leave the control together again and head back to the FM 39 going south.  We make good time, but Dan has to drop back a couple of times to pull Janet up to the group.  Eventually a gap opens and the group breaks apart.  Darkness comes upon us on FM 39 and with it the temperature quickly begins to drop.  The high for the day was near 70 degrees, but with the clear skies the heat will leave the earth rapidly.  We arrive in the town of Mexia, where there is a different control than on the outbound.  We negotiate our way through a rather busy downtown area to a hamburger place named "Whattaburger."  The small lead group is there.  Michael, one of the two recumbent riders on the ride is working on a flat.  The others appear to be waiting for him.  Shortly thereafter Dan, Janet and Vickie, the other recumbent rider, arrive as well.  I have a cup of coffee while waiting for Paul to mix up his magic potions which allow him to undertake long rides without solid food.  When we are ready to leave there are still some riders in the control.  Paul, John and I head back out no one else is ready.  The next control is Dawson which has a store that closes at 11pm.  The official closing time is later, but beyond 11pm there is no way to re-supply anything.  One would need to go the full 54 miles without opportunity to get food or water.  We should have no problem making it in time.
Making the push to Dawson
After only a couple of miles on busy US-171 John has a flat tire on the rear of his bike.  On the shoulder of the road, with high speed traffic buzzing by, Paul and I help him get it changed.  Dan and Janet pass by while we are stopped.  Once back underway it is a relief to turn off onto the quiet Farm Roads away from the traffic.  We have covered about 175 miles so far.  Day one will conclude at the motel at 220 miles.  The next day, although shorter in mileage will be much hillier.  Also, the word is that the weather prediction is for high winds.  Which for the outbound section will be unfavorable.  To make things worse the morning temperature will be sub-forty.  Getting some rest will be important to face the challenges of wind and cold in the morning.  The hills might actually be a plus.  The Farm Roads lead us the control in Dawson in plenty of time.  Everyone has made it before the store closing, which is good news.  Without spending too much time we head out for the final leg of the day.

After some miles on a somewhat busy State Highway 31 we are back on Farm Roads.  The temperature has steadily fallen.  I'm feeling pretty chilled.  Knowing we are knocking off the final miles to a hot shower and warm bed keeps me going.  Most of our time is spent on FM 667 which features the same chip and seal road surface as most of the other roads.  I've become somewhat conditioned to it and am no longer bothered by the vibration and reduced speed.  I rejoice when we reach the left turn which takes us through the small downtown area of Italy.  Our motel is just the other side of the Interstate.  Dan and Stephen are waiting for us at the finish to sign our brevet cards.  We agree to meet in the morning at 6am to start day two.  Meanwhile, for me it's food, shower and sleep, in that order.

LSR 600 - Day 2

The agreed  meeting place for our group to begin day two is conveniently at the McDonald's just beneath our motel.  I'm  having a bowl of oatmeal.  The temperature is a bit colder than the prior day's start.  John arrives and we talk about today's ride.  Mostly how to deal with the high wind predication.  Paul arrives just prior to our start time.  By 6am the group is gathered and nine riders take to the roads.  Starting out I feel the chip and seal road surface immediately.  I guess it will take some time to re-condition myself to it.  The pace this morning is considerably milder than the start of day one.  A few hours sleep does not erase the two-hundred and twenty miles already accumulated in one's legs.  After a few miles we see Matt coming at us at the end of his 400k.  I can't help but think it must have been a long, cold and lonely night for him out on the Texas Prairie.  I'm happy to know he made it safely with a few hours to spare.
Sun Rise on the prairie
As the sun begins to make an appearance so do the rolling hills.  I don't mind them, my only thought is to get warm.  The hills and the sun should help.  Although, the ever increasing wind does not.  Before there is much chance for the sun to do it's thing clouds roll in blocking the effect. The wind continues to increase as do the rollers.  The first control is in Wortham, a fifty-two mile first leg. To block out some of the misery I strictly focus on making it to there.  I mentally pretend that my ride will finish there. Which it will, for a brief time.  I then can re-focus on the next control.  But I don't have to think about that now.  I've just got to get to Wortham and all will be well.
Power Generating plant ahead
The group has split up somewhat.  Vickie, one the recumbent riders, held back waiting for two riders who started late.  Michael on the other recumbent has gone ahead, as did the tandem.  Dan and Janet are  more or less riding with the three of us.  Until the point that Dan asks us to go ahead.  He explains that Janet needs to climb the rollers more conservatively and it would be better if we split up.  We put a small gap on them, but they are not far behind.  I notice on one of the farm roads a speed limit sign of 70 miles per hour.  I am amazed that a two lane undivided road would be posted so high.  The cars and trucks fly by, but, they all give us plenty of room.  It is not an uncomfortable feeling.  Texans are by and large very courteous.  It's seems inherent in their culture.
Houses come with lots of open space around
 The rollers continue, the sun stays hidden by clouds, and the wind is ever increasing.  Despite it all we arrive at my finish line in Wortham in good time.  We take a bit longer than our usual 10 minute break.  I use the time to wrap my mind around the concept of riding a short 23 miles to the next control in Prairie Hill.  As an added mental incentive that will represent the half-way point for the day.  Every mile from there will be in the direction of Italy and the finish.  I'm practically smiling as we ride out.

There are only three roads involved with the next leg.  They all feature similar terrain and road surface, somewhat hilly and chip sealed.  Wide tires and cushy handlebar tape are good equipment in this part of Texas.  I'm happy I brought the fixie with the Specialized 25mm's and the Bar Phat tape.  I have had no issues other than moving along a little slower than preferred.

Paul with 'bent rider Michael ahead
The rhythm of the fixed-gear is a bit different on rolling terrain.  Both John and Paul are riding gears.  Every hill they are gearing down, spinning, while I am standing up, hammering to stay on top of my gear.  On the downside of the hill the geared bikes typically pass by.  John takes this to mean I am not cooperating very well riding along with them.  I overhear him commenting to Paul about it.  I try my best to explain my motives hoping he understands.  I don't mean to frustrate anyone, but I know of no other way to ride fixed.

As we near the control we see Gary and Charlie, the lead riders, heading back to Wortham.  Vicky on the recumbent, now riding alone, is not far behind them.  We arrive at the Sunmart in Prairie Hill, which is today's turn-around.  Stephen and Sharon with the tandem are there, as is Michael on the other recumbent.  I am being bothered by a case of hot-feet.  I purchase a bag of ice and sit outside with both feet resting on the cold plastic bag.  Since the day has warmed considerably it is not uncomfortable to be using the ice.  After a rather long break we head out as a group following the same roads back to Wortham.

Given the reversal of direction we now can enjoy some assistance from the wind.  It is noticeable as we work our way up the back side of the same hills.  The terrain feels flatter this way thanks to the invisible helping hand from the wind.  Combined with the comfortable temperature I am enjoying myself as much as it is possible for a person with three-hundred miles in their legs.  On the flat ground the geared bikes are at an advantage with the tailwind.  With just the one gear I have to spin faster to keep up.  No matter, as no one is complaining.  It is all good.  We arrive in Wortham having dwindled to just four of us.  The tandem along with Dan and Janet are slightly behind.
Janet on her way to first 600k finish
The final leg is fifty-two miles to the finish.  The cue sheet shows an optional stop at a store which is thirty six miles.  We decide we can make it there before resorting to night gear.  It is back to the all familiar Farm Roads for the next leg.  The wind has not deserted us.  The three of us move along quite well.  The miles tick off uneventfully as the sun is quickly on it's way down.  The skies are overcast further diminishing the light somewhat.  There is a question as to whether we can make the store before it's too dark to continue without night gear.  I maintain that we'll make it as there is still plenty of useable daylight with only five miles to go.  I'm actually happy about the cloud cover as that will help hold the earth's heat in after sunset keeping us warmer to the finish.  We pull in to the store just before 5pm which is sunset.  We have 16 miles to the finish.  Michael is already at the store.  We are expecting more riders, but no one comes in.  Since the store is slightly off the route we don't see them pass by.  The four of us depart together.  Most of the miles to the end are on FM-55.  We move along very well with John pulling the group much of the time.  We notice some bike tail lights way up in the distance.  After a few miles they seem a little closer and we can tell they are two bike riding together.  We ramp up the pace a bit and ever so slowly reel them closer.  It takes a long time before we are with them with John taking a ferocious final pull to bridge the gap.  The riders are Dan and Janet.  With about five miles to go we fall into pace with them.  It seems appropriate to finish together.  We ride and chat enjoying the pleasant night.  We pass through the small downtown of Italy and continue to the other side of the interstate. We make room for Janet, the first time 600k finisher, to move to the front.  She notices her husband waiting for her at the control and sprints right for him.  I remember the feeling of finishing that first long ride. What a blast!  With our brevet cards signed and surrendered we immediately look for food.  There is a pizza place across the street.  A group of us including Dan, Sharon, Mike and Stephen head over there.  We have a nice time eating and chatting like old friends.  Did I mention how nice this group of people are?     

Dan sporting Texas Rando Stampede 1200k jersey
Anyone who has been riding brevets for a time is aware of The Lone Star Randonneurs.  Their group cranks out more RUSA kilometers, per person, than any other in the US.  They developed the K-Hound award as an incentive to get their members out riding more.  It is now offered nationwide to all RUSA members.  One qualifies by riding 10,000 kilometers, or more, of brevets and permanents, in a year.  It is not unusual for a few K-Hounds to ride double or triple the minimum number.  Which is referred to as "Double Dog" and "Triple Dog".  Also, it is common for LSR riders to complete five to nine Super Randonneur Series' in a single year.   They are highly committed to their goals, and extremely supportive of each other.  Dan Driscoll, the RBA for the region, delights in motivating others to reach higher levels.  He spent the entire ride ensuring that one rider made it through her first 600k successfully.  Another potential K-Hound in the making.        

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PA 200k - The K-Hound Ride

Just past the middle of October my RUSA kilometer total reached an even 9800k.  Just 200k away from K-Hound status.  I'd ridden so many permanents lately that I had a hankering for a regular brevet.  As luck would have it the PA Randonneurs were hosting 200 and 150 kilometer rides on Saturday.  There is generally a good turn-out for their rides, and, I might even know some of the riders.  I informed the RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, I would be coming.  Remembering how hilly the PA rides are I checked the route profile only to have my stomach tighten when I saw the elevation gain to be over 10,000 feet.  Shortly after I received an e-mail from Tom confirming my entry and suggesting I bring low gears.  He was not aware that I've been only riding fixed-gear this year.  I felt committed to the ride but could not help being a bit nervous about it.

I undertook the drive to Quakertown early in the morning to arrive at the Weisel Youth Hostel in time for breakfast.  A nice array of foods were on offer including hot oatmeal. There were a few riders milling about that I did indeed know, although most of them were doing the 150k.  That option seemed very reasonable to me, but would fall short of the total I needed.  I remained committed to the 200k.  A regular PA rider, Johnathan, recognized me and inquired if I was riding fixed.  I confirmed that I was to which he replied with just two words, "Fox Gap", referring to the 1,000 foot climb that appears at mile fifty-five.  I simply shrugged admitting that I expected to struggle.
Riders milling about at the start. Weisel Youth Hostel, Quakertown, PA
I line up with my bike out in front of the building and chat with Chris, a rider from my area.  I would enjoy riding with Chris but she is on the 150k which is mostly on different roads.  Tom makes a few last minute announcements and gives us the off signal.  The group works it's way out on the hard pack dirt driveway to Richlandtown road.  The first miles are on reasonably gentle rolling terrain.  A nice warm-up for a rather perfect day.  The current temperature is in the fifties with the high expected in the low sixties.  At mile fifteen we make the first of several Deleware River crossings at Riegelsville, PA.  A left turn is made onto River Road after the bridge to parallel the river riding on the New Jersey side. We continue to Phillipsburg where we re-cross the river to Easton, PA.  The climbing begins in earnest passing Lafayette college. The rhythm of the fixed gear has not allowed me to match pace with anyone.  I'm riding alone somewhere near the back of the 200k riders, which is where I generally am in the early miles.  Typically I work my way further up the field later on by taking short breaks at the controls and picking up my pace as the day goes on.  I roll into the first control at Wind Gap, Pa.  There is no one there.  I am in and out in ten minutes heading for the top of Wind Gap, and the first of two Appalachian Trail crossings.
Crossing the Appalachian Trail
 I move well up Wind Gap snapping a photo of the A.T. sign while rolling along.  I'm relying on the cue sheet for all navigation as my Garmin froze up after only fifteen miles.  Things go along well until I miss-read a cue and pass by a turn on Cherry Vally Road. I ride ahead through a construction zone. I cover more than a mile before I realize my mistake and backtrack to the point of the error.  From there I manage to navigate flawlessly to the climb up Fox Gap. As I work my way up the two mile climb my focus is on attempting to stay up for the entire time. I make it about 75% of the way before walking becomes inevitable on a particularly steep pitch. About fifty yards later I find a driveway to re-start from and continue on the bike. Shortly I find myself walking again for another brief stretch,  Another conveniently located driveway provides my re-start point.  The road is heavily trafficked making traversing impossible.  I might have made it without walking had it been a quieter road.  I crest the mountain, crossing the Appalachian Trail for a second time,  and begin the fast descent down the other side.  I concentrate on spinning at maximum RPM.  After a few minutes I think to look at the cue sheet for the next cue.  It is an information control followed by a left turn at the TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN!!!  I am now almost at the bottom and I've passed by a control and a turn.  I need to climb all the way back to the top.  I can't believe I could be so stupid as to not have read the cue sheet before this point.  That is just basic navigation which one would think I'd have learned by now.  I find a spot to make a U-Turn and begin the grind back up.  Fortunately the grade is milder on this side and I do not have to walk. I find the sign-post, which is a "truck on cheese" warning.  I answer the question.  Then ride down 0.1 to the turn on Fox Gap Road which puts me back on course headed for the Portland control nine miles away.
Information control at the top of Fox Gap
 After the descent on Fox Gap Road the terrain is mild and pleasant.  Country lanes with low traffic are enjoyed for this short section.  I arrive at the town of Portland and make a left on Route 611 which is the main street through the tiny downtown area.  I've got a keen eye out for the control, a Citgo Mart on the right.  I pass a gas/mart on the right but the name is not Citgo, it is Jersey East, or something like that.  I continue on and am quickly riding next to the river with nothing ahead but trees.  The town is behind me.  After about a mile I realize there is only more of nothing, no market would be located out here and turn back to the town.  I stop at the Jersey East market asking the clerk if it was a Citgo at one time.  She confirmed it was and is still referred to as a Citgo by all the locals.  It's not the first time I have come across that type of cue sheet oddity.  I re-fill water bottles and head back out lamenting about all the time I've lost to mistakes on this ride, mostly my own. 
When not climbing there are always mountains to look at.
Leaving the control the cue sheet directs me back through the town. mostly along the river, to a bridge crossing which delivers me to Belvedere, NJ.  After a couple of quick turns I find myself following the river on Foul Rift Road. I  can't help but wonder why in the world anyone would name a road "Foul Rift"?  After a mile or so the answer comes to me in the form of a large cooling tower for a Nuclear Power Plant.  It's situated on the banks of the river right next to the road.  I get the joke.  There are some homes on the road.  I'm betting the residents aren't exactly in love with their address.  Sort of lacks that pleasant ring to it like say "Deer Run Road", "Shady Tree Lane" or "Apple Blossom Way".  I quickly cease thinking about these things as Foul Rift kicks up to a very steep, but kind of short hill.  I can confirm that being in close proximity to a nuke plant does little in the way of adding strength to one's legs.  I had always thought that the Incredible Hulk got his strength from exposure to nuclear radiation.  I assume one must actually be directly exposed to the reactor core to get the effect.  None the less I manage the hill without dismounting.  The remaining mileage to the control in Bloomsbury is pleasant and uneventful.  I arrive at the quiet general store needing only to re-fill a water bottle.  I have given up hope long ago of catching up with any other riders.  The extra mileage, combined with slow climbing and descending have relegated me to the position of Lantern Rouge.  At this point I'll be happy just to finish without too much riding after sun down.
The sun on it's way down.
 I'm out of the control within five minutes.  After only one half mile I hit Milford Road.  This last section is supposed to be quite challenging.  Milford Road kicks up very steep, then merges into Staats Road which is also quite steep and long.  I manage the climb by traversing on some of the steeper parts.  It's about two miles of tough grinding and I'm very pleased that I made it all the way without clipping out.  There is a pleasant descent down Sweet Hollow Road which soon after I cross the Deleware at the Milford bridge back into Pennsylvania.  After a brief run along the river on Route 32 I'm directed on Red Cliff Road a wall of hill which I cannot manage without walking.  This is followed by another steep kick on Upper Tinicum Church Road.  After some descending a turn is made on Geigel Hill Road.  This starts out very mild for a portion of it's three mile length.  Just as it lulls one into complacency it rears up to be incredibly steep.  Once again I find myself on my feet pushing the bike until the grade lessens.   After descending into the valley the terrain is mild until the last few miles of the route.  After a shorter manageable climb up Elephant Road I find myself at Lake Nockimixon.  I notice that the official time for sun down is just a few minutes away.  To comply with the rules I stop to put on reflective gear and turn on my lighting.   The finish is just on the other side of the lake. To get there requires one more climb on Route 313, which I've done many times before.  It goes by easily and I arrive at the youth hostel just minutes later.  There is still a small amount of daylight left.  Tom appears happy to see me.  With my arrival the finish percentage became 100%.  My time is 10 hours and 58 minutes.  I'm happy to have finished what is my most challenging fixed-gear 200k to date.  Also, I'm thrilled to have earned the K-Hound award for the second time.   

Epilogue, Plans and Goals
I've done far more solo riding this year than ever before.   The fixed-gear is isolating, unless riding with other fixies.   I enjoy riding with others, but have learned to appreciate being alone as well.  I'm not reliant on companionship to enjoy a long day on the bike.  I've become proficient at controls.  Managing to  keep my time off the bike to a bare minimum on most rides.   Due to an affliction known as ADD I've not been the best at navigation.  When I ride a new route, alone, it is highly possible, even likely, I will  make an error adding additional miles to the distance.  Usually it is a miss-read of the cue sheet that causes this.  I've since purchased a Garmin and am slowly learning how to use it.  Hopefully, this will help, but it is not a simple device to use.  At least not for me.  

It was satisfying to reach the K-Hound level again this year.  With the difference being that I have ridden only fixed-gear for every kilometer in 2012.  I am planning to travel to Texas next month for a 600k hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs, the original K-hounds.  I'm much looking forward to meeting them, and riding with their group. 

To finish off the year I hope to ride at least 1,000 more official kilometers which will put my all time RUSA total to 40,000, which is known as the Mondial level.  A finish of the Dallas 600k will complete a second SR Series for me, this year.  Two thousand more fixed-gear miles by the year end will bring my total to 14,000 for 2012.  The R-12 quest is still intact with 45 consecutive months accumulated so far.  The P-12 stands at 22 consecutive months.   All of it is lots of motivation to keep me riding as the weather turns colder.  


Friday, September 14, 2012

New Jersey State Record Crossing (East to West)

The wind feels cool blowing through my one piece cycling suit.  It's just a few minutes past eight on a cloudy Sunday morning.  The aforementioned wind is coming off the Great Bay in Little Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  I'm at the center of a small gathering making final preparations to ride my bike to the western end of the state where the pavement will end at the Delaware River, some eighty miles from the starting point.  The purpose of the gathering is to attempt to break a standing UMCA record for crossing the state from east to west.  That record stands at 5 hours, 55 minutes.  I'm hoping to beat that time by a substantial margin, perhaps an hour or more.

At thirteen minutes past the hour I'm ready to go.  My nervousness begins to fade away as I turn the pedals on the Specialized Langster fixed gear.  My wife, son and David, the UMCA official, pile into the follow vehicle to trail behind me.  This is a requirement for a UMCA record.  I question whether it will be a distraction.  As it turns out I quickly forget it's there.  Focusing on maintaining a brisk pace for the miles ahead requires most of my concentration.  With the remaining mental capacity I am making sure I don't miss a turn.  I am to stay on Great Bay Boulevard for over six miles.  The area is very open and quiet at this early hour.  I can see the water to  my left.  There are multiple narrow bridges with traffic lights to ensure no two vehicles meet on the wooden section, which is only wide enough for one vehicle.  The UMCA rules require adherence to all traffic laws.  I lose a couple of minutes waiting at these lights, even though no vehicle comes through.  After crossing US-9 I am headed to the heart of the Pine Barrens region.  This is a good place to be when the wind direction is opposite of helpful.  The trees make a nice blockade allowing a steady pace to be maintained.  My goal is to manage the full distance without a stop.
Waiting at one of many traffic light crossings
 With the follow car safely in tow we roll through Green Bank and Elwood arriving at US 322, White Horse Pike.  Thirty-two miles are behind us, we remain on target.  After crossing the highway at a jug-handle intersection on Malaga Road I signal my crew for a hand-off water bottle.  We never practiced this from the moving vehicle, we only discussed the safest way to do it.  The exchange goes smoothly with little to no time delay.  My wife is the support person in the back of the HHR.  She is responsible for hand-offs and is helping me with navigation.  Periodically small slips of paper with turns for the next ten to twenty miles are passed to me.  I clip them to the bar to keep track of the route.  When we pass the forty mile point without any major mishap my confidence begins to soar.  I had driven the route two weeks ago.  Doing so is proving extremely useful as I recognize many of the landmarks where turns are located.  Combined with the small cue-sheets I'm being handed from the support crew all is going smoothly.  
Official UMCA follow vehicle
 After a sixteen mile stretch on a single county road, CR 690, we find ourselves close to fifty miles.  With about thirty left to the finish.  It looks as if we are going to shatter the record.  Although, I'm trying hard to block out that thought.  I think about the expression "counting chickens before they hatch".  I need to concentrate on nothing but staying on course and giving what I can to the momentum of the bike.  

Soon enough I begin to see the cooling tower of the Salem Nuclear Plant looming up ahead with steam steadily flowing from it's top.  Our destination is quite near the plant, which uses the Delaware River to cool the reactor core.  The wind has picked up quite a bit, and for now, I am right into it.  With about ten miles left I pick up my effort to compensate.  Mostly, it is effective.  My average speed is holding fairly well. 

The final miles are exposed land, mostly corn fields.  When the turn for Fort Elfsborg road comes up I know we are within a few miles of the end.  The road twists its way through some farmland and makes a hard left to become a residential road.  I fly by the small houses until the tiny park at the end of the road is in sight.  Not much point in sprinting , but, for the benefit of the crew I pump my fist int he air as I hit the transition from road to dirt, which is where the land yields to the river.  We have taken more than 1.5 hours off of the existing record using a fixed-gear bike.  Needless to say we are a happy little group at the finish.  The finish time is 4 hours, 27 minutes.

At the finish on the Delaware River.  Notice the flags.

A hug for the crew chief and vehicle driver, my son Charlie

Left to right: David, UMCA Official, Charlie (son), Crew Chief, Lucy (wife) support crew 
 A UMCA event is an unusual practice for me.  The past seven years have been largely spent randoneuriing.  While much has been accomplished in that time the repetitiveness of the activity can make one weary.  Something different than the routine can be refreshing.  Preparing for the record attempt took incredible time and energy.  And, much of it was off the bike.  In fact, meeting the UMCA paperwork and vehicle signage requirements where quite time consuming.  As was designing and driving the route.   With the experience gained in this successful attempt I feel that future participation will be easier.   There are literally scads of records across the country that are ripe for the picking.  I'm hoping to find the time and a willing crew to take a shot at another one.  Stay tuned.  


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Jersey East Creek 600k - Fixed Gear R-80

 When I first heard about the Cyclos Montagnards and the R-80 recognition for finishing brevets in 80% of the official time limit I thought it was a silly idea.  Randonneuring is a non-competitive activity.  The proposed concept seemed to contradict this. After time the purpose of it finally dawned on me.  The point being that after years of brevet participation one can become a little bored.  New challenges are welcome.  This year I participate in all rides on a fixed-gear to raise the level of difficulty.  Combining that with the 80% time goal makes for a worthy challenge.  One I was never confident I could manage, for a complete series.  Without specifically trying I posted times faster than the R-80 limit on two 200 kilometer rides, one 300k, and on two 400k’s so far this season.  All that’s needed to earn the recognition is the 600k.  The time limit would be 32 hours instead of the usual 40 hours.  For me, on the fixed-gear, that would demand riding straight through.  A totally sleepless event, something I’d never done before.  My confidence was low the week leading up to the ride, but my desire held strong.  I was determined to give it my best effort.  If it didn’t work out it wouldn’t be for lack of trying.

Hightstown to Browns Mills - 54 Miles

My dislike for 4am starts mattered little as I line up with 15 other riders in front of the Days Inn at Hightstown.  It’s a pleasant morning with mild temperatures and no wind.  A few last minute announcements from organizer Rick Lentz and we are given the go signal.  The field of riders quickly departs for points south.  I know better than to try to hang with a large pack of geared bikes.  I relegate myself to the last position and watch as the group moves away from me.  I enjoy the solitude of those first miles in the darkness.  I see a bike lamp coming up from behind and am quickly joined by my friend Paul, who got off to a late start by a few minutes.  We ride together as the skies begin to lighten and daylight slowly overpowers the darkness.  We come across Todd at the side of the road.  He is in the final stages of repairing a flat on his rear wheel.  We stop to assist with Paul loaning him a high-pressure frame pump.  Quickly we are underway with Todd joining us.  This part of the route I have ridden many times before.  The roads are utilized by a number of other rides.  We efficiently cover the final miles to the Wawa where three volunteers are awaiting our arrival.  We are the only riders there.  The rest of the group is gone by about 15 minutes.  We keep our time at the stop short..
Paul rolls past New Jersey farmland

Browns Mills to Williamstown – 56 Miles

Leaving the control we are in the vicinity of the Fort Dix/MacGuire military base.  Trucks buzz by and aircraft scream overhead.   There is considerable traffic for the first two miles.  Then we turn off onto quiet country lanes.  We pass by the Brendan Byrne State Forest and turn onto Buzzard Hill Road.   I don’t recall seeing any buzzards, or any hill for that matter.  Soon thereafter we pass by Nixon’s General Store.  We spot two riders stopped in front.  They are preparing to depart as we pass by.  It takes them a few miles to catch up.  One of the riders, Justin, is on a recumbent.  His riding companion, Bob, is on his first 600k brevet.  Both riders are from Maryland.   They ride with us for a bit until they fall off the pace shortly before the control.  We arrive at the Wawa to be greeted by my friend and fellow randonneur Nigel and his daughter who is enthusiastically ringing a cow bell in our honor.  By prior agreement we intend keep the stop to 10 minutes.  After refilling water bottles I am ready to go.  Paul and Todd are both mixing drink powders.  When we reach the 10 minute mark I tell them I have to roll.  The desire to be moving forward is overpowering.
Todd cruises through the Pinelands
Justin from DC on the Recumbent

Williamstown to Salem – 33 Miles

I leave the control feeling bad about the situation.  But, standing by idly when I know I need to keep moving caused tremendous anxiety.  I just have to be rolling.  I wait for the traffic light to change at the intersection of Black Horse Pike.  I look back to see Paul heading from the control.  I pedal slowly and he catches me quickly.  Unfortunately, Todd does not get out in time to catch back up.  I hope I will see him later.  Paul and I average a nice pace over the moderate terrain moving closer to the very western part of the state where the river separates New Jersey from Delaware.  We come across Jon and Katie who are working on the tandem on the side of the road.  The stoker’s crank arm has come loose.  We help them get it straightened out.  In short order we are back underway towards the control.  After a few miles riding together the tandem falls off the pace a bit.  Paul hangs back and I put a bit of a gap on them.  I hold my pace arriving at the control slightly ahead of them.  The volunteer, Laurent, checks me in.  I decide to eat a slice of pizza.  Katie, Jon, and Paul arrive and settle in.  Paul says he is not feeling well.  The day has warmed considerably.  I’m guessing he is suffering from the heat. He’s not certain whether he should continue.  When I am ready to leave Paul says he will depart soon with Katie and Jon who agree to stay with him.  It’s a plan I can live with.  I hate to leave him, but I need to keep moving.  I see Todd on his way in to the control as I head out. 
Katie & Jon riding with Paul en-route to Salem
 Salem to Newfield – 37 Miles

Much of the 600k route was changed for this year, the current section being entirely new.  I’m using the electronic cue sheet device for guidance.  After navigating for a few miles I’m passed by Michelle, who was at the last control at the same time as me.  I avoid the temptation to match her pace. There are more than 200 miles left which I plan to cover without rest.  I stick to the ride plan and hold my current speed.  After a few miles she disappears out of sight and the temptation is gone.  The remaining miles to Newfield pass by without incident.  In fact, I found the section quire pleasant.  On arrival at the control I am greeted by Jim, a regular volunteer from the southern jersey contingent.  He points to a rider sitting on a park bench nearby and tells me he is dropping out.  After completing my check-in I walk over to talk to him.  He is Rudi from Philadelphia.  I recognize him from other rides.  Rudi explains that he was caught up with the lead group and rode faster than was reasonable given the hot weather.  I assure him that he can recover from the mistake.  I invited him to leave the control with me. I promise to maintain a moderate, but steady pace.  He agrees to join me. 
Rudi smiling through some of the many miles
Newfield to Ocean City – 38 Miles

As promised I keep the pace moderate with Rudi following on my rear wheel.  We ride that way until he finds his legs.  At which point we spend some time riding side by side and chatting.  I tell him that I’m planning on riding through the night without sleep. He thinks it sounds like a good idea to beat the heat that’s forecasted for Sunday.  His intent is to join me if he feels up to it.  Despite using the ECS we miss a turn.  It takes about one mile before I realize we are wrong.  By the time we get back on course a rider from behind has gotten by.  We see him just ahead.  I recognize him as Sam from New York.  We catch up and ride together as the scenery changes to more shore like surroundings.  We traverse two bridges which are high enough to be considered climbs.  We arrive at the Wawa control together.  The volunteer, Dawn, verifies our brevet cards.  I suggest to Rudi that we keep the stop brief. 
Rudi and Sam en-route to Ocean City
Ocean City to Eldora (Sleep Stop) -   22 Miles

After a quick bite the three of us get underway headed to the sleep stop.  We are now in full darkness.  We negotiate our way through the busy streets of Ocean City and over another bridge crossing.  Sometime later the surroundings become more wooded and rural.  The sleep location is a large cabin capable of accommodating 15 people.  I have a drop bag with fresh cycling kit waiting for me. My plan is to eat, freshen up, change, and depart as quickly as possible. I budget a half hour for the stop.  Discussing the plan with Rudi along the way he indicates he is game to ride through with me.  The sign for the East Creek Cabin leads us to a gravel road of about 100 yards which ends at a rather large wood cabin.  We are quickly checked-in by Rick and Walt then given our drop bags and shown around.  Another volunteer brings me a bowl of vegetarian chili.  I sit at a large table and fill up on the food.  There are three riders there, one asleep in the bunk room.  Michelle and Patrick are the other two who plan to take some sleep there. I learn that Paul has dropped out at the prior control.  It takes 45 minutes for Rudi and I to get everything done.  We depart together into the quiet night knowing there are three riders who are on the road ahead of us.

Eldora to Hammonton – 36 Miles

As we close in on midnight I felt the first signs of sleepiness setting in.  Thankfully Rudi has an I-Pod on his bike with small amplified speakers.  In the quiet of the Pine Barrens I can clearly hear the songs.  We ride side by side undisturbed by any vehicle traffic.  The classic rock tunes keep me going, I find myself singing along to much of his playlist. Navigating is the other function that helps me stay alert.  The directions seem confusing at times.  Mostly, because my mental function is reduced by fatigue.  It takes lots of concentrating to keep from going off course.  At one point a road name changed without being noted on the cue sheet.  We stop to consult my GPS cell phone to confirm our direction is correct.  I cannot afford any more bonus miles if I am to finish within the desired time frame.  We arrive at the Hammonton Wawa at about 3:00am.  Bob, the volunteer on duty, meets us in front of the store.   I need to adjust my chain tension.  I can feel the slack in it while pedaling. I realize there is no more room in the dropouts to move the wheel back.  The chain will have to be shortened to make it work.  Bob has the tools on hand to accomplish this and offers to help get it done.  We work together for about one-half hour before it’s accomplished.  Rudi and I leave the control at 4:00am, one hour after arrival. 

Hammonton to Vincentown – 46 Miles

An unspoken goal I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long time is to ride 300 miles within 24 hours. I thought it might happen on this ride.  The opportunity slips away due to numerous unpredictable time management issues. Most were unavoidable.  I’m a little bummed as the 24 hour mark passes with only 283 miles in the bank.  I then focus all my thoughts and energy on achieving the bigger goal of the R-80 Series.  I intend to keep a steady pace to the next control without stopping.   

Amazingly daylight begins to break through at about 5am. This helps me feel a little more awake.  Rudi is hanging in there, but mentions he would like to take a long break at the next control.  I won’t be in a position to spend more than a few minutes there.  We both have different agendas and knew at some point we may have to separate.  We helped each other get through the night.  At this point we would each finish the ride on our own terms.  I begin to recognize the surroundings shortly before the control.  We are very close.  After crossing US 206 we enter the Wawa Market and are immediately greeted by David.  After getting our cards verified Rudi lays down on the grass in front of the store.  David says he’s been told about my time goal.  He encourages me to go for it.  He tells me the actual mileage to the finish is a bit shorter than what the cue sheet indicates.   I know this isn’t true, but I appreciate his attempt to bolster my confidence.   There are three riders ahead, but too far up for me to hope to catch anyone.  I will have to finish the last section on my own. 

I want something to eat other than a Clif Bar.  I dash into the store and grab the first thing that looks good, which is an individually wrapped mini pie.  After paying for the item I jump on my bike and head out with the pie in my back pocket.  My total time spent at the control is seven minutes. David wishes me luck. Rudi appears to be sleeping in the grass as I ride out.

Vincentown to Hightstown – 49 Miles

My departure time from the control is 7:30am. I need to arrive at the finish before 12pm.  That seems like a lot of time to me.  But, I’m quite tired and the final section of the route features some climbing.  I tear open the fruit pie and devour it while riding through a flat section. Soon thereafter I feel an energy surge from the sugar.  I’m riding strong and feeling pretty alert.  After quickly knocking off  twenty miles I feel a big letdown.  I know the energy burst from sugary foods ends abruptly.  I’m now in a mini-bonk.  My speed slows to 11-12mph on flat terrain. I quickly consume a gel, with caffeine, and a Clif Bar.  It takes about twenty minutes before I feel the effect.  My speed picks up and I begin to feel better on the hills that are increasing in frequency.  I’m passed by a local rider, not affiliated with the 600k.  I acknowledge him with a casual nod and a wave.  I’m sure I look like a zombie at this point.  We hit a steep kicker and he slows up, shifting into an easy gear.  I pass by him in a standing climb pushing my single gear up the hill.  I’m sort of hoping he catches me again.  I would like to ride a few miles with someone to talk to.  It would be very helpful.  Unfortunately,  he never catches up and I can’t take the time to slow up.  The one hill I’m dreading is quickly approaching.  Aggress Road at mile 368 is the most substantial climb on the entire route. It’s not a terribly hard climb, if encountered on a routine training ride.  After 30 hours it leaves a lasting impression.  I’m grateful when I reach the top without a problem.  Also, I’m very happy my earlier chain repair held up under the strain.  With Aggress behind me I’m confident of a successful outcome.  My mood is jubilant for the last eight miles to the finish.  When I make the final turn to the hotel I sprint it in (sort of).  Kyle, Bob, Rick and Walt greet me under the canopy.  My card is signed at 11:17am, forty-three minutes before the R-80 cut-off.


I learned later that Rudi finished successfully.  He rested for two hours at the Vincentown control, waiting there for the next rider, Sam, to arrive.  They rode together for most of the last section. I also heard that my friend Todd had passed out at the sleep stop falling to the floor. He was suffering from heat exhaustion.  After some substantial rest he resumed the ride finishing in good shape.  Jon and Katie also finished after taking sleep at the cabin. A total of fourteen riders completed the 376 mile course, despite hot weather.

With the R-80 Series complete I am looking forward to the next challenge.  I am planning to traverse the entire 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS in late September, on a fixed gear.  I’ve not fully decided how aggressively I wish to undertake the ride.  My instinct is to try and kill it with a straight through effort.  Possibly setting a fixed-gear record for that stretch of roadway.  I doubt one currently exists.  A straight through ride at any speed would be the initial benchmark.  I just need to work up the motivation to give it the effort.