Friday, March 30, 2012

A Missouri Weekend of Riding - Springfield 200k + Boltons 115k

 From northern Arkansas to the nearest brevet activity is a bit over one-hundred miles.  With a perfect weather forecast for the entire weekend, and a 200k brevet on the schedule, I felt a strong urge to make the trip.  When I got word that a small group would be riding a 115k permanent the day after the brevet I made plans to be there for both events.

Saturday -The Springfield 200k

I'd actually ridden this route as a permanent for my February R-12 ride.  With the exception of a different start/finish, and turn-around control, the majority of the course is the same as Rt 66 & Cooky's Pie, which I rode solo last month. (see February blog report).  On this occasion there were 12 other riders at the start.  About half the group were from a local racing club.  They were training for an attempt at a four hour century.  At the starting signal they were off like a shot.  Knowing better than to go out fast I started out alone at the very back.  After two miles I passed four riders.  Then, I came across Jamie who was dropped by the fast group.  We rode together through the hilly first section to the control in Miller.  Although, I kept my time at the control short Jamie took even less time.  I walked out of the market to see him riding up the road.  I was able to see him up ahead for most of the way to the turnaround control.  With this being a pretty flat section we both faced headwinds.  It was too bad we were riding alone at the same pace.  A few miles out of Golden City I saw the fast group, already on the return.  They were in a tight pack and moving quickly.  I thought I might re-group with Jamie in Golden City for the ride back.  But, a navigation error in the small town caused me to lose about five minutes.  As I approached the market he was already on his way out.  With a tailwind on the return I didn't expect to catch him.  With only 70 gear inches to work with I would not have the same advantage.
The day had warmed to about 80 degrees.  I removed my arm and knee warmers and left the control for the ride back.  Unbelievably, I made the same navigation error on the return through Golden City.  Another bonus mile.  I finally found my way out of town on highway 37.  The wind advantage was immediately noticeable.  Even better on the "A" Highway going south.  Looking at the time, I calculated that another sub nine-hour finish was possible today.  With that as motivation I used as much of the wind assist as my gearing would allow.  Certainly, I was making better time than on the way outbound.  A few hills arise just before the control in Miller.  I arrive there as the only rider.  Jamie was already through.

Taking no more time than what it takes to refill a water bottle I am on my way.  The final section features some substantial rollers.  Using the Electronic Cue Sheet (see Epilogue in previous blog post) my navigation through a sequence of Farm Roads goes flawlessly, as does the Historic Route 66 section.  At mile 107, I turn onto Farm Road 156 which is a seven mile stretch of steep rollers.  I remember it as being the most tiring succession of hills on the course.  Once again it meets my expectations, although the tailwind helped some.  The remaining Farm Roads which bring me into the city of Springfield are considerably less daunting.  Soon enough I am back at the Fire Station where the ride began.  Ralph is there to sign me in.  My time is 8:44, another fixed gear personal best.

 Sunday - Bolton's 115k Permanent
A good name for a bike club
 Feeling somewhat beat up from the effort of the previous day I arise early and work through a one-half hour yoga routine in my hotel room.  The stiffness of my leg muscles is greatly reduced after the session.  I ride the 3.5 miles to the start, at a Fast & Friendly convenience store.  Shortly before the scheduled 7:30am start my three riding companions arrive.  Ralph and Dan I've ridden with before.  I meet Tammy for the first time.  All the riders are experienced, but Tammy and I are new to the route.  The group departs on time for the first 19 mile segment to Fair Grove.  There are a few medium sized climbs and a couple of big descents.  It occurred to me that I would be climbing those descents later on the return.  Once at Fair Grove we took a short break at the convenience market, then departed for the next section to Willard.
Ralph works his way through rolling terrain
Control coming up
 The next segment is on the Trans America Bicycle Trail.  Ralph commented how difficult some of the hills are for the loaded touring bikes that frequent these roads.  I was thinking they were not so easy for a fixed gear either.  There were no turns until we reached the highway just a little more than 1/2 mile from the control.  It was basically a 15 mile roller coaster ride to the turn-around point.  The thought of returning via the same route was a bit daunting.
Ralph, Tammy and Dan at Bolton's General Store
 The control was a quaint gas station and general store.  They requested we sign their log book reserved for cyclists.   We took a nice break to rest our legs.  After the rest we somewhat reluctantly resumed riding heading back over the same terrain.  The back side of the hills were somewhat easier than in the other direction.  We arrived back in Fair Grove in good time.  I discuss keeping the control stop quick with the hope to finish the ride in under six hours.  The group was agreeable and we are off on the final leg.  Even the big hills didn't feel too hard after all the prior climbing.  We were able to maintain a steady pace over the final 19 miles to the finish.  We clocked in at 5 hours 55 minutes.  A new course record.


Traveling to events out of the home area has advantages.  RUSA recently announced the American Explorer Award recognizing members who have completed brevets and permanents, of at least 200 kilometers in length, in 10 or more states.  Thirty-two RUSA members immediately qualified upon announcement of the award.  Yours truly with a total of 16 states.  It was an unexpected bonus to receive this award.  Since it didn't previously exist it wasn't one I was chasing.  Hats off to the volunteers at RUSA for coming up with another imaginative incentive. 

With the season at hand this is the time I settle on my goals for the year.  My primary focus is on the Ultimate Randonneur Award and the Mondial Award.  A single SR series will cinch the first of the two.  To accomplish the latter I will need to accumulate 11,000 total RUSA kilometers by December 31.  My year to date total is 2464. I believe both goals are manageable, however with the unpredictability of life nothing is a sure thing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

George Dickel 200k - Nashville, Tennesee - A Fixed Gear Personal Best!

 Once again I find myself passing through the famous Music City.  As luck would have it there happened to be a 200k and 300k brevet scheduled which fit nicely with my travel plans.  I hadn't been on an actual brevet since last November when I rode the Turkey Trot 200k with this same group. All my rides since then where 100k-200k permanents. Twenty-five of them to be exact.

There was a nice turnout with close to 30 riders waiting for the start at the Brentwood YMCA.  Only two riders were there for the 200k, myself included. I had ridden the 3.5 miles from the hotel to the start in the darkness. It was a warm humid morning, almost 60 degrees at 6am.  The forecast called for a high temperature in the 80's with a strong chance of thunder showers for the afternoon and evening.  I was hoping to make good time on my fixed gear and avoid the worst of the wet stuff.  As I listened to the RBA give pre-ride instructions it occurred to me that the 300k riders might not be able to hold out that same hope.
One of numerous moderate grades on the route
We were given the signal to start right at 7am.  Both rides start together and share the same route for the first and last 100k.  The Nashville group likes to go out fast from the start.  Which is contrary to my preference.  I watch the majority of the group quickly gap me as they head out.  There is some moderate climbing, but not much.  I warm into the ride and begin picking up speed.  After about ten miles I start passing riders, some in small groups.  The first control, a grocery in College Grove, is at 20 miles. This comes up quickly. There are about eight riders there including the RBA Jeff Sammons.  Needing nothing I manage a five minute stop and leave the control with Jeff and three other riders.  They are all on the 300k.  We ride together and chat for a few miles. They maintain a relaxed pace which is reasonable for the early stages of a 300k.  I start to lose them off the back on some of the upgrades until finally they are out of sight.  The sun makes a strong appearance with the temperature rapidly heating up.  The wind is a very light cross to tail.  I am managing a nice pace rolling at 18 to 20 mph on the flatter sections.  I don't encounter any other riders to the next control at mile 48 in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  As I prepare to depart a few pull in.  I leave alone after a total stop of ten minutes.
Plenty of farms around
The largest rolling hills of the day present themselves on this section.  State Road 269 is a five-mile stretch with some rolling hills.  The road surface is smooth with light traffic and the effort feels good to me.  A similar long stretch follows on Bugscuff and Cortner Roads.  After which, I negotiate my way to Cascade Hollow, Tennessee, where the George Dickel Distillery is located,  The Visitor's Center of the whiskey manufacturer is the half-way control of the 200k  It is a quaint storefront where guided tours of the facility start and end.  I arrive in time to see a small group tagging along behind a guide. Despite the temptation to join in, I manage a 10 minute stop and am on the return. 
The Visitors Center of Geroge A. Dickel Distillery
Retracing the route I pass by riders headed outbound on the 300k.  It occurs to me that I have a chance at finishing the brevet in under nine hours.  This has appeal as it would represent my fastest fixed gear result.  To make it happen I just need to keep moving.  I vow to keep the control stops to the bare minimum.  The only part beyond my control is the weather.  If the forecast is accurate thunder showers are likely.  How much that may slow me down remains to be seen.  In the meantime, I'm working the rolling hills section hard.  I come across two outbound riders at the top of the hill.  I assume they are the last ones.  I'm not aware of the location of the single other 200k rider.  I assume he is behind me as I did not see anyone coming back on my way to the turnaround. I expect I will ride solo to the finish.  The control in Bell Buckle is quickly reached.  Needing only a water bottle refill I keep the stop to less than ten minutes.  There is only one control left before the finish.  The skies begin to darken as threatening clouds roll in.  I see a few lightning flashes off in the distance.  Soon thereafter a brief shower douses me.  The temperature remains warm so I leave my rain jacket in the pack.  This section is the most complex to navigate with lots of turns, many unmarked. Thanks to well detailed directions from the organizer, and the Electronic Cue Sheet device that I've been testing (see epilogue) I arrive at the control in College Grove without error.
An unknown rider on the 300k wearing a PBP jersey
In less than ten minutes I am rolling again.  Twenty miles to go with a thunder shower or two along the way. I'm on target for the sub nine hour finish, as long as nothing goes wrong.  The rolling terrain is handled aggressively with me pushing  my 70 inch gear on both sides of the hills. The traffic is heavier as I near the Nashville suburb of Brentwood.  A myriad of turns gives the ECS unit a hardy trial, for which it performed flawlessly.  The final two miles is on a bike path that connects to the parking area of the YMCA.  I fly along the wet paths and pop out at the back of the parking area. I sprint to the front entrance to get my brevet card verified.  This is done quickly by the two ladies working the desk.  My official time is 8 hours and 54 minutes.  A fixed gear personal best, done all on my own.

The Electronic Cue Sheet by Rick Lentz
I must confess to having a little technological help on my first brevet of the season.  I used the Electronic Cue Sheet designed and built by fellow NJ Randonneur Rick Lentz.  I was asked to test out the unit to help Rick determine its readiness to be marketed to randos everywhere.  I am somewhat technically challenged and have until now limited my electronic accessories to a basic Cat Eye computer.  Following the directions I was capable of downloading a route into the unit and displaying the cues throughout the ride.  It functioned great, and, no doubt saved me some amount of time.  At no point did I have to stop to flip cue sheet pages.  Also, I did not have to continually search down the page for the next cue causing me to slow in the process.  The scrolling feature of the ECS allows one to continually keep the next cue at the top of the screen.  I made no navigational errors on a route that was totally new to me.  That was a big plus.  I'll continue testing the unit on other rides, but so far I'm impressed with it. 

The winter of 2012 has been all fixie.  While I find it takes a bit more of a physical toll on me I've been able to keep the same pace with last years mileage totals. At which point I will finally give this bike a rest is uncertain.  I will likely continue through the early spring rides and evaluate my feelings after that. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to stay fixed for the entire season. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Natchez Trace Tour - 144k Permanent X 2

I can't seem to pass through Nashville, TN without spending a day riding in the area.  My favorite venue is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is a 442 mile roadway extending to Natchez Mississippi.  The roadway is designated an Historical National Park.  It features a smoothly paved surface, meticulous landscaping, and very minimal vehicle traffic.  There are several RUSA permanents that utilize the famous roadway as the primary route.  I arranged in advance to ride one leg of Michelle Williams' Natchez Trace Tour.  A 114k free route between Pasquo, TN and Collinwood, TN.  The shortest and most desirable passage between the two points is the NT Parkway.  The return from Collinwood, if undertaken by bike, counts as a second permanent, which I opted to begin one-half hour after finishing the first one.  From control to control would be 90 miles each way.  If completed within the time limits, I would earn 288 official RUSA kilometers.

I left the convenience store adjacent to the NT Parkway promptly at 6am.  It was dark and 42 degrees.  The weather forecast called for a high of 67F with showers beginning in the afternoon.  Strong, and potentially dangerous thunderstorms were predicated at night.  It was my hope to be finished before the heavy stuff moved in.  The northern portion of the NT is a bit hilly, but nothing daunting.  I enjoy riding it on my fixed gear using 70" gearing.   Sunrise began just fifteen minutes into the ride, with full daylight by 6:45.  I could feel the morning sun warming me up.  I quickly fell into a nice rhythm on the bike.  The moderate grade hills felt very nice and I was making good time.  With thirty miles behind me I had the sickening feeling of my rear rim hitting the pavement.  I stopped at a bridge and inspected the tire.  It had about 10 pounds of air left in it.  An apparent slow leak.  I used a mini-pump to pressure up to about 85 lbs.  The tire felt firm so I continued to ride.  In ten miles I felt the rim hit again.  This time I would change the tube and look for the offending problem.  After searching extensively for something in the tire I could find nothing but a small hole in the middle of the tread.  I used the US Treasury Department tire boot before putting in a new tube.  Back on the road I was now confident that my problem was over and the rest of the ride would go smoothy.  The next twenty miles were perhaps the most enjoyable of the day.   I felt like one with the bike.  Rolling smoothly like butter on an impeccably clean two lane. Then I felt the rim hit the pavement.
Sunrise on the NT Parkway
 I cussed loudly as I peeled the tire from the rim again.  I was upset that I had not taken an extra tire with me.  I had decided to leave it in the car as the roadway was so clean that flats were unlikely.  The hole in the tire, which I had booted, was apparently not the root of the problem.  I could not discover what was causing the pin hole sized puncture in the tube.  I combed over every millimeter of the tire, finding nothing.  I put in a new tube and pressured with a quick fill to 120 lbs.  The tire felt rock hard as I got back underway.  With forty miles to Collinwood and one spare tube remaining I believed I would be able to finish the first permanent. However, I was having serious doubts about the return permanent.  The little town hosting the control does not have a bike shop.  If another flat occurred my plan would be to get a taxi from Collinwood to the nearest bike shop to purchase a new tire. If time allowed I would take the cab back to start ride number two.  Although, I was not sure the little town would even have a taxi.
Many miles of smooth road lay ahead
 As luck would have it the remaining miles to the Collinwood exit went without a hitch.  Less than half a mile from the parkway I pulled into the gas station convenience store that served as the control.  I pushed my thumb into the rear tire that still felt rock hard.  I allowed myself to hope that my day would be getting better.
I checked into the control at 1:30pm.  Permanent number one was done in 7 hours 30 minutes.  I could start Permanent number 2 at 2:00pm, which allowed time for lunch.
Collinwood, Tennessee
Official Park like building in Collinwood, TN
 Heading back out to the NT I noticed the cloud cover rolling in as predicted.  It was plenty warm, in the upper sixties, so a passing rain shower or two would not be that bad.  Although, I was still hoping to stay ahead of the more severe weather.  The wind direction from the south would help me meet this goal.  Providing, I could keep air in the tires.  As the miles ticked off I became more confident that I would make it through without further problem.  It is quite isolating out there on the lonely roadway.  I rather enjoyed the feeling and the quietness of the place.  There would not be a stop sign or traffic light until the finish.  Darkness fell shortly after 5:30.  I had about 40 miles remaining to the finish.  The NT is even more isolating at night.  Other than a few dim lights at the comfort stations every 10 miles or so there is no artificial light.  My bike lighting was the only source.  Occasionally deer would jump out of the blackness into my headlight beam.  It was a little startling for both the animals and me.  Otherwise, the air temperature remained comfortable, no rain fell and my tires were holding air.  Life was good.  I really was enjoying the pleasant night.
I opted not to visit the Mud Hole
 The NT features sign posts on the northbound side designating each of its miles.  My exit would be just past the 442 marker which is the last one.  I looked forward to each mile as I neared the end.  The terrain is the hilliest near the norther terminus.  I climbed a gradual upgrade aggressively and was rewarded with the appearance of mile marker 438.  I then felt my rear rim hit the roadway.  After many miles my problem tire finally lost its pressure.  I calmly but quickly worked to re-pressure with the mini-pump to 80 psi.  I only needed it to hold for four more miles.  It did.  Going flat again on arrival at the finish, which was no longer a concern.  That tire would never roll another mile.  I intend to dissect it, if necessary, to find the small invader that cost me much time and trouble.  However, that could wait for another day.  This day I rode 180 miles on fixed.  Permanent number two was finished in 6 hours 40 minutes. 


I have a strong urge to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway from end to end on fixed gear.  Permanent route owner, Michelle Williams has a network of  RUSA approved rides that allow one to ride every inch of the famous road, and receive credit for it.  Four permanents strung together traverse the whole thing in one direction. The routes can be reversed for a return, if desired.  The multiple permanent concept allows for a more leisurely experience than a single route.  Instead of a continuous ticking clock one can take a time out between rides, including a full nights sleep.   I'm not sure if I want that, or a more traditional sleep deprived rando experience.  Either way, my intent is to do it.  I will ride alone if need be, but company is always preferred.  Anyone interested in joining me on the adventure can let me know.  I'm open to riding one-way or round trip. The ideal time would be the fall.  Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi can be deadly hot in summer.  Let's pick a date.