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.