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.