Saturday, July 6, 2013

Long Island 300k - Inaugrial Event!

At 4am the group of riders leaves from a parking lot across from the train station in Bethpage, New York.  The Specialized Tarmac Pro feels responsive and fast as we take to the roads.  It's the first time I've started a brevet on anything other than a fixed-gear in almost two years.  My friend Jon and I agreed to ride together promising each other we would shoot for a fast paced ride.  For the time being we are leading the parade with fourteen riders following our tail lights into the darkness.   After about ten miles of easy terrain we make a turn up a steep hill, appropriately named Snake Hill Road.  Someone from behind yells out the suggestion that we should shift into our easiest gear.  I shift down a bit, but not to the easiest.  I'm used to climbing everything with a 72 inch gear, so how bad can this be.  The climb is quite steep, which requires me to stand at times.  It winds to the left and the right as the pavement snakes it's way to the top.  When we reach the apex I look around to see only five of us.  Everyone else is behind and out of view.  The hills keep coming as we dwindle to four riders leading the way.  With the arrival of daylight a secret control is encountered with first time RBA Paul Murray taking photos and verifying brevet cards.  We move on only to encounter more hilly terrain. 
Coming into the Secret Control
The riders around us are Steve and Bob.  Steve is riding his first 300k.  He is pushing the pace up the hills forcing us to ride aggressively to keep up.  I am managing, but would typically not ride this hard so early into the ride.  There is yet a long way to go.  I'm hoping he is not making a mistake.  And, if he is, that his miscalculation won't undo me as well.  The other rider, Bob, is a strong climber and at times shoots past me smoothly on the way up.  Frequently, I need to resort to my standing climb, which is well developed from many fixed-gear miles.  In the standing position I am not easily dropped on a hill. The terrain continues in the same way along the north shore of the island to the first control at Port Jefferson.

Bob who rode with us on the first section
A pleasant little deli/bagel shop serves as the control.  Our group of four are the first to arrive.  Paul, the RBA, and fellow Randonneur, Steve, are there to check-in the riders.  After my brevet card is signed I refill water and look to leave.  My riding companions are all at a table enjoying some breakfast.  I've learned to be quick through controls and now find it impossible to relax at one.  I inform them that I need to move on, but will ride at an easy pace until they can catch up.  This proves to be no problem as there is a huge climb just as I get underway.  After which I keep it slow just spinning easily.  The relaxed pace feels good and helps to loosen up stressed muscles from the earlier intense climbing.  Before long Jon and Steve catch up.  I ask about Bob.  I learn that he decided to back off a bit dropping from the group.  Eventually, the hilly terrain gives way to pancake flat roads as we follow the coast to the end of the island.  Additionally, we are favored with a tailwind.  The three of us move along well working together to maximize our pace.  I'm working hard, but not as hard as the climbing.  An errant piece of metal on the roadway punctures my rear tire bringing the fun to a halt.  I tell my riding companions to go on ahead, but they insist on staying together.  I speedily change out the tube and re-pressure with a quick-fill.  We get right back at it with me taking a long pull as a small pay back to Jon and Steve for waiting.  With the help of the wind we quickly arrive at Orient Point, on the north fork of the whale shaped island.  The north fork is the upper tail fin.  The view is of the Long Island Sound and the state of Connecticut on the other side.  A large ferry is loading up cars and passengers for a trip across.  Our control is a small deli right by the ferry dock.  As we are replenishing our bottles Paul arrives and verifies our brevet cards.  He informs us that the nearest rider to us is about twenty minutes behind.
Rocky section of beach by Ferry Dock, Orient Point, NY
Heading back to the west is not nearly as pleasant.  We now cut through the wind that blew us out here.  Our pace is slowed to 17-18 mph with us giving a good effort.  Having three to share the work at the front is quite helpful.  After a few miles we see Bob heading east riding alone.  Some miles later we see Erica and Gwynna making their way to the turn around.  For the first nine miles we are retracing our route.  We then arrive at a control point in Greenport where we branch off to different roads for the return.  The control is a 7-11 store.  We've only ridden nine miles so are able to make quick work of the stop.  The effect of the wind is somewhat reduced by the buildings around the town.  There are 21 miles to the next control.

No time to stop in, but good to know
The terrain remains mostly flat with the constant head wind.  We are skirting along the Peconic Bay, which is the body of water between the two whale fins.  There are not a lot of road choices on this narrow land mass so we are riding on Route 25, a fairly busy state road.  The good news is the car traffic actually helps shield us from wind.  I'm mostly feeling good, but detect an underlying layer of fatigue.  Thanks to the lightweight carbon bike the pace so far is my fastest for a 300k.  There is still about 100 kilometers to cover.  I'm hoping I can hold out for that much longer.  To make matters worse I'm starting to notice how warm the day has gotten.  Steve is beginning to show signs of wearing down. On one of the few rolling hills we encounter I can hear him struggling behind me and dropping off the pace briefly.  Jon continues to look strong.  We are directed off of the main route as we enter the town of Riverhead.  This is where the two whale fins merge into the main body of the whale.  After a few turns we arrive at a Subway store which is designated as control number four.  I refill my fluids and prepare to depart.  I notice Steve and Jon have settled at one of the tables in front of the store.  They are looking to take a break.  Resting doesn't help me much, typically I just stiffen up and wind up feeling awful when I start riding again.  I tell them I want to go now, but will ride easily so they can catch up.

Steve, our riding companion for many miles
I spin smoothly away from the control.  I'm directed back on Route 25 for a couple of miles, then to River Road which will be followed for six miles.  I keep my speed to a meager 14 miles per hour to allow Jon and Steve to get back.  I'm surprised when I still haven't seen them after nine miles.  As I approach an overpass for the Long Island Expressway I notice a single rider coming up from behind.  Jon pulls alongside and informs me that Steve needed to rest at the side of the road a short ways back.  He doesn't expect he would be able to catch up to us again.  Steve had helped us get to this point taking some strong pulls on the front.  It's too bad he won't be finishing together with us.  With a little less than fifty miles to go Jon and I fall into sync.  The flat terrain continues as does the constant head wind and heat.  I'm starting to feel a little fried.   The easy miles I rode alone waiting for Jon to catch up have helped some, but there is no way to totally reverse the effect of the all the hard miles.  I'm resigned to the fact that feeling bad for the remainder of the ride is inevitable.  I just want to push on to the finish and get it done.  We enter a very populated area with lots of traffic and many stop lights.  We are close to the last control in Ronkonkoma, which is the last one before the end.  We spot the Dunkin Donuts shop on the right side of the busy thoroughfare.  Given how hot it is I'm thinking about a frozen beverage.

We both dump the contents of two Coolada drinks into our water bottles and head out for the final 27 miles.  We  quickly turn off the high traffic roads in favor of less populated, although somewhat hillier pavement.  The hills are not as serious as the ones this morning,  None the less my legs feel the strain.  Jon seems undaunted on the climbs, as is usually the case with him.  He is quite light and has a nifty fast spin which seems to propel him to the top smoothly.  All the while I am cursing any gradient over four percent.  The headwind is still ever present.  We stop briefly at an information control, which is a local park.  With the question answered succesfully, which verifies our passage to this point  We move on for the final seven miles. 

It remains hot and windy for every final inch of the ride.  The miles tick off a little slower than on the outbound. But, soon enough we make the final turn to the finish.  Paul sees us approaching and begins taking photos as we ride down the road and into the parking lot.  The same lot we departed from 13 hours and 10 minutes earlier.  Jon and I share the course record for this first time ride.  It is a personal best time for both of us at the 300k distance.
Jon (L) and myself (R) coming in to the finish

Epilouge: Parts I & II

Part I

Paul Murray and the Long Island Randonneurs came up with a fine brevet.  It had all the elements one hopes for when looking for a ride with a challenge to it.  Which came in the form of hills, heat and wind.  Also, the scenic quality of the route was excellent.  We went by more parks then I could count and the view of the Long Island Sound was terrific. Everything was organized superbly and it was a pleasure to partake.  I highly recommend this ride for next season.  I hope to see you there.

Part II

Making the switch to a geared bike was not an easy decision for me.  I'd ridden exclusively fixed-gear for close to two years.  Prior to that fixie riding has represented a good percentage of my miles since 2006, and I expect it always will going forward.  Having traveled around a bit I happened to meet some of the other riders who ride long distance in this style.  Most do not use that format exclusively, although a few do.  Those who do know nothing different.  Fixed riding feels routine, normal.  Some of these riders will actually claim that it is no harder, just different.  But, in truth it is harder.  By my reckoning between 10% to 30% more difficulr based on terrain.  Sometimes it's just fun doing things the hard way.  Sort of like fingertip push-ups.   I've enjoyed my fixed-gear endeavors immensely.  It's satisfying to finish a long challenging ride using a machine that wasn't really designed for the job.  Just recently, I enjoyed riding the Catskill 600k fixed.  It was a great feeling to have made it around in good condition on a bike that didn't made little sense given the route parameters.   

The reason for the change is simply that I tend to get bored doing the same thing all the time.  I love cycling and hope to never lose interest in it.  The wonderful thing is there is so much variety within the activity.  I lean towards brevets, but have dabbled in UMCA racing as well.  There are very few UMCA activities where a fixed-gear is the appropriate choice.  Since racing is competitive one's gear needs to be competitive as well.  I have aspirations of accomplishing some things in this arena.  The lightweight carbon bike is the right tool for the job.  Now I only need to train myself to be the right rider for the job.  I'll get back to you on how this works out. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Catskill 600k - Fixed Gear!

Photo by Nigel
 The hotel clock on the end table reads 3:55am as I hear the distinct beep of my cell phone indicating a text message awaits.  I'm expecting to start a 600k bike ride at 5am from this very hotel, but, who could be texting me now?  I fumble my way in the darkened room to the phone, where it is plugged into its charger.  The message reads: "Are you coming to the start?"  It is from Katie, the ride organizer.  I text back: "Yes.  At 5am right?"  Her reply is quick and succinct: "No! 4".  Damn!  I messed up the start time!  I'm in disbelief at my stupidity.  The next half hour becomes a fire drill for me as I ready my gear in hurried fashion.  Once downstairs I go through the check-in procedure with Katie and receive my brevet card.  Patrick takes my photo, as was done with the group of starters who made it on time.  I then take to the roads, which are still wet from early morning showers.  The time is 4:45am.

My Specialized Langster feels smooth beneath me on the flat roads leading out of the northern New Jersey town of Rochelle Park.  The drive train hums quietly as I maintain a snappy cadence.  The air feels both chilly and humid at the same time.  I'm comfortable with arm warmers and knee warmers.  The jacket remains in my pack.  This is my third time on this particular 600k.  Although the route has varied some over the years the basic nature of it, mondo hilly, has remained throughout its history.  It's not an annual event, this being only the fourth running since 2006.  I was a DNF that first year.  A 90 degree day combined with poor pacing on my part had me calling for a ride home after only 130 miles.  Five years passed before I tried it again, fairing far better with a successful finish on that attempt.   Today I risk another DNF by riding a fixie.  Three friends, who had ridden the exact route one week prior, on the pre-ride check, had politely advised me against attempting it fixed.  These guys are highly experienced and I respect them immensely.  Despite it all I still wanted the added challenge.  The thought that I might not be able to make it felt exciting.  I probably wouldn't feel that bad if I had to pack it in.  After all, it is a crazy thing to do.  Yet, on the other hand if I succeeded?  Well, that would be immensely satisfying.  It seemed like there was no way to lose.  I advised my wife, who kindly drove many hours to retrieve me back in 2006, of the possibility I would need such assistance again.  After which I committed myself to the plan.
photo by Chris N.
As the darkness slowly yields to daylight on this overcast morning I am crossing into the state of New York, where I will remain for most of the adventure.  The terrain of the early miles is quite gentle.  I find myself making good time.  I'm hoping I can catch up to some of the riders by the first control at mile sixty-one.  In the meantime, I'm passing by reservoirs and lakes with little to no traffic around. I reach route 9W which also has low traffic due to the early hour.  I'm riding next to the Hudson River passing the Stony Point nuclear power plant.  After a hefty climb and descent the river is crossed at the Bear Mountain Bridge.  I enjoy the spectacular view in every direction.   Route 9D follows the river on the east side up to the town of Fishkill.  My direction is north and will continue to be for many miles.  I soon find myself at Hopewell Junction which is the control.  There are numerous riders there, some appearing to have just recently arrived.

61 miles from the start.
Rail Trail photo by Chris N.
After refreshing my bottles and removing knee and arm warmers, I depart the control with Christine and Janice. We enjoy more mild terrain some of which is on rail trails and the Walkway over the Hudson.  This pedestrian and bicycle specific bridge is the longest of it's type in the country.  Soon after crossing the Hudson for the second time the terrain turns more hilly.  The rhythm of the fixie calls for aggressive climbing.  My riding companions fall back.  I find myself riding solo again.  I begin to pass by other riders, all of whom I know by name.  I see my friend Nigel ducking into a small general store to re-fill water bottles.  I opt to push on to the next control before stopping.  The hilly terrain leads to the massive Ashoken Reservoir which is then crossed over on a bridge.  So far the climbing is not terribly difficult and the scenery is outstanding.  My spirits are high as my confidence soars.  A few miles later I am at the Bread Alone bakery in Boiseville, along with many other riders.  Apparently, I've caught up to the main group.
Boiceville Control with Jon the other fixie rider photo Chris N.

111 miles from the start.

I follow the practiced steps of quick controlling.  Check-in, bathroom, get a food item to eat on the bike, fill water bottles, flip cue-sheet, load the next leg into the Garmin and depart.  Because of the crowd at this control it takes about ten minutes to accomplish all of the above.  At C-Store controls it usually takes about five.  About a mile up the road a rider pulls alongside.  It is Jon from the PA Randonneurs.  He is also riding a fixed-gear and is preparing for LEL which is in just a few weeks.  We fall into sync together chatting for a bit before taking turns pulling into a mild headwind.  After about twelve miles we begin to climb a mild grade for six miles.  The climb causes neither of us much stress.  The remaining miles to the next control are lightly rolling and pleasant.  We arrive at the country store in Grand Gorge in fine shape.  There are three riders there when we arrive, all of whom I recognize.  Jon is quite friendly with the two PA riders in the control, Tim and Bill.

147 miles from the start. 
photo by Chris N.
 We all manage to make short order of it and depart as a group of four.  The terrain features some rolling hills, but nothing daunting up ahead for awhile.  We move along well as the three PA riders chat excitedly about all things rando.  I pedal along quietly conserving energy for the miles ahead.  The sleep stop control is still ninety miles further.  The twenty-eight miles to the next control pass uneventfully.  We arrive at the Express Mart in Dehli still in full daylight.  One rider, David, is in the control.

175 miles since the start.
photo by Chris N.
David departs ahead of us, but only by a few minutes.  The next control is a mere 12 miles featuring more mild terrain.  One could start to think that this ride has a bad rap for being more challenging than it really is.  But, I know better.  My information from the pre-riders is solid.  This ride will get tougher before this day is out, and, even tougher the next day.  After completing a short uneventful segment our group arrives in Andes to be greeted by Bob a fellow Randonneur doing duty as the control volunteer.  Bob lives in the region.  He previews the next thirty miles for us describing a 3.5 mile climb we will be dealing with up ahead.   Darkness will be upon us soon so we spend the time to ready our night gear.  The temperature has dropped a bit requiring an extra layer.  Once again David has left the control ahead of us.  We prepare to leave soon after.
Photo by Chris N.

187 miles since the start.

We ride out of the control trending downhill to the Pepacton Reservoir.  We parrellell the large body of water for many miles.  Once again it is not very challenging terrain.  The PA riders start to think this is an easy ride compared to what they face in their home region.  I know better.  The hammer will fall at some point, and I want to stay mentally prepared for it, or things will become miserable.  As soon as we turn away from the water the road pitches up for the big climb.  Darkness is upon us as we head up the six percent gradient.  As is typical of night climbs the top of the climb cannot be seen.  There are a couple of false peaks where the grade lessens briefly leading the rider to believe he is done, only to pitch up again at an even steeper angle.  I'm suffering a bit from a case of hot foot and I begin falling back.  I work hard to ignore the pain catching back up to Bill who has separated from Jon and Tim.  Bill mentions that the grade feels steeper than advertised.  My foot flares with so much pain I can only mutter something unintelligible.  Finally, I clip out to walk off the pain for a hundred feet or so.  After some improvement I get back on the bike and finish the climb.   At the top the three riders are waiting for me.  We continue together on the long descent ahead.  The two geared bikes fly down ahead.  Jon and I must keep up our leg speed with the speed of our bikes.  The descent continues for six miles tapering off some near the bottom.  As we reach flat ground we arrive at the Roscoe control. Bill and Tim are already there waiting.  We are greeted by the volunteer, Mordecai, who is also the designer of the route, and, one of the pre-riders.  He is happy to see me and tells me I am doing very well so far.

219 miles from the start. 

The air has become a bit chilly at this point.  I pull out a light jacket from my pack to wear on the 17 mile leg to the sleep stop in Liberty.  Our group departs the control together.  David who was there ahead of us remains at the control.  He was under dressed and was looking for a solution to keep warm.  As we get going I notice I'm feeling a little sluggish.  The big climb and subsequent descent has apparently taken a toll on me.  My three riding companions seem no worse for the wear as they are amping up the pace to make the sleep stop quickly.  Back at the control they were discussing a minimal sleep plan of one-hour.  That strategy does not align with mine.  I simply want to survive.  I will leave enough time cushion to allow for any problems that may arise, the rest will be spent eating, showering and sleeping.   After a few flat miles we encounter some rollers.  The PA riders take them on aggressively.  I do not make the effort to match their pace.  I'll finish this day riding conservatively. I enjoy riding with others, but am not dependent on it.  I am quite comfortable riding solo anywhere.  I let the gap open watching their taillights blinking up in the distance.  Now alone I embrace the solitude of the night.  The elevation profile trends upward for most of the miles of this section.  There is a final descent into the town, but all prior to that is gentle gradient upward.  The longest is three miles at about 3% gradient.  I work my way up alternating standing and seated to mix up the muscle use.  I hear an odd sound behind.  Sort of a flapping noise.  I look back to see David catching up to me.  I ask what is making that noise.  He explains that he is wearing a garbage bag on his torso to keep warm.  He slowly passes by.  I could increase my effort a bit to stay with him, but opt not to.  There are only a few miles left to the hotel.  I'm happiest to ride them on my own.  Dropping down into the town, making the quick few turns required to navigate to the Day's Inn all happen quick enough.  The automatic doors at the front of the hotel whoosh open as I approach inviting me to ride into the lobby.  It is just past 11pm.

236 miles from the start.

A large conference room is reserved for our use.  Katie, Todd and Leslie have set up the room with a large buffet table filled with hot and cold foods.  There are tables in the middle of the room for dining and the perimeter is used for our bikes.  Each rider has a bag of personal items which has been transported by the volunteers from the start.  I enjoy a hearty meal.  The first time I'm sitting down and eating all day.  Jon, Bill, Tim and David are all there partaking in the food.  Todd assigns me a room for sleeping which will be shared with Jon.  By the time I get my bag and work my way to the room Jon is asleep in one of the two beds.  I quietly shower and brush my teeth.  I find my way to the unused bed.  It is about mid-night.  My plan is to depart on my bike at 4am.  I should net about three hours of sleep, which is quite adequate.  Jon is planning on riding out at 2am.  Not surprisingly I don't fall right asleep.  It takes awhile before the exhaustion overcomes the hyperactive feeling one has from so many hours of activity.  I probably wind up getting an hour and a half of actual sleep.  That should be enough to see me through.

I'm up at 3:15.  After dressing in fresh cycling kit I head for the conference room where breakfast is waiting.  All the volunteers are there, if they've slept it must have been very brief as the food table is entirely changed from just a few hours ago.   Christine and Janice come in for breakfast.  I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal while chatting with everyone.  The two ladies depart on their bikes with me just a few minutes behind.  Despite the early hour it is a pleasant 55 degrees.  I'm looking forward to the sunrise, which will take place at about 5:30am. After only two miles I spot Christine and Janice.  They have overshot a turn by a few hundred feet.  I spot the headlights as they are back tracking to it.  I ride alongside for a bit while we discuss the nuances of the Garmin 800, the cycling navigation unit we both use.  An occasional glitch is common with these units.  They are best utilized in combination with a cue-sheet.  Mostly, I find the device extremely useful and have not had a serious navigation error with it.  On conclusion of our discussion I move on ahead trying to gain back some of the time cushion I had at the end of yesterday.  The roads on this 39 mile section have horrible pavement.  The elevation profile is trending downhill which normally would allow one to move quickly.  In this case the roads are so rough and gravelly that I spend most of my time braking and weaving around pot holes.  The effort involved is as tiring as riding up hills.  I am happy to arrive at the control at Stone Ridge where my friend Jon is the volunteer.  He was one of the pre-riders of the route.  I'm given the run down on the terrain ahead to the next two controls.  Jon describes roads with relentless rollers and climbs for the next 77 miles.  I feel the need to keep moving.
Photo by Chris N.

276 miles from the start.

Back on the roads for this next 47 mile segment the pavement has improved.  As promised the rolling hills begin.  Only to be followed by a 2.5 mile climb up Mount Minnewaska.  I manage the climb in good form.  The five hours spent off the bike at the hotel have been of benefit.  After the descent the rollers return, but they are mostly the gentle variety.  The kind that allow one to maintain somewhat of a rhythm.  They take a toll on the energy level, but are preferable to steeper terrain.  As I work my way up one of the larger ones a couple on carbon race bikes in racing kit pass by at a really good pace.  I assume they are local riders out for a short morning sprint.  Typically, I rise to the challenge when coming across other riders, but on this day I decide to hold steady as I still have a long way to go.  Some steep kickers appear as I get nearer to the control at Monroe.  To my surprise I come across the fast riding couple again as I'm headed up one of the grades.  They are moving much slower.  I pass by the woman and start to overtake the guy.  When he spots me he starts furiously spinning his legs to prevent me going by.  I drop in behind him in the opening left by the woman.  We've come in to the town and ride through an intersection and into a shopping center which has our control.  A bagel store.  They are headed there also.  I spot the volunteer who is David E, a friend and fellow NJ rando rider.  It turns out that the couple is on the 600k also.  After checking in I opt for a bagel sandwich to give me energy for the next leg.  As I prepare to depart Christine arrives alone.  Janice fell off the pace a bit and had suggested she go on ahead.
Speedy Rando riders Kate and Victor photo by Chris N.

323 miles from the start.

Back out on the route I recall an e-mail from my friend Jon received soon after his pre-ride.  He described the current section as "not easy".  I know Jon for a long time and when he uses that phrase it is a red flag.  What it really means is that it will eviscerate you.   Initially out of the control there are the same type of rolling hills that were experienced on the way in.  I'm managing good spirits as I approach Greenwood Lake from the New York side.  The other half of the lake resides in New Jersey which is reached after a couple of rolling miles.  Rather suddenly the road takes a wild pitch up.  This turns into a climb which stair steps up for some distance.  Soon follows a steep descent, a right turn and an immediate climb back up, also quite long.  After many miles of heavy rollers this climb on Awosting Road is starting to hurt.  I reach a county road as things level out. After less than a mile I'm directed to turn on Marshall Hill Road, which of course goes up more.  After which comes Ridge Road which is also a climb, long and stair stepped.  Then comes Otterhole which is a climb followed by a long descent. It was like a furious round in a boxing ring where the only thing that can save you is the bell.  For me the bell is the control in Bloomingdale.  I pull into the tiny convenience store dazed from the last 16 miles.

353 miles from the start.

Despite being exhausted I don't take any rest.  I re-fill my water, intake a gel and ride out for the final 21 miles.  This section was described as flat.  I'm hoping that is the case, but a nagging suspicion tells me it's not likely to be so.  Indeed it begins as flat with only very minor, almost unnoticeable gradient.  At about six miles into the segment a climb is encountered.  Not a killer climb, but one that required increased, out of the saddle, effort.  This is followed by a couple miles of smaller rolling hills, then a long downhill trend.  Going down hurts almost as much as going up at this point.  The final few miles are indeed flat and welcomed.  I arrive at the finish and am greeted by Katie and Steve. I am glad to see them and truly grateful to be done.  While I didn't gain much time over the course of the day I didn't lose any either.  My finish time is 36:45, not that it mattered as I would have been happy with anything less than 40 hours.

374 miles from the start.     


I find challenging long rides to be fun.  This one certainly was for me.  The added difficulty factor of the fixed-gear was just the motivation I needed.  It's easy to become bored with long rides. I was told by a very experienced rider that using a fixed drive train on this route would be very risky.  That was exactly what I was looking for.  An uncertain outcome.  Maybe I won't make it, but I'll have fun trying.  Motivation can be found in many ways.  Setting out to ride a PR for a distance is one. Handicapping oneself by using less than the ideal bike for the job is another. This time I chose option two.  We'll figure out the next one when we get there.  In the meantime...............Boo-ya!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Specialized Spring Classic Challenge - Strava

I was alerted to this challenge by my employers at Knapp's Cyclery.  They explained that the goal was to ride 1,319 kilometers (818 miles) in the month of April.  This would represent the cumulative distance of the five professional bike races taking place in Europe during this same time period.  Right off I stated that I would likely log 500 more miles in April than the challenge called for.  It seemed like a fun idea to sign up.  When I logged on to the Strava site I was awestruck to see that there were 28,000 riders participating in the month long challenge.

On April 1st I begin downloading my Garmin 800 to Strava at the end of each day of riding.  I noticed that the participants were ranked by the total number of kilometers ridden.  This added a competitive element above and beyond the initial goal.  After three days I was ranked 145th out of all the riders.  I was surprised to see that participants were from all over the world, the current leader residing in Australia.  The United States had 9,000 riders of which I was ranked 45th.  With my competitive nature kicking in I began plotting how I would get in extra distance to move my number up. I started adding more miles to my commuting by riding more circuitous routes, averaging fifty miles per day on work days.  I would shoot for one-hundred or more on my days off.  I rode in this manner for the first eleven days of April before my body demanded a rest day.

As the month went on I sort of adapted to the increase, which was one-hundred miles per-week more than my normal.  The average went from 300 hundred to 400 hundred weekly just like that.  I was feeling pretty tired most of the time, but I had learned how to cope with it.  Deep down I was afraid of getting sick or injured.  When I rode over a bump and felt my calve muscle knot up I thought that would be it.   Miraculously, by virtue of icing it twice a day and wearing compression socks when off the bike it steadily improved without rest.

Besides the Strava challenge I had other things planned for the month like the hilly Lake Nockamixon 200k and the vertically challenging Princeton 300k.  In a pure mileage contest heavy climbing is a dumb idea, but if I had any sense I wouldn't be riding a fixed-gear.  I did every ride as planned.

The final week was the hardest. I needed two rest days, but still kept the same average daily miles.  The final day of the month I rode just thirty-two miles to bring my total for April to 1703 miles.  I finished the challenge in 49th place, world-wide, and 16th in the United States.  Not too bad for a fixie. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Central Florida 400k - Hilly, Hot and Fixed

 One grows weary of the winter in New Jersey.  By the middle of March there is a strong yearning for a change from the wind driven cold air which has become the routine.  Keeping double-century fit in this environment is no easy chore.  Besides desire and determination an expensive collection of winter riding gear is required.  All the while, a mere 1,000 miles to the south, folks are enjoying high temperatures of eighty degrees with bright sunshine.  WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?  That is the question that reverberates through my brain as I ride a 200k permanent on a day in which the high temperature never rises above the freezing point.  Desperately needing a break I make the decision to enter the Central Florida 400k held in Eustis, just south of Orlando.  I previously attended the ride in 2011 and remembered it as enjoyable (blog report March 2011).

At 5am our group of 30 riders starts out from the front of the Comfort Inn for the first leg of 56 miles.  It's a cool 45 degrees with a light breeze.  The group quickly splinters with about six fast riders pulling ahead at a very brisk pace.  I settle in with the second group of about eight riders.  Some rolling hills present themselves early on as does one very steep kicker named Thrill Hill Road.  I maintain pace with the group, on my fixed-gear, by sprinting to the top ahead of everyone only to be re-joined on the downside.  I spend a lot of time at the front pulling through an increasing head wind.  We pick up a couple of riders who were dropped by the lead group.  The first glimpses of daylight begin just after 7am.  It is sometime later before the warming effect of the sun is noticed.  The skies are cloudless which will make way for a very warm afternoon.  By the time we reach the control the temperature has risen dramatically.  I spend time removing a layer of clothing and making a quick adjustment to the bike.  The group I was riding with departs a few minutes before me.

I leave the control alone headed for the Ferndale Preserve at mile 113.  The force of the wind is felt a bit more at this point.  Fortunately, I have lots of practice pushing through it on my own.  The terrain on this section is pretty mild so far.  However, from prior experience I know it gets a lot tougher.  The temperature keeps creeping up, along with the wind.  Twenty miles into it I stop at a store to top up fluids.  It's a long way to the control and there is nothing in between if this opportunity were passed.  As I head out another rider with the same idea pulls in.  I maintain a steady clip, but pass no one and no one passes me.  The real hilly stuff arrives with the appearance of Buckhill Road, a roller coaster with several good lumps.  I hit my highest speed of the ride, thirty-seven, on one of the downhills of Buckhill.  Legs spinning furiously as the road pitches back up for the third time scrubbing off all my momentum requiring another tiring grind to the top.  Shortly after finishing that torturous stretch of road I am faced with the single most significant climb up Sugarloaf Mountain.  I start to feel very hot on the way up and check the Garmin to see the temperature has risen to ninety degrees.  Once done with the mountain a more moderate four miles delivers me to the control.  I arrive to see everyone I was riding with earlier gathered around the food area.  My needs are minimal at this point.  I top up my fluids and head out without any further delay.  I munch on a Clif Bar as I pedal away.  I look back to see no one following me out.  I reason that a single rider on a fixed-gear will likely be caught by a large group of riders with gears.

After just a few miles Buckhill Road is repeated in the opposite direction.  It feels about the same as the other way.  After some milder miles on county roads I am directed onto a bicycle trail which is followed for 22 miles.  The West Orange Trail is a wide recreational path which is mostly flat with some shade.  It passes through the towns of Wintergarden and Apopka.  It's not particularly crowded and I am able to make good time through it.  About half way through I see a rider, who appears to be on the brevet, fixing a flat.  I ask if everything is okay and am assured that it is.  I continue to the exit of trail.  Back on regular roads there are ten miles of somewhat hilly terrain to be covered before the control.  I manage a good pace with the help of some favorable wind and arrive at the Citgo Mart in Tangerine, Florida.  I'm refilling my water bottles when the guy who was fixing the flat comes in.  We chat for a minute.  I tell him I'm ready to go and that he should be able to catch me on this next leg.  As I pull out to the road a large group is on the way in.  Again, I imagine they will catch me before the next control.

The route does a lot of doubling back on itself, sort of going around in circles.  I notice that some of the roads and intersections I've been on before.  Mostly going the opposite way.  I am directed back to Sugarloaf Mountain for a climb up from the other direction.  It's a bit shorter and steeper this way, but presents no problem.  When not climbing one of the bigger hills the route is mostly rolling.  I'm able to maintain a pretty good rhythm on these type of hills.  There is no sign of anyone coming up from behind, which I find surprising.  Daylight begins to run out necessitating a stop for night gear.  I use the sidewalk where there is a fence to lean my bike against.  It takes about five minutes before I'm underway again.  Given the clear skies all day I expect the air will cool considerably with night fall.  There is one control before the finish at mile 221.  I'm making a bee line for it.  At this point I don't want any riders catching me.  I've ridden most of the day alone, I am happy to finish it that way.  With full darkness the bottoms of hills are cold spots where I feel quite chilled.  Climbing up to the top of hills feels warm and I relish it.  I arrive at the control, in Mascotter, Fl, realizing I need to add a layer of clothes as well as my long fingered gloves.  I take a bit more time than at other controls and two groups of riders arrive while I'm there.  By the time I depart I estimate there are about a dozen milling about.  There are thirty miles to the finish.

The first few miles feel a bit chilly despite the additional clothes.  Soon enough my internal body heat rises enough to make me comfortable.  In keeping with the idea that I don't want anyone catching me I amp it up a bit.  The rollers continue and I am in tune with them.  There are some long stretches of six to eight miles on dark lonely roads.  I particularly enjoy this type of isolation when night riding.  For me these moments are the highlight of the ride.  Not that I don't like being around people, but sometimes it's fun to feel like the only one on the planet for a little while.  I keep my pace and occasionally look back for bicycle head lamps only to see more darkness.  My Garmin occasionally chirps reminding me of upcoming turns.  Everything flows perfectly, almost effortlessly.  When the rural setting gives way to a more suburban area I am only a few miles from the end.   I give what I have left in my legs to cover the remaining distance quickly.  In short order I am at the front of the hotel.  I ride through the automatic opening doors into the lobby where the organizer, RBA Paul Rozelle, and a few riders are waiting.  Paul is indeed surprised to see me this early.  He tells me that there are lots of good riders behind me and only five have finished so far.  My time is 19 hours and 22 minutes.  I eat two slices of pizza before any other finishers arrive.  Just maybe I'm starting to get the hang of this fixed-gear thing.


A travel event is a thing to be treasured.  Riding a familiar distance in a not so familiar venue heightens the experience for me.  Although, I rode this 400k mostly alone I was never bored as things were so different.  The weather, the scenery and most everything about the Central Florida region was not what I am used to.  I've done my share of traveling around to brevets and have relished the nuances of the different regions.   I marvel at the ability of RBA's around the country to come up with routes that are safe, interesting and unique.  Typically, the course design will intentionally feature some of the most interesting terrain and scenery a particular region has to offer.  The Florida route passed by orange groves with ripe fruit still on the trees.  There were pristine lakes with steam coming off the water in the early morning hours.  The beautifully maintained West Orange Trail is a testament to the quality of life in the area.  It is a further testament to the well being of randonneuring in Florida when thirty riders line up on a chilly March morning to undertake a 400k.  It was worth the effort to travel there and I would do so again without hesitation.  Thanks to RBA Paul Rozelle and his crew of volunteers for a great route and a well organized ride.




Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reflecting on 2012 - The Fixie Year!

On December 19, while commuting to work, I unceremoniously rolled past the 14,000 mile mark for the year.  Just one mile later I would surpass my highest annual mileage total ever, which was set last year at 14,001 road miles.  The one difference this year is that every mile was ridden on a fixed-gear bike.  There was not a single gear shift nor even a second of coasting anywhere along the way.  Two weeks later, upon arriving home from work, on a chilly New Year's Eve, I would finish the year with 14,352 miles.

As I look back on the experience I'm not sure exactly how to feel about it.  I wasn't awed by the accomplishment, it was just another year of riding a lot.  I've had a number of those years. This didn't really feel any different.  It was like becoming a vegetarian, which I did many years ago.  I never missed the meat and I didn't really miss the gears.  But, if asked why I made the choice the only answer I have is that it raised the level of difficulty, presenting a greater challenge.

In reality, the fixie year was kind of a fluke.  Near the end of  2011 I was headed to Arkansas for a couple of weeks to visit with family.  I decided to take a bike with me. I selected the fixed-gear for it's low maintenance and simplicity.  Also, reasoning it would be great off-season training.  Unforeseen circumstances had me staying in Arkansas for the better part of four months.  I spent a lot of time slogging that bike up and down the Ozark Mountains.  I even traveled to nearby Missouri and Tennessee to sample the riding there.  It was all hilly terrain, but I was managing quite well without gears.  When I set a 200k PR on a hilly Missouri brevet I thought maybe I should just stick with this bike for awhile.  In early April I rode a pretty wet 300k, also in Missouri. That was followed by a 400k on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee. That represented my longest fixed-gear ride ever.  By the time I arrived home in May I was committed to finishing 2012 as it was started.  The geared bikes in my garage were gathering dust, but I wasn't changing horses anytime soon.

Back in familiar territory the brevet season was at full boil.  I participated in an early May point-to-point fleche from New York City to Westfield, Mass.  Our team of four riders, The Shiftless Vagabonds, were all on fixed-gear.  I rode a second 300k and 400k, locally in New Jersey.  At some point I realized I had three of the four components to the Cyclos Montagardes R-80 recognition.  The R-80 is a full brevet series with all rides completed within 80% of the time limit.  The 600k was the missing link.  To meet the mark I would need to complete the ride in under 32 hours.  For me that would require a straight through effort with no allowance for sleep.  The New Jersey East Creek 600k fit the criteria.  I would end up finishing the ride in 31 hours and 17 minutes.  That event also represented my 10th brevet series and brought me the Ultra Randonneur Award.  Yet, there was still more to accomplish as the Mondial and K-Hound awards were both in my sights for 2012.  I was constantly riding permanents of 100k and 200k distances to rack up the RUSA kilometers.  The numbers were looking good, but at some point I began to feel burned out.  All the riding, combined with working full time in a very busy bike shop (Knapp's Cyclery) was making the activity feel like a bit of a chore.  I needed a fresh perspective to keep things interesting.
Cross-State Record 4hrs 27min
 I decided to take a look at what the UMCA had to offer.  The cross-state record challenge had appeal.  I found a rather soft record close to home in New Jersey.  I believed I stood a good chance of breaking it, even with the limitation of the fixie.  With the help of the bike shop I built up a new Specialized Langster aluminum frame fixed-gear.  All the components selected were light weight, designed for speed and durability.  As the crowning touch I ordered  a set of Roval 45 carbon wheels.  While getting the bike together I trained relentlessly.  Some of my commutes turned into time trials, with me using the Garmin virtual partner to race against.  On top of everything I needed to submit all the UMCA paperwork, design my route, find a fellow member to officiate, ready a support vehicle, and find a crew.  It all took much effort and energy.  It turned out to be the refreshing change of pace I was seeking.  On September 9th I broke the existing UMCA record for crossing New Jersey from East to West by over an hour and a half.  I even got to spend the day with family as my wife and son volunteered as the crew.  Fellow randonneur and UMCA member David Eisenberg officiated the record.
Specialized Langster - The Fast Fixie
After the UMCA event I resumed the kilometer counting with renewed enthusiasm.  Sometime in October I hit the required 10,000 for entry to the K-Hound Club.  I was just one 600k short of having a second SR Series for the year.  Late season 600's are non-existent in the north-east.  If I wanted it I would have to travel.  Just prior to Thanksgiving my friend Paul and I went to Texas to participate in a 600k hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs.  It was the perfect way to end the season with Paul acquiring the Ultra-Randonneur and a second series.  My finish earned me my 11th series and the Mondial.

I would still ride five permanents in the month of December, more out of habit than any other reason.  Despite having done hundreds of them, sometimes riding the same routes many times over, I still take pleasure in it.  The highlight of December was our NJ Randonneur holiday ride and celebration with 14 local riders clipping in for a 100k permanent.  At the conclusion of the ride we all ate, drank and socialized.  For all the lonely solo miles I've done the chance to mix with a group of friends is a solid-gold event.  I hope to do more of that in 2013.


The beginning of a New Year is a mixed blessing.  All that has been accomplished the prior year is erased. The goal setting, planning, and self-motivating has to begin all over again.  I awoke on New Years Day with zero miles.  Fortunately, that would only last a few hours before the first miles and kilometers of the year began accumulating.  There is much to decide about 2013.  Should the fixed-gear only mode continue?  I can only say that it will initially, but, I'm not sure about the entire year.  I do find myself gazing fondly at the carbon fiber multi-gear bikes which are neatly lined up at the bike shop.  I can't promise I won't give in to the temptation and end up with one of them.  Also, the much neglected tandem that sits in my garage is silently beckoning to me.  I am thinking I would like to find a stoker to share some of the adventures.  I could stand to cut back a little on the solo riding. 

Although I've been cycling since 1984 I only have accurate records from 2006 until present.  In the past seven years I have logged 72,100 outdoor road miles.  I didn't know the number for sure until I totaled it all up on January 1st.  Should the last two years be an indication of future mileage I will then hit 100,000 miles in two more years. That will be the only goal I will set right now.  The rest of them will come along as the season approaches.  For now I need to ponder things. 

Stay tuned!