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.