Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Princeton 200K: A Tale of Rainy Mechanicals

Once on a fleche, after riding 240 miles through hours and hours of rain in the chilly northeast, my rear tire developed a flat. Luckily, I was less than a mile from the finish and managed to hobble in without busting the final time barrier for the team. My flats yesterday on the Princeton 200K were not quite so dramatic, but the timing was almost as bizarre. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Princeton 200K is a great route and this year the event was well-timed to coincide with the beginning of fall as the NJ weather becomes far less humid and (on most days) one can expect crisp blue skies. The forecast for this running of the Princeton 200K was not quite so ideal, however, and as the day arrived it was clear that riders would be well-advised to pack rain gear and slap on some fenders. After a string of glorious weather, this news was a bit disappointing, but this is why we spend so much time fussing with rain gear and fenders, right?

Several weeks ago, I made plans to ride with Jon L. and Robin L. as we thought our paces on this day would align and provide us with the opportunity to catch up and enjoy a nice day of fall riding. Sadly Robin was unable to join us, but Jon and I clipped in as planned and set off to enjoy the day. Soon after the start, we were joined by Paul G. who was riding his first brevet ever (leaving us only one Ringo shy of the Fab Four). For most of the day, we were part of the lead group that included Chris S. and then Dougin W. who each had some fire in their legs for sure.

We were welcomed at the first control by volunteers Steve H. and the venerable Leroy V. It was great to catch up with these NJ Rando stalwarts and top off our water bottles, but it was after Janice C. arrived with two containers of homemade brownies that the fun really started! After each of us inhaled a brownie, we knew we were ready for the looming Adamic Hill climb ten miles down the road. So we clipped in and formed a pace line of sorts to build some confidence for the suffering ahead. The thing about Adamic Hill is that it's both not as terrible as people make it out to be and worse than you remember at the same time. Watching that windmill appear as we neared the top, we were grateful that the worst of the day's climbing was now in our rearview mirrors.

The next 22 miles of the route involved some glorious descents and a few choppers along the way to keep everyone's legs awake.  This section was generally enjoyable and we stayed relatively dry with only a few light passing showers to annoy us. The turnaround control at mile 70 was a welcome opportunity to enjoy a slice of pizza and a chocolate milk and we were soon on our bikes again heading home. Our one missed cue came as we exited the parking lot by turning left instead of right. While we quickly identified the error of our ways, I now see this as as omen for the events just a bit further down the road.

After adding some gas to our tanks, we settled into a nice pace that included some pace line riding along some fairly flat sections of road. It was in this section that the skies opened up a bit more so we stopped to put on rain gear and it was not too much further down the road that I felt that telltale softness in my rear tire that can only mean one thing. I had apparently picked up something sharp along the side of the road and luckily this happened as an ice cream shop, complete with protective overhangs, appeared where I could change the tire and sort things out.

Jon and Paul were a couple of mensches and held my frame as I did my best to manipulate the wet and messy rear wheel. Why is it always the rear wheel that needs to be changed when it's raining? Thankfully, my Gran Bois tires are pretty easy to remove from the rims so the whole job did not take very long, but since I was unable to locate the sharp cause of my misfortune, I was not convinced that this was going to be the last of my mechanical mishaps for the day. . .

One of the pleasant byproducts of the time we lost changing the tire was the arrival of three riders we had last seen arriving as we pulled out of the turnaround control. The infusion of some good additional rando energy was just what we needed to ward off the disappointment of messing with mechanicals in the rain and so the miles passed quickly as we chatted with our new companions Avri S., Chris K. and Mike S. It was not too long before we were smelling the barn and realized that dry clothes were getting closer and closer with each turn of the cranks.

As we turned the corner at mile 124.3, I felt a strange lopsided feeling in my rear tire and moments later heard a loud BANG. While I'm not sure how the second flat was related to the first, it was clear once I pulled over to the side of the road that I was going to need to do something quickly to fix the problem in order to finish the ride. Close examination confirmed a sidewall blowout rather than a puncture. Since I threw out my last flatted tube and this one had an inch-long rip in it, Jon was kind enough to share one of his spares with me. Does RUSA award a medal for riders who experience mechanicals within the last 1% of the ride? if so, I want one for my collection.

So after putting the wheel back on, I inflated the tire to what seemed like the minimum pressure to ride the final 1.5 miles to the finish. While the end of the ride was not quite as triumphant as I had imagined with the six of us riding in together arms raised, it sure was nice to make it in without further trouble after my makeshift repair. Jon and I even arrived within the 10 hour goal we set for ourselves at the start. Go figure.

Luckily I have a spare Gran Bois tire in the basement, so I'll be back on the road with mechanical confidence in no time. Thanks to ride organizer, Jud H. and all of the wonderful volunteers who made the Princeton 200K such an enjoyable event, despite the nasty weather.

Up next: a local 100K permanent populaire to complete my September P-12 quest.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When in doubt, #alwaysbringthebike.

I was reminded this afternoon that it's always a good idea to have the bike close by in case an opportunity opens up for a serendipitous ride. Today I made the trip to Cooperstown to visit a school and found myself with a little extra time on my hands in the early afternoon.

Since I am not a baseball fan and the thought of walking through the Fenimore Art Museum on a lovely September afternoon did not really appeal to me, I was grateful to have had the foresight to throw my bike into the back of the car along with a bag of my gear before heading out the door this morning. After my meeting, I simply popped into a local supermarket bathroom to change my clothes and fill my water bottles and I was off.

Cooperstown is an amazing little town on the banks of Otsego Lake in upstate New York pretty far from just about everything. The architecture is simply stunning and the 20 mile loop around Otsego Lake was both beautiful and exhilarating. I really must read Alan Tayor's book William Cooper's Town to figure out how this frontier outpost from the early national period came to be. 

The Federalist homes that line the lake and fill the town are simply breathtaking. In fact, since so many of the houses are in such fine shape, it feels a bit like stepping back in time. The photo above was taken of a home built in 1803. 

Up next: the Princeton 200K on Saturday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Otisville 108K: My Quest for the P-12 Begins

Several years ago, RUSA added the P-12 Award to celebrate the accomplishments of those who ride at least one event or permanent route in the 100K - 199K range (also known as a "populaires") in each of twelve consecutive months. It occurred to me recently that one way to keep my mileage up as I build a strong foundation for PBP 2015 will be to add the P-12 to my list of goals for the coming year. I am already working on another R-12 this year, so this additional challenge will require that I ride at least one 200K and one 100K each month between now and July 2014.

To get started, I reached out to my pal Doug H. who manages the Otisville 108K, which begins and ends in New Paltz right next door. Luckily, Doug was happy to oblige me at the last minute and I was able to squeeze this ride into the last day of August. The Otisville 108K is a pleasant out-and-back route along the Shawangunk Ridge that also comprises the first and last 33 miles of the Dingman's Ferry 209K that I've ridden and enjoyed in the past. On Sunday, the skies were heavy and grey and not particularly photogenic, but trust me, it's a pretty lovely ride.

One of the nice things about a 100K is that it's basically just a nice long training ride and takes less than half a day to complete, which leaves plenty of time in the day for other activities. This should make the P-12 a whole lot easier to attain than the R-12, but it will also keep me motivated to get out and ride in the bitter cold months ahead. Completing both the R-12 and the P-12 at the same time will give me just the boost I need to build a strong base. To make this challenge even more manageable and to increase the frequency with which I ride, I plan to submit several of my favorite training routes to RUSA as permanent populaires in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more details.

Up next: The Princeton 200K on September 13.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Paris-Brest-Paris: T Minus 364 Days . . . and Counting!

I first caught the PBP bug in 2007 during my introductory year of randonneuring. I was swept up in the PBP frenzy, but knew better than to attempt to squirrel away several thousand dollars to make my way to the start in Paris that summer. The next time around, I was sidelined by my 2010 crash on the Endless Mountains 1000K and I have spent the past four years slowly rebuilding my fitness and confidence on the bike to undertake a similar long brevet.

Needless to say, PBP has been on my mind quite a bit on and off over the past seven years. I even went so far as to secure a “PBP 2015” license plate to help me to keep my eye on the prize during my long recovery. While I never imagined hosting a vanity plate, the coincidence of a three-letter-followed-by-four-number license plate pattern in New York State was too much to pass up. This way I can have a vanity plate that only the initiated can interpret. Clever, right? No, my family didn’t think so either. Oh well.

Now that we have rounded the corner and entered the final stretch, I could not be more excited. With less than a year to go, it’s time to plan out how to prepare to not only successfully complete the event, but to do so with a strong foundation so that I can enjoy every minute of it.

Why am I so excited? 1) I love France, 2) I love traveling, 3) I love good coffee, 4) I will have attained a goal I set many years ago and which has seemingly receded into the distance the closer I have gotten, and 5) All that I’ve heard and read about PBP suggests that the event will be as exciting as I found London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) and then some.

When I rode LEL in 2009, I was swept up in the collective enthusiasm of participating in a long, long, long ride with hundreds of other riders from all over the world. Riding in a 1200K brevet with over 5000 other riders from around the globe in the country that invented randonneuring and where citizens have not only an actual familiarity with the event but a reverence for those who ride in it sounds positively supernatural.

As with most large-scale, expensive goals, the planning and preparations will be half the fun. Here are just a few of the steps I anticipate along the way:
  • Rekindle my R-12. Riding at least one 200K each month between now and August will help me build a strong base.
  • Ride a full SR series. While this is a requirement for entry, I am eager to see the 2015 calendar that will be published in early October to find some outstanding and challenging brevets to help me develop optimal fitness while at the same time connecting me with friends and acquaintances also preparing for the big event. 
  • Complete at least two challenging 600Ks in 2015. I would love to ride the Westfield 600K again next year and NJ Rando may well run the Catskill 600K again next year. 
  • Spend a lot of time refining my equipment. I plan to ride all 2015 events (except for the salty winter rides) with my brevet bike set up for PBP to fine-tune my set-up and work out any kinks in my planning.
  • Have fun!
Up next: the Princeton 200K on September 13.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

At Long Last, a 1000K Medal for the Collection.

When I first began participating in brevets in 2007, I was struck by the heft of the well-designed ACP finisher's medals. Since brevets are not races, all who finish events within the prescribed time limits are entitled to a medal to commemorate the achievement. Not only that, to keep event costs down, medals are optional and must be purchased (for a nominal fee) by official finishers after the event results have been certified. This last fact brings endless mirth to my children who routinely ask me whether I've "bought any new medals" after finishing a brevet. The fact that not everyone is entitled to such a medal is lost on them. Oh well.

Medals are generic and available to finishers of brevets of all of the established distances (200K, 300K, 400K, 600K and 1000K) certified by Audax Club Parisien (ACP), the French organization that certifies and regulates randonneuring events around the world. ACP issues a new design series every four years to coincide with the running of Paris-Brest-Paris. As such, since 2007, I have collected awards in three designs. There is also an award that matches each design series, known as the "Super Randonneur," which is available to those who complete a full series of events (200K, 300K, 400K and 600K) within a given season.

The 1000K award is a bit of an outlier. Not formally considered part of a Super Randonnuer series, 1000K events are not even held in all regions that host randonneuring events. I first planned to complete a 1000K brevet in 2010 to prepare for and to receive an early registration slot for PBP 2011. Due to an accident on the NJ 600K, however, I was unable to clip in for the Lap of the Lake (LOL) 1000K in July 2010. Just six weeks later, when I was about two hours into the PA Endless Mountains 1000K, I was hit from behind by a distracted driver. As a result, the 1000K distance has grown to near mythic stature in my recovery plan. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that I opened the envelope yesterday containing my first 1000K brevet medal. The only visual difference from the medals in this series currently in my collection is the silver color and embossed "1000km" lettering.

The completion of this 1000K in 2014 has provided me with a preregistration slot for Paris-Brest-Paris on April 26, 2015, which is a few days shy of my 50th birthday and one week before those who completed a 600K as their greatest distance in 2014 are able to register. While I'm not concerned about PBP selling out early, it is nice to be at the front of the line. Registration for PBP will also be a wonderful birthday gift to commemorate my first half century. The 1000K medal represents more than just an early preregistration slot to me, though. It is symbolic of my return to long distance brevets after a debilitating accident. I can assure you that it will not be the last 1000K medal in my collection, but it may be the most cherished.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The R-12 Reloaded: JB and George Enjoy a Day Along the Hudson

After letting my goal to complete at least one event of 200K or longer each month lapse after achieving my first R-12 Award, I've decided to reinstitute the practice to help me lay down a strong base for next year's edition of PBP. RUSA's R-12 Award provides both a great structure and challenge, especially for time-pressed randonneurs who live in the northern reaches of the US where frigid weather is a fact of life for at least three months of the year. When I first set out to tackle this feat, I established several local "permanent" routes close to home that I could ride on a whim without the hassles involved with traveling to events far afield.

Yesterday, JB and I got together to enjoy one of these routes that I misnamed the Flatlander's Delight (in contrast to my very hilly Catskill Climbfest). The route starts and ends in New Paltz crossing the Hudson over both the Rip Van Winkle and Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridges and takes in the hills and farmland of Columbia Country. One of my favorites, the Flatlander mixes in great views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains with farmland, historic villages and wooded rollers. Over the course of 207K, riders climb about 6500 feet. Not so flat, but not so hilly either.

There are three main control points on the route (in addition to two info controls) that provide the opportunity to refuel and reorient. The Dunkin' Donuts, while nothing fancy, sure is a welcome break at mile 40 and on this edition, JB and I each enjoyed a hot coffee and a muffin before refilling our bottles and applying our first layer of sunscreen.

The next control is not too far down the road and comes after a scenic river crossing, a brief tour through the city of Hudson and a ride through some gorgeous country roads. At the midway point in the ride, things shift from generally flat to quite hilly. To punctuate this transition, there is a simple country deli where I often grab a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of chips. On this day, I followed JB's lead and also grabbed a cold chocolate milk off the shelf, which was remarkably cool and refreshing. 

After a brief, early lunch, JB and I took off to enjoy the choppy, rural roads that come in the second half of this route. Columbia County is quite beautiful with views alternating between farmland and forest. There are quite a few rollers to test your climbing legs on this route and even a few miles of dirt roads to make you feel almost off the grid. On the south-westerly return leg there are even dramatic views of the Catskills range that pop out from between the trees and provide a bearing.

We definitely save the best control for last on this route, though. Taste Budd's Cafe in Red Hook comes at mile 98, which is perfectly timed for a tasty high calorie treat washed down with full-bodied coffee served in a range of styles and temperatures. This time around, I selected a delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookie and an iced coffee and was not at all disappointed. For the truly decadent, Taste Budd's also stocks a full range of homemade chocolates and fudge.

With most of the ride behind us, JB and I clipped in and made the short trip back to the Hudson. We passed just south of Bard College taking in some lovely roads on our approach to the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge which brings us back to Ulster County and provides (on clear days) an outstanding view of the full Caskill Mountain range. On this day, though, we were racing a storm home, so the hazy, overcast skies obscured the view and added an ominous feel to the day. We knew full well that afternoon thunderstorms were a likely component of this ride and luckily made it across the bridge before anything too dramatic arrived. We could see the dark grey skies off in the distance, but only felt a few drops as we made the crossing. The skies opened up just enough once we reentered Ulster County to encourage us to stop to adjust our clothing, but we were very fortunate to skirt the heart of the thunderstorm which stayed mercifully off to our south and east as we made the final push to New Paltz.

One of the enjoyable yet slightly challenging aspects of this route for me is that it passes within three miles of my house and takes in some of my daily training roads. This was especially challenging on this particular day since I was left without a car in the morning and rode 13 miles to the start. Since I was not too keen on riding that same 13 miles home after a long and hilly day in the saddle, I texted my daughter who was happy to meet me at the finish with only the bribe of an ice cream cone.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Rapha Rising Challenge: Up, Down, Repeat.

I do love a good challenge and 8,800 meters (or 28,871 feet) of climbing is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you need to complete the goal within nine days. As with most endurance cycling challenges, though, it was not the riding that made matters so difficult, it was finding the time and navigating professional and personal waters to successfully get it all done. Having just returned from a four-day trip to undertake the Lap of the Lake 1000K, I've been working through a backlog of professional and household projects that makes it difficult for me to get out and ride for sustained periods of time.

As a result, I sought to ride the hilliest roads I could find within the shortest distance from my house. In other words, to get this done, I needed to be either going up or going down a hill. No flatlands for me. Anything lateral was a waste of time. Up, down, repeat.

All told, I completed the Challenge by climbing 31,689 feet in 265 miles, which involves climbing an average of 120 feet per mile. Phew! While my plan did not strictly involve a series of hill repeats, I did make quite a few out-and-back trips over the local ridge line. For my last big day of climbing, for instance, I crossed the Mohonk ridge six times collecting 5211 feet in just 32 miles or about 165 vertical feet per mile. 

I think Strava should award a special honor to those riders who cover the greatest vertical distance over the shortest lateral distance. It's the ratio that's important, isn't it?

Finally, at the top of the Popletown climb (yes, they spelled it wrong not me) I spied this interesting and cryptic sign. Apparently, there is some French hill-climbing group in the area of which I am unaware. I should keep my eyes out for them, though, as I'm sure they'd make good training partners, especially as we all gear up for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015.

Up next: a Catskills 200K permanent is in the works for the end of the week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rapha Rising Challenge: A Great Day for Up!

Like most endurance cyclists, I respond well to a challenge. An organized challenge says to me, “other people are crazy enough to do this, what’s wrong with you?” It's hard not to take the bait, especially when the competition between participants is minimal and the main emphasis is on completion of the task itself, which on a good challenge is just a little bit harder than is comfortably easy to execute. In this way, I find the Rapha Festive 500 (winter) and Rapha Rising (summer) challenges a lot like randonneuring in general. Complete the challenge, get a free patch (and maybe some modest bragging rights). What could be better?

As Dr. Suess has written, it's a "great day today! Great day for Up!"

This is my second year participating in the Rapha Rising Challenge (RRC), which is scheduled to coincide with a week of major climbing on the Tour De France. This year, we have nine days to climb 8800 meters (28,871 feet), which is roughly the amount of climbing the pros will encounter on three major Tour stages this week. The rules are simple: Ride your bike and upload your GPS tracks to Strava. Unfortunately, the exchange rate between Garmin and Strava is currently not running in my favor, so it looks like I will need to climb an extra 5% to meet the minimum, but I guess I'm the one who benefits, right?

As any realtor will tell you, finding a good home involves three important variables: location, location and location. I would argue that more than school district, tax levy and proximity to shopping, serious cyclists should calculate exactly how long it will take them to be riding on fine roads after clipping in right outside their back door. While we live on a major road, which is great for my wife’s business and safe travel during the snows of winter, I can reach a network of delicious low-traffic hilly roads that stretch on into infinity within 200 feet of my driveway. As a result, I am never further than 5 minutes from an amazing ride and never need to drive to the start.

When I say these roads are quiet, I mean QUIET. It is not uncommon for me to ride for hours without being passed by a soul. On yesterday’s ride, for instance, I rode without seeing a car for the first hour and fifteen minutes at which point I was passed by a flotilla of tree-pruning vehicles on their way to an important assignment. After that, all was still and quiet again for another hour. Here's a rundown of the week so far:

Day One: Rapha Rising Prologue. This particular Saturday was a busy day in our household with my son heading off for a week of camp in the early afternoon. As a result, I was only able to steal away for fewer than two hours to ride so I clipped in and sought out the closest hills to my back door. (19 miles; 2627 ft.)

Day Two: On day two, I crossed both the Shaupeneak and Shawangunk Ridges for a total of six noticeable climbs. If I didn't have a pile of household chores to do I would have ridden all day, but this was a good start. (42 miles; 4021 ft.)

Day Three: Tight on time again, I simply traversed the Shaupeneak Ridge four times in what I refer to as the Popletown Quadruple Bipass hitting each of the major hills four times. Luckily the terrain is varied enough on this short ride that I did not get bored. (27 miles; 3776 ft.)

Staying away from my bike for a full week after LOL provided me with just the rest I needed to return to cycling with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. As a result, the first several days of the RRC have been quite enjoyable. We'll see how these legs hold up as the week continues. More soon.