Sunday, February 8, 2009

PA 200K "Beyond Hope to New Hope"

This was certainly the most eventful PA 200K I have done so far. It was memorable.


Jamie Gartenberg and I traveled to Easton, PA on Friday night, arriving around 10pm after a stop at Bennigan's along the way. As usual, we were both pretty excited about the brevet the next day. It looked like we would be on track to go to bed at 12:00am, which would give us a good 5 hours of much needed sleep.

As we were prepping our bikes for the ride, I had to secure my seatpost since I had loosened the clamp to make the bike fit more easily in Jamie's car. I was a bit distracted and applied an excessive amount of torque. The result was now staring me in the face: a broken screw. It was almost midnight and I did not have any spare parts. What could I do? Ride the brevet without a seatpost? Give up? A feeling of despair followed by sadness sunk in. Jamie was trying to console me, but he also had to finish prepping his bike for the next day. So I started thinking more proactively. I thought about taking a bus back to Ithaca or spending the day in Easton, as my fellow randonneur friends were out and about riding their bikes the whole day. I did not want to do neither. Quickly I sent out an e-mail to the other riders asking for a spare seatpost clamp. It was midnight and I did not have high hopes. I still had one alternative. After analyzing the route in search of nearby bike shops, my best option would be to ride without the seatpost clamp, so basically standing, until Great Meadows, NJ, about 40 miles into the brevet. I could then make a 6 mile detour (there and back) to Hackettstown, NJ. There is bike shop called Marty's Reliable Cycles. I thought this was a better option than giving up the ride and spending the day at the Crayola factory.

As I was about to go to sleep I then realized the answer was in front of me the whole time. I can ride the entire brevet without the seatpost clamp. That is because I have one of those Topeak seatpost racks! The rack can work as a clamp! It comes with several shims and I can use the thinner one, allowing the piece that usually clamps onto the seatpost to clamp on to the seat tube, also securing the seatpost. I tried it out and it seemed to be working. It was now nearly 3am. I was overwhelmed by a sense of relief. It looked like I would be able to ride after all.

The Ride

Jamie and I woke up at 5am, after only 2 hours of sleep in my case. I took a shower, ate, went to the bathroom and put my gear on. Jamie had a similar routine. We watched the weather forecast. The day would start out very cold, with temperatures around 12-20F and during the day a Southward wind would bring warmer air, making the temperatures rise to 40F +. That was a huge temperature swing and I knew it would be difficult to prepare for it. I took two pairs of gloves, a thinner pair along with my lobster gloves and I decided to shed one layer on my legs, leaving my Showers Pass Event pants in the bag. My Topeak seatpost rack was filled with Clif bars, repair stuff, endurance drink powders and emergency energy gels. We left our hotel at 6:53am and rode a hill up to the start.

As usually is done during these brevets, upon arrival we paid the ride fee and received our brevet cards. These contain the names of the controles (in randonneuring often we use the original French word) along the route. At each controle our brevet cards must be initialed and the arrival time must be filled in. This is done by anyone working at the controle, which can be a restaurant, a convenience store at a gas station or often a mini-mart. This serves as proof that we completed the route and did not takes shortcuts. Additionally, there might be secret and info controles. On this particular ride we also had an info controle. This consists of a question we have to answer on our brevet card. The answer can only be known if you arrive at the controle.

We had some new riders that were introduced by Tom Rosenbauer, our RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator). He also gave us some pre-ride information, emergency procedures and other useful tips about the route. Tom is very concerned about having a safe ride. He will scout the route and look for hazards, which are all indicated on our cue sheets. He also monitors the weather forecast and makes sure that we are aware and prepared for the potential dangers of the ride. It is a lot of effort on his part, which he does without compensation, other than the joy of the sport. The "Squadra Bricconi", our Fleche team, was represented by Rick Carpenter of Reading, PA, Bill Fischer of Elmira, Jamie and me.

Rick Carpenter was riding "light" on his carbon Bianchi racing bike, a water bottle, a Camelbak and no food. In an attempt to prepare for longer brevets (300K, 400K, 600K and 1200K) I rode "heavy", with lighting, extra food and clothing. Jamie was also on the heavy side. It was 7:30 and time to go! It was soon apparent that Rick was on a mission. He imposed a strong pace and I was the only one to follow. I was undecided as to let him go and ride at my own pace or just suck it up and give it my all. I did not want to burn out and not complete the ride. Since this was my 4th 200K I had some sense of what I was capable of, so I decided to keep up with him. I usually do not draft, since I do not want to give the impression that I am a wheel sucker. So I will either ride next to the rider who is in front or I will stay far enough behind so that I am not in the slipstream. There are exceptions of course.

The route starts heading North alongside the Delaware River. The morning was cold and the sun was still close to the horizon. It was beautiful and I took a couple of pictures. Rick and I reached the second controle (the first controle is the start) only 13 miles into the ride, the Valero-Torino gas station. About 3 min later a group of four riders came in, Jamie among them. Rick had a cup of coffee and I munched down a Clif bar along with a lot of water. Not long after that we were on our way to the second controle. We left as a group of six, but soon Rick moved to the front and I followed.

The third controle was "Louie's Pizza", 38 miles into the ride. Between the second and third controle we had climbed about 3,000 feet, with a steep section on Walnut Road. One of the highlights of this stretch was the pedestrian cross of the Delaware River. I seized the opportunity to take pictures. Rick and I arrived at Louie's at 10:00pm sharp. Tom had recommended using this as a stop for an early lunch. Rick asked the attendant about food, to which there was no reply. We figured there would be no lunch there. I went to the bathroom. It is difficult going to the bathroom when you are using two jackets, a wool undershirt, bibs and a balaclava. As I finished my business I looked myself in the mirror, with the my balaclava still on and my bibs, no undershirt. For an instant I imagined what would happen if I strolled out of the bathroom like that. As I left the bathroom the intrepid four had arrived: Bill Fischer, Jamie Gartenberg, Matt Farrell and Carl June. Rick was savoring some ice cream while I downed a Clif Bar along with a bottle of water. I had not touched my endurance drink Spiz or my Accelerade, which were in my bottles on the bike. Rick waited as I reassembled my gear. As soon as we were off Rick hammered and I followed.

The next 23 miles with about 2,300 feet of climbing was the most enjoyable part of the ride for me. The roads had little traffic, there were plenty of trees surrounding us and I enjoyed every breath of the fresh air. We reached the fourth controle at the top of the climb on Tunnel Road. Rick explained to me that that in spite of the name, Tunnel Road did not have a tunnel, it went over a tunnel! Very deceptive. I was eager to try out my Supernova E3. The question we had to answer on our brevet card was: "What is the number on the silver mailbox?" The answer, 8, along with the arrival time was written on our brevet cards. I used this stop to take my balaclava off and to switch to lighter gloves. As we left the controle I was not able to clip in. Rick was already moving swiftly and I was following him, but with my shoes unclipped. I tried harder and harder to clip in to no avail. I started to think I was going crazy. Why was this not working? I finally gave up and stopped, while I saw Rick distance himself. As we walked to the mailbox I had stepped on snow, which had turned to ice under the pressure I was applying trying to clip in. So I used the side of my pedal to scrape the ice off. After a little work I was able to clip in one foot and then the other as well. Rick, noticing my absence, had stopped to see if I had made a wrong turn. I thanked him and we moved on, on into the wind and the most dreadful part of the ride for me.

We had another 27 miles to reach the fifth controle (including 13 miles on CR-579), and 23 since our last food controle. As Rick paved the way ahead, I was having a lot of trouble keeping up with him. There was strong headwind and soon I lost sight of him. I then shifted in my largest gear and decided to grind it out. I went into the drops and barely looked up the road, head down following the white line on the shoulder. I caught a glimpse of Rick. That was motivation enough to push harder. I did so and Rick was getting closer and closer. Finally I reached him. Not long after that he took off again and this time I would not follow. I was really tired and hungry. This was the time to ride at my own pace. And I did, after mile 80. There were 8 miles left to the next controle. During those 8 miles I drank one bottle of Spiz and a bottle of Accelerade along with plenty of water. My body needed it. I took pressure off the pedals and lowered my speed. Soon I was on an unwelcoming section on SR-179, with lots of glass on the shoulder. I was not in the mood for a flat, and with some luck I made it to the fifth controle, the WaWa at New Hope. Just before that I had crossed the Delaware River again. During the crossing I saw another cyclist that looked a lot like me. Eventually I learned from Rick that this rider had arrived late to the start and decided to ride the route backwards, so he could meet us along the way. Had I known this I would have spoken to him. I was relieved to see Rick's bike at the WaWa. He had arrived seven minutes before me, at 13:40. At the WaWa I refilled my Camelbak, mixed another bottle of Accelerade and Spiz and ate a bagel sandwich. Rick was kind enough to wait while I was getting ready to go.

In New Hope I had found hope. Hope to keep up with Rick. A couple of miles after the controle we crossed the Delaware once more (there were four crossings during the ride, all on foot) and we were greeted on the other side with a strong tailwind. The slight incline along the Delaware River was almost not even felt. My heart rate dropped to the lower 130's and we chatted plenty. Rick told me about his childhood stories, preparation forlong events, tales from past rides. We saw several cyclists along the way, coming out of hibernation on a warm winter day. The sun was out, its light reflecting off the river. Very beautiful. The serenity for me ended just after we went through Milford. Rick was once again possessed. He ramped up the speed and I was not about to let him go this time. I had made too much of an effort to keep up with him. However, I was not going to succeed by abiding to my non-drafting rule. I made the exception and starting sucking on his wheel, inches behind him, to make the least effort possible. Even then, it was tough. He would sprint over the rollers in his big gears, while I quickly shifted into my lower gears and started to spin like crazy. This pattern repeated itself until the finish. The sight of the last river crossing felt like a blessing to me. The last climb to the WaWa controle was delightful, icing on the cake. We reached our last controle at 16:29, 8h and 59 minutes after the start, an average of 14.41mph including stops and river crossings on foot and 9,437 feet of climbing. My computer indicates an average of 15.8mph while on the bike (this does not include stops, but does include river crossings.)


After the last controle Rick and I headed to the start, were we dropped off our brevet cards and signed the check in list. Rick was kind enough to take me and the bike back to Jamie's car at the Quality Inn and patiently wait while I stored my bike and gear. Afterwards we headed back to the post-ride gathering at Morici's Pizzeria. Soon we were joined by Jamie of the intrepid four. Unfortunately the other three did not participate in the gathering, including Matt Farell, who completed his first R-12 series on this ride (R-12=at least one 200km brevet every month of the year). Congrats Matt! They had arrived precisely 30 minutes after Rick and I. I have not yet heard from other riders, but I am eager to learn about their stories and experiences during this great ride. I owe Rick a lot for pushing me to my limit. I would not likely have worked so hard had I been on my own. Rick has amazing strength. He finished the ride only eating ice cream, a cup of coffee, one bottle of chocolate milk and water. I guess he also had something in the WaWa controle at New Hope.

Jamie and I drove back to Ithaca, arriving safely, but tired, at 9:30pm. As I unloaded the car Jamie noticed I had a rear flat tire. I wonder where that happened? Probably during the last few miles. There is a great sense of accomplishment in these rides, enough to keep you going and striving for longer rides.

Here are some pictures...


Guy said...

Great ride Juan and nice pictures. I ride these roads so much I forget how beautiful they are. You must have Speedplay pedals, their only weakness - I carry covers for mine this time of year for that reason.

Guy (dark green Surly)

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Thanks Guy,

Yeah, I have the covers too, but I forget! One of these days I will ride with you an Paul, just to witness how the fixies do it. Maybe I'll get tempted...

Vance Ricks said...

Thanks for the ride report! (And how come I seem to need to eat far more food on these rides than does anyone whose report I read??)

Did your friend Jamie have anything to say, one way or another, about the Shimano generator hub? I'd like to be able to afford a Schmidt, but if the Shimanos are "reliable enough" for the money, then...