Sunday, March 8, 2009

PA Spring Forward 200K

There is no better way to celebrate the return of mild temperatures to the northeast, even if temporarily, than a nice long bike ride. A group of 24 randonneurs and randonneuses gathered in Ephrata PA for the "Spring Forward 200K" organized by Andrew Mead and Tom Rosenbauer. At the end of the day I rode an extra 7-8 miles because of two missed turns, crashed between miles 73 and 74, but made it to the finish in one piece. Even though my elbow is in pretty bad shape and my right side has plenty of road rash to display, I am happy to have overcome these obstacles, including a bent derailleur.


Jamie Gartenberg and I arrived in Akron at about 10pm on Friday night. Our hotel, the Rodeway Inn, was located just about a mile from the start in Ephrata. By now I am better trained in the process of prepping the bike and getting ready for the next day, so I was able to be in bed by midnight. At about 5am Jamie and I woke up and had breakfast in the hotel room. We like to eat at least an hour and a half or so before beginning the ride. This gives you a chance to go to the bathroom and become instantly lighter for the hills to come.

We left the hotel at precisely 6:32am and after a bit of a climb and a descent we were in the K-mart parking lot, where we joined the other riders. This was by far the largest group I have ridden a brevet with. My rando career started only past November, and by that time the field had already become scarce. It was nice to see many new faces, including Seattle Randonneur's Jack Brace, who has recently moved to the Northeast. He almost did not ride because of a hairline crack on his dropout. Fortunately Bill Olsen kindly let Jack use one of his bikes for the ride.

I took several pictures of the bicycles being used during yesterday's brevet. My intent is to showcase these pictures at a local cycling club seminar during which I will talk a bit about randonneuring. I would like more people to learn about it and a good way to accomplish that is to show pictures of the riders and their bicycles. My opinion is that there is really no perfect setup. You can be a randonneur or randonneuse whether you weigh 110-130 pounds and ride a racing bike or if you are on the heavier side and ride a heavier frame.

After some quick pointers from Andrew Mead we all left the K-mart parking lot at 7pm. The field split almost immediately into two groups. I was in the first group and at the sight of the first hill I sprinted up to create a gap, just large enough to stop and take some pictures of the other riders coming up the hill.

The first miles of the ride were very pleasant. The sun was out and temperatures were quickly rising. One of the highlights was Speedwell Forge Lake as seen from Lakeview Dr, which led us to the first extended climb of the day on Rt 332. As many riders were flipping their cue sheets I got a head start on the climb. When I looked back I could see Curtis in the distance. As I crested, I was not so sure about the turn onto Boyd St, as it was unmarked. Just before Boyd was Mountain Lane. I am happy I made the right decision. Curtis caught up with me after the descent into Cornwall. Just before that I had taken a picture of several stone houses on Boyd St.

My second moment of indecision came after we made a right to continue on Boyd St. The cue sheet said "TR+QBL", but I did not see the "QBL". I decided to turn around and wait for the other riders while Curtis continued. I would not see him until the next controle. The others soon showed up and I had the assertion of being on the right route. Eager to make up some of the gap to Curtis, I decided to ride fast. Too fast it turns out. I missed a "BR" at a three-way intersection and continued along the wrong route for 1.3mi. I revised my cue sheet and noticed the mistake. "Crap!", I thought to myself. As I was turning around I received a phone call from Jamie. He saw me miss the turn and wanted to make sure I was aware of it. That was really nice of him. Now I had even more of a gap to make up.

Upon arriving at the intersection I saw Bill Olsen. He was surprised to see me and I told him what had happened. At least it was a nice day for a detour. I said goodbye to Bill and continued on my quest to rejoin the peloton. I was passing the gas station on the corner of Rocherty and Quentin Rd when I saw Rick jumping over the grass to join me at the traffic light. He decided to wait until I showed up. That is the kind of camaraderie that you find in randonneuring.

For the next few miles Rick and I worked together to rejoin the peloton. It was nice to push hard for a bit. We caught them as they made a right onto Colebrook Rd. We still had about five miles to the next controle in Annville. My memory from this stretch is rather vague, probably because of the work I had done to rejoin the others. I was happy to arrive at the controle and see that Curtis was still there.

On this ride I decided to experiment with a new nutritional method. I would not eat any solid food during the ride. I relied exclusively on Spiz for nutrition, mixing about 780 calories per bottle. I drank water from my Camelbak for hydration and I also took a bottle of Accelerade along just for variety. I did, however, carry 6 Clif Bars, 2 gels and Jelly Belly's just in case. This greatly reduced the time spent at controles.

Since my Camelbak was still full and I had plenty of Spiz left, I did nothing else at the controle other than have my brevet card signed. As I waited in the parking lot for the group to get ready, Curtis left. He was followed by Bill Fischer, Jamie Gartenberg and John Fessenden. I was waiting for Rick, who had gone to the bathroom. After about 5 minutes or so Rick and I departed. Again I was striving to cut the gap and we managed to catch the three as they reached Campbelltown. This is where the second detour of the day would take place.

We made a left onto Schoolhouse Rd and the cue sheet indicated a "BR" onto Smith Rd. The problem is that the sign said otherwise. We collectively decided to remain on Schoolhouse Rd, i.e., until we had ridden about 1.3 miles and there was no sign of Feltymill Rd, the next reference point on the cue sheet. Time to turn around!

Soon enough we saw Felty Mill Rd after a mile or so on what was supposed to be Smith Rd. That meant we were on the right track. At this point I was going at a pace that felt comfortable to me and when I looked back I noticed that I was alone. Not long thereafter I saw a cyclist in the distance. The bait was there. I kept my eyes on him and started to ride faster, catching up with Curtis just before we made a right on Hess Rd, in Conewago.

Curtis and I were the first to make it to the Uni-Mart controle in Bainbridge. I had to use the bathroom and ended up spending more time there than I wanted to because of a malfunctioning toilet. Eventually I made it out and by that time Rick, Jamie, Bill Fischer and some other riders had arrived. Curtis was the first to leave followed by Jamie, Bill and I. I bridged the gap to Curtis quickly and we would ride the next 23 miles together until the Conestoga Wagon Restaurant controle. During that time we had the second extended climb of the day, on River Rd, leading up to the Turkey Hill Dairy factory. On the way up Curtis said something about stopping for ice cream. Unfortunately, it turns out he was just kidding.

At the Conestoga controle Curtis sat down to have lunch. I did not want to disrupt my plan of avoiding solid intake, so I decided to rest outside while I refilled my Camelbak and mixed up a new batch of Spiz. Not long thereafter Rick showed. He was quick at the controle and was munching on his choice of fuel, beef jerky. Curtis would take a little longer, so Rick and I decided to move on.

There was a bit of climbing to be done on Sandhill Road once we left the controle. The descent began with a left turn. It was a pretty steep downhill and Rick was in front of me. As he reached the bottom the road curved to the right and suddenly I saw him hit the brakes and his rear wheel started sliding as he tried to regain control. At this point he went down. Instead of reacting I kind of watched everything as if I were at home in front of the TV. When I realized I needed to do something it was too late. I went down hard on my right side as I tried to turn. Then I was sliding on the gravel for several feet, hoping for the best. As I came to a halt Rick was getting up. My right elbow was bleeding profusely and Rick had several spots of road rash on his right arm. Would this be the end of my ride? It could have been. Luckily there were two boy scouts that were in the house just at the spot where we crashed. They promptly provided me with a first aid kit and some water that I was able to use to wash my wound. Rick helped me tape some gauze around my elbow and after that I was ready to go. We had to climb and I soon noticed that my derailleur was slightly rubbing on my spokes when I shifted into the lowest gear. I really needed that gear at this point, so I pulled a bit on the derailleur in an attempt to unbend it. For all practical purposes it worked and I was able to ride again. Next time I am on a road that has "sand" in the name I will be more careful when descending.

Rick and I took it rather slowly for the next couple of miles. My cyclocomputer stopped working after the crash and I would have to rely exclusively on the turn by turn directions, which was not so bad. It indicated 74.88 miles and an average speed of 18.1mph, definitely the fastest I have ridden over that distance on hilly terrain (this does not include some extra miles after the first few controles when I had the computer off to offset the extra mileage I had done). As time progressed we steadily increased our pace, making it to controle #5, George Metzler's home, at around 1:50pm, if I recall correctly. At this point I gave up all hopes of repeating the sub 9 hour performance of the February brevet. As we were at the controle Curtis and Jamie Gartenberg joined us. They had been observing us in the distance for some time. George left a cooler filled with Starbucks goodies for us. I drank a vanilla frappuccino that went down oh so well. Thanks George! Rick even played catch with George's son in the yard. I was a bit anti-social and did not take part in the festivities. My legs were hurting from the crash and my elbow was starting to annoy me. Soon it was time to go and we left together for a short 9.4 miles to the next controle in Gap.

This part of the ride was uneventful, expect maybe for a "BR" to remain on Buena Vista Rd that Rick, Jamie and Curtis missed. I looked back and they were going the other way. They probably did not believe in my navigation skills after my previous detours. However, this time I was on the correct route. Another point that led to some confusion was a road labeled "Valley Rd" on the cue sheet, however the sign said "Valley Ave". After living here in the US for several years I have learned that it is not uncommon to find roads, avenues, lanes and drives with the same name and close to each other. After a bit of scouting the issue was resolved and we were convinced of being on track.

The stop at the Turkey Hill controle in Gap was a quick one. I learned something very useful from Curtis. He taught me to bite off the corner of the ziplock bag and use it as a funnel to pour the contents into the water bottle. That way you avoid spilling precious Spiz on the pavement. Plus you render the ziplock bag useless and don't feel bad about discarding of it in the trash. As we were about to leave the controle Bill Fischer showed up. Jamie decided he would stick with Bill, as they had ridden most of the brevet together. Even upon Bill's insistence for Jamie to go on, he decided to stay. Another display of camaraderie.

Rick, Curtis and I took the last miles easily. There was little to no hope of making it to the finish under 9 hours. Rick calculated the speed required to make it at several points during this stretch. 30mph at one point and then 60mph not long thereafter. Then it was too late. 9 hours had already passed. I thought that maybe we could ride at the speed of light and travel in time, making it back to the 9h mark. I did not mention this to Rick, since I knew he would probably go for it. Instead I decided to take several pictures that had been lacking, including a young Amish man plowing the fields with the help of seven horses. Rick also pointed out the several Amish schools and how they were nice places to look out for since they always had a bathroom that could be used. This is something to keep in mind for the longer events in PA.

We rolled in the last controle at 4:17pm, signing our brevet cards and taking some celebration pictures after the eventful ride. 23 of the 24 starters finished the ride for a 96% completion rate. At the last controle I bought some M&M's that I haven't eaten yet. Maybe now is a good time to do that.

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