Saturday, April 25, 2009

Steuben 200K test ride

Saturday 11 hardy randonneurs test rode the soon to be submitted Steuben 200K permanent in Upstate New York. With temperatures hovering 90F it was quite a challenge. The route offered plenty of climbing with long descents and a difficult headwind to deal with during most of the ride. I learned a valuable lesson from this ride, i.e., on hot days ingest electrolytes regularly. I waited way too long and suffered with cramps. Wearing tights also did not help.

Phillip Meerkamp and I arrived at Bill Lodico's home in Elmira at about 8:50am. I was a bit surprised not to see any other cyclists. As many on this ride live in Elmira, I suspected they would show up just minutes before the ride start. Indeed, that was the case.

Today was Phillp's first unofficial 200K. He was very well prepared. During the week we had spoken on the telephone about equipment and nutrition for a 200K. I hope my limited experience was of some value. Phillip, like me, took up cycling just about a year ago. Before that he had dedicated himself primarily to tennis and running.

In a few minutes John Dennis arrived with Dan Barbasch and not long thereafter Bill Fischer, Mark Sheehan, Julie Riplinger, John Fessenden and Blaine Chamberlain completed the roster. We left Bill Lodico's home around 9:20am.

Just a couple of miles into the ride I had a flat. Phillip was kind enough to wait for me and both of us worked together to close the gap to the other riders. On Friday evening I played over two hours of basketball and my legs were feeling it. Probably not the best idea if you plan to ride 200 km the next day. At least my arms seemed OK. That is about the only way they get some sort of a workout. At this point it was around 74F and rising.

We caught the lead group somewhere along the first long climb. Eventually Julie, Phillip and I climbed more or less together to the top. I then coasted down the hill in my aero-tuck for nearly 3 miles without turning the pedals once. I made a comment to Julie that what I had just done was probably considered a heresy among fixie riders. Blame it on the cassette freehub, not on me!

Soon we were joined by the rest of the group. John Dennis was the last to show. A malfunctioning front derailleur slowed him down on the climb. He was not able to shift into his granny-gear and the limit screw was stuck, not allowing for adjustments. On occasions like these fixie riders giggle. Granny what?

The pack rode on along CR 73. After flirting a bit with Tioga River, we crossed a bridge into Presho and followed CR 5. This road is very awkward, as it first takes you south, then west and finally north into the town of Addison. Except for the last 3 miles or so, this is a steady climb. Upon leaving Presho the group split once again. This time Julie, Phillip and I were joined by Dan Barbasch for most of the way. I was feeling the heat as the temperature rose to nearly 87 F (30.5 C) Even the headwind did not mitigate that much. As if in a mirage, I saw a cyclist in the other direction. It was Misty McPhee. She drove from Ithaca to Addison and rode up the hill to meet us. Just after we greeted she gave the good news of a long descent into Addison. A pause for refreshments was much welcomed almost 40 miles into the ride.

At the Sugarcreek Stores I was lucky to find the coveted Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot. I am not a regular coffee drinker, but I do enjoy it occasionally and especially on rides. In Addison we regrouped and many of us used the time to bathe in sunscreen. I was trying out this nutty idea of wearing thin tights on this hot day. Unfortunately the tights were black and that did not help much. However, it was not too bad, at least I did not have to apply sunscreen on my legs.

The group left Addison on CR 119 following the Canisteo River. The headwind at this point was very annoying and the group remained together for the first few miles. I used the opportunity to chat a bit with riders that I had just met like Bill Lodico and Mark Sheehan, both randonneuring veterans. I spoke with B. Lodico about my hometown Florianópolis in Brazil, issues like the right to sunlight and flaws of the Mercator projection. Our conversation was abruptly ended when the speed was notched up as Phillip took command of the pace line. The group strung out in small clumps and remained that way until we regrouped at a right turn on CR14.

One lump remained between us and the city of Bath, our coveted diner stop. Phillip, Julie and I rode at nearly the same pace to the top of the climb. As we began to descend I got into a nice groove, riding in the drops for the next 10 miles. My lower frontal area in this position allows me to gain 2 to 3 mph almost instantly. By the time I reached the Chat-a-Whyle Diner in Bath I needed a break. I used the minutes I had accumulated on the last stretch to take some pictures, among them the town clock. For a while I stood in the street waiting for the other riders to come. I wanted to get a picture of the group riding towards the diner. All of a sudden I turned around and they were there! They had arrived at the diner from the other direction. I suppose they would not get back on their bikes to pose for the shot, so I did not bother. Maybe next time. I noticed Julie was no longer among the group. She continued straight back for a prior commitment.

Us hungry cyclists occupied a large table at the diner. As we waited for our orders Misty and John Dennis entertained us with yoga positions. It hurt just to look at them. I went to the bathroom and on my way out a motorcyclist asked me about my spandex shorts and handed me piece of paper with a prayer. I am not religious, but I am also not one to disrespect others' beliefs, so I took the prayer and thanked him. I was back at the table just in time for a Spanish omelet with home fries and toast on the side. By the look on Phillip's face, I believe he was surprised with our choices. Instead he settled for a milkshake and sliced bananas. I did envy him for a bit, as I too am a huge fan of the milkshake and all the cousins of ice cream.

In a bit of a rush, I quickly ate all that was on my plate and headed to a nearby convenience store to purchase water required to mix Accelerade and Spiz. While at the store Mark Sheehan came and went. I spent a bit of time outside and when I rode past the diner no bikes were to be seen. The feeling of being left behind is not a good one. I figured they would not be riding too fast after a diner stop and that I would eventually catch up. It turned out to be a wrong assessment.

The cue-sheet indicated a bear right onto a certain CR 11. However, there was no indication of a CR 11 so I continued along SR 415 until it was obvious that something was not quite right. I stopped at a roadside motel for directions. After waiting a minute or two for the lady to come to the door after I rang the bell, I found she knew no more about CR 11 than I. I thanked her and apologized for disrupting what seemed to be a nice siesta. On the way out of town I observed an ice cream shop that was sprawling. I figured someone there must know about this infamous CR 11. Indeed, there I was given instructions to follow the I 86 sign. A few tenths of a mile later I was comforted to see the CR 11 sign on the road.

My detour had cost me over 3 miles. At this point I knew it would be difficult to catch the group. Nevertheless I tried. The miles came and went and I grew frustrated. A gentle but long climb began. A little girl on a bicycle approached me and told me to go straight, so she was told. Bill Fischer had asked people on the way to let me know of their passage and indicate the correct route. Just a few minutes after I met the girl I saw Blaine Chamberlain slowly moving along. Just before I reached him there was John Dennis, lying in grass on the roadside next to his bike. Bill told me that John was having some bad cramps. I believe Bill had felt a bit sick to the stomach and decided to stop for rest. Since I knew that John had a cell phone and was planning to return with Misty once we reached Addison, on our way back to Elmira, I continued cranking the pedals. There ahead of me was Bill Lodico. I caught up to him and told my story of the detour, John D. and Blaine. I learned the others were not far ahead. We reached the top of the climb together and began to descend. We were now in Addison. I had ridden nearly 30 miles alone, trying to catch the rest of the group and the effort had taken its toll on me.

We regrouped at a convenience store in Addison. Misty left us to get her car. She would then drive back to pick up John D. and Blaine. I enjoyed another dose of Doubleshot and also munched on beef jerky. Bill Lodico, Mark Sheehan and Dan Barbasch had root beer floats. In retrospect I should have eaten more at this stop. I didn't think much about it, something I would soon regret.

We left Addison for the last 30 miles of the ride. A significant effort would be required to beat the dark. I was not worried about this because I had my generator hub. While riding on SR 417 out of Addison an approaching car gave us a friendly honk. As it passed I saw John D. waving out of the window: "Hi Juan!" It was great to see such a lively John. Blaine was also in the car. Soon afterward my calves began to twitch. Uh-oh. I immediately remembered the endurolyte pills that Rick had given me for our flèche the week before. I had two. I was feeling energy deprived. I ate some gel, which I only use in emergencies. Then I ate Clif shot blocks followed by Jelly Belly jelly beans. The act of eating alone felt good. I knew it would take some time to feel the benefits of what I had just ingested, but my mood was already improving. At this point in time we were on Indian Hills Rd heading south. Soon it was time to cross the Tioga River for the second time in Presho. A brief acceleration by Bill Lodico left John Fessenden behind. Then we made a left on CR 120 for the last climb of the day. The group split up. Bill Fischer, Dan Barbasch, Phillip and I rode together to top of the climb and began a 7 mile descent into Elmira. What a joy! For a moment I had the impression it was beginning to drizzle. I realized I was mistaken and what I sensed as rain drops were actually insects. Better keep the mouth shut. I led the group down during most of the descent and did not have any further issues with cramps on the bike.

Once we entered Elmira Bill F. moved to the front and showed us the way back to Bill Lodico's home. The arrival time was just a few minutes past 8pm. We had beat the darkness. After some celebratory pictures Bill F. left towards his home while Phillip, Dan and I got ready for the drive back to Ithaca. My average moving speed was 16 mph, not bad for a 132 mile ride with almost 10,000 ft of climbing and various stretches with significant headwind, in the heat!

I can't wait to try out the wool jersey and shorts I just ordered from Woolistic. I hear they're good for all weather conditions.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

700 km weekend, oh yeah!

Where to begin? The awesome flèche in Eastern PA with a 40 km extension? Or the following 300 km brevet? Why not add them up? In preparation for the Shenandoah 1200K (as in kilometers) in June, I rode 700 km over the weekend, including 31,250 ft of climbing, with my rando-guru Rick Carpenter. For the flèche we had the company of the ever so stronger Bill Fischer. The weather was amazing and I had a wonderful time. It could not have been better.

A Flèche is a team event where riders complete at least 360 km in a 24h period. Most randonneurs view it as an opportunity to socialize with friends while spending many hours on the bike. Rick Carpenter was the founder of the Squadra Bricconi team in its second year at the start. I happily accepted the invitation to join Rick along with Bill Fischer from Elmira. That would be just the beginning of the story.

During an e-mail exchange in preparation for the flèche, regional brevet organizer Tom Rosenbauer suggested I pre-ride the official Eastern PA ACP 300K after the flèche as preparation for the Shenandoah 1200K. I jumped onto the idea. However, there was some concern of taking on those extra 300 km alone after the flèche. Then Rick Carpenter made it all possible by riding the 300K as well. Unfortunately we could not coax Bill Fischer into joining us for the flèche recovery ride :).

Squadra Bricconi team members met at Jean Carpenter's home in Doylestown PA at about 6pm. I actually drove to Quakertown PA where Rick picked me and my bike up. Jean prepared a wonderful pre-ride assortment of wraps, chips, fruit and drink. We all enjoyed chat and even a bottle of Chianti. I learned Bill played the trombone and that Rick also plays several instruments, self taught. It was about 7:30pm and I was still in my comfy clothes. I was getting a bit anxious.

At 8pm we started. To my surprise we were rolling much faster than I expected. Apparently the proper strategy is not to go very slow, but rather at a brisk pace, allotting time for unexpected events. The extra time can be spent at the contrôles if so desired. For the first couple of hours I was often a behind, even on the climbs, which I like so much to attack. Riding conservatively has more than one interpretation.

After entering into New Jersey over the Delaware River at Washington's Crossing, we arrived at the Titusville NJ post office at 9:10pm, 5 min ahead of our target time. Greetings were mailed to Tom and we were back on the road with little delay. Our speed was just right because upon crossing the Delaware at Lambertville, NJ, the Starbucks in New Hope, PA was reached at 9:44pm, 1 min ahead of the target time. There we thoroughly enjoyed hot drink and some of the wraps that Jean prepared for us. I was carrying granola, cookies, energy bars and even a PB&J sandwich in my jersey pockets. I never imagined so much could fit in them. The atmosphere in New Hope was lively with streets full of people, young and old. It's nice to have spring back. After a few phone calls to respective spouses we hopped back on the bikes. Along the way we were occasionally cheered on by a pedestrian.

Riding at night has its own set of challenges. Although I have ridden many hours in darkness, this was the first time I rode from dusk till dawn. It is imperative to have a nice bright head light to uncover sneaky potholes, especially on descents. In addition, a helmet mounted light can be very useful to see street signs and other features not within the area illuminated by the head light. I was only equipped with a led snap-on light to view my cue-sheet. It was powerful enough to read a street sign, but I needed to be close to the sign, whereas Bill and Rick could read the signs at a much greater distance. Maybe I need new contacts.

After a bit of trouble with a road that had been replaced by a shopping center we made it to the Limerick Diner at 0:55am, again just 5 min ahead of our target time. I was impressed. Squadra Clockwork was breezing through the night. We spent a lot of time at the diner. Bill and Rick had full meals. I was a bit hesitant to engage in the orgy, so I settled for a milk shake instead.

Our next stop was at the Turkey Hill in Honey Brook, PA. For the first time we were off our target time, late by 25 min, arriving at 3:55am. This was largely due to the goofing-off we did at the Limerick diner. But that also belongs in a flèche. The attendant at the Turkey Hill was very friendly and also a cyclist. We heard many stories from him and were actually finding it difficult to leave the convenience store. It must get lonely during the wee hours of the night.

Not long after leaving Honey Brook I started to hear a bird here and there. Suddenly there were many more chirps, of all sorts. Rick is a bird watcher and rock climber as well. I certainly am short-stacked on talents when it comes to my randonneuring friends. Dawn is probably my favorite part of the day and to be honest I rarely experience it off the bike.

We were still off target by 32 min when we reached the Conestoga Wagon Restaurant at 6:32 am. Bill was having some pretty scary shifting problems. Every time we started to climb a steeper hill, it sounded like his drive train was about to explode. A scary thought, since we were only three. If one of us had a really serious mechanical, it could mean the end of the flèche for the entire Squadra Bricconi. Bill made some adjustments and the shifting improved significantly. I seized the opportunity to get rid of some of the stuff in my pockets by eating granola with milk, my favorite breakfast.

The stop at Conestoga must have been quicker than expected because we arrived at the Sheetz in Marietta, PA at 8:25am, a full 35 min ahead of the target time. From then on we jokingly referred to longer bathroom stops as "sheetz contrôles". I suspect the tradition will continue. It was at this contrôle that I had my first Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot, a new favorite on my rando-menu.

The day was turning out to be a great one, with clear blue skies and mild temperatures. About 50 min after leaving Sheetz we arrived at the Turkey Hill contrôle in Elizabethtown. There was an interesting incident that occurred there, when another customer said something about shooting us as a way to get a contrôle stamp in a hospital. It's a good thing he was on his way out, or else I would have to use my pH 1 Accelerade on him.

The most enjoyable part of the ride came between Marietta and the Denver Turkey Hill contrôle. The rolling landscape covered by green pastures and full of spring colors was a beautiful sight after many months of winter. Visibility was astonishing and one could see very far away. We were moving quickly along and making good time. I noticed a significant increase in the bug intake during this stretch.

Just after getting our brevet cards signed in Denver at 11:07am, we walked over to a nearby sandwich shop. It was lunch time. I had a tuna sub, while Bill and Rick had ham and cheese and Philly cheese steak subs respectively. They were well prepared and hit the spot just right. However, it was pretty warm outside and our pace was drastically reduced in order to enable digestion. We also were climbing. After most of the climbing was over, Rick and I started to race across the rollers, with Bill not far behind at all. It was a lot of fun. Even with the extended stop in Denver we were able to beat our target time by 2 min in the Birdsboro, PA Walmart at 1:58pm.

The Walmart did not offer a very enjoyable atmosphere and we left quickly towards the Gilbertsville, PA Turkey Hill contrôle. Along the way we passed by a motorcycle accident. The motorcyclist was being attended to by EMTs. I hope he is OK. I could not tell exactly what had happened. This part of the ride was busy with traffic and required more attention. After reaching the Turkey Hill at 3:10pm we quickly had some refreshments and I bought my daily dose of beef jerky for the rest of the ride. It was time to move on to the 22 hour contrôle in Perkiomenville, PA, just 8 miles away.

The original 22h contrôle was closed and Rick already knew that. He contacted Tom about the issue and had two alternative contrôles that were far enough from the finish to qualify under RUSA flèche rules. We chose the Sumneytown Hotel & Restaurant in Sumneytown, PA. There Rick and Bill had beer while I enjoyed a gin & tonic. What a way to celebrate. Our goal was well within reach. We all sat on chairs on the porch and I observed that Bill had taken his shoes off. I took it to the next level and also removed my wool socks, allowing my toes to enjoy daylight for the first time since the ride had started. The bar owner and a customer entertained Bill and Rick while I laid back and caught a nap. I was not sleeping heavily, as I followed their conversation off and on. It was pretty interesting, at least the bits I heard about Viagra and Cialis. I had to fight a grin not to be noticed.

At 6pm we left Sumneytown and were on our way to the Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, our final flèche destination. The sun was getting lower on the horizon and I had the chance to take some nice pictures. Soon we were rolling in the hostel driveway where Tom fed us lasagna with meatballs and pasta. It was a great evening and the only caveat is that we were not able to meet up with the other flèche teams because of different starting times.

I would have liked to stay longer at the youth hostel, but we still had a 40 km extension to complete the 400K qualifier. It was time to go. Soon after we left it was dark and Rick imposed a fast pace as we moved on roads with lots of traffic. I was soaked in sweat when we arrived at the intermediate contrôle in Ottsville, PA. The wool base layer had to go. The same brisk pace was imposed throughout the remaining 16 miles. We finally reached the starting point in Doylestown at 10:01pm, a full hour ahead of the time limit for a 400 km event. There we were greeted by Jean, who had prepared a delicious frittata for us. It was a perfect recovery dish after so many hours in the saddle. However, the story was not yet over.

Rick and I would still ride a 300K that was to begin at 4am. We had worked everything out so that I would drive with Bill to the Hampton Inn in Doylestown and Rick would pick me up at 3am. My car was still in Quakertown, at the finish of our 300K ride. I did not have much time to sleep.

Bill had already passed out by the time I was soaking in a bath with Epsom salt. It was about midnight when I finally was able to sleep. Not long thereafter I was awoken simultaneously by my cell phone alarm and a wake up call. I don't think I saw Bill even twitch. I gathered all my stuff and met with Rick at precisely 3am. We drove to Quakertown and assembled our gear. By the time we rolled out of the parking lot it was already 4:10am.

The first miles heading north on Richlandtown Rd were very slow. The condition of the asphalt did not help either. While still on Richlandtown Rd we came upon a car accident site. Police, ambulance and firefighters were on site. A car had lost control and hit the side of a house, catching on fire afterward. The clean up crew was working and we initially were not allowed to pass. Rick insisted and they let us walk with the bikes through the debris. I actually lifted my bike because there was so much glass and other sharp and pointy objects lying around. As we left the crash site I saw what remained of the car. Not much. I'm glad we weren't around when it happened.

Because of the limited time between the end of our 400K and the beginning of the 300K ride, we did not have time to get a decent breakfast. While we were rolling through Bethlehem Rick made the wise decision to stop at a Dunkin Donuts. There we spent at least 30 min between eating and using the restroom. The pace after we left did not change and we were still moving slowly. This was probably the part of the ride that was most difficult. I admit I was sleepy and finding it hard to stay as alert as I would have liked to. By the time we made it to the first post office contrôle in Danielsville things had improved a lot. I was feeling alert. We had a sizable climb over Little Gap followed by a very long section in Cherry Valley. At this point I noticed that Rick was slowing down. I am usually the one that is doing my best to keep up with him. But during this particular stretch I noticed he would fall back often and I would wait for him to catch up. The asphalt did not help either. It was a very bumpy ride and I wished I had wider tires.

We were still dangerously close to the closing time when we reached the Village Farmer and Bakery in Delaware Water Gap, PA. It was 10:20am and closing time was 11:08am. At this point I knew Rick was having some energy deficit because he had an apple pie and a monster strawberry short cake. If you know Rick, he is not one to eat sweets on the rides. I had just the apple pie and something that resembled a vanilla latte. It was a bit frustrating that the place only had a porta-potty and not a proper bathroom.

We continued our slow pace along River Rd, encountering many steep rollers, for about 10 miles until we made a right on Community Dr, which led us to Rt 209. There was a significant head wind. Just after we passed a cyclotourist that was on his way up from Key West, FL, I moved ahead of Rick and put in the longest pull of my life. For a about 11 miles I went in the drops and stayed there, pumping my legs as hard as I could without going overboard. Once in a while I would check my mirror to make sure Rick was behind me. It was a significant effort and a sign of it was a bit of blood running out of my nose. It was not persistent and stopped before we reached the bridge crossing in Dingmans Ferry.

Rick and I were happy to reach the Layton Country Store at 12:56pm, about 1h and 10 min before the contrôle closing time. We both had delicious meals and this was a perfect place to get excellent food. I had a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns on the side while Rick ate a Philly cheese steak made with actual good steak. The restroom was very clean. The whole place was just awesome. We took our time and left 15 min prior to brevet closing time. At least my effort on Rt 209 allowed us enough time to enjoy our meals. However, we were still pressed and dangerously close to closing times.

The route took us back to Delaware Water Gap and along the way I noticed a lump in my front tire. For a moment I thought I was going crazy but it was still there. When I carefully inspected the tire there was indeed a bulge. The thread had been cut on the inside and the tube was getting through. Wow! It's a good thing that I carry an extra tire with me on brevets. This stop took some time and as soon as the bike was ready we kept moving quickly. I knew from my first brevet in Pennsylvania that a climb was ahead. It would summit us over Flatbrookville to Milbrook Village, and I remembered it being a tough one. At the bottom of the climb I stopped to take my wool base layer off as Rick went on. Since I had a jersey full of stuff in the pockets on top of the wool layer, this process took a while. When I finished Rick was no longer in sight. I did not climb conservatively and worked hard until I had Rick in view. Then I continued and passed him before we reached the top of the climb. The descent was short lived. We met again after a right on Old Mine Rd heading south. The conditions on this road were less than ideal, with several parts where the asphalt had eroded, often covering the entire cross section of the road. We stopped long the way so that Rick could use a porta-potty we found near a boat ramp. I used the opportunity to get my hands wet in the Delaware River for the first time.

In spite of the brisk pace, we were still only an hour ahead of closing time when we reached the Water Gap Diner at 4pm. We had covered 120 of the 188 miles in a 300K. We left the diner at about 4:25pm. At this point Rick turned on his turbo, sign that he was feeling good. I was able to keep up, sign that I was still alive. The next 21 miles were pretty hilly, as would be the rest of the ride, with several steep climbs.

I was craving for a slice of pizza by the time we reached Louie's Pizza at 6pm, again only 1 hour ahead of closing time. According to the sign, it's the finest pizza money can by. In spite of our hard work, we were not making time. This is because our stops were more extended than usual and the terrain did not help either. When computing the opening/closing times in a brevet, there is no consideration if you live in flatland or the alps.

We left Louie's Pizza at around 6:30pm and continued to ride as hard as we could. It is all a blur in my mind right now. I was not drafting, but Rick was leading the way. Before reaching the Citgo contrôle in Bloomsbury, NJ I hammered for a couple of miles, such was the desire to end the ride at this point. Finally we made some good time. It was 7:57pm when we got our brevet cards signed, over 1h 30min ahead of closing time. We did not stay there for long and were back on the road for 25 miles of pain.

It was now dark and Rick knew the way by heart. So I decided to drop back far enough so that I could ride hard without worrying about crashing into him. I just followed his E3 tail light all the way home. At times I would ride up next to him for a brief chat. Mainly I was asking if we were going up or down. I was confused because it seemed like we were going up, but my odometer reading was above 20 mph on many occasions. That did not make sense. I remember this endless climb, not steep, but just so long. That was followed by more rollers and finally, after two days riding the bike, we finally made it to the finish. My only thought during those last few miles was that a lot has to come into place in order to complete such a long ride. Many things can go wrong and I was very happy to be prepared. Even when I had 186 miles I was still alert to potholes and such. The ride is finished only when you make it to the finish.

We celebrated with a couple of beers that Rick's brother had kindly left for us next to Rick's car. After putting all our gear in the cars we went our separate ways. I was only able to make it to Dickson City before it became unsafe to drive. I then stayed at a roadside motel for the night. The next day I was back in Ithaca at 11:15am. What a weekend!

Below are pictures I took during the brevet.

Here is a link to Rick's pictures
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Solo-Flèche

My journey around the 11 Finger Lakes is now complete. The ride started on Saturday at 4:30am and ended 227 miles and 20,000 ft of climbing later, on Sunday at 1:30am. The distance covered, a little over 360 km, was equivalent to a Flèche. This was no coincidence, as next Friday I will participate in my first official Flèche and I thought it would be good to try the distance on hilly terrain.

There is something very appealing and rewarding in riding long distances. For one I am able to see and hear so much of what nature has to offer. Then there is the gratification of powering your own journey, even through darkness. Yesterday, riding alone for the first time over such a distance, it was also a moment to reflect.

I had carefully planned the route beforehand such that it would comprise of 360 km (225 miles) and many hills. When I finished mapping the route in DeLorme, I was astonished to see 22,000 ft of climbing. At that point I knew it would be a significant challenge. Before posting the ride on my local cycling club's mailing list I had second thoughts. There were several unknowns, including weather. I was fearful that I would not have company during the ride, even part of it. Bill Fischer answered my plead and agreed to ride 175 of 225 miles.

On Friday night I felt ready for what was to come. My bike was prepared and I had a heavy load of provisions, including spare clothes for drastic temperature changes, food, tools and a spare tire and tube. I had trouble getting in bed, but I managed to sleep a good 2-3 hours. Not much. At 3am I was up and at 4:30am I left East Hill Plaza. My journey had just begun.

It was very important to pace myself on this uncharted territory. I knew it would be a long ride, so I decided to climb conservatively, something I find hard to do. As I was halfway up West Hill on R 79 my cell phone rang. It was Bill. He said he was very sick and had been up all night. In spite of these words I still asked "So you're not riding?". It was more of a desperate plea than a question. "No," was the answer. I wished him well and continued my climb. Thoughts of returning lingered in my mind. I had been advised by a much more experience rider not to undertake such a ride on my own. However, the desire was too great.

There was little traffic and I was very much undisturbed on my way towards Watkins Glen, where I arrived at 6am. Not much was to be seen, but I heard a great lot from the birds. They seemed joyful on this cold spring morning. After a long climb on CR 23 and an equivalently lengthy descent I was in the town of Hammondsport, at 7:30am. The Deli I planned to visit was closed, so instead I ate a banana in front of the Deli. After a brief stretch I was back on the road, this time in unknown territory.

I chose Reservoir Hill as the path out of Hammondsport. It is a very nice climb, and worth the effort if your plan is to turn around and head back down. The road soon turned into dirt but was not all that bad. What I did not enjoy at all was the condition of Two Rod Rd. First of all, it was unmarked. I made the turn and about a mile in I had doubts. So I returned and scouted the road where I had been for another mile or so. No intersections. So I hoped for the best and stayed on this unknown road. After an incredibly steep descent on gravel, where I squeezed hard on both brakes, I was relieved to see a sign that matched the name on my cue sheet. I had ridden almost 4 extra miles already.

I was punished by a constant headwind as I moved north on SR 53 through Prattsburg towards Naples. Along this road I reached the highest elevation of the day, 2122 ft. The climbing, not to steep, but everlasting, was rewarded with a very long descent into Naples. Unfortunately, I could not take maximum advantage of gravity because of the wind that was blowing from the North, quite strong. I was 70 miles into the ride (66 according to cue) when I savored my first dose of beef jerky accompanied with a Starbucks "doubleshot energy + coffee" vanilla flavored drink. I also bought a gallon of water that I used to refill my Camelbak and mix with a new batch of Spiz. The remaining water was used to wash some of the dirt and worms off the bike.

I left Naples around 10:30am along CR 36. Just before I left the town, I stopped along curbside to put on my balaclava and change my gloves from the lobster sort to the regular fingered gloves. Following an enjoyable climb out of Naples the cue sheet indicated I should turn on Feather St. About halfway up the climb the road split in two. There were no signs. After a few minutes standing there, thinking of what to do, a pickup came in my direction. I smiled and waved the pickup. It slowed down, the occupants looked at me, and the pickup continued its path down the hill. Oh well, I guess I do not seem that friendly after all.

I decided to take the path that made most sense in terms of direction. After just a few hundred feet the packed dirt was replaced by loose gravel, the kind not meant for a road bike. The road got narrower and I said enough. This was not going to work. A quick study of my cue sheet indicated that after a few turns I would be on CR 36 again. So I retraced my path towards CR 36 and headed north, looking for an intersection with a certain Dutch Hollow Rd. The intersection never came and suddenly there was a lake on my right. Not the lake I had planned for. I was riding along Honeoye Lake instead of Conesus. What had gone wrong? Apparently the CR 36 I thought I was to return to actually resided in a different county. This meant it was a different road altogether. I was frustrated, but decided to continue along this road. Without a map, there was little hope of finding a way to my planned route.

I reached the northern tip of Honeoye Lake after battling the wind for over 10 miles. A new decision had to be made. Where to go? I knew that Conesus was the westernmost of the Finger Lakes, so I followed that direction, reaching the town of Hemlock after 6 miles on US 20A.

In Hemlock I stopped at a convenience store. The parking lot was filled with motorcycles and a different species of biker than I. At the store I bought beef jerky and a croissant sandwich. I asked directions to Conesus and the gentleman working there indicated that all I needed to do was turn on Big Tree Rd on the top of town and that would take me there. He said it was about a 10 minute drive. I was relieved. Outside I sat on the ground and began eating my sandwich. The bikers were leaving. A boy with a rottweiler approached me. The dog was almost as big as the boy and the leash meant little to me. I was assured the dog did not bite as it sniffed my face. At least my sandwich was safe in my stomach. Tyson was his name and we spoke for a couple of minutes. I did not understand much of what he said to be honest. He was nice and talkative.

I cruised past Livonia on my way to Lakeville on the northern end of Conesus Lake. Along the way I was impressed to see snow still lying around. When I reached my destination I was pleasantly surprised by a curious coincidence. The mileage on my cyclocomputer matched that of my cue sheet within a tenth of a mile, in spite of the utterly different path I had taken. That meant all I needed to do was follow the cue sheet from that point on and the detour would not have long lasting effects. It was time to savor a Chicken Parm Sub at Vincenzo's Pizzeria. I took my time at this stop, arriving at 12:40pm and leaving around 1:30pm. The plan was to stop again at mile 150. I was at mile 99.

It was a good feeling to have the cue sheet again. I also enjoyed the flat terrain alongside the lake as I rode its eastern shore. Conesus Lake has been stricken with viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), responsible for die-offs of many species in the contiguous Great Lakes. More on this can be found here. Every July 3 the Conesus Lake Association also sponsors an event called the "Ring of Fire," where fireworks and flares are lit along the lake's entire shoreline. It must be a beautiful sight. However, July 3 is still far away, so I left Conesus and rode towards Hemlock Lake.

Hemlock Lake was my favorite sight of the ride. I was surprised to see how preserved it was, not a single home in sight. I did notice at least one very pompous entry to a residence that appeared not be inhabited for a very long time. I almost ventured inside the driveway. Almost. Post-ride research indicates that the city of Rochester began buying property surrounding Hemlock Lake and Canadice Lake in 1872. In 1876 these lakes began to be used as a fresh water supply and by 1947 all the cottages had been purchased, consolidating 7,100 acres of protected area around these two lakes. There is a park on the northern end, where I saw a few couples on romantic getaways.

The sight of the lake was lost during the climb on Bald Hill Rd (SR 15A). I made a stop along the climb to change gear. I stowed my jacket and replaced it with a jersey. I also switched to fingerless gloves. At the top of the climb I was rewarded with the most impressive view of Reynolds Gully and Green Gully. After an exhilarating descent I was riding north on Canadice Lake Rd.

While on the shore of Canadice Lake I saw many parked cars. Signs indicated trails in the watershed. I even crossed with another cyclist pulling a trailer with her child. There were also people fishing. Canadice is the highest and the smallest of the Finger Lakes, a little gem perhaps.

I left the lake towards Honeoye on a double digit grade climb that was about a mile long, on Burch Hill Rd. On the way up I was silent enough not to be even noticed by people doing work on their homes, including some painting and also roof top work. The descent on the other side was wicked and fear of the unknown restrained me from exploiting it as much as I would have liked to.

I was once again on the shore of Honeoye. This time I rode to the northern end of the lake and then turned east, moving south on the opposite shore (East Lake Rd). Unlike its western neighbor Canadice, Honeoye has a densely populated shoreline. Here too the "Ring of Fire" is celebrated every year. At mile 136 the cue sheet indicated a left turn on Wesley Rd. As I made the turn I immediately realized I was at odds with the cue-sheet once again. Another steep climb on loose gravel. I made two unsuccessful attempts before deciding to turn around and continue on East Lake Rd. The white slopes of the Hunt Hollow Ski Club was a welcoming site. I had seen the slopes on my way out of Naples. I knew I would find a way back. Indeed, East Lake Rd took me to CR 36, the same road I had taken on my way up Honeoye many miles earlier.

It was about 5:45pm when I visited Naples for the second time. I was tired and still had over 70 miles of riding. I ate a PB&J sandwich I brought with me and I also had a plum. That was topped off by an additional dose of Starbucks vanilla flavored doubleshot. Another gallon of water was used to mix more Accelerade and Spiz. It was getting colder outside, so I changed gear once again. I put on my Louis Garneau Massimo jacket and on top of it my Showers Pass Double Century jacket. That would keep me warm. I also made a phone call to my wife. I told her I was slowing down and it would take me a while to get back home. I left Naples after 6:30pm.

The route took me north on SR 245. I missed a turn on Parrish Hill Rd, distracted by the beauty of the sunlight illuminating the slopes of the hill on my right. After a mile of extra riding I began the climb on Parrish Hill followed by Lower Rd. It was a climb on dirt for the most part. Lower Rd was not very well maintained, but still manageable. While on Lower Rd I was offered the most incredible view of Canandaigua Lake. The sun was setting west as I descended on Sliter Hill Rd into the shade of Italy Valley.

I do not remember seeing a single vehicle while I was on Italy Valley Rd (CR 18). I did see deer and other animals. It was quickly getting dark and as soon as I joined SR 364 I made a short stop to put on my reflective sash and turn on my rear blinky lights. Ahead of me my SON20R generator hub provided the juice for my E3 head light. The day faded and by the time I had crossed Amish country into Penn Yann it was night, well past 8pm.

In Pen Yann I stopped for more Starbucks doubleshot. You may notice that when I like something I have no shame in having plenty of it. I still had over 55 miles to go. I made another call to my wife, reassuring her I was fine and would make it home, eventually.

I left Pen Yann on S 14A, which would take me all the way to CR 28 into Watkins Glen. During this 25 mile stretch I was in company only of the stars. The sky was clear and I wish I had studied astronomy. Nonetheless, I did enjoy looking up once in a while, amazed by the beauty of the night. I also made a phone call to a friend, telling him about this epic ride that was still in the making. Before arriving in Watkins I stopped at a gas station for directions. About a mile earlier I had a disagreement with the cue sheet. It had me turning on a road with a "No Outlet" sign. I ventured on the road for a hundred feet or so until it became gravel. No way! I was not going on this route. A customer at the gas station indicated the easiest way to Watkins and that is the one I took.

In Watkins I made a last stop for a vanilla cappuccino and an oatmeal raisin cookie at the APlus convenience store. The cappuccino was delicious and provided just the right amount of warmth. I called my wife for an update. It was 11:30pm when I left Watkins. An impressive moon could be seen on the horizon.

The route I took back to Ithaca went through Montour Falls and then visited Odessa before taking me to Ithaca. The darkness of the night was interrupted by my head light as I cruised along CR 6 and then Enfield Center Rd. I had a bit of a mishap just as I turned on Enfield Center Rd. I was checking my cue-sheet when I rode into a ditch. I hopped out and continued as if nothing had happened. Another interesting incident occurred when a skunk was not very happy to see me moving towards it. I was able to avoid any gland secretions. That would have been a terrible ending to my ride.

The highlight of my ride was the moment I crested on Enfield Center Rd and saw the Ithaca lights in the distance. I knew I had made it home. Sure, I still had to climb East Hill, but I was home. Actually, I also had to climb out of Enfield once I descended. That unforeseen climb was very annoying after 216 miles into the ride. Once I finished the descent on Elm St I made a call to my wife. It was 1:13am of Sunday. The town was buzzing with people leaving bars, probably not the best time to ride your bike around. I took the last climb as slow as they come and I was home at precisely 1:30am, about 21h after I departed the day before.

My wife had filled the bathtub and added Epsom salt. I enjoyed every minute I soaked in there and told her about the wonderful ride I had just completed. We then looked at the pictures I took along the route, not many, but precious to me. I went to bed at around 3am and fell asleep within a minute or so, says my wife.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Preventing water from getting in your frame

Spring is officially here! And with the milder temperatures in the Northeast also comes rain. The cyclist is therefore faced with a dilemma. Ride in the rain or not. Jim Langley offers a solution that will make the decision easier.

When I got my first road bike last August, I was not thinking about meteorological conditions nor the primary type of riding I would be doing. Not that I was being stupid, I just did not know at the time. Eventually I joined the randonneuring scene and realized that these guys ride irrespective of the weather.

My first brevet was under pouring rain, what a way to start! When I got home I noticed a sloshing sound every time I moved my bike around. Yikes! My frame was full of water. So I took the seat post out and sure enough, there was a sizable spill. However, not all the water came out. I attempted several methods and no luck. Finally I gave up and posted a question on the discussion group. Jim Langley of Santa Cruz, CA gave me a very detailed answer that you can read here. Getting the water out was the first step, preventing it from getting in the first place is the real trick.

One of the solutions is to use fenders, which avoids water from getting thrown up onto the seat post and consequently from entering your frame via capillary action. In addition, an old tube can be used as a sleeve covering the lower part of the seat post and top of the seat tube, sealing off any potential entry points. Complemented with fenders, this seams like the ideal solution.

Sleeve made from an old tube

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Monday, April 6, 2009

FLCC Spring Clinic on Randonneuring

This past Sunday I volunteered to give a presentation on randonneuring during a spring clinic at my local cycling club (FLCC). Other presenters were Steve Powell and Andrejs Ozolins on self-contained touring, Bill Goffe on credit card touring and John Dennis on health tips as they relate to cycling, in particular long distance events.

The turnout was great and I was very happy to see a crowd that showed great interest. John Dennis gave me a very flattering introduction, and I am grateful for that. We all had a good time, there were plenty of funny moments and I believe the attendees left with a much better understanding of what randonneuring is all about.

I have uploaded my presentation to scribd. See below.

FLCC Spring Clinic Randonneuring FLCC Spring Clinic Randonneuring Juan PLC Salazar This is a presentation I gave at my local cycling club on randonneuring. I think it gives a fair overview of this wonderful sport.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Caught in the whirlwind - Pennsylvania ACP 200K

As a turbulence researcher, I must say Quakertown, PA was a perfect place to perform turbulent measurements in the atmosphere yesterday. As a randonneur, when you must lean into the wind to stay on the bike, I would think the conditions were less than ideal for cycling. However, overcoming the obstacles, including the weather, is part of what randonneuring entails.

It was the first time I started a ride from Quakertown and also my first ACP event.

John Dennis and I drove from Ithaca to Quakertown the night before, arriving at the Weisel Youth Hostel at around 9:30pm. There we were greeted by regional brevet administrator (RBA) Tom Rosenbauer. I was immediately attracted to all the goodies that were lying around: granola bars, fruit, pastry, bagels, etc. Yum!

After paying our dues both John and I received our brevet cards and unloaded our luggage and bikes from the car. I was very pleased with the room, and it was interesting to share accommodations with the other randonneurs as we all prepared for the next day. With an open window we could hear the delightful sound of flowing water from the creek behind the hostel.

John was kind enough to lend me his hybrid car for a spin. I was really hungry and paid a visit to a family restaurant nearby, where I had a garden salad and a chicken parmigiana filet with pasta. In retribution I brought John a dish to ramp up his carbs as well.

It was about 1 am when I finally faded into sleep. During the following hours I had dreams of riding across the country and forgetting to get my brevet card signed at the finish. This randonneur nightmare was very effective at waking me up. It was 4 am. So I decided to get up and take a shower. I like to start any ride fresh. Unfortunately I had forgotten my soap and there was none to be seen. However, there was liquid hand soap on the sink, so I secretly used that. It worked just fine.

The night before I wondered why Tom was still hanging around in the hostel at such late hours. Well, it was because he also slept there. That is a very committed RBA. By the time I went downstairs breakfast was ready. There were so many options and I would have liked to experiment, but I stuck with my usual granola with milk.

Soon the room was packed with riders, those that had spent the night at the hostel and also randonneurs that had just arrived. It was time to meet many new faces and rejoice with old acquaintances. There was some suspense as to Rick Carpenter's new "rando-bike". It turns out he wanted to make the already challenging route even a bit more difficult by riding an 8 speed Bianchi Milano. It also came equipped with Rollo, the Italian clown who does not give a damn. Bill Olsen's mudflap was also on exhibit, the R.F. mouse. I am still trying to figure out what it's about.

Minutes before the start Tom made the last announcements and separated the riders in two groups, those that were aiming at a sub 10h finish and those who would be more than happy just to finish. In all the 5 previous 200K's I had completed my final time was below 10h, including one below 9h. So I was tempted to go ahead with the first group, but Rick had requested we ride "flèche style" in preparation for the upcoming Flèche on April 17-19. I agreed, momentarily.

About 3 minutes later the second wave started, I among them. It was pitch dark and I wish I could have a proper camera to film the silent dance of lights moving along the road. The pace was a bit brisk for flèche speed, but I took the first miles easy. As we approached the first hills I slowly moved to the front of the group. We were all pretty much together and John inquired a couple of times about my heart rate. "I'm in the 150's now!" "Me too!". That was more or less the exchange.

At one point I saw a rider in the distance. I presume he/she started in the first wave. I did not resist the temptation to go faster. Soon thereafter I was passing riders along the rollers. At the first extended climb of the day, Lower Saucon Rd, I caught up with the majority of the fast riders and by that point I knew I would try to keep up with Nate Morgenstern. That was my new plan. He holds the fastest time for the PA ACP 200K, an astonishing 7:47. By the time we were over the second climb on Woodland Rd I was leading a group with Nate, John Wichard and Craig Martek. It was at this point that the wind picked up. As we turned on Island Park Rd there was a loud rattling sound coming from a home. I did not pay much attention, but the wind was howling and it was turning out to be an epic ride already.

As we rode through Easton I remembered many of the RUSA rides that started at Tom's house. For once it was nice to climb College Ave at the beginning, rather than the end of a brevet. I took my first picture on the bike as we were riding along the Delaware River. The Delaware would be visited again, but for now it was time to ride in 20-30 mph wind. The build-up came gradually, as everything was rather calm on Lower Mud Run Rd. However, signs of strong wind were visible, with many tree branches on the ground. I actually almost rode through a huge branch that was propped in front of me, standing at almost my height. Fortunately I spotted it in time. It was on Pen Argyl Rd that for the first time on a bike I had to lean into the wind to stay on the it. It was pretty cool.

By the time we arrived at the Petro Mart contrôle, in addition to the wind, there was also rain. The stop there was brief, and as we were leaving Matt Farrell and Anthony Colasurdo arrived. We would meet them again at the Portland Family Restaurant. I debated on whether to eat or not, but I did not. In the end I would regret it.

On a windy day it is ill advised to ride a bicycle at a place called Wind Gap. Randonneurs are an exception, and they take great pride riding in challenging conditions. Sure enough, there was plenty of wind, but we did not dwell there for long.

Cherry Valley Rd was probably one of the most pleasant parts of the ride. I felt we were shielded from the blistering wind. As we rode along Nate pointed to Fox Gap mentioning that it was our next destination. I looked attentively at the climb, and for a moment I had a power line tower mistaken for a road. It was pretty scary, such a steep incline I had never seen before. Nor will I ever, I presume.

We all turned together on Fox Gap and I probably started a bit too fast at the beginning of the climb. After the first few bends in the road I could no longer see anyone in my helmet mirror. But as we continued to climb I felt the effort I had made. Every time I went around a turn I was reminded that the climb was still not over. It was only when I saw the county line that I was assured it was the last bit. I took out my brevet card and started to draw the requested symbol that was found on a sign. It was actually a bit more challenging than I thought, as my drawing skills pair to those of a two year old. Nate was close behind and as he and I were leaving, Craig crested followed by John. I was glad to descend after that long climb, and also happy that we were approaching the end of the first half of our ride. Along the way Nate remarked how beautiful the sight of Minis Lake was. I concurred.

At the Portland Family restaurant Nate and I had chocolate milk. I also ate a banana while Nate mixed up a powder with electrolytes into his water bottle. Soon thereafter John and Craig joined us. I wanted to make sure I was efficient at the contrôle, and in my lousy attempt I almost lost my cue-sheet. I did have a backup, but the original was found by a waitress. I was safe for now, but the wind would have a say in that story.

We left the Portland Family restaurant as Matt and Anthony were coming in. The route leading to Belvidere had been part of my first RUSA 200K back in November last year. We followed River Rd and along the way we saw a tree full of vultures. Very impressive. Apparently we were too lively as a meal, so they flew elsewhere.

Shortly after leaving Belvidere we began the other big climb of the day, starting with Lommason Glen Rd, followed by Buckhorn Rd and Castners Rd. In the first mile of the climb Nate stopped for a nature break, but he caught up about 3 miles after I had crested the long climb, as we began to descend into Stewartsville, NJ. John and Craig were still working there way up.

As if we had not climbed enough already, there was a steep bump on Staats Rd, just pass a railroad bridge crossing. During most of that climb Nate and I rode side by side, inching our way up in unison. I really enjoy such occasions, it is a moment where we are truly in tune with a fellow rider. It was during the descent that the wind decided to take my cue-sheet. It wanted to know where there were more cyclists around so that it could blow at them too. It was nice that Nate was there to guide me to the next contrôle. Once again I did not need to reach for my backup cue-sheet.

Just before arriving at the General Store contrôle in Upper Black Eddy, PA we crossed the Delaware for the second time. I have never in my life been subjected to such intense wind. I made the comment to Nate that if we were not careful we would likely have to fish our bikes out of the water. It seems the statement was not far-fetched. The General Store was my favorite contrôle of the day. It was comfortable and also offered a variety of goodies to choose from. I had Rick's meal plan: beef jerky. I thought it would be wise to replenish my sodium levels. I also used the bathroom, something I had been longing for. Nate was kind enough to stick around. By the time I left the bathroom John and Craig were at the contrôle. We greeted them shortly and continued, completing 100 miles, a psychological barrier. It is the mark on a 200K where I think the finish is in sight and I will not be deterred. Probably I should make that number 124 instead.

Finally the sun visible and we were riding through the woods on Red Cliff Rd. It is on this road that I took my best picture of the day, although I believe Rollo would contest that statement. Every time we were in open areas the wind would punish us. At times it felt like we were riding backwards. At last we arrived at the postcard contrôle in Point Pleasant, PA. The only problem is that the contrôle is in the bottom of a dip in the route profile. I wrote an appropriate message to Tom on the postcard. I hope he likes it. I had a serious problem. My water bottle was empty and I had no Spiz left. I made the terrible mistake of not stopping to take some food out of my saddle bag. When I reflect upon it I cannot help but think that it was a very stupid decision.

Five miles after we left the postcard contrôle I began to fade. I had no cramps, there was just a lack of energy and 10 miles of a sawtooth profile remained. On top of that, 30 mph headwind. All I could think of was the food I would eat once I got to the finish. I had my meal all thought out: eat anything in sight. Another gross mistake was to keep my jacket on when it was not needed anymore, increasing my perspiration unnecessarily. All that contributed to put me in a difficult situation. I could not believe that I still had to climb on 313 to end the brevet. It seems Tom judiciously chooses the finish such that you need to do just one more little steep climb. However, he rewards us with so much.

Tom greeted us as Nate and I rolled into the youth hostel. It was great to see him. I signed my brevet card and went straight for the food table, where I proceeded according to plan. I ate cinnamon bun, chips with salsa, cookies, green tea, two hamburgers, chicken, animal crackers and more. It all was delicious. After 20 minutes or so I felt much better.

Just 12 minutes after we arrived Craig and John made it as well, followed by Matt and Anthony. Soon Rick was also in, along with Bill Fischer. It was great to see everyone arriving. I congratulated every rider that finished, since it was such a tough ride with all the climbs and wind working against us. I was particularly happy to see John Dennis, since he had not trained that much for the ride, showing how strong of a rider he is. And then there are the regulars like Bill Olsen and Guy Harris, with whom I have ridden six consecutive 200K's. Looking at the preliminary results, I also am very happy that Joe Carbone persevered and completed the ride in 17h and 5 min. Even knowing that he would not qualify for an official finish, he continued and I find that extraordinary.

With every event that I sign up for I have greater appreciation for Tom's effort organizing everything. He thinks about the many details and also is always taking note of ways in which he can improve future events. Thanks Tom!

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