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 http://tinyurl.com/dm8veb

4 comments:

len said...

Hi Juan- as always , a great ride report. I feel like I was there(, but not nearly tired enough). The longer distances are really challenging, especially with so little sleep during the ride. It sounds like you have a good preparation for the 1200K . The good news is that at some point, it does not get any worse. you just become a cycling machine, food goes in and the pedals go around and somehow you end up at the final controle. Portions of all my 600k or longer rides get fuzzy. Good luck on the Shenandoah!!

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Len,

:) That's exactly how I would like people to feel when they read a report. It has been amazing how experience from other riders has helped me progress to longer distances. This past weekend was a big step towards the Shenandoah 1200K.

Tom Rosenbauer said...

Juan,

While others have completed a 1200k in their first season of brevet riding, going for such an early season 1200k is certainly an audacious goal. I figured the 360k Fleche + 40k add-on + 300k "recovery ride" would be a good test to see if the S1200k is within your grasp. You passed with flying colors!

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Thanks Tom,

Your support during these past months has been essential in helping me achieve my randonneuring goals. Now I have to iron out the details for the 1200K. I am also looking forward to the PA ACP 400K and the PA ACP 600K in May.