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!


Unknown said...

what a great report Juan! it kind of makes me want to go back and do it all over again. isn't that he disease of randonneuring that we all suffer from. ( - ;

i'll miss the PA 300K in may but will hopefully see you on the june R12 event.

PurpleBurley said...

Nice ride report and photos... Congrats on your first-in finish with Nate - impressive riding in tough conditions. Barbara and I had a truly disappointing day, as we suffered our first ever DNF only 3 miles into the ride - mechanical trouble with the Burley. Though, after watching your video of the Delaware River crossing w/ Nate, perhaps I don't feel so bad about missing out on the day! The long bike would have been a real handful in the "epic" windy conditions... Congrats to all who finished, especially Joe Carbone with a gutsy 17 hour ride. Barb and I will be back in May at the PA300k looking to redeem ourselves...
Ron A.

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Jack,

Thanks! Yeah, after I ate at the finish I took Rick's Bianchi Milano for a spin near the hostel. I was riding along the path we took on our way out, but I decided to turn around.

Nice seeing you at another start. I really liked your bike setup too!

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Ron,

I was sad to hear that you guys had a mechanical. In retrospect, it was probably better earlier than later.

See you and Barbara in May!

Tom Rosenbauer said...


Nice pictures! I agree with you that the shot you took along Red Cliff Rd is the best. That stretch of road is one of my favorites -- it's particularly nice in the late afternoon with the fading sunlight filtering through the trees.

Congratulations, on another excellent finish, and keep those ride reports coming!


-Tom Rosenbauer
Eastern PA RBA

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your comments! I must say the ACP 200K was my favorite route in PA so far. Not only challenging, but also scenic. Hopefully riding in the cold weather will make the spring (if there is such a thing) and summer events the more enjoyable.