Sunday, May 24, 2009

Western/Central NY ACP 300K

I was somewhat concerned when Acmae El Yacoubi, aka Ace, showed interest in taking on the 300K brevet. This is because the longest ride in her life was jsut 43 miles in length. She not only finished, but excelled. While most of us common mortals suffered in the blazing mid afternoon heat, she constantly remarked how she was enjoying the weather. This native from Morocco has in my opinion, everything it takes for the long haul.

Every brevet I ride I vow to get enough sleep before the next one. My vows are not worth much, as this time I managed to really put the ride in jeopardy by sleeping less than 2h. It was 3:30am when I picked up Ace for the 2h drive to Ontario, NY. We were the first to arrive. The field would be sparse, with only 6 riders including RBA Pete Dusel, former RBA Jennifer Barber, Jim Bondra and Dan McKenna.

Things were a little bit hectic for Ace at the start, being her first time on a brevet. She had to borrow a front light from Jennifer and it initially didn't fit on her handlebar. While Ace was inside putting on her cycling gear I gave it a try. As I on my first brevet, she too rode with only a small saddlebag. One day she will discover the wonders of Carradice.

We left shortly after 6am. Early on I decided to test the pace at which the group was willing to ride. After a couple of miles I found myself alone, so I eased off the pedals until the group rejoined. We would stay that way for the first half of the ride.

It was a chilly morning and I made good use of my Showers Pass Double Century jacket until our first bathroom break at the Farmington Town park, 20 miles into the ride. Not long before the group was quite excited by the sighting of a hot air balloon in the distance. The sky was blue and the temperature was slowly but surely rising.

We formed pairs and conversation was interesting. I learned that Jim had worked in NYC for Lehman Brothers in the 80's doing research for mergers & acquisitions before making the move to the family-friendlier Ithaca. Jim, along with cycling, has a great interest in rowing. He was missing one of his daughter's rowing competitions for the first time to ride the brevet. I also heard stories of the PBP "Onion Johnny" Drew Buck from Pete. He's a rider who paid homage to the Onion Johnny during PBP 2007 by riding a retrodrive bike, which gives you a smaller gear when you pedal backwards! There is video about him on youtube and also a nice picture.

Shortly after our stop at the park we reached Canandaigua, a town I have gone through many times on bike, but never in a car. Our stop at the Hess mini mart contrôle was short. There I had my only Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot of the day. Soon we were off to the first significant climb leading to Middle Road, which offers a very nice view of the surroundings. The group strung out on the climb, but rejoined in Rushville. It was then when Pete sprinted away. My legs were fresh so I chased him down and the momentum kept me going once I caught him. A few minutes later I was joined by Dan with whom I rode to the next contrôle at the Bob & Ruth's Vineyard Restaurant in Naples. The segment from Rushville to Naples on SR 245 is very pleasant. The terrain is rolling and vegetation is abundant alongside the road.

It was significantly warmer by the time we arrived in Naples. I enjoyed a PB&J sandwich along with trail mix that I brought with me. The rest of the group got in Naples just a few minutes after Dan and I. We sat on a picnic table and enjoyed the break. I put on my new De Soto arm COOLERs on along with the leg COOLERS. They promise to increase evaporative heat losses, making you feel oh so COOLER on a warm day. My experience was favorable and I intend to use them on the Shenandoah 1200K.

The profile looked more forgiving on this ride than what it actually felt like. The heat may also have played a role in this. I took the climb out of Naples conservatively. Along the way I could see that Ace was not trailing too far behind. The next cue indicated a right turn on Weed Rd, which I made. After a hundred feet or so I stopped. I was curious to see if Ace would miss the turn. She nearly did! That's one of the things that randonneuring teaches you. Often you are alone and navigation is a big part of a successful ride. Ace and I would ride together all the way to the next contrôle, the Seager Farm in Canaseraga.

As soon as we turned on SR 21 the wind greeted us. I was the bigger and more experienced randonneur between the both of us and I don't like to draft, so I stayed in front and rode at a pace that Ace was comfortable with. Occasionally we would loose contact, but not for long. The route took us through Wayland and continued on SR 65 through Dansville, where we had a slight cue mishap. The cue read "L on NY 36 North / Ossian St" but soon after the turn NY 36 curved towards the right while Ossian St went straight. At the time I didn't even remember the Ossian St part, so I kept on following NY 36. When it was apparent that the next cue was not there, I went into a convenience store and asked for directions. Then it became clear to me that the correct route was to remain on Ossian St as NY 36 veered right. The whole affair only resulted in 2 extra miles.

Ossian Hill Rd is a good climb. As one naturally slows down when climbing, it's a good opportunity to keep an eye open for caterpillars crossing the road. I saw many and those that I saw remained alive. At the top of the climb we made a left on McCurdy Rd. The scenery was truly beautiful and I enjoyed every mile. At Canaseraga we stopped so that Ace could fill her water bottles. The 7 mile stretch leading to the Seager farm had some serious headwind. I was relieved to see a house with people on the porch, and what looked like a perfect randonneuring contrôle setup. We were at the Seagar home.

Michael Seager, who was doing some woodwork as we arrived, is a 3-time PBP finisher. Mike's sister Marcia Swan lives in Ithaca. I met her on a Sunday ride where she told me many PBP stories, including that of Alpo Kuusisto, who finished PBP in 2003 on a scooter bike. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay at the Seager home. While most of us remained protected from the sun in the shade of the porch I could not help but notice how Ace chose to stand in the sun.

Ace, Jim and I left together towards the Letchworth State Park, our next destination just 12 miles away. At the park we had an info contrôle question to answer. The falls overlook was being prepared for some sort of ceremony, a wedding perhaps? Ace commented that she had never seen such a large waterfall. I told her she should visit Niagara. If she's impressed with that, then she should take a look at Iguaçu Falls. Ace also requested a commemorative picture as she had just completed her first century. Jim, who we had lost a bit earlier, caught up at this point. The heat was on during this time of the day and I was looking forward to some shade on the road.

I found plenty of shade, but at the price of many little steep climbs along the way. During this up and down I lost contact with Ace. There were several riders behind us and I wanted to give her the full randonneuring experience, so I decided to ride at my pace. I figured that if Ace had any problems, help would be on its way. I always kept and eye on my rear-view mirror to see if she was in sight.

With some lament I left the park and made my way to Geneseo. There I made an impromptu stop for water. After filling up my Camelbak I sipped on a bottle of Lifewater while I sat outside the convenience store. It's funny how things are. Back in 2001 I was an intern at Bosch in Germany and I had a friend who would mix effervescent vitamin tablets in a large water bottle. He called it Vitaminwasser. I thought it was nasty. There I am, 8 years later, buying something very similar at a convenience store. No sign of Ace. I hopped back on the bike.

The distance between the info contrôle and the following contrôle in Canandaigua was almost 60 miles. I had covered 22 of them, so many more remained. At this point of the day I was finding it difficult to build an appetite for the food I was carrying. I had eaten a PB&J sandwich earlier but the thought of another one did not entice me at all. The gels I brought were convenient because I could eat them while riding and they were also not very sweet. The rolling terrain was somewhat annoying, but if you exerted effort in the right places, one could move efficiently along. Of notice was the gravel section on Bristol Rd. At one point I saw a turtle on the side of the road. It had its head raised and tongue sticking out. I wasn't sure if I was seeing a dead turtle or not, but I wasn't in the mood to stop.

Once I turned on US 20 it was just a few miles until the next contrôle at the Tim Horton's in Canandaigua. I spent about 5 min waiting at a traffic light to turn left. Then I noticed I was slightly ahead of the white line. So I backed up a bit and the light turned green. I'm not sure if it was coincidence or the traffic light had some sort of sensor. In any case, I was happy to be on my way to a chicken wrap and iced coffee. The lack of sleep (just 2h in the last 47h) was taking its toll. I arrived at the Tim Horton's at 6:45pm and left at 7:10pm. Later I found that Ace came in just 10 min after I had left. Scenting my proximity, she didn't hang around.

The last 28 miles were exactly the same as the first 28, just in the opposite direction. I knew from the 200K two weeks ago that the rolling terrain with a downhill trend was excellent to make up time. In my more or less sleepy state I did not want to ride in the dark. There was no way I could beat sunset, but there was a chance of making it to the finish before darkness settled in. Noticeable were the number of bugs that found their way into my mouth. Also, for some reason I was expecting one last bump in the profile that I clearly remembered from my last 200K. I was surprised to see the traffic light at the crossing of Slocum Rd with SR 104. That meant I had already passed the bump! Yay! I didn't even notice it.

I finished the ride at 8:48pm, 14h 48 min after the start. The first 101.8 miles of the ride were completed in 8h 28 min at an average speed of 12 mph (stops included), while it took me 6h 20min to cover the last 86.7 miles, resulting in an average of 13.7 mph.

Pete's wife Sandy let me use a bathroom to change out of my cycling gear. I was pretty much starving. The only thing I could think of was a burger. I didn't know where Ace was, so I tried reaching her via cell phone to no avail. I heard from Sandy that Pete was at the Canandaigua contrôle, and he said Ace was riding with me. That meant that Ace was most likely on her way. I waited for a while and decided to go get that burger and come back for Ace. As I was leaving the driveway she was walking her bike on the gravel section. Great! She finished about an hour after I did. Ace was pretty hyped from the ride and even talking about riding some extra miles to complete a double century. I was really amazed with her performance, given that her longest bike ride had been about 43 miles long. She does compete in triathlons, but has only done the sprint type so far. Being from Morocco, this small specimen seems really suited for the heat.

The heat was a serious factor to contend with on this day and slowed down most riders during the second half. Jim was about to leave Tim Horton's when Jenn and Pete arrived. Jenn would abandon the ride because of lighting issues. Shortly thereafter Dan arrived and the remaining riders pedaled through the night to finish shortly before midnight.

After a stop at McDonald's, where I savored a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large milk shake and fries, Ace and I made it back to Ithaca at 12:30am of Sunday. It was one long day and I badly needed some sleep.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blue Mountain PA ACP 400K

Thursday I woke up and my voice was barely audible. What had begun as a sore throat was now affecting my vocal chords and soon would find its way into my lungs. I had enough reasons to stay home and skip the PA ACP 400K. On the other hand, I viewed the ride in the grand scheme of preparation for the Shenandoah 1200K. Riding in far less than optimal conditions was part of it. This event was a great learning experience, as I resisted the desire to follow the fastest, keeping to my pace instead. This allowed me to meet several riders I usually see only at the start and finish. RBA Tom Rosenbauer provided us with a challenging route and mother nature spiced it up with strong winds and thunderstorms, as if the endless steep rollers weren't enough.

Once again I arrived Friday evening way too late for a 5am start. It was almost 11:30pm when Tom signed me in. By the time I was in bed it was past midnight. Because of my late arrival, I did not have the privilege to choose my bunker, so I ended up on a top bunker. The room was full with randonneurs harvesting those precious hours of sleep before a long ride. John Dennis of Ithaca waved at me as I climbed to my bunker. There was no ladder. Later another Ithacan, Dan Barbasch, pointed out that his bunker had two ladders. Oh well, next time.

It was hard to sleep. A perturbing cough had begun. I covered my mouth and nose with the bed sheet and made a serious effort not to cough. I fear I also had a mild fever, as my PJ's were very humid when I woke up at 3:20am. I wasn't sure I would ride. I contemplated volunteering for anything that Tom might need during the day. After a relaxing shower I chose to clip in.

Within minutes the hostel was sprawling, with riders arriving from many locations and a common purpose, to ride. Among them was Craig Martek (RAAM qualified), who asked if I would ride with him. I appreciated the offer, but declined. I greeted Rick Carpenter, who I had last seen at the finish of our 700K weekend adventure a month prior. There were also new faces to me, like Andy Brenner, Kelly Smith, Chip Adams and RAAM qualified John Fuoco.

Soon it was time to go. Tom gave us the last instructions and off we went into the dark. For the first couple of miles I was riding with Rick Carpenter. Once I got on the bike and started pedaling the cough did not bother me too much. Rick and I were soon joined by a pace line comprised of Craig Martek, John Fuoco, Chip Adams, Judson Hand, Eric Keller and Andy Brenner. Rick joined them as they passed, but I stayed back. I didn't want to ride out of my comfort zone, especially at the beginning of this long day. Furthermore, on brevets I avoid drafting, except if I'm the stoker on a tandem. That hasn't happened yet. So I watched the pack distance itself and disappear.

The early morning was cool and foggy. I made a couple of quick stops to adjust my front fender, which was rubbing on the tire. This would be a constant theme throughout the ride. During one of those stops Bill Olsen and Jim Logan rode by. I joined them just before the first crossing of the Delaware River in Riegelsville. I was surprised, if not shocked, to see Bill riding a fenderless bike. As usual, conversation with Bill was easy and pleasant. Bill pointed out that the Riegelsville bridge was designed by John Roebling, to whom the Brooklyn bridge is credited. Later on I burst into laughter when he elaborated on the sensuality of the carbon brake levers on his Serotta Ottrott, not cold to the touch, as he gently caressed them.

Soon after the crossing Jim fell back and on the first moderate climb Bill bad farewell. I did not get too far ahead, because I saw two riders in my rear view mirror and decided to wait. It was Bill, but now in the company of Mike Lutz. We rode together up to the second Delaware crossing in Easton and parted ways soon after crossing the bridge. I was now in familiar territory, as many of the R-12 rides start at Tom's home in Easton. The view of the Delaware was pleasant and I was riding comfortably and enjoying the morning. Then a car slowed down next to me. It was Tom! I received some encouraging words and he drove on.

I arrived at the Aherns Country Café at 7:10am. Tom was sitting at a table waiting for his breakfast order. The lead group had arrived at 6:57am. I still had plenty of food and drink, so I only used the bathroom facilities. As I left the contrôle Guy Harris was just arriving.

The section leading to the next contrôle was probably the one with the most climbing. I guess because it was still early in the ride and cool, the climbing didn't feel like much effort. I took my time. The only nuisance was my front fender. I stopped several times to adjust it. During one of these episodes I accidentally reset my cyclocomputer. From then on I began to use the segment mileage, resetting after each cue. I found this to be a good way to stay alert. Along the way I decided to stop at a Petro Mart that serves as a contrôle on many other of Tom's brevets. There I topped off my water supply and had my first dose of Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot. Soon I was joined by Mike. I was looking out the window when I saw another randonneur ride by.

I left the Petro Mart before Mike. A few miles later I began what would be my journey along the Blue Mountain ridge for nearly 100 miles. About 50 miles into the ride I crossed with Guy. He was checking his cue-sheet as we joined Upper Smith Gap Rd. I presumed he was the randonneur I saw pass by at the Petro Mart. Guy was riding a geared bike instead of his fixie. It was nice to ride along Upper Smith Gap on slightly wider tires and a set of relatively fresh legs, as opposed to the occasion Rick and I pre-rode the PA ACP 300K after completing a fléche hours before. It was that much more enjoyable. I also recognized the spot where my wife Grazie and I set up the secret contrôle during the same event on its official running date.

Guy and I rode side by side for about 15 miles. I think we were victims of the "inching" syndrome, because at some point along Fireline Rd, just before arriving in Bowmanstown, Guy said that he was falling back because the pace was a bit too fast for him. I actually was thinking the same thing! The next 15 miles had some sections of steep climbing. At mile 71 I passed Judson Hand and Eric Keller as we turned on Smithlane Rd. They were the last cyclists I would see until the Blodies Inc in New Ringgold. However, before I got there again I stopped many times to adjust my fender and seriously contemplated taking it off and strapping it to my back. The problem was somewhat remedied when I found out that if I pulled on the fender stay, while riding, the noise would go away. That is, until the next bump. At least I wasn't stopping all the time anymore.

I arrived at the Blondies Inc as Rick Carpenter and Robin Landis were leaving. There was a bike resting outside the restaurant that I found belonged to Andy Brenner. At this contrôle I topped off my water and ate my first of three peanut butter sandwich varieties Grazie prepared for me. A random selection yielded the traditional PB&J. I also mixed a new batch of Spiz. With the increasing temperatures I changed my strategy to mix less powder in each bottle. The mixture remained palatable while it lasted. Andy left Blondies a few minutes before I did. After using the bathroom (located outside the restaurant) I reentered Blondies because I had forgotten to initial the sign-in sheet. Inside were Jud, Guy and Eric enjoying sodas.

A few miles after I left Blondies Inc. I passed Andy on one of the numerous rollers along this section. I remember enjoying this part of the ride very much. The climbing effort on the steeper parts was rewarded with incredible descents. At mile 104 I saw Rick and Robin standing outside a Sheetz gas station. I figured they would be riding faster anyway, so I decided to keep on going. At the time I had enough water and food too. The next 15 miles or so were of rolling terrain. There were many dairy farms along the way and friendly folk who greeted me as I passed by. I had a slight cue mishap and rode an extra mile when I mistakenly kept right instead of left after a sequence of cues that read: bear right, bear right, bear right, turn right. It turns out I was wrong, not right.

The sight of Sweet Arrow lake was welcoming enough to grant a picture. Maybe less than a mile later I saw many cyclists approaching. They seemed to be making an effort to catch me, so I decided to give them some work. I was running low on water and Spiz and had already planned to make a stop at the Hess mini-mart indicated on the cue sheet. There I had another Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot as I observed the group that was behind me move on. Apparently Rick and Robin were not the only ones to stop at the Sheetz. For about 15 miles I actually was riding ahead of everyone else. Less than a mile after leaving the mini-mart a downpour began. I stopped to put on my rain jacket, booties, seat cover and helmet cover. The dryness on my feet did not last long. I remember this section being the least enjoyable.

The trio John Fuoco, Chip Adams and Craig Martek were about to leave as I arrived at the Hess mini-mart contrôle in Jonestown. Rick and Robin decided to wait a few minutes while I mixed more Spiz and selected another sandwich, this time PB & Nutella. I ate most of the sandwich while I was on the bike. At this contrôle I was greeted by Bill Slabonik, who was volunteering during the event. I heard he provided assistance to several riders that had mechanical issues.

It was good to have some company after riding 136 miles mostly alone. Rick was cheerful and making several comments about the roads we were navigating. The only major inconvenience was the wind, at times a crosswind and at times a headwind, but never the right wind, which is tailwind. I joked to Robin about this. Whenever I am present, there is guarantee of no tailwind. The views were nice and I took several pictures along the way. On the rollers I noted how Robin and Rick were grinders. The would usually start climbing much quicker than I, but if the climb was sufficiently long I would catch up. If I know the climb will last a decent amount I start in a low gear and move up as the grade permits.

At the Sheetz contrôle in New Holland we met up with Craig, Chip and John F. once again. They left a couple of minutes after we arrived. At this contrôle I had my last sandwich, PB & honey. I like how the honey is absorbed by the bread. Delicious. Rick's cyclocomputer allegedly cannot sit idle without resetting so we left and I ate my sandwich while riding. About a mile after we left the contrôle Rick was adjusting his shoe while riding when he slammed into a parked SUV. Fortunately nothing happened to Rick. Robin at times was falling back and since it was starting to get dark, Rick and I would wait for him to catch up. I was astonished by how light Robin was riding. He had just a little saddlebag with tools, water bottles and no more.

Another highlight of the brevet was the time we spent on Hopewell Rd going through the French State Creek Park. Along the way we stopped for a bathroom break at the park office. I used the occasion to make a phone call to Grazie. I wanted to let her know we had completed over 200 of the 250 miles. Before exiting the park we experienced a sweet descent. Along the climb/descent Rick and I lost contact with Robin, but after a bit of easy pedaling he caught up just in time for our next contrôle stop at the WaWa in Pottstown.

I was craving for something salty after spending most of the day eating sweetish food. My choice was the WaWa Cuban flatbread sandwich. I devoured it in a minute or so. This time around we did not encounter the lead group at the contrôle. After many hours in the saddle we had about 35 miles left. They will not be forgotten any time soon.

There was some climbing to be done. It seems the "sweet descent" brought us to a low point in the ride profile. But this was the type of climbing I like, not the steep rollers. I was particularly fond of Gerloff Rd in Spring Mount, with lots of vegetation surrounding us. Soon afterward, Robin took a spill upon turning left onto Delphi Rd. It was at a very low speed. Following a quick bike check he was back in the saddle.

Then there was rain. Plenty rain. Lightning too. I was hoping for a dry arrival. This time I wasn't interested in rain gear. In retrospect I probably should have put the rain gear on, judging from the way I am coughing now. We were on Rt 563 for 13 miles on the final stretch towards the hostel. At the end there was also the infamous dip in the profile.

I shouted "yohooo" once I turned onto the hostel driveway at 11:30pm. It was echoed by Rick. What a delight to take a warm shower and put on some loose clothing. And then enjoy a delicious post ride meal. Tom congratulated us and signed us in. Our riding time was 18h30min, just under an hour after the lead group arrived. Robin soon left and Rick didn't spend much time at the hostel either.

The post-ride is to me almost as fun as the ride itself. I like to socialize with fellow randonneurs as they make it to the finish. So instead of hibernating, which I could have, I kept taking naps and coming downstairs to greet riders. At 1:10am Andy, Jud, Guy and Eric came in, at 20h10min of riding time. Just 20min later Mike and the tandem team formed by Mary Crawley and Kelly Smith finished. Most riders were off to their destinations quickly.

I heard about Steve Sheetz, who unfortunately had to withdraw because of a knee injury sustained earlier in the month that wasn't completely healed. I also found out that Bill Olsen's carbon fiber seat post broke. He was quite close to a DNF when he arrived at the Aherns contrôle. As support is allowed at contrôles, Tom offered to take him to his home in Easton for spare parts. A mountain bike seat post did the job. Then Tom returned Bill to the contrôle and he continued. The incident must have ocurred not long after I left Bill at the bridge crossing.

Next in was Jim Logan at 3:10am, completing the ride in 22h10min. Just 30min later fellow Ithacans John Dennis and Dan Barbasch arrived with Victor Urvantsev and Kate Marshall. I actually signed them in while Tom prepared a new batch of pizza. John D. was a sight of relief. A bit sore from the ride, but very happy. We spent some time talking to each other and hearing tales of the ride. Back to bed.

I heard some noise downstairs, but was slow to react. Once I did Christine Newman and Daniel Aaron had just left, after 23h30min of riding time. It was 4:30am when they arrived. The last riders in were Bill Olsen and Walter Pettigrew at 25h. I did not see or hear them.

At around 8:30am Dan woke John D. up and because I was invisible on the top bunker, he didn't notice me. Only us and Jim remained at the hostel along with Tom. We loaded our gear in the cars and drove back to Ithaca. Along the way we stopped at a diner where I had a short stack of pancakes, a bacon and cheese omelet and two hot chocolates. No leftovers.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Western/Central NY ACP 200K

Saturday I rode for the first time with the Western NY series organized by Peter Dusel. Fortunately Pete's wife Sandy was there to sign me in as I was late at the start. One is allowed to start up to one hour late. However, the contrôle opening/closing times as well as the total time limit are not altered. I ended up starting alone at 7:20am. I set the goal to try to join the lead riders. The attempt was unsuccessful, as there was no way I could catch Wayne Panepinto, who finished the 127 mile ride with 6,600 ft of climbing and strong headwind in 7h31min. In the attempt I suffered again with cramps at mile 100, and this time I had to stop. In the end I finished with a personal best of 8h15min and managed to meet several riders along the way. Next time I'll meet Wayne, at the start!

My alarm clock went off at 4am and I woke up at 4:50am. It was a good thing I had everything set up for the ride, but I did not have enough time to make it to the start in time. I was close, arriving just as the other cyclists left at 7am. RBA Peter Dusel stopped to give last minute instructions. His wife Sandy signed my brevet card as I left the Dusel home at 7:20am.

The first miles were a bit strenuous. I was actually planning on a moderate pace with a lot of chat with new riders. At around mile 3 I caught up with two riders that were going out for a training ride. A pickup stopped ahead of us and someone jumped out, opening the door in a rather abrupt manner. We had to swerve in order to avoid it. As I passed the driver I heard something like rando... It turns out he was late for the ride as well and could not find the entrance to the Dusel home. I gave him instructions and moved on, hoping to latch on the training guys for a free ride. They may have sensed my intention, as they made a left turn just as I caught them. Oh well.

The first contrôle was at mile 10. It was an info contrôle. We were asked to write down the information on one of the "Adopt-a-highway" signs. Isn't randonneuring cool? I checked my time and wrote down the info on the sign. Time to move on.

The road conditions were excellent throughout the entire ride and I appreciated that very much. Initially I thought there would be lots of traffic on some of the roads, but that was not the case. I was on Planck road for 8.5 miles. A good way to make time would be to ride in my drops, so I did. I put my head down and followed the white line, looking ahead once in a while. Since the road was in such good condition, I really did not have to worry too much about potholes. I find this riding position quite comfortable, as long as I have my head down.

My next cue was a right turn on Schoolhouse Rd, on top of a small hill. There I met up with Peter Dusel, former RBA Jennifer Barber and some other riders as well, 23.6 miles into the ride. I spent some time chatting with them and also used the opportunity to apply sunscreen as I rode along with the group. The sun was peaking through the numerous clouds on this day with several thunderstorms in the forecast. I asked Peter how many riders were ahead of the group and he said three. He also informed me that among them was Wayne, who would probably finish in 7 hours or so. I thought I should get going if I intended to meet up with any of them. So I left Peter's group 4 miles after the encounter on Schoolhouse Rd.

My determination to catch up with the lead riders did not stop me from taking pictures, however. The crossing of the Erie canal required a stop. The single lane steel bridge was still wide enough for a car plus a cyclist. This reminds me of the perfect automobile according to the late Ken Kifer. In response to the question "Am I anti-car?," he points out their importance to the old and physically handicapped and then goes on to describe the ideal automobile, which turns out to be a bicycle. You can read it here (scroll down or just read all the newsletter shorts).

I was back in the drops for another 15 miles. Then I saw a cyclist in the distance. I patiently waited, assuming that if I maintained my pace I would eventually catch him. It turns out David Thompson is also signed up for the Shenandoah 1200K in June. The other coincidence is that he has ridden Rick Carpenter's Schuykill to Susquehanna permanent. Rick rides the PA brevet series and I was on his fléche team in April. I find that Dave has a pace similar to mine, in normal conditions. But on this day I was very hyped by the effort to catch the lead riders. I learned from him that a guy he was riding with had made a stop a few miles back. He asked me if I saw him, which I didn't. He also mentioned there were two riders ahead of him. This information did not jive with what Peter told me. Hum.. three our four riders?

As I reached the town center in Canandaigua, location of the next contrôle, I noticed that there was a mention of KFC on the cue sheet. Initially I thought it was the contrôle, but in fact it was a cue to bear left at KFC. On the previous day I had thought it was not a good idea to have fried chicken on a brevet, but I hear they now serve grilled as well. In any case, there is no longer a KFC in Canandaigua. In this brevet, the contrôle was of your choice! I figured this out at the gas station Bill Fischer, Jamie Gartenberg and I stopped at during our unofficial "Canandaigua 300K" back in March. I got on my bike to find Dave and tell him just as he was passing the gas station. I had to chase him for a bit since he did not hear me. We turned around and he alerted me to a spoke that was falling from my brand new Carradice Barley saddle bag. I said I would take care of it at the gas station. Suddenly Dave was gone. He actually stopped to pick up the spoke that had fallen to the ground. At the gas station we shared a gallon of water and I also had a dose of Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot. Yum! Outside we both mixed out powder concoctions with water. I told Dave I had to take care of some stuff in the bathroom and that I would catch up later.

After about 10 min I was back in the chase. It is amazing how far one can get in 10 min. On this section the headwind was particularly fierce. On my first ride around Canandaigua I rode along the shoreline. This time Peter chose Middle Rd, which runs parallel to the lake shore, but on higher ground. The view is really amazing, but I still prefer the shoreline. I joined SR 245 towards Naples and still no sign of Dave. Finally, after 15 miles I caught up with him. This time I did not stick around and moved on towards Naples.

There was a restaurant conveniently located at the same corner of our next cue, Bob & Ruth's Vineyard Restaurant. As I crossed the road to enter the restaurant's parking lot two cyclists rode by. They were carrying more gear than typical for a training ride, so I assumed they were the lead group. Bob & Ruth's seemed like a great lunch stop, but the ensuing 8.5 mile climb would be a serious obstacle to deal with on a full stomach. I happily opened my Barley saddle bag and pulled out a PB&J sandwich instead. I also bought some water to mix up more of my concoctions. I found out that the woman at the register was an FLCC member, or at least that it was I understood. Dave joined me at the contrôle and we left together.

The climb started on CR12 and went by the overlook used as a contrôle in the Quadzilla. But then there is more climbing as you make a left on Powel Hill Rd. This is followed by a right on S Gannett Hill Road which takes you to Ontario County Park, the top of the climb at 2,200 ft and location of an info contrôle. It was necessary to follow a gravel path to an overlook where we had to write down the number of benches that were there. I took a picture of the benches just in case. I forgot to take a picture of the view! How stupid is that! A good reason to do the climb again. If the overlook isn't a good reason to climb, maybe the descent on W Gannett Hill is. I reached 57.7 mph on both my odometers. That was pretty scary.

I was now heading back to the start on SR 64. The gentle downhill and lack of wind were welcomed. On this stretch I saw several cyclists riding in the opposite direction and no one riding where I was going. About 10 miles after turning on SR 64 I felt a pull in my right Sartorius (looked it up). For a moment I thought I might have injured it, but then I felt the same thing on my left leg. Cramp attack! This one was bad. I could not pedal. I massaged the muscle and shifted to a lower gear. The cramp subsided until I hit the next roller. Then it came back with vengeance. I found that I could still climb standing, but not in the saddle. I was lucky to find a convenience store on the intersection of SR 64 and US 20. I bought salted pretzels and Gatorade and hopped back on the bike as I tried to replenish my electrolytes. Every time I increased the pace I was held back by my cramps. Eventually I was able to speed up.

The tailwind I was hoping for had now turned into a vicious cross wind bringing several thunderstorms along with it. The cool thing is that even though you appear to be close, it might not even rain on you at all. This was the case for most of them. I felt the first raindrops on Yerkes Rd. I stopped and put on my rain jacket. By the way, I was always happy to stop and pull things out of the Barley, such a nice bag. Once I got back on the road it stopped raining. Great!

The next cue indicated a left turn on CR 8. This road would take me almost back to the start. For the first time, with 25 miles left, I decided to check my time to see what the ballpark finishing time would be. Once I noted that there was a good chance I could finish the ride well under 9h I pushed harder on the pedals. At the same time I could observe a nasty storm approaching from the West. It brought strong gushes of wind and lots of rain. I made another stop to put on my rain booties. They helped, but just for a while. I have not yet found a solution that will keep my feet dry. This is probably because my fenders are not large enough. I could see the water coming off the front wheel fender being blown on my right foot by the wind.

I rode through the thunderstorm into the sunshine. 8 miles left! The hope of catching the lead rider remained alive until I rode into the driveway of Peter Dusel's home and noticed that at least one car was no longer there. I knocked on the door, but Sandy was not home. So I wrote in my arrival time and put my brevet card next to Wayne's. I couldn't help the curiosity and took a peak at his card. He came in at 2:21pm. I came in at 3:35pm, but started 20 min after him. Wow! Even if I did not suffer with cramps and had blown by every rider I found along the way there was no way I would have matched that time. I do however think that a sub 8h would be feasible, although I am not sure I want to do that again.

While I was prepping for my drive back home Peter's wife Sandy arrived. We chatted for a while about cycling and their wonderful home on Lake Ontario. I even took some pictures. On my way out of the driveway I greeted Dave who was arriving. According to my math, there is a rider who stopped along the way or didn't leave his/her brevet card at the finish. By the time I got home it was 6pm, just over 12.5h since I left. That was nice for a change.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Volunteering at the Eastern PA ACP 300K

I had the unique opportunity to ride AND volunteer at this year's Eastern PA ACP 300K brevet. This is because I rode it hours after completing a flèche with a 40km extension on April 19 and Saturday I volunteered so that RBA Tom Rosenbauer could experience the ride. None of it would have been possible without the help and support of my wife Grazie. She made the post-ride meal: black bean stew with rice and potato sticks. I didn't ride on Saturday, but I sure ate as if I had.

Grazie and I woke up at 3am on Saturday morning and drove to Little Gap, PA. There we set up a secret contrôle for the ACP 300K. A 200K option was also available, but this was only a RUSA event. I had some guidelines from Tom as to where the contrôle should be located. Mainly I was looking for a spot that had enough room on the shoulder so that riders could stop safely. It should also be a spot where they would not pass by too fast. After a couple of miles on Lower Little Gap Rd we found a good spot and began to set up the contrôle.

The most time consuming part was preparing the PB&J sandwiches. They did not go as fast as I expected, so I helped out by having one as well. The cranberry juice also went untouched. Grazie tells me it is diuretic. Had I known I would have stuck only to apple juice. However, I was happy to see that odwalla and Clif bars were going fast, as well as the cookies. With few exceptions, including RBA Tom Rosenbauer, riders arrived and quickly left the contrôle.

The first rider in was Craig Martek at 7:46am. Minutes later Victor Urvantsev, Kate Marshall, Christiane Iwert, Gilbert Torres and Eric Keller arrived. The sign-in sheet carrier Len Zawodniak had a flat and was delayed. He arrived and quickly left, determined to make up time and catch Craig. That would turn out to be a difficult task, as Craig established the course record with 12h41min.

The stream of riders continued and I did my best to sign them in and get them going. I would have enjoyed chatting, but I knew that they were eager to roll again. At 8:47am RBA Tom Rosenbauer rolled in. He knew about the secret contrôle, so I guess it wasn't much of a secret for him. Tom thought he was the last rider to come in, but that turned out not to be the case, as Bill Phillips was still to arrive. Tom was a bit concerned, since he was certainly last to leave the hostel and had not seen Bill along the way. We decided to give Bill a call. It turns out he had a mechanical that I believe was related to a cable. He said we was delayed, but on track. Indeed, Bill arrived at 9:15am. He signed in and was off in no time.

At this point Grazie and I were free to leave. We packed the car and drove to the Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, the ride start location. Grazie was very tired and needed a nap. She made herself comfy on the living room couch after unloading the car with the food we had brought for the post-ride meal. It was a almost 12pm and I was ready to take a nap as well. At this time the phone rang. It was Kate Marshall. She said Victor had crashed and could not continue because of a missing dropout that had been torn off the frame. I was not obliged to, but I decided I needed to pick Victor up. I know from experience how miserable one can feel after a crash. The two times it happened to me I was able to continue, but since he couldn't I did not want him to deal with the hassles of getting back to the start. So I hopped in my car and went to get him. He was not very far from where we had positioned the secret contrôle, so that meant two hours of driving, there and back.

When I reached Victor he was sitting in a field of lively green grass and the sun was shining on him, with the bike lying on the ground close by. We had to take the fenders off so it could fit in the back seat of my car. On the way back a very appreciative Victor told me that he was descending and hit a some gravel as he tried to make a turn he should not have. Eric Keller, who was behind him, later reported seeing his front wheel about a foot off the ground. Victor hit the pavement hard and even his helmet cracked. The derailleur side dropout was torn off. I guess there's not much hope after that. Soon after I picked up Victor I received a call from Bill Phillips communicating that he was withdrawing at contrôle #3. A flat had delayed him further and he barely made the closing time at the contrôle to find out he had left his helmet 3 miles back.

I was back at the hostel close to 2pm. Grazie must have been really tired because she was still sleeping on the couch. We hadn't done much other than unload the car, so there was still a lot to do. A couple of hungry 200K riders were due to come in soon, so we had no time to waste.

While Victor was in the shower and taking care of his wounds, I went out with Grazie for a bite at Wendy's. We also needed to get some ice and judging by how fast the apple juice was consumed at the secret contrôle we needed more of that too.

It turned out to be a very wise idea to prepare the black bean stew we would serve beforehand. Grazie did that on Thursday and we froze it for transportation. Because of this, we only needed to prepare rice on site. That proved useful because shortly after we arrived from the mid afternoon escapade the 200K riders were in. Joe Platzner and Robert Ellis were happy to have some of the post-ride meal and Grazie received two of many more compliments to come.

The first 300K rider in was Craig Martek. He put in an amazing time of 12h41min, exactly five full hours faster than the time Rick and I had made on our pre-ride of the 300K. In our favor we had 400 km in our legs and two hours of sleep in the last 36h, so I don't feel bad at all with the time we put in.

The second rider in was Len Zawodniak. He was not able to catch Craig, but he passed all the other riders and delivered the sign-in sheets at all the contrôles. Shortly after Len came in, Christiane and Gilbert arrived. We had plenty of black bean stew and it was going fast.

A riding day that looked initially like it would be nasty turned out to be almost ideal, with balmy temperatures and favorable wind. Eric Keller, who on previous brevets had not been captured by my lens, finally was caught on film as he arrived 14h35min after the start together with Robin Landis.

I think Judson Hand is a randonneur who does not sacrifice his pace for company. He arrived alone at the secret contrôle and again alone at the finish, at 14h57min of riding time. Another loner is Guy Harris. He was the only fixie rider among the group and still was able to finish with a very respectable 15h15min for a geared bike. The next group of randonneurs would arrive almost a full hour later and was comprised of an always smiling Jim Logan and Daniel Aaron at 16h06min and 16h08min respectively. Ed Dodd, 2008 24h champion in the 60-69 category with 290.90 miles, arrived at 16h13min together with Bill Olsen and Walter Pettigrew. It's always nice to have Bill Olsen among the crowd, since he is a source of good conversation and many laughs.

Kate Marshall was greeted with a welcoming hug from Victor as she arrived with Chris Nadovich, the Umble brothers and George Metzler. George recently completed one of the PAC tours. Just five minutes later the tandem team Ron and Barbara Anderson were in. While I kept an eye on the lookout for incoming riders, I was able to enjoy some of the post-ride conversation. This included some amusing talk of how Eric was invited multiple times to sit down in the dining room of the Layton Country Store. The owner was probably expecting the behavior that Rick and I exhibited on our pre-ride, when we stayed there for almost a full hour.

Christine Newman and John Fessenden beat the 17h mark by a minute. John had missed a couple of turns and rode an extra 10 miles, effectively making the ride a double century. Not long thereafter Tom Rosenbauer came in at 17h21min. It seems he was making an effort to be last, as he was surprised that there still was a rider out. It was Mary Crawley. He swore she was ahead of him and it turns out they were at the same contrôle at the same time and managed not to see each other. In the end she was fine, finishing in 17h50min.

It was almost 11pm and I was ready to go to bed. The next day I would have to wake up at 3am and drive to NYC to participate in the Five Boro Bike Tour. For a report of that event, click here. Grazie was also very tired. With Tom's help, we cleared tables of all the food and carefully packed the reusable stuff for the next brevet.

At 12am I was finally in bed, trying to catch some sleep. It was an eventful day and I was very happy to have been part of the brevet in a different capacity, getting a small taste of what it is to be a Regional Brevet Administrator. I still had the help of Grazie. It is really amazing what Tom manages to do on these events. I have much greater appreciation for his efforts in promoting randonneuring and organizing brevets.

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Five Boro Bike Tour 2009

Just days after I signed up for the Five Boro Bike Tour many previous attendants told me to be careful. It would be quite hectic and that they would probably not do it again. I would say the assessment was quite accurate. However, If I have the opportunity, I'll certainly to it again. It was crazy fun! If you add the rain into the equation and the bath of spray I received over the entire ride from the fenderless bikes, it was even more fun. Hey, I didn't even have to shower after the ride. As I write, I haven't yet. Yikes!

The Five Boro Bike Tour was the second event in a very strenuous weekend. I volunteered to operate a secret contrôle and provide all the post-ride food for a randonneuring event in Pennsylvania on Saturday. My wife Grazie did the food part. We slept two hours from Saturday to Sunday, worked at the event all of Saturday and finally slept at midnight. Then on Sunday at 3am we woke up, leaving Quakertown PA towards NYC at 4am. I arrived in NYC at 6am, parked the car in a garage and made my way to the start. This is where the Five Boro Bike Tour story begins.

Grazie and I walked to Battery Park only to find out that the start was actually not there, but at the intersection of Church St and Frankin St, about a mile away. As Grazie was not riding, we both walked up Church St until I could no longer move forward. I had never seen so many people together, much less on bikes. There were 30,000 of us ready to ride. Well, some of us seemed more ready than others, but I am sure the level of excitement and eagerness to turn the pedals was shared equally.

After a long wait of 90min I heard the announcer give the final countdown. Then I waited another 10min to start walking the bike. It was only when I crossed the starting line that I was able to clip in. During the initial miles I rode with Justin Manzo from my department at Cornell. We met at the starting line without knowing that the other would even be there. What are the odds of that?

I was told I would likely be stuck on Staten Island for a while before I would be able to return to Battery Park on the ferry. That thought was not very comforting, since Grazie would be waiting for me. She had some plans of her own, but it was raining and chilly. The day was not very inviting for exploring the city on foot. I made the decision to try to ride as close as I could to the front of the pack. That meant I could not enjoy much of the scenery. On the other hand, it would be hard to enjoy the scenery moving at any speed, since with so many cyclists around, you have to be very attentive. My rear-view mirror proved a very valuable asset.

Weaving through the sea of other cyclists was a lot of fun. I tried to do it as safely as I could, indicating when I was moving sideways and checking behind for approaching cyclists on my left through the rear view mirror and on the right by turning my head. I would often be stuck for a while because there simply was no safe way to move through.

In no time we reached Central Park. This was the first bottleneck. Just before the park entrance I lost Justin and would not see him again. There were two converging streams of cyclists as we entered the park and I saw several falls. Most of them were at very low speed and probably of little consequence to those involved. I was doing my best to avoid any accidents and so far all was going smoothly.

The first bridge crossing was on Madison Ave into the Bronx, followed almost immediately by a crossing of the Third Ave bridge back to Manhattan. Shortly thereafter that we began riding on the FDR drive. The speed picked up and with it also the rain. A bad combo for fenderless bikes. Worse for riding behind fenderless bikes. The spray was almost impossible to avoid. For obvious reasons, I grumbled at MTB's with knobby tires.

It was while on FDR that I was involved in an accident. As I was passing a cyclist on his right side he moved towards the right and his handlebar hit my left thigh. I heard him go down and immediately pulled over and stopped. I went back to him and checked if he was OK. He did not sustain any apparent injuries but his front wheel was misaligned. His friends also stopped and after asserting that all was OK I continued. It sucks to be part of an accident, but at least I was comforted in knowing that he was OK and able to ride on.

Along FDR I also saw several cyclists with flats. The road conditions were not very good on this stretch. My Vittoria Pave EVO CG tires did a great job and I did not have any problems, even though I often rode in the nasty parts of the road where there were less cyclists. It was time to cross the Queensboro Bridge. On the climb to the bridge I jokingly mentioned to a rider next to me that I had never heard of hills in NYC. We both laughed and moved on.

I was steadily passing cyclists and no matter how many I passed there were so many more ahead of me. This was confirmed when we reached Astoria Park. It didn't look very different from the start, huge lines of cyclists waiting for their turn in the porter-potties. I heard on the speakers that this was a mandatory stop and we would be held there until 10:05am. It was 10:00am. Although I had felt like going to the bathroom at the start already, I had no intention of spending more time than necessary at the park. I immediately joined the long line at one of the exits of the park. I did eat a banana and more of my granola.

It didn't take long before we were moving along the streets of Queens. At one point I caught a glimpse of police cars. They were pace cars! The streets were now wide and there was more room to share. A few miles down the road I reached the pace cars and the many cycling marshals riding behind. It was quite a trip, to ride just behind the pace cars. It was also nice to hear the people on the streets cheering for us. It is much more of a novelty for them to see the first cyclists moving along than the last among 30,000. The bad news is that the rain picked up. None of the marshals had fenders, or any of the cyclists in that front group. Now I had nowhere to go in order to avoid the spray and I soon felt the first drops of water penetrating my shoes. There would be many more by the time the ride ended.

The ride continued into Brooklyn until reaching the Cannonball Park. Before we crossed the Verrazano-Narrows bridge we made a sharp turn and a cyclist went down a few feet in front of me. With so many of us converging in narrow turns I was happy not to fall. The cyclist that I saw go down was up on his bike in no time, so I imagine nothing serious happened.

After the bridge crossing we arrived at the festival grounds in Fort Wadsworth. There were many stands with free stuff, including coffee and other goodies. I was tempted to hang out but I decided to head for the exit signs. I was determined on getting on the ferry as soon as I could. It was rainy and chilly, not a good time to stand around. I exited the festival area and together with another cyclist we were stopped and told we would have to wait there until 11:45am. That meant standing there for about 15min. Not too bad.

At 11:45 the police officers let us go and to my surprise we still had to ride another 3 miles or so to reach the ferry. I thought the ride had been over! Along this stretch I almost went down. On the bottom of a small descent there was a left turn. I had a good line, but as I reached the bottom I noticed there was an iron plate and I was turning on it. My rear wheel started to slide but I had enough traction on the front wheel and made the necessary adjustments to stay upright. This occurred instinctively. Whew!

Together with another guy I was riding with at this point, we were the first cyclists to enter the ferry. No lines! Yay! I took a nap while we crossed back to Battery Park. I needed some rest after two nights without proper sleep.

Upon arriving at Battery Park I headed back to the garage to get my car. I found a phone booth and made a call to Grazie. She was at Macy's on 34th. It took me a full hour to get there. I assume that the traffic was partially caused by the Five Boro Bike Tour.

I picked up Grazie and we went to a photo exhibition at the International Center of Photography near Bryant Park. I did not go in cycling gear, but we did see Five Boro cyclists throughout the afternoon up until we left NYC towards Ithaca at 4:50pm.

All told, it was quite an experience. It probably would have been more enjoyable without the rain and with the sun in its place. But those are things one cannot choose but rather deal with. It would be nice if people learned more about fenders.

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