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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