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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