Monday, June 1, 2009

PA ACP 600K- Water Gap Edition

This year's edition of the ACP 600K included one very long extended climb, many rollers and countless shorter steep climbs. Did I mention flats? Oh yes, there was that section along the Lackawaxen River. I think it was rather flat. RBA Tom Rosenbauer masterfully designed the most scenic route I have experienced, on bike or car, airplane, buggy, you name it. Over the course of 600 km we visited the Blue Mountain Ridge, rode along the Alleghany Front through the Promised Land on our way to Hawk's Nest on NY SR 97, then returned towards the start through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, followed by an out and back segment that included the French Creek State Park and Amish country near Lancaster. One ride, three states and memories to last a lifetime.

The departure out of Ithaca, NY was a bit hectic. About seven days earlier I made an order from Hammer Nutrition for gel and flasks only to find out that a local store sells all that stuff. In any case, the shipment was taking longer than I expected and I was literally waiting for the FedEx guy to deliver the goods. At about 3:30pm I started my 3h drive to Quakertown, PA. For the first time I actually arrived there in daylight with plenty of time to spare. At the hostel were Eric Keller, Jud Hand, Craig Martek and Brian Berry. Craig was already asleep and Brian was on his way to bed. Shortly after I arrived Lawrence Midura came in. Lawrence successfully completed the Shenandoah 1200K last year but is not up for seconds.

Eric and I went out to an Italian restaurant in Quakertown for some pasta and good chat before embarking on the 600 km adventure. Eric made his own set of LED lights for his bike. His beam was mighty bright. Upon returning to the hostel I got into my pajamas only to notice that I had forgotten my backpack at home with my nécessaire. So instead of sleeping at 9:30pm I went out to a gas station for a toothbrush, soap, and other essentials. I also made some last minute adjustments to my front brakes. In the end I was in bed only at 12pm and woke up just 2h30min later. Oh my...

I was one of the first to get up on Saturday because I like to take a relaxing shower before the big ride and allow time to digest breakfast. At 3am riders from nearby towns began arriving. There were 22 registered riders of which 19 started. One of the "non-starters" was Rick Carpenter, who had done a volunteer pre-ride a week earlier. RBA Tom Rosenbauer would clip-in thanks to volunteers Bill Slabonik, Eric Bower and Mordecai Silver.

A few minutes before 4am Tom made the last announcements and we were sent off. About 30s later I stopped to adjust my rear fender, which was touching the brake. With that little nuisance out of the way I caught up with the rest of the group. We were riding more or less together, with Eric, Craig and I leading the way. Seven miles into the ride Craig and I missed a turn and I noticed the absence of lights in my rear view mirror. It took us about 4 miles to catch up with everyone on the climb on Route 378 towards Bethlehem. It always amazes me how much time is lost when going off course. By the time we were descending into Bethlehem morning twilight was in effect. At this point the group had thinned out a bit.

Craig, Eric, Bill and I arrived at the Cherryville contrôle at precisely 6am, 33 miles in the ride. I was feeling a bit chilly and regretted not bringing my arm warmers with me for the first day of riding. A good solution to that problem is to ride faster! Not long after we left the contrôle we began climbing Blue Mountain Dr. Along the climb I inched my way ahead and enjoyed a descent into the morning fog on the other side of the ridge. I really enjoyed the fog. Riding along the many rollers on Lower Smith Gap/Upper Smith Gap road was a lot of fun. I passed by the point where my wife Grazie and I set up a secret contrôle for the 300K. I even felt a bit of sadness as I rode by, wishing that she would be there greeting me. I miss her when I'm riding.

A climb took me out of the fog and I was able to observe the valley below. The view was quite spectacular. The picture I took did not do it justice. A few miles ahead I encountered a road block on Rt 3017 because of a car that was on fire. The firefighters were on site. I decided to take my chances and rode on the shoulder on the opposite side of the road, behind the firetruck. Nobody complained, or at least I didn't hear anything. Just after I passed the road block I noticed I did not take a picture. It turns out everyone made it through the road block without incidents.

On this day I was working on a new nutrition strategy. On-the-bike nutrition was provided by Hammer Gel contained in flasks. I had one in each jersey pocket. In the left pocket raspberry flavor and in the right, orange. In my saddlebag I carried an extra flask with vanilla flavor. I also had a Hammer water bottle with a gel compartment. Every 30min I would take an endurolyte capsule, drink water from my Camelbak and eat some gel. Every hour I would take an anti-fatigue capsule, which promises to reduce accumulation of ammonia. I really can't gauge how well it works, but I was totally sold by the name. It's perfect for long distance cycling. In addition, I had Spiz in my second bottle and carried some powder in case I ran out of gel. Since the gel does not contain any protein, I decided to eat food that contains protein at the contrôles and I also carried a protein bar in my central rear jersey pocket. I nibbled on it every now and then, mostly because I would crave for something solid.

I arrived at the Snydersville Diner contrôle at 7:35am. The staff there was very friendly. My choice of food was chocolate milk. A few minutes later Craig, Bill and Eric joined me. We were moving at a good pace and wanted to keep it up for as long as possible. The day was upon us and the skies were mostly void of clouds. Bill and I left the contrôle and promised to pedal easy until they caught up. After a few miles Craig reached us. He said that Eric was slowed down by the hills, so we moved on towards the Promised Land State Park. This was the longest extended climb I have done. It lasted for nearly 20 miles. During most of that time I was pulling at 20mph. I didn't feel like I was exerting too much effort. Craig and Bill were following so I kept it up. One thing I discovered is that I like the shorter steep climbs more. I haven't tried a 20 mile steep climb yet, however. I guess that would take me to heaven, either way you look at it. I'm not religious by the way. Craig and I lost Bill somewhere along the last steep part of the climb.

Along the descent we passed by the shore of Lake Wallenpaupack, created by the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company in 1927, arriving at the Hawley contrôle at 10:46am. At this point in time our average speed, including contrôle stops, was 15.4 mph, which is considered pretty fast for non-supported endurance events. At this contrôle I bought honey roasted cashew nuts. Bill Fischer joined us shortly and we left together towards Hawk's Nest. For months now I have been wanting to check this place out. Such a cool name.

We left the contrôle on Kimbles Rd following the Lackawaxen River. The terrain was rolling, with a downhill trend. It was also shaded and I appreciated that very much as the day grew warmer. I find that it takes me some time to speed up after a contrôle stop, unlike Craig and Bill. I didn't want to push myself out of my comfort zone with 275 miles to go, so I observed as they pulled away. Eventually I only had Bill in sight. After a few miles I started increasing my pace reeling Bill. Then Bill and I worked a bit together and caught up to Craig just after crossing Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct. Shade was no more and I "discovered" my full front zipper jersey. I rode with it unzipped for the rest of the day and even received some remarks from oncoming cars. I'm not sure why, but my jersey is pink and I had white arm/leg coolers on.

Hawk's Nest was as spectacular as the name. The winding road with the Delaware River on the side was a magnificent site. One could observe the many rafters flowing with the water and for a moment I envied them. I too wanted to be in the water. A few miles ahead I had my first and only incident during the ride. I was in the drops and had my head down intermittently. I was feeling sleepy and for a moment I closed my eyes. In the process I veered off course and rode into the grass on the side of the rode, falling off the bike. I was moving slowly and nothing really happened, but I was much more alert after that episode.

Craig and I pulled in the Dunkin Donuts contrôle in Port Jervis, NY at 1:28pm. Bill joined us just a few minutes later. Our average speed was still up there, at 15.3 mph. For a while I had been longing for a flatbread sandwich. My choice was ham and cheese accompanied by a medium iced tea. We tried to keep our time at contrôles to a minimum, without being hasty and as consequence forgetting to top off water bottles or even forgetting to get the brevet card signed. That would be a scary thought. Before we left the Dunkin Donuts it was agreed we would slow down a bit. However, this did not happen.

Again, in the few miles after the contrôle I found it difficult to follow Craig and Bill, so this time I shamelessly stuck to Bill's wheel. I stayed there for a good amount of time. We were rolling through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area (DWGNRA) towards Dingmans Ferry. The break I was getting sitting on Bill's wheel was much welcomed. However, upon crossing the bridge towards the Pennsylvania side of the DWGNRA, Bill gave me the dreaded sign that it was my time to pull. I sighed and did so for about 10 miles, until we made a left on Community Dr. It's funny how the perception of distance changes when you are on a 600 km ride. Comments like "It's just 15 miles to the next contrôle!" or "Now all we have is a century left!" need to be put in context. Having participated in all the ACP events organized by Tom Rosenbauer this year, I had the opportunity to ride roads in both directions. River Rd is a common occurence and it's steep rollers were well remembered. Even though some of them were quite steep, the following descent was always a treat.

Craig, Bill and I signed in the Delaware Water Gap Diner contrôle at 4:55pm. At this time we had already stopped about a tenth of a mile earlier at a gas station for food and drink. I had a ham and cheese sandwich on rye bread along with a bottle of Lifewater. It hit the spot just right. I also made a call to Grazie to tell her we had just completed 184 miles of the 240 miles we would ride before returning to the Weisel Youth Hostel. She was happy to hear the news and find out everything was going well.

If there is any stretch of the brevet that I didn't enjoy that much it was the second half of the section from Water Gap to Bloomsbury, NJ. The first half was quite nice, along the Delaware River. I also savor any bridge crossing, because it's great to get off the bike, walk a bit and take in the scenery. However, the second half included some roads with a lot of traffic and not very much climbing. Personally, I prefer climbing. Having so many cars buzzing by and some of them doing so dangerously close was rather annoying. The good news is that we finally slowed the pace down a bit, arriving at the Bloomsbury Citgo contrôle at 7:01pm, with our average speed reduced to 14.35 mph.

The sun was low on the horizon as we left Bloomsbury, providing wonderful light for pictures. Unfortunately by the time we passed something worthy of a picture it was already too dark. I did take a picture of my shadow as I rode along. Curiously the angle doesn't allow one to recognize that the shadow is holding a camera. Soon enough we were crossing the Riegelsville bridge, also built by Roebling, back into Pennsylvania. This brevet could also be name "Roebling's bridges."

At 9:05pm we arrived at the Weisel Youth Hostel. We had covered 240 of the 375 miles at an average speed of 14 mph. I was happy to see Bill Slabonik and Eric Bower. They served us Tom's specialty lasagna. There was also noodle soup. I had both and then went to shower upstairs. A fresh set of cycling gear awaited ready for the second day of riding. I avoided looking at the bunk bed since it could seem too tempting. For a moment I thought of staying at the hostel and calling it quits, enjoying a good night of sleep. The thought did not last long. Bill and Craig were ready to go. We left the hostel at 10:10pm. Since the weather forecast for the next hours did not include any mention of rain, I decided to leave the fenders at the hostel.

I soon realized the night was getting chillier. I was using tights and arm warmers. Even then I had to stop to put on my Showers Pass Double Century jacket. It works very well as a wind breaker. For the first few miles Bill was leading the way through darkness. It was hard to spot potholes and on two occasions I did not react fast enough to his alert. The result was a flat rear tire. Before I left the hostel I had coffee with milk, but the effect was wearing off and I was feeling sleepy. The decision to ride the 600K through without sleeping started to look like a bad one.

We made it to the WaWa contrôle in Pottstown at 1:22am, covering 35 miles in a little over three hours. Our average speed over the ride was now at 12.9 mph. Riding in darkness was not just a matter of having good lights. At the WaWa I had a "wake me up" coffee with extra caffeine. I told Bill that I might decide to just sleep in some place along the road. He nodded and said that he and Craig would keep me awake. I really don't know how because as soon as we left I was falling behind again. I could see the little red lights and I kept navigating in spite of that. I wanted to keep the mind busy looking at numbers and signs. Luckily there were some climbs along the route that helped me stay awake. On the longest climb on Shed Rd I hung back with Bill as Craig moved ahead. We talked about the recent Giro de Italia events. Both of us were wondering what had happened earlier that day and how the Friday Lakers vs. Nuggets game went. I was not enjoying this part of the ride at all. All I wanted was the sun to come out.

It was 4:26 as we arrived at the southernmost contrôle of our out & back segment of the 600K in New Holland. Our average speed was now 12.58 mph. At the time I wasn't really worried about times as much as I seem to be now. Although I have to admit that after our fast start I was enamored with the idea of a sub 30h finish. Given my state of sleepiness I seriously contemplated booking a room in New Holland. It was almost 5am and the contrôle closed at 1pm, which meant I could have 8h of sleep. However, the staff at Sheetz remarked how the sun would be out in just minutes. Indeed, I could observe that twilight was upon us. That fact swayed my mood entirely. I didn't even drink coffee having chocolate milk and a breakfast burrito. In retrospect I don't think all the condiments in the burrito were a good idea.

We began our ride back to the hostel. The first rider we encountered on the returning leg was Dan Barbasch, about 10 miles after we left the contrôle. Shortly thereafter we encountered George Metzler. I was no longer sleepy. The only moment I started to fade again was when we were in the shaded roads of the French Creek State Park. On the other hand, there was a big climb that I decided to attack. That sure woke me up. I got ahead of Bill and Craig and made it back to Pottstown at 6:55am. My average speed was now at 12.60 mph. Along this stretch I met several riders in the opposite direction, many of which I was not able to recognize. Craig joined me just a few minutes later and Bill came in shortly after that. At the WaWa I ate scrambled eggs and drank more chocolate milk. We left the WaWa at about 7:20am with about 2h40 minutes to cover 35.5 miles available for a sub 30h finish. 20 of those miles were very hilly. That would be nice, but I wasn't overly concerned about it and would not really push unless someone else did. Craig did just that. Bill was actually leading us at a moderate pace when he missed a cue. At that point the baton was passed to Craig who pulled away. Bill urged me not to wait as this was the hilly section and he knew he would be slower on the climbs. I then followed Craig. We rode at the same pace. I was not in the mood to work more that I needed to in order to keep contact with him. On the climbs it didn't feel like too much effort. However, once we got up to the flatter rolling parts on route 563 Craig seemed to be in his element. I was having to work very hard to keep up with him, even when I managed to stay on his wheel. He would often pull away and I wished every traffic light was closed. I was lucky a couple of times. The only way I found to keep up was to ride in the drops. The miles started ticking away quickly and before I knew it we were going up the last steep climb a mile ahead of the finish at the hostel. It was 9:37am as we were congratulated by Mordecai Silver, Eric B. and Bill S. We had met our goal of a sub 30h finish averaging 12.65 mph. Bill F. also beat the 30h mark by just 2 minutes! He too was happy about that.

At the hostel I enjoyed a long shower followed by chat with Mordecai, Eric B. and Bill S. Craig went to sleep and Bill F. left for Elmira, NY. That guy is nuts. I eventually decided to take a nap at 11am. During my nap a virtual rider, Rick Carpenter, came in at 32h flat. I woke up at about 1:40pm as Eric K. was searching through his belongings. Eric K. arrived after 32h20min of riding time. He was followed by John Fessenden at 32h30min and George Metzler at 32h38min. I learned that George fell asleep at a donut place before we crossed with him on the way back to the hostel. Maybe that was why he was so chirpy. Power naps work wonders. Dan Barbasch came in just 7 minutes later completing the ride in 32h45min. The next rider in was Guy Harris at 33h23min. I was enjoying the chat with riders and volunteers and looking forward to more arrivals. Daniel Aaron was next at 34h23min. Most of the riders arrived and were off to bunks or final destinations. Eric K. was enjoying a nap on the sofa and seemed not at all bothered by the gathering of riders that arrived at 35h06min of riding time. They were Bill Olsen, Lawrence, Jim Logan, Brian and Jud. I heard their stories and shared mine as well. We all agreed the route was challenging, scenic and memorable.

On route remained only Kate and Victor. They had a good night of sleep before returning to the road for the next day. A few knee pains slowed Kate down at the end, but they both arrived safely and in a very good mood at 38h25min of riding time. Kate was very happy to receive her medal. At this point it was 7pm and I still had a 3h drive home. It was time to leave.

I was able to stay alert on the way home and slept a good 10h before budging.

5 comments:

kttrue said...

I took the same photo at Hawks Nest! Great story. And I agree, riding in the fog feels very primal, and cool.

john said...

Juan,

Great account! I don't know how you did it with no sleep. Good luck on the S1200!

John

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Thanks Kate!

It's nice to see you and Victor riding through adversity together. I wish I could get my wife to join me on bike rides! I won't be riding the EM1240K, but maybe I'll see you on other PA events in the future. You should think about an R-12.

Juan PLC Salazar said...

John!

I don't know either. They say the limit is much further than what I did. I had no hallucinations or things of the sort.

Reddan said...

Juan,

Nice ride report. I found your mention of Shed Rd particularly interesting, as it brought back memories of my sleep-deprived low point in last year's 600K. I, too, was getting desperate for the sun to come out at that point; if it weren't for Rob Welsh's company, I would have been sleeping off the side of the road on that climb!

--Dan Blumenfeld