Monday, June 29, 2009

PA ACP 1000K

It was a small contingent at the start in Quakertown, PA. Eight of us rode up and over the many climbs of the "Endless Mountains" brevet, each in our own way. In the end all of us finished the ride within the allowed time limit for 100% completion. After riding the entire ACP PA series this year, I can attest to the beauty of the state of Pennsylvania. It was my last big ride of the year and my last in the US, a farewell of sorts, as I will return to my home country Brazil. With me I'll take memories of the incredible landscape and the cherished company of fellow cyclists.

Pre-ride

During this year's edition of the Shenandoah 1200K I injured my right Achilles tendon. In fear of turning it into a chronic injury, I didn't ride my bicycle during the 12 day interlude before the PA ACP 1000K. As a precautionary measure, I also taped both of my Achilles tendons. I was prepared to DNF if I had to. The day before the ride I pedaled about half a mile and everything felt OK. Half a mile is really not a serious test.

An afternoon meeting was canceled, which allowed me to arrive early in Quakertown. For the first time I actually was in bed and almost asleep at 10pm for a 4am start. I was very happy to feel the cool air as I entered the hostel bedroom. There was air conditioning! A real treat on a warm night.

At 2:30am I was up. After a relaxing shower I joined the contingent downstairs for the pre-ride breakfast. It was a small group comprised of Rick Carpenter, Jud Hand, Chip Adams, Bill Fischer, John Fessenden, George Winkert, Patrick O'Donnell and myself.

Rick helped me tape both of my Achilles tendons and I immediately realized this would be a rather painful affair. Walking was difficult. After the pre-ride meeting, during which RBA Tom Rosenbauer gave last minute instructions, we were sent off.

Day 1

On the first few rollers leaving the hostel I noticed that I was not in top shape. In addition, every pedal stroke was painful. I don't shave my legs and that may have contributed to the pain. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to stay off the bike for so many days and then start with a 200+ mile day. I had made the choice and it was time to deal with it.

Initially I rode up to the front to see that Patrick was leading. Where was Rick? I thought I was the last to leave the hostel. Apparently Rick had some business to take care of just as we were rolling out and stayed back. Suddenly I saw him next to me and then he was gone. I could not help but notice that he was riding a brand new Bianchi 928 carbon frame with a very little saddlebag. I knew then he was on a mission.

After a few miles I came upon Patrick and Chip, who had stopped to fix a flat. Patrick was getting the sign-in sheets from Chip that Tom gives to the faster riders to leave at contrôles so that he can keep track of rider progress. Rick was ahead. After the first climb I started riding with Bill.

By the time Bill and I got to the Northampton contrôle Rick was on his way out and Patrick too was about to leave. I rode with Bill until we met the climb on Blue Mountain Dr. From then on I rode alone along Lower Smith Gap Rd / Upper Smith Gap Rd and Cherry Valley until the second extended climb on Fox Gap. Along the way I made a few stops for fender adjustments and had two close calls while making turns on loose gravel that had been washed on the road. It was cloudy and humid. There was a light drizzle at times but I did not get rained on.

It was my second time up Fox Gap, the first being on the PA ACP 200K. I was feeling much better the first time around. After a painful ascent I was filled with joy when I saw volunteer Jim Logan who had set up a secret/revitalize contrôle. I had a refreshing can of Sprite and inquired about the status of Patrick and Rick, who were about 10min ahead of me. I decided not to push it, but go at my own pace and maybe I would get lucky.

I navigated familiar roads until the Gourmet Gallery contrôle in Blairstown, NJ. Once I crossed the Delaware River on the pedestrian bridge in Portland I recognized that the route was exactly the same as that of my first brevet, in November 2008. I also was happy to see the stone homes that caught my attention back then. As I pulled into the contrôle I saw Patrick outside and Rick enjoying some food and drink inside. This was my chance to ride with them, so I took care of my business as quick as possible. Rick was surprised that I would be riding with them, since I did not take a bathroom break at the contrôle. I am notorious for having a digestive system perfectly synchronized with contrôle stops.

Upon leaving Blairstown the terrain became once again hilly. We were now climbing Millbrook Rd and I was able to maintain a reasonable distance to Rick and Patrick. However, I was feeling a lot of pain and I wasn't sure whether it was from my Achilles or the tape itself. I didn't want to find out so I just kept on going. Once we were over the top of the climb there was a steep descent I did not exploit well because of bad road conditions. Then there was the right turn on Old Mine Rd and the dreaded steepness of that climb. If I have any fortes as a cyclist, climbing has traditionally been one, but this time around I didn't feel it at all. Rick and Patrick distanced themselves and a few miles down the road I caught up again. But I was working harder than I wanted to, so I decided to ease off the pedals as I watched them pull away.

It was tempting to stop at the Layton Country Store. I had the most delicious of meals on a volunteer pre-ride of this year's PA ACP 300K with Rick. But I wasn't that hungry and since I was moving ever so slower I decided not to stop. Above, the sky was clearing. I like sunny days, but I know that with the sun comes the implacable heat. Tom had mentioned something about a Raymondskill climb. I looked at my cue sheet while I was on Rt 209 and sure enough the next cue read "L Raymondskill Falls." It was the type of climb I like, twisty and steep. But my legs were not cooperating. My lowest gear is a 39x25 and my cranks are 175 mm, so my cadence plummeted. The pain I was feeling didn't help either. One stroke after the other I slowly moved along. Then I saw Jim again! He had setup another revitalize/secret contrôle. I had more soda, filled my water bottles and chatted a while with Rick and Patrick who were there too. We left the contrôle and almost instantly I was dropped. The climb continued for a while and was followed by rolling terrain. Along this section I made two navigational mistakes that may be related to the excruciating heat.

What a relief to arrive at the Barryville, NY contrôle. I was in dire need of real food. Rick and Patrick were still there and I ran into the store, ordered a 12" Mambo Sub and got a Sprite along with chocolate milk for dessert. Rick and Patrick went ahead to an Italian restaurant for food. Soon I was joined by Bill and Chip and from then on we would ride the rest of the brevet in "fléche style." 12 inches of sub were too much for me, so I shared with Bill. The contrôle didn't have a real bathroom, just a porter-potty. It was like an oven inside! I roasted for a few minutes and got ready to hit the road.

For the first few miles I wasn't feeling so great. I couldn't keep up with Chip and Bill, so I mostly rode a few hundred yards back. As I began to feel better, I made the effort to close the gap and stuck to Bill's wheel. If you have met Bill, that's the best place to be on any flat section. I was feeling so good I even took a pull as were catching up to Rick ahead. We had just passed Patrick, who had stopped for a nature break. Rick was happy to see us, but then maybe not so much. I heard the words "the fun is over" and he was gone. Further down the road, Patrick joined us for a while eventually pulling away as well.

Above there was a storm brewing. I wondered how long it would take before we were poured on. The rain started to fall copiously. Lightning was striking and I actually was liking it. My only concern was my Brooks saddle. I did not want it to get wet. Then I felt something hitting me. Rain isn't supposed to hurt. Thumps on my helmet. Hail. It was time to seek shelter. We sought a house that looked uninhabited and rolled in to be greeted by the owner. He was friendly and didn't mind us loitering around while the storm passed. I put the seat cover on my saddle and changed my socks. We all put our reflective gear on. The storm passed and we were back on the road.

Ahead a construction site was blocking the road. We found a way through and after that I was dropped again. I needed to eat. After a quick stop to pull some food out of my saddlebag I resumed my lethargic pedaling. The next contrôle was in Carbondale, a town in a valley. I was on the other side. Rick had mentioned something about a brutal climb. This wasn't good. I made one more stop at a convenience store just before the climb began. Maybe some caffeine would help. It didn't. I never climbed so slowly in my life. At times my odometer read 2.1 mph and I didn't tip over. Would this be the first time I would have to walk up a climb? I refused to give in but my legs had nothing left. Diapers on the road. What the heck? All I need now is baby poop on my tires. Yes, eventually I made it over the top and I didn't walk. It was time for Dunkin Donuts.

In Carbondale I joined Bill and Chip who were about 10 min ahead of me. I enjoyed a flatbread sandwich along with a vanilla latte. All was good. We were pretty wet still and Chip was shivering. I told him to use the hand dryer in the bathroom to dry up. I did the same. We had ridden 175 miles and 34 were left to the sleepover contrôle in Hallstead. There was just one problem. We had to climb out of Carbondale.

Again I was dropped when we left Carbondale. I was feeling slightly better, but still miserable. The next 34 miles were uneventful. Of course there was climbing, steep rollers and just a bit of flat. I did have a puncture, a "flat break," that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was dark at 9:30pm when I rolled into the Hallstead contrôle. Chip and Bill had arrived at 9:04pm. Rick and Patrick got in at 8:11pm. I spoke shortly with Rick, who was already changed and ready to go for the next day. He sleeps in the cycling shorts he'll use the next day. Rick is nuts.

I was so happy to be there it's hard to describe. Jim was once again working for our comfort. There was plenty of food awaiting us, but I had set my mind on a Double Whopper when I saw a Burger King outside. Unfortunately they did not allow me to walk-thru the drive-thru, so I asked Jim if he wouldn't mind. In 10 minutes I was savoring a delicious Whopper along with crispy french fries. Oh, did that feel good. Jud had also arrived and he too got a burger, a Whopper Junior. Afterward I wondered whether I would be allowed to make an order had I ridden my bike instead of walking. A bicycle is a vehicle as far as I understand. I agreed to leave with Bill and Chip at 2:30am. I got in my room and the first thing I did was take off the tape from my ankles. What a relief! I wished I didn't have hair on my legs. Boy did that hurt. To my surprise my Achilles wasn't in pain at all. It was the tape that was causing all this pain. But I was convinced that I should keep my ankles taped just in case. Time to sleep.

Day 2

After three hours of sleep I was up, taped, and ready to go. It was 2:30am. I have difficulty eating right away, so I was very happy to just have a glass of chocolate milk. I think my stomach wasn't done with the Whopper from the night before. I joined Bill and Chip and off we went.

Finally some flat terrain! I couldn't believe it. Every mile I wondered how long it would last. So far I was feeling good. Certainly the best since the ride started. We cruised through downtown Binghamton NY sometime around 4am. There were lots of people on the streets, drunk young people mostly. I gather they were on there way home from after-parties. I didn't mind it as long as nobody bothered me. We even had some people cheer us on. On one occasion I heard "Look! Bicycles! I love bicycles!." To that tune we left Binghamton and continued a long stretch of 57.6 miles before we reached the next contrôle, a post-office in Sayre, PA. However, just before we getting there we made a stop at a convenience store for breakfast. Patrick had passed us about half a mile earlier. While we were having breakfast John joined us as well. My choice of breakfast was egg and cheese on an English muffin along with chocolate milk. Delicious.

Once we left our post cards at the contrôle a roller-section began, first along the Susquehanna River until we reached Towanda. There Chip decided to stop for wake-up food and to use the bathroom. We continued at a leisurely pace along the many rollers of Southside Rd. This part of the route is also featured in a very hilly century, the Tour de Shunk. Bill was pointing out the little skunks that they paint on the road to mark the route. Apparently one has to follow the skunk tail. They were pretty cute. It didn't take long before Chip rejoined us, revitalized and moving fast.

The sky up to this point was overcast, but I began seeing patches of blue and the temperature started to rise. It was 10:30am when we signed in the Acorn Market contrôle in Canton. This town is apparently in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my wife Grazie with no result. I was craving some sort of hot sandwich. Once I got in I didn't see that option (indeed it was there), but the sight of a slice of pizza won me over. Another Sprite and vanilla milk for dessert. I didn't like the vanilla milk that much. I put on my arm coolers, sunscreen and sunglasses. That was a good decision. As we were getting ready to leave John showed up.

The next 80 miles were probably the toughest of the ride. The relentless heat along with the climbs and steep rollers made it very difficult. The rollers were the kind that you don't want to ride. Down but not enough momentum to go up. Work work work. Down and not enough to go up. Work work work. This pattern repeated itself for many miles. On the other hand, the views were spectacular. It kept my mind off the pain I was feeling with every pedal stroke. Along the way we went through Liberty just in time to avoid a road block for a parade. This was followed a few miles later by a very pleasant stretch in the Little Pine Creek State Park. We were often passed by a stream of motorcyclists with their loud rumbling motors. I couldn't help to think about how much sound they were missing because of the motors. I could hear the stream, the birds and the animals running for cover as we passed along. Just past Waterville we began a long 5 mile climb up to Haneyville. It was decided we would have lunch when we got to the top. On this climb I started slow and watched Chip and Bill pull away. I increased my cadence as the climb progressed. For the first time I was feeling good on one of the endless climbs. I passed Bill and now had Chip in sight. After a mile or so I caught up to Chip and we rode together for a few tenths of a mile. I didn't change my cadence, standing when it got steep and sitting otherwise. By the time I made it to the top I marked the time. After 2 min Chip arrived and Bill made it to the top 5 min later. I think that was the only time I actually finished a climb in front. I was ready for lunch at an inn we found right at the top. Bill and I had the "Flaming Foliage" chicken sandwich along with chips and soda. This ride was definitely turning out to be a great one. The views, the company and the well planned food stops were working for us.

We left Haneyville towards Lock Haven. Along the way there was a 2.5 mile downhill segment with a 9% grade. Just amazing fun. Arriving in Lock Haven we still had about 13 miles to the next contrôle in Lamar. Now we didn't have any more shade. I was very tired by the time we reached Lamar, consumed by the thought of a nice bed and rest. But we still had 46.4 miles to go before the sleepover contrôle in Lewisburg. In Lamar I had a Klondike bar, chocolate milk, Sprite and peanut M&M's. It was scorching. Once again, as we were about to leave John arrived. He was always riding pretty close to us. We offered to wait but he insisted we kept on going.

Upon leaving the contrôle in Lamar we made a right turn on Heltman Rd that offered the most breathtaking view. The road seemed to go straight into the ridge and on both sides an abundance of farmland and green was seen. Except for the ridge part, I was very happy. My concern was unjustified. The climb on Long Run Rd wasn't too bad, as explained by Chip, who arrived at that conclusion upon observing horse dung on the road. If a horse can pull a carriage up the climb, it can't be too difficult. But then I inquired, "Have you seen the horse?" He was right. However, after another descent we still had a ridge to our left. The cue sheet said turn left. As we began to climb a group of people that were enjoying the late afternoon sun in their yard said to us "you've got a tough one ahead." Bill said not to trust non-cyclists, either way. But they were right. It was tough. I stuck with Chip for most of the way, but had to let go at the end. At the top I devoured a pack of peanut M&Ms in less than 10 s. Bill joined us a few minutes later. He mentioned a comment he had heard about a long descent into Lewisburg. It was so true. A 23 mile descent. What a treat after so many climbs. We were cruising in a paceline down to Lewisburg where we arrived at 9:30pm. Volunteers Ron and Barbara Anderson were waiting for us with lots of pizza and other yummy food. The room at the Country Inn was spectacular. A nice big bed, air conditioning, big bathroom. All I needed to feel good about the 227.5 miles we had ridden during the day.

I found out Rick had arrived at 7pm and would leave at 11pm. Nope, that was not going to happen for me. We would wake up muuuch later, at 2am. Before I went to sleep I had to take the tape off my ankles. That is when I realized why I had been in so much pain. My legs were swollen and the tight tape was making them look like a sausage. Removing the tape was a very painful process. Next time I do tape anything I'll make sure to shave wherever the tape goes. Blood was coming out of my pores after I removed the tape. Then I noticed huge blisters around my ankles. This was not fun. The next morning I decided to take the risk and ride without the tape supporting my Achilles.

Day 3

On the menu 186.9 miles and the promise of more moderate terrain. Our first climb of the day came early and I was once again dropped. My legs were now very stiff and I had no reason to push it. As the sun was rising above the horizon I found myself in a pretty desolate area. You can interpret the pretty in two ways and both will be accurate. I came upon an interesting scene when on the right there was a cow mooing and running around with a bunch of other cows chasing. On the left a few chained dogs barking like crazy. I never had seen cows running around like that. I'm glad the dogs were chained because they probably would have eaten me alive and I would not have been able to do anything about it.

To my surprise I caught up with Bill and Chip just before the extended climb of the day. They were on the lookout for a place to have breakfast. We began climbing and for once I wasn't feeling so bad. My legs were still sore and stiff, but at least I didn't feel all the pain the tape had caused. My right Achilles was doing fine and I was very happy about that. However, the left Achilles started to act up a bit. According to the cue sheet we would cross railroad tracks in 3.3 miles. I told Bill and Chip that meant we would go up and over in 3.3 miles. Have you seen railroad tracks on the top of a climb? I was partially wrong. 3.3 miles wasn't the top. It continued. But fortunately not very longer than that. On the way up we were passed by Patrick, who passed on our offer to join us for breakfast. We found the perfect place for that in Good Spring, a place called Rachel's Country Kitchen. I had a Mountaineer's breakfast, with three pancakes, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon strips and hash browns. I didn't eat all of it, but I ate a lot. It was delicious. Man did that go down well. For once it was nice to have real pancakes, not the mix you buy at the grocery. While we were in Rachel's Country Kitchen John must have passed by because we caught up with him some miles down the road.

We still had about 23 miles to go until the first contrôle of the day in Jonestown. Along this section I once again got dropped on the rollers and worked hard to catch up to John first and then Chip and Bill. In Jonestown I finally made a call to Grazie but she wasn't home. Oh well, I didn't worry because Tom was posting updates on rider progress on the web site. John left with us and we rode together through Amish country for about 20 miles before he had to fall behind because of a spike in his blood sugar level. This was familiar territory, as they are featured in many of Tom's brevets. Along the way we passed Amish girls and boys on bicycles and also the childhood home of Floyd Landis. His parents still live in the home.

We arrived in the New Holland Sheetz contrôle close to 1pm. I was hungry for a change. I had a Cuban flatbread sandwich, Sprite and a creamy orange smoothie with whip cream. Oh, the pleasures of cycling. I know I can eat all that and still be in a calorie deficit. Chip took my lead and also had a creamy orange smoothie. While we were at the contrôle John caught up with us. He didn't want us to wait for him so we clipped in and started our leg to the next contrôle, 35.9 miles away. Fortunately the way back to the hostel was not the same featured on the 600K, which involved a lot of steep climbing. This time Tom took it easy and decided to give us rollers instead. Again I was dropped. Again I caught up close to the next contrôle.

We arrived at the WaWa in Spring City at about 4:30pm. I was exhausted. Once inside the contrôle I entered what I call "squirrel mode," meaning that I look nervous like a squirrel, brevet card signed, running to the bathroom, then getting food, eating, cue sheet for next section, bike check, eat. I sat down outside the WaWa and getting up proved to be very difficult.

The last 34 miles of the ride were probably among the most painful. Not because the terrain was challenging, but because Chip scented the barn. He said he was feeling good and hammered. I was hanging on for my dear life behind Bill. At one point we were approaching a traffic light that was red. I thought "thank God," but then it turned green! Both Bill and I exclaimed "shit" at the same time. We both burst into laughter. I was laughing but still had to keep up with the Chip Adams express. It was probably one of the funniest moments of the ride. The misery of that last stretch was only matched by the relief of making it to the finish, 63h15min and 1000 km later.

At the hostel we were greeted by Bill Olsen, who seemed as excited as us about the arrival. He was volunteering on this ride since next week he'll be riding yet another 1200K, the Gold Rush Randonée. I showered quickly, joined the others downstairs for some chat. Patrick was on his way out, having arrived at 61h37min of riding time and Rick was long gone. He arrived just before 2pm, breaking his own record by almost an hour at 57h57min of riding time, and was getting rest to attend a wine dinner with his wife. John came in at 64h32min of riding time. I hung in the hostel common room until Jud showed up at 67h29min of riding time. It was past 10pm and I was starting to shut down. During the night the last rider, George, arrived at 71h10min. He had an epic ride, making an intermediate contrôle by only 2 min.

The next morning I slowly gathered my stuff and drove home. On the way a stop for another smoothie. But wait, now I was driving. Better think twice next time.

->Read the rest of this entry

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shenandoah 1200K

When I signed up last December for the Shenandoah 1200K I had only ridden two 200K brevets. I knew I had to keep riding through the Upstate New York winter if I had any hope of staying in shape. The 150+ mile rides in 15F did not prepare me for the 92F heat I encountered in Virginia, but they helped build resilience, a factor I think is fundamental to completing a 1200K. The PA series along with the Ithaca hills got me ready for the climbing, which was ubiquitous. My ride was not epic, as I did not have any breakdowns, rain or even a flat. On the other hand, it was tough, very tough. The only moment I was certain of a completion was when I was 20 miles from the finish with 9h to the cutoff. I new I could crawl if I had to.

Before the ride
This ride involved a lot of planning. It was my first attempt at a 1200K and I wanted it to go as smoothly as possible. Just a few days prior I went out on a 65 mile club ride when I noticed my chain was hopping around. Mark Sheehan, a 2008 Shenandoah participant, pointed out that it could be a frayed cable. Indeed it was. With a replaced shifter cable and a bike inspection at my LBS the equipment was good to go. Then there were drop bags. What to put in them? I did a bit of overkill, as my drop bags were one of the heaviest around. Each contained spare tubes, a fresh set of cycling gear and normal clothes, flasks filled with gel, pre-measured servings of Perpetuem, Hammer bars, toilet sundries, ibuprofen, tums and a recovery drink. I even took toilet paper for the ride. This was a tip from a PA randonneur.

Since I had spent a week getting everything ready, there wasn't much to do other than drive down to Leesburg, VA. I arrived at about 2pm and encountered Bill Olsen's brother Mark along with RBA Matt Settle in the Comfort Suites parking lot assembling Matt's bike. It had the drivetrain replaced the day prior to the event. Matt was very friendly and, judging by his bike, is definitely a no-frills guy.

A few minutes later I saw Dave Thompson, whom I had met earlier in the year during the Western/Central NY ACP 200K organized by RBA Pete Dusel. We would end up riding together for most of the ride. Dave indicated a nearby Mexican restaurant where I could eat. There I had chicken fajitas with beans, rice, chips, guacamole and all that good stuff. My father is from Venezuela and I am fluent in Spanish. I could swear the restaurant owner seemed to be from Venezuela judging from the idioms I heard while I was eating. In any case the food was good enough for me.

After eating I went up to my suite to work on the revision of a research paper. I had to submit changes by that night and wanted to get as much sleep as possible. Unfortunately the revisions took longer than I expected and I went to sleep only around 11pm. Just three hours later I was up for Day 1 of the Shenandoah 1200K.

Day 1
There was a large gathering in the hotel lobby at 3am. Riders from 18 states along with 4 Canadians had signed up. After some last minute instructions from Matt we were sent off. The skies were overcast and it was very humid.

Everyone rode together during the first few miles. Eventually the pack began to string out and I found myself in a group with another 10 riders or so. There were two riders who were ahead, but eventually joined us. On the hills I would stay in front and whenever the terrain was flat I would get passed by several riders. I tried to keep my own pace. It was actually kind of fun to see this yo-yo effect. I noticed there were several riders who knew each other from previous rides. I was rather quiet, a bit nervous by the daunting task ahead of me.

I was in front of a group that also had Mark Olsen when we missed the turn on Spruce Run Rd. My odometer said there was still a tenth of a mile to the turn and there was also no sign. After riding a few tenths ahead, we convinced ourselves to turn back. Spruce Run Rd was the first steep climb we encountered. Again, I distanced myself on the climb and was caught a few miles down the road.

At 7:57am a group of 17 riders arrived at the first contrôle in the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania with an average speed over 17 mph. I was a bit concerned knowing that we still had a lot of riding to do. The volunteers at the contrôle were great. There were even breakfast sandwiches waiting for us. Riders started hopping back on their bikes and I joined them. Leaving the park my chain fell off in a way that required me to stop. I was dropped by the group I had been riding with and it took me a while to catch up. The morning was still very humid and overcast. By this time I had spoken to some of the fellow riders. Many of them were using this ride as a RAAM qualifer and some were already RAAM qualified, such as Jim Solanick, Henk Bouhuyzen, Mike Sturgill and Catherine Shenk (I found this out later). At one point I was speaking to John Preston and found out that he, Henrik Olsen and Tim Carroll knew each other from the Sebring 24h bike race in Florida. Apparently Henrik had just broken John's record. What was I doing with this bunch? This was my first 1200K and I did not want to blow up in fumes on the first day.

I arrived at the Battleview Market with Catherine Shenk, John Preston, Greg Courtney and Henrik Olsen at 11:15am. The average speed was still up there, now at 16 mph. I could not help but notice how fast people were at the contrôles. Before departing I gladly took a potato chip Catherine offered me and hopped back on my bike. The terrain that awaited us was rolling with an uphill trend. When I say rolling, that means it can be steep, but not very long. Along the way I passed Jim Solanick, who arrived later at the contrôle but was out sooner. Eventually I caught up with Henrik Olsen and rode with him, John Preston and Tim Carroll to the Sheetz contrôle in Winchester, VA.

It was 1:45pm and I was hungry. Henrik and Tim grabbed something quick and left. John and I ordered sandwiches. Soon we were joined by several riders. John was ready to go but I wasn't. I still needed to use the bathroom. I found this to be a convenient way to depart from the lead group and ride at a more conservative pace. I decided to leave with Greg Courtney, Catherine and Mike It was now much warmer than earlier in the day and the sun was peaking often through the clouds. The profile for this stretch was full of nasty little spikes. We were on Back Rd for 17.8 miles of inferno. Up, down, up, down, up, down following the George Washington National Forest. A shop was conveniently located once we turned on VA 42. Would I ride all the rollers for a Klondike bar? Sure! While sitting on a chair outside I learned that Greg is a professor at the Department of Entomology of Iowa State University and does research on aquatic insects. I also heard he has spent some time in Patagonia. Insects are so cool, except when the bite you. Mike left a bit sooner and I rode with Greg and Catherine for a while. Then Catherine had some issues with her cyclocomputer and since she was riding with Greg I decided to move on. My plan was to arrive at the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) Maplewood Dormitory contrôle before dark. The Klondike bar provided some refreshment but the endless rollers continued. I caught up with Mike and we rode more or less together until the EMU. It was 7:38pm when I checked in, averaging 14.44 mph for the first day. This value would plunge over the next two days.

Before the ride I had elaborated three strategies. The conservative strategy was to split the ride in four parts. The first three parts were full days of riding making it to sleepover contrôles before midnight and leaving the next day at 4am. On the last day I would ride the remaining 120 miles or so. The aggressive strategy would be to ride 266 miles the first day, then 226 miles the second day and 273 miles the third day. This plan was a bit problematic because it would require me to stop at places to sleep that were not designated sleepover contrôles, like a roadside motel or in the absence of that, some ditch. The intermediate strategy was based upon the conservative strategy for the first two days, however I would ride all the way through after the second day, i.e., 318.4 miles.

Upon arrival at the EMU contrôle I abandoned the aggressive strategy and decided to go conservative for the time being. Instead of quickly going to sleep I hung around the common area of the dorm and met riders as they came in. I spoke with Andy Brenner, whom I had met on the PA ACP 400K. He was planning to leave at around 2am. Then I also spoke with Dave T. He too was planning on a 2am departure. Initially I had 4am in mind, but since I got pretty early at the contrôle, I thought it was reasonable to leave at 2am. I do not enjoy riding long distances in the the night. My night vision is not the best and I usually get sleepy if I have been riding many hours prior

Day 2
Andy, Dave and I left the EMU contrôle a little after 2am. Next up was the Deerfield Voluntary Fire Department contrôle 40.2 miles away. I cannot say much about this part of the ride because it was dark and I could not see a thing other than a patch of road in front of me. Along the way we passed a rider that I believe was Stephen Bugbee, but I am not sure. At the contrôle we took a rather extended break where we all enjoyed breakfast. I had cereal, a banana nut muffin and scrambled eggs with bacon. Not bad!

Again Dave, Andy and I left together towards Buchanan, VA. The next 66 miles of the ride were among the most pleasant. We had a 17 mile stretch on Marble Valley Rd / Big River Rd during the first morning hours, followed by 9.2 miles on Maury River Rd, both in the George Washington National Forest. The morning fog in the valley and the view of the river along with the sound of running water and the cool temps made for a perfect setting. Unfortunately I was not quick enough to capture the bear we saw on film. It was close to the road but when it heard us it ran back into the forest. Not long thereafter we caught up with Glenn Himstedt, who had left Deerfield before us.

The serious climbing began after we made a turn on Turkey Hill Rd. This segment reminded me very much of the rides I have done in the Eastern PA series organized by RBA Tom Rosenbauer, containing steep climbs on quiet roads with several turns along the way. I like it that way because it gives you a sense of progress. The breakfast I ate had jump-started my digestive system and I needed to go to the bathroom pretty bad. Luckily there was a bathroom available at the Effinger Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue in Lexington, VA. Before reaching Buchanan we had a steady climb on S Buffalo Rd followed by a descent with some mega-rollers into Buchanan. Because the trend was downhill, one roller brought you to the top of the next and so on. I barely had to pedal.

The Burger King contrôle at the Exxon in Buchanan was a welcoming site. At first I thought it would not be a good idea to eat a burger. But I remember somebody telling me that if you crave something, then it is likely your stomach will handle it. So I went ahead and ordered a Tendergrill chicken sandwich combo. Ok, I was really craving a Double Whopper with cheese, but I decided that was too risky. We still had a long way to go and the morning hours were waning. Next on the list was the Pine Tavern Lodge contrôle in Floyd, VA, just 69.2 miles away. Yet in between we had some serious climbing to deal with.

Leaving Buchanan towards Roanoke the climb was gradual and steady, for almost 15 miles. Just before arriving in Roanoke we had some nasty stinkers to bother us. It was particularly difficult because the heat was really on and I was feeling it. A stop in Roanoke was almost mandatory. We decided to have refreshments and use the bathroom at a gas station on route. Bill Olsen's recommendation of constantly wiping your butt with sanitizing wipes was working as saddle sore issues were so far absent. I was also applying Hammer Seat Saver to prevent chaffing. It seems to work well.

I was rather surprised by the fact that we seldom encountered other riders. It seems were were far back off the leaders and well ahead of the rest of the group. As we arrived at the Buchanan contrôle earlier Larry Grabiak (I think) was on his way out. We were now climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway and ahead I saw another rider. I resisted to accelerate, since I knew that if I had him in sight now, it was likely I would catch up. And I did. Both Dave and I passed Larry just as we reached the first part of the climb. Andy had fallen behind. Somehow I thought it was over. But it was not. We began to climb and bend after bend the road kept going up. This went on for 9 miles. It certainly was a great climb, and the sense of accomplishment once I reached the top was very satisfying. But I was tired. Dave and I continued on without waiting for Andy. We were planning on a stop for refreshments. We found a convenient place along US 221 and waited for Andy to ride by. Once he joined us Andy urged us to continue without him, so we did.

Before reaching the contrôle I suddenly noticed a shift of weight on my bike. What I had feared before the ride indeed took place. One of the straps on my Carradice Barley bag had been cut by the friction on the saddle loop. I had observed some wear earlier but decided to take the risk. I was looking at the bag trying to figure out a solution when Dave offered zip ties that he was carrying. The solution worked perfectly. The zip-ties were very strong and kept my bag in place. I was about to hide the bag somewhere alongside the road and continue without it. Dave saved the day!

After a little diddling we found the right door to open at the Pine Tavern Lodge contrôle. The AC was on and I was happy! I had chips, pretzels, and two sodas. As Dave and I were about to leave Andy showed up. We decided to wait because it was getting dark and riding in a group at night is much safer. It was now just past 8pm and we still had 45.5 miles to the sleepover contrôle in Mount Airy, NC.

Daylight remained with us for a good portion of the ride until Mount Airy, but we had to descend Willis Gap Rd in darkness. I was glad to have put new front brake pads on my bike before the ride. I sure did use them. I tried to maintain myself mostly near the center of the road and followed the line the best I could. At one point a damn cat crossed the road and as I braked my rear wheel started to skid and swerve. I let off the brakes and missed the cat by inches. That was close! At the bottom of the descent I waited for Andy and Dave and we rode together to the contrôle.

The volunteers from North Carolina Randonneurs at the Knights Inn (very appropriate) where we were staying were amazing. I felt as if I were in First Class on a transcontinental flight. "What can I do for you?", "What would you like to eat?", "What time would you like to wake up?" were among some of the questions asked. We were very well treated and after a relaxing shower I enjoyed a burger, a hot dog, beans and more soda. Now it was time to sleep. Dave and I shared a room while Andy stayed alone. He said he did not want to be woken up.

Day 3
At 3:15am Dave and I woke up and got ready. A group of three formed by John, Mike and Justin Crawford, the youngest randonneur on the Shenandoah 1200K and also a member of the Hokie Cycling club, left at about 4am. Dave and I left about 10min later without Andy. Once again he urged us to leave. I think he was trying to get rid of us at this stage. Dave and I began to climb Willis Gap Rd, a 9 mile climb with several steep sections. It was good to have this climb right at the beginning of the day, instead of somewhere in the middle or towards the end. I was feeling OK despite some leg stiffness and pain in my ankles. I'm not sure if it is the Achilles tendon or a muscle. Dave and I climb at similar speed. At the beginning of the climb we saw two riders pass in the opposite direction followed by a tandem. We wondered if they would make it back to Floyd in time. Along the way we caught up with John who was fixing a flat. Ahead we also caught Mike and I saw Justin about 2 tenths of a mile ahead of me but I ran out of climb before I reached him. At the top he was waiting for the others. David was the first to show up followed by Mike. At this point Dave and I continued. The following miles were very pleasant, with more steep rollers of course. I was overwhelmed by a sensation of happiness as the big climb was over. A few miles later on Justin caught up but had to stop because of knee pain. This would plague him for the rest of the ride.

Dave and I arrived at the Pine Tavern Lodge in Floyd, now on the way back to Leesburg, at 8:30am. It took over 4h to ride 45.5 miles. At the contrôle I saw Bill Phillips, who had ridden on the Eastern PA 300K. I volunteered on that ride manning a secret/revitalize contrôle. I was very happy when I found out I could have the Starbucks Doubleshot somebody had left behind. It was exactly what I was looking for. At this contrôle we inquired about the status of other riders. We heard of some DNFs and learned that Matt Settle was close to the cutoff. While we were at the contrôle Andy, Justin, John and Mike arrived. Justin left before us and then Andy, Dave and I followed while John and Mike ate Subway subs that they had bought on the road.

The path back to Buchanan was different than the one we took on the way out. Instead of descending the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed US 211 into Roanoke. I probably would have preferred the Blue Ridge Parkway, as the traffic on US 211, in particular near Roanoke, was quite intense. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun on a 3 mile stretch with an average 8% grade. Although the many curves slowed me down, it was challenging to swing from side-to-side as I cruised down the ridge. At the bottom my back was bothering me a bit and I had to stretch while I waited for Andy and Dave. Soon I looked back to see that they were accompanied by Justin. Apparently he had stopped at a local Arby's for some cold drink. We would ride together all the way to Buchanan, but before we made a stop at a gas station where I had a chocolate milk/Lifewater combo and Dave and Andy went to a nearby 7-11 for more appetizing food. Between Roanoake and Buchanan Justin and I took turns pulling and we made good time.

At Buchanan we met up with John and Mike, who had passed us as we stopped in Roanoke. Justin joined John and Mike as they left. Andy, Dave and I spent more time at the contrôle, where I had my second Tendergrill chicken sandwich of the ride, this time "no mayo." There we also crossed paths with Jim Solanick. As usual, he spent little time at the contrôle and was soon off to Harrisonburg.

Just standing outside the contrôle was unbearable. It was definitely very hot. I knew that once we started to move it would be more pleasant. This is a time you look forward to wind chill. However, I feared the sunscreen I was using could not do magic and my arms were already pinkish, not a good sign. We left Buchanan at about 3:30pm with 88.6 miles to ride before returning to the EMU contrôle. Initially I thought we would retrace the route we took on our way out, but that was not the case. We would have a very long 70.9 miles on US 11. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Then again, the heat was taking a toll and I was in discomfort. It was frustrating to see the odometer move so slowly as we rode along the rollers. Perhaps the highlight of this part of the ride was Foamhenge. Bill Olsen had told me numerous times about it and when I saw the sign I could not help but take a look. It is a replica of Stonehenge, but as the name suggests, made from foam. It was quite the attraction.

Somewhere along US 11 we stopped to put on reflective gear. At that point Dave, who had let me use an extra pair of sunglasses he carried since I had left mine behind in Mount Airy, offered to let me use a different lens, less dark. I said it was OK and that the dark sunglasses would dim the glare of oncoming cars. They did that and also nearly put me to sleep. I was struggling while Andy and Dave took turns pulling. I just sat on their wheels and tried to maintain my concentration, but I was visibly tired. Just as we arrived in Harrisonburg Andy stopped at a gas station to relieve his bladder. I decided to take the sunglasses off to rub my eyes when suddenly night became day. It was amazing! I was instantly 10 times more alert. The sunglasses had created this added darkness that was really affecting me. Never use sunglasses at night, as if that were not obvious.

Earlier during the day I had suggested riding through the night straight to the finish, but the sight of a bed changed all that. Dave, Andy and I agreed to leave at 4am. There were assorted subs waiting for us to eat and I had two, one ham, one turkey. I also took a shower and organized my things for the last day of riding. We only had 120 miles left of this 765 mile journey.

Day 4
The morning turned out to be very cool and for the first time I was using my Showers Pass Double Century jacket, which works very well as a wind breaker. Andy opted to go jacket-less. My legs were stiffer than ever and I just wanted the ride to end before I could not ride anymore. Once we got moving and warmed up I felt better. It was not very long before the sun showed on the horizon and we were joyfully pedaling along S Middle Rd. We would enter and rise out of these pockets of fog as we moved along the rollers. Upon leaving S Middle Rd we decided to stop for food and to use the bathroom as well. Again, we were fortunate enough to find a BP station located on route. There I had a muffin with strawberry vanilla Muscle Milk. That stuff is disgusting. I drank it anyway. Dave and Andy had coffee with a croissant and a breakfast sandwich, respectively. It was time to go.

Edinburg Gap Rd came as a surprise. It was a rather long climb. I found a nice rythm despite my leg stiffness cresting just a bit ahead of Dave. Andy followed not far behind. We then began the descent together and continued a 18.9 mile stretch on Fort Valley Rd. This was another highlight of the ride. The vegetation was at times very dense and the road was completely shaded. The terrain was rolling and later on we had a creek on our right. Of course there were some smaller steeper climbs along the way. That goes without saying. After 67.3 miles I needed a break. Yes, there was a contrôle coming up!

At the 7-11 in Front Royal, VA we had more food. This time I chose a wrap. What I didn't realize is that it had banana peppers in it. I don't like banana peppers. But that was canceled by the deliciousness of the Häagen-Dazs ice cream I ate afterward. That along with the Starbucks Vanilla Doubleshot. All was good in my world. Except for the fact that we were not yet at the finish. As we left the 7-11 John and Mike were just coming in.

The last 50 miles of the ride were a blur. I had been slogging a bit before but now I could feel the finish approaching. There was a 10 mile leg on VA 55 that I knew would be good for taking a pull. I pulled with everything I had left. We were averaging 20-22mph and it felt good to be moving swiftly along. Before I knew it we were off VA 55 and back on roads with steep rollers. The pull had affected me and now I was lacking a bit of energy. I reached for my gel flask and had about half of it. Soon thereafter I began to come back to life. In the meantime Andy was pulling us along. In the end I took over again and pushed hard. We had to make one last stop because Andy and Dave had run out of water.

It was such a great feeling to see the Comfort Suites as we made our last turn of the ride. We made it! Patsy took pictures and we were greeted by the other riders. All I wanted to do was take a shower, get the cycling gear off and eat non-stop. That is precisely what I did. It was great to receive the coveted medal and turn in the brevet card that had been a companion for so many hours, 82h45min to be precise. It was now all stamped and signed, the way it should be.

Post-ride
After going up to my room I joined the others downstairs for food and refreshments. John and Mike arrived about an hour after us. Then Hokie Justin arrived. It took a bit longer for others to come in but they did. Each time we would go out and applaud their arrival. I was particularly touched by the arrival of Gator (Martin Cochran), Vickie Tyer, Sharon Stevens, David Rudy and Dave Goodwin. To see them hugging each other and sharing the accomplishment brought tears to my eyes. That is what randonneuring is all about, camaraderie.

I was also very happy to see fellow PA randonneur Bill Olsen. He came in almost running me over and ran to get his brevet card signed. He was amazingly energetic. I didn't even start the ride like that.

The last arrival before the cutoff was that of RBA Matt Settle. He looked very tired. He was arriving at contrôles close to cutoff times so could not afford to sleep very much and that took a toll on him over the course of four days. He was still lucid, but visibly tired. I hung around the lobby until almost 11pm. It was now time to go to bed because I too was very tired.

Matt Settle put together a very tough ride. On the other hand, it was just as beautiful. Seldom did we encounter a patch of bad road or nothing worthwhile to look at. The volunteers at the contrôles were so amazing. It was also nice to see how some of the riders who unwillingly DNFd converted into volunteers. Of note was Hamid Akbarian who spent all of Sunday cooking burgers and sausages for us. He is probably one of the best story-tellers I have met and I laughed until I could no longer breathe with his accounts of misfortune during the ride. I hope to see many of the riders in a future randonée, somewhere in the world.

->Read the rest of this entry

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.

->Read the rest of this entry