Sunday, August 30, 2009

FLCC Otisco Lake Ride

A large contingent of FLCC-ers flocked to Homer, NY from many directions. Then, we seemed to have also left Homer in multiple directions. In the end everyone was accounted for. It was an interesting ride to say the least. Maybe we should start riding Audax style, where a ride captain determines which way to go, how long each rider pulls, much like a captain on a row boat. Everybody works efficiently together, no sprinting off the front of the group. Stops are predetermined beforehand. In France they have been riding like this for over a century. One FLCC-er discovered the limits of the body, by attempting the 100 mile ride out of Ithaca without water or food for the entire ride.

Unlike last weekend, this time I was at the Ithaca start on time. Bill Fischer, John Fessenden, Sam Kolins, Ben Kraft, Stewart Wolsh, Eileen Penner, Gary Hodges, Blaine Chamberlain, Acmae El Yacoubi (aka Ace) and I departed Ithaca at about 8:10am towards Homer. We had just passed Tower Rd when a loud pop startled everyone. John had flatted. He must have had 150 psi in his tires judging from the bang. While we waited for him Gary shot off in the distance, unaware of our incident. I used the time to eat a PB&J sandwich, since I had left home in a rush on an empty stomach. In the interim we were joined by Mark Sheehan, a late arrival.

Once our ride resumed we moved at a brisk pace towards Homer, picking up Ben's brother Max Kraft along the way. Max just completed a 4,087 mile journey over 72 days from Providence to San Francisco as part of the Bike&Build initiative. You can read more about it here. Apparently David Sahn was with Max, but decided to follow Gary as he passed by.

Upon arriving in Homer the group split. Gary, misunderstanding where the ride start actually was, darted off in pursuit of another cyclist ahead of us on SR281. Many, including myself, followed. In my rear-view mirror I thought to have seen Bill, our unofficial ride leader. It turns out I was mistaken. I decided to pull over at a gas station to purchase some fluids. At this time the group that was with me continued. I kept an eye on the road and did not see others pass. I thought this was strange, since I was inside for about 5 min. Once I got back on the bike I noticed the time, 9:58am. This was really strange. Bill had mentioned that we would arrive with plenty of time to spare. In my mind, I wasn't yet at the official ride start and it was already almost 10am. Further ahead I saw an entrance to a park. I remember starting a 65 mile ride last year with the Onondaga Cycling Club at this park. Then Gary came racing towards SR281. He saw the rest of the group continue while he was using the bathroom at the park. We decided to continue on SR281 for a while. Once we arrived in Preble I realized the mistake. This is where we were supposed to end the loop around Otisco Lake, not begin! I suggested we try to intercept the official route by taking a detour to the other side of the valley. There was a dirt road with a mega incline in the right direction. Gary and I turned right instead, hoping for another option. At this point Gary contacted Eileen and we found out they too were trying to cut across to the other side of the lake. According to a couple on a tandem, the dirt road was the only way. Gary and I joined Eileen, Mark and John and up the dirt road we went. This climb resembled the many D2R2 climbs, long and difficult. A gnarly descent followed. I let the Sam roll, reaching almost 40mph. It's a good thing I was on 30 mm tires inflated to 50 psi.

The dirt road intersected Cold Brook Rd, where we should have started the ride many miles earlier. As John and I were waiting for the rest to join us, I heard faint voices in the distance. Then many cyclists crested over a hump. We had been joined by the riders who drove to Homer and started the ride at the correct location. Sam was with them. I can remember Doug Dylla, Rob Ferguson, Steve Powell and his daughter, Sara Strickland, Mary Ann Huntley, Mike Richter, Jim Millar and Keith Dickerson. There were others whose names have slipped my mind. Noticed absences were Bill, Blaine, David and Ace. Further riders not accounted were Ben, Max and Stewart. Assuming they maintained there speed, they would be in Syracuse at that point.

After some debriefing, we rolled on. The group split not long thereafter. I remained in the back of the pack for a bit and then decided to chase the lead group, as many of those riders would also be riding back to Ithaca. Every time I chase I am reminded of the efficiency of a pace line. I was only able to catch them because of a few lumps here and there and a descent on Willowdale Rd. We moved on towards SR174. On the way we had a few spirited sprints. In hindsight I should not have contested them given the cramps I am now suffering every time my legs are not extended.

Gary, Keith, Sam and Mike stopped for a tire repair. Jim, Mark, John and I decided to move on to the first stop of the ride at the D&R Convenience Corner. This is the same place I stopped during my last Otisco ride, on March 21, with a 14F start. While we were replenishing ourselves with fluids outside, I saw Ace come along! What? Where did she come from? What was more surprising is that she did not see Keith, Gary, Sam or Mike. This was weird. I guess strange things happen around Otisco Lake. Ace is fasting for Ramadan. Believe it or not, she was riding without food or water. If she was hurting, it didn't show off the bike. I thought this attempt was pretty crazy. Then I saw Ace with a cup of water. For a moment I thought she would drink. But she didn't. It was only to rinse her mouth. She spat all the water out. Oh, crazy little Ace! We were over 50 miles into the ride at this point. She had also accumulated some bonus miles. We learned from her that she was riding with Bill, Blaine and David, but got dropped along the way. Soon we were joined by the trailing riders. Then suddenly Ben and Max arrived from the opposite direction! They had gone further on SR281 and finally decided to turn around. Stewart almost reached Syracuse before he too turned around and joined the Kraft brothers. According to Ben, he crossed with Bill, Blaine and David. Stewart joined Bill while Ben decided to continue around the lake in the counterclockwise direction. For a brief moment of the ride we were (almost) all together, at the D&R.

The Kraft brothers continued their counterclockwise loop while a few of us decided to move ahead. Ace was struggling. Sam and I dozed off for a bit when we noticed a large gap in front of us. Together Sam and I worked to close the gap to Keith, Mike, Mark, John, Eileen, Gary, Jim and John. We moved swiftly along the valley in a pace line. In no time we had reached Preble. A few phone calls confirmed that Bill, Blaine and David were 5 miles ahead of us waiting at the Cafe Mania in Homer. Our pace line accelerated and I wasn't feeling so great. I needed to eat. Keith and Mike must have peeled off since I cannot remember seeing them at the Cafe Mania. Bill & Co were no longer there. I didn't think twice. I had a delicious quiche and a raspberry frappuccino. Finally I was able to also use a bathroom. It really improved my mood.

While I was savoring the quiche Ben and Max arrived at the Cafe Mania upon completion of their loop. We decided to check on Ace. She was in distress. After mile 70 she bonked and moved with difficulty for 10 miles. At one point she felt very sleepy and had to get off the bike and walk. She was lost somewhere around Homer and would not be able to ride home. Fortunately several FLCC-ers were willing to help. Thanks to Eileen a rescue operation was assembled and Sara drove Ace back to Ithaca. She is now well but I believe the lesson to not abuse of your body in that way has been learned. It will take several days to recover from dehydration. I know this from experience.

Once we were certain that Ace had been found we continued our ride back to Ithaca. The returning leg was rather uneventful, except for the strong head wind we encountered. Working in a pace line greatly reduced the overall effort of the group. Ben and Max peeled off in Freeville. We arived shortly after 3:30pm at EHP. Bill and Blaine were still there. To top off the mystery of this ride, Mark Sheehan showed up a few minutes later, coming up Mitchell Rd. He had been dropped somewhere along US11 before reaching Homer and had continued, joining Bill, Blaine and Stewart in McLean for ice cream. Then they dropped him. I don't know how he ended up on Mitchell St.

It was hard to keep track of all the mishaps. A common denominator was that this was a great day to ride, with manageable temperatures and clear skies until noon.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

FLCC Skaneateles Ride

After completing over 5000 km in brevets this year, I have decided to limit (most) of my rides to 100 miles or less, with an emphasis towards achieving the goal of becoming faster. The Skaneateles ride is advertised as 41 miles in length with a start at the southern end of the lake. If you ride out of Ithaca it brings the total distance to about 100 miles, out and back. So this ride fits into the 100 mile category. I was happy to hear during the week that Bill Fischer and others from Elmira would drive to Ithaca at 7:30am and ride to the 10am start. As the ride day approached, my only concern was the weather.

I woke up at 7am and looked out the window. It seemed as if it was raining. That put me immediately back in bed. 38 min later I woke up again. Now I was late. I looked out the window. In spite of the cloud cover, it was dry. Luckily I had left everything set up the night before, so it took me about 5 min to get out the door. By the time I reached the rendezvous point everyone was gone, except for Mark Sheehan, who had just pulled in. I waited for him to get ready and we left EHP at about 8am. We thought that would be enough time. The only detail is that we had no cue sheets nor did we know which way we were going to get there.

Our laissez-faire approach was actually quite effective. We followed Lower Creek / Upper Creek road into McLean (I find this name amusing for obvious reasons) and then turned left onto Church Rd/Lafayette Rd. At this point I realized we were following the exact same route as the Moravia ride earlier this year. The clock was not forgiving and in spite of our good pace, it would be difficult to make the 10am start. Initially we planned riding into Moravia and then climbing east towards the start. A few miles before arriving in Moravia and only 15 minutes before 10am we realized it would not be possible. At this point in time Mark's GPS came in handy. He found a road that would take us across to 41A, which in turn goes by the Colonial Inn, location of the ride start. At about 9:50am Mark noticed we had about 3 miles left and that at 15 mph it would take us 12 min to reach the start. I didn't question his math, which I now know was correct. However, we were going uphill. I then asked him "Are you going at 15 mph?", to which he replied "No." Neither was I. It was more like 12 mph. Missing the ride start by a few minutes would be very frustrating, so I decided to give it a try. The gradual uphill continued for a while, but eventually it subsided and I made good time. I was happy to see the full contingent still at the start, at 10:01am.

At the start were Bill Fischer, John Fessenden, Sam Kolins, David Sahn, Jim Millar, Steve Powell, Eileen Penner and her guest Kirt (Kirk?). Mark, who pulled in a few minutes later, and I completed the roster. I heard from the others that Gary Hodges would be driving to the start. Gary is known for his last minute / a few minutes late arrivals. Eileen tried reaching him on the cellphone, but reception was bad. Actually, there was thick fog leading up to the start. Visibility was poor. We waited a bit and decided to leave at about 10:20am.

The group remained together only for a few miles. Sam noticed that Kirt has vanished. He tried communicating this to the others, but there was no success. I decided to follow Sam's lead and slow down and wait a bit for Kirt. I suspected he had flatted. In retrospect I should have backtracked. Steve, Sam and I separated from the group. Our decision was poor, since now we had failed to find Kirt and also lost the rest of the group. After a quick 15 miles or so we regrouped in Skaneateles. Eileen was suprised by Kirt's absence, but a phone call dissipated any worries as he was en route.

About a year ago I did my first club ride. It was precisely the Skaneateles ride (41 miles) and also my longest ride at the time. It was a very warm summer day and I managed to dehydrate on that ride, cramping at the end. On the way back I almost fell asleep in my car while driving. Since that scorching day I cannot forgive myself for not swimming in the lake, although I did stand on it during a 108 mile ride in mid-winter under heavy snowfall. I made sure to pack my trunks and a hand towel in my Carradice Barley saddlebag. My swimming companion, Ace, bailed out as she is fasting during Ramadan, and a 100 mile bike ride is not advisable without food or drink. The other swimming partner John Dennis could not join because he is in Canada for his son's college debut. So I had no swimming companions. I hate to hold people up, but I think of club rides as social events, where stopping and enjoying what the ride has to offer is part of the package. I'm glad a few riders decided to wait and Jim even joined me for a dip. I was a bit disappointed that I was only allowed to swim in a minuscule square area of the lake and only in the presence of life guards. At times like this I miss the lack of prohibitions. Lifeguards were not on duty, but I jumped in anyway. I did not want to raise too much attention, so I confined myself to immersing my head under water, no swimming. We should do a night ride where everyone jumps naked in the lake. That would be fun.

My impromptu dip-in-the-lake allowed Gary Hodges and Kirt to catch up. Then Gary, Jim, David, Eileen and Kirt had pastries at the Sherwood Inn Patisserie. Sam and I waited at the park on the lake. Once the croissants et al. were eaten we joined the rest of the group at the firehouse on Nunnery Rd. They serve a pancake breakfast on Sundays it seems. At this point I had only eaten an energy bar since the previous evening and already tallied 50 miles plus (and the dip in the lake). I was hungry and not having something to eat was not an option. However, I was short on money. I only brought my credit card and $2 for swimming (in case the lifeguards were on duty). It turns out that for non-residents, the fee is actually $3. Even with the swimming savings I was $4 short. Bill was kind enough to lend me the money. I got in line and Gary approached me to say that everyone was leaving. Great! I tried to eat as quick as possible, and I even forgot to take a picture of the quite ingenious pancake contraption. This consists of a rotating disk about 4 ft in diameter that is heated from below and upon which the pancake mix is poured in consistent amounts by another clever gadget. The mix is poured on one side and before a full revolution the pancakes are ready to be eaten. Amazing! Along with two pancakes I had orange juice and two eggs. I must have eaten all that in less than 3 min. I was eager to get back on the bike and rejoin the group. That took a while.

I was reminded that any speed above 0 mph is infinitely faster than 0 mph. I didn't want to push too hard, given the extra 30 miles I would ride on the way home. I only caught up with the group towards the end of the ride. First I passed Steve on Scott Gulf Rd, then I met Gary and Eileen at the Bear Swamp turn. They were waiting for Kirt, who I had not seen. Gary then told me that the remainder of the group had continued up Scott Gulf. I then caught a glimpse of them and unlike the others, I was undeterred by gravel on my 30 mm Grand Bois tires, soon catching up to David, then Mark and finally Sam, Bill and John. Just in time!

The ride back to Ithaca was spirited with John and I challenging ourselves up some of the hills. After a stop in McLean, we arrived at EHP at about 3:30pm. It was a great day to ride, even if not the most beautiful.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

D2R2 - Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée

It was only a day before this ride that Peter Ozolins shed some light on the origin of the acronym. Two D's and two R's. That simple. I was seeking for some connection to a droid from Naboo. I disagree with the first of the letters. Yes, it starts in Deerfield. However, a "D" for devilish would be more fitting. If you are in seek of a one-day challenge, this is quite the ride. It was a hot sunny day and buckets of sweat poured down our legs. In the end, most of us were happy. Unfortunately one of our local riders, Brian Lawney, suffered a broken collarbone. I suspect he will be back next year.

It was Brian Lawney who posted information about D2R2 a few months ago on our local cycling club list. At the time I had just finished the Shenandoah 1200K and was getting ready for the PA 1000K, so I put a little asterisk next to the e-mail and visited the link. It seemed like a great ride. The summer came and I finally was able to order the parts for my new bike, the Sam Hillborne. Glenn and his dexterous assistant David built the bike and Ben helped me with the fenders and rack. D2R2 was the perfect occasion for a maiden voyage. Every component of this bike was selected with thought, the tires even more so. I chose the beautiful Grand Bois "Cyprès" 30mm tires for comfort and their excellent cornering adhesion. I was eager to ride.

Ithaca was well represented at the start by Brian Lawney, Laura Kozlowski, Peter Ozolins, Ben Kraft, Jake Bolewski and me. I also met several fellow randonneurs from the PA series, including Bill Fischer and Jack Brace. Just before 6am most of us were occupied with breakfast and registration. Brian was still in his street clothes and taking pictures of the riders and bikes. The organizers allowed riders to start anytime between 6am and 7am.

Stage 1: Deerfield to Heath (35.7 miles, 5750' total climbing)

Peter, Ben, Laura and I started together at about 6:30am. There was thick fog everywhere and I remember thinking it was a cloudy day. Soon the pavement was replaced by dirt and the sun was visible and shining bright. Often we were under heavy tree cover, and it became quite dark all of a sudden. Just a few miles into the ride we were passed by a large group with matching cycling jerseys. They furiously speed by us and Ben was tempted to chase. He did so for a bit, but eased off. This was no race. A couple of miles down the road we passed the same group, which had now stopped to fix a flat. I did not resist and said "30 mm" as I road by, crossing my fingers at the same time. Eventually we were catching up to riders that had started before us. Of note was a hog in the middle of the road. I had to dismount and take a picture. A perfect mascot for such a ride. As we rode on it was interesting to see how different the riders and their bikes were. At the first water stop I was amazed to see a rider with Zipp aero wheels. That is just nuts. We were told that the climbing was about to start. What? Oh, so true.

Before the ride I had commented how I rarely took pictures of climbs. Most of the time I am suffering and taking pictures is not the first thing that crosses my mind. I do regret it later, however, as I have no evidence of the hills that were conquered. D2R2 would be no different. You can believe me, but I encourage you to experience it. The climbing was unrelenting. Just before the end of Stage 1 we started a very steep climb on asphalt. I got a bit cocky and went to the front passing all the carbon people. I miscalculated the length of the climb and soon I was being passed by everyone else. That effort would have dire consequences for many miles.

Atop of the hill was the control. There we found water and food. I was already exhausted and we had only ridden a little over a quarter of the total mileage. I was enjoying my ride on the Sam, but at times I was longing for a lighter bike. How mean of me. I seized the opportunity to wash my face and hands with cold water, proceeding to refuel with a PB&J sandwich. Brian and his team caught up to us at the control. We exchanged our impressions of the ride so far and all agreed it was living up to the promise.

Stage 2: Heath to Green River Covered Bridge (28.7 miles, 3550' total climbing)

Archambo Rd. Hillman Rd. Archambo, Hillman. Those names will be remembered in every cell of my body. Generations to come (in the event of a successful lineage) will prick their ears up to these words. First Archambo, a 27% grade beast with loose gravel. Most of the riders dismounted. Few were lucky enough to make it to the top without unclipping. I am proud to be one. The 30 mm tires had a greater role to play than my legs. The heavier frame also helped retain traction. In the end I was glad not to be beaten by the hill. Hillman was waiting. Hillman is deceptive. It starts out at a moderate grade and rolls into a false flat. "Ha ha! You are nothing," I thought. Well, Hillman had the better of me. I did reach its summit, but not much was left. My smile had been replaced by grimace. The ride was still far from over.

Eventually we began to descend. Is this possible? Am I dreaming? It is on the descent where the Sam shines. I felt confidence in each corner, cruising down the hill. My only worry was the rattling of the stainless steel water bottles. Had they not been there I would have gone faster. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. On our way to the lunch control an ambulance passed us. It was evident that one of the riders was injured. Further up the road we passed the ambulance and I recognized the rider's jersey. It was the same as Brian's. I commented to Peter that the rider was probably in Brian's group. Ben joined us and told us that it WAS Brian. We continued, knowing that he was being taken care of. At the lunch stop I asked one of his team members about Brian. I was told he broke his collarbone. I felt for him, since I knew he was very enthusiastic about this ride, and to have it end like that is a bummer. His love for dirt roads will surely bring him back next year.

The lunch stop was sprawling with cyclists. It was conveniently located next to a covered bridge and we had access to the river. It didn't take long before I was barefoot walking into the river. I dipped my head in the water and washed my face and arms. How refreshing. A huge line of hungry cyclists had assembled. After my turn in the line I was content to eat a baked potato, chips, a hard-boiled egg and a PB&J sandwich. We also caught up with Jake of the Cornell Cycling Team. He decided to join us for the rest of the ride. At the control I spoke with Jack Brace. He was not feeling well at all and decided to call it quits. I have no idea how many riders quit along the way, but I am sure that the heat had a large role to play. Drinking enough and replenishing electrolytes in the right amount is not always easy. I guess the body has very complex mechanisms to ensure the proper balance, but we must provide it with the ingredients in manageable amounts.

Stage 3: Green River Covered Bridge to Patten Hill (32.8 miles, 4970' total climbing)

"This section has three hard climbs and then a monster, but there are flat stretches in between."

The words above were displayed on the ride cue-sheet. I deleted them on my own version. I did not want to know. Each turn was for me just a name. Just one more mile, up or down did not matter. I would take the pain and the pleasure of the ride. That being said, I did suffer quite a lot. Soon after we left the lunch control I was dropped. I had been here before and I knew it was important to take it easy as the route allows. Probably the hardest moment of the ride occurred when I rejoined the group at an impromptu water station. Everyone was holding a Gatorade in their hand. I was offered one and I gladly accepted. Only to find out a few seconds later that none were left. The disappointment I felt was so large and was exacerbated by the joy every other rider felt as they swallowed their Gatorade. As a consolation prize I took a bottle of water. Not all was lost. I noticed that one of my water bottles still had a rather concentrated lemonade mix in it. That together with the fresh water would make for a Gatorade-like drink. The little pleasures of life are so meaningful.

The struggle continued. On the climb I would get dropped, on the descent I would make time and on the flat I would keep up. At some point during the ride Peter's GPS began to disagree with the cue-sheet. The GPS nor Peter were at fault. He had downloaded the route from somebody else that had made it available on the internet. The person who mapped the route did not check thoroughly enough and some turns were missed. I didn't miss the turns because I was following the cue-sheet. These slight deviations allowed me to catch up with the group. At one point I was even ahead. I had seen how they missed a turn, but in my state I was not about to chase anyone. The heat was punishing. My legs did not feel sore, I was just lethargic. In that lethargic pace I began to climb the so called monster named Patten Hill. When I looked at the cue-sheet it seems the climb was only 2 miles long. It felt like a lot more. They were agonizing miles. Along the way I passed several victims of this climb that were slowly walking up with their bikes. I breathed heavily. Each pedal stroke brought me closer to the summit. In the end I made it, tired and in need of refreshment. I was at the control. I found a garden hose that I used to wash my head, arms and legs, once more. There was also watermelon. I ate lots. The control was located at the "Little Big House Gallery", a home that looks like a one-room cottage but is actually a three floor house with 3,000 sq ft. It is home of artist, builder, inventor and humorist Glen Ridler. Here we were told that the climbing was over. That was a lie. But a welcomed one. Interesting it is to know you are being lied to and still can be quite happy about it.

Stage 4: Patten Hill to Deeerfield (13.9 miles, 1400' total climbing)

I don't know if it was the watermelon, the proximity to the finish or the sight of the Little Big House, but I was feeling much better. Of course there was climbing involved. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but in comparison to what we had just ridden, it certainly felt less punishing. Everyone in the group was happy, especially Ben. He was really excited about completing a tough and long ride in great condition. Earlier in the year we had ridden a 150 miler during which he injured his knee. I felt a bit responsible for leading him into that scenario. On this ride I did not see one moment of distress in him. He looked and climbed strong all the way. Peter was also impressive. Riding with his lowest 39x25 gear was no small feat. And Laura, well, amazing. She rode strong the whole way.

We all rolled in at 6:46pm, just in time for dinner offered by the event organizers. There we met Brian, who was in good spirits in spite of his misfortune. I ate a lot and didn't have trouble sleeping. Lights out!

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