Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paris-Brest-Paris 2011: Postscript

I've been back from France for a bit over a week now and taken a couple of my favorite bike rides.  I've started planning my fall cycling and looking at my goals for next season.  I feel fine and I think I'm pretty well  recovered from the 1230k ride in France.  I'm sleeping normal and my resting HR is getting back down to the normal zone. My perceived exertion vs speeds are telling me that I'm at 85 or 90% already.  The post grand randonnee blues have passed without incident and I've found my way back to work.  I'm making plans for fall bike racing and trying to decide what events I will focus on next season.  Next season's list gets shorter the more consideration I give it:  Leadville 100 mountain bike race and the Texas Time Trials as my season focus events.  Other things on the calendar are a full SR series, velodrome racing, the Fiesta Island TT series, and the California Triple Crown.  Already the season looks filled and this year is not close to over yet.  But that is good, it means my appetite for riding is still strong.

My first encounter with PBP was around 1987 back in Missouri.  We were out on a club ride and this dude was talking about PBP.  I remember asking if he meant Paris-Roubiax instead but he was very clear that it was Paris-Brest-Paris.  His description of the ride intrigued me and I filed it away in my memory for further study.  As various things came and went through the years cycling is always something that found it's way into my life.  A few years ago I had started bike commuting to work a few days a week.  One morning I boarded the train for my inter-modal commute and wound up sitting across from a gentleman that was quite interested in my bike.  We talked for a short time and I vaguely recall him mentioning something about randonneuring.  After a few days of research I had mentally committed myself to PBP in 2011 and started my preparations.  That was three years ago, in late 2008.

Paris-Brest-Paris is a jumble of disjointed controls and food and sleep in my mind.  I thought that after a little time a clearer picture of the ride would present itself but that doesn't seem to be happening.  Unlike the Rando Stampede in Texas where I rode with a group of people for the last days of the randonnee, in PBP I rode with an enormous variety of riders.  I think that because of that variety of riders I'm missing the mental anchor that links me to people and to specific events and to specific places.  From Texas I have the most vivid and specific remembrances of the entire ride; PBP not so many yet. 

PBP was a huge undertaking, as is any 1200k, and quite an accomplishment.  The ride will inform my cycling in some way for the rest of my life.  When people ask how the ride was, I inevitably first answer that "it was hard, really hard."  That is certainly a gross understatement.  At home a week later, I'm still not sure that I would commit the time and resources to do PBP again.  Perhaps as randonnesia completely sets in I will find my way to more fully romanticizing those four days on the bike in France.

Monday, June 6, 2011

PCH Randonneurs Corona 200k Brevet 6.4.2011

The day after a brevet is almost always up for grabs.  Sometimes I ride, but not very often.  Usually I prefer to do something other than cycling.  This morning I got up at the crack of 8am and went to yoga.  It was a good session although it did start out a little rough.  I wasn't sore, just a little stiff and it made the first half of the session sluggish.  I came around at the half way point and starting feeling a little more limber.  In the afternoon I walked down to the beach and finished reading Hell on Two Wheels.  I also took a nap.
Doheny State Beach looking towards Capistrano Beach

Saturday morning I had everything loaded up and ready so all I had to do was get in my car and drive out to Corona.  I left home about 0600 and got to Corona at about 0630.  As I was unloading my car I wondered what kind of ride I would take this morning.  Most of the time I take these brevets as social rides and ride along with a group.  I'm in decent form this season and had also been thinking about riding a hard 200k to just see how it things are progessing.

After getting geared up and the bike unloaded I took a quick spin around the parking lot where we were assembling for the ride.  I always do that to see if I'd boogered anything on the bike during transport.  The bike was fine and as I took my quick lap I decided that this I'd like to push my pace a little bit.  Terry Hutt, the event master, called a quick meeting at 0655 to go over a couple of particulars on the route and then set us free.

I figured that if I was going to make this a fast ride, I might as well go, so I took off right away.  As we climbed a slight grade over the 91 freeway I passed Willie Hunt, a 'bent rider, and said good morning.  I imagined that Willie would be good to go with me.  I didn't know who else might follow but I'd welcome the company for sure.  After the briefest time on public roadways we hit the SART (Santa Ana River Trail) where we'd be for about 30 miles.  The river trail has a pretty good surface and has a slight, slight grade towards the ocean.  With the typical on-shore breeze there is normally a head wind in our direction of travel as well.  We were early enough that I hoped we'd only experience the slighest breeze this morning.  I wanted to get to the coast and turned south where the traditional tailwind would then give us a nice boost down to San Clemente and control #3.

I pushed my pace for a long time, about an hour on SART seeing speeds in the 22-24  MPH range.  I scrupulously kept out of the red zone on my HRM staying below 164 BPM.  I could hear another bike behind me and assumed it to be Willie.  It was a cool morning which made working hard feel easier.  As we neared the coast we began to find the on shore breeze and Willie came around and asked if I was in a hurry.  I guess I was.  I had formulated a minor goal which was to arrive early at the first control.  Even with hauling ass on the river trial that would be no mean feat since we'd also have several miles of public roads to contend with near the control.  Around that time I realized that we had another rider along, Constantin Bancila, who came around shortly after Willie.  We continued in this fashion for the next few miles.  I managed to miss a turn off the trail but quickly noted the error and backtracked on course.  I reached the first control a couple of minutes after Willie and Constantin after being gapped at a stop light.  I managed to clock in at 0856 for a 0858 control opening time.  Success!

Constantin (foreground) & Willie
We messed around for 10 or 15 minutes before we got back on PCH headed south into a headwind.  Yup, unusual wind direction today as this would most often be a tailwind.  No problem, Willie on the front and Constantin and I swapping wheel #2 we made good time south bound generally running 20 MPH when we weren't stopped at a light.  The route took us down the Balboa Peninsula and back across to the mainland via the Balboa Ferry.  It had been years since I'd ridden the Balboa Ferry and it was fun.

Back on PCH in Newport Beach we kept heading south.  The sun came out between Newport and Laguna Beach and we stopped to have a quick nature break.  Working our way into Laguna Beach I got gapped off again at a stop light.  Many riders seem to fear riding through Laguna because PCH while four lanes wide is very narrow and has a steady row of parked cars.  For me there are two ways to ride Laguna.  The first is the conventional "take the lane" vehicular cycling method.   The second, and the one that I enjoy the most, is to car surf through the heavy traffic areas.  By that I mean you crank up your speed to match that of traffic and move along at automobile speeds in the lane taking advantage of the draft when ever you can.  I guess it is like an impromptu motor pacing session.  On a busy summer day the traffic speed is about 20 - 25 MPH in the most congested areas which is quite doable on a bicycle.  This day was not so congested so I simply took the lane as needed and moved on down the road.

Continuing south into Dana Point I could see Willie and Constantin a short distance ahead and knew we'd make the third control together.  After a 15 minute stop we got back on the road heading north.  We crossed paths with some southbound randonneurs just north of the control.  Back through Dana Point, heading north on PCH, I saw my wife Michelle and our neighbor Michelle walking our dog Koni heading home from the coffee shop.  The best I could come up with was a quick "Michelle, Michelle" as we sped by.

North edge of Dana Point
At the north end of Dana Point we pulled back onto the extensive complex of Orange County bike trails.  After a short time it became apparent that Constantin had either stopped or gotten lost.  We didn't see him again this day.  Willie and I rode the bike trail which is uphill for about 20 miles going from sea level to around 1500'.  The majority of the climbing is in the last 12 miles and this is one of my favorite routes for an inland training ride.  Just short of the high point in the route there was a control.  We found Terry Hutt waiting there with snacks and fresh water.  Since the cloud cover had cleared the day was warming up.  This was a really nice location for a control and resupply.  After another 15 minute stop we got back on the road.  I didn't see Willie again until the finish.  He owns Santiago Canyon on his 'bent.  I know how fast I traveled between control 4 and 5 and I can only imagine how quickly that same terrain would be covered on a 'bent.
Willie (foreground), Terry Hutt, control 4

At control 5 I stopped at the Subway and had a sandwich.  Up to this point I was quite happy with my ride.  Was looking at a nine hour ET for this brevet with about 7 1/2 hours riding time.

Wylie Coyote
Back on SART after a few miles of cross town riding, I got moving again.  Setting my pace at 22 MPH I gobbled up the trail easily still enjoying the speed.  As I peaked a small rise in the trail I saw a coyote jogging along the trail.  I think that I was approaching much quicker than he expected and it afforded a good picture opportunity.

I finished the ride at 1605 and found Willie talking to Jim Harris at the finish.  After a few minutes of hanging around at the finish shooting the breeze with Willie and Jim, I loaded up and drove home.

This was a outstanding day on the bicycle.  Willie and Constantin were fun and willing participants in a fast 200k.  Terry Hutt did a great job with the route and he routed us through some areas in my home turf that I seldom ride.  Jim Harris was at the finish as a volunteer and when I learned he lives in Palmdale that really clarified his level of commitment.  Thanks Jim and Terry!

PCH Corona 200k Ride Stats:
Distance: 209 km
Riding Speed Average: 27.5 km/h
Ascent 1304 m
Time 09:05 hh:mm

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Texas Rando Stampede 1238km May 2011


When I saw a notice of this grand brevet winter 2010 I took note.  It looked like it would be scheduled just right; our local SR series would be complete and I'd still have plenty of time before PBP for recovery and to make adjustments to my brevet bike, equipment, and process.  It was to a be a full scale test run of the 1200k experience!  In retrospect it almost seems crazy.  It's like buying a Ferrari to see if you really want to buy a Ferrari.  I had already been deeply committed to PBP 2011.  Everyone I know knows I'd been preparing for PBP for the last two years.

For the month prior to the Stampede I'd been riding in winter weight gear no matter the conditions in an attempt to get some heat acclimation in before venturing to Texas.  I'd also been doing my usual yoga classes in heavy jerseys.  Where I live it doesn't really get all that hot until August or September and then it's only for a couple of weeks.  I could venture out to the nearest desert to ride on weekends, but this didn't seem like it would help my heat acclimation enough to be worth all the time involved.  In the couple weeks before the Stampede I saw temps in Texas reaching into the 90s and began to get concerned.  I hadn't really been heat acclimated since I moved to California from Missouri in 1996.  I remembered back in the day turning in some of my best, fastest rides in the horrible heat of the midwest summer so I know I could get used to heat and perform, but it was a matter of finding that heat and working out in it; not a simple matter at my current residence.

From some rides in the San Diego desert over the last two years I'd learned to deal with the heat in my own sub-optimized fashion by riding slow.  In the worst case scenario I knew I could do the same thing in Texas.  I had also learned to deal with cramps and how to continue to ride through them.  I was confident in my coping strategies.  The trade-off in the grand brevet would be sleep.  Ride slow in the heat, get less sleep.  Have to stop for cramps?  Get less sleep.  Everything in a 1200k could be expressed in terms of how much sleep it would cost.  Flat tire?  10 minutes sleep.  Hanging out at a Starbucks?  One hour of sleep.

Most things pointed towards sleeping less as part of the solution but sleeping less has it own limitations and I wanted to explore that in this ride.  Out in the work-a-day world I've found that if I get shorted on sleep for a couple of days straight, I begin to turn into a raging bastard which I seems incompatible with enjoying a nice long bike ride.  On a 600k, 90 minutes sleep with full days of riding on each side was completely doable for me.  On the 1200k, I was looking at the possibility of four days riding with 90 minutes sleep between each day is something quite a bit more intensive than the 600k experience.  I wasn't completely sure how I would perform under those conditions.

I flew into DFW on the Tuesday May 10th and was greeted by a cheerful volunteer named Becky Reily.  We loaded my bike and luggage into her SUV and passed the ride to Waxahachie talking about riding.  It was great to have transport pre-arranged from the airport to the start hotel and I just can't say thank you enough about that.  Becky, thank you again.

At the hotel, I monkeyed around assembling my bike and did a quick little test ride to make sure everything still worked.  After a brief pre-ride meeting we were all dismissed.  My roomie, Bob Hess of the great state of Tennesse, and I headed over to a nearby Chinese buffet place for a round of carbo and MSG loading.  A fitful night of sleep lead to a 0330 wakeup for the 0500 start.  I imagine that I slept three or four hours which seems to be my tradition before a long brevet.

I've stopped making ride plans for brevets.  It seems that the circumstances on the road are so variable that every plan needs to be modified.  Coming into this ride with that knowledge I had only three things in mind.
  1. Find some people to ride with.
  2. Endure day one and two no matter what happens.  Use day three to get back on a safe finishing time line if necessary.
  3. Finish no matter what.
The potential for hot weather aside, I knew that physically I was well prepared to ride this distance.

Day One 361 Km
After a light breakfast I re-checked my dropbag vs. saddle bag loading for the seventh time, zipped everything up and deposited myself outside the Hotel in readiness for the start.  The ride started right at 0500.  As my normal procedure I immediately jumped with the lead group.  I always like to roll out fast as dropping back to another group is a much easier option than having to speed up to catch a faster group.  This morning I was particularly motivated since stiff headwinds were predicted for the entire day and I did not want to push against the wind alone all day.  The group in the ball park of 30 riders moved quickly into the rural roads south of Waxahachie.  As the roads crossed the rolling terrain of the countryside the wind became more apparent.  The group provided a nervous respit from the wind and since we often found ourselves in quartering or cross winds we weren't able to fully realize the advantage of such a large group.  We would have had to run an echelon across the entire road to capitalize fully.  In spite of this I continued to roll along and enjoyed talking to a number of other riders.  The group slinkyed severely over the rolling terrain causing a scramble over the top of each little summit to stay in what little draft was available.  Each down hill the group bunched only to slinky again across the next summit.

Hiding from the wind behind Tim and Bob
After getting brake checked twice within a two mile stretch I decided that I wasn't having that much fun riding in that style and at mile 86.4, I looked at my cyclometer, sat up, and let them go.  I was feeling worked in the heat and humidity and rode the next 24 km into Gatesville on my own terms.  It was mid 80s and humid.  I spent many of those 24 km right on the edge of cramps and couldn't put down any significant power at all.  I went into spin mode and turned over an easy gear at low speeds, 12-15 MPH, with a 95 RPM cadence.  I've found through experience that the easy spinning would do a pretty good job at keeping me riding while keeping cramps from becoming serious.  In Gatesville I found another rider whose name I didn't catch, Tim Lucas, and Bob Hess.  I had the mother of all hamstring cramps as I dismounted my bike and almost found myself flailing around on the ground.  The cramp passed mercifully quick but was certainly intense.  I hoped this wasn't a sign of things to come.  After refueling and cooling off at a gas station, Tim, Bob and I headed back out towards Lampasas.  This was a long stretch of road and I found myself thinking about ways to get out of this ride as we beat into a howling wind.  After about four and a half hours of punishment we approached Lampasas in a light sprinkle.  I had started to recover but still didn't feel great.  Imagine our surprise at finding what seemed like the entirety of the brevet entrants huddled under the awning of Skinny's Fina, the control.  Everyone was holed up there waiting for a storm to pass.  It turned into a two hour delay for may riders.  Once again I refueled and waited with the rest of the field as riders continued to arrive and the storm rolled in.
Skinny's Fina.  Lots of bikers.

After everyone's weather radar apps had confirmed that the storms were moving away from the area the riders began to depart.  I imagine we resembled a bee hive migrating.  We arrived from "nowhere" en masse for reasons that only the hive understands and we left for "nowhere" for reasons only understood by the hive.  I'm sure they were somewhat relieved at Skinny's to see us go on our way.

The roads where wet and water was running deep along the curbing indicating a real gully-washer had been avoided.   Most people had donned rain gear because the temp had dropped significantly behind the storm front.  I continued working my way back to feeling good again.  I stopped to strip off my rain jacket as I'd fully warmed up again after a few miles.  In spite of the generous venting in my Showers Pass jacket I knew that without even cooler temps I would have a rain forest like atmosphere under the jacket in a short time.  Once again I had let the large group go and planned to ride solo until I found some compatible riders on the route.
After a couple of hours I found my way along the route to a convenience store where everyone seemed to be stopped.  I was starting to understand the distances between places to resupply where around 30-50 miles so I also stopped.  I was getting hungry and this little store had pizza by the slice.  I had a big piece of pepperoni and my traditional chocolate milk.  We were something like 186 miles into the day and the food was exactly what I needed.  I felt great after the food and rolled ahead of the big group.  The road to Jonestown control was the ideal form of rolling terain.  You could sprint down the hills and carry enough speed up the other side so that with a little stand up jamming avoid actually climbing the hills.  I do love this type of terrain.  I devoted years of my life to this type of riding and can make really good time in rolling terrain.  I was having fun again.  After a few miles of this the big group started catching up, but I wasn't really feeling like riding inside a big group.  I put the hammer down and stayed on the front until nearly Jonestown.

The Jonestown control was an interesting experience.  While the migrating hive arrived and milled around some local cops pulled up to find out what was going on.  One of the riders explained and the cops expressed a great deal of concern over us riding RR 1431.  As the sheriff said, someone gets killed along there every month.  They decided that they'd give us an escort.  That is what they did, in a Ramboesque sort of scene they escorted us right to the edge of town.  Just as we hit the city limits one of the deputies pulled up next to me and began to talk:
Do you know what you're heading into?
No sir.  What do you mean?
There's 60MPH winds, lightening, and 1/4" hail in Burnet County.
Do you know what that means?
No sir.
Burnet County is Marble Falls.  That is where you are heading.
Thank you sir.
As I continued a short distance the deputy's words started to resonate.  I could see big lightening and the clouds moving fast up ahead.  It started to rain a bit and I decided that there must be a better option than riding into an electrical storm.  As I rode up a slight grade I spotted a church on the right that appeared to have a nice covered patio on the side.  I pulled up and found a covered patio along with picnic tables to sleep on.  I left my bike parked with the Super Blinky on pointed towards the road in case any other riders were coming by looking for shelter.  In a few minutes Tim Lucas pulled in.  We spent about a half hour letting this storm blow over.  We saw hail along with some good gusty wind and rain.

We took off and found a beautiful night for riding.  The road to Marble Falls was completely empty and was easy riding.  After a couple of hours we rolled in the control 40 minutes after midnight.  The volunteers where great.  They took our bikes, organized our drop bags to be at our rooms and brought us food.  They even carried our bikes to the room if we wanted.  This was terrific after a long day on the road.  They had lasagna and spaghetti with bread and real Coke in bottles.  The food was wonderful and it was nice to sit on something that wasn't a bike.  I'd been on the road for about 19 hours.  I decided that I wanted three hours sleep which by time I got to my room, showered and loaded for the next day, meant getting a 0430 wake up call.  The room setup, which was included in the entry fee, was for double occupancy rooms.

Day Two 389 Km
At 0430 the phone in the motel room started ringing.  At first I didn't know what was making all the noise.  It was a phone but not my cell phone.  I finally figured out that it was my wake up call.  180 minutes sleep seems to go by very quickly.  My roomie was already up and out.  I started out slow and by time I'd had some breakfast and got ready to go it was 0515.  The control closing time was 0504 so I knew that I was cutting it close.  The big group had rolled out at 0500 and should be well ahead of me.  I took my bike to the parking lot and returned my drop bag to the volunteer's care.  All my bottles and CamelBak were full so I took off.  It was nice riding in the pre-dawn time and I felt good on the bike.  Not strong, just good.  My plan was to spend the day recovering from the day one heat and I would deal with the consequences of that choice on day three.  I also understood that because of the general delay due to the severe thunderstorms on day one everyone got a two hours of extra time at the intermediate controls, but would need to be back on the original time line at the overnight control in Sealy.  This would make for what I hoped would be a good solid recovery day.  It would turn into a very long day.

It seemed to take forever to cover the first 60k of the day to get to Dripping Springs.  Early, still in the dark I was coming down the narrow lanes we'd been on for a few miles and ahead I saw a crowd of reflective gear.  As I got closer I could make out a rider down on the ground with several standing in close.  My heart dropped as I began to think I was approaching the scene of an early morning crash.  Thank goodness as I got close it became apparent that it was just a flat repair.  They had it under control and I kept riding.  Dawn broke as I crossed between the small open fields of the Texas hill country.  I started running into swarms of tiny black flies.  They didn't bite and they died by the hundreds against my body as I rode on.  At the same time the road turned into gravel and I  enjoyed the change to loose gravel for a couple of miles.

I was making slow time and had stopped for a few minutes at the side of the road to have a bite to eat and wash off the flies as a group of two single bikes and a tandem came by.  As we wound through the roads heading to Dripping Springs I started to feel like we were zig-zagging back and forth in some diabolical attempt to lengthen the day.  Finally, and I do mean it felt like finally, we reached Dripping Springs Control.  The control had a Subway and convenience store.  I had a sandwich and a chocolate milk.  I also refilled my CamelBak with Gatoraide and picked up a couple of Fig Newton two packs for the road.  The other riders there at the time were Irene, Bill, Alain and Victoryia.  Everyone completed their preparations and as we went out to leave it became clear that a storm was coming through.  The clouds were low and moving fast.  Then the wind started.  As we debated whether to leave or not it started raining again.  We stepped inside to continue the debate.  Just then, lightening struck a utility pole across the street.  It was convincing display of mother nature's power and helped everyone to decide that staying in the Subway and remaining un-electrocuted seemed like a fine idea.  I got a nice  30 minute nap during this delay and I suspect some others did as well.

George Evans, who had been at the control for a while also asked if he could get us all change of address forms.  It was a good hint.  The major storm had passed and it was just raining lightly.  We moved on and found our way onto some small rural roads.  I really enjoyed riding in this section.   I started to get too warm with my rain jacket on so I stopped and removed it.   After a while on the road I started feeling hungry and popped a couple of gels to keep the machinery working until food was available.  Continuing on to Canyon Lake I stopped at an Exxon station where another rando bike was parked.  I gathered up some supplies and as I paid at the cash register the cashier smiled real big and said "another straggler!"  He told me a group had come through about and hour earlier.  I went over to a sub shop I saw across the parking lot and had a much needed meal of sub sandwich, chips, and soda.  From there to New Braunfels the roads were terrific.  I was riding solo at this point but nonetheless I was enjoying the ride.  Along the Guadalupe River, the route followed mildly rolling terrain and I'm certain that I had a tailwind as I was moving along at 22 to 24 miles/hour most of the way.  The road was over hung with trees and there were many little resorts along this stretch.  It is easy to picture how busy this little area would be in the heat of the summer as people escape from Austin to cool off with a weekend of tubing on the river.  A quick climb and a couple of miles and I found New Braunfels.  I reached the control at 1543, 43 minutes after the original closing time.  The delays were starting to add up and I had to get back on schedule by time I reached Sealy.  I really wanted to get a couple of hours in the bank by Sealy so I could sleep and avoid having to time trial day three.

The route between New Braunfels and Lockhart was a low point for me.  The roads were rough chip seal and the country side was wide open for the wind.  I had headwinds most of the way and resigned myself to just grinding these miles out.  I had hopped to catch some riders on the road but my pace was just not fast enough to make that happen.  I was also starting to have a saddle problems and getting sleepy.  It was a grim four or so hours.  Just outside of Lockhart Alain and Victoryia Abbate passed me on their tandem.  That energized me to get to the control so I could eat and maybe have a wheel to follow for some miles after the control.  When I arrived at the control there were a number of randos milling around.  There were a few 'bents just leaving as we pulled up as well as a couple of other bikes.  I gulped down a Whatachicken and most of an extra large fries then got outside to see what was happening with my saddle. 
See the lip in the center of the saddle?
After field surgery lip gone
What I found was that a lip had formed in the center of the saddle.  It had become an ass-hatchet.  No wonder I was so uncomfortable.  I dug a pocket knife out of my tool kit and field modified the saddle to find some relief.  Since I've been back, according to Selle An Antomica what I witnessed on my saddle does happen on occasion and they prescribe exactly what I did as the solution. 

The Abbats rolled out a few minutes ahead of me.  I didn't know if they were going to run easy or hammer down and I didn't want to risk missing the train.  I dropped into TT mode determined to catch them as quickly as possible.  After a few short minutes I saw them ahead and could tell they were in cruise mode so I let up to conserve my legs figuring I'd probably need them later.

As we rode along on almost empty roads the Abbats on their tandem, me on my solo bike we talked and passed the miles.  Time passed quickly through this section of the and I enjoyed their company.  As typical on brevets at times we'd be separated by some few minutes on the road only to reconverge a short time later.  At one point another rider had passed us who was making good time.  I marked this rider as another potential companion and as a taillight to watch to help with navigation.  At one point shortly after dark after the light ahead that had been out there about a mile it seemed to have disappeared.  We wondered where they had gone and finally assumed that they just put the hammer down and rode away from us.  The section from Lockhart to La Grange was 94k long with nice rolling roads and as good a surface as I'd noticed any place on the ride.   There were plenty of deer to spot on the roadside in addition to the running conversation.  As we approached La Grange we came upon a couple of 'bents on the shoulder of the roadway with tire trouble.  After stopping briefly to see if any help was needed we moved down the road a couple more miles into La Grange.

In La Grange we found the Whataburger control closed with a couple of other riders already there.  In addition, some reconnoitering around town revealed everything closed at this time of night; even the gas stations and convenience stores.  We had another 88 km to go before reaching the overnight control in Sealy and I was already getting hungry.  I had 6 gels and 2 Clif Bars on the bike with me and enough water to get me through to overnight at the pace we'd been riding.  I figured we had about four hours riding time ahead of us and my food stocks might be just enough to keep me from bonking.  We learned that a sag crew had been dispatched from Sealy bringing food and water to Lockhart control for the riders arriving through the rest of the night.  We decided to hangout until the volunteers arrived.  They brought fix'ns for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with water.  I had two PBJ sandwiches thanked the volunteers and Alain and Victoryia and I were off for Sealy.

The road was dark, dark, dark headed to Sealy.  I don't recall seeing a single car in that 88 km.  I used my helmet mounted headlamp to spot deer and other critters along the road and talked as we rode.  Someplace just past Frelsburg we all started getting very sleepy.  We had seen the SAG wagon on the road and flagged them down at the first oppurtunity to inquire if they knew anyplace warm to catch a quick nap.  There was a post office in New Ulm just a few miles ahead so we made for it.  When we found the post office, we rolled our bikes in and crashed out on the very comfortable tile floor.  While it wasn't heated inside it was sheltered and felt pretty good.  Some time later, and I really don't know how long, I was awakened by the sound of a car in the parking lot outside.  Startled, I woke Alain and Victoryia.  We slowly got ourselves together and ventured outside to continue the ride.  I was completely disoriented and had it not been for Victoryia navigating with a GPS I would have had a devil of a time getting back on course.  It seemed to take forever to warm up on the bike.  There were no significant hills and riding faster didn't seem like a great solution either.  My teeth chattered for five or ten minutes before I finally started making enough heat to warm up.  In the early morning, this was a Thursday, we passed a waste hauler, school bus, and newspaper delivery all out and starting their day's runs.  As The sun came up we got see the sky go through shades of blue from midnight, to indigo, to sky blue as the sun fully emerged.

We arrived at the overnight control in Sealy at 0702.  The cutoff time was 1013 so I was happy that I'd started getting a time cushion.  Breakfast was being served for the departing riders and I welcomed the eggs and biscuits with sausage gravy.  I dashed to the room, showered and got in bed for a quick hour and a half slumber.  I got up around 0930 to start day three, the day I'd targeted as my make up day with a plan to ride as hard as necessary to build a few hour time buffer.

Day Three 251 Km
I walked out of the hotel in Sealy around 1000 hours.  The control would close at 1013.  I had 13 minutes in the bank heading out the door.  The sun was bright and I could tell we would get some heat on this fine day.  This was the beginning of day three.  Going into this 1200k ride I had decided that I'd let the first two days unfold however they unfolded.  If I was behind the clock today was going to be a make up session in the Texas House of Pain.  If I was on time it would be an easy day.  Fortunately day two in spite of the late arrival at the overnight had been a good recovery day for me.  I felt as good as anyone operating on four and half hours sleep over the last two days and this day looked like it would be an easy day.   I left the control solo and as I rode along I decided that I'd find some riders on the road to pass the day and miles.  Following the route sheet, I worked my way north and east of Sealy following the residential rural roads.  I could see some bikes up ahead and knew that I could slowly reel them in.  I passed a rider stopped in the middle of the road making some adjustments.  A few miles later I came upon a group of three recumbents parked on the road having a discussion.  I said good morning and kept riding.  I was in an easy cruise mode working against the wind but not killing myself.  As the road stair stepped north then east then north again the relative wind switched from direct headwinds to cross winds and back again.  It was starting to warm up and I had carried two frame mounted bottles specifically for spraying to cool off.  That in combination with my torso, arm and leg coolers seemed to be doing a pretty good job of keeping me comfortable.  I had also been riding with a 3L CamelBak, a new addition to my gear for this ride.  As the town of Waller came into sight I started thinking about whether I wanted to stop and what I might want if I did stop.  I wanted an ice cream bar.

Staying on route I rode through Waller looking for the Hagen Das ice cream stand.  It seems they didn't have one.  I backtracked a short distance to a Shell station as the nearest possible substitute.  As I pulled in the three recumbents were also just arriving.  I did find an ice cream bar and it was delicious.  The store keeper was generous with their ice and allowed us to fill bottles and CamelBaks with ice.  The 'bent crew invited me to ride with them if I'd like and I was happy to do that.  We departed the Shell station and headed for the control in Magnolia that was still maybe 50km away.  The route headed through residential neighborhoods and rural routes.  Riding and talking to my new friends, Peggy Petty, Sara Kay Carrel, and Daniel Schaaf made the 50km pass quickly and in no time we were in the chaos of Magnolia.

It seems that a number of major roads connect through Magnolia so the intersection you are presented with upon entering town looks like a mess from a cyclists perspective.  After a quick discussion about where we wanted to eat the three 'bents headed for McDonald's and I headed to Sonic for a Cherry Lime Aid.  I then crossed to McDs to join them for lunch.  It was a leisurely stop and we had arrived three hours to the good.  The Cherry Lime Aid really hit the spot and I was surprised to learn that Daniel had not only heard of Dana Point CA, he knows exactly where it is.

Getting back on the road after a short back track we turned north and almost immediately entered Sam Houston National Forest.  The road rolled through big conifers and the change was almost startling when compared to the Scrub Oak and rock terrain we'd seen around Marble Falls or the open farm country around Lockhart and La Grange.  We rode and talked and rode and talked holding a respectable pace but not trying to kill anyone in the group.  I eventually realized in spite of the enormous amount of water I'd been carrying it seemed likely that I'd run out before the next control.  I let everyone know to keep an eye out for a water spigot.  After quite some time we came upon a church and I refilled from the spigot on the side of the building.  It was in the mid 90s this day which was much warmer than anything I had ridden in this year.  Keeping hydrated was critical to stave off cramps or those other heat related problems that can crop up.

It took us about five hours to reach the next control, a truck stop in Huntsville.  As we pulled in we found Tim Lucas sitting outside the Subway.  Since he was solo, I encouraged him to hang out while we messed around in the control and then ride on with us to Crockett.  We had fun at the control in Huntsville wise cracking and burping.  We were all in good spirits and knew that we'd make the overnight at a reasonable time without having to kill ourselves on the pace.  After a leisurely stop we got organized and back on the road.

Leaving Huntsville just after dark we got into a paceline with Sara Kay on the front and the adrenalin from high speed traffic passing at our elbows took over.  We motored pretty hard to get back to the peaceful rural roads that we'd been experiencing for the last two days.  Once back to the country side we all sat up and looked around to make sure we were all there and switched on the cruise control.  Once again riding and talking through the night the miles passed with incredible rapidity.  At some point we picked up a couple of more riders who'd seen our lights coming down the road and waited for us.  Right around the little town of Weldon a car came by with the passenger yelling something out the window.  Daniel and I were on the front riding and talking and we basically ignored them assuming them to be another fan.  After a while I noticed that my mirror was clear of headlights.  When I brought this up to Daniel we had one of those "oh crap did we ride off course moments."  After stopping for a few moments we saw lights coming.  As the other riders arrived they raved about a treat whose name I can't recall that they got in Weldon.  It turns out that yelling passenger was in a SAG car out on the course handing out treats.  I managed to finagle one of these treats away from Sara Kay.  It was delicious.

It seems that between Lovelady and Crocket we started up a long grade that stair stepped.  We'd climb for a while then hit a flat, then climb for a while then hit a flat.  It was cool in the evening and the climb felt good to me.  I could tell that Sara Kay was feeling just fine as well and we had a little climbing contest.  Neither of us was going to crack on so shallow a grade so a truce was derived.  Sara Kay did take the summit some time later, however, I contest that win, but not her ability to win, since I didn't know we were still racing.

We arrived at the Crocket overnight at 0055.  We were a full eight hours to the good at this point.  After much discussion about "time off the bike" we got down to a 0400 departure time.  I split to my room ate, showered and hit the sack.  The next thing I know there is an incredibly loud noise in my room.  Then again.  Someone was banging on my door.  Stumbled out of bed and opened the door.  It was a volunteer come to roll my lazy ass out of bed.
How long will it take you to get ready?
 I look around the room.  It looked like the DEA had tossed it, cycling gear everywhere.  I tried to comprehend how this mess happened.
 I'm not packed.
How long will it take you to get ready?
Ten minutes!
I may have left a thing or two in that room.  I haven't missed anything yet though.  It was tough packing whilst kick myself in the ass the entire time.  I was just thankful that the crew had waited.  I hustled down to the lobby feeling quite sheepish and mercifully didn't have to endure too much punishment.

Day Four 237 Km
Once out on the road the day started looking fine.  Tim Lucas found the strength of ten men and went flying off the front as soon as we got out of town.  Daniel and I jumped and hung with him and we were really moving up some shallow grades and rollers in the pre-dawn.  After ten or fifteen kilometers of this we let up as the sun came up.  Once again I felt good and it seemed that everyone else did as well.  We got back into our mode which was to ride and talk, talk and ride, holding a moderate pace and enjoying the company.  After 65km we reached the next control which would be our breakfast stop.  At the McDs in Palestine we had breakfast in the usual fashion for this crew: talking, laughing, speculating and generally having a good time.  The day was windy and cool and it was a toss up for me to decide whether to put my rain jacket on or not.  I decided to roll without it and then a couple of miles down the road I stopped to put it on.  I got back with the group pretty quickly and we rode along starting to see other bikes on the road.  As the sun was fully up I started to get a little warm and stopped to remove my rain jacket.  I took my time and had a nature break taking in the mid morning in Texas.  As I got back on the road I decided to see just how much fuel I had left in the tank.  I got into a full TT mode in pursuit of the crew maybe five minutes ahead down the road.  I set my HR at 163 and just cranked.  The hard effort was enjoyable.  As approached the crew I saw Daniel riding with a giant in a day glow green vest.  As I passed them, headed for Sara Kay and Peggy a 1/4 mile up the road, I thought about what a disadvantage it would be to be so big in the headwinds we'd been seeing.

Palestine to Corsicana was 101km, 55km of which was on dead straight road into the wind.  We got organized into a paceline and just rode.   Peggy was happy to do most of the pulling through that stretch.  Other riders came and went on this stretch but the core 5 person crew hung together.  We also picked up another giant on the road: Bill Olsen.  Bill was so big I thought I could probably sit up and eat a bowl of Rice Krispies while coasting in his draft.  
Study in contrast: Bill Olsen and Sara Kay

It was so windy you couldn't really talk easily so we just rode.  About 15km outside the control I started to feel a bit sleepy and eventually pulled off for a 60 second micro nap while still clipped in with one foot.  I was amazed how refreshed I felt after this little nap.  I got back on the road and found my way to the control in Corsicana within a couple of km.

The control was a busy place with randonneurs all over.  I had some food and some drink and got ready for the remaining stretch into Waxahachie.  We took off after about a half hour and had about five hours in the bank with 71km left to go.  After working our way through Corsicana we got on the wide but irregularly shouldered TX-22.  After a few miles I started getting sleepy again and soon realized that falling asleep on the bike could put a real crimp in my plan of finishing this ride.  At Barry, TX Tim Lucas and I pulled off into a little city park next to the post office for a half hour nap.  Tim and I both set alarms on our phones and Tim called his wife to ask her to call in a half hour just to make sure we wouldn't sleep too long.  We had the good fortune to be awakened by the town wake up mutt after 25 minutes.

Tim and I got organized and back on the road.  That little half hour nap really revived us.  Once back out on the route I found the strength of ten men and dropped the hammer.  We gobbled up an eight kilometer stretch in no time at all.

As I sat up, Tim found the strength of ten men and dropped the hammer.  We clicked off another 8 km stretch, Tim on the front.  At that point we had plenty of time and not much distance so we just turned on the cruise control.   We came to a small town, Avalon, and stopped at a market for some cold refreshments.  I had an Orange Fanta in a bottle which I haven't seen in years and it was delicious.  Tim called his wife Susan to insure that she'd have our medicine iced down when we got to Waxahachie.  Back on the road it was an easy ride into the finish.

Tim and I at the Finish
Postscript: Life After my First 1200k Brevet
Returning to day to day life after a long ride is always somewhat of a shock.  It has been a week since I finished the Stampede.  Initially it seemed odd to be so still.  After four intense days of ride, eat, sleep, repeat, the rhythm of the days seems to have vanished.  Just sitting in a chair with no need to jump back on the bike and pedal like hell to get to the next overnight seems so easy.  Sleeping until I awake seems so easy.  Everything seems easy.

The sensory load of cycling is gone as well.  On the bike, everything is alive.  You smell the fields and the trees.  You see everything, even things that aren't really there.  The feeling of riding, the road, even the chip seal surface is missing.  The feeling of being down on the handle bars forearms on the tops hands on the hoods in a TT position smooth pedal strokes flexing the frame and wheels slightly at 100 RPM; watching the tenths of miles ticking away as I monitor my heart rate making sure I stay off the redline is missing.  The sounds of bikes on the road is absent.  The rapid fire click of gears changing as the group rolls across a summit preparing to bomb down the other side is missing.  As the road rolls up the clatter from more gear changes as we all downshift into the grade to work another climb is gone.  The tastes of the road, ice cream and gator aide, McDonalds food and Whataburger are like bargain gourmet meals and are memories.  The shared experience with good riders and new friends is complete and I will have to go out and ride a some more brevets with my friends here to get that feeling back.

I went into this ride knowing that I was physically prepared to do the ride in the allotted time.  But there was no absolute certainty in finishing in my mind.  1238 km is an enormous distance to cover on a bicycle and many things can happen.  I didn't know how I'd perform with the lack of sleep that would come with the 1200km.  I estimate that I slept eight hours total over the course of four days.  It turns out that it wasn't that much of a problem.  I was mentally prepared to nap on the road as needed and that did surely come to pass.  I slept in a city park, a post office, and a Subway.  I wasn't certain how my ride mechanics and ergonomics would hold up to this test.  I had a couple of minor issues and what I learned is that I'll never ignore anything again on a ride this long.  If something doesn't feel right at 750 km it will probably be agony by 1150 km.

The Stampede has left me confident for PBP in August.  I will arrive in France with confidence that I can cover the distance in the time allowed in good form.  I'll make a few adjustments to my ride ergonomics and replace a couple of things that I didn't appreciate as the distance tallied up.  I've got 13 weeks between now and PBP.

I arrived in Texas knowing no one.  I had the good fortune to ride with some really nice people and make some new friends out on the road.  The volunteers were fantastic and devoted making our ride efficient and fun.  The route was wonderful.   Texas is quite a scenic state.  The organization fantastic across three randonneuring clubs as we moved from area to area.  The weather?  Well the weather reminds me of the oft quoted Nietzsche: "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stampede 1200k rollout

O'dark 30. Ready to ride.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fortune cookie tells the tale.

I don't know how this relates to my 1200k ride. Hopefully it will become apparent when the ride starts.

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The meeting room.

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weather forecast from Waxahachie.

Break in the heat in exchange for thunderstorms. I'll take it.
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