Monday, March 30, 2009

The Flatlander’s Delight: 200K Permanent

For weeks I’ve planned to ride in the Saratoga 200K held on Sunday, March 29. I reserved the time and sent in my registration weeks ago. I was especially eager for this first brevet of the season as John Ceceri always puts on nice events that tend to draw a strong field of riders. After months of virtually solo training, a long group ride is just what I need at this point.

On Saturday night, I consulted my printed checklist and carefully packed all of my gear. The plan was to leave my house at 4:30 a.m. to make it in time for the 7:00 a.m. start. After pulling together some food to eat on the drive and pouring a fresh pot of coffee into my thermos, I drove off into the drizzle. About an hour into my two hour drive I reviewed my mental checklist: socks – check, arm warmers – check, helmet – check, front wheel – front wheel – FRONT WHEEL!!! Looking into the back of my car I realize that I DID NOT PACK THE FRONT WHEEL!

To save time in the morning, I packed the car on Saturday night. Due to the forecast of heavy and steady rain, my IF was equipped with a pair of excellent Honjo fenders I purchased last year from Velo Orange. To ease the bike into its rightful place in the back of my small car, I needed to remove the front fender. While doing this, I left the front wheel propped against the side of the car. You can imagine what happened next. Luckily, when I pulled out, I didn’t run over or damage anything.

Trying to think of how to best salvage the day in the car on the drive back, I realized that if I didn’t ruin the wheel on the way out the driveway, this would be a good day to ride the Flatlander’s Delight (a 200K RUSA permanent I manage) for the first time this spring. I got home at about 6:30 a.m., saw the wheel lying innocently on the wet driveway, ran inside to print out the cue sheet and brevet card, explained the mishap to my confused wife and son, and headed out the door for the day. My 12 year-old daughter, who dragged herself out of bed at about 10:00 a.m., had the best response of the day when she heard what happened: WHAT AN IDIOT!! she screamed.

The Flatlander’s Delight permanent got its name to distinguish it from the other, more common rides in the area that all feature lots of climbing. The approximate gain over this route is about 4800 ft., so it’s not completely flat but features some gentle rollers nonetheless; nothing like what you might expect in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, though. The route begins in New Paltz, once a Huguenot settlement in the days before the American Revolution and shoots up to Kingston, the historic first capital of New York State, where Dutch farm houses line the streets and then crosses the Hudson River into Columbia County.

After about 50 miles, the rain tapered off a bit and it actually stayed dry for much of the rest of the day. My full-fingered gloves were so wet, though, and my fingers so cold that they were more or less useless to do simple things like open my money clip at the control. Luckily, I had packed a second pair of gloves and with the relatively warm air my fingers were much more comfortable once they were free of the wet gloves.

In Catskill, I found that control #1 had closed for business. Shuttered and gone. Actually, there is a sign saying they will open again in January. I assume they mean last January. Searching around, there is very little open in Catskill on a Sunday morning, so it was going to have to be O’Henry’s Hot Weiners and More for a quick cup of coffee, a bathroom break, a receipt and some water. Maybe I’ll order a weiner (or more) the next time.
After cycling across the Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge between Catskill and Hudson, riders quickly leave these two small Upstate cities behind and cover some exceptionally lovely rolling farmland in New York’s Columbia County. There are historic farmhouses and barns, livestock galore and even a dirt road or two. It’s best to bring some wide tires; my 25mm Conti GP4000 were fine but I’m looking forward to putting on my new Grand Bois Cyprus 30mm tires when they arrive.

At the second control, in lovely Chatham, New York, I bought a turkey and provolone sub, some chips and a coke. I figure that speed was not going to be the highlight of this ride and since I got up at 4:00 a.m. I was feeling a little peckish. Fully fueled and ready to go, I sped off through more of Columbia County’s rural reaches. I was so enjoying myself that I put on some bonus miles between controls #2 (mile 61) and #3 (mile 98) where I stopped for a cup of coffee and a chocolate scone.

I’m happy to report that the Honjo fenders worked beautifully. The front fender comes quite low on the wheel so my toes stay virtually free of road spray. The rear fender keeps rooster tail at bay. I do need to install a mud flap for anyone who may be drafting off me in the rain, but on a solo ride, I’m in good shape. I also need a good cycling cap (Rapha has a brilliant model, but the cost is a bit steep) to wear under my helmet to keep the water from dripping into my eyes. I also need a waterproof glove arrangement; the folks in Seattle have some interesting Gore-Tex suggestions I’ll need to explore.

The next big event on the calendar is the Connecticut Rive Double Century. This will be my first time riding in this event which is billed as a great early season race without too many hills. It is a figure-eight out of Brattleboro, Vermont that rolls up and down the lovely Connecticut River valley. No matter how few the hills are in number, it still seems a bit early to be racing so I’ll be out riding intervals and hill repeats several times a week to get my climbing legs and cruising speed up to par.

The happy rider at the end of 140 soggy, spring miles.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The UMCA Year-Rounder Challenge

Act now! It’s not too late to join the 2009 UMCA Year-Rounder Challenge. Each year, ultra-cyclists from around the world submit long distance rides (anything over 100 miles will do) as part of a global mileage challenge. AnyUMCA member can participate after paying a $10 fee for medals (sound familiar fellow randonneurs?). Participants also receive bi-weekly email newsletters from program coordinator John Lee Ellis with stories from the road and results.

Participants may submit miles ridden on both "organized" and "personal" rides. “Personal” miles are send in by mail along with a simple form and proof of passage (receipts, etc.), but specific routes and distances need not be approved by UMCA. Any route will do. Ride results from “organized” rides, such as brevets and ultra races, can be submitted on-line. Riders can even apply one indoor “century” (6 hour) ride per month, which is a great help to those of us riding in northern latitudes.

The program awards achievement by in several categories. The Larry Schwartz Award is presented to cyclists who ride at least one century ride per month over the course of 12 months. Make-up miles are transferable for two months only, so March is the last month in the year to begin. Other awards include the Gold Award, given to cyclists who ride more than 3,000 miles during the year and the Platinum Award, for riders who log more than 5,000 annual miles. Now, these are not total yearly miles, but rather miles derived from rides over 100 miles in length.

For me, the Y-R Challenge is another way to stay motivated throughout the year and perhaps pedal a few extra miles from time to time. It also provides me with a link to other cyclists who log, what may be long, lonely miles in far corners of the world. Looking at the riders with the top mileage results is also truly inspiring. In 2008, Canadian randonneur Ken Bonner, for example, logged over 17,000 miles!!! Shellene Foster rode over 11,000, Dan Driscoll over 10, 000. Where do these folks find the time?!?

Last year I participated in the Y-R Challenge for the first time and reached my goal by achieving the Larry Schwartz Award. This year, I’m after “Gold.” With L-E-L this summer and several other long rides planned, it should fall into place nicely. (Knock wood . . . ) So register today while there’s still time!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My first (OUTDOOR) century of the season

Finally! The cycling gods looked down favorably on this humble randonneur. The weather cooperated while family plans and work obligations aligned to open up a nice stretch of time for an outdoor century this weekend. Motivation has been lagging a bit recently and with my first brevet of 2009 in two weeks, it was great to get out on the roads again for a long training ride. I had initially hoped to squeeze a 200K permanent into the weekend, but there was simply too much to take care of to clear the way for that.

The weather on Saturday was outstanding. I left home late (at around noon) with temps already in the 40s. It rose to the low 50s by mid-afternoon. As I ran out the door, I ditched the long sleeve jacket in favor of a short sleeve wool jersey with arm warmers. No neoprene booties today; toe covers worked just fine and my fingers were not at all icy with my light full-fingered gloves. What a relief to ride feeling unconstrained by multiple layers. I was comfortable for the entire ride.

Much as I enjoy long trainer rides, since I am not training indoors with rollers, riding outdoors again always requires dusting off the usual handling skills. Handling is also more of a challenge on roads still covered with a coating of sand left behind by a long winter’s worth of snow storms. The sand is especially thick on the hills of the back country roads I favor for training, so descents are more tricky than usual. One has to remember to ease into the turns and look closely at the road surface at all times. With so much residual salt and sandy crap on the roads, I chose to ride my old Bianchi rather than the new Indy Fab.

Saturday’s ride followed one of my standard century loops; it’s mostly flat with some rollers and one big hill (1500 feet of gain in three miles) that begins at mile 50. Farmland, still fallow, lines many of the roads. Cows, sheep, horses and even a few turkeys greeted me as I passed and homeowners along the way were beginning to attack their yard chores with vigor as the sound of mowers and leaf blowers filled the air.

One of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor riding are the animals, live and dead we see along the way. Deer, hawks, and small furry things too small to identify darted through the leaves as I pedaled down quiet back roads. In a sure sign of spring, an Eastern Bluebird even alighted several feet away from me at one point. I also saw my share of roadkill out there. The count: one deer, one red fox, one raccoon, two house cats, and six or eight squirrels. It’s hard to tell if these poor critters are among the recently dead or if they’ve been lying on the side of the road buried under snow banks for several months, just making themselves known after the recent thaw.

One of my many goals this season is to do a better job of nutritional management on long rides. In the past, I’ve fueled myself in fairly haphazard ways. This time, I made an effort to consume all of my calories in the form of a thick solution of Hammer Perpetuem. The directions indicated that I should sip this thick brew while hydrating with my other bottle. The trouble was twofold: one – I had to stop once an hour for water and two – I was just too hungry to make it through a full century without some solid food. Need to work on this next time. Maybe I’ll try a more concentrated solution, paced more effectively and some supplemental Hammer Gel. I might also try a Camelback. Perpetuem in this solution would work great if I had a crew handing me fresh water bottles every hour, but having to find a bottle per hour on the road was a big hassle which slowed me down considerably.

So, in all it was a very good ride. Good to be out on the roads again. Hopefully, we’ll get some rain in the next few weeks to clear the roads of the residual salt and sand so I’ll feel more comfortable bringing my good bike out of hibernation.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Chip off the Old Block

I went for two rides yesterday; one was uneventful and the other I hope to remember for the rest of my life. Every Sunday, after dropping my son off at Hebrew school, I hop on my bike, lay down a 32-mile loop and generally screech into the parking lot just as class is letting out. It’s a lovely loop, actually, full of rollers throughout the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in and around the town of Woodstock, NY. Today, however, rather than throw the bike in the car and head back home; Eli and I had planned the inaugural ride in his new endurance cycling challenge.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we recently learned of a new endurance cycling challenge designed for kids aged 9-20 sponsored by a group named Team Get Outdoors (TGO) located in (where else?) Boulder, CO. Eli was all over it from the beginning. With the weather making a turn for the better, we decided to dust the cobwebs off his bike and ride for 10 ten miles along the beautiful Ashokan Reservoir on Sunday afternoon. The day was warm and sunny, with temps in the mid-50s, which stands in stark contrast to the weather we’ve been experiencing the past few months. We could not have asked for a nicer day to begin our journey.

The Ashokan Reservoir is an engineering marvel started in 1915 to supply fresh mountain water to New York City faucets. It contains over 122.9 billion gallons of water, is 190 feet deep at the deepest point, spans 8,300 acres and covers at least six former towns that were drowned or relocated so that New Yorkers could drink fresh water. Along the banks, there is a short bike trail and a closed-off service road that together stretch about 2.5 miles providing unobstructed views of the high Catskill peaks. It’s “mud season” now, yet there is still snow on the hilltops.

In the driveway this morning, after pulling Eli’s bike out of the shed, we raised the seat, oiled the chain and inflated the tires. We were set to go. After classes let out and we picked up a quick bite to eat and a warm coffee for dad, we unloaded our bikes at the reservoir parking area and took off along the paved bikeway. I was impressed from the beginning how much stronger my son is on the bike this season. Gone are the tiny legs and whiny complaints. As we pedaled along at speeds that ranged from 10-18 miles per hour, I could see the cycling peer inside him beginning to emerge.

As on most long rides, our conversation jumped from cycling to family to all sorts of other random things. At one point, Eli observed that cycling is so great because it is three things in one:

1. Energy-efficient transportation
2. Great exercise
3. Fun

The Ashokan Reservoir is also a Bald Eagle nesting area. In 44 years, I’ve never seen a Bald Eagle that wasn’t in a zoo, a TV commercial or on some form of currency. This day was going to be different. As Eli and I climbed a short grade among a tall stand of pines, we saw a small group of people looking skyward. We glanced up to see a majestic adult eagle looking out across the water from the top of a tall dead tree. It took our breath away.

After seeing the eagle, Eli added a fourth reason to his list:

4. Biking is an amazing way to see the world around you.

In all, we did two laps of the bikeway totaling 11 miles. We rested a few times, watched the eagle on three of our passes and dined on Clif bars and water. Children in the 9-11 year age group, like Eli, need to log rides of at least 10 miles to qualify. Older children must ride longer. When we got home, Eli was relentless in his desire to complete the TGO registration forms and submit today’s mileage.

As Eli and I talked about the exciting rides that lie ahead, my 12-year old daughter Izzy popped her head into the room to announce that, “EVERYTHING THAT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH A BICYCLE IS STUPID. I CAN’T BELIEVE HE HAS YOU BRAINWASHED!” Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad. She has her own countless gifts. They just don’t involve bicycles.

Next time we’ll shoot for 20 miles. In addition, we’re working on handling skills like holding a line and braking quickly so we can take this activity onto the open roads. I’ll always remember the look in Eli’s eyes as he looked over to me and said out of the blue, “I’m so lucky I’m your son. You can teach me how to bike like a pro.” Whether or not the last part is true, he sure set the bar high for me as I hope the bike challenge has for him.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Making the Commitment

Today was a good day. I registered for two spring rides and bought a round-trip ticket to London. As I dropped the two envelopes in the mail and clicked the “make this payment” button on the airline’s website, I felt a noticeable level of clarity and focus; things were really falling into place.

Guys have a bad rap for avoiding commitment but this has never been the case for me. I’ve been happily married since I was 29 years old, have two wonderful kids and I love to get cycling events nailed down on the calendar. It’s a relief, in fact. No more “well maybe this one, maybe that one” or “if this one, then that one” thinking. Now I have some specific goals with firm dates that the family and I can plan around. While I registered for LEL in 2009, shelling out the cash for the airline ticket made it much more real.

So at this point, I have my first brevet (the Saratoga 200K on March 29), my first race (the Connecticut River Double Century on April 19) and my largest event (LEL – July 26-30) all lined up and ready to go. My training is becoming more focused and specific as I end the base and enter the build phase. Spring is officially two weeks away, Daylight Savings begins on Sunday and the weekend forecast calls for temps in the upper fifties. Maybe this winter will end after all.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rapha Rides the Tour of California

Rapha Rides The Tour of California from RAPHA on Vimeo.

In case you missed the recent Amgen Tour of California, here's the version with the hip, pretty people riding the route with very beautiful clothing.