Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Amazing Care Package

There's generous, and then there's GENEROUS! Over the past four months, I've been reminded time and again just how many of my friends and family members fall into the second category. The most recent reminder came today when I went to the mail to find, not one, but two boxes from my friends Matt and Mo. The last time I saw these two was back in September when they stopped by the hospital on their return to Boston from a race in Pennsylvania. This has been a busy fall for the two of them, to say the least. Mo's been racing a full schedule of  'cross races with other Elite riders and is currently in Belgium racing in the World Cup, while Matt has been riding quite a bit himself as well as supporting Mo and holding down a full-time job as a doctoral research assistant at Harvard. 

When Matt and I first met on the Boston 400K last spring, we discussed a terrible crash that left him with a broken femoral neck and facilitated his switch from USACycling events to ultra-distance racing and randonneuring. It was a conversation I remember vividly, especially after I suffered a similar fracture in my own crash this August. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the danger with fractures of this type is the possibility of vascular necrosis where the femoral head dies from lack of blood. The window for this outcome is two years and Matt is luckily out of the danger zone. He's also one hell of a tough, fast cyclist who holds both the North-South and West-East Maine cross-state records.

So the care package I received today included countless goodies to speed my recovery (like hardcore calcium supplements), to brighten my days (Mo's Special Dark Roast coffee) and make me feel like a member of the ProTour (a signed Giro d'Italia leader's jersey signed by Ivan Basso). Matt also loaned me his custom-made titanium cane which was designed for him by a friend of his who builds frames for Seven Cycles. Needless to say, it's a work of art. More than anything else, I hope that I am as generous with others as others have been with me.

Today also marked an important milestone in my shoulder recovery. I got up early to head down to the City for a follow-up appointment to remove my stitches and review a fresh set of x-rays to ensure that everything is healing properly. I'm pleased to report that everything is heading in the right direction! I was also given a modest daily "pendulum" exercise to open up the shoulder capsule a bit. There will be nothing more ambitious in the rehab department for my shoulder for at least another four weeks to protect against an accidental dislocation of the reattached bone and muscle. In the meantime, I'm required to continue wearing the sling which means no driving for me. Physical therapy will be added in after my next appointment and it still looks like I may be riding on the road again by April.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My X-Mas Surprise: Bicycle Diaries Audiobook and T-Shirt

For the second Christmas in a row, my wife gave me a copy of Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne's wonderful essay collection and I've loved it both times. No she's not losing her mind. This year, the gift took the form of a newly released MP3 download of Byrne reading the book himself. As you may know, Byrne's voice is melodic, soothing and the issues he writes about (urban planning, history, art, architecture, travel, etc.) are timeless and perpetually interesting. As you might expect, Byrne has punctuated his audiobook with sound-scapes, audio clips and songs to enhance the experience. The book is available for download in its entirety or by individual chapter and may be listened to in one sitting or as one might approach a series of radio show podcasts. There is currently a special price for those whole chose to purchase the complete book and the t-shirt. The introduction is also available as a free download. Finally, one can read an excerpt of the book and play some complimentary audio-scapes at the same time on this web site. I wrote about the content of the book here last year, so I won't repeat myself, but I will mention that the audiobook is well worth the purchase even if you've already read the hardcopy.

The icing on the cake, of course, is the cool orange t-shirt with the silhouette of the bicycle rider designed by Bryne himself.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Exercise Becomes Training.

OK, so after lazing around the house in a post-op haze for the past week, I went out and had a killer workout at the local gym today. I'd let me membership lapse a few years ago, but re-upped this fall so that I could be assured of a dry place to do my walking and then stationary riding. The weights are also helpful. Today's numbers in the rehab triathlon? Treadmill = 1 mile, weights/stretches = 1 hour and bike = 20 miles. 

I feel like I've hit another milestone. It's definitely time to re-brand my "exercising" as "training." The craziest thing about this dreadful accident recovery is that I am actually not that far off of my normal training schedule. Volume is reduced significantly, yes, but Oct. and Nov. are typically months in which I reduce my riding and catch up on other interests and give my body (and family) a chance to recover from a tough season. So it looks like this year, too, despite an arm in a sling, I'm able to kick it up a notch around Christmas in anticipation of the year ahead. With Paris-Brest-Paris on the horizon in August, now is a perfect time to begin logging base training miles.

I graduated a few weeks ago at the gym to an upright stationary bike from a recumbent and I much prefer the angle at which this places my legs in relationship to the pedals. This weekend I will be setting up my Bianchi on the Cylops trainer next door in Jessie's studio (thanks to winter break at the dance school!)  This morning I was unable to remove the Time pedals from my totaled Indy Fab with one arm so Jessie brought the frame over to my buddies at the Bicycle Depot. They were gracious and helpful as always, but I think a they were little shaken by the look of my bike. With the Bianchi set up next door, I'll be able to log longer base workouts starting tomorrow.

My shoulder feels much better this week and I shoot into NYC on Tuesday for a follow-up visit to my surgeon who will remove the stitches and discuss rehab plans with me. My hunch is that I will remain in this sling without any PT for six weeks until my humerus has fully healed. I'll remind her of my plan to be cycling on the roads in March. I'll let you know what she says.

By the way, I just got an email announcing a 30% off sale on Rapha gear with free shipping. Don't wait, sale ends on Jan 3.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Independent Fabrication Club Racer (Before and After). Ouch!

So it took me four months to muster the will to photograph my twisted custom Independent Fabrication frame that was totaled on my fated 1000K brevet this past August. For the six weeks that I was in the hospital and for several beyond that, it sat in a corner of our dining room with a sheet draped over it to shield us from the memories an open viewing might elicit. Only recently, as part of a general plan to "move on with life," has it been placed in the attic where it will enjoy some moisture-free time until I begin the process of scavenging odd parts for possible future use.

I've been in touch with Paul Levine at Signature Cycles who served as my original IF "dealer" and did the initial custom fitting back in 2008. Paul's wealth of experience and wisdom drew me to his showroom several years ago, and both were reinforced when we spoke recently about the importance of waiting until my body "settled" a bit more from the accident to do a follow-up fitting. I am likely a slightly different guy than I was before the crash and the new frame should reflect my future mobility and athleticism rather than my past. So we made a plan to reconnect this winter after I've healed a bit more to dial in a new  set of measurements for Indy Fab to use to build me a new bike.

I keep telling myself that it was only a bicycle. It really was perfect for randonneuring and ultra racing, though, and I don't plan to change a thing about it in the reordering process. Paul reassured me that IF needs a six-eight week window on new frame builds and with a little luck, I should be riding my new bike out to Brest and back this summer. Wish me luck!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Rapha Festive 500K

500K in one week? No sweat. Assuming the roads are clear, this looks like a challenge that most randonneurs would "warmly" welcome as a way to ring in the New Year. With a Rapha Winter Training Bundle presented to the rider with "the most visually engaging or inspirational submission," you'd be crazy not to jump at this opportunity. Unfortunately, I'm off the bike for a while, but I hope that this prize goes to a deserving rando out there somewhere. As you know, Rapha gear is absolutely fabulous (and pricey!) so take advantage of this offer today!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shoulder surgery a success!

Yesterday I spent the morning in surgery almost four months after my accident with a wonderful doctor who was seeking to reattach an overlooked bone fragment and the associated rotator cuff muscles to my left humerus. Without these, there's no way for me to lift my left arm. I'm pleased to report that the difficult procedure seems to have been successful. The surgeon was able to save and reattach part of the bone, some of the muscle and a few of the tendons. There's no way to know how much mobility will return until I go through physical therapy which will not begin for another six weeks to give the bone enough time to heal. In the meantime, I need to keep my left arm immobilized in a sling. When therapy begins it will be a bit like Goldilocks; if I push it too hard, the muscles may detach and if I don't push it hard enough, my shoulder may stay frozen. I might also need an arthroscopic procedure once the bone is healed to increase the range. And so it goes.

Pain management has been a challenge this time around. Since I've been taking a low dose of medication for some time, I seem to have built up a degree of tolerance and so the dosage the doctor prescribed did virtually nothing. We finally dialed in the correct dosage by 10:30 last night, so there were a few rough hours in there. Let's just say that I have a much better appreciation of Jessie's forays into natural childbirth as a result.

Looks like my plan to get back on the bike again in March is still on track.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Could you cut your own arm off to save your life?

I'm not sure I could. I've been thinking about courage and trauma a lot since watching the film "127 hours" last night with my wife. The actor James Franco is excellent as Aron Ralston and the film is well worth seeing. I was a bit disappointed by some aspects of it but inspired by the incredible degree of raw, elemental brilliance that Ralston brought to his predicament.

Ralston's presence of mind and level of courage are incredible. A film like this is obviously deeply personal for the viewer and, while I don't mean to compare myself too directly with Ralston, it's hard not to reflect on one's own traumas after watching a film like this. What would I have done? What would have happened to me if the driver of the car that hit me had not stopped to call the paramedics? While I was told that I was conscious for at least a part of the time between accident and hospital, I have no memory of it at all. Would I have died lying there on the side of the road? Would I have been able to communicate productively with anyone or solve any of my own problems? I fear not.

As a result of my injuries, I was completely dependent on others to get me to the hospital and put me back together again. The balance between life and death is so precarious and some of us are incredibly lucky to have a second (or third or fourth) chance to get it right. Most inspirational, perhaps, is what Ralston has done after the accident. He has not let having one hand get in the way of his love for climbing and adventure one bit. I hope that all athletes who suffer serious or potentially debilitating injuries doing what they love to do are able to make adaptations to get right back out there as Ralston has done. It's certainly my plan.

How much discomfort, pain and suffering can a person endure? What is humanly possible? These are questions that have informed my approach to life in general and my cycling in particular for some time. Ralston's life didn't end with his fall in Blue John Canyon, but he claims that it is now divided into "before" and "after." I'm beginning to think that way myself. I hope that when Aron goes on solo hikes he not only leaves a note behind, but also that he might throw a SPOT tracker in his pocket just in case. 

Coincidentally, Outside Magazine has just published an article by Ralston on the filming of the movie along with an interview with James Franco. I'm a sucker for survival and endurance stories so I've also downloaded Ralston's book Between a Rock and a Hard Place to my Kindle and look forward to reading it this week.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Black Friday Purchase: The Twin Six Rando T-Shirt

Finally! After waiting for what seems like an eternity, the Twin Six "Let's Tour" t-shirt is finally in stock in a full range of sizes, including medium. The "Let's Tour" was first previewed last season as one of Twin Six's shirts of the month. When I saw the word "randonneur" printed on a commercially available t-shirt I nearly fell off my chair, but it's been over six months of checking in on their website to reach this moment. Order today form the Twin Six website for that special randonneur on your holiday shopping list!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

So much for which to be thankful!

There is so much to be thankful for this year! Health, recovery, family, friends, love, community, school, perspective. The list goes on and on.

Yesterday, on our trip to Maryland to spend the holiday with my sister-in-law's family, we stopped off at St. Luke's hospital (where I spent the first two weeks after my accident) for a stretch, a visit and a cup of coffee. Jessie pointed out that it was merely 5 miles away from the highway on which we were driving and the allure was too much to pass up. Jessie surprised herself by being more shaken than expected the closer we got to the hospital, but this dissipated as soon as we encountered the familiar faces of those who had cared for us after the accident. Apparently, one of the disappointments of trauma nursing is that folks rarely come back after they've healed to say "hi." Needless to say, I look a bit taller and cleaner these days, but we were recognized immediately as we walked off the elevator and onto the ninth floor acute care wing. The highlight of our visit was catching up with Liz and Lesette, our two dear friends who have made such a difference in our lives. Their humor and warmth was as welcome yesterday as it was the last time we saw them.

So, while surgery lies ahead in a few weeks, I'm optimistic and tremendously thankful for all that I have. Thanks to everyone for all of the support and encouragement!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some great news!

I got some great news today from the orthopedist I was working with at Helen Hayes during my stay there.  After taking a look at an x-ray of my hip during a follow-up visit, he said my femoral head looked very good and that it was "unlikely" that I will run into trouble down the road. He suggested that the lingering pain, sensitivity and mobility struggles in the left hip are muscular in nature, which is normal. I will not need another follow-up exam until next August unless there is increased pain. With a break such as mine, in 30% of the cases the bone develops avascular necrosis (death through lack of blood) and needs to be replaced. While Floyd Landis won the Tour de France after his hip replacement (and dosing on hormones) I'd rather not have one at age 45, all things considered, so this was great news. It was really reassuring to hear that my bone seems to be healing properly. 

The most reassuring thing, though, is the continued and miraculous support I get from Jessie on a daily basis. Jessie is an absolute wonder as a wife, mother and friend. Despite all of the challenges, she continues to inspire me daily with her determination and good humor. I could not be a luckier guy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Well, it couldn't all be good news.

I met with my shoulder specialist this week to review the results of my recent tests and found that her initial suspicion was correct. I have a previously undetected, displaced humerus fracture which involves a piece of my greater tuberosity and the associated rotator cuff muscles swimming around in my shoulder. No wonder I can't raise my arm. The only solution is surgical and the likelihood of repair hovers around 50%. It all has to do with how pliant my muscles are at this point and how cooperative they are in the process of reattachment. So off I go to surgery in mid-December to get this business repaired. I was clear with the doctor that the most important outcome was getting my left arm to "handlebar height;" anything else is extra. The surgery is possible on an "outpatient" basis (can you believe it?) so I will not require a lengthy hospital stay and should be back in action with my arm in a sling within a few days.

On the more positive side, I spent a few days at work this past week and I was thrilled again and again by the warm and caring reception I received from students, teachers, staff and parents. What a great school we have! While the recent medical news is somewhat discouraging, I have great confidence in my surgeon and am optimistic about a complete recovery and return to 
randonneuring and ultra racing. I have done a little recumbent research, so I have a better sense of what might be available in the worst case scenario, but I hope to be able to place an order for a new Independent Fabrication Club Racer later this winter after healing a bit more to enable my friend Paul down at Signature Cycles to do an accurate fitting.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back on the (a) bike!

After 9 weeks, I’m finally back on the bike! OK, it may be bolted to the floor at the gym, but it’s a bike nonetheless. That’s right - I’m back, baby! Yesterday I renewed my lapsed membership at the local gym and began the next stage of my recovery that involves additional weight machines, the treadmill and, of course, a stationary bike. After a 15 minute warm-up on the treadmill, I rode 7 miles on the bike topping out at 20 mph. It felt so good to sweat as a result of hard work rather than a restless night’s sleep, heavy medication or the unseasonably warm temperature of a hospital room. I also noticed that the tightness of my left hip flexor muscle which leads to a limp, if I don’t stretch it out adequately, is not an issue on the bike at all. I found that I’m able to pedal smoothly and quickly which feels like pure freedom even when bolted to the floor. I now know for sure that I will ride again.

This is a big week coming up. I will have both an MRI and CT scan done tomorrow night at Beth Israel and then follow up with my shoulder specialist on Wednesday. I was pleased to find out last week that I’ve not suffered any significant nerve damage from the accident. The EMG test was a thrill – electrodes, shocks and needles – yet the results were outstanding. The doctor was able to ascertain some lingering trauma from two herniated discs I suffered several years ago, but I was glad to learn that my current shoulder weakness is not tied to a nasty nerve problem. The growing consensus seems to be a rotator cuff tear of some magnitude, so we’ll see. Hopefully, the MRI results will not be invalidated by all of the metal in my shoulder. I should have a much better sense of what lies ahead on Wednesday. I’m also excited to be returning to work on a part-time basis this week. Onward and upward!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting to bottom of things.

Today was an excellent day. I drove (that's right drove) to NYC to meet with a highly regarded shoulder specialist to get to the bottom of why my range of motion is still so limited and the pain continues in my left shoulder. I was very impressed with my new doctor who spent a delightfully un-rushed period of time with me listening to my story, examining my shoulder, reviewing a set of recent x-rays and explaining a few of the possibilities with me. The next step will be to get more information through additional tests. I need an MRI (to investigate soft tissue/muscle damage), a CT scan (to get a better sense of bone healing from various angles) and an EMG (nerve test). It will be some week next week but I expect to have a much better sense of the prognosis and treatment the next time the doctor and I meet.

The second reason my day was so enjoyable is that I made a pit stop on the way home at Helen Hayes to visit Bob, my former roommate, and a few other friends, therapists, nurses and aids. Things change fast in a rehab hospital. I knew that many of the patients I had been living with were discharged around the same time I was, but I was also able to see the dramatic progress the few who stayed had made in the past three weeks. It was also fun to see the nurses and aids who had known me only really from a sitting or lying posture.

One of the best things about the visit is that I was able to walk into the hospital without crutch or cane. I've had a real breakthrough over the past week. Through a combination of Feldenchrist work, massage, physical therapy and strengthening exercises, I am now able to walk without my crutch for sustained periods of time. While I still feel some sensitivity and weakness in the left hip, I have even been able to counteract the slight limp which had developed. This continues to be my focus as I build strength and balance.

The visit to Helen Hayes was wonderful for a variety of reasons. 1) I was able to reconnect with some amazing people, 2) the dramatic progress I saw in my friends reminds me of what is possible, 3) It was great to show my therapists how far I have come and 4) I was reminded that even the worst prognosis can be counterbalanced by love, determination and hard work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Week Two at Home: Progress in several flavors.

Fully into week two after being discharged from the hospital, I am feeling more settled and independent each day. After getting some confusing and disappointing news from my insurance carrier last week, I seem to have navigated my way into a) an appropriate level of care from my therapists and b) an appointment next week with an outstanding shoulder specialist at Beth Israel hospital in New York. I also met with my GP yesterday to prove that I was still alive and he had no trouble granting me driving privileges. It's such a relief to both Jessie and me that I can drive!

I met with my new occupational therapist today who works out of the same office in New Paltz as my new physical therapist. I enjoyed the session (I really am becoming a masochist) and felt like it represented a very productive start. For example, after working with him for about 30 minutes, I was able to lift my arm farther than I have since the operation. Hopefully this is a good omen.

Finally, after therapy today, I took my iPod and crutch and hit the Walkway Over the Hudson. This time, I was able to make the full round trip to Poughkeepsie which amounts to about three miles. While the pace was slow and measured, it sure felt great.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Road to Recovery: Phase four has begun

It's been over a week since I was discharged from Helen Hayes and the thrill hasn't worn off yet. There is nothing like sleeping through the night in your own bed to make you feel like things are heading in the right direction. Of all of the things that hospitals facilitate, sleeping through the night is not one of them. For the first two weeks of my confinement, I was awakened by the nursing staff every four hours to receive medications and have my vitals checked and for the last four weeks I was awakened by pain, a suffering roommate and careless night nurses in about equal measure. But that's all behind me now! I'm free!

While sleeping is much easier, maintaining discipline with rehab is a bit more challenging. Unlike in the hospital where my rehab followed a rigorous schedule, I am in charge of most of my own rehabilitation now by working my way through an exercise plan outlined by my therapists at Helen Hayes. I also began the week with visits by occupational and physical therapists from a home health care agency. Each of these folks determined that I was safe and sound navigating the obstacles and challenges in the house and so I was promoted to outpatient care in short order. On Thursday, I met with a wonderful physical therapist that Jessie has worked with for an initial assessment and look forward to working with her at her office in New Paltz several days each week. I will have a similar meeting with an occupational therapist at the same office on Tuesday.

I also spent a considerable amount of time this week navigating the complex and logically-challenged world of US health insurance. This week, I found out that a) the orthopedist I saw as an inpatient at Helen Hayes is not covered for me to see as an outpatient, b) I cannot have physical therapy and occupational therapy in the same day despite the fact that I cannot drive and need others to bring me to receive care, and c) none of the expert shoulder specialists who were recommended to me are covered by my insurance carrier. Yikes! It's a good thing that I'm not currently working so I can spend the necessary time trying to get the care I need so as not to slip behind in my progress. Luckily, I've also tapped into excellent advice from friends and family and expect that I will eventually get the care that I need just so long as I can maintain persistence and focus. It's also a good thing that I'm an endurance athlete.

On a physical level, I am walking with a crutch without much pain as I rebuild the strength in both of my legs and hips. My left shoulder remains a serious concern as I am not able to move my left arm very much at all. Still no weight bearing there and a considerable amount of pain without intervention.

It's another beautiful fall day today - after some in-house shoulder exercises and a little lunch, I think I'l hobble across the Walkway to get in my daily walking practice. Hasta luego!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Heading Home

It's hard to describe what it feels like to be working through my final day in the hospital after six weeks away from home. From the time I woke up and had breakfast, it's been something like Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, my birthday and the day before summer vacation all rolled into one. 

After receiving the good news about weight bearing from my doctor on Tuesday, I've spent much of the last three days walking and climbing stairs with my physical therapist. Trust me, it was truly bizarre to walk again after six weeks in a chair and bed. While it was not really painful, my legs have lost a significant amount of strength, so I was a lot more wobbly at first than I expected. Fatigue is more of an issue than pain, so I'm talking it slow and continue to spend most of the day in my wheelchair. Transfers are so much easier since I simply stand and pivot when I need to move from one place to the next. This makes me infinitely more independent which has not come a moment too soon. 

As you would expect, each day the work gets progressively more challenging. On Wednesday, I climbed the make-believe stairs in the therapy room, while on Thursday when Jessie came for a training and visit we climbed the full set of hospital stairs together between floors twice. While I may be slow, it wasn't too difficult and I'm very optimistic about about my transfer home.

My left shoulder, on the other hand, has turned out to be more problematic than I had originally hoped. I'm not able to bear weight on this limb because the clavicle has not yet fully healed. As a result, I'll need to follow up with a shoulder specialist after returning home. While I've made steady progress with my occupational therapists, my range of motion remains far below normal. This will clearly be my major rehabilitation need in the coming months. With luck, I won't need another surgery.

I feel so grateful to have received such a high level of care from the staffs in both hospitals. At a certain point, though, it's time to go home! Jessie is coming down in the morning to hatch me out of here. I could not be happier that we are scheduled for a weekend filled with ideal fall weather. In addition to the general hanging around the house with my family that I have craved so much, I hope to take a trip to the Walkway Over the Hudson with my wheelchair and crutch (and family!) to get an authentic taste of my normal life. I think I'll leave the bike at home, though, (this time).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Recovery: Phase Three on the Horizon

I am poised to enter my fourth week at Helen Hayes and my sixth week since the accident. It also looks like this will also be my last week in captivity. I will have a full series of x-rays completed on Monday that I will bring to a meeting with my orthopedist on Tuesday who will assess my progress and determine whether my weight-bearing status will change at that time. I am scheduled to be discharged from Helen Hayes on Saturday, October 9th regardless of Tuesday’s outcome.

I’ve been making steady progress and will continue my recovery at home and my rehabilitation on an outpatient basis. My left shoulder in particular will need a lot of physical therapy to regain a full range of motion and activity. I have been doing research into physical therapists in the mid-Hudson Valley with an expertise in shoulders. Hopefully I will find someone as highly skilled as the staff here at Helen Hayes on the first try.

Since I will not be driving for a while, my therapy will either need to be based in the home or nearby since I’ll need to count on Jessie for transportation. This limitation is not related to my leg injuries, but rather the very limited mobility of my left arm and shoulder. One needs to be able to raise the left arm far enough to activate the turn signal in order to drive. My plea that most New Yorkers ignore the turn signal entirely fell on deaf ears here at the hospital.

Over the past week, I’ve also gained greater stability in my right leg and this had made transfers (from bed to chair, etc.) much smoother. All of that standing and squatting now means that I rarely need to slide across a transfer board. While still sore, I feel stronger and more ready to use my left leg and arms to aid in my mobility. I do need to get the all-clear from the doctor, though, so I don’t do any damage if the bones aren’t fully healed.

The attending physician’s strategy has been to wean me off the most serious of the pain medications over the past several weeks. Today is my first day without one of them and so, ironically, I’m feeling a bit more pain and discomfort than I did a month ago, but it seems reasonable that a person in my condition should feel pain and discomfort. Hopefully, this will lessen in time, too.

So, today I plan to read, write a few letters, watch a film or two and rest in preparation for my last week of physical torture/therapy at Helen Hayes. I also got a call from a dear friend who’s coming for a visit this afternoon with his kids. It's been great to follow my friendIt’s great to be able to see the light at the end of the hospital tunnel. Take it from me, six weeks is more than enough time to spend away from family in a hospital. Enough already! I hope the phase three of my recovery is as smooth as the first two have been. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yet another senseless cycling tragedy: Jure Robic dead at age 45.

Two days later, I am still in utter disbelief that cycling legend Jure Robic is dead, killed when he collided with a car on a trining ride a few miles from his home in Slovenia. While the details of the accident are still forthcoming, it seems to me that it just can't be true. This was the man with seemingly endless stamina, strength and courage who was able to win the Race Across America (RAAM) five times in the past ten years. The guy who shattered the 24-hour cycling record in 2004 with a distance of 518 miles and who won Le Tour Direct, the one stage version of the Tour de France, in 2005 with a finish time of 7 days, 19 hours and 40 minutes. Read Markoh Baloh's fine personal account of that race here.

In addition to winning races, Jure was renowned for his erratic behavior and world class hallucinations while racing. The 2006 New York Times profile of Jure made him out to be something of a mad, athletic freak. Maybe he was. He rarely slept and often berated his crew during the race and famously abandoned the 2009 edition of RAAM (after completling mile 2862!!) when he and his crew disputed a time penalty imposed by RAAM officials. I learned a lot about both Jure's pathos and his amazing riding style by watching the amazing film Bicycle Dreams which profiles several of the solo racers on their quest to win the 2005 edition of RAAM. Anyone interested in endurance cycling should be sure to see this remarkable documentary. It may well ruin any dreams you have of competing in RAAM, but it provides a peerless window into the emotional life of the ultra-endurance athlete.

Being hit by a car is the last thing I wanted to have in common with Jure Robic. It sends shivers down my spine to think that within one month of my own accident, one of the greatest endurance athletes who's ever lived was cut down in his prime in much the same way that I was injured. While I am aware, on an intellectual level, of how miraculous my condition is after such an accident, this parallel situation is a bit haunting.

So the world is a worse place now than it was several days ago when Jure was still with us. With this tragedy we have yet another example (as if we needed one) that cycling is a dangerous sport and far too many people have suffered tragedies and lost their lives when colliding with cars pursuing their passion. I know that I will never approach riding the same way after mine and Jure's accidents, but I can only hope that the roads become safer and drivers more sensitized to the needs of cyclists. I also hope that Jure's girlfriend and son are able to rebuild their lives in his absence.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The slow recovery begins

Anyone who’s ridden with me will tell you that I’m a fairly cautious cyclist. I’m especially skittish about fast and steep descents and actually see this as an area for improvement in my technique. So I was shocked and amazed to be hit by a car on the Endless Mountains 1000K on August 26. I was cycling through the quiet towns of Eastern PA in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning when I was struck from behind by a motorist on his way to work. As a responsible randonneur, I was, of course, lit up like a Christmas tree. My custom made Independent Fabrication was totaled. I have no memory of the accident.

Luckily, my bad luck ended when I was hit; I have been fortunate to receive swift and outstanding medical care right from the very beginning of this ordeal. I was rushed by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem where both my legs were operated on within a few hours of the accident to repair a broken femur (right) and femoral neck/hip (left). Two days later, I underwent another surgery to repair a badly broken left clavicle. All told, I broke 24 bones – none of which needed to be set with a cast. The cure for rib fractures seems to be refraining from belly laughs. I was incredibly fortunate not to have sustained any significant internal injuries, spinal damage or head trauma.

After two weeks of outstanding care at St. Luke’s I was transferred to the Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, NY which sits atop a hill overlooking the Hudson about one hour downriver from my home. At HHH, I am involved in what is called sub-acute rehab which involves stretching and muscle strengthening in a way that helps me recover without jeopardizing the healing of my many broken bones. I am living and working on the spinal injury floor, not because I have injured my spine, but rather because I have similar rehab needs with only one of four limbs able to bear weight. My fellow patients with serious spinal injuries are an amazing inspiration. I am able to get around with the help of a motorized wheelchair and spend a good amount of my time not in therapy outdoors reading in the lovely fall sun. Tomorrow I will enter my third week at HHH and I feel forward progress every day.

Despite everything, I also feel blessed to have received countless messages of hope and encouragement from family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Tom R., the Eastern PA RBA, was especially nurturing and helpful as I got settled in St. Luke’s. It has been wonderful to feel that there are so many people behind me encouraging me at each turn along the way. Thank you. I hope to continue to heal and recover well and return home to my wife and children soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Caring Bridge Updates on George's Progress

Dear Followers,

To keep you up-to-date on George, I created a CaringBridge website. You can follow George’s progress and show your support.

Visit George’s website in two easy ways:
  1. Visit the CaringBridge website by clicking the link below.
  2. Enter the website name, georgeswain, at

When you visit you’ll be asked to log in, because I’ve chosen to keep the site private.

Show your support for George
  • Visit and keep up to date.
  • Leave a message in the guestbook.
  • Receive e-mail notifications when the journal is updated.



George's first DNF

Hi Friends,

This is George's wife, Jessie, writing for George. George was hit by a car during the Endless Mountains 1000k brevet in PA on Thursday morning (within the first 30 miles of the start of the ride). He has broken many bones, which will take time to heal. He has endured 2 successful surgeries and many tests. He will be off his feet and in rehab for quite some time. He has a very good prognosis. We are grateful for the many messages and all the love coming our way. Close friends and family have been incredibly supportive and helpful. No other help is needed right now, but thank you to those who have offered. We may take you up on it later! Don't worry about him. We are in a fantastic trauma center with excellent care. And, I never leave his side!

Love and thanks to all of you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Endless Mountains 1000K - Here I come. . .

After four weeks with my arm in a sling and seven weeks off the bike, I'm off to ride in the Endless Mountains 1000K. I've been on the trainer a few times and the ride this morning out on the road felt good. It will be slow going for sure, but the weather looks great and the company will be good. I'll be posting updates through Twitter and rider progress will be tracked by Tom R., the organizer, at this link. Madness I suppose, but wish me luck.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The European Grand Tour: 2010

The family Grand Tour of Europe was a great success, with the small caveat that I was unable to even sit on a bicycle seat the whole time. While the orthopedist gave me the green light on stationary bikes, I could not find one along the way. So instead of riding, I opted to photograph bikes instead. Spending most of our time in the cities, I saw surprisingly few road bikes. What I did see, in great abundance, were urban commuter bikes of all shapes and sizes as well as bike sharing programs in almost ever city we visited. 

Since moving out of NYC, I've long missed the ability to use a bicycle as my primary means of transport and looking at pictures of Amsterdam and Copenhagen usually make me drool. I was amazed to see how many people (of all shapes and sizes) use the bicycle to get around Barcelona, Paris and Munich. Munich especially impressed me as a bicycle city. Unlike New York, though, there was an utter lack of affected coolies hoping to be seen riding their bikes through town. I saw only one poseur on the whole trip with his tricked out fixie complete with sawed off handlebars and tarot card shoved in his spokes. Instead, the roads were filled with mild-mannered people of all ages using their bikes to get to work, shop, eat, etc.

With raised bike lanes (in Munich) who needs helmets?  
Even the postal workers use bikes to deliver the mail!
Police bikes (unlocked!) in Versailles
The other thing I noticed immediately in Germany is how seriously the Germans take their lights. No wonder most high-end headlights come from Germany! It's against the law to ride after dark in Germany without front and rear lights so the bikes you see are equipped with nice lights and many with dynamos to power them. Most bikes also have fenders.

So my fantasy of urban living and cycling continues.

For now, though, I'm eager to return to my road bike for some long miles. I returned to the studio yesterday and spent an hour on the trainer. After a month away, my quads were feeling it a bit, but with a little luck, the orthopedists will give me the green light on Tuesday to ride on the roads again and I'll be off to enjoy the Endless Mountains 1000K on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gone fishin'

Well, it looks like that spill I took on the Cranbury 600K back in June actually fractured my humerus. It's funny when you're sitting in the doctor's office and the diagnosis of a broken bone is actually GOOD news. I was very glad to hear that I had not torn my rotator cuff, though. Anyway, it looks like I'm off the bike for four weeks with my arm in a sling. This corresponds with a whirlwind family vacation that was not to include cycling of any great proportion anyway, so the timing is actually not bad.

I'm sure glad I listened to my wife and sat out the recent Lap of the Lake 1000K. Finishing the 600 with a broken arm is one thing, but 620 miles is another altogether. I just submitted my registration and hope to be recovered and able to ride the Endless Mountains 1000K in late August. The doctor didn't say yes and he didn't say no, but I may have neglected to mention the actual distance . . . Time will tell.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Andrey's Amazing 1000K Adventure: Lap of the Lake 2010

The skin on my palms turned into leather. I used the entire chamois cream large tube. It was used on every part of the body, inside gloves, above ears, inside socks and of course most of it went where it is intended to go. On the third day of the ride even it did not help much and I had to stay off the seat for most of the day.

I could not sleep well the night before the ride, plus camping in a tent on an 80 degree night temperature did not help either. 51 riders started the ride at 6 am. To my surprise the pace was very fast as if it were a Sunday group ride. Within the first 15-20 miles, the group started separating into sub-groups of 5-10 people. I was very comfortable travelling in a third group. About 20 riders ahead were just too fast for me (above 20mph) and our group settled into a comfortable pace of 18 mph. At 8 am it was very humid and it felt like the temperature was in the 90s.

Before reaching the first control, I had my first flat and most of the riders passed me while I was trying to insert the valve stem into the rim. Ever tried changing a flat in a shower? That is what it felt like in a 96 deg. humid heat, as the sweat poured down my face and my body. By mile 50 I had 3 flats and I was ready to quit the event. The only hope I had was the bike shop in Oswego that may sell me a new tire and extra tubes, so I could continue the ride. As it turned out, the only tire the bike shop had in 700 sizes suitable to handle a LOL ride was a wire-beaded 700x25 “race lite” tire.

I lost all hope to catch up with any riders, thinking I was the last one, since I lost so much time. Before I reached the second control I had two more flats on the new (!) tire. I still decided to cross the border to Canada, because I did not have any bailout plans. To my surprise I was not the last rider, quite a few people were behind me. Although I think all of them DNFed because of the heat factor on the first day. I could not ride the bridges through the border, since they were way too narrow and I was too wobbly, so I ended up walking them which caused me to cramp up when I got back on the bike again.

I used my last spare tube about 20 miles into Canada. Luckily I was able to ride fast enough to pass some riders and one of them when he caught up with me let me have one of his spares. I also used his HPx pump, since my arm started to cramp up after pumping so many tires with a mini pump. I could not get the pressure high enough with a borrowed pump or maybe just because my arm was tired, but I did not have any flats with softer tire and was able to reach the first sleep stop in Napanee at 2:30 am with a help of McDonald’s cheeseburger.

After sleeping for two hours, taking two showers and installing electric tape under the rim tape of my wheel, I was on the road again. Next morning 3 other riders, Al, Brian and Dan walked into the diner at 8 am where I was having breakfast. RBA Peter Dusel soon joined them, but he was not on the bike any more and now he was in the support car. I rode with Al, Brian and Dan all the way to the finish. We were all rookies at this distance; Brian had only 150 miles as the longest ride before this event. The heat wave passed and Friday presented us with fresh crisp morning air and cloudy skies as we set into Canadian countryside. We could not work together as a group, since Al liked riding on the front all the time and Dan only in the rear. We even finished the ride in this formation.

Around noon it started raining heavily and we spend around 2-3 hours riding in the rain. Brian did not even bring a rain jacket with him and I gave him my arm warmers and vest. At the controls we were catching up with other riders, but they were leaving as we were coming in.        
Riding with a group made me stop thinking about quitting the ride and for the first time I was thinking I might even finish, although some parts of my body were thinking otherwise. At the end of the second day, I was struggling to stay with the group, especially on rolling hills. I realized I had the most gear and the heaviest bike and I was paying for it. I unloaded a lot of stuff including the front bag to the support car that we met at the Bowmanville control.

I soon came up with another reason not to continue the ride since during the process of unloading my stuff, having dinner, stopping at a gas station, etc… I lost my wallet and the brevet card. I thought I had left it in the restaurant on a table, but the plastic bag mysteriously disappeared. I was frustrated but decided to ride anyway, since the group was ready to take off and I needed them to feed me, since I had no money. GPS saved us on the way around Toronto, since there were a lot of turns and everybody was extremely tired to even look at the cue sheet, the spirit of the group was down, since we made one control with only 20 min to spare before it's closing time. We were finally in Toronto at 5 am and decided to meet at 10 am in a hotel lobby and I went to sleep at my friend's house.

The next morning I found my wallet and the brevet card in the bag that I thought I had checked many times the night before and my hopes were back up and we also saw a lot of riders ahead of us leaving the hotel. We filled the Camelbaks and bottles with ice and headed to US boarder at Niagara Falls. We realized that we should start riding faster since skateboarders were passing us on the road laughing at us and the speed we were travelling. Also some shirtless men on mountain bikes passed us effortlessly, but we were enjoying the lake and the beaches at Burlington.

Everybody on the team was very exhausted and we did not even stop at Niagara Falls for sightseeing.  We just went through the customs and crashed for some rest at a fast food joint on the U.S. side.
I lost my team on the way to the next control because of the roadwork on US side of Niagara Falls and ended up riding some “bonus” miles. But I was feeling good and stayed mostly around 20 mph till I reached Olcot. To my surprise I passed my team and saw about 10 rides that were ahead of us at that control. There were a lot of festivities in Olcot with a car show and parade of some kind. There were many nice restaurants right on the shore, but I did not visit a single one, since they were packed, limiting myself to a small “food mart” snack (I paid for this mistake later). I was afraid that my team went back looking for me as I was trying in vain to phone them since I had no reception.

Finally, 45 minutes later they arrived (Brian had a flat) and after a small rest we started the most boring and tiresome section of the ride to Charlotte. Mentally I broke this section into three 20-mile stretches but it did not work well. The road was made out of concrete and had very wide joints that the bike tires hit so hard that I wished for a spring saddle and wide tires. Also this section reminded me of the Taconic parkway with cars flying at 6o mph, but this road surface we were on was in much worse condition. It was getting late and luckily cars were rare.

By the time we reached Rochester I started to bonk. I ate all the remaining two gels and a power bar, but it was not enough. With 20 miles to go to the finish at 1:30 a.m. and no businesses open I felt pretty low and started to wobble. Dan gave me his last Clif bar and I think I ate it with the wrapper. When we rolled in on fumes at 3 a.m. to finish we were greeted with tired applause by the people who finished before us. We were the last riders in, but we still had a lot of time left (75 hours would end at 9 am).

I think I ate all the remaining food on the table, drank a bottle of beer, mumbled something like “thank you” to the organizers and crawled into the tent to sleep, but I was in trouble because of the bonk. I was freezing. I could not find any of my warm clothes, my mind was not working well at that time and I could not concentrate on the issue at hand. I caught myself talking out loud while putting 3 layers of wet cycling clothing on. I think tiredness took its toll and I fell asleep . . .

Al’s tent was next to mine and I heard him yelling to see if I was going to get up today, breakfast was ready. It was 8 a.m. I crawled out and was still shaking and wobbling when I headed towards table with food. People were asking me if I was OK. I guess I looked bad, but after a shower and 3 breakfasts I started feeling better and was able to talk to people and even drive home, pulling over every hour for a nap.

Lessons learned on the ride:
  1. GPS is great, but you still need a cue sheet.
  2. Very strong and experienced riders show up on rides over 600K. It is not your typical 200K ride. I need to train more for rides like this. Riders from Florida DNFed because of the heat-they had training rides in Florida heat for 5-6 hours, but it was not enough to handle the first day of LOL at 96 deg. temperatures.
  3. Need to make the bike much lighter and take less stuff along, I am not sure if fenders should even stay on the bike or may get sacrificed for the weight saving. No front bag for me, jersey pockets work as well.
  4. Camalbak works great on hot long days, ice stays in it for a long time. But need to make sure there is a place on the bike where it could be secured when your back needs rest. Third water bottle cage may be an option worth considering.
  5. Need to put more gel under handlebar tape and the quest for a seat is not over yet.
  6. One cannot have too many electrolytes and too much chamois cream on hot/wet rides.
  7. Ibuprofen was only used on the last day but it does work wonders.
  8. Need to make a mental schedule to eat real food 3 times a day, otherwise a bonk is inevitable.
  9. Pepsi-Cola works as an electrolyte, caffeine and cure for the upset stomach.

 By Andrey Belikov

More great LOL photos can be found here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

DNS: The Lap of the Lake 1000K that wasn't

I’ve always viewed DNS as the somewhat tamer cousin of the dreaded DNF. I’ve seen it as a card to be played only in the most extreme cases, a sign of failure. But as country singer Kenny Rogers reminds us, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run . . .”  By all accounts, I should be admiring the view of Lake Ontario right now with 56 of my new best  friends on the Lap of the Lake 1000K brevet. Instead, I’m sitting here writing about why I’m not.

Knowing when to call it quits is a hard thing for most randonneurs. These are people who generally operate in that zone somewhere between crazy and stupid, courageous and insane.  When is too much TOO MUCH?  I reached my limit this week. A crash on the NJ 600K on June 26th left me with reduced mobility and persistent pain in my left shoulder. I was able to finish that event, but the spill has taken a toll on my season. After the road rash has healed, I’m left wondering whether I’ve done something serious this time around. Unable to get an appointment with an orthopedist until next Monday, I wait and spend less time on the bike than I normally would at this time of year.  The scariest thing is, had my wife not put her foot down, I’d be out there right now figuring that things would sort themselves out (which they might). I worry that my determination to keep going no matter what may lead me into trouble down the road.

Randonneurs understand the psychological buildup that comes from training and planning for a big event. I first learned about the LOL 1000K back in the fall and it’s not been far from my mind over the past six months. While I completed the LEL 1400K last summer, this was to be my first 1000K event and I was eager to test the distance as well as achieve airtight qualification for PBP pre-registration priority next year. I keep reminding myself that, all in all, I’m pretty lucky that my crash was not more serious. Frank Schleck was in surgery deep into the night on Tuesday to repair his broken collarbone ending his Tour and we all know that much worse can happen on the open roads.

As disappointing as it is, I realize that healing is probably wiser than riding this week. I am feeling a bit better each day and with luck, I’ll get good news from the doctor on Monday. Riding itself does not seem to stress my injury all that much. I was out last weekend on a 50-mile spin through the Catskills that included some major climbs. Only once did I feel a sharp jab as I shifted my weight on the bars coming out of my saddle to add heft to my pedal stroke. With a little luck, I’ll be properly mended for the Endless Mountain 1000K in late August. For now, I’ll have to imagine the view of the lake and the adventures that my friend Andrey and others are having along the way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Close but No Cigar (or how I almost rode 375 miles in 24 hours).

Having followed RAAM pretty closely this month, I’m humbled by what it means for some people to miss meeting an audacious cycling goal. My BHAG (or big hairy audacious goal) this season was to meet the Cyclos Montagnard R60 Challenge. Having completed three brevets (200, 300 and 400) within the time constraints, I was hoping to finish the NJ600 within 24 hours to achieve this honor. Signs looked good: the route was basically flat, the start was at 10 pm (bringing the sleepy second half of the ride into broad daylight), there were reasonably spaced controls (so not too much time would be lost there), the weather looked favorable (if a bit hot) and there were some speedy riders registered so I would likely have company. Despite all this, I was simply unable to do it. Sleep deprivation took its toll and as a result of a reduced pace and a crash in the last third of the ride, I rolled into the finish with a time of 25:50. This marks my fastest time yet on a 600K, but it was not quite fast enough for the R60. Looks like it’s R70 for me this year, but the first three R60 finish times remain on record and are transferable next year. All I have to do is slay the 24 hour 600 and I’m in. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

The NJ600 brought out 44 randonneurs this past weekend. It was my first nighttime start and I was eager to meet and reconnect with friends and acquaintances. The organizer let the fast riders out first to spread the bikes out along the road. Within the first 20 miles, I settled into a comfortable pace, a bit slower than the two lead riders and met up with Anthony with whom I would ride the whole event. We enjoyed each other’s company, rode at about the same pace, and were willing to manage our ride with our “eyes on the prize.”

The riding on Friday night was majestic. We were blessed with clear skies, mild temperatures and a full moon. The roads were quite smooth and direct and it was pleasant not to have to navigate twisty descents in the dark and we were subsequently able to maintain a healthy pace throughout the night. Anthony and I hit the Jersey Shore at dawn which was a highlight of the day. At this hour it's possible to pedal by marshes filled with elegant shore birds and shore towns free of summer traffic. As the sun rose, though, it became hotter and more humid than was optimal. With temps around 95 on fully exposed roads and a nutrition balance a bit out of kilter, I found myself nauseated for big stretches of the day.

The NJ Randonneurs did an outstanding job of organizing support for this event. We were met at each of the ubiquitous Wawa convenience store controls by volunteers and the highlight was a mid-afternoon cold shower and a few pickles in the organizer’s home. The break was rejuvenating and we set out with fresh legs and full bottles. Chris, one of the two lead riders, greeted Anthony and me as we arrived and took off alone leaving his fellow rider Doug behind for some rest. We would meet up a few more times and trade pulls with Chris along the way, yet despite a sore knee, he was just too strong for the two of us so we let him go in search of his own 24-hour brass ring.

It was hard to stay fast and focused on Saturday afternoon and eventually this was my undoing. At mile 309, in the bright mid-day heart of the desolate Pine Barrens, I lost focus and veered off the edge of the road and into a sandpit. Unable to keep the bike upright, I fell to the ground hard bracing myself with both hands on the asphalt road. Luckily there was no traffic at that time, the bike did not sustain any damage and I was not too injured to continue riding. At that moment, though, Anthony looked at me and said, “Maybe this is a sign that we should back off that 24-hour goal.”

I thought the 10 pm start would actually help, but I think it actually made a fast time more difficult. Since I was unable to sleep during the day on Friday, by time Saturday afternoon crawled along I was mighty tired indeed. An evening start is arguably good preparation for a longer brevet for riders who plan to sleep at some point during the 600 so they get the experience of riding over two nights, but for someone trying to finish within 24 hours, the distance between sleep on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon may be too great for a fast time.

The last fifty miles were pretty brutal. At times, I was literally looking on lawns for places to curl up for a few minutes as I saw objects on the roadside and had trouble keeping focused on the matter at hand. At 11:50 pm, Anthony and I rolled into the finish as riders 2 and 3. While I knew I could have done better, I was grateful that nothing more serious happened out on the roads of southern New Jersey. I’ll need to plan very carefully for sleep and rest the next time around.

The thing about audacious goals is that they push you beyond what you think it possible. As I looked towards this season from the comfort of my winter couch, the Cyclos Montagnards R70 Challenge looked more like my speed. A funny thing happened by setting a higher goal than I thought I could reach. I rode three event distances at "personal best" times and got 3/4 of the way to a level I was not sure was possible. So while technically missing my goal, I have much to feel pleased with and learned what I need to do to go even further next time.

(Photo by Owl's Flight - Flickr CC)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A restful taper before the storm.

The school year is officially over with students on summer vacation, teachers finished with meetings and progress reports off in the mail to families. So what's a humble principal to do but hit the road to spend a few days at the beach with his family while catching up on paperwork, emails and all of the non-urgent work that typically gets put on hold as the thrill of the school year's in motion. It's been a great week: nights filled with restful sleep and days filled with family, productive work and a careful taper in anticipation of this weekend's 600K.

On Friday night at 10 pm, I'll roll out with 34 other randonneurs at the Cranbury (NJ) 600K. This event is the final step towards my audacious goal to successfully complete the Cyclos Montagnards R60 Challenge this season. My previous three brevets have been finished within the alloted time limits and only one obstacle remains. The most difficult component so far, the 24-hour 600K looms large before me. While I'm confident that I would comfortably complete the 375 miles in this time frame on a defined 24-hour racecourse like Saratoga, it's more daunting when I factor in the totally self-supported riding on open roads with navigation challenges. Riding solo also leaves some questions as to whom I might share the burdens of navigation and aerodynamics with along the way.

Tomorrow, we head back home where I'll work on preparing my Indy Fab rando bike for Friday's event. I'll attach the aerobars and swap out my 25mm Contis for the 30mm Grand Bois tires. I also owe the bike a bit of a cleaning. While the weather looks promising, I'll leave the fenders on, in part because my wired tail light is attached to the rear and just in case there is a change in the forecast. I also need to swap out my broken pedal with the new set of Times I picked up earlier this week. My disappointment with those carbon pedals is a story for another day, but I'm happy to have a reliable set up for Friday.

I'm as well trained as I'm going to be at this point. After a three-hour ride on Sunday, I've been working on sharpening my speed through short bursts of high aerobic intervals. My success on Friday will be based on several factors:  nutrition and fluid management, equipment, my need for rest and, of course, luck.

(Photo by Alex Krafcik - Flickr CC)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Endurance Race Couch Potato

This week, I've felt a bit like an endurance race couch potato. I got out last Sunday for a 92-mile training ride, but most of my miles this week have been of the commuting (35-40 miles per day) variety. I've been checking RAAM, RAW, and Tour Divide stats and blogs compulsively, though, and wonder if this counts towards my training in any concrete way. I guess I'm picking up some tips here and there such as "pack your food high in trees when riding through grizzly bear country," and "get off your bike for awhile when you're seeing double after 32 hours without sleep." This kind of thing can save a life!

I'm simply in awe of the amazing fortitude it reflects to train for and throw oneself into the maelstrom as these racers have. This year, there are even a few racers in RAAM that I've ridden with so, while I can't see myself filling their shoes any time soon, I can remember riding beside them not so long ago.They're still in another class altogether from me. I've gotten a great kick out of following Rob Morlock, Kevin Kaiser, and Rick Carpenter's blogs in particular.

My goals this season seem paltry in comparison to racing across the country in under 10 days, or riding down the nation's spine from Canada to Mexico without any support. On the other hand, you've got to start somewhere. Maybe when my kids are a bit older something like this will seem more attainable. Hell, I might even get them to crew for me if I play my cards right. I actually like the idea of creating a mash-up of RAAM and Tour Divide, say a totally self-supported road race from Maine to Florida. No crews, drop bags only. Maybe for that mythical 50th birthday milestone.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Beantown 400K: Three Down and One to Go!

This was my first time riding in one of the Boston Brevets and boy, let me tell you, it was fun worth repeating. This was my third brevet of the season and my goal for the day was to finish in under 16:12 towards qualification in the Cyclos Montagnards R60 Challenge. With these hills and this weather it might not be easy. On the other hand, unlike the Saratoga 300K, with its NINE controls, this event had only FOUR. While I would not lose as much time having to stop for control business, I knew I would have to forage a bit for water along the way. When I left the hotel at 3:20, the rains were steady and thunder and lightning filled the air. It did't look too promising for a full day in the saddle. In fact, it was downright biblical. Sensible people might find this plan a bit off.

As if on cue, though, the rains stopped and the clouds parted enough to allow a sliver of moon to poke through as I signed the waiver and grabbed a fresh cue sheet out of the organizer’s tailgate. I rolled out at 4:00 am at the front of the pack with Matt and Chris, two other riders with whom I would ride for roughly the the first 200K. While these two knew each other, the three of us soon found that we had ridden in many of the same events, if not always at the same time. Matt and I even discovered that we both competed in the Rapha Gentleman's Race last May. 

Living in New York’s Hudson Valley, I'm roughly 2 hours from events that originate in Westfield, Saratoga, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania so the Boston series lies just a bit out of my orbit. Too bad really, because it was well worth the drive and inconvenience getting there. The ride was well-routed and took in some simply beautiful sections of New Hampshire where we spent most of our day riding through one colonial village after another. We passed the birthplace of Franklin Pierce, the only US president born in New Hampshire as well as Daniel Webster. Not only that, we climbed right past the Canterbury Shaker Village which inspired awe in a tired old randonneur like me. It made me think that if the Shakers didn't kill themselves off with the whole abstinence thing, they might make some hearty randonneurs with their emphasis on austerity, design, efficiency and community. In contrast, we also rode by St. Paul’s School, one of the wealthiest prep schools in the nation where the headmaster reportedly makes over $500,000 per year in salary alone. Sadly I did not have a resume with me, so I’ll have to follow up with them another time.  

It was great riding with Matt and Chris but I knew that if I held their pace, I would blow up in the second half of the day. Sadly, I had to drop off the back of our little group to let them carry on with their more aggressive 15-hour goal and maintain my reserves. I needed to finish within 16:12 and anything (like riding too hard too early) that kept me off that goal needed to be avoided. On the solo "back nine," I was able to keep up a fairly steady pace, but the stretch between control 2 and 3 was pure evil. The weather was disagreeable with heat climbing into the 90s, the humidity hovering near 100% and plenty of exposed roads with TERRIBLE surfaces with which to contend. I had originally feared more roads like this, but was pleasantly surprised to find many of the surfaces superior to those I’m used to. At a few points, though, the roads were so filled with cracks and frost heaves that I realized why so few professional cycling teams are based in New Hampshire. It was also during this section that I noticed a crack in my left Time pedal. This was worrisome, but did not turn out to be catastrophic. So much for lightweight carbon!

The ride was quite hilly with around 15,000 in accumulated climbing. None of the individual climbs were all that significant, there were just a lot of them. For large stretches you were either going up or down. One of the highlights of the day was the pilgrimage to Peter White Cycles which housed Control 3. Peter and his wife Linda (both of whom I’ve spent time with on the phone over the years) could not have been more gracious. It was great to see where great rando gear is born.

Matt made a good point, as we looked up into the clear blue sky: never make plans to cancel a ride at 4:00 am. After what looked like a total washout, we enjoyed a mostly dry day with only about an hour or so of steady (even refreshing) rain. I was glad I stuck to the original plan and despite my uncertainly at a few points along the way, I rolled into the finish with 16:08 elapsed time, a full FOUR minutes inside my goal. It was a little too close for comfort, to say the least, but I was 3/4 of the way towards reaching my BHAG. Up next, the Cranbury 600K in under 24 hours.

(Photo Credit - top: Hyperboreal - CC)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Flatlander's Delight 200K Permanent Report

Managing RUSA permanents has several advantages. First, it's great to know that I can get out and ride an approved 200K at any time on a moment's notice. Second, it's wonderful to bring friends together to ride on some of my favorite roads and, three, I get to meet some very nice people who let me know how much they enjoyed a day in the saddle with kind notes like this one. The following came from a seasoned long distance cyclist eager to try his hand at randonneuring. This was his first 200K.

"Thanks for sending me on a spectacular ride! When it comes to landscape, New York has nothing to envy in any other state (well, maybe Hawaii). Our Hudson Valley is a beautiful place, and your route gets very intimate with it. 

Ninety per cent of the time I was alone on the road, without any other traffic of any kind. I don’t know where you found some of those back roads. Some of them seemed as private as driveways on some millionaire’s huge estate. I especially liked the dirty ones, like Oak Hill, but I was amazed at the intimacy (that word keeps coming up) of west Ghent Road, Snyderville Road, and even Abeel along the Rondout. The intelligence behind the cue sheet was always apparent.

I did manage to go the extra mile. The extra three miles, in fact, attributable to a wrong turn or two. Ah, well.  The weather was very kind. Had I gone in today’s dismal rain, I might not have spent so much of the ride saying “Oh, how beautiful!” over and over.

I put the card in the mail, accomplished and signed. This was my first experience of audax riding, and I can begin to feel the contours of the sport: self-determination, concentration, planning skills, and of course physical endurance. I look forward to improving my skills on longer rides.

Thanks again, George. I had a great time."

I'm off this weekend to scout a new permanent route through the beautiful Catskill mountains. Wish me luck.