Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500 Round-up

If 2011 was my year of RECOVERY, 2012 will be my year of REDEMPTION. This is why ushering in the new year with Rapha's Festive 500 was so important.  A "Ride to Redemption" it was. As readers of this blog know in somewhat excruciating detail (move on already, they yell!), I suffered a catastrophic accident in August 2010 when a distracted driver hit me from behind on the Endless Mountains 1000K brevet I was using to train for Paris-Brest-Paris. After breaking 25 bones (including both legs), spending 6 weeks in the hospital and 18 months in physical therapy, I am ready to move on.  The Festive 500 could not have come at a better time. 500K represents my greatest weekly volume of riding since the accident and bodes well for the year ahead.

When I read about the challenge last week while perusing the Rapha website, I was not entirely sure I could pull it off. As a randonneur and ultra racer, I've ridden 500K in 24 hours on several occasions and 500K in a week many times, but that was all before the accident. What would the impact of this level of concentrated riding be on my system NOW? Would my legs hold up? Would my shoulder give out? Would I develop fatigue in my hips? While I've been riding at least one 200K event each month since July, I would not know the answers to these questions until I tried.

All told, riding 500K in a week was a piece of cake. The most difficulty came from squeezing time on the bike in between family plans, as is usually the case rather than any physical demands per se. The weather even generally cooperated with warmer and drier conditions than normally prevail in late December.

Here is a collection of blog posts chronicling each of my Festive 500 rides:

Day 1 (75K)
Day 2 (69K)
Day 3 (31K)
Day 4 (20K)
Day 5 (52K)
Day 6 (54K)
Day 7 (202K)

So repeat after me: "the word of 2012 is Redemption."

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 7 (202km)

Done! After six days of squeezing small and medium rides in between family holiday gatherings and time by the fire, it was time to reel this fish into the boat. On Day 7 of the Rapha Festive 500, I decided to complete a 200K permanent route thus wrapping up the Festive challenge with 505 kms and completing my December RUSA R-12 ride at the same time. Pretty efficient, no?

The theme of the day was COLD. After several days with temps in the 30s and 40s, it dipped into the teens overnight and the thermometer registered 22 at the start and never climbed above freezing all day long. Don N. shot over from CT to join me for a day of chilly riding. My water bottles froze solid by about mile 25 and it was not until the first control at mile 49 that I was able to suitably thaw them out. Here's a picture of me steaming up the bathroom with scalding tap water to get these bottles back to normal.

Also at the first control was this amazing breakfast which both warmed me up and refueled the engine.

The particular route includes two Hudson Rider crossings, both of which were (you guessed it!) rather cold.

All told, it was a great day in the saddle. Despite bitter cold temperatures, we were blessed with sun and tailwinds for most of the day. Time for a few days away from cycling. Up next: my next R-12 ride in early January.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 6 (54km)

I'm happy to report that I did not encounter any reindeer jumping across the road during this 3-1/2 miles or at any time along my route today. Rode another 54 km this morning which brings the weekly total to 303 kms. All set to wrap things up tomorrow with a 200km permanent through Columbia County.

Fortunately, there's no precipitation in the forecast, but those temperatures at daybreak tomorrow look pretty shocking. Not sure how Festive it will feel at 7 am.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 5 (52km)

I'm going to miss these guys. Just about time to pack everyone up in the shed for another 11 months. Riding in the cold winter months is hard, but somehow finding seasonal lawn ornaments around so many corners is somehow entertaining. Today's ride brings my Festive 500 total to 249 kms.

Off to the post office today to return the lovely Craft Elite Winter Jacket my mom bought me for Christmas. It turns out that the fit is just too snug in the wrong places so I'm going to kick in a few extra nickels and have them ship me the gold standard: the Rapha Classic Softshell.

The weather is about to get ugly, with 35 mph gusts on tap for tomorrow, so I've moved this week's 200km ride to Thursday. Don's coming out from CT so it should be fun. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 4 (20km)

How am I ever going to keep the weight down when my daughter bakes like this? Oh right - the Rapha Festive 500! Just a short little spin today between family gatherings. 197K so far this week. Lovely weather this morning, with a forecast for some ugliness later in the week. Getting a little tense about that 200K ride I have planned . . .

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 3 (31km)

The roads this morning in the hills around my house were almost completely devoid of life, with the exception of a few jolly dog walkers. This, combined with somewhat milder temperatures today, made for a pretty nice ride. In addition, there seemed to be holiday cheer around every corner. The owners of this home (above) piped Christmas carols into the yard from a speaker hidden under the porch and set up a table with candy canes for all to share.

All told, a short ride today: just 31km.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 2 (69km)

It was a bit colder on Day 2 of the Rapha Festive 500, but nothing a pair of shoe covers, some tights, a pair of Pearl Izumi lobster mitts and my trusty Rapha merino hat couldn't conquer. Hell, my water bottles didn't even freeze. Today I did a bit of climbing through the Shawangunk Ridge, site of the 2009 Rapha Gentlemen's Race. While I traveled over some of the same roads today, there's no way that any team I was riding on would have captured second place this time around. The Gunks are lovely at any time of year so the climbing was a delight.

So with two rides done, I've got 145 km in the bank.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Rapha Festive 500: Day 1 (75km)

Not only did I get in a great (if slow) ride this morning on my first day of Festive 500 fun, but I also finally figured out how to use my "new" Garmin eTrex Vista GPS unit to log mileage on a ride and download it to the interwebs. Day 1: 75 kms. Only 425 to go!

The 2012 cycling season has officially begun!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 Begins at Dawn: Are You With Me?

Try as I might, I just can't pass up an endurance cycling challenge, especially one sponsored by my favorite clothing company. That's right, Rapha is at it again with their Festive 500. The rules are pretty simple: log 500 outdoor kilometers between December 23 and December 31 to counterbalance the caloric decadence and sloth normally associated with this time of year.

The Festive 500 begins tomorrow and at dawn I'll be out the door. Are you with me?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter Be Damned: My New Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell Lobster Gloves

What should a responsible randonneur do on a beautiful day when he/she can't ride? Buy new gear, of course. When I had to pull the plug on my plans for a 200K permanent yesterday due to family illness and a pulled shoulder muscle, I was very pleased to get the call from my pals at The Bicycle Depot letting me know that my new Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Lobster Mitts had arrived.

Despite temperatures in the mid-fifties this afternoon, I took off for a short spin to see how the shoulder was feeling and made sure to try out the new lobster mitts for good measure. Let me tell you, these are some sweet gloves! They're light (filled with Primaloft), fleece-lined and encased in a softshell windbreak fabric.

I anticipate great things this winter. With a new permanent route approved on flat, main, well-maintained roads and a pair of excellent deep winter gloves, I stand an increasingly good chance of capturing that elusive R-12 medal. Sure, I'll look like a dork, but who cares. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Knowing When to Stop: The Endurance Athlete's Achilles' Heel

Knowing when to stop is not easy for athletes and it can be a serious liability for endurance athletes in particular. If it weren't for a virus my wife picked up, I'd be riding a 200K permanent today. Riding despite some pretty significant pain and mobility reduction in my left shoulder as a result of some yoga and leaf raking I did last weekend. Any sensible person would say, "time to take a week or two off until I'm feeling back to normal," but randonneurs aren't normal. What generally makes randonneurs, and ultra-distance athletes in general, successful is the ability to look adversity, pain and discomfort in the face and say, "to hell with it."

My wife tells a funny story she heard from her doctor about a guy who broke is toe running, yet persisted in asking the doctor what he could expect from continuing to train despite being told to take a six-week hiatus to heal. He was relentless. The only trouble is, I can see the runner's point of view all too clearly. The temperament that leads to our success can also be our undoing.

I was actually very impressed with Diana Nyad's recent decision to end her "Extreme Dream" to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida after being stung repeatedly by jellyfish and looking at the possibility of DYING from shock if she continued. DNF and DNS particularly nasty expressions to use with an endurance athlete, but sometimes saying no is the best thing in the long run.

So with 27 days left in the month (14 of which I'm actually on vacation), I'm not too nervous about the impact that this day off will have on my R-12 plans, despite the fact that it will undoubtedly be colder and perhaps even snowy when I'm feeling up for my next 200K. Hopefully, though, I'll have enough willpower to wait until my shoulder has healed a bit more from this setback before heading out on a day-long ride.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Perfect Rando Vehicle: My New 2011 Prius

I didn't receive a huge financial settlement after being nearly killed by a distracted driver, but my medical costs have largely been paid for and I came away with a replacement bike and enough money to buy a new car. In choosing a car to replace the ten-year old beater in my driveway, I was searching for the perfect rando vehicle. I needed something that's great on gas (to get back and forth from brevets and ultra races) and something that would fit my bike and gear in the back. Knowing myself well, I've pledged NEVER to mount a bike on the roof. The sound of a custom frame being mangled by a low-hanging obstacle would be the end of me.

With all of this in mind, this past August I bought a 2011 Toyota Prius which, I will argue, is the PERFECT rando vehicle. With gas mileage hovering around 55 mpg, I've cut my fuel costs in half and feel much better about driving hundreds of miles to ride my bike.

As you can see, there is also PLENTY of room in the back to store my fully kitted out rando bike. In fact, I don't even need to remove the front wheel! Everything fits beautifully.

Other amenities include a great sound system (complete with iPod cable) and heated leather seats.

Finally, after a lifetime of mocking people with vanity license plates, I decided it was time to let the world know about my major long-term cycling goal. I've always found that being public about goals is not only great motivation, but it also helps us reach them. After being sidelined in 2011, I WILL ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. I just won't drive there in this car.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My NEW Independent Fabrication Rando Ride

After nearly 15 months, I finally have a replacement for the lovely Independent Fabrication rando bike that was totaled during my accident. It wasn't until June 2011 that I was physically ready for a custom fitting appointment and now it's finally here. The wait time for IF frames is typically 2 months, but with the company's move to NH this summer, things took a bit longer.

I was able to transfer a few parts off the old bike to a different IF frame, so now I'm blessed with two great bikes. I'll keep this blue bike fully kitted out for brevets, permanents and long distance adventures with fenders and lights, while the other will serve as my all-around training and racing bike. Since I knew this would be my second Club Racer in the stable, I decided to try out a different color for the new frame. IF is well known for their excellent paint work and this new bike is no exception. The lustrous blue paint just pops, especially with the silver components and the white and gold IF decals.

Since I was starting from scratch, I decided to make a few aesthetic and performance upgrades. In particular, I opted for the Paul Racer brakes over the Tektro long reach. I was not a huge fan of the Tektros the last time around, but they fit around my 43mm Honjo fenders better than the Shimano long reach. This time though, I made the plunge (and commitment!) to go with the Pauls. Since the Paul Racers mount to uniquely placed frame bosses, there's no going back.

In addition, I chose the beautiful silver Ritchey Classic line for stem, handlebar and seat post and, of course, the special IF sterling silver head badge. Finally, Justin at Signature Cycles built me a great pair of hoops around a gorgeous set of White Industries hubs.

As luck would have it, I have been EXTREMELY busy since picking up the bike on Thursday night, so I've only been able to ride it for about an hour. So far, it rides just as good as it looks. I can't wait to spend some serious time with this new friend. I think I'm in love.

  • Independent Fabrication Club Racer - steel frame and fork (custom)
  • Shimano Ultegra with 10-speed cassette
  • Paul Racer brakes
  • Chris King headset
  • Ritchey Classic stem, handlebar and seat post
  • White Industries hubs
  • Mavic Open Pro 32-spoke wheels
  • Time RSX pedals
  • Brooks Professional saddle with titanium rails
  • Honjo 43mm fenders
  • Grand Bois Cypres 32mm tires
  • Blackburn frame pump

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My R-12 Adventure

Over the past several years, more and more randonneurs have been logging monthly brevets and permanents of at least 200K in search of better fitness and the coveted R-12 Award. Finding time to squeeze a monthly 200K into the calendar is hard enough with complex work and family schedules. Add in extended sub-zero temperatures and frequent snow and freezing rain and it can be all but impossible.

Scanning the list of R-12 award recipients, the lack of New York and New England states is immediately apparent. With five rides already in the bank, it's only December, January and February that give me any concern, but I'm confident that this will be my year. More information about the R-12 can be found at this link.

Next up: the Flatlander's Delight 200K permanent over the first weekend in December.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Permanent Approved: Just in Time for Winter

Getting this new permanent route approved could not have been an easier or more pleasant process. RUSA permanista Crista B. worked my application through the system in what seems to have been record time. This is especially pleasing since I designed the route specifically to provide a safety net during the long snowy New York State winter.

The two permanent routes I currently maintain take in bucolic, hilly and occasionally unpaved roads. One of them is not open during the winter months and the other would be highly questionable during a particularly snowy spell. It's hard enough to squeeze rides in during a busy month, but with a winter like we had last year, an R-12 on local roads would be impossible. We needed something pretty flat routed on some broad roads with wide shoulders.

The new permanent will be known as the Keep the River on Your Right 200K and takes in some beautiful countryside traveling in a clockwise direction north, south, then north again with two Hudson River crossings, one on the narrow Rip Van Winkle Bridge connecting Catskill and Hudson and the other on the pedestrian path of the ginormous Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Riders travel through several interesting Hudson Valley towns such as Kingston, Hudson, Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Hyde Park among others.

As I've mentioned before, I have my sights set on the R-12 medal this year. With this route, my chances have increased dramatically. Thanks Crista!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Stillwater 200K: November's R-12 is in the book.

Today marked my return to Pennsylvania to ride in a brevet for the first time since my accident last year. I was a little nervous as I drove out there, but the curse has been lifted. Not only did I complete the Stillwater 200K handily, but I also enjoyed the hell out of it. This gorgeous view of the Delaware River was just one for the many lovely vistas riders were treated to throughout the day.

I have the feeling that when this pump was active, gas was not $3.68/gallon.  I'm guessing it was more like $0.47/gallon. When I used to pump gas back in 1982 it was $0.68/gallon. Back then cigarettes were about $0.65/pack, too. Crazy, huh?

A parting view of the river from the pedestrian bridge heading back into Portland. I may not have cracked the 10 hour mark, but I did make it back before sundown.

Today I rode with my new Joy Bot just for extra security. My Joy Bot (made by artist Gary Hirsch) is programed to bring me joy and bring me joy he did. Here's a photo of him taking advantage of the lovely view from my new Kinesis top tube brevet bag.

Next up: December R-12. Close to home or far afield? Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Favorite Award of the Year

When a package arrived yesterday afternoon, I had no idea that it would contain the final chapter of a brevet I began on August 26, 2010. As everyone will attest, Eastern PA RBA Tom R. is a straight-up guy. He puts on a huge array of outstanding events, is highly organized and has a heart as big as the whole outdoors. Tom is also known for providing solid support on his events. What people may not know, though, is that Tom's support is not limited to those currently riding on one of his routes. All throughout my long recovery from a crash on his Endless Mountains 1000K last year, Tom never stopped providing support to me or to my family.

Riders who completed the EM 1000K received a lovely framed map of the course in which to display their ACP medal. While I did not receive an ACP medal due to my DNF, Tom was kind enough to send me the framed map as a memento of my ride and my struggle to return to full form.

This gift is especially timely as I will clip in on Saturday morning at Tom's Stillwater 200K in a return to PA cycling after a long time away. This event will also serve as my November R-12 ride. The forecast is for outstanding weather. I look forward to seeing Tom at the final control, this time with a completed brevet card.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mission Accomplished!: The Coffeeneuring Challenge: Cup #7

Ride to seven coffee shops in four weeks. It was a challenge this die-hard rando-coffee freak could not pass up and I'm pleased to say that I made it and just in the nick of time. 

With temperatures hovering around the freezing mark this morning and an unprecedented October snow storm on the way, I got up early, dung some winter gear (wool hat, toe covers, full-finger gloves, winter tights, etc.) out of the deep recesses of my cycling drawer, drank a quick cup of hot coffee and I was off.  

My house sits right on the edge of some of the world's most incredible cycling. The Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains are reachable in minutes. The only trouble is, I need to cross the freight line that runs up the east side of the Hudson River from NYC to Albany to get there and, every now and then, I need to wait for a mile-long train to pass before getting on my way. Today was one of those days.

My destination this morning was New Paltz, site of my first coffeeneuring ride, to pay a visit to The Bakery - one of my favorite Hudson Valley coffee shops. When I arrived, the owner (a friend of mine who also serves on the board of the Walkway Over the Hudson) was busy working with his staff to prepare for the annual "Night of 100 Pumpkins" which thrills community members of all ages with a pumpkin contest and party on Halloween night.

After a quick cup of coffee and a scone I was back on the road to make it home before the first snow flakes fell. With climate change wreaking havoc on the local weather, I think it's time to buy some studded snow tires if I'm ever going to complete this R-12 goal of mine this year. Peter White Cycles seems to have a pretty good selection.

Thanks MG, for establishing a great challenge. It sure was a lot of fun!

24 miles, black coffee and a blueberry scone, done!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Caffeinated in Kingston." The Coffeeneuring Challenge: Cup #6

Today's coffeeneuring challenge ride brought me to the artsy Rondout section of Kingston, NY, just a few miles up the road from my house. Kingston is an interesting place. The first capital of New York State, it was burned by the British on October 16, 1777 and is divided into several distinct sections. The Rondout lies right at the confluence of the Rondout Creek and Hudson River and is home to boat moorings, restaurants and art galleries.

There is still an interesting maritime presence in Kingston, 91 miles north of Manhattan, as one can see from this 1898 steam powered tug boat that sits right outside the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

Finally, lots of local farmers are hard at work getting ready for winter.

20 miles, cup of espresso.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"When in Rome . . . " The Coffeeneuring Challenge: Cup #5

When in Rome, drink tea like a Roman . . . or something like that. Today, my Coffeeneuring Challenge ride had nothing to do with coffee and everything to do with a beautiful late afternoon ride to the Village Tearoom in New Paltz. After a disappointing trip to northern Dutchess County to scout a route for a winter 200K permanent, I capped off the day with a nice solo ride, a personal pot of chai and a crispy ginger cookie. All of these hit the spot.

26 miles, personal pot of chai with honey and steamed milk + a ginger cookie.