Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Final Stage of Redemption: The Lap of the Lake 1000K

The Lap of the Lake 1000K brevet is the single longest ride I’ve attempted since my 2010 accident. It is an event that would test whether my physical repairs (specifically those in my shoulder and hip) would support my ability to ride hundreds of miles over multiple days. I have had this particular ride on my mind ever since I was unable to start after being sidelined (also in 2010) by a crash in which I broke my arm. As a result, this ride was about more than simply having a good time with friends new and old and seeking out adventure on an exciting and unique course. It was about confirming that I have the ability to successfully ride long brevets once again and, specifically, that I will be able to train for PBP 2015 with confidence.

Since I was unsure of my performance at this distance (especially since the LOL 1000K is run unsupported and offers no SAG support in the event of emergency) I thought it wise to team up with others. I was especially grateful that JB, a two-time LOL ancien, was interested in teaming up along with hearty randonneur Nigel G. Our plan was a simple one: we would ride for 300 miles on the first leg, 200 miles on the second and then finish with 125 miles on the final day. With a 7:00 pm start, this meant that we would also front-load our night riding by powering through the first night as well as the second day and that we would need to arrange hotel accommodations on both Thursday and Friday nights.

I would recommend this mileage pyramid to anyone seeking a successful way to divide a very long ride. By front-loading the event with big miles, one builds up a time cushion as well as a buffer against fatigue. One of the ways we handled the sleep deprivation that results from this approach was to take a few “micronaps” along the way. Once on the first night when Mike W. developed a flat tire, several of us spied a gazebo in the middle of town and laid down for a ten-minute snooze, which we all found to be strangely refreshing. We also grabbed a similar rest in a park in Kingston the following afternoon after eating our lunch at a fine little café.

One of my least favorite sections of the route, due in part to my somewhat debilitating fear of heights, was the bridge crossing at the Thousand Islands. These bridges provide a spectacular view of the Thousand Islands region, but they also require cyclists to walk their bikes over two miles of vertiginous walkway with tractor trailers and cars speeding towards them at 60 miles an hour several feet away. As one nears the top of the bridge, the roadway literally bounces as heavy trucks power their way between Canada and the USA. Another low point of the route involved cycling through the sprawling suburbs of Toronto on roads that were both under construction and completely ill-suited to cycling. It is a blessed miracle that no one was hit by a car in this section and I hope the RBA seriously considers a rerouting to make for a safer and more pleasant way to navigate this major world city. While I’m a big fan of urban riding, suburban sprawl riding, where hostile drivers have no idea what to do with cyclists, is something no one should have to encounter, especially on a well-designed brevet.

My favorite sections of the route came before dawn on both Friday and Saturday mornings. On Friday, JB, Nigel, Gil L. and Mike B. and I clipped in around 2:15. It was a bit more chilly on Friday than it had been the night before, but I added my rain jacket and my new wool glove liners and felt more than adequately dressed to be comfortable in the cool morning air. It always seems to be a pleasant surprise to get back onto the bike after even the shortest of sleeps. As if by magic, the soreness and fatigue is gone and the excitement of starting a new day takes over on an emotional level. Several things made this particular section so remarkable. First, the roads were lumpy, curvy and rural, all of which added a mysterious quality that was accentuated by the full moon reflecting in the lake which popped into view on and off for the first 25 miles. Due to the amazing expanse of the lake, it appeared to my tired mind as if we were riding on a remote island rather than the shores of a massive lake and I almost thought I would see a goat cross the road as one might in Greece or some other romantic location.

The pre-dawn ride the next day between Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls was similarly magical. Nigel, JB and I clipped in around 3:30, this time to make it to the border control before it closed at 5:12 am. This deadline turned out to be a fantastic catalyst as we were compelled to ride through a glorious stretch of road bordered by regal estates with views of the Niagara River that were accentuated by the bright, full moon. Not long after leaving town, we stripped off a few layers to prepare to climb the escarpment, which was steep but not too terrible and magical in it’s own right. The Canadian government has maintained gorgeous parkland around Niagara Falls that makes the approach from the West very pleasant. Once we arrived on the top of the escarpment, it was not long before we entered the honky-tonk sections of Niagara Falls that cater to the tremendous volume of international tourists interested in catching site of this remarkable natural phenomenon. Our trip through town induced a bit of panic as the trail was not easy to navigate with signs hard to interpret and the clock ticking away. We very much did not want to break the border control and so were relieved when we entered the Rainbow Bridge in enough time to snap a few pictures and pass through the control at 5:10 am, two minutes before it closed. I’ve never before been the Lanterne Rouge at a control and the adrenalin rush associated with passing through just before the the control closed was not unpleasant.

Upon returning our passports safely to our bags, we pedaled over to the Denny’s in search of some coffee and breakfast. It was a joy to see Susan’s and Arthur’s smiling faces as they finished their meals and prepared for their next leg. We were not disappointed as the menu was perfectly aligned with our needs and I ordered a hot cup of strong coffee along with another plate of fried eggs, bacon, sausage and home fries. This was one of the many “real” meals we ate along the way, which is another strategy that requires an investment in time, but which pays great dividends with digestive comfort and energy management throughout the day. To hell with pocket food and liquid nutrition.

As with all long brevets, there were some times we were literally laughing out loud, and in this respect, “LOL” fully lived up to its name. One notable moment was our trek on day three across what appeared to be a post-apocalyptic highway along the southern coast of the lake. Not unlike the Palisades or Taconic Parkways in the Hudson Valley, this four-lane highway, complete with expansive green median was beautiful. The only thing missing was cars. We rode through the warm, dry and sunny afternoon as intrepid randonneurs might after a robot uprising has destroyed all other humans. When we spied an abandoned car in the shoulder, it caused more than momentary panic and fits of hysterics. Every so often, a lone car would zip down the road at 60 mph, but most of the time, the parkway was ours.

Another favorite feature of long brevets is the natural “hopscotching” that occurs when riders speed up and slow down and take breaks of varying lengths. As a result, I was able to enjoy the company of a wide range of riders over the course of our three days in the saddle. Mostly, I rode with JB and Nigel, with whom I had organized a strategy and reserved hotels to meet the demands of this unsupported ride. I was also able to meet and ride with an interesting assortment of riders of varying backgrounds and experiences that included: Gil L., a rider in his first season of randonneuring, Mike B., the president of DC Randonnuers, Steve Y., the RBA from Long Island Randonneurs, Calista, a quick rider from DC, Arthur from Toronto, Bob T., a strong rider from NJ with whom I have ridden before, Susan O., from Portland who (insanely) rode over 600 miles from Chicago to the start of LOL in what she lovingly refers to as her “Dumbass Tour” along with many others. It was also a real treat to be able to jump on the “Severna Park Peloton train” on day three as we made our way across the southern coast of Lake Ontario with a tailwind at our back and sun on our shoulders. With all of the hard work and motivation of this well-oiled machine, it was not difficult to keep a pace of over 20mph, which was a thrilling way to make up a bit of time across relatively flat terrain.

The penultimate control in Charlotte brought us to within 25 miles of the finish and afforded us some of the most spectacular frozen custard I have ever eaten. Since JB has been raving about this treat for as long as we’ve discussed this ride, I allowed him to buy me a “double” which we relished as we considered the final stretch. Having been separated from Nigel a bit earlier in the afternoon, we waited for him on the banks of the Lake and savored the rest before the final push to the end. When Nigel, Steve and Gil arrived with an appetite, they encouraged us to forge ahead and to meet them at the finish. With this encouragement, we clipped in and made the final approach. 

It was Susan who first introduced me to the term “full value” riding to describe her pattern of riding towards the back of the pack on a brevet and planning stops strategically and efficiently to allow for a comfortable and manageable pace on the route. This was, honestly, my first experience with full value riding as I typically spend my time in the first third of the pack. Having now spent time at all parts of the field over the course of my randonneuring career from first finisher to last man through the control, I can honestly say that I think the latter has the potential, especially in fine weather with a good group of riders, to be a whole lot of fun. I guess I have been thinking that folks at the very back of the pack were somehow suffering. This certainly was not the case with this event. We were having a blast sucking every bit of value out of this brevet. Thanks, Susan, for introducing me to this helpful way of looking at things.

All told, the LOL 1000K was an amazing event. Not only was it a brevet filled with unique natural wonders and amazing weather, but it was also an opportunity to ride with and learn from some awesome randonneurs. The Lap of the Lake 1000K was most remarkable to me personally, though, because it proved to me that my body is ready to take on PBP and any other 1200K in the wake of my terrible accident. It allowed me to discover that I was not permanently and irreparably damaged. While I may never be quite as fast as I was before the crash, I am confident that I will be able to take on whatever cycling challenges come before me. None of the pain I felt at the finish of LOL was in any way related to injuries I sustained in 2010. My shoulder gave me no trouble and neither did my hip. It was only the pedestrian pains of palm and knee that caused me to pop ibuprofen tablets on day three. In other words, I’m back, baby, I'm back!


  1. Great story George and glad to hear your body is healed.

  2. Thanks, Felkerino! It's great to be back in a position of heightened confidence with regards to long brevets. PBP 2015 - here I come!

  3. Coming to it a bit after the fact, but that was a great read! I had the good fortune to ride my first 200k with Pete Dusel (who also kindly paid for my 200k medal) and crew. Great folks and great terrain; I'll be back out there with them once I get some of this mountain biking out of my system :-) Cheers!

    1. Thanks, Doug! You're welcome on a brevet any time. Some folks take a bit longer to get mountain biking out of their systems than others. Have you tried the D2R2? That's a crazy hybrid of the two in Western Mass. Next one is coming up on August 23. Big write-up in Bicycling Magazine this month. With PBP coming around next year, the brevet season should be hopping. Here's my write up from 2011: http://thehudsonvalleyrandonneur.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-one-year-anniversary-d2r2-adventure.html