Thursday, June 30, 2011

Looking Forward to a Bumpy 400k

The past month, since I rode the Tahuya Hills 600k, has felt like a vast empty Randonneuring desert. This time of year is generally pretty densely packed with brevets. Just as I'm beginning to feel recovered from one brevet I'm usually gearing up for the next. But for the past three and a half weeks I've been staying close to home and doing just enough riding to keep myself from getting fat.

So, it feels good to finally have another brevet on the horizon. On Friday, July 8 at 10pm I'll be starting a 400k over in Yakima (aka, "Yaki Vegas"). Yes, the ride starts at 10pm. At night. I guess the idea is to get some practice with a night start since most of us bound for PBP this summer will be starting in the late afternoon or evening. I've done a couple long rides that started at night and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Of course, I mean "enjoyed" in the Rando sense of the word, which is to say I finished the rides alive and didn’t suffer too horribly. I usually have enough adrenaline pumping during the first few hours of a ride to keep me from getting sleepy, and by the time that wears off the sun should be up. Also there is something magical about riding on remote roads in that space between when the last drunk has finally made it home (or at least has passed out in the back seat somewhere), and when the darkness loses its grip on the night to the sound of birds and the eastern glow. Many of my fondest Randonneuring memories come from times like that.

This definitely won’t be an easy 400k course. It’ll start in Yakima and head north through the Yakima Canyon to Ellensburg. I’ve ridden the Yakima Canyon before and it’s a beautiful road along the river, deep in the canyon, that climbs ever so gently as you head north. This should put me in Ellensburg around midnight when hopefully most of the drunk drivers are still safely in bars (or behind bars). From Ellensburg the route climbs up and over Blewett Pass to Leavenworth. I’m really looking forward to the run down the north side of Blewett in the wee hours with no cars on the road. If all goes well, the eastern sky should just be beginning to blush as I roll into Leavenworth. From Leavenworth it’s on up Highway 2 to the summit of Stevens Pass, definitely not my favorite cycling road with semis and motorhomes blasting by every few seconds. At Stevens Pass summit we’ll turn around and head back to Yakima basically doing the same route in reverse, except that we’ll use the Old Blewett Pass highway on the return trip. The old highway is a little shorter, but also a bit steeper and windier. I’ve never ridden the Old Blewett Pass highway and I’ve wanted to for a while, so that’s the other part of this ride I’m really looking forward to. I should be pretty wrung out by then, but at least from the summit the remaining 65 miles into Yakima are nearly all downhill.

Ride Profile

I’ll consider any finish in less than 27 hours (that’s the limit) to be a win for this ride. With three big climbs (over 12,000 feet total) I definitely won’t be trying to do a time or keep up with any fast groups. This will be an at-my-own-damn-pace ride.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PBP: Registered!

I did it! Yep, just moments ago I submitted my registration for PBP 2011. A few mouse clicks, a little typing, a 110 euro charge on the old Visa card and it's done. The PBP organizing board immediately sent me an email confirming my registration, saying something about being allotted a "frame badge" (whatever that is) and wishing me, "a good training, and a safe and enjoyable PBP!" Wow, those guys must have been just sitting there at their computer waiting for my registration!

After lots of agonizing and discussion with fellow randonneurs, I decided to register for the 80 hour start. I also talked my friend Kelly--who I rode most of the Cascade 1200 with last summer--into doing the 80 hour start with me. Why on earth choose an 80 hour start when you can wait a couple of hours and have an extra 10 hours to complete the ride? Well, for all of the reasons I discussed in my previous post about start times. I still think a night start will work best for me. We shall see.

The ride plan at the moment is to ride straight through from Paris to Brest without a sleep stop. Assuming nothing catastrophic happens, we should make it to Brest in the late evening, a good time to sleep. We'll eat, sleep for a few hours, then set out early the next morning, probably before sunrise for the return trip. Again, barring disasters or horrendous headwinds, we should have enough time for another generous sleep stop somewhere on the return trip.

It wasn't long ago that I was seriously worried about my ability to finish the qualifying rides, but they're all done now and there's nothing left between me and PBP but 65 jours 18 hours 26 minutes 15 seconds. But then who's counting?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tahuya Hills 600k: There's Always Plan B

First the good news: This weekend I finished the Tahuya Hills 600k brevet. This 600k completes a Super Randonneur series for me, but far more importantly it means I’m now fully qualified to ride in PBP 2011 (good thing since we’ve already paid for plane tickets). Ironically, I rolled into the final control exactly three months (give or take an hour) after the FOOSH on the beach that nearly derailed my PBP plans.

As I mentioned last week, I was planning to ride with the Charly Miller team on this ride. The team had a detailed schedule worked out that included riding through the night and got us through the 600 kilometers in about 25 – 26 hours. With lot’s of rolling hills similar to the PBP route, this would be a great test of what the group was capable of.

The ride started in downtown Seattle near Safeco Field at 6:00 AM. The sun was already up and there was nothing but blue sky from horizon to horizon. After a few quick twists, turns and a drive-by of the people already lined up to get into that night’s U2 concert at the stadium (and people think randonneurs are crazy) we were on our way across the I-90 bridge. Early on everyone was bunched up and riding fast, so the team got scattered and wasn’t able to work together. But by the time we were into May Valley, about an hour into the ride things had sorted out. The team was riding together and consisted of Robin, Greg, Bob, Bill, Ken, James, Alex, Ian and me. For the next couple of hours we were moving along well, using a rotating pace line whenever the traffic would allow it. We got to the control stop in Buckley a little before 9:00. We were right on schedule and we did a good job getting in and out of the control quickly.

Not long after Buckley we found ourselves on quiet roads that allowed us to use the rolling pace line well. Unfortunately for me, we were using it a little too well. We were moving along for long stretches at well over 35kph (22 mph). I think that’s when I first started to realize that this group was a little over my head. I knew I couldn’t keep a pace like that for 600 kilometers. I suggested to others in the group that maybe we were going a little too fast, but they all seemed pretty comfortable with the pace, so we blazed on.

We maintained a similar pace most of the way to Packwood, 200k into the ride, arriving at about 1:10. Seven hours ten minutes is the fastest 200k I've ever done, so definitely not a good way for me to be starting a 600k. After a "leisurely" break at Packwood--about 13 minutes during which I wolfed down a convenience store mini pizza and a chocolate milk--we were back on the road. With a light tailwind and a long slight downhill for the next 30 miles to Morton we were quickly back to a... um, spirited pace. After Morton we turned south and did some climbing on Centralia-Alpha Road. It was somewhere along that road that things started turning bad for me. My stomach was the first to protest. Maybe the pizza back in Packwood wasn't such a good idea (do you think?). Maybe I was low on electrolytes. Whatever the reason I started feeling nauseous. And then I started getting cramps in my thighs whenever I hit the slightest incline or tried to accelerate. We were now about 300k and eleven hours into the ride. We had a control stop in Centralia, about 20 kilometers away, so I did my best to hang on and not throw up until we got there.

In those last 20 kilometers I decided that I would let the team leave Centralia without me. So after they had all filled their bottles and grabbed a quick bite to eat they were off and I sat down for a few minutes to take stock. 15 minutes of just sitting did me a world of good. I was finally able to eat a little, drink a coke and get back on the bike. I took the next 50 kilometers to the overnight control in Elma at a very comfortable pace. My legs were still cramping badly whenever I tried to push hard, but I was able to keep moving. I arrived at the overnight control in Elma at about 8:35pm.

When I arrived in Elma, the CM team was still there but getting ready to get back on the road to ride on through the night. I had actually been looking forward to riding through the night, but since I was still having bad cramping problems, I decided it would be safer to stay Elma for a few hours to try to get some sleep. Gary, Bob and Bill had arrived with the rest of the team but had all decided to stay for some sleep and then head out at 4:00am the next morning. I ate, showered, set an alarm for 3:30am, and then tried to get some sleep.

Bill, Gary and I left in the dark at 4:00am (Bob left early because he wasn't able to sleep). I was feeling much better than the night before, but I was still pretty rung-out. Obviously the previous day's pace was a too much for me.

The rest of the ride from Elma, through the Tahuya hills and up and down the Kitsap peninsula was fantastic. The hills were non-stop, and some pretty darn steep, but they didn't bother me much since the pressure to "do a time" was off. The majority of the day was spent on shadow-dappled roads with no cars to be seen.

Bill went ahead at some point and we met up with a couple of other riders here and there, but mostly I rode with Gary. We traveled at a comfortable pace and took time for ice cream, sandwiches, soup, and more sandwiches at several stops along the way.

We rolled into the finish a little before 3:30pm. Our trusted RBA, Mark was there to greet us offering cold beer, hot pizza and congratulations. Lynn was offering massages at the finish, which I would have loved to taken advantage of, but having been away from home far longer than expected already, I decided to pass on the massage and catch the next ferry for home.

Epilogue: My solo ride from Centralia to Elma and the casual pace all day on Sunday gave me a lot of time to think about PBP and the Charly Miller goal. I've decided to give up on the goal and embrace a kindler and gentler PBP. Since this will be my first (and quite possibly only) PBP, I've come to think it would be wrong to spend my time on the ride staring at the rear wheel of one of my teammates when I could instead be meeting other riders, talking to the locals, enjoying French pastries, and snapping pictures of the French countyside. If I ride PBP again someday, I suspect I'll get caught up once again in the idea of trying to make the Charly Miller Society, but for my first time, I'm ready to just ride my own pace and soak it all in.

To my former teammates, I'll be cheering you guys on in France. I think you have a great chance of making your goal. You're a bunch of great riders and good people to hang out with. I've learned a lot over the past few months. I hope to see you on the road in France when you blow by me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Packing for a 600k: Eeny meeny miney moe...

Bright and early tomorrow morning I'll set off from downtown Seattle with a big ol' group of nerdonneurs. We're doing a 600k route that will take us along the Western and Southern flanks of Mt. Ranier to Packwood, WA., then West through Centralia to Elma (not 20 miles from the birth place of Kurt Cobain donchyaknow), and finally North to the Kitsap peninsula where we'll ramble around in the allegedly haunted Tahuya Hills a bit before making our way back to the ferry on Bainbridge Island.

I'll be riding with the Charly Miller team on this ride, and our plan is to ride on through to the end with no sleep stops. If all goes according to plan (which it never does on a ride this long) we should finish in somewhere around 25 to 26 hours.

This course has a lot of ups and downs, so I'm trying to pack as light as possible. It's always a challenge to balance a performance-minded minimalist approach with the more sensible desires for comfort and safety, but as I do more of these rides and get more experience I'm finding that I'm able to get by comfortably and safely with less stuff. Hopefully I'll stop short of heading off for cross-country tours wearing nothing but a loin cloth with a buck knife in my teeth.

So, here's what I'll be taking with me on this ride:

On Me
Bike shorts
Polypro base shirt
Polypro bike jersey
Arm warmers
Leg warmers
Bike shoes
Wind vest
Bike cap
Helmet with map light

In the Handlebar Bag
Tool kit (multi-tool, tire irons, chain tool, patch kit)
2 Spare tubes
Zip ties
Space blanket
Spare tail light
Lip stuff
Cell phone
Fistful of Ibuprofen and Enduralytes
Reflective ankle straps
Reflective vest
Reading glasses
About 1400 calories worth of Sustained Energy powder (food-like stuff)
4 packages Shot Bloks (even more food-like)
12 Fig Newtons (practically food)

On the Bike
2 Water bottles
Lights, front and back

In My Drop Bag (drop bags will be waiting for us in Elma)
Wool Jersey
Wool bike shorts
Long sleeve wool base layer
Bike gloves
3 Spare tubes
Misc bike tools
Spare headlight
Sustained Energy powder
Shot Bloks
Fig Newtons

If the forecast is right and I have no mechanical problems, then I shouldn't need anything but the food from the drop bag. We shall see...

Loaded up with all of this stuff (including full water bottles), my bike weighs about 32lbs (22 lbs bike, 4 lbs water and 6 lbs food and gear). That's slightly more than the typical 15 lbs that a pro cyclist's bike weighs, but not bad for a fully loaded rando rig.

Nothing left to do now but try to get a decent night's sleep and then go for a ride.