Friday, December 31, 2010

Snow, snow, snow

Back in October I really thought that the season was over with the last brevet.  A nice October day and a fine ride to put a bookend on the season.

But that just isn't how it worked out.  This fall was the fall for permanents.  Now that I own my own permanent which practically leave from my doorstep, I had a hard time resisting the nice fall days of October.  I also had some offers from new people that I had never ridden with before.

So during October, I did 2 more 200ks and then another 200k in November.  All the same Delano-Henderson-Chaska loop.  Each one was different in its own way.  My first was the trial run by myself going counter-clockwise on the loop.  Nice ride with bizzare weather - it vascillated between very hot and very cold.  Next, I had a call from a new randonneuse who had never done a permanent.  How could I possibly say no to helping another female into this sport?  Yet another fine ride, this time clockwise on a cold morning that turned into the last day of the season you could wear shorts.  Finally, a bunch of guys called me in November about doing the same route again.  These guys are people I have known for years, but are all substantially faster than I am - thus I see them only at the starts of brevets.  This ride, we all stuck together for and we really had a good time.  The DHC permanent looks like it will be a success and I have my 300k route ready to go for next year.

Which brings us to mid-November and the end of fall as we knew it.  The Twin Cities got hit with a major snowstorm on Veterans Day and for the next 6 weeks, we got over 3 feet of the stuff with sub-zero temperatures to boot!  Hardly riding weather.  I proceeded to buy a new winter bike, one that costs so little that I could justify having it corrode over the nasty winter months.  A Kona Dew Plus on sale for $290.  But it has disk brakes which I figured would be a real plus if it were going to snow like Greenland.

I thought back to my ride on Rob's Sakatah permanent last year.  Starting in the low teens and never hitting twenty really is tough (it's the no fluids except at controls that gets you).  It also didn't help that every 3 days we would get either more snow or a cold blast that made the neighborhood snowman look cold.  But finally, near the winter solstice, a break was coming.  A day that would be in the 20s all day long.  Of course, we had a 6 inch snowstorm 2 days earlier and more on Christmas, but this was just in between.

But this time, I was not to be alone in the quest.  There were 4 other guys that decided that it just isn't right to only have one person in Minnesota willing to do 200k in the dead of winter.  Two of them I had ridden with in November, Jonas and Norman.   Gary, I also knew slightly from creating jerseys and other odds and ends.  Jeff, I had never met.

Of course, it was the 20s with major slush on the road and not much in the way of daylight (a full 8 hours).  My permanent was simply too hilly and potentially dangerous.  It's now closed.  But Rob had recently tweaked his for the winter and promised a good ride (even if he himself couldn't make it).  So back to Apple Valley for more randonneuring sponsored by Kwik Trip.

The five of us left at 8:00 am just as it got light.  It was as warm as it was going to get at a balmy 30 degrees.  We were a little worried that it would be too warm and the slush would get us wet and cold.  But indeed, luck was upon us and we had nearly the perfect weather, not much wind, stable temps and near deserted roads.

Four of Five, Norman was in charge of the camera
We had a big tailwind and we pounded our way out of Apple Valley much faster than we probably should have.  There wasn't much left from the snow storm, but one does want to keep warm.  All of us had fat, studded tires.  While affording great traction, they really do take some work to get rolling and keep rolling.  I was happy I had added fenders both for myself and the guy behind me.  Sometimes it can be difficult to have both fat tires and fenders, not a luxury everyone had on this ride.   But we all made due and it turned out to mostly not be a problem.

We paused about 15 miles in for a drink at a Shell Station.  At this point, I realized that there is a big difference between the low teens and the high 20s for sports drinks.  Nothing was freezing up at all!  So I just refilled my bottle and off we went.  The ride to Faribault was all tailwind and we got there around 10:30 with a moving average of 14.2mph!  That's really fast for riding on studs.   We ate as much as we could at the gas station and headed off with only about a 20 minute stop.  At 34 miles, Faribault is the longest segment, although the ride to Cleveland seemed longer.

The next 31 miles were on a series of country roads that Rob picked out for the winter.  There were virtually no cars and I slowed a bit as did Gary.  He's a really interesting guy, 70 some years old and still a faster rider than I am.  The others went ahead a bit, but waited on occaision.  At about mile 55, they were ahead again, when I realized that we were no longer on a paved road (very hard to tell when the road is covered in snow).  Turns out there was a turn missing on the route sheet.  The others soon came back and we got back on course.  We got into Cleveland, the halfway point at about 1:15 and took a more substantial break (almost 40 minutes) to eat pizza, soda, coffee, candy bars and all the other food that you can really only feel good about eating when you are burning thousands of calories.  The BP station had a little eating area and we chatted for awhile.  I loaned my multi-tool to Jeff, who had cleat issues.

We pulled out of Cleveland at about 2:00pm bound for Lonsdale.  This section included a bit of headwind as we swung north for the first time.  I fell behind a bit having burned a bit too hard early in the ride and being deep in the throngs of digestion.  We got in a line and I pulled as much as I could.  The day was a grey one and this was a nice stretch with no cars.   About 4:00pm we pulled into Montgomery and I was desparate for the bathroom.   Another problem with winter riding and females - you just can't pull up a tree whenever you need one.  I left a bit ahead of the others as I was huffing a little.  They easily caught up just outside town.  Lonsdale was a quick 10 miles and it was here that I made my 2 major mistakes of the ride.   First, I should have used my inhaler (exercise-induced asthma go figure).  My second mistake was arguably not mine.  Norman is from Germany and Jonas is frome Sweden.  At the control, the clerk was so enthralled with Norman and his accent that she didn't hear me when I asked for a receipt.  At the time, I was both wondering about my lungs and having a major inward laugh and the epic flirtation going on.  We finally left at about 5:15, now in the dark and I got two blocks before realizing I had no receipt and having to go back.  I offered to catch up, but the guys waited patiently.  The clerk offered me the most recent receipt off the register, but it was for 6 cartons of cigarettes.  Now really, who is going to believe that I bought 6 cartons of cigarettes at a brevet control!  I settled for an emergency mint purchase and raced back to the others.

The final 28 miles were mostly pleasent with the exception of CR8, again my least favorite road on this permanent.  A busier road with a small snowy shoulder and a very large buzz strip just makes for treachery.  My lungs started burning as well and I wondered if I was going to have issues when we finished and I came in out of the cold.  I finally stopped and dug out my inhaler on the road.  Not a good time, but it helped enough to get me back.

At the turn onto Ipava, Jeff made a light feet in front of the rest of us and kept going.  Unfortunately, he missed our group photo with Christmas lights.

Wow Gary has awsome reflective stuff.  Note, my helmet is white because of illuminite

I like our group photo.  It shows the massive depth of the snow (the banks are much taller than the bikes are).  I especially like the big crown on Norman's head.  The red glow on the snow is from my rear light (it's visible from orbit).

We got into the Kwik Trip at about 8:30 pm.  12 mph as a moving average, which is considerably faster than I went last year.  We stopped more frequently and for much longer periods, but I would not have done it differently.  The winter is just not the time for breaking speed records.

There is some talk about another permanent in January.  Not sure about that, my asthma has been kicking up like crazy ever since.  Nonetheless, I will likely talk to my doctor about getting something stronger.  This was a fun enough ride to justify the lung stuff.

Happy New Year

Sunday, October 3, 2010

End of The Season: Apple Valley 200k

Each of the past 2 years, the last brevet of the season in Minnesota is a 200k in the first week of October.  Last year, it was in Rochester and the temperatures never got out of the 40s, it poured rain almost the entire day.  I did that ride with a newbie randonneur, Ken, who went on to do his first 600k this year.  125 miles in the freezing, pouring rain is good mental prep.

Thankfully, this year's ride, this time in Apple Valley, was not during a rain storm.  The rainstorm came the week before in the form of the biggest September rainfall ever.  Flooding was a real concern for this ride, but turned out not to be an issue.  I will say that the views of the Cannon and Zumbro River were something.  This year, the temperature was in the high 40s to start and at least made it into the 50s for the day.  The sun made occaisional to frequent appearences as well.  I had been expecting fabulous fall colors, but those hopes proved futile.  It appears the big rainstorm had stripped many of the trees so it seemed much greyer than I expected.  But there were some bright spots as well.

The ride started off at 8:00am in the traditional Apple Valley start.  35 riders showed up for this ride which was an all-time record.  Apple Valley rides, especially the shorter ones, draw from the TCBC pool of those who are there to enjoy the ride, but are not necessarily RUSA members.  Rob calls them the happy randonneurs - they cruise the countryside unconcerned about controls or time limits.  Really rather refreshing.

The first leg to Cannon Falls was one I have now done about 4 times this year.  As we headed down 160th, a large group of the fast riders passed me.  I'm still a little anemic so I let them pass figuring I would be dead last by plan.  Besides, with 35 people crowded into the control at Cannon Falls, why rush?  I finally managed to pull my camera and take a picture of the 3 foot Aquaman statue - I'd been meaning to do that for ages.  

Aquaman and his friend the Viking
There was a slight tailwind and even not working hard, I managed to get to Cannon Falls just before 10:00am.  I stopped to take pictures of the 2 trumpeter swans that have been living just off the Cannon River.  They will probably start migrating soon.  There were several beautiful red-gold maples in Cannon Falls too.  This was some of the nicer fall colors on the route.

Swans in Cannon Falls - note raging river in the background

At the control, a gas station, I made a point to get through quickly.  Hardly anyone was there, just 2 or 3 bikes.  I grabbed some tomato juice, refilled bottles, and took off in just under 10 minutes.  The next section supposedly had a section of difficult rollers that Rob warned about at the start.  I took this to heart expecting something like the area west of Madison; turned out to not be so bad from my perspective although I later learned that others had really felt some pain.  The ride to Zumbrota was actually very pleasent for me with rolling hills, lots of harvesting, and some occasional patches of fall colors.  I noticed that the Goodhue County Historical Society has begun posting signs marking the old farm towns that used to dot this area.  Most of those places now only contine one or two houses or farms.  But it does make one consider what it must have been like to live here 100 years ago when 10 miles was a huge distance and roads were dirt.  Those few remaining houses are always interesting to look at.  Many are restored or look as though they have been cared for by generations of the same people.

I was actually very surprised by the descent into Zumbrota when I had been expecting worse rollers.  I got to the control at noon.  Here I grabbed a V8, some cookies and a Mighty Mango drink.  There were 3 people at the control.  I talked to one of them for about 5 minutes.  He was having issues with his knee and later quit at Wanamingo.  I talked to him later at the finish, he'd had a nice riide anyways.

CR30 out of Zumbrota
Riding out of Zumbrota, I cruised briefly with  a guy named Dan from Iowa.  This was his first brevet, though he and his buddy had ridden across Iowa in 24 hours (prettty cool).  We chatted about PBP briefly and he finally pulled ahead to rejoin his friend.  Their pace was slightly faster than I wanted at that point.  I knew that shortly we would be turning north on CR14 directly into the wind and I wanted to save my energy.  The route along CR30 outside Wanamingo first goes along a very pretty river and they gradually climbs on rollers to give some really nice views of the rolling countryside.  The turn came faster than I expected since the strong northeast wind was almost a tailwind.

The turn into the wind was a slap in the face.  The next couple miles, I spent in my drops (I have new handlebars that make this a much nicer experience and I appreciated them).  Finally, the road descended down a hill.  Granted, you still had to pedal due to the headwind, but at least speeds were over 11 mph.  CR14 wound around through more rollers and former towns.  A guy on a bike passed me going very quickly, not sure if he was on the brevet or just out enjoying the day.

At this point, I was nearing Soggn.  Soggn is down in a valley so there was a lovely winding descent.  The hills broke the wind and there were many more trees and several pastures with cows.  A nice change from the cornfields.  At Soggn, I patiently spun up the big hill.  1 mile at about 6%, but still not really difficult.  There was a stretch of really nice yellow trees here so it was scenic.  I passed the Soggn Valley Orchard, which apparently has been closed all year due to a hard frost last May (no apples for them).  They have hope for next year.

After the climb out of Soggn, the road turned north once again, but there were still some hills and it was a gradual downhill so the wind didn't slow me down quite so much.  I realized at this point that I had basically ridden almost 100 miles alone.  I figured there were 1 or 2 people behind me.  Hopefully, they were working together against the wind.  I passed a bunch of parked cars that were there for the Soggn Valley Art Show.

The final stretch into Cannon Falls was winding with a little wind, but quiet and scenic.  I crossed Hwy 52 and rolled into the control at 3:00pm.  There were about 6-7 bikes there with many lounging.  I wanted to finish by dinner, so I again did the super quick control routing and pulled out 8 minutes after leaving.  Everyone who was there when I arrived was a also there when I left.  I assumed that they would easily catch me.  I noticed the bikes from the Iowa riders.

Rob had a different route out of Cannon Falls than normal so I had to pay attention to where I was going.  Cty Rd 29 was a little mealy until the city limits but then improved.  The turn onto Hogan was directly into the wind across a flat section to a moraine in the distance.   The wind here was fierce but I plodded on until I crested the moraine and descended down into another section of rollers.  A recumbent passed me just before New Trier and both of us turned together onto SH 50 for a mile.  SH50 had lots of traffic and no shoulder so we both pedaled hard to get through it as quickly as possible.  He pulled ahead once we turned north onto CR85.  This section was more flat cornfields, but the shoulder was fabulous - almost 6 feet wide and not a crack in sight.  Even with the wind I was doing okay and I figured on getting in around 5:30. 

About 3 miles in, I heard a shout and then barking.  A very large, black dog was heading for me with that "your leg would look great hanging in my doghouse" look in his eyes.  Of course, this was on an ascending roller so the adrenaline kicked in and I sprinted as fast as I could screaming at the dog (and the owner).  I really did think he was going to nail me, but he veered off at the last second.  At this point, I crested the roller, completely exhausted.  I really thought that I might exhale a lung if I didn't stop, but at this point one of the Iowa riders caught up to me.  He'd been chased by a second dog but had witnessed my sprint and offered to pull me for the last 4 miles to 160th.  What a guy!  We wound up finishing together.  The time on his wheel let me calm down from my near-death experience.  His name was Randy and this was his first brevet.  Both his friends were behind us.

The turn to 160th came pretty quickly, then the head/cross wind turned into a tail/cross wind for the last 13 miles.  We chatted about training and riding in general.  Just before Apple Valley, a train was rolling slowly across the tracks.  The recumbent and another cyclist were stopped, but the train cleared just and Randy and I approached - good timing.  The other two bikes continued ahead and finished just before we did due to a lucky break with the light at 147th.  But the two of us pulled in just around 5:30pm.  Exactly when I had expected.

We found Rob at Old Chicago and sat down for drinks and food.  To my enormous surprise, something like 19 riders were still out on the course.  I had ridden 100 miles solo thinking I was dead last.  Talk about the lonely middle.
I also found it ironic that in a field of 30 Minnesotans, I only rode with people from Iowa.  Go figure.

We stayed at Old Chicago for about an hour and a half chatting with those that followed.  IronK showed up for pizza and a beer.   It was quite the merrry party and made a fitting end to the season.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Delano-Henderson-Chaska Permanent

Though I have riddent Rob's Sahkatah Permanent in Apple Valley a number of times, it does take 45 minutes to get to the start from my house.  With the idea of making it just a little easier to try one's hand at a permanent, I decided to create my own.

The result is this route, which is hopefully just the first of several that I have planned.  After all, the western suburbs are home to many and who doesn't love a nice 100+ mile ride on a summer day?

It starts in St Louis Park and travels through Wayzata to Delano for the first control.  From there, it turns south along the Crow River through Watertown and Mayer to Norwood Young America.  A pass through Assumption and one of my favorite cemeteries to Green Isle (bills itself as a little bit of Ireland).  Then it heads back east to Henderson on the Minnesota River and travels on Ctry Rd 6, a scenic byway, to Chaska.  From there, it's back through Eden Prairie to St Louis Park.  204 kilometers in all.

Those wanting to ride it are welcome to contact me at roadpixie at gmail.  Contact information is also posted on the RUSA site under permanents.

Approximate Map of Permanent

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Apple Valley 600k

This past weekend marked the Apple Valley 600k.  Even though it starts 20 miles from my house, I had never done this particular 600k before.  Last year was the first year and I was at Cycle Oregon.  Since Rob Welsh does the routing and has a great feel for roads and routing, this was one I did not want to miss.

I hadn't felt very well for the week preceding this brevet, not exactly sick, but not jumping up and down with excitement (as usual).  In fact, at the ride start, I almost didn't.  I had a really odd and irritable feeling, almost as though I had reached a low point in the ride (weird to have your low point at the start).  The weather had just cleared and it was gray and still dark for the most part; temps were in the 50s so it was chilly and I was wearing a long-sleeved jersey and a wind jacket.

As we pulled out of the AmericInn parking lot, I wound up at the front which is very odd.  In fact, I wound up at the head of the pack for almost 5 miles which is even odder.  Martin finally came zooming up behind me and said as much. I shook my head and said "luck of the draw".  As we rolled out of Apple Valley at about 18 mph, the sun was coming up and the sky was beginning to clear.  Many passed me and eventually, I am pretty sure I was near last.  I was in such a blue funk that I didn't really care.  I rode a little with Bob and with Andre, but pulled into Cannon Falls alone still averaging 17.1.  I quickly signed in, filled bottles and got going.  I was paying particular attention to getting enough to eat and drink, I have a habit of not eating enough on day 2 so I wanted to start well.
Andre, Al, Ken, Bob

I caught up with Andre and we rode together until just after Lake City.  There was a pretty nice tail wind and we continued to make fast progress.  At Lake City, I had some banana bread, V8 and chocolate milk.  Then I told Andre to go ahead.  He is a bit faster on the hills than I am currently (still got that bad hamstring) and I didn't want to hold him up.  I told him I would meet up with him at Plainview (mile 100), historically, most have lunch at this control.  The ride to Plainview went well for me, I took the hills as I could.  There was actually another woman on the ride (for once) and she recognized me and said hello.  For the life of me I couldn't remember her name or where I knew here from.  It had clouded over again and since I had just ridden this section 3 weeks earlier (in the 400), I knew it well.  The hills did slow me a bit and I was down to averaging 15 mph when I rolled into town.

Climbing out of Elba - note sparkling pavement
At that point, I figured Andre would be at the control, but he wasn't.  Ken and Marlin were and took off about 2 minutes before I did.  I had some food, got water, and only spent a few minutes here figuring I could catch them.  Strangely, no matter what I did, I would catch sight of them for the next 40 miles just about a mile ahead.  The ride to Elba was quite fun on the rollers with some nice views.  Finally, a long descent into Elba and a really pretty climb out up onto a long section of rollers.  I listened to music and chugged along at a pretty decent pace.  Finally, I rolled into Rushford, still averaging 15 mph at around 4:30 pm.  Rob greeted me at the Windswept in and I grabbed some soup and food before the 100k out and back to La Crescent.  I left with Ken and Marlin and we basically stuck together until La Crescent.

Root River Trail
Ken on the Trail
The ride to La Crescent was partially along the Root River Trail and was beautiful.  Lush and green wiht flowers, the river itself was clear enough to see the bottom when we passed close.  From there we ascended a few short hills and descended along a wildlife refuge to LaCrescent.  There the mosquitos were out in force, alas I brought no repellent.  I called IronK to check in since my cell phone worked and left with a group of 4 (Ken, Marlin, George and Al).  Ken and Marlin soon outpaced but I wound up riding with George and Al until we got back to Rushford and around 9:30.  I planned to leave at 2:00am.

Rob does a great job at the Windswept Inn.  It's a refabed house Norman Bates style with a kitchen and many bedrooms.  I had some mashed potatoes and lasagna along with fluids and organized before hitting the sack.  I also finally figured out that the woman was the other randonneuse from Minnesota.  I had mistakenly heard that she had moved to Arizona.  What a dolt I am sometimes.

At 12:30, I awoke to a light shining in my eyes.  This turned out to be the last randonneur to come into the control.  Rob had actually gone out to call him (which required a car trip) and wasn't around.  He was about to search other rooms, but I stopped him (no need to wake others).  I showed him the kitched, bathroom, and left a note for Rob along with his arrival time.  No luck really getting back to sleep.

At 2:00, George was getting ready to go and we departed together.  Lara said she would be following about 30 minutes behind us.  We rolled out around 2:20 towards Eyota.  The climb out of Peterson is much more enjoyable than Cty Rd 30 and I was happy to not be completely wiped out at the top.  We chugged along the rollers for the next 20 miles until stopping for coffee at the Amish Market (open at 4:30 am).  Coffee is something Rob forgot to provide so both of us were jonesing.

Rollers in the dark are really not fun.  By the time you figure out you are climbing, it's too late to strategize and you can't see the end.  Progress was slow, but we finally rolled into Eyota at about 6:15.  Ready for breakfast!

I ate some things I would never eat (like a strange breakfast sandwich with mystery meat).  I drank and ate all I could and felt much better for it.  Lara and another guy came into just as we were getting ready to leave.  Martin also showed up in a car.  He apparently lives a mere 7 miles away, so he had ridden to Eyota, arriving probably about 8:00 the previous night.  He then went home and slept a nice night's sleep and was returning to finish the ride.  What a guy!

George on Cty Rd 7 along Zumbro River
George rode ahead of me and I found myself dragging for the next 10 miles.  Martin gave me a push about 45 minutes later as he passed me (he'd stopped at the control to chat with others).   I finally caught back up with George just as we turned onto Hwy 63.  We dropped down into the Zumbro Valley on Ctry Rd 7 which was really pretty (last time I did it was at night).  At Mazeppa, we stopped to shed clothes, it was heating up quick.  Finally, we rolled into Zumbrota at about 10:15.  Only about 80 miles to go.  We had sped up considerably since the sun came up and were pleased.  We also caught up with Al, who had left the overnight about an hour before us.

5 miles later in Wanamingo, the wind started kicking up.  It was now about 11:00 am and we were headed west for the next 30 miles to Faribault.  Unfortunately, the wind was also from the west.  The three of us rode apart by about 1/4 mile with George out in front, then me, then Al.  It was a struggle to maintain progress and I was thankful we had left the overnight when we did since there was no time crunch.  Still, a 20 mph wind in your face for hours takes its toll.  At Nerstrand, we finally stopped for a rest and got together, agreeing to try to draft and save some energy.  I hoped that Lara might catch up to us before we left, but she caught up about a half mile later having gone all out to catch us.

The four of us rotated for the next 10 miles to Faribault with George doing some monster pulls.  I did my best, but still felt as though I had plaster dumped on my shoes.  We rolled into Faribault and ate and drank for about 40 minutes - far longer than any of my previous controls had been.  After Faribault, we continued to fight the wind for another 10 miles west before turning north to Lonsdale.  It was here I started feeling that plaster getting heavier.  I figured it was fluid and started drinking more.  No effect.

We rolled into Lonsdale and I had a coughing fit.  Others were also tired and we stayed about 40 minutes again.  I split a piece of pizza with Lara and had a Naked protein drink along with some water.  My knees were hurting too so Lara gave me a couple of french pills "don't know what they are, but they work".  They did work.

We rolled out of Lonsdale with only 28 miles to go.  I've done this section a few times, but I started to wonder if my seatpost were too high because my hamstring started hurting.  George and Al went ahead while Lara stayed with me.  We weren't sure if we were going to make it by sunset and no one wanted to be alone in the dark.  After raising the seat, I was much better and we cruised through Lakeville and back to Apple Valley for the finish, just before 8:00 pm.  Not my best time, but considering I spent almost 5 hours at the overnight, I was pleased.

We met Rob and other in Old Chicago for drinks and food.  I had to drive home (frightening) so I didn't linger.  I felt pretty good as I left and would have stayed longer if I had had another way to get home.

The Post Ride Report

I got home at around 9:00 and took a bath to rinse off the salt and grime.  It was at this point that I noticed that I was oddly fatigued, nearly short of breath.  Strange, I thought, I must just need a good night sleep.

At 12:30 I woke in wracking pain.  I tried to sit up but couldn't.  I was all I could do to wake IronK and get her to take me to the ER.  They pumped me full of fluids after tests showed my hemoglobin 30% below normal and some other oddities in electrolytes.  I went home at 6:00 am thinking I would nap and go to work.  Alas, 4 hours later, my weight had ballooned 20 lbs and my kidneys were stressed out.  I was retaining fluid like crazy.  Back to the doctor - more tests and a bunch of diuretics later, the diagnosis remains a non-iron deficient anemia of unknown cause.  But at least I don't weigh 180 lbs.

It's now 6 days later and I am still extremely fatigued.  I couldn't do the Rochester 300k today and that made me sad.  I had hoped to see my Rochester friends one more time before next year.  Still waiting for someone to figure out what is causing the anemia.  But two doctors are working on it.   I have high hopes of making the last brevet of the year, the Apple Valley 200k on October 2.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question

This weeekend is the Apple Valley 600k.  I have never ridden this ride, but the weather is looking very nice and several people I know will be there.  It is now September and temperatures have dropped off recently.  Unlike the Rochester 600k (in which I rode through the night with naught but a tiny nap), this one I ponder riding through.  The low temperature will be in the 50s with at least a possibility of the high 40s.  This doesn't make a ditch nap very appealing.

I've heard a couple of conversations from first time riders regarding whether or not to ride all night vs stopping for a few hours of shut eye at some overnight.  I've now done it both ways and I have to agree with the RUSA handbook's assessement.  Consider why you are doing the 600k.  If it is another brevet or the culmination of an SR, take the break and increase the pleasure.  However, if your goal is a 1200k, at least once ride it through without sleeping.

It is a mistake to think that you will finish any faster if you ride through without sleep.   The profound fatigue that sets in when you have been working your heart for over 20 hours or will slow you down considerably.  During my sleepless 600k, times were as follows:

  • First 200k: 8:45 total
  • Second 200k: 12 hours total (did include 1 1/2 hour break for shower)
  • Third 200k: 14 hours
  • Total time: 35 hours
I will also say that the last hundred miles took almost 10 hours.  The fatigue around dawn seriously damaged my ability to digest food properly.  That took an even bigger toll as the day progressed.

In contrast, during the Cascades, I completed the first 600k in a total of 36 hours which included a 4 hour sleep stop and much more climbing on a torn hamstring.  Though the first 226 miles were only 18 1/2 hours, the final 150 miles took 19 hours (which includes the 4 hour stop).  Frankly, the second day was a really nice ride that I will always remember in a postive way.  The second day of the Rochester ride was really pretty hard to enjoy.  I was happy at the end, but kind of cranky (heck, I'd been up for a day and a half).

There is also a safety factor involved in being so tired at a late hour, especially around bar close and beyond when many drunk drivers are lurking and you may not be at your most alert. It can also be hard to find open services (like water or food) so it isn't something that is a decision to be made on the spur of the moment. If you really want to try it, know in advance what all your options are for the late night part (this might mean calling conveniance marts in advance or researching motel options in case you can't quite make it).

So for Apple Valley, my plan is to stop for 4 hours.  This allows about an hour of time to shower and change and 3 hours of sleep - enough to rest and recover, but not so much that I start stiffening up.  I will follow the advice of one of my Seattle friends: never leave an overnight control less than 2 hours before it closes.  I suspect that this rule won't be a problem, I know the route for the most part and expect to get to the overnight by around 11:oo pm and leave at 3:00am.  I will be striving for maximum enjoyment of the ride and the people on it. 

I recently chatted with a friend from the Cascades who DNF'd due to extreme fatigue.  He recently completed a 1000k in North Carolina and, unlike the Cascades, he included short naps along with the overnights.  For him, this made all the difference between enjoying the late stages of the ride and finishing and DNFing from the fatigue.  There is a low point to every brevet and if you are feeling horrible, that low point may become more than it takes to keep you moving.  Don't quit without eating something, drinking something, resting or napping a little and having a chat with a stranger (who may think you are nuts, but may remind you how amazing it is to even attempt such a ride).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Foggy Four Hundred and other things that go snort in the night

This past Saturday was the Apple Valley 400k.  The 400k is my very favorite distance and this ride in particular was my first brevet ever.  This year was a re-route to cut a little climbing and add some scenic sections so I was quite happy to be able to ride.  Also, Rick from the fleche earlier this year was riding and it's always nice to have friendly faces.  The weather was predicted to be excellent.  What else could I possibly ask for?  This really did turn out to be a great ride, though not quite the one I was expecting.  But I will always remember it for the night ride and our encounter with the strange, snorting "possum".

It started from the AmericInn in Apple Valley at 6:00am on a VERY foggy morning.  Rob gave all his announcements standing on the bed of his pickup in the fog.  I remember thinking at the time that it was sort of like a surreal kind of randonneuring revival with him waving his cue sheets in the air, "let there be no detouring on highway 52 or suffer the wrath of the RBA!"  Maybe you had to be there.

So we started off.  The prediction was that the fog would clear around 9 or 10 am so I was quite happy to pedal off.  As we rode out of Apple Valley, I couldn't help but noticed that large groups of riders were staying together.  In fact, about a dozen of us were together for the first 30 miles to the first control in Cannon Falls.  I couldn't really say who they were or exactly how many there were because I really couldn't see more than out 10 feet in front of me.  This had everything to do with the thick fog and some to do with the fact that I had to take my glasses off due to water accumulation and without them, I can only see about 10 feet.

At Randolph, Rick and I were the only ones to make the turn and wound up leading for the 5 miles into Cannon Falls (at least there were no turns and the blind really can lead the blind at times).  I wondered about the irony of so many missing a turn that the two people with really bad vision made.  I have been on this section before so I know that it is very pretty and quaint with lots of farms. Of course, they were hiding.

The fog rolled in - can you see the bike ahead?

At Cannon Falls, we ran into Rob, who told us that he couldn't even see every one's lit tail lights.  I turned my amped up Dinotte on after that.  IronK bought it for me because it really can be seen from orbit.  I picked up water and ate a Clif Bar.  The humidity was about 95% and it was starting to get hot.  It was at this point that I realized that we were going quite fast for a 400k.  My average speed was 17.5 MPH!  Several people commented that we would be tuning it down soon since no one wanted to burn out early.

We then said goodbye to Rob and pedaled off to Goodhue, 23 miles away.  Here it got fun.  The fog continued to obscure everything in sight.  About 7 miles down the road, Rob had warned us about a road that had some packed gravel.  It turned out that today, it was being paved.  At least 10 trucks were lined up on the road and about 20 of us waited at a flagman to pass.  He had a long discussion with his counterpart on the other end about "low boys", "hot bellies" and some other things I didn't quite catch.  He then waved us through, though I thought he had sent us just about the time the other guy was sending something up the road.  If you have never descended on a bicycle through the fog and realized that a 10 ton truck full of tar was headed straight for you, you are really missing out on some of the great fun of the sport.  Indeed, as we descended the hill on REALLY fresh pavement, here came a tar truck and some really big flatbeds.  We rolled with it and it was a little like playing Indy 500 for Atari.

About 5 miles out of Goodhue, I realized that I was still averaging about 17 miles per hour.  I dropped off the end realizing that either my hamstring would burn out on a hill or my blood sugar would crash at about 10:00 pm that night.  As it was, I'd ridden too hot for too long already.  It isn't often that I do a 3 hour half century on a 400k.  I arrived 60 seconds behind everyone else and felt a bit less tired.  I then tried to compensate by eating fig newtons, a Naked drink, a V8 and another Clif bar.  Others were marveling at how quickly we were going.  By this time it was closing on 10:00 and still the fog was as thick as ever.  I really started wishing that I could see, but fortunately I knew this part of the route and my GPS beeped if I got off track.

Rick at Goodhue - He has really cool hammered fenders
The next section, between Goodhue and Plainview, is one of the hillier parts of the route.  4 of us, Rick, Andre, myself, and a very interesting guy from Madison, hereafter known as Dreadlock Guy,  started off together and toned down the pace to 15-16 mph.  We chatted for the next 10 miles and I wound up giving Andre my backup map.  It turns out that he had brought the 200k cue sheet and Rob had also accidentally given him yet another copy of the wrong cue sheet.  I had mine laminated in double sided sections.  It's a habit I picked up after my last 400k and it really is nice to not have to worry about wet or crumbling cue sheets.  $1 at Office Max and you are set to go with an indestructible cue sheet that doesn't flap in the breeze.

The big hills started at this point and I let the others go on since I still have to climb slowly from my lame hamstring.  At Millville, I stopped to see if I could help Mark O and Mike A.  Mike's hub had caved in and he and Mark were attempting to come up with some kind of on the spot repair.  Mark has ridden enough brevets to encircle the planet at least 4-5 times and is the only one besides myself who has an one-the-go chain whip in his bag (called a hypercracker).  They were able to get Mike at least to Plainview (the next control) where his wife brought him a new wheel (ah, the joy of being a rando spouse).  I talked to Mark briefly before letting him continue climbing at his own pace instead of my wimpy one.

When I got to Plainview a bit after noon, Rick was at the control.  We chatted and I bought a bunch of food.  We then both headed for Subway where others were waiting.  I decided at this point that I was in a more social mood so I took my food with me.  Sometimes, it's really nice to not be totally anal about rushing controls.  Bob, who I rode with last month in the 600k, was there along with Dreadlock Guy who had broken his cleat, and some others.  We ate and discussed the various ways to make his foot stick to the pedal - duct tape, super glue, etc.  In the end, he decided to rough it out on the broken cleat instead.  I amused, at least temporarily, by reading the nutritional info off my Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie (see previous blog entry for details); this is my new favorite rando food dubbed by the group as "The Calorie Bomb".  I'm sure many would possibly give us an F in time efficiency, but it's quite late in the season and I don't think any of us were riding for a new record.  I always appreciate a good laugh.

So we all powered back up slowly for the 30 miles from Plainview to Stockton.  At this point, the fog finally lifted and the steaming hot sun made its first appearance.  The next section had some hills through Whitewater State forest and I again dropped back to enjoy the climb on my own.  Mark O and Mike F caught up to me and we rode on and off for a few miles until some shouted "Secret Control!"

First, there wasn't a secret control, but at least 5 bikes were pulled over next to a really odd looking metal scaffold and a guy carrying a big leather harness (no, not that kind of leather harness).  It turned out the owner was offering free zip line rides.  I don't know how many go by his setup since it's on a country road in the middle of nowhere, but wonders never cease.  As soon as he found out it wasn't a secret control, Mark O was gone like a shot.  I stopped long enough to take this picture.
Randonneurs ready for zipping
Okay, I considered my options briefly, but I was having to climb slowly and I decided that if I broke my neck on a brevet while not riding, it might qualify me for a Darwin award or something worse.  I opted out and Mike F and I attempted to catch up to Mark, who remained tantalizingly close but never caught.

Mike and I had a nice ride through rollers and down a screaming hill to Rollingstone, which is a very quaint little town with several bars and lots of big houses with porches.  Then we hit what may have been the hardest part of the ride: the hill out of Rollingstone.

This hill isn't that steep, or even that long.  But the slight wind was behind us and there was no shade.  The sun wailed down like a heat gun and at one point I considered walking, but realized that the bottom of my shoe might melt  if it touched the pavement.  Sweat ran off me like a river, and that doesn't happen very often.  About halfway up, a man and his wife were pulled over on the side of the road loading rocks from the cut of the hill into their truck.  I wonder if that is really legal, but I didn't stop to ask.  Mike was stopped at the top of the hill but I rode past since my brain was close to melting and I was nearly out of water.  He caught up to me about 3 miles later and we proceeded down another screaming hill to the control.
The descent is just along the side of this hill, it looks so benign in this picture
Mark was at the control already and we marveled at the hot conditions.  I drank a V8, a chocolate milk and a blue slurpee, which made my entire mouth blue for the next 40 miles.  Everyone else showed up about 15 minutes later with stories of the zip line.  Fortunately, no broken bones - maybe I'll try it next time.  By this time, it was about 4:00 pm.  Time to get going home, we were halfway there.

Mike F and Mark O climbing out of Stockton
The climb out of Stockton is really very pretty, not as steep as some, but it's long and is followed by lots of rollers.  Several people passed me on the climb and I had a nice talk with Andre about first bikes and being an adolescent cyclist.  At this point, we turned north and discovered that, indeed, there was wind on this day.  Andre went ahead and I rode with Rick and Price, from Iowa.  Price is just the type of guy I really like to happen across in a headwind: he has a big frame and can pull for a long time.  Chivalry is not dead.

Price, the pulling machine
We rode into Elba, which has a really beautiful old style church, to the sound of head banger rock'n roll coming from a log cabin.  No town festival, just some guy having some kind of time.  I separated from the group as we climbed out of Elba alone for sometime.  Somehow, I managed to pass Price and I caught up to Rick just outside Plainview.  We ran into Andre who suggested a departure from gas station food and Subway: a real chinese buffet.  Again, the anal randos might call us fools, but Price, Andre, myself, Rick, Richard and Dan all had a really nice Chinese meal full of rice and salt (everything a growing rando needs).  I ate 2 plates of fried rice, especially after realizing that I had a crusty salt layer on my face from the heat.  It was great.  Sure we blew an hour, but it wasn't like we were going to do anything else more fun if we go in an hour earlier. 

Knowing there was climbing coming, I took off a bit before the others.  Turns out that even fried rice needs digestion time and I was pretty slow for a few miles.  Some others passed me in a line, but I was having a little cramp and decided to let them go ahead.  Mark O and Mike F passed me, but I caught up to them at Millville, just as the sun went down.  Mark assured me that Millville to Hammond was a beautiful section.  I was glad we saw it because he was right.  At dusk, my picture didn't come out well but here it is.

Along the Zumbro River
We reached Highway 63 and paused as Rick and Price caught up to us.  The 5 of us wound up being together for just about the rest of the ride.  By this time, it was very dark and it's always a good idea to bunch up for night riding.

Just outside Mazeppa, Rick had a flat and all of us stopped to provide lights to fix it.  It was here that we had "the encounter".  I decided that while Rick change the flat, I would avail myself of the very nice patch of cornfield.  So I stepped off the side of the road and ambled into the dark for some illusory privacy (how private can it really be with 4 men standing 20 feet away).  As I paused with my shorts in a somewhat compromising position, something snorted quite loudly behind me.  Understandably, this was a startling event causing me to draw the attention of those 4 men standing 20 feet away; sometimes you just can't get the kind of solitude you really want in a cornfield in the dead of night.  As we finished the tire, whatever it was continued snorting at us from some unseen position.  Being a city dweller, I have no idea what it was.   Someone said it could be a possum.  Really are possums that big?  Whatever it was, it was getting distinctly more snorty until we finally rode off into the night.  Several have postulated everything from deer to coyotes to wild pigs.

The section from Mazeppa to Zumbrota had a few hills and we nearly missed a turn on a hill which I was just as glad not to miss (thank you Mark and GPS).  We rolled into Zumbrota at about 10:30 after being lost for awhile after an old arrow detoured us.  One of the riders that I knew was at the control looking somewhat sickly.  I asked and he said he thought he have passed a kidney stone.  Normally, I wouldn't mention a detail like this, but really this is the pinnacle of the randonneuring spirit: how many men can say that they would ride on even with a kidney stone.  That is dedication at its finest.

So 6 of us left the Zumbrota control and rode the final 60 miles back.  The major hills were all behind us and the last 30 miles back to Cannon Falls were gentle rollers.  The nearly full moon was a real treat as well and, sure enough, the road crew had completely finished paving the road that we had ridden through earlier in the day, not a hot belly in sight.

At Cannon Falls, we paused briefly but by this time, it was 1:30 am and I was ready to be done.  I always buy something at controls but this time, I was in such a rush I got into line with nothing.  Not wanting to break a habit, I grabbed the only thing close by: a blow pop.   Bob, Rick and I left Mark, Mike and Price and headed out.  We had put on some night gear at Zumbrota, it was getting a bit chilly in the low spots.  Unhappily, the fog had returned by this time.  I had to take my glasses off once again and it's really quite hard to be in the dark and nearsighted.

There is a bar outside Randolph and we got there just at bar close.  Several rather drunk people milling along the side of the road asked if they could borrow our bikes.  I have never had that happen before for sure.  About 5 miles later, a car was pulled over on the side of the road for yet another scene (really, they should have a soap opera about these people in Randolph).  A couple was having some kind of domestic dispute and the girl had gotten out of the car, run to the other side of the highway, and was yelling at the boyfriend, still in the car, that he was, in fact, an ass and some other things.  Really, the human drama that you find on a brevet in the dead of night is not to be missed.

About 5 minutes later, the other 3 caught up to us and we finished the last 15 miles together in the fog.  Nothing else really happened except I nearly turned wrong about 4 times due to inability to read and Mark boldly led us, incorrectly, around a traffic circle to dead end in a parking lot.  At least we were only a few feet off course.

Sign in at the AmericInn was bittersweet, the end of a brevet is always a sad/glad thing for me.  Let's face it, by the time you complete 250 miles, you are darn tired and at this point it was 3:50 am.  We all said our goodbye's somewhat quickly.

I will have the pleasure of riding with Bob at least one more time this year at the Apple Valley 600k in September.  Hopefully, Rick and some others will make it as well.  Still 3 brevets to go here in Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Swans in Oz: Training with the Birds and the Wind from Hell

Most of the time I don't write up training rides.  But this one was different.  I haven't had my schedule coincide with Shredder's all summer, and he loves this route.  Of course, even he hadn't done it in weather like this.

For 2 weeks Minnesota endured a heat wave of titanic proportions.  Something like 10 days above 90 with dew points in the 70s, severe thunderstorms that brought no relief, nights in the 70s, etc.  I could have roasted a rack of lamb in my car during the day.  This past Sunday was the first day without major heat and humidity for a long time and all the cyclists were drooling over the weather report as though it were made of fudge sauce.  Finally, an end to the oppressive heat was in sight!  Of course, a front strong enough to push heat like that away must have some juice of its own: this one had wind.

I got up at 5:30 am and readied for a 7:00am start.  Course' about 5 'til 7, I got a phone call - "are we meeting at 8" asked a somewhat caffeine deprived voice?  We didn't leave until 45 minutes later.  I have to say, needing arm warmers and knee warmers was quite odd after practically wanting to shed my clothing for the past 2 weeks.  As we pulled onto the main road, the wind was already strong.  The loop we planned would take us northwest for about 50 miles, then north for about 15, then back east for 20, due south for 30 and angle back in for a total of 138 miles.  All the hills were to be in the latter part of the ride.

We stopped at 8 miles at a Caribou coffee in Wayzata.  A town right on Lake Minnetonka, Wayzata is one of those lovely lakeside towns that could be the setting for some kind of tv show on Scy Fy: everyone is just too beautiful and rich to not have something weird going on "just underneth".   But the coffee is good.  At that point, the wind was already a killer and it was 8:30am.  Thinking back to the wind on Day 2 of the Cascades, I suggested that we reverse the loop.  Do the hills first in the wind and leave that 50 mile flat part for the return (when we would have a tail wind).  Shredder agreed, he hadn't ridden this ride in reverse before.  I still maintain this was a sound tactic.

So we wound northwest out of Wayzata, past a golf course (anyone thinking devil worship here?) and out onto the western rollers to Delano.  This section is basically rural with many hobby farms whose cows and donkeys look like they eat better than I do.  The wind was getting quite a bit worse, but otherwise, the weather was perfect: 60s with bright sun.  Then "pop goes the tire".  Shredder lives up to his name once again.  As we pull over and yank the rear tire, he first tries to convince himself that the stem just wasn't screwed on well enough.  We pump it up with my road morph and hear hissing from a huge hole that needs a boot.  "This is a brand new tire!" Of course, when you have brand new tires is always about the time you ride through a massive glass field.  We boot the tire and get going again, stopping in Delano about 2 miles later.  It's here that I make my first mistake of the day: failing to estimate just how long it will be before we have another stop.  It's about 10:00am and we fill bottles, I eat a Skor bar.  I think we will be stopping in Rockford, not realizing it's only 5 miles up the road and that we won't stop there.  I also have only one package of Clif Shots.  We are heading into a section with about 20 miles of heavy cross winds followed by 25 miles of heavy headwinds.  Should have eaten up half the store.

After Delano, we wind north to Rockford.  Rockford is another pretty town right on the Crow River.  We pass Lake Rebbeca Park, which is always very pretty.  Thanks to the many thunderstorms, everything is lush and overgrown.  I am sad to see that one of the roadside farms has hacked off their overgrown arbor.  Last summer, it was full of grapes and plums that hung over the road and were a nice snack.  None of that ever again, instead we see only a worn fence.

It's River Days in Rockford and we can just smell the saturated fat as we ride into the park alongside the Crow River.  There are all kinds of food options here, but I breeze right by (must have still been full from the candy bar).  A church group is singing a hymn right in the middle of it.  Shredder warns me to avert my ears, lest I burst into flames (evangelicals sometimes don't like us lesbians).  I try to be nonchalant in my spandex.  As we pass the various stands, I am struck again by the Stephen King'esque booths.  One is actually full of dolls just staring into space, the old fashioned kind with the moving eyes.  Now that is something you just don't see on every bike ride.

We climb out of Rockford on a steady hill and see a juvenile bald eagle circling on the wind.  The river valley had been a shelter from the wind, but it's back in full force now.  We press on for about 10 miles passing farmland and wetlands interspersed with each other.  Before farming, this area was probably crane territory and it still has lots of birds.  It is here that we pass our first batch of swans.  The road is north-south and sits atop a levy with water coming right to the edges.  2 full sized Trumpeters, one banded, float serenely on the water with 6 large cygnettes.  They are within 20 feet and are unconcerned about us: must be the spandex.  We stop and watch them, amazed at how big the cygnettes are.  Probably all of them will at least take off on the migration.  I have a thing for swans being somewhat of an ugly duckling myself.  Course, I'm still waiting for the "turn into the beautiful swan thing"  maybe that comes at 50.  The swans finally glide off into the cattails and we continue on.  We amble our way around, side stepping the town of Buffalo Lake and staying on nice rural roads with rollers.  The wind is so strong that it keeps us riding tilted.  We stop at Bebee Lake for free water (but no food).  2 days ago we would have been swimming here, but the lake is rough and only a few brave souls are out on the beach in a 20-30 mph wind.  One water skier makes about 5 attempts and gives up.

We are approaching Monticello and I am getting hungry and ready to stop.   About 3 miles out of town, Shredder suddenly turns left.  "We don't actaully go through Monticello," he says,"the next town is only about 25 miles and the easy part is over".  The wind hits me dead in the face and I nearly stop from the resistance.  I wonder how long the next 25 miles will be.

The answer is: long.  This is a hilly section with large rollers, at least the rollers give some break from the windiest part of the day (it's now noon and we have managed only 40 miles in 4 hours with the strong winds and 3 stops).  It's very pretty though with more wetlands, though there are white caps on some of the bigger ones.  I eat my Clif Shots and wonder about how long this can feel.  But I amuse myself by appreciating the sights.  I am careful here though, my hamstring starts feeling the pressure of the climbing coupled with the wind: this was the combo that eventually tore it to pieces in the Cascades.  I vow this will be different and back off as needed.  As we crest a hill, vultures are near motionless in the air at about 10 feet as they swarm some roadkill.  I haven't seen vultures up that close in flight before; it's a real treat.

It's about an hour and a half later that we hit Clearwater Lake and turn south.  The wind is so strong that flag poles are bending.  Clearwater is a large lake and it's full of 2-3 foot swells, not a boat in sight on the water.  We wind around it, bending the bikes to stay upright.  Annandale is still 5 miles aways and we continue west fighting the wind as we go.  Fluffy cumulus clouds skip through the sky.

It's about 2:15 when we chug into Annandale.  I haven't been to this town and on a Sunday afternoon, most of the bars are closed (there are at least 6 of them on Main Street).  We find a Holiday gas station, which appears to be the local hangout du jour.  We stop for food.  I was famished.

If you have never been starving in a gas station, you can't really appreciate how good truck stop food actually is.  I got a chicken salad sandwich, a big bag of potato chips, V8, peanut butter cups and, on a whim, a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie.  It's  a few minutes later and I peruse the wrapper of the cream pie.  The thing is the size of a 3 inch oatmeal cookie.  BUT, it has a whopping 410 calories!  I read on, 66 grams of carbs, 15 grams of fat (4.5 staruated), 3 grams of protein and 8% of my daily iron requirement for a low, low price of 75 cents.   This is even cheaper than a quart of chocolate milk (which I have also been known to drink).  Sure there's enough saturated fat to up my cholesterol count about 10 points,  but fortunately mine is only about 140 anyways. 

We chow outside on a picnic table.  I eat everything and try to call IronK (she's on her 3 round of chemo and it's time for those pesky mental tests to make sure the chemicals are eating her brain too much).  I leave many messages, but she doesn't call back - kind of odd.

At least we only have about another 5 miles of westerly travel. Then the wind should become our friend.  At Annandale, we are at around 64 miles and it's taken almost 6.5 hours to get there.  My legs ache from the effort and I do some quick yoga to stretch them.  We take off again and just outside of town, we see our second batch of swans.  This set is also just near the road, hidden in a gulch.  They have 5 cygnettes all beginning to turn white.  Really cool to see.

We pass a really cool motorcycle sculpture at a farm about 5 miles down the road.  The farm is off a roller and usually Shredder just whizzes by (going the opposite direction).  But we are climbing into the wind and we take a short break to admire it.  Then we finally turn south for 5 miles and head back east.

If you have never fought wind and suddenly had the tables turn, it's a real treat.  We went from working hard to make 12 mph to easy cruising at 25.  Of course Lance probably rides at these speeds in the wind, but I imagine that I have a rocket mounted on my chainstays and feel good anyways as we begin the trip back.  It's just outside the town of Cokato that I nearly encounter death by schnauzer.

Dogs hate me.  I don't know why.  This one came out of nowhere through a soybean field. Ususally, I just speed up and as soon as I hit the property line (e.g. the territory), they quit.  Not this one.  It just kept coming and fast.  I looked over my shoulder and it was catching up quick.  About this time, we hit a big grinding roller.  Not really what I want to sprint on.  Of course, the dog is still going so I go too.  I race up the roller, he matches my speed (this dog must be on crack).  Shredder starts laughing, I tell him that it's his responsibility to slow down and get bitten for me, the whole chivalry thing.  The dog is with us for nearly a mile.  Finally, we got to the top of the roller and outran him at 20 mph or we would never have gotten rid of him.

We stop for water and I try IronK again, and again.  Then I get a call from another friend who has also been trying to reach her.  Where can she be?  I get another V8 and marvel at the nicely decorated bathroom.  It's the only gas station I have ever been in with artwork and mood lighting in the ladies room.  Outside is drama in the form of a hot roded 60s' Plymouth.  The owner is attempting to get it started and asks Shredder to watch it while he is away.  We marvel at this car; it has a massive amount of rust, a harness for a seat belt, the speedometer is mounted outside the car, the hood is bolted shut with what looks like some kind of rube goldberg device.  There is no muffler and the exhaust is just sticking off the side of the car.  Eventually, the owner returns with a portable battery and gets it started.  The car lurches out of the parking lot and onto the street like the transmission is about to go at any second.  There are times I really wish I brought my camera.

We have only 50 miles to go and a tailwind. But I am nervous about not reaching IronK.  It's 4:30 now.  We cruise in the tailwind for another half hour before I can't take it anymore and call BigG to do an emergency home invasion.  These things we can do with cell phones now.  He and Barb go over and finally rouse IronK out of her chemo-induced stupor.  She finally calls me:  wow was she out of it.  It's hard to see her so wacked out, but the relief is huge.  The oncologist added a new anti-nausea med which apparently works by inducing 24 hour slumber.  I guess that kind of works.  I give her the mental tests, takes awhile, but she can still add.  BigG says she sounds out of it but she is okay and I can enjoy the tail wind home.

And the tail wind is glorious!  We cruise 50 miles in only about 2.5 hours.  I am briefly charged by a herd of cows (they must be collaborating with the dogs), but otherwise the pavement is good and my legs are doing okay as well.  We are back home by 8:00pm, about 12 hours total with a really big negative split.  I ice my hamstring later that night.  It's still not up to snuff but the PT is helping and I am pretty sure the damage won't be permanent. 

Next weekend is the Apple Valley 400k.  This was my first brevet ever, so it has sentimental value.  No Shredder this time, he has vowed to never do another brevet, but at least one friend from the fleche will be there so it should be a good time.  Let's hope for just a little less wind.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Road Pixie R&R - That's Redemption in Rochester

This July 24th marked the date of the Rochester 600k.  This ride was a huge thing for me.  Last year, it was my second brevet ever and, at that time, I rode it nearly solo in 38 hours and 40 minutes.  During that 38 hours, I nearly passed out from an electrolyte imbalance, created a major problem with tendinitis in my left knee and finished hacking some kind of unidentified, solid stuff out of my lungs: it was really great but I always left feeling like the ride beat me.  This year was payback time!  Completing this ride well was a big deal.

I had also stopped at the overnight (210 miles) for 4 hours in which I never really slept and I had always wondered if I would have avoided problems by just riding through the night and taking a cemetery nap.  In reading many sources, it's recommended to do a sleepless 600k because it is much harder than taking a traditional break and prepares you better for the completely obscene fatigue that is part of a 1200k.  Having now done it both ways, I have to agree with everything said.

Finally, this ride went from important to near must-complete status after failing to complete all 1000k in the Cascades.  I still had a major injury and with 21,000 feet of climbing, this 600k has as much climbing as the Cascades.  I had not, and still have not, fully healed; that will take many months.  So no sprints, no sudden jarring, no heavy duty pedal mashing.  Failure to heed such rules might mean permanent damage.  The rule is that if the hamstring starts to hurt, the ride is immediately over.

So on to the ride...

The ride starts at the Walmart parking lot in northern Rochester, Minnesota.  It's 6:00 am and I am there with Paul, who rode in my fleche team earlier in the year.  It turns out that his wife really likes him to ride with people as much as Kathy likes me to ride with people.  Must be a spouse thing.  We had a tacit agreement to ride through the night as long as nothing horrible was going on at the overnight.  I did insist on stopping for long enough to rinse the outer layer of salt and grim off and change clothes.

The forecast had been everything from a massive heat wave to thunderstorms to glorious during the 10 days before the ride.  Turns out, the ride started after the thunderstorms had moved through.  We didn't even have that much wet pavement.  At the start were 12 people including Kenny from Chicago (who I remembered from last year), Ralph from Missouri, Bob from Madison, Paul and myself.  Also present were Martin, who may be the fastest long distance rider I have ever seen, and Mike the RBA.  Martin is a rider that I see 3 times on this brevet.  First, I see him at the start.  Second, I see him as he passes me on the way to back to the overnight.  Third, I see him as he passes me again on the way into the finish after I have ridden all night long and he has had a full 8 hours sleep, probably seen a movie and had a 5 course meal.  The guy is amazing.  It's always a bit of a race to see how far I can get before he passes me for the third time.  We leave right on time and immediately, the group splits into 2 groups, the fast guys and the scenic pacers.

The weather is still quite grey as we head down US 22.  It's gently rolling and the pavement is good.  It is, however, very humid from the previous night's rain and my rear view mirror actually fogs up.  Paul, myself, Kenny, Ralph, and Bob all introduce ourselves since we will all be more or less keeping each other company for many miles.  What a difference from last year when there was only me.  This picks up my spirits enormously, I won't be listening to my IPod continuously for 30 hours.  We roll through Stewartville, still no sun.  But everything is incredibly green.  This summer, we've had so much rain that the normal fried look is nowhere to be found.  Even the cows look relaxed.
Ralph and Paul on the way to Chatfield
By the first control at Chatfield, I am ready to refill my bottles.  I'd been noticing a little strain on my hamstring, so I pulled off my shoe to put another plastic shim under the cleat.  To my horror, 2 of 4 screws are missing!  Fortunately, I have one extra so at least I can ride with 3 instead of 2.  Ralph loans me a screwdriver since my new cleats (I just switched to Speedplay) use phillips and it turns out my multi tool doesn't have one.  I decide to really torque down the rest of the screws just to be sure.  This winds up being an error (Speedplay pedals don't work that way).  It puts a bit more stress on the knees since the float is comprimsed by the torqued down screws.  I grab bananas, drink some V8 and chocolate milk and off we go.
Kenny (in the distance), Bob, Me, and Paul

The weather continues to be gray with temperatures now in the low 70s.  Perfect weather, at least for me; there are some more threatening clouds to the north, but none to the south (which is happily where we are going).  I spend time chatting with Bob, who crewed last year's 1000k.  I always say that the best part about randonneuring is the people you meet: Bob is one of those super nice types.  His girlfriend, Melissa, is driving support for the ride.  How cool is that?

The first inkling of how bad the previous night's storms were is evident going down the hill into Rushford.  There are blasted bits of tree everywhere and when we get to the control, it's closed.  It turns out the power has been out for hours and virtually nothing is open in town.  Fortunately, Pam's Convenience Mart is open.  Still no power, but Pam has a calculator and is taking cash and signing brevet cards.  We buy supplies and I realize that I left my patellar tendon strap back in Rochester.  I quickly make a temporary replacement with a bungee cord and an arm warmer.

The climb out of Rushford is a very long one.  Basically 6-8% with occasional spikes into 9-10.  It's about 3-4 miles long.  Since this is the first major climb of the day, I fall back quickly wanting to protect my hamstring.  I climb at my own pace which is slightly faster than Kenny.  Bob, Paul, and Ralph go on.  This stretch, Rushford to Harmony, is possibly my least favorite stretch of road ever.  Most of it is just fine.  But it is long and uninteresting and full of rollers.  It also has a 4 mile stretch at the end of some of the worst pavement ever laid down by MnDOT.  I also find myself fighting a substantial northwest wind that up until now had been a friend.  I don't catch Bob, Paul, and Ralph until the Harmony control.  Kenny rolls in about 3 minutes after I do.  At this point, we are quite near 100 miles and it's just past noon.  I am certain to eat well here: sandwich, V8, cookies, chocolate milk, bananas.  I take food for to road too.
Ralph and Kenny taking off from Harmony
The next 40 miles to Decorah, Iowa are mixed.  Outside Harmony is the only stretch of the entire ride that you can argue is kind of flat (the rollers are pretty benign).  Turning onto Pole Line Road, the rollers return to full strength and then descend into a river valley near the town.  Red wing blackbirds usually dive bomb cyclists here, but I fall back into conversation with Bob and don't really see any.  By this time, the clouds have rolled out and the sun appears.  The wind is, once again, a friend and we fairly fly into Decorah.  It's at this point that we realize that our average moving speed is over 15 mph, quite fast for those riding in our little group.  We roll into the control at about 2:45: a sub-9 hour 200k.  At this point, the temperature goes up into the 80s. 

Looking Down: At this point, we have averaged 15.1 mph for 147 miles
Decorah is a nice town.  This weekend turns out to be the town festival so the main street (our route) is blocked off and filled with food stands, music and other entertainment.  We get yelled at for riding in the festival. However, it doesn't really sink in fast enough to do anything so we decide to just finish getting through town and not do it again.  We ride through anyways, at this point, I am searching for a pharmacy to attempt to get a real patellar tendinitis strap.  Finally, I spot it on the corner.  Racing in, I ask and they have an entire wall of various straps, but no patellar tendinitis strap.  Just as I decide to settle on an ace bandage, I notice an elbow strap that looks similar.  I pull it off the wall and sure enough, it fits my knee.  Now, I'm not exactly Kate Moss so I marvel that anyone's elbow can be as big as my knee.  I ponder the question of obesity in America for at least 50 miles.  But my left knee is very happy.
Bob and Paul with some nice rock cliffs
The climb out of Decorah on CR9 is about 3 miles long and for the first time all day, it feels hot.  That tail wind is just not a friend when climbing.  Finally we reach the top and turn onto W42 for the final 25 miles to West Union.  This stretch is really quite pretty with wild flowers and some nice rural houses.  I manage to drift off the road and and cross country for a few feet, losing my bottle and eliciting lots of laughs.  We wind our way up and down until finally coming into West Union at mile 180.  From here, we have an out-and-back to Elkader and est Union is the official overnight.  We see Melissa at the control and she leaves Bob a key for the room.  We will have a place to shower!

The ride to Elkader is a fun one.  We join up for the night with Ralph, who has been riding a couple minutes ahead of us for miles.  I really enjoy this particular part of the ride.  It's early evening and the sky is full of nice clouds.  Just outside Elgin, we see Martin (#2) on his way back in.  It's about 6:30 pm.  I take pictures and we cruise along to the control, the Cross Roads Convenience .  Elkader sits at the bottom of a somewhat hilly valley.  We see Kenny's wife there as well.  Actually, it turns out we have seen her at every control, but I have just not really be with it enough to notice that the woman with the dog is the same one every time.  Must be blood sugar, I think so I eat 2 servings of mashed potatoes, a can of V8, a bottle of chocolate milk and take Powerade for the road.   The mashed potatoes taste fabulous, even the unidentified chewy parts!

On the way back we are treated to a great sunset.  It's about 9:00 pm and spirits are really good.  I am looking forward to the night ride.  We get back to West Union at about 10:30 and head for the ahotel.  We spend an hour there showering, changing out gear and talking to Mike and Melissa.  Mike vows that the next time I see him he will be "in shape", I laugh because even out of shape, he rides much faster than I ever will.  We only have 165 miles left when we pull out of West Union at midnight.

Sunset on the way from Elkader to West Union
Up until now, Bob has theorized that my bad hamstring has been making us go faster than normal.  Sound odd?  His reasoning seems sound.  Because I am forced to not push it up hills, we are riding at a more stable pace.  Since we have for the most part stayed together, the theory is that no one tires on the hills and everyone is ready to get in a group and ride faster on the flatter sections.  There are 4 of us now and as we leave West Union, which is a nice size for a night group (more lights=more visible=safer).  We mistakenly think Kenny has stayed for a sleep in West Union when he actually is ahead of us.

The moon is a waxing, gibbous one and the stars are out as well.  The temperature hovers around 64 for most of the night.  It's possible one of the best night rides I've ever done.  At Decorah (400k), we stop at 2:30 am for food.  It turns out this is a college town and bar close is at 2:00 so the streets are packed.  The police are investigating goings on at the pizza place and there are 20 surly people hanging out at the Cenex station.  Strangely, this turns out to be the only place we actually don't feel comfortable leaving the bikes alone.  I eat well here, a sub, some Mountain Dew, and a cup of mandarin oranges.  But I also only have to refill one of my bottles.  This is the beginning of trouble, even though I didn't realize it at the time.  We pull out at 3:00 am, headed for Cresco, 20 miles away.
Sunset with Reflective Gear
There is a long climb out of Decorah and it goes slowly.  I continue to climb slowly and the other's lights disappearing up the hill makes it seem a little more lonely.  Paul goes ahead, but Bob hangs back.  Ralph is getting tired and having stomach problems.  It is the dead of night and I find myself sleepy.  I take a caffeine pill to stay up.  That makes my stomach not so happy as well.   Our pace gets much slower.

It's about 5:00 when we finally pull into Cresco (mile 270), passing an unidentified rider in the dark that turned out to be Kenny.  At this point, I am approaching the time of day that I usually wake up (yes, I am an early bird).  That's when I am the most tired and unintelligible.  I tell Paul that I really need a nap and flop down, face first, onto the pavement.  I am instantly asleep.  Sleeping face-down on concrete in front of an all-night Kwik Trip is generally not seen; this turns out to be the best picture I didn't take for the ride.  I at least got enough sleep to convince myself that I felt refreshed.  I think the others napped as well.  At this point, it's 5:30 am, the sun is up and Paul is anxious to leave.  Here I make the biggest mistake of the day.  I rush things.  I don't eat hardly anything.  I'm feeling cold from the concrete so I get a small cappuccino and a Starbucks double shot knock off. I haven't even finished a quarter of my fluids from Decorah.  I should have taken 15 minutes, eaten a sandwich, drank more fluids, and fully woken up.  As it was, aside from forgetting to eat and drink, I forgot to change GPS batteries, stretch (another huge error) and buy food for the next section.  Note to self: self, print a laminated sheet of everything to do at a control and use it as a checklist when sleeping face-down on concrete. 

It was a really nice dawn as we rode out of town.  The lack of food and fluids for so long hit me in the 15 miles between Cresco and Harmony and I asked Bob to stop there even though it wasn't a control.  Even so, by this time, I found myself unable to eat and rushing.  I had gotten through half a bottle but was still fighting back sleep.  The next 30 miles (of my least favorite stretch of road) were pretty un-enjoyable.  I rode mainly alone with the others in the distance.  I finally caught them in Highland where I silently wished I could stop at the cafe for a piece of pie.  Instead, we rode the final 12 miles into Rushford. Another rider, not Martin, passed us.  He had chosen to stop and sleep but not the full 8 hours. By this time, tired or not, I knew eating was critical and I forced myself to eat a small sub, a cup of fruit, a V8, and a chocolate milk.  I should have pushed even more fluids, but I did start feeling better.  We left at about 9:30 am with only about 70 miles to go.  It had gotten hot and sitting out in the sun, the thermometer on my bike had soared to 113.
The climb out of Rusford is dead ahead
The climb out of Rushford is a long, hard one.  I did it alone again knowing the others were waiting at the top.  I had a brief wave of nausea and finally settled into the climb.  At the top, the others were waiting and calling spouses.  I called Kathy only to find out she didn't feel well enough to come to the finish.  Though I understood, it was still kind of tough to hear.  The next 20 miles to Chatfield, I started getting frustrated with my lack of sprinting and did some fast, hard pedaling.  Fortunately, nothing too bad happened, but it wasn't wise.  We made it to Chatfield (mile 330) at 12:15.  My stomach was still unhappy and I drank a coke and had a banana.  We had one major climb to go out of Chatfield and again, I slowly mustered up while the others got to the top and took a break.  Nearly at the top, my knees were hurting badly and I finally got off the bike, cranked up my seat, took 6 endurolytes and took off as fast as I could.  I waved at the others who got on their bikes and followed.

For the next 7 miles I sprinted at between 22-24 mph, all the way to Stewartville.  In retrospect, it was really not a very smart move.  We pulled into Stewartville at about 2:00 pm, even with the big sprint it still took 1:15 to go 15 miles.  I stared into the cooler and suddenly had an overwhelming desire to drink water.  I bought a bottle (should have bought a whole gallon).  Then Martin finally caught us.  We chatted for awhile.  He wasn't there for very long, but it was a sort of marker point in the ride.  Only 30 miles to go.

The next 20 miles had some tough pavement.  Lots of cracks that seemed to be somehow much worse than last year.   At this point, it manifested by making me a little cranky and paranoid.  The other 2 finally went ahead and it was on the big rollers before the last control that my hamstring suddenly went boom.  It was really hot and I was alone on a climb when I cramped severely in the side of my leg.  Though it was not in exactly the same place as before, it was so painful that I couldn't really say where it was.  Only 10 miles to go!  I took 3 more endurolytes, realized I hadn't drunk hardly a thing for 10 miles and downed half a bottle of sports drink.  Then I got back up, walked carefully to the top of the roller and realized it was all downhill to the control.  I coasted down and rode one-legged into the gas station.  The other two were there resting; it was very hot in the afternoon sun.  I told Bob to just go on with Paul and that I needed to go at my own pace or just stop now; I was really worried that I had actually severed my hamstring.  He and Paul convinced me to try and stretch it out.  I had another coke and some chocolate milk, but they didn't have V8 unfortunately.  I took the rest of my Endurolytes and tried to lay down and stretch.  After about 5-10 minutes, the cramp began to subside.  I told Bob and Paul that I was either going to get up and ride out, or the heat was going to start cooking me alive.  So we got back on the bikes.

Happily, there is about a 3 mile downhill outside Byron.  There were a couple of climbs, but by the time we got there, the cramping had subsided enough so that I could definitely tell that it was my IT band and not my hamstring that was causing all the pain.  That made me feel so much better, at least I was only mostly maimed.  We finished at 5:08.  35 hours and 8 minutes from the start.
The 3 of us at the finish: I am really working hard to smile here, 600k is always a long, long way
At the finish were Melissa, Kenny, Paul's wife Karen, and some others.  Mike had had some issues and stopped outside Rushford.  I think 2 others were still out when we left.  We changed quickly and Karen drove both of us back to the Twin Cities.  I iced my knees because I promised my PT that I would, but my legs really felt very good once the cramp was gone. 

Looking back on it and comparing with my original ride and the Cascades, I realize just how much harder it is to ride through the night than it is to just take 4 hours off and sleep well at an overnight control.  I am oddly more pleased with last year's ride since I had always wondered if I should have skipped what I thought was a useless sleep stop.  Even though I didn't sleep, I still rested enough so that in terms of moving time, I rode a little faster last year than this year.  I also think that spinning up hills slowly really made my overall pace faster.  For me, I suspect it was because I was ready to take off at the top when normally I am wanting to take a break.  A valuable lesson.

As usual, this was a great ride because of the people I was with.  It was great to ride with Paul again and I really hope that I see Ralph, Kenny and Bob on other rides in the future.  I hope I was at least an amusing sight (on the pavement and on the bike) so that they will want to ride with me again.