Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cascades Prelude

As of mid-May, I had officially abandoned the idea of doing the Cascades.  In fact, I actually wrote the ride to cancel on June 12.  Kathy was in horrible pain from multiple surgeries for the cancer, I was fighting with insurance companies, we had to switch oncologists, etc.  Riding was the last thing on my mind.  I did the fleche in May and the 400K in early June thinking they might be my only rides.

Then on June 15, we got some good news.  The CT Scan came back pretty clean, we resolved all the hospital and insurance issues and the chemo didn't have nearly as many side effects as we thought it would.  So on June 16, I wrote and got my spot back.  You can't just let cancer rule your life.  Plenty of friends stepped up to let me go to the ride.  But I hadn't done nearly as much training as I had planned.  I hadn't micro-tuned my bike, seen my chiro, and all the things I typically do before a ride.

I will start right now by saying that I didn't finish the Cascades.  I stopped at Quincy (mile 436) with severe hamstring pain (that turned out to be a partial rupture of the muscle).  But that doesn't really bother me that much.  The two days I had were a fabulous experience and I really saw all the benefits that experience brings on this sport.  I have said it many times: I don't ride for the miles or medals, I ride to meet really cool people and see cool sites.  And boy, did this ride have awsome people!  I have this feeling that over the coming years, I will certainly see them again.  By 2012,  I will be more than ready to try again for the great sights as well.

There is a point in every brevet when you have to ask yourself: am I in pain or am I injuring myself?  This is a subtle and difficult judgement call to make.  I have been battling since December with knee issues.  That and about 4 other single issues all came together in exactly the right way to screw me up.

  1. My crash in February - turns out it likely caused an undiagnosed injury to my hip that causes a rotational problem and makes a good seat post heigh hard to find.  That caused my body to recruit muscles that I don't ususally stress when riding.
  2. My trainer totally overshot my final prep workout 4 days before the ride.  I started after just getting over severe muscle soreness.  I was already maxed on Advil before the ride started.
  3. The cancer schedule made all my periodization plans impossible and I started in good shape, but not peak.  I had to skip my April 600k which I had felt was a crucial step.
  4. Due to #2, I had to ride more conservatively than I had planned early in the ride and I got dropped from the main pack of riders at least 30 miles before I should have been.  I made up the time, but worked harder than I should have.
The following posts will detail my adventures in the Cascades.  Keep in mind that I consider this ride to be a huge success.  By stopping, I likely saved at least some of the rest of my summer rides.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Great Lakes 400K (with a Possible Twist)

I really thought I had seen everything when I signed up for the Great Lakes Randonneurs 400K on June 5.
I was wrong!

It started in Delevan, Wisconsin on a grey day with a perfect temperature of about 65 degrees.  I hadn't ridden with this group before and was by myself so I figured I would ride the whole thing alone.  The chance of rain that day had dropped to "30% starting after 2:00 pm".  There were 28 riders at the start, which is quite a lot for a 400k so early.

Surprisingly, most of the group stayed together for the first 45 miles.  I met up with an actuary named Kurt and an English professor, Bill.  Bill had the horror of discovering at the first control that he had neglected to mount his rack bag at the start.  We scared up extra tire levers, tubes and an inflator/CO2 for him, but he now had no rain gear.  I had a slow leak that I wound up fixing about 5 miles after the control, but that was my only issue.  Kurt and I wound up losing Bill about 15 miles from Darlington, the second control.  The wind picked up a little - with more to come later.

Kurt and I pulled into Darlington at 90 miles a bit before noon.  We made it a quick break and got back on the bike quickly.  The next stop was an informational control, the name of a campground, about 20 miles away.  Just outside Darlington, I stopped to put on a rain jacket as a way of keeping it from raining.  It briefly rained, then stopped.  Saved, I thought.

About half an hour later, we looked behind us to see one of the meanest thunderclouds I have ever seen.  Good thing that is to the south, we thought and we are going north.  Turned out we were actually going northeast and about 10 minutes later, I heard a loud rushing which turned out to be buckets of rain hitting the ground.  It came from behind us and we were drenched in about 30 seconds.  No problem, we thought, rain this hard is just an isolated thing, it never goes on for long.

About 45 minutes later, the rain was still pouring and we got to the campground, the Four Season Resort, which may have been the most decrepit looking trailer park I've ever seen.  Not wanting to take out the cards in the rain, we resolved to remember the name by its more illustrious namesake.  The rain continued, but the wind wasn't bad.  I marveled at one point as we climbed up a short, steep hill that little waves were coming down the hill on the road.  Finally, it slowed and stopped for awhile.  The terrain had, by this point, turned decidedly hillier.

We rolled into Mineral Point at around 2:00 pm and found someone hovering over an IPhone with a weather map.  "Looks like the worst is behind us" then added "I think that big yellow/red blob is going to miss us".  I loaned someone a spoke wrench and Kurt had a hot dog.  We only had 10 miles to Dodgeville, so we rung out our clothes and continued on.  The next 10 miles had the kind of huge rollers I don't normally see in Minnesota.  Straight up and straight down and quite steep along Survey Road.  I finally ditched my rain coat.  Kurt hadn't put his on yet, prefering to ride in the rain; it had been a warm rain.

At Dodgeville, which was 200K, we had bananas and called spouses.  It was about 5:00 pm.  "The rain is passed", we said, "we should be in around 1:00 am". .....

About 300 yards passed the city limits, the wind suddenly whipped up and a light rain showed up.   This time, Kurt and I both put our jackets on.  Just in time, the rain came back in force, this time with a hard gusting wind from the north as we headed east.  The cross wind was so powerful, I had some trouble controlling the bike on descents and the rain stung it was so hard.  The lightning and thunder started too.  Just more giant rollers and virtually no trees.  An occaisional deserted looking farmhouse.  I kept my head down and we struggled to maintain about 10 mph.

Then I heard it, a wind like no other wind I have ever heard.  Not whistling or gusting or howling.  It sounded like the low rumble of a train.  I asked Kurt, "What's that, I haven't heard anything like that".  At this point, we couldn't see a thing and were having to ride our brakes down the rollers so that we could check for flash flooding at the bottom before climbing out.  Really, I thought, the chances that a tornado would hit us here vs. 1 mile down the road are the same so we may as well keep going until we see something.  Finally the sound stopped.  For the record, there were no touchdowns, but there were funnel clouds in the storm, one of which made it on TV.  How's that for rando adventure?

We fought and clawed our way through the hilliest part of the course to Mt Horab.  30 miles at about 9 miles an hour with the occasional major climb, usually into the wind.  I distinctly remember looking at my computer to see myself climbing at 3 mph.  At least it was warm.  We both remarked how glad we were were to not be alone in such weather.

Finally, we rolled into the Kwik Trip at Mt Horab.  Jim, the RBA, was there with a van loading bikes.  He was making multiple trips.  There were some very weary looking guys there.  One couple ran off to Walgreens to find clothes.  Kurt and I vowed to continue, surely the worst was past.  I asked the guy with the IPhone, conveniantly there, when the storm was ending and he quipped "10 minutes from now".   "Yeah sure", I retorted.  Then I looked at the horizon.  It was about 8:00 pm.  Sure enough, a golden line had appeared on the horizon.  It was a sunset.

Kurt and I spent extra time wrapping our bodies with garbage bags to keep warm during the night since it was going to be a long time before we dried.  We promised to pick up another rider at the Culver's down the street whose buddy was dropping and and who did not want to ride alone at night.  At Culver's, we actually picked up two people and then two more when the Walgreens couple road up sporting cheap fleece and panty hose.  "This stuff is great - I'm so glad I shaved my legs this morning," said the guy, whose name was Chad.  He and his wife, Nancy, were triathletes, but this was their first 400k.  Off we went to Oregon.

At this point, it got dark and the stars came out.  I love night riding and this was some of the best I have ever seen.  The lightning from the storm contrasted with the stars: magical.  I loaned a tire boot to Nancy at one point.  There are always more flats after the rain.  I did much of the navigation and helped us avoid a few unwanted miles.  Thank goodness for a lifelong obsesssion with maps and charts.

At Oregon, we fueled up and I made the mistake of eating peanut butter cups.  They sat in my stomach like unexploded grenades.  My knee also was getting tired, I injured it last February and have fought patellar tendonitis ever since.  Finally, we made it into the last control at about 1:30, Fort Atkinson.

What I remember the most about Fort (as the locals call it) was passing at least 4 motels and wishing this was a 600k so that I could stop.  We were all getting very tired and still had 30 miles to go.  The hills weren't bad but spirits were a little down.  "I look like ass," declared Nancy.  That got me laughing and I finally shook off the feeling of weariness.  Humor always does that for me on a brevet.

The last 30 miles were pretty heads down.  At some point, we lost Ken and Nancy to another flat but Kurt and I road into the Super 8 at almost exactly 4:00 am at about 18 mph (where we got that energy, I'll never know) along with 2 others.  Ken and Nancy showed up about 15 minutes later.

I drove back to Jefferson, where IronK was visiting family, for a quick nap and 2 breakfasts.   We stuck around in Madison for another day before heading back to the Twin Cities.

Regrettably, I have no photos from this ride.  But it was truly epic.  I exchanged email addresses with Kurt and hope we ride together again someday.  On this ride, it made all the difference.  I am often asked how you keep going when the weather is bad or something else goes wrong on a ride like this.  Honestly, if bad things happen, good things do too; you sometimes have to just get through the rough patch to really appreciate those stars or that beautiful moon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Fleche Team: Barnum Bombers do 400K in MN

The blog has been late these last few weeks and with everything going on it's a miracle I get to write at all.  But time to fill in the spots.

After thinking for awhile that brevets would be few and far between and cancelling the Cascades (due to them coinciding with the start of IronK's chemo), I still had the spring fleche to do.  Ahi, Paul, Rick and I had been planning it for months and since it was a week after the first major surgery, the timing worked out.

A fleche (which is French for arrow) is a ride of 24 hours duration//minimum 360 km, usually in  straight line, to a pre-set destination, in this case RBA Mike Aeling's house in Winona, MN.  It is ridden as a team with 3-5 members and at least 3 must finish together.  No stop can be more than 2 hours and the team must be at least 30 km from the end at 22 hours.

So began the adventures of the Barnum Bombers.  Somehow, we managed to design a route with 40 extra kilometers so we had a 400k.  There were 3 other teams as well, but as it turned out, ours was the longest route.  We decided at the time that our strategy would be "no heroics" and that speed would not be an issue.  We decided on a slower, steady pace with shorter, less frequent stops.  So early in the season, we all felt like this would be a better approach. 

So on May 15th at 9:00 am, Ahi's girlfriend, Laurie, dropped the 4 of us off in Barnum, MN.  After a quick gear check, we road down Main Street to find the Willard Munger Trail which would lead us 37 miles to Hinckley.  Unfortunately, even with 4 maps and a GPS, we got lost in the first mile and had to back track.  How embarrassing!  We looked all over and finally found it by tracking down Highway 61 (which it parallels).  The Munger is a really nice, paved trail and though it is next to a major state highway, it still has plenty of lakes, forest and wildlife to make it a really nice ride.  It was actually markedly earlier in the season up in Barnum then in the Twin Cities with the trees only just budding.  We trucked along at about 17-18 mph, switching back and forth on the front.  A small south wind was blowing that would wind up blowing all day, not strong, but noticeable.

At Hinckley, we paused to grab a snack and were quickly off to Pine City.  For this section, we wound around some country roads to avoid a bridge that was out and headed south on MN 61 to Pine City.  By this time, it was about 12:30 and we stopped at A&W Root Beer for burgers and a soda.  This was only about 50 miles in and at 4 hours, we were comfortable with our time. 

The next few hours were pretty uneventful as we pedaled south.  Ahi had a brief bonk, corrected  by Clif Shots and gummy bears.  We exited 61 for the road to Sunrise, MN, home of Richard Widmark (famous film noir actor).  By this time, it was closing on 5:00 pm and we passed the century mark.  The next major stop, Stillwater, came at about 7:00 pm.  Just outside the town, a mother wood duck and her babies crossed teh road right in front of us - there's something you don't see every day.  In Stillwater,  we paused again to pick up snacks.  At this point, we started getting slightly worried about time, we had about a 2 hour cushion.

An hour later in Afton, we stopped for a burgers at the Catfish Saloon.  A big sign said "Welcome BIkers", but they didn't exactly have us in mind.  At this point, it began to get dark and all the reflective gear went on.  This also marked the beginning of the hilly section of the course.

The next hour and a half to Hastings was interesting.  It started with just hills, but as we turned onto Highway 10, just outside of town, we rode thorugh some of the dirtiest pavement ever ridden by road bikes.  It also turned out to be full of glass (which would haunt us some hours later).  The trip across the Hastings bridge over the Mississippi, was, what Paul called "possibly the stupidest thing I have ever done on a bike".  It turned out that this weekend was the fishing opener and heavy traffic, semis, no bike lane and a really old bridge contributed to a real nail biter of a crossing.  We were all relieved to still be alive at the end.

The next section was amoung my favorites.   After a few dark miles outside Hastings, we turned onto a dirt road for several miles and peddled our way through a really nice forest.  The overhanging trees and a crescent moon made it really something that a werewolf movie could be set in.  After this section, we headed to the Cannon Valley trail for another forest tunnel to Red Wing.  At this point, it was about midnight and we actually passed another rider on the trail.  Hard to say who was more surprised to see others in the middle of the night.  At this point, Rick and I screwed up and accidentally dropped Ahi and Paul, who had a flat.  By the time we realized our error, we decided to simply wait.  We were on the verge of going back when lights appeared.  They had fixed the flat, but couldn't find the cause.  We headed on to Perkins in Red Wing.  By this time, it was about 40 degrees and we were all cold and hungry.

I think the staff at Perkins really felt sorry for us.  We must have looked a little rough around the edges.  Unfortunately, no soup, but I had some pancakes and something else that I don't remember.  Someone actually sat outside and guarded our bikes (how nice).  There were quite a few teenagers around having unmentionable teenage problems - I am really glad to be a crazy bicyclist hanging out in the dead of night at Perkins instead of being a teenager hanging out in the dead of night at Perkins. 

As we got ready to leave, we discovered to our great chagrin that Paul's tire was flat again.  We pulled it off and took it inside Perkins where it was much easier and warmer to change.  I found the tiny piece of glass.  Rejoicing, we got ready to leave, only to discover that Ahi's tire was also flat.  So back into Perkins for another tire change (they must have been really happy to see us go).  It was an hour and a half total at the stop, including tires.

The next 3 1/2 hours were great.  At first, we were worried that we were behind.  We still had about 50 miles to Alma, our 22 hour control and a few big climbs on Lake Pepin.  But we were nearly the only ones on Highway 35!  An amazing time to be riding on an otherwise busy road.  The sun started coming up just outside Alma - really beautiful to look up the river and see the peach sky.

We got to Alma around 5:30 am, half an hour before the Pier 4 Cafe opened.  We opted to pass the time at the Kwik Trip across the street where we lounged comfortably in the freezer section.  I can say that after riding all night that almost anywhere feels really nice.   At 6, we moved to the Cafe to discover that decorations had not changed since about 1940, complete with bare wooden benches.  I had oatmeal and a nap sitting up on the bench.  The greatest 15 minutes I have ever slept.  We had about 27 miles to go.

At almost exactly 7:00AM we rolled out and finally made our way on the home stretch to Winona.  At this point, we spread out a bit with Paul out front, then me a few yards back and Rick and Ahi aways farther.  We all met up at the Winona bridge and rode the last 3-4 miles together arriving at almost exactly 9:00 AM.  Right on time.

I have to say that this was one of my favorite rides.  We had a great time and I would do it again in a heartbeat (though I might opt to shave a few km off and have a sleep stop).  It's really an accomplishment to ride for 24 hours and one that I am very pleased to add to my belt.  I can't think of better companions - I hope to ride with all of them again in the future.