Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fall Classic 600: These are few of my favorite K

With PBP behind me, I had 10 days to tool around Europe, eat food, and ostensibly rest. The rest part didn't quite work out since there were so many nifty things to see. But I finally got back to minnesota on the 7th of September. The fall classic apple valley 600k was on the 10th.

Sure, my bike had been stuck in a box for two weeks, but I had done miles of walking so I should be in shape. More importantly, I had committed to doing this ride to help several new randonneurs have a better experience than I did on my first 600k (375 miles riding alone). I had also wanted to see if perhaps I could ride my trek Madone on a ride of this distance. It's set up as close as possible to the princess and my new seat pack from Distance Biker did not require a rack.

I still had jet lag going from France which meant that it seemed a few hours later than it actually was. Getting up for a 6 am start at 3:30 was a snap. IronK drove me to the start. I have an aversion to driving after a ride as long as a 600. The forecast was for sunny skies in the 70s with lows in the high 50s. I packed my drop sack sparingly. I'd learned a thing or two from France. In fact, I packed light enough that I worried I could not possibly have enough. Wrong! I had plenty of everything.

It really was a beautiful day to ride. Just a tiny chill in the air and almost no wind at all. Renee, Ed, and Phil were all at the start along with some out of town faces. There was Dave from Vancouver and Bob from Colorado. Also present was Marlin, from Iowa, who I had not seen since April. The 7 of us were to leap frog and for the most part ride together for the first 212 miles. There were about 19 people total on the ride.

So we started out. It's easy to go too fast out of Apple Valley and I was cautious to stick between 15 and 17 (hey, I was supposed to be setting a good example). As expected, Renee, Ed and myself along with Dave from BC wound up together. The leg to Cannon Falls was pleasant with many conversations going on. Dave wound up pacing through a good bit of this section. There was just the slightest amount of fog and a nice morning so the slight chill was actually welcome.

At Cannon Falls, I hustled the others through the control and we kept it to 20 minutes. Not bad for a larger group and there was time for a couple to eat sandwiches for the 40 mile trip to Lake City. As we pulled out, Phil pulled in. He'd had a flat tire and I was sure he would catch up. The rest of us went on. The larger rollers started up and this stretch was really pleasant. I had discarded everything but my knee warmers and it was already fixing to be a hot day. Still no wind.

Renee is the descent queen so the big hill down to Lake City was especially fun. We were still hopping with Dave and Colorado Bob. But all of us wound up together in Lake City along with Phil, who did catch up. Another 20-25 minute stop. Tht included a hot dog for me was welcomed before the hilliest section of the route. The Kwik Trip is brand new and has lots of amenities including a place to sit inside. No picnic table though.

I ditched the knee warmers and we hit the rollers well. Ed has a new titanium bike and it's really improved his climbing. I kept cautioning to not ride too hard early in the ride. It's great to see someone really get so much out of a new bike. He has great power on it.

By Plainview, the heat had started in earnest. It was now about 1:00 pm and with the sun at it's highest point and only a small headwind, the sweat was pouring off me. I still pushed us through the control in about 30 minutes. Lunch was waiting in Rushford, 40 miles away. W had to pause for a drink break in Utica and at this point, I realized we had lost Dave. He'd stopped to rest under a tree some miles back. The woman at the bar was supe rnice and filled bottles. Phil bought everyone a soda. There were now 5 of us including Marlin.

The next section is full of rollers and we spread out a bit. I talked to Phil about his adventures on the Arrowhead 135 (think brevet at 20 below). I may have to think about trying this. The final descent into Rushford put us into the control at about 5:30. There we were treated to the very best rando food ever. All freshly made by one of the randonneurs wise and served up by Charles, who makes a great host. That whip cream jello salad was awesome.
There were several other riders also aking a break.

We spent a little extra time here and left at about 6:15. Only 100k until we were back for more tasty food. By this time we were really wondering where Dave was, but continued on. The Root River trail was especially nice on this run. Late in the summer, there are always omits of brown eyed susans that line the trail in places. Of course, there are also lots of walnuts, sticks, leaves and other things that make it a bit tricky on the return too. Ti time, it was also thick with knats. My arms were black with dead bugs by the end of the trail.

We started seeing some of the faster riders returning from La Crescent after the trail. I think the fastest of the riders was probably 2-3 hours ahead of our group. Gary and his fabulous headlight (which he loaned me for PBP) passed us waving. The rapidly cooling temperatures favored faster paces at this point, but we had a little headwind as we turned north to the control. It was just getting dark at this point and we paused to turn on lights and vests. We rolled into the control just on 7 pm. Richard, whom I had ridden with on the previous 600k was there looking a little lonely. He rode with our group back to Rushford. I finally go the details of his accident at PBP. Fortunately, he wasn't severely hurt, but had been in the hospital in France. It's hard to see a sunset on this stretch, but I suspect it was spectacular. There has been quite a lot of smoke pollution due to an array of fires up north.

We had another 20 minute turnaround and a pretty fast trip back arriving at about 10:30 pm. This gave us about 5.5 hours until the control closed. I advised Renee and Ed to leave with at least an hour or two of time buffer. Phil really wanted to continue on sooner so we all chatted and decided to split our group in two for the next day. Renee, Ed, and Marlin would aim to leave around 3 while Phil and I would take a shorter sleep and leave at 12:30. This relieved me considerably; I had no desire to repeat the hot, windy afternoon of last year on the west-bound trip to Faribault. Besides, at 60 degrees and clear, it was to be a beautiful night to ride.

After more delicious food (casserole, jello salad, etc). Phil and I were out the door right on schedule. We gradually warmed up on the way to Peterson with one fairly dense fog patches. Teenagers were blasting radios in town which was strange, but they didn't harass us at all. A this point, the Peterson hill which I normally enjoy, was a little tougher. My Madone does not have a 32 tooth cassette as the princess does. So I was working harder on the hills than I am accustomed. Part of the experiment to see if this bike would work and what mitneed changes. My butt was hurting more than usual too, seat needs breaking in. We stopped to apply more chamois butter at the top.

Indeed, the night riding was simply gorgeous. Tinkling stars, no wind, beautiful near-full moon. All the best elements of a good ride. I had halfway expected the faster riders to start catching up by the Amish market, but a brief water stop yielded no one. We rolled into Eyota around 3:30 for food and a 10 minute snooze. Phil has the same napping ability asi do, which is really convenient. Though I asked, the kwik trip clerk eventually chased us out of our nap. He didn't favor nappers in the empty store, even ones that spent money. I ate as much as I could including a somewhat overdone hot dog.

The next leg to Zumbrota was a 40 mile stretch and fairly hilly. The nice weather continued to hold and we had another brief nap on the side of the road right at dawn. Charles and Dave, who had dnf'd due to heat, passed us in the van on their way back to apple valley, but we still had seen no one. The hills around Mazeppa seemed larger this time and we jadeite Zumbrota at about 7:30 after being treated to beautiful sunrise on the river.

We had a bit of a longer stop here with coffee and donuts tasting really good. Still very little wind blowing and Faribault only 38 miles away. I took off some clothes, but not all. Phil had a nap. By a little after 8, we were off.

My legs seemed to take forever to warm up and the wind had begun to start up by the time we hit Nerstrand. The pavement was also chewed up here which didn't do anyone's keister any good. The final few miles into Faribault did have the wind kicking up, but an 11:30 arrival was just fine. It was also heating up and at this point, I had an ice cream sandwich along with lots of water. All the clothes that good taste would allow were off at this point.
We continued on and fought the wind for the last small western stretch outside town. Only about 7 miles long, I was happy to have a tailwind when we turned north to Lonsdale.

Of course, the tailwind also ended the breeze and in the dead of the afternoon, this wound up being a very hot 24 miles. It's rolling on Dodd and my quads were starting to cramp up. Probably a combination of heat and a small cassette was at the root of the problem. I started eating pecans and cookies as we arrived in Lonsdale.

There, we had an electrolyte break. I ate all my pecans, a v8, and lots of water. Phil had another short nap and I started to perk up as we rode out. This was the last 28 miles. By the turn onto 280th, I was promising myself to change cassettes if I were ever to ride this bike again. The jet lag also started to get to me and I was suddenly tired (it was my bedtime in France). But we rolled along well enough finally arriving at about 4:45. Less than 35 hours.

Rob was at Old Chicago waiting for us and I was astonished that we only about 3-4 others had gotten in before us. Another rider had had a heat episode and had gotten a ride back to the finish 23 miles from the end. We convinced him to recover and get a ride back to his stopping place and finish the ride. This was Phil's first SR and many congratulations were in order. This was my 4th 600k of the year and only a couple weeks after PBP. I was pretty happy with the result. Though it was an hour longer than my last run on the course in the spring, the hour of difference was at the overnight and there was not 2 days of tail winds.

Renee, Ed, and Marlin all finished as well, but my asthma was kicking in and IronK drove me home. I had lost my steroid inhaler on PBP and not using it for 2 weeks had also really curbed my lung capacity. I used my emergency inhaler a lot on this ride. Amazing what correcting that problem does for me.

It was great riding with Phil and we will hopefully ride again together. He may yet persuade me to try my hand at the Arrowhead. All the camaraderie on this ride really put it into the favorite category among my rides this year. A great overnight, and thanks to Charles and the creator of the tasty food, along with great weather and good company are all elements that are sometimes missing. The miles seem less and the pleasure even greater at the finish.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Ride Part 2: Road Pixie in Wonderland

There are times in life when you have to consider all your past experiences and apply them to the present. In the Cascades, I had continued on ignoring the pain until it caused real damage. This time, I stopped the bike and tried to come up with a course of action. First, I dropped my seat a millimeter. Sounds like not much, but it may as well be a mile. This, I hoped, would take pressure off the muscle, although it wound up putting more on my butt. I also pulled out my leg warmers and tied them across my thigh for compression and took a handful of advil. I was still about 100 miles from Loudeac, but there were some options. Medical help would be available at Carhaix. I could also stop pushing so hard and opt for a sooner rest than a later one.

The compression and advil did a pretty good job of making me feel better and at Carhaix there were long lines so I opted to go on instead of going to the medical tent. The big hill outside Brest seemed easier going east and the rain had indeed stopped as I got to the top. I ran into my roommate, Greg, and chatted until he pealed off to get food in one of the small towns. Ryan was nearby too and the slower pace let us chat a bit. Brest to Carhaix is very hilly and we also heard at this point that one of the American riders had been killed, but didnt get many details.

I got through the Carhaix control very quickly, running into George from the Cascades, who was thinking of quitting. I also saw Paul, another face from the Cascades, who was having a good ride as well. I knew I would need food before Loudeac, but the lines were long and I didnt want to have my muscles cool off too much so I continued on. The stretch to Loudeac had been a good one, I knew there was additional food, and I ran into Keith from San Fran who was having seat issues, but still a good ride. I stopped for food at a tiny bakery near a cathedral. The woman running it made me a sandwich in her own kitchen and an italian rider gave me his bread. At this point, I was only about 40 miles from Loudeac and it was about 7:00 pm. But my leg didn't feel right and I considered that stopping at St Nicholas mightr be an option too. After all, I normally go to sleep at 9 so it might make sense.

I was surprisingly strong out of my stop and within 40 minutes, I had suddenly covered the 13 miles to St Nicholas. That left only 26 miles to Loudeac. Cheered, I continued on, at this point alone. If I could make it to Loudeac and rest quickly, it would help me considerably. The R part of RICE ( rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is not to be underestimated. At Corlay, 18 miles out, I saw a big roadside stand full of spectators. It would be much better to eat early and not haver to deal with food lines at Loudeac. I pulled over at 8:45 and probably saved my ride.

This particular stand of spectators had a big overhang and was being run by a couple, Marie and Gilbert. Neither spoke any English, but they could not have been nicer. They had hot soup, cassoulet, yogurt, drinks. It was like a mini control. They lived next door and got e some ice for my leg. I elevated it while I ate and did some gentle massage, took more advil, and moved my leg warmer/compression bandage. Then they let me sleep in a quiet bed for 3 hours with a pillow under my knee. I can't imagine how gross I was after a day of riding in the rain, but they were awesome. The spectators make this ride, no doubt of it. I took their picture as I left, but my reflective gear messed it up. Bummer.

By this time, it was about midnight. I had 3 hours to make it to Loudeac where most of the crowds would already have passed. I made a mental map of how to get through fast. I still wanted to change clothes and get supplies from my drop sack. I was now riding very strong and at St Denis, I met Robert, from North Carolina. This was his first year of randonneuring. He was a super nice rider and had set of fans in St Denis that waved kisses as we left.

We made it to Loudeac quickly, only about 45 minutes. He was faster on the hills but I
would catch up. No sense tempting fate on my much improved leg. We managed to change clothes, do the control, eat a big meal and get going in only 40 minutes so we left Loudeac by 2:30. I also used my giant wet wipe to take a shower in the bike parking area using my rain legs as a shower curtain. This works really well by the way. As we left Loudeac, we ran into another rider from Pennsylvania, she had been riding with her husband but he had been forced to stop at Brest after a hand injury flared up. She couldn't imagine riding a 1200k other than PBP, for her the experience of having so many riders and spectators was paramount. I thought that was really interesting, having been on other 1200ks myself.

I lost Robert sometime later in the dark. There was a giant pack of french riders in the audax style with a support van behind them. I gather the French basically do what they want on this ride regardless of the rules. Still, it was interesting to watch. It was a nice night and I made good progress. Finally, I had to stop at the secret control (somewhere around Quedilliac). It was about 5 am and I resolved to get coffee and avoid needing a dawn nap. I got two cups and walked outside. With my two fisted coffee, I stood outside with lights streaming at my face as I hurriedly drank. Then I heard someone say my name. Okay, my name is french so it didnt occur they could be talking to me until a couple of seconds passed. I turned out to be Paul who I had seen some miles earlier. He was also having knee issues, but was handling them well and we decided to ride together at least through the night. Turned out to be the rest of the ride and the next 400k were to be my very favorite part of the ride.

For those that haven't done things all night long, the old saying that the darkest part of night is before dawn is true. Paul and I were treated to a really nice sunrise just outside of Titeniac and came in at around 7:30 am, good time to spare. There wasnt a line so we sat down and ate. I'm not sure beef stew is my favorite for breakfast, and it somehow didn't sit very well this time. We rolled out around 8:00 am. I started getting a really sour stomach and later stopped at a pharmacy for some French maalox. One of the bonuses of speaking French is being able to describe one's ills and the French have really good over the counter stomach remedies (think about the cuisine). I got a new toothbrush too; nothing like fuzzy teeth on a ride.

By about 11:00 we were riding into Fougeres. Paul was continuing to have trouble with his knee and a really nice lady offered to let us stay at her house which was right there. We didn't take her up on it, but it was another sign of what this ride really means to the people who live on it. I'm sure we smelled terrible. At Fougeres, we did a daring thing. We stopped to sightsee at the castle. "I've done this 7 times and never stopped at the castle" was Paul's statement. So we spent about half an hour taking pictures and looking around. Okay, we skipped the guided tour, but as 11th century castles go, this one is really worth looking at. It's much nicer than the ones I later saw in the Loire valley. It has a moat and everything.

After our stop, we made a quick stop at the control around 12:00. The climb out of Fougeres is long and Paul regaled me with stories of bygone PBPs. He knew all the worthwhile places to stop including a crepe stand whose owners make free crepes for all the riders in exchange for the promise of a postcard. They do this 24/7 for almost 4 days, apparently rain or shine. The town has also opened the cathedral during bad weathers and put up tents for riders to come out of the dampness. How cool is that?

No bad weather on this day, it was gorgeous with sun and rolling clouds in the mid 70s. We separated briefly with me going ahead. I stopped to talk to a guy playing music to riders. He had been collecting signatures on maps for years and was with his grandson who I gather was getting ready to take up the family tradition. They played me "Dixie".

Paul caught up again and we continued on. At Losssey les Chateaux, we stopped for pastries and I had the best mousse pastry I will ever eat. According to Paul, eating pastries is somewhat of a rite of passage and he was surprised that I had not tried any yet. He also did some moves on my quads to release them as I was sitting there and nearly all my leg stiffness and pain disappeared instantly. A few miles later, I raised my seat back up. My butt had started hurting and I no longer needed the tlc on my hamstring. That made climbing much easier. Other highlights in this section included the reine-claudes, small plum-like fruit that children were offering in baskets along the side of the road. I must have eaten about 10 of them on this ride. You could pop on in your mouth, chew around the pit and spit it out easily.

We rolled into Villianes at around 5:30. Here were had enough time in the bank to sit down with Ron and some of the BC randonneurs for omelet at a local stand. For only a few dollars, we got a freshly made omelet, croissants, and a cold coke, heaven. We even had time for a brief snooze. At this point, we only had about 130 miles to go and 19 hours to do it in. I was feeling pretty confident, but was warned that it included about 10,000 ft of climbing. Villianes was a circus, again, and Robert waved at me as we rode out of town.

The next hour, before the dark, was a gorgeous part of the ride. Beautiful vistas and fairly easy rollers made the time clip by quickly. It's hard to maintain speed in the dark so I was sad to see the light go. There was to be no moon and clouds moved in. It got very dark, very quickly as we came into a very hilly section in the miles before Mortagne. I got a little sleepy and with 35k to go, we paused in a small town where I put my head down and bought some waffle cookies (the inspiration for honey stinger waffles). With it being so dark, all you could see was the string of bike lights hanging in seeming mid-air. I couldn't tell how fast I was going since it was too dark to even see the side of the road. At one point, I thought I was hallucinating bridged overhead, but Paul assured me that it was not a hallucination. It was so dark that my brain was interpreting the trees overhead as bridge arches. Cant be a hallucination if 2 people see it.

I got ahead of Paul and found myself totally alone on the road just before the control. I was seized with a sudden fear: am I off course? I stopped in my tracks to dead silence and darkness. Perhaps it was the sleep and sensory deprivation together that suddenly had me thinking Alice in Wonderland. I sang White Rabbit out loud and my voice was raspy and cracked. Vocal quality must suffer after so much breathing. I was really relieved when Paul suddenly appeared behind me. I wasn't off track after all.

Mortange au Perche was very close and we rolled in a bit past midnight. People were laying everywhere in complete exhaustion. This is apparently a low point for many. We grabbed a quick croissant and cokes. I barely recognized it from 2 days previous. This, he told me, was the time and place to see the lowest of the low. People slept sitting up with food in front of them. I was feeling upbeat: I was certain I looked better than most.

We were pretty confident that the big hills were past, but we still had quite a few to go as we headed for Dreux. Up and down what was probably beautiful woods, but as it was, I just kept wondering where we were. It got very cold and we stopped for brief nap in a park after the hills were past and i put all my clothes on. It wasnt enough for my knees and they ached with the cold. There were about 10 or so of us together and we drove the seemingly endless path thorough the night. The sun just began to come up just as we got to the outskirts of Dreux. I wanted in and out as fast as possible. It was crowded with people, had giant lines and I hate crowds (it's actually a significant phobia for me). We were out in 15 minutes.

We now had 7 hours to complete only 42 miles. After stopping to take in a gorgeous sunrise we ran into Matthew, who was in the same hotel as I was back at the start. He gave me some skittles as I felt a bit dizzy and the 3 of us rode back most of the way. At this point, we slowed a bit, stopped to eat at a small grocery and to shed clothes as another beautiful day started. Paul wanted to finish by noon, about 2 hours before the official time. I really enjoyed this section. We met up with Ron and the BC randos and finally a big group from Seattle. The last hill though the Rambouillet was steep, but I was feeling pretty strong and the warm temps helped my knees. It was actually getting hot!

As we came into Paris, I didnt want the ride to end. I suspect that the same was true for many because our group seemed to slow ever so slightly. Of course, we had to start stopping at traffic lights too. Being in a big group at the end did help with traffic concerns.

Paul and I crossed the finish at almost the exact same time. I had tears in my eyes. "savor this moment," was his advice, the advice of a true ancien, "you'll never feel this way again in your entire life".

I still don't really know what my exact time was. It was sometime around 11:30 when we rolled in, but honestly, I found I didn't care. I was elated in a way I never have been. I spent a couple of hours at the finish and eventually ran into one other person from minnesota on the way out. I had a half hour nap and met Paul for a celebratory dinner. For some reason, I felt nothing but great after this ride.

Looking back, there isn't anything I would change. Had one thing been different, I might not have met up with Paul and seen and heard so many wonderful stories. The second half of the ride had a magic that I cant even come close to describing. Ever pedal stroke was a new record and ever mile was a blur of colors, scents and people. That is probably part of why people come back to this ride so many times. It's the king of the 1200ks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ride Part 1: Brest or Bust

The first ing about starting the ride was that it started 3 times. The first thought for the 90 hour start had been to be in the first wave of riders, but the 90 degree temperatures in the afternoon made the thought of waiting in line for the hottest part unappealing. So I waited and was in one of the last waves. This led to much of the faster food being gone at controls later in the ride, so I might not do it again if I have the choice.

In any case, first there is a long line to get into the stadium to line up for the start. That is followed by waiting for your group to get brevet cards signed and line up at the starting line. Then there is a wait to actually cross the start line itself. I kept taking pictures thinking "this is it". At last, I crossed the line and looked at my watch. My official time start time was 7:40 pm. That would determine when all my control cut offs were. I had an unofficial desire to always have at least 2 hours in the bank to give myself maximum flexibility. Lots can happen in 1230k.

I had heard that the start can be treacherous with a high incidence of crashing. But for the most part it was pretty tame. The streets were closed to traffic so the first 20k or so went very quickly. But after that we passed out of St Quetin en. Yvelines and out into the countryside into the setting sun. This part was really beautiful with many wheat fields some old churches and towns like Gambier, which have been around for hundreds of years. Riding in France is different from riding in the US. In France, cycling is a national sport. Spectators lined the streets cheering Bon Courage and Bon Chance. These were cheers that would be present for the entire ride.

We passed through the Rambouillet forest just at dusk and I anted how easy it was to pedal at 17 mph. A clear indicator of a slight trend downhill and without much wind, progress was very easy. I worked hard to back things off. No need to start working hard yet, 1200k is a long way. The Rambouillet was beautiful with huge old trees draping over the road. I found it extremely difficult to imagine that Paris was only about 30 miles away. Every 10 miles or so would be a small town with narrow streets and medival buildings...and flowers. The French must love their flowers because they were everywhere on this ride. On the streets, in pots on walls, in window sills, in gardens. All in the full bloom that comes with summer.

The night came on gradually and with so many riders, it was easy to slip on and off pace lines making good time without much effort. France has very nice roads and favors traffic circles to stop signs. I got very good at cornering during the ride. This part besides being somewhat downhill was also slightly rolling. There were a couple of steep climbs in the forest but nothing to bad and I was pleased to roll into the food stop at mortagne au perche sometime around 1:00 am. Here I made a mistake, though I can honestly say, I didnt consider it one until days after the ride was over. I stopped here for food when I should have filled bottles and gotten out as fast as possible. Stopping cost me over an hour of time. I actually had to wait in line for a sit down meal. Though it was tasty at the time and it's vital to eat, I had plenty of on-bike food and I didn't absolutely need it. One guy in front of me in line passed out which further delayed things. Note to self: next time, listen to martin, dont stop at this particular food stop. After this food stop and a bit before it, the terrain also changed from slightly rolling to heavier rollers with some longer tempo climbing as well.

In any case, I left and made my way another 50 miles to Villianes at daybreak, the first real control. I also spent way to much time here. The control is huge and sprawling and by the time I got my card signed and got food and water, I'd walked a long way in cleats which turned out to be something that aggravates my hamstrings (should have thought of that and brought cheap, light flip flops for the controls). But the control is next to a huge, very interesting church and the town itself went all out. I was so impressed with the level of organization and the dedication of all those that volunteered. It was particularly impressive
at this control.

I rolled out of Villianes feeling really upbeat. I had made it thorugh the night with no caffeine and only one 15 minute nap. The hills really started in earnest at this point with big rollers up and down. I ran into Ron from Seattle, yet another familiar face. At this point, I was well over 200k into the ride and feeling great. I continued to keep eating on the bike. It seemed like during this ride ,I was either just finishing eating something, eating, or getting ready to eat something else. The number of calories I was burning must have been in the many thousands. This morning was overcast and seeing the many towns in the light was nice. Castles, flowers, shops and cheering people where nearly everywhere I looked. By this point, I could still see other riders, but not nearly so many. The day was cloudy wi th temps in the 60s; cool but not cold. Though rain had been in the forecast, I could see it just to the south moving slowly along. A major relief not to have a nasty amount of rain and even better, the winds had shifted to the east: a tailwind.

My luck didn't hold forever and the rain did start up just outside Fougeres. Since a really impressive chateau was on the route for the first time in years, I'd wanted to see it. As it was, I made it to the control, saw the food line out the door and hastened to the control. There, I managed to snag the very last ham sandwich. This was a major bonus. Then hardest rain was during my brief stray in the control and it was down to light rain again as I left. Coming in to the control at this point were some of the other minnesota randonneurs and I was surprised to see them; they are normally much faster riders. They looked a little wet and beleaguered and I warned them that the fast food was gone.

It was raining in earnest as I passed the quick downhill near the castle and I barely snapped a photo at 20 mph. But the rain gradually lifted and by the time I got to the outskirts of town, it was gone. Another RUSA member named John got on my wheel for awhile as he was having a low spot and the road actually was a little downhill for a while. It was also very pretty with lots of farms and horses about. I think my speed increased too as the rain was replaced by sun again. I met up with some guys from Austrailia for awhile and led a line for about 10 miles, "you can have my back wheel anytime, mate" was my reward. It isn't every day someone offers me their back wheel. We also passed a nun in the full habit riding her bike and waving. Another picture I meant to take but didn't.

After a couple of particularly pastoral scenery, I pulled into the Titeniac control. By this time it was after 3 and I was hungry. I spent too much time at this control as well, but th beef stew was at least tasty and I bought some supplementary french energy bars: Overstims is what they are called. Overstims are pretty good, but the tomato flavored sports drink is disgusting. Stick with the sweet stuff when doing bike food.

After Titeniac, it was hilly all the way to Loudeac. I stopped for a 7 minute nap next to some garbage cans. Okay, it seemed like a good place at the time. Normally, I'd go for more scenic, but weaving is weaving and it isn't good on a bike. Back up and refreshed, my next stop was the secret control at Quedilliac. Aything for 5,000 isn't really going to be very secret and I am told that this place is always the secret control. I wasted no time here at all, though I filled a bottle from a pitcher on the way out.

There was a long shallow hill outside the secret control and near the top someone told me to turn around. I was shocked to see a line of out 50 people pacing off of me going up. I wish I had a picture of that too. The rest of the afternoon went nicely and I pulled into Loudeac at about 8:00 pm. Almost exactly 24 hours to go 275 miles. The sky was somewhat odd looking and many riders were pushing on to St nicholas, the next sleep stop, but I wanted to stop. I had a drop sack here anyways.

Loudiac is a circus and I wound up wasting lots of time before getting to sleep. First the control, then I got interviewed on french national television. Okay, that was fun and I would waste time doing it again. No one ever sees me on tv. I paid for a useless shower instead of using my fast shower in a bag. It took forever to get food though the bratwurst and galettes I got were delicious, salty and most important, fattening. As I headed to the sleep area, the sky opened and it started storming. Sure the cot was uncomfortable and everyone around my sounded like they had raccoons living in their throats, but at least I wasnt out in a storm.

I got up in 3 hours and was on the road at 1:30 am. I had wanted to be about 3 hours faster, but made the most of it. It wasnt raining and I made the mistake of overdressing. Just ouside the main square, I stopped, checked for others and seeing no one, stripped off my top to remove my undershirt. Getting everything back together, I turned slowly realizing that standing behind me was ... a family of spectators. "Turn this way," they said, "we didn't catch you from this angle". Good thing this ride was in France.

The ride to Carhaix was one of my best stretches. It's very hilly and there were a ton of people riding. The streets were still wet and I kept at the very head of a long pace line for nearly the whole way. Note, this was defensive, if the person in front of you doesn't have fenders on wet roads, don't ride directly behind them in a place where manure is used for fertilizer-enough said. We passed a large number of wind turbines which were almost spectral in the dark with only their slowly flashing lights visible. Stars began appearing as we sped through tiny villages at high speed. This was the most technical riding I did. I passed a truck with a crashed bike folded underneath; 2 people are said to have died on this ride, I hope that wasn't one of them.

I got to Carhaix in just 4 hours arriving at 5:30. I then screwed up again and spent an hour at the control. At this point, I realized that I was spending so much time at controls, I wasn't ever seeing the towns I eas passing through. More importantly, I'd blown thorough almost $120 and my cash was almost gone. I realized that I was passing up lots of free food from all those spectators. This idea stayed in the back of my head for some time.

At this point, it was cloudy, cool and misty. I had to lay down outside Carhaix for 15 minutes and my stomach was unsettled. The cafeteria food I'd been eating was taking a toll. At Brest, I would treat myself to something better. This was a very hilly section and while quite pretty, it was damp as well. The greens seemed very green indeed as I wound my way up towards the big hill. I also had the pleasure of running into Ryan, from Arizona. I'd ridden with him a few times and he was having a low point. The conversation picked me up considerably and we wound up going all the way to Brest and then some. He wasnt certain about the others, and had slept very little. There was a headwind for the last 15 miles or so into Brest and I pulled most of the way. I was concerned about time. I'd wanted to be an hour or so quicker.

The only really massive climb is outside Brest. I was also under a cloud so it somehow seemed steeper than i think it was. I had to put my undershirt on going down from the dampness. This time, I only flashed cows and other riders, no spectators.

We descended into Brest at about 11:30 and paused for pictures at the bridge which is the biggest landmark. It would have been my brother's 38th birthday (he passed away unexpectedly in 2009); the sailboats in the harbor really reminded me of him. I took a picture of them.
Brest itself was pretty industrial. We wound through the port, lots of traffic, and mor egret skies before we climbed up to the control. I got stamped in at exactly 12:00 pm. The control closed for me at 3:00 pm so I had an hour to spare to maintain my 2 hour time buffer.

I quickly left the control, still with Ryan and we stopped at a cafe for crepes. Brittany is famous for crepes and sure having a 3 course meal during PBP is daring, but heck, I'd wasted 1
hour for far worse fair. They were really good and hot. We got a weather update on the ay put that was positive. The rain should end after getting out of Brest.

Just outside Brest, my hamstring started aching. A deep, bony kind of ache that I last had in at the Cascades. I immediately went into internal panic, though I tried very hard not to show it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

PBP Prelude: The Troubles of Others are the Humor of Tomorrow

Since this post is technically about the ride, I will spend but a minute on the other spectacle that was the pre-ride.  This included getting to France, getting checked in, figuring out where everything was and generally avoiding trouble.

Trouble came in spades for many people during the 2 days before this ride.   Since everything worked out okay for those in question, I personally found the trouble to humorous as only real trouble can possibly be. 

First, trouble came to my one night roommate, Greg, whom Lufthansa charged $375 for putting a bike on a plane between Berlin and Paris.  Road Pixie has added this airline to the no-fly list along with Aeroflot (which I rode 20 years ago and emerged from feeling as though I had dive bombed Kabul).  To make matters worse, the bike emerged from the box with the cranks locked.  After much yanking, we eventually got them to the grating stage which was enough to ride the bike to the starting control mechanic.  In a stroke of luck, I waited in the mechanic line, while Greg waited in the paperwork line.  Thus, it was my smiling, innocent female face that handed the bike over to the French mechanic who sternly lectured me for bringing such a severe problem to France, but said he would fix it "because there are so few women and you are very jolie (cute) and it would be a shame that you could not ride".  I followed up with "vous avez sauve ma vie, monsieur, je donnerai votre nom a mon premier fils" (you have saved my ride and I will name my first born son after you).  This elicited a big smile and no charge.  While not a perfect repair, the cranks at least made it through the ride.  Martin, who was with us, was on his own for his bad shifting, he got the "how could you show up with worn out cables for this ride" lecture.

Next spot of trouble was waiting at the hotel.  SpinBob's wallet had been stolen right out of his hotel room.  Really, he has horrible luck, his wallet got stolen on his last trip to France as well.  What better way to spend an afternoon than translating at the police station?  Happily, there was no monetary loss, just hassle.  And the police detectives at the police station where HOT (capitals included on purpose here).  They all had guns and managed to make them conform to their hips to make them look even better.  Really, the actresses on american television don't look half as good.  The only one not packing heat was the superintendent (the only guy), I missed the picture of the trip by not taking his picture with his compatriots (think French Charlie's Angels here).

All my fussing and bother really paid off here.  I read in the RUSA book that you should go over your bike with a fine tooth comb and changed the cassette, big chain ring, tires, tubes, cables, and chain 1-2 weeks before the ride and pre-tested everything.  My only issue wound up being a bad battery in my cyclocompter and that was an easy on site fix.  I didn't even have a flat tire on this ride.  Hats off to Carly and Andy at Eriks in St Louis Park - they went the extra mile to put my bike in perfect working order.

I also had the pleasure of running into Ken from Louisville and doing the warm up ride with him.  The big pre-ride is known for lots of wrecks but we managed to get lost enough to wind up avoiding the crowds for a lovely pre-ride "did I put this bike together right" jaunt.  We also had a nice walk in Paris too along with SpinBob.  Must go back to Louisville and ride again!

Other than that, I bought some very nice, cheap French leg warmers for the ride which later made an excellent splint for my hamstring.  It's the highest point of fashion to get multiple uses out of a single object.  My French friends in grad school turned garbage bags into mock leather to dress as hookers for Halloween and looked awesome doing it.  While not as chic, my leg warmers served me well.


I debated for a long time what to name this post.  I finally decided that the name just says it all.  PBP is pretty much the Olympics of Randonneuring.  I'd venture to say that it may be on every randonneur's bucket list and there may be 1200ks with more hills, less hills, longer distances, weirder weather or poisonous animals, but having done it, I can say that none will have the same magic that this ride does: nowhere else will there be 5,000 randonneurs on the road at the same time with a legion of locals cheering you on.  On PBP, there is no cue sheet because none is required; I can't think of another 1200k that could make that boast.

My opinion of PBP will always be colored by the fact that I knew about it long before most people I rode with did.  I first heard about PBP at the tender age of 8 years old, long before RUSA had even been founded.  How did that happen?  Well, at age 8, I started a lifelong study of French (the pinacle of which is an actual degree in French Literature).  In the late 70s and early 80s, language teaching was changing with more emphasis being put on grammar in the context of culture.  And believe me, cycling is big in French culture.  PBP is the oldest ride in France (12 years before the Tour) and is open to women (which the tour is not).  That made the PBP notation stick in my little cyclist head (yes, I was also doing long distance cycling at 8 too).  This ride, I vowed to do when I grew up.

Sure, it took 34 more years to get there, but Road Pixie is very patient and persistent.  Sometimes all things have a place and time.  This turned out to be the year to do it.  However, I had two major concerns that I thought could derail this ride: first, my hamstring  or other body part could give out on me, as was the case in the Cascades, and second, I could have issues with sleep.  I spent a year rebuilding my hamstring and to really get a grip on the sleep thing, I did not one, but 3 600ks before this ride two of which were on back-to-back weekends.  As a result, I knew going in that for every 24 hours of riding, I needed 3 hours of sleep to continue effectively.  Any less was going to cause problems.  In each of my 600ks, I tried a different amount, more works, less made it far harder to continue on and with 4 days, continuing was a requirement.  I think Coach Gary says it best: 3 hours is just about perfect - 90 minutes for your body and 90 minutes for your mind.

SpinBob and I agreed to ride together as well; though this eventually did not turn out at all as I had planned.  I now can say with certainty that if one is planning on doing PBP, don't plan on sticking with someone no matter how well you know them.  There are so many things on this ride to experience that neither will be satisfied without the implicit understanding that separating at any time is absolutely okay.  Having done another 1200k elsewhere, I would say something different for those, with fewer people it's different.  But for PBP, the different food, roads and carnival-like atmosphere are an experience that is deeply personal to each person.  I had not considered before that being able to speak French opened a part of this ride that was extrordinary and it was something that simply could not be shared, even with a friend.  An understanding of French culture also turned this into a completely different ride for me than I think others might have had.  Sometimes it was very small things that looking back, I should have spoken up about.  Like the fact that a Tabac is NOT a tobacco store - it's a conveniance store full of food and supplies.  I remember hearing "well we won't be stopping at a tobacco store" at least once. 

The other thing that really made this ride something was the number of people that I knew when I arrived.  I had no idea that so many people read this blog!  My many rides out of state in places like Seattle, Arizona, Kentucky, and Wisconsin also had introduced me to so many American riders that I felt like I had just shown up to a meeting of old friends.  That really made this ride something special that I hadn't counted on.  This was really the first time I felt like I was part of the entire randonneuring community; after PBP I have a far greater appreciation of the randonneuring community as a whole in the US.  Something that I know will made future 1200ks much easier. 

My friend, Paul, whom I had the honor of riding with for his 7th PBP, said it best:  I keep coming back to this ride because it is like a moving party.  It really is just that, 90 hours to be savored and enjoyed like you would one of the finest French wines.  He also told me to savor the feeling of finishing both my first 1200k and my first PBP, there would never be another moment like it in my life.   There was never a low point in this ride for me at all so I think it will always retain a special place in my long list of experiences; the kind of sense you get when all your planning goes perfectly well and every difficulty you have is one you have planned for and can overcome. 

The next 2 posts will be about the ride itself.  The 2 halves were so starkly different that it almost seems like they were not the same ride.  I wouldn't trade a minute of either one, though in hindsight, I liked thet last half a little better than the first.  But they both had their charms.

Monday, August 8, 2011

AV400k: The ladies stage a takeover

After years of riding with men, I was really happy to finally see some serious female action on a ride over 200k.  And no less than the AV400k, most fearsome route in the Minnesota portfolio of brevets.

This ride was my last before Paris-Brest-Paris and at only 2 weeks out, some might call it too close.  I am defending my decision to go because it was so much fun it would have been criminal to miss it.  Sure, the speedy boys all took off in the first 10 miles never to be seen again, but with 5 in the cyclo-tourist group (which is a lot by our standards), it was just fine.   I was already expecting Renee, whom I rode with last fall, who is preparing for her first 600k in September.  At the start was a surprise visitor from Colorado Springs, Ronaele, whose husband was providing support at the controls.  3 randonneuses on one ride: a new record in my book.

This day was a pretty good day for riding but wound up being much hotter than expected and a bit of a headwind, but aren't we all used to this by now).

I had agreed to ride with Renee as her beau, Ed, wasn't going to make it.  That put Renee, myself and SpinBob all together for a nice ride.  Bob and I were really committed to not killing ourselves on this ride so close to PBP, but it was a bit of a shakedown ride too.  Final equipment and other things needed to be checked.  This made the ride even more useful than I had imagined.

The start was similar to all our Apple Valley starts with a quick 31 miles to Cannon Falls.  This always passes pretty uneventfully, but we went a bit of a different way that the 600k does.  The three of us were to play hopscotch with Ronaele all day until we teamed up for the night.

Renee, Bob and I had a blast with lots of joking and nice riding for the morning.  Renee loves a good descent and it was really fun to watch her whoosh down hills as we went along.  the AV400k is the hilliest 400k and has almost as much climbing as the 600k so she got to do lots of descending.  At Plainview, we stopped for a sandwich and noted how hot it was getting.  Instead of sitting outside, we stood at the counter inside.  I had to apply extra sunscreen too.  We ran into another rider, Phil, who was just pulling out.  We halso had a nice chat again with Ronaele's husband, who we saw at every control.  He and Ronaele are in retirement doing permanents and brevets; I had lots of respect for her by the end of this ride.

The next section is about the hilliest part through Whitewater State Park with big climbs in the park and finally out of Rollingstone.  SpinBob started realy suffering from the heat (he likes to say that it is his kryptonite) and we backed off on our speed to compensate.  Still, we rollled into Stockton at about 4:00 pm just about 10 hours for the halfway point.  There we ran into Phil, looking a bit worse for the wear.  The 5 of us would basically stick together for the rest of the ride.

Climbing out of Stockton is a long, slow process and Bob suffered further, but we waited at the top for him and continued along.  By this time, the heat of the day was passing and he was destined to bounce back as temperatures dropped.  We stopped again in Plainview for another sandwich and preparations for the night ride.  By this time, it was closing on 7:00 pm.

Unfortunately, we missed the beautiful view of the Zumbro River, but the next miles passed nicely with good conditions.  Phil had some stomach distress near Mazeppa, but recovered immediately.  We got to Zumbrota and quickly refueled; I had a 10 minute nap too on the concrete; I'm really good at sleeping on concrete these days. 

The next leg to Canon Falls went really fast and we picked up time.  Unforunately, I was dozing after that and one of the flashing lights on the back of the bikes started sending me into a hypnotised state.  We fixed it, but not in time for us to recover bearings and prevent a wrong turn at 86 instead of 81.  Oops, we added 13 miles to the ride.

We ended at dawn, just as the sun came up.  Not the fastest 400k ever, but one I won't soon forget.  From this I discovered that my big chainring needed to be changed (I had started to notice a curious tendency to drop the chain during the various climbs).

Strangely, all the riders basically were in either our group or the one in front of us which finished an hour or two faster (but didn't go as far). 

On to PBP.....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cuckoo for Coulee Puffs

Okay, someone may or may not get my subtle breakfast cereal reference, but the point is that I had to get up pretty early in the morning for this ride.
I'm a big fan of permanents and this is a new permanent owned by one of the other randonneurs in Wisconsin.  This was, in fact, the inaugural ride of this perm and even its stalwart owner hadn't actually done it on a bike yet.
The ride itself starts in Black River Falls, WI.  That's about a 3 hour drive from my house.  RBA Rob was also interested in riding so we made arrangements to carpool.  The ride is 218K in some really hilly country and we had around 6 hours of driving time.  That makes for an early rise.
But first, the concept of the coulee.  I've noticed that this appears to be an upper midwest term from the French.  Here is the dictionary definition:
1. a.a flow of molten lava
b.such lava when solidified
2. ( Western US ), ( Canadian ) a dry stream valley, especially a long steep-sided gorge or ravine that once carried melt water from a glacier
3. a small intermittent stream in such a ravine
The temperatures forecasted for the day in question included a heat index in the 100+ degree range, so the flow of molten lava was metaphoric.  The coulees in Wisconsin are part of the driftless area which was never covered by glaciers.  Coulee riding is sort of like riding your way around a plate of big green cupcakes.  There are some very long, steep hills.  This ride, by our estimation, had about 9-10,000 feet of climbing.
We got to Dan's house in Black River Falls at a little before 9:00 am for a 9:20 start.  In true fashion, I managed to forget socks and reflective gear and had to borrow.  We were not entirely sure we could finish this ride in daylight so lights were aplenty.
The first few miles are rolling with many farms and a small Amish community.  It was already getting hot and the wind was in our faces so we kind of had to work for the miles.  RBA Rob usually rides much faster than I do, but this was a fun, social ride.
We rolled into Blair (22 miles) with about an hour on the clock and had something to drink.  Just the 10 minute stop was enough to drive my bike thermometer up to 104 - balmy.  We were in some fairly significant rollers and climbs, but Dan kept assuring us that the big hills were still to come.  There has been quite a bit of rain of late and flooding had been a real possibility.  The Black River, which we crossed and flirted with all day, was swollen in its banks.  We made a stop about 10 miles from the West Salem Control at a small gas station.  The heat was on and I discovered that mixing mint ice cream bars and V8 can in fact taste good provided that it is hot enough.  I also brought along Zym electrolyte tablets for my bottles.  Pulling them out, I offered one to Rob.  He popped it right in his mouth, chewed and swallowed.   That turned out to be not a good idea since the tablet fizzed for about 20 minutes with the predicted consequences.  Rob didn't ask for any more the rest of the ride.
The first large climb was indeed just after our stop.  Called the Mindoro Cut, it is the 2nd largest hand made cut in the US.  It's a beautiful climb, not too steep, but twisting, shady and pleasant.  It isn't ridden by bicyclists very often because it's not really on the way to anything (unless you are riding 135 miles).  I started my great tradition of the patient spin up to the top.  Dan and Rob always waited, though I hope they didn't wait long.  In addition to having a fun climb, we had a great descent too.  This was one of the best climbs I've done in a while.
The next big climb was over the ridge before West Salem.  This one was significantly steeper and meaner than the Mindoro Cut.  I finally got to the top to find Dan with his head over his handlebars.  Everyone has that really tough climb once in a while and I had to laugh when he lamented "What **hole designed this route?  Oh, it was me".  I must admit I was somewhat relieved that we were going to be rolling into a place to eat lunch.  It was closing on 2:00 pm and my breakfast sandwich at 6 was long gone.
At West Salem, I danced to disco music at Quisnos which we hear is going out of business.  But at least that day, it was serving salty subs and boy did they taste good.  This was at about the 100k mark so only a little over 100k to go and only about 20 miles to Coon Valley.
Well, okay it was 20 miles of really nice climbing and some big hills.  This was also the hottest part of the day.  I had a really nice chat with Rob while Dan charged ahead (he must have had more peppers on his sub).  I can't decide how all this came up but topics included:  slutwalks, men's shorts, and PBP.  Many people ask me what you talk about on a ride.  Voila!
At Coon Valley, we had some really awesome Freal Milkshakes at the Kwik Trip.  I hadn't ever had one, but Rob is correct that they are mighty tasty, especially when it's 95.  I also decided to ditch the sports bra as it was tight, soaking wet and uncomfortable.  I tied it to the back of my rack as a mini-protest about the unfairness of female clothing.  At least it dried.
Coon Valley to Melrose was the last longer leg at 40 miles.  We passed through something with Bohemian in the title, might have been Bohemian pass (look mom, I've gone bohemian).  We stopped briefly to get water at a gas station before tackling what Dan assured us was the last hill.
You know it is really not so good when you come to a hill and it has a name.  This one's name was Tamarack Hill.  It was long and steep and at 5:30 pm, it was swealtering.  I had to stop halfway after sweat dumped sunscreen into my eye.  It just poured off me, especially with a slight tailwind that stilled the air.
Rob and Dan were waiting at the top once more.  And there was one more hill to go too (but much smaller).  Indeed, it was much smaller and even though I again flooded my eyes. It passed quickly.
We got into Melrose at about 7 with 17 miles to go.  No more hills turned out to be no more "big" hills and we basically rode rollers the rest of the night.  We got one more really nice view of the Black River about 7 miles from the finish.  Beautiful during the beginning of sunset.
We wound up rolling into the finish just short of the dark.  We only needed lights for the few blocks back to Dan's house.  There, his wife had held dinner and we were offered showers before our drive home as well.  "As long as you don't mind showering with Barbie," was the caveat.  Indeed, Dan's two girls are Barbie efficienados and there were a total of 8 Barbies in the bathtub.  I might have felt more self conscious in front of a bunch of Ken's but I can deal with an army of girls.  Besides, I had enough salt on me at this point to start my own sea.
We left around 10 pm for the drive home.  I managed to make it about halfway before Rob took over driving and we saw some spectacular thunderstorms rolling in.  Sometimes you have to be really thankful that the ride is over.
This was a great ride, no two ways about it.  We finished in about 11:20 ride time and that's not too shabby considering the heat, wind and the elevation.  I've got one more long ride before PBP.  Then we shall see how good a shape I really am in.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Road Pixie and SpinBob flirt with Thor while IronK and the Super Domestique meet Captain America

Origin Story:
I've been looking for a good moniker for Bob for an age, then I saw that there was a new species of sponge called Spongiforma squarepantsii and it hit me, SpinBob! The perfect name considering the fact that he has the fastest cadence of anyone I know.

The Epic Begins
This ride had all the makings of an superhero epic, 2 significant others, a ride that started at 8:00 PM and 2 unlikely heros who just couldn't make it through the Hawkeye to save their lives.

Road Pixie actually tried to make herself feel better by going out and surveying the RUSA site to review the things she had actually succeeded on this year.  To her great surprise, the 5000K medal was a mere 300k off.  Surely a good omen about the upcoming Rochester 300k Brevet?  This was a comforting thought.

The PBP gurus of Minnesota (at least one is in the Charley Miller Society) came up with the brilliant idea of starting this ride at 8:00pm which is the end of the 90 hour start group in PBP.  Every ride in the US seems to start in the AM,  but starting a ride at night is subtly different.  They sweetened up the ride by making it a climbing-fest: the beautiful, yet deadly Apple Blossom Hill up the bluff of the Mississipi, the long Money Creek Hill, and Vinegar Hill, a descent with a near-180 degree hairpin at the bottom.  Just the ticket for a night ride.

Since the princess was still packed, I resolved to take everything with me that I would take at PBP.  That wasn't a problem since rain was all over the forecast along with high heat an humidity.  One doesn't often consider it being too hot at night, but it can be....

IronK and I drove down and got a room for her to share with the Super Domestique (Bob's significant other).  I considered riding to the ride which is about 100 miles, but rejected that idea when I realized it defeated the purpose of a night start to a brevet.

The 4 of us met early to discuss PBP logistics and visit.  During this period, we discovered that Bob's cat had stolen his shorts right out of his bag (really, that's the theory of why there weren't there).  Fortunately, Eriks Bike Shop was close and soon Bob was sporting some new threads (all heros have to wear spandex you know).

There was a pre-ride dinner at Fazolis, home of the never ending salty breadstick.  The temperature was in the high 80s with nasty humidity so I ate 3 of them.  Nice to actually see some of the Minnesota Randonneurs.  At this point, the spouses decided upon seeing Captain America (like we're not heroic enough riding 200 miles in the dark?) and took of for the air conditioned theater (note on the Red Skull, I don't care what the super serum does to make you more of what you are, if I expected to become a super hero and woke up with a shriveled red face, I'd be pissed too).

In the final check, I discovered I had not packed gloves.  Oh well, this was to be a ride without them.  I also decided to do the Euro thing and ride without the medival chest tyranny also known as the sports bra.  Hey, this was practice for PBP!  We suited up and went to the start.

There we found a miracle had occurred.  Renee and Ed were there so I would not be the only female on the ride.  Hallelujah!  I had some nice words with Martin and others and soon we were all off into the sauna that was the night.  I decided to go ahead with the super serum and popped a bunch of Sudafed to make my lungs invincible (hey, it's not just for meth anymore); it kept me awake too.

The first 20 miles to Stewartville were pretty uneventful.  Nearly everyone took off and Bob, myself, Renee and Ed were on our own.  Bob and I inadvertantly cruised off without the other two, oops.  Well, you can't have everything.  As we came into Stewartville, fireworks went off; I'm sure they knew heros were coming in advance.  Between Stewartville and Chatfield, the first control, we were making good time and I unzipped my jersey to stay cool; it was dark, what's the harm?

Okay, the harm came in Chatfield when I walked into Kwik Trip nearly topless.  I'm sure my visit will not be forgotten by the horde of locals that were there for some reason, but I still had more actual fabric covering me than Wonder Woman does.  I zipped up, bought my chocolate milk and hid by the dumpster; this was one Kwik Trip.

We left Chatfield and began climbing a short hill on CR40 when another rider passed us going back to Chatfield.  This turned out to be someone who had been wiped out by riding that 100 miles to the start.  He made the most of things by returning to the Walmart start, buying a lawn chair and some refreshments and hanging out in party mode in the parking lot until the end of the ride.  A unique solution to a sticky problem.

We started seeing Thor pounding around with the lightning hammer on the horizon between Chatfield and Rushford.  Big bursts of light would illuminate the clouds and I was happy I had ample rain gear.  It seemed almost for sure that the storm behind us would eventually catch up.  We rolled into Rushford at 12:06, which I was very happy about.  Mike Aeling, our former RBA, was there with Gatorade and I hadn't seen him all year.   He was optimistic about the weather. "The storm is passing to the north, you will maybe see light rain". We stopped to chat about 20 minutes where he gave us all the advice one comes to expect from one's elder superheros: thank you Miyagi-San.  Others left before us and we would up being 20 minutes behind them for the rest of the ride.

We cruised onto the Root River Trail at about 12:30 and were careful of the debris caused by 3 weeks of state shutdown and innumerable storms.  The lightning continued to light up the sky.  Was Thor keeping his distance because he was intimidated or were we just too stealthy?  The fact that we had 10 lbs of rain gear was surely a ward.  It was also on the way to La Crescent where the army of frogs showed up.  SpinBob had previously been assaulted by them on the Iowa 600k.  I made lots of turns staying away from them.  Just before La Crescent we got a tiny glimpse of the moon, then were hit with about 10 raindrops.   The wind was very strong in our faces but that was all the thunder god could cough up for the night.

At La Crescent, we chowed down since there hadn't been anything but PowerAde at the last control.  It was here that we noticed that not only was there an army of frogs, but an army of mayflies.  Thankfully, the army of mosquitos sat this one out.  I did spy a banana outside the Kwik Trip covered with mayflies, obviously dropped by one of the other riders.  But a banana is a banana and I figured when we caught up, I could heroically hand it off to its owner.  We took off after 25 minutes and started through town towards Apple Blossom Hill.  It was here that we saw the sign of a lifetime; a sure sign that Stephen King had moved in to town.

 Yup, I actually turned around and got off my bike to take this photo.  It's for real.  There is a Church of the Crucifixion and this is their summer festival; research afterwards told us that, at the time we were in a stitch over it.

Apple Blossom Hill really wasn't that bad, a long tempo climb and the fabulous twinkling lights of LaCross/LaCrescent were worth it.  I stopped to take pictures and just gaze down (the pictures stunk though).  It was a quick 10 miles to Nodine which we made very good time to.  We didn't see anyone we knew and I decided that since I had hauled the banana up the hill, I deserved to eat it (it was much riper after an hour in my hot pocket anyway).  By 4:00, we were cruising back to Rushford.

All epic tales have this middle section where things look bleak.  The first setback was an encounter with Chipseal, nasty villan, for 6 miles just outside Nodine.  It sounded like we were riding on glass and had a pretty severe drag.  Not horrible, but enough to make you work that much harder.  We paused to make sure we hadn't picked up tar at the end.  Then we had a huge downhill on MN76 but were again slowed by the even worse supervillan, Bad Pavement.  I would have loved to fly down the hill and cruise through the beautiful valley, but instead I settled for gripping the handlebars and playing dodgem with potholes and cracks.  Happily, no one was injured and Martin the IronRando says the road is being replaced this year.

We arrived at Money Creek just as it got light and that was really nice because the climb is really beautiful.  Of course, it is a mile long and about 6-8% too (sort of mini Mt Lemmon).  But we were happy at the top and by the time we were at the top, morning was in full swing and the birds were singing.  The descent down Vinegar Hill was fun too, especially the hairpin turn; much more fun in the light than the dark.

At Rushford, the 200k mark, we finally sat down for a little longer stop and had a good breakfast.  Many were pretty awed by us riding all night (must be the spandex too).  We also brushed our teeth, a small act that can really feel good after a gallon of sugary drinks.  I took a rare self photo that didn't make me look like a troll either.
Road Pixie in non-troll form
We left for our last 100k at about 7:30.  After Money Creek, the Rushford Hill didn't seem to have nearly as much bite.  We were also alert enough to spot some pot plants growing along the road.  SpinBob also revealed his alternate life as a master gardener (though he didn't garden pot plants) - every good hero has a couple of good alternate identities.

At Chatfield, we made a 5 minute stop and called the rando-spouses.  At this point, it was a bit after 9:00 am and we only had 35 miles to go.  One more climb out of Chatfield and we cruised through Stewartville very quickly.  Then we hit a huge headwind (about 20 mph) that was with us for the rest of the ride.  It slowed us a bit, normally we would have cruised along at about 18, but it held us back to about 13-15.  The rollers on CR22 in Rochester were somewhat of a surprise to SpinBob, the last time we went through, the drunk drivers must have been distracting him.

Dramatic Finish to A Cheering Crowd
It was just before noon when we rolled into the Kwik Trip to the applause of RBA Rob and the spouses.  Nearly 16 hours, 14 hours of actual time in the saddle.  Not too bad considering the conditions.  I felt great until I got in the car and started lounging.  Then a wave of fatigue hit me like a wall of bricks and I slept all the way home.  I had gotten up at 5:00 am the previous morning so that makes 32 hours of continuously being awake and active.  Had I kept going on the bike, I could probably have gotten at least another 100k in.  That would have made about 36 hours of continuous action.  Gives me confidence for PBP.

On the happy side, I loved having no gloves.  My hands never had any numbness or soreness the entire time (which is unheard of).  I will bring them in my bag, but I am going to try riding without.

Renee and Ed got lost but still finished the ride a few hours later.  So the only one not to finish got a new lawn chair as a consolation.  I will be seeing everyone in 2 weeks for the AV400k.  My last long one before PBP.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When not to ride

This weekend is the Hawkeye 1000k.  I had really wanted a 1000k ride under my belt before PBP and Bob was going.  Though the Cascades it isn't, Iowa is a pretty state and I looked forward to this ride a lot.

The first thing to go wrong was 6 days before the start, Sunday I discovered my bottom bracket had bad bearings.  Not good.  I rushed it to the bike shop where they assured me it could be fixed by Tuesday (drive to Iowa was Thursday).  Then on Tuesday, I came down with some kind of colitis leading to spending 1 day curled on my bathroom floor in a ball; I also found out I had another bacterial infection in my lungs and sinuses, time for antibiotics.  Wednesday, I roused myself in the afternoon to pick up the bike.  Alas, the new BB had backordered.  With 2 hours until close, I frantically drove around town trying to get a new one.  Finally found one, got the bike back and fixed at 9:00 pm.  I had also now used up the remainder of my sick time and was burning vacation being sick.  I still felt a little queasy and weak and realized that I was probably dehydrated.  I was desperate to hydrate so we drove to Iowa with lots of water.

Got to Cedar Falls and had a challenging birthday dinner for IronK.  This was planned since if my stomach was bad enough to cramp before the ride started, it was going to be a bad thing.  Weather report was forecasting a heat wave coupled with high humidity.  The heat index on 2 days was going to be 100-115 and that is in the shade.   I slept somewhat poorly, waking up on the verge of my stomach cramping.  I finally rose with Bob at 4:00 am and had breakfast.  It nearly reappeared.

At that point, I realized that my stomach was not going to be 100% for the start of the ride and neither was I.  Melissa, Super Domestique, and IronK both pointed out that Paris is the goal this year, not Iowa.  I could do some serious harm to myself if I couldn't absorb the water and electrolytes I needed on this ride. 

Sometimes, you have to acknowledge, however painfully, that the cards are simply not in your favor.  I recently berated a friend for going on a 70 mile ride while ill during an excessive heat warning.  He wound up sick as a dog for a week.  I was not going to put myself in that situation with no sick time left and only 5 weeks before PBP.  The next 3 weeks are my final weeks for training, not for recovering from this ride.

So I pulled the plug before the start.  I hauled IronK out of bed and into the car in her pajamas.  I just couldn't bear the thought of watching everyone else ride off without me.  We drove off before the riders left at 5:00 am.  It was a hard, but correct choice.  I got back and took it easy and am feeling much stronger, though the stomach still isn't totally chipper.  Gary has a new bike and so tomorrow we will beat the heat on my 100k permanent.  I can test out my equipment then and enjoy the time on my bike instead of baking on it.

To ride as we do requires not only physical prowess, but wisdom and understanding about just how difficult this sport is.  Any ride over 100 miles is a big deal not matter how many 200ks you have done.  You must always respect the distance or face the consequences. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wisconsin Hills 2: The Hills Strike Back

A bike has died this day.....

I have now done this permanent 3 times and each time there is just something new.  I'll bet that when Gary put it together, he had no idea that it would go so far as to destroy his bike.  Of course, he does also note that whenever he rides with me, he has flat tires, exploding tires, and now a destroyed bike.  These things just don't happen when I am not there as a witness (could it be a new lesbian super-power?)

Hills of Wisconsin is a great ride.  126 miles and 7,000 ft of climbing including some long tempo climbs, gargantuan rollers and some semi-short things that just make eyes get really big on the approach.  I've gotten much better at climbing since riding this ride.  Totally worth driving an hour to get to the start.

On this particular day, Gary was letting me use his mighty cool generator hub.  I had been thinking of getting one, but wanted to get a feel for what the drag would be like.  So even though it wasn't a night ride, we strapped it on anyways.  I think proceeded to forget to inflate my rear tire and wondered why all the drag was on the rear instead of the front - oops!

It was supposed to be a very hot day so we left early.  That meant me leaving my house at 5:00 am for a 6:00am arrival and a 7:00am start.  There had also been some road closures so we were testing out new detours (I'm sure we will really appreciate the road closures once they are open again, just not now).  As previously mentioned, having 60 lbs of pressure in the rear tire made me feel like I was riding with a sandbag on my rack and we went along at an average of about 14 mph for the first 30 miles.  Oh well, at least I got a better workout.  The temperatures were in the 70s and it was quite pleasant.  Since Cty Q is gravel, we had a new detour (the previous detour was now under construction) and it was quite nice, passing through the town of Downing and down a nice winding, hilly road called 130th St.  Everything is incredibly green this year since it seems to rain more often than not.  We got to Knapp and I used my frame pump to get some more air into the rear.  This really improved things.  It was about 9:30 and we had a slightly longer stop than normal.

CRQ from Knapp has a 19% climb right out of the control.  It's one of those grin and bear it hills that makes me appreciate thigh muscles (all of them).  At the top, we cruised along until we ran into another rider out for the morning.  We stopped and had a nice chat for about 20 minutes, he and Gary had mutual acquaintances.  It rained for about 4 miles, but the rain was warm and we didn't even bother with rain gear. At about 11:45, we pulled into Downsville, somewhat of a side trip, but there was a cafe worth having lunch at.  At least, it might have been if their kitchen hadn't turned out to be a serial operation.  Really, we didn't plan on spending an hour there.  Some riders from the TCBC were on a Wisconsin Hills Ride from Spring Valley so it was nice seeing lots of bikers around.

I always enjoy the ride up to Menomonie along the river and consider it to be a highlight.  Devil's Punch Bowl State Park is there and is always worth a glance.  It was starting to heat up a bit and I needed to fill bottles.

Just outside Menomonie, we started up a little hill.  Gary was ahead of me and I dropped back to find a better line on some rough pavement.  There was a loud bang and suddenly parts started flying out of the back of Gary's drivetrain.  He skidded a little and executed a brilliant roll off the bike.  I rushed over and found he had barely a scratch on him.  There wasn't even a scuff on the bike.

Of course, that didn't mean that the bike wasn't a goner.  It died long before hitting the pavement.  The rear drive side dropout had shattered causing the wheel to go off true, catch the derailleur in the spokes which wrapped it upwards until it struck and cracked the chainstay.  The spokes, to give them credit, bent but did not break.

We stared and then got out the phone.  Gary called Debbie, hereafter known as Rando Spouse, since we were really only an hour from his house.  We walked the bike back to the corner and waited until she appeared with a new bike.  By this time it was 4:00 pm and we were pushing the time limits.  But back on the road we went.  We cruised along the new detour (since N is under construction) with a brisk tail wind to assist.  Up through Knapp we went and up a nice new hill to Wilson and along 100th Street to Burkhardt.  We made it in plenty of time, which was pretty cool, all things considered.   Rando Spouse even had really yummy food waiting at the finish.

On a happy note, Gary was able to negotiate a warranty/discount on a new bike! 

The Bike is dead, Long Live the Bike!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Amigos in Iowa - plus skunks

I have said it many times and will say it again.  The 400k is my favorite distance.  Nearly always requires some night riding, long enough to really see the countryside, the words "250 miles" just sounds impressive...  It's just about as far as most people will really go without at least some kind of sleep stop (though I have known a few to do it and it's 275 miles to Loudeac on PBP).  But a good 400k is always a thing to savor and enjoy.

I hadn't done a 400k since the very far-out Titanic 400k in Arizona.  That ride had almost every weather challenge possible (50 mph winds, storms, sleet, etc).  I had skipped the Apple Valley 400k and done the 600k instead.  So the Rochester 400k was a good place to catch up with friends.  Besides, both Bob and Gary were going and the weather was supposed to be really nice.

Okay, the weather forecast slowly deteriorated to looking downright nasty, but nothing was going to beat the last one so I was committed.  I headed down and spent the night before near the start and kept the room for the following night as well.  Even though Rochester is a mere 2 hours from my house, getting up at 3:00 am, driving to the start, riding 250 miles and driving home is a recipe for disaster.  Much better to just get a room.  Besides, Bob and Melisssa, the Super Domestique, were sharing.

The day started out with a nice temperature in the 70s.  Only 5 people were doing the 400k (the Rochester 600k was also going on) so many of the riders would be using different controls and a different turnaround point.  The big pack of us started out down CR20 in a big rush (we always start that way).  I was willing to keep up as long as I didn't break a big sweat, but the trip through Rochester is a bunch of big rollers and we finally got to one that required some tempo climbing.  I just wasn't willing to go and redline myself so early on so I dropped off the end.  About 30 seconds later Bob dropped back as well, "I saw you dropping off and wondered if you were really my conscience telling me to slow down," he said with a smile.  The two of us took a more stable pace (15-17 mph) as we continued on.

Just outside the first control at Stewartville, we caught up with Gary who also decided not to do the Speedy Gonzales phase for too long.  The three of us wound up together for the rest of the day which was really lots of fun.  While not particularly sunny, it wasn't raining and the temps were down in the 70s, very comfortable, but with a bit of a headwind blowing from the southeast.  But there were clouds and I was glad to have brought my standard rain arsenal including some new rain legs.  As we passed through Chatfield, rain started to spit at us, but seemed to pass as soon as it showed up.  The section from Chatfield to Rushford is very rolling with a steep descent (later to becomes an ascent) down into the Root River Valley.  We chatted and rolled along very well and it seemed like we got into Rushford (100k) quite quickly.  At this point, it was 11:30 and we grabbed a sandwich before heading on.

The next 30 miles to Harmony are probably my least favorite stretch of road.  For the most part, it's nice rolling country with a big ascent out of the valley.  This time, the road was in the process of being patched and we all were forced to ride across ribbons of fresh tar.  Fortunately, we didn't have any flats.  The climb was a good one for me, I've been working on my climbing and it shows.  Then comes the bad part - a 3 mile stretch of road on CR115 with so many cracks and holes that it would probably be easier to ride gravel.  This infamous stretch is made worse by the fact that the cracks are parallel to the road so hitting one could through you off the bike.  There are also lots of horse patties from the many Amish buggies that pass this way (ever run your bike through a nice pile?)  There is another control in Harmony followed by one only 17 miles later in Cresco.  I haven't figured out why the Harmony control is really necessary, but we dutifully got our cards signed and moved on.

At Cresco, the rain still spit from the clouds.  Not really enough to put anything on and somewhat refreshing.  As we neared Decorah, the sun made a slight appearance and the descent down was very fun.  Pole Line Road is infamous for kamakazi attack black birds but neither they, nor Tippi Heddron was in sight.  We passed Rob E and another rider (the other two 400k riders) at the top of the hill and rolled into Decorah at about 3:30.  At this point, we sat down and had a little longer break, the sun was out and we enjoyed the time.  I called IronK and told her were were just about on schedule.

At 4:00 pm, we rolled back out, this time with a slight tail wind, though of course, it had died down.  Back to Cresco we went, a short 20 mile jaunt.  More food was to be eaten in Cresco.  For some reason, I was always hungry on this ride.

We turned north to head back to Minnesota.  The road has recently had its shoulders repaved so I was quite happy.  Then....there they were directly in my path: MOTHER SKUNK AND ABOUT 8 BABIES.
I realize that there might be more fear instilled by running into a grizzly bear and 8 cubs, but there can't be much more.  I frantically crossed the road, something that normally I would not do.  Mama skunk glared at me like I was the distasteful one, but she didn't look interested in showing her other end - it could have been the fact that 8 babies were piled on it.  The three of us quietly rode by on the opposite side of the road and breathed a big sigh of relief.  How nasty would it be to walk into a control after being hit by a skunk!

We rolled back into Harmony and several people commented what an awful day for biking it must be with all the rain.  Come again?  We had yet to see hardly anything at all.  The roads had been dry all day.  We cleared out and repeated the ride down 115.  I almost lost my bottles and I've never been so happy to hit a turn.  We finally hit enough rain to get wet for about 5 minutes at around Highland, but by stopping to put rain gear on, we undoubtedly averted a major downpour.  We got to Rushford just as it got dark (around 8:30 pm).  Another sandwich and we were ready for our assault on CR30.  The hill we descended previously now became a 3 mile climb.  Bob spun up it on his triple while Gary and I followed about 30 seconds behind him.  The moon was really nice at this point, a little crescent in the sky.  The temperature started dropping at this point and the roads were wet, but it was a gorgeous night ride all the way to Chatfield.

We got to Chatfield around 11:00 pm and this time period is always a sleepy time for me.  I took a caffeine pill and we started out, but I was almost dozing and Bob suggested a power nap.  I agreed, but wanted to make it after the climb out of Chatfield so that it would be warmer and dryer.  About halfway up the hill, a pickup truck full of goons drove up behind us yelling obscenities.  The noise just about made me jump out of my skin and the combination with the caffeine put me in overdrive.  I stepped on it and powered to the top of the hill, the proceeded to pull my two compatriots along for the next 10 miles at 22 mph!  Yowsers, I was on fire.

We pulled into Stewartville about 12:30 and I was already coming down from the high.  After a quick stop, we went a little more reasonably back to Rochester.  Coming in at that hour is somewhat dangerous since it is bar close and we got several honks including a yell from a guy already in a taxi.  Really, to yell at someone on a bike when you are drunk in a taxi is a little rich even for me.  We attempted to avoid traffic by riding on a wet bike trail full of freshly cut grass.  I decided to buy fenders afterwards - what a mess.

Amazingly, it had poured rain all day in Rochester and most of the time we were gone from Minnesota.  We did nothing but ride around the rain all day long.  I never even put my rain legs on.
We pulled into the Kwik Trip about 2:40.  Gary was quite pleased.  He said he could easily have ridden another 200k.  Behold the power of good pacing.... Ironically, I got an email from one of the faster riders that passed us near Decorah, "What foods do you use, I seem to just run out of gas halfway through".

So there we go, another 400k

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blazing Saddles in Apple Valley

They rode their blazing saddles
They were the lantern rouge
They dabbed with Lantisceptic
When parts were looking blue

They rode their pace and they pulled their friends
They rode the night into day

They were a flaming spandex
torch for 600k!

Rando Version of "Blazing Saddles Theme Song"
For the real thing:

This ride was all about Bob.

After watching him painfully abdicate last week in Wisconsin, I have added to my list of things never to do for a 600k.   The master list now reads.

1.  Try out new critical gear on the ride (like a brand new saddle or shorts)
2.  Outride your headlight on a nightime descent
3.  Try new foods that you are not certain you can digest
4.  Look at your ass during the ride because it won't show you anything good.  <= New

I was happy that Bob declared himself fit to ride for the AV600k and drove to the Twin Cities from Madison just to do this ride.  How could I not go?  He totally hauled me through the Rochester 600k last year.  Time to cheer on a fellow rider.

The weather forecast for this ride was about as perfect as you could possibly hope for which was good because last weeks 600k made me feel like a roasted chicken.  50-70 degree temps and tailwinds on BOTH days.  It was like the stars were aligning.  Of course, I had planned on doing the 400k, but switched at the last moment.  This had some consequences for others which I will always wonder about.

We started out on a cloudy, somewhat chilly morning with dry pavement and a nice tailwind already coming from the northwest.  I saw Renee, Ed and my pal Gary at the start, all of them were doing the 400k.  For this ride, I had a brand new reflective vest from Mavic.  It satisfies the EN1150 standard necessary for riding in France and holy cow, it's like wearing a flourescent orange billboard.  It's also a very nice wind vest, has a good pocket and good ventilation.  Well worth it if one is planning a trip to PBP.

Road Pixie left, Bob right - which one looks like Gene Wilder?
 I was happy to be riding, but having just finished a 600k only 6 days previously, I can't say I didn't have a little trepidation.  I've never done two such large events so close before.  It was a test to get a little closer to what PBP might be like.   But I really wanted to see Bob finish and be set to go to Paris himself.

There were actually 3 rides, 300k, 400k, and 600k going on at the same time.  This led to some confusion after a bunch of riders on the 400k accidentally followed the 600k riders, who had a different route to Cannon Falls.  Bob and I were almost immediately at the back of the 600k pack, going about 17-19 mph.  It reminded me of the previous weekend, minus the heat.

We had a lovely ride to Cannon Falls with the wind giving us a nice push.  Several were already there and we said hi to a couple on our short stop.  It was slowly warming, but we left all our clothes on just the same.  CR25 had just been repaved and what a difference it makes!  That section is full of long, steep rollers and its fun to just fly up and down them without fear of cracks or potholes.  The sky began to clear at this point and as we approached and passed Goodhue the sun started peaking out.  Even though we haven't had much rain, everything was very green and the corn was about 6 inches tall so the fields were mossy looking.

We made it to Lake City easily and did another quick stop.  Jim Joy was leaving as we came, a reoccurring theme on the entire ride.  A couple of other riders were still at Lake City and we ate a few things and quickly were back on the road.  Lake City to Plainview is probably the hilliest part of the entire route, but it went very well.  Bob and I pace well together and we climb at almost exactly the same speed.  We're both spinners and prefer to recover while climbing (sounds nuts, but it really works).   We got to Plainview (100 miles) a little before 1:00 pm which is a decent pace in my book.  There, we stopped for sandwiches and ran into Dan from Iowa who turned out to be on his first 600k.

The Estrogen Advantage?
Just outside Plainview, Dan started talking about my Estrogen Advantage.  "It gives you the ability to focus on  greater goal than beating the guy next to you".  Hmm, though I haven't noticed any estrogen doping at the Tour de France, I'm sure there is a market here.  While Dan proceeded with some real foot-in-mouth moments, I gathered my own personal list of estrogen advantages in randonneuring:
  1. Cramps?  Been there done that every month for 30 years, bring them on baby!
  2. Line at the control restroom? Nah.
  3. Increased resistence to early hot-dog pacelines.
  4. The most important thing in the shorts are the legs, no distractions.
Just my opinion here. Randonneuses of the world, feel free to speak up here.

Moving on...
We hit 200k in less than 9 hours at an average speed of about 15 mph.  There was a very gentle tailwind, but noticeable enough to make me happy it was not in my face.  In fact, the tailwind slowly rotated for the next 24 hours and remained a tailwind for the entire ride.  After the Titanic 400k, storming in Louisville, and extreme heat in Wisconsin, the weather gods paid up their debts.  It was just a gorgeous, sunny 75 degree afternoon when riding is nothing but pleasurable.  We chatted about PBP, riding, bicycles, all the important things for randonneurs.

At Rushford, we pulled into the Windswept Inn parking area to a somewhat depleted food table.  Bill, one of our randonneurs on the injured list, was running it and was amazed at how fast the food was going.  We grabbed a sandwich and took off quickly for La Crescent.  It's very tempting to waste lots of time at the Windswept, but we resisted.  Dan pulled up a few minutes after us and the 3 of us left together.  The next 12 miles are along the Root River Trail and are generally flat and very scenic.  Bob really pushed through here, it isn't often one rides a trail at 18 mph.  Dan had a hard time keeping up at times, but we emerged at Houston in only about 40 minutes unscathed.  At this point, Dan was recovered and went ahead - the testosterone effect no doubt.

At La Crescent, I had to eat more and we rested about 20 minutes before starting back.  Jeff, who we had lost track of in Cannon Falls, finally showed up having had to back track 9 miles to find his brevet card (behind the toilet at the control).  "I finally caught you" he was elated.  Then he left us in the dust.  Riding alone for that long had the T factor really pumped up - I think he pretty much ignored everyone else for the rest of the ride and finished in about 29 hours.  Cheers! 

Our ride back was really a highlight, at dusk there were lots of animals out and on the trail a doe crashed across about 30 ft in front of us.  Riding into the sunset in a big, green valley with a peach sky and a rising half moon is something to see.

We came back to the control to about 8 people looking really tired and wiped out.  We felt really good and Bob had a shower.  The Windswept had little space this time and with 6 people crammed into 1 tiny room trying to stay warm in the dropping temps, I wound up stripping in front of all of them so that I could have a new set of clothes (I did warn them first).  I'm certain my goddess like form was an inspiration for miles.  They left shortly aftewards and I had a quick 45 minute nap - it was down in the 50s and ditch napping would have been unpleasent.  Bob, who doesn't sleep, waited for me watching countdowns on the weather channel (top tornadoes, top hurricanes, top floods, etc).  We left at midnight with about 300k to go.

The Night Ride
Both of us have a real love for night riding and this was a great night for it.  Temps were very cool - in the 50s - but we had clothing and the climb out of the Root River Valley warmed us up.  The fires in Arizona made the moon look pink at times and the stars were lovely.  The 38 miles section to Eyota was a real treat.  At about 25 miles, was a 24 hour truck stop along I-90 and we made a 5 minute stop to use the facilities and buy water.  We also picked up a sleepy looking rider, Richard, who had stopped to warm up.  The 3 of us would ride together for the next 50 miles or so.

My GPS was an asset riding in the dark and we easily made Eyota for some food and coffee.  At 3:00 am, convenience stores are much more laid back.  The following stretch to Zumbrota is 43 miles, so filling up is a good idea.  I even had some donuts (I normally loathe them).

At sunrise, Richard and I were weaving and at the top of a hill we found a warm spot.  We stopped next to a construction sign for a nap/roadside savasana.  Richard and I used sandbags as pillows and Bob assumed the classic yoga pose for deep meditation.  Really, this kind of Frontier Rando Camp is the kind of thing I wish someone would take a picture of someday.

The final push...
The last day of riding on a 600k is a bittersweet thing.  First, you are really tired and want to be done.  Second, if the weather is nice, you are wishing it doesn't end.  However, by this time, all the mistakes you made early come back in triple to haunt you.  The other thing that starts to haunt is your backside.  For this, Bob had several options, being a well-prepared randonneur.  Here we started the "little dab will do you" with a tupperware of Lantisceptic.  If you haven't used Lantisceptic, it's well known in circles not only for its ability to curb bed sores, but saddles sores too.  A real jewel of a product, yours at most pharmacies (though you have to ask the pharmacist for it).

At Zumbrota, both of us were having some stomach issues.  Probably a case of the digestive track saying, "gee, why do you insist on eating all this junk food".  I've got my routine down to chocolate milk, sandwiches, cashews, cookies and the occaisional V8.  Food is usually the last thing people work out.  By this time, it was 7:30am and the sun was warming things up.  We were finally able to strip away the jackets.  The wind had conveniently shifted to the west for our westerly jaunt to Faribault.  Richard took off outside town.

The next 37 miles were a real pleasure.  We lost the sun due to an approaching front, but the tail wind kept our speeds up in the 16-18 mph range.  The few fast riders who slept at the Windswept Inn passed us and one even slowed down to say hello.  He had a really cool bike too by Vincent Dominiguez, a local frame builder and fellow rando.

By the time, we hit Faribaut at about 10:30, rain was threatening and several others were at the control putting on rain gear.  They had seen Richard ahead of them, but failed to find him at the control, so he was thought to be lost.  The others took off and we slowed slightly waiting for him but eventually gave up.  The rain started in earnest just as we left the control.  As rains go, this one was so minor as to be almost not worth having rain gear.  We put it on, but got wetter from sweat.  The band was short and after about an hour, the roads were once again dry.  At this point, we turned north to Lonsdale and the wind conveniently shifted to the south (thank you weather gods).

We pulled into Lonsdale shortly after 1:00 pm and made the appropriate phone calls to our rides.  Only 28 miles to the end.  I put away some more gear and had a Starbucks Double Shot (good caffeine boost with some B vitamins for energy).  No sign of anyone.

The last 28 miles were very pleasent and fast, except for the nasty pavement on 280th street.  This section is in desparate need of repaving.  I'd call my congressman, but our govt is about to shutdown so it might be pointless.  I pulled a giant piece of metal out of my tire, which did not puncture.  Ever since switching to Specialized Armadillos, I find myself surviving for longer and longer without flats.

Pillsbury, Dodd, and Holyoke Roads are all freshly paved and mainly downhill so we flew to the end at about 18-20 mph, good recovery for the legs.  We rolled in a 3:45 for a grand total of 33:45.  My fastest 600k ever and Bob's second fastest.  After last week's debacle, Bob is finally PBP qualified.  Cheers all around!  At least the clerk in the AmericInn was impressed.

A few others were at Old Chicago doing some stumbling, my estrogen advantage allows me to easily resist drinking beer when I am already in a compromised state.

IronK was late getting me having forgotten her phone.  Bob's girlfriend, Melissa, had a pizza waiting which I was really thankful for.  Melissa is the supreme rando-spouse; she does all the driving and happily does neutral support when needed.

This was my second 600k in 1 week and considering the fact that the previous week's oven had netted a 40% DNF rate, the fact that I finished it and had my strongest 600k on this ride give me lots of confidence for PBP.  I'm debating trying the Hawkeye 100k in mid-July.   But the big thing now is to build fitness and strength.  The hard part has just begun.