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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NC Fall Coastal 600K

The idea of completing a second SR series this year only germinated in my mind a little before Labor Day, when I took another look at events still scheduled in NC and VA. Not being a real risk taker, but thinking maybe I can pull this off, I decided to start with another 300K (already had a couple of extra ACP 200Ks), and go from there. Bob Sheldon of DC Rand nearly talked me out of riding a 400K in the ROMA series, with tales of getting lost in the Virginia mountains. However, he was at the 800K control (Henderson NC, where I was volunteering) of the Labor Day weekend 1000K when he said that, so I chalked it up to Bob's general exhaustion. September came and went with the completion of that tough Seneca Rocks WV 400K, and I was still contemplating whether or not to sign up for Tony Goodnight's last big event of the year, a 600K coastal route. Weather forecasts were looking great, and as Tony posted the initial roster of pre-registered riders, I felt encouraged to join the train that would leave Lumberton Oct 9.

You know I was getting serious when I took the plunge and had a new front wheel with a generator hub built. My B&H Ixon Speed light has served me well (rechargeable Li proprietary battery pack), but a 15 hour run time (low power) just didn't seem quite enough for a 600K at this time of year. Joel L offered me some Schmidt E6 lights he no longer used, so that helped to cushion the expense of the new lighting set up. I got everything installed Thursday pm Oct 7 and took a quick 10 mile ride to check things out. I thought about switching saddles, as the Morrisville - Siler City 200K the previous Saturday had raised another little boil, but caution and common sense prevailed to convince me to NOT switch saddles, simply adjust that B17 back as far as it would go (another 1/4 inch), and tweak the seat angle down just a little bit more in the front. Thankfully these adjustments worked well, along with "Dr" Mike D's recommendation of Lantiseptic.

You would think by now I would have learned not to overpack, but general anxiety once again resulted in carrying too much stuff, especially food. I did off load some of it at the Holden Beach turn around control, where Tony had our drop bags, but I still ended up with about a third of the food (energy bars, gels, nutrition powder) at the end of the ride. Besides the weight penalty, there is the feeling that "I've got to eat this stuff" and you lose out on at least some of the camaraderie of hitting a McD's together (that only really happened once though, and it probably worked out since there were a couple of curious kids outside who may have been inclined to take some liberties with our bikes. I did let them wear my helmet, resulting in a severely out of adjustment mirror that took a while to get back in position).

I got up a little before 3 am Saturday and left Graham at 4:25 for the 2.5 hour trip down to Lumberton. The starting location was very easy to find - just a little ways from I-95 exit 22 behind the Huddle House restaurant. Tony was just pulling in at the same time I arrived, and a few other riders were already there and getting ready. Jerry, Maria, and I had made previous arrangements to ride together but our threesome eventually ballooned into 7 for most of the first half of the ride, as first Mike D (on the tail end of a cold) and Joel joined us, and we caught up with JoAnn F (whose GPS unit was invaluable). The last member of the group was "Colonel Mike" of DC Rand, who had started off riding at a faster clip but had gotten off course a few miles before the second control, and now welcomed the opportunity to join us.

The route - can you spell flat? The biggest hill was the bridge to Holden Beach (crossed it in both directions). Extremely flat rides have their own challenges, like getting off the saddle at regular intervals. Our group did not encounter stiff headwinds, although I understand a couple of the faster riders experienced some less than helpful wind. Generally our rolling speed was around 16 - 17, with a couple of sections (the last 20 miles into Holden Beach and into Lumberton, where we could "smell the barn") when the pace was pushed up to 19 or so.
Let me just pause here and state that a flat 600K under perfect skies and little wind does not translate into an easy ride. "Easy" pretty much gets left in the ditch after about 100K. Enjoyable, fun, and rewarding - yes. Easy - no.

We left Lumberton at 7:30 and traveled in a northeast direction to Clinton and then south. The City Pier at Southport served as an information control, and we elected to stop at the Cape Fear Restaurant in Southport for a sit down evening meal. The restaurant workers thought it incredible (one lady kept insisting we were just joking with her) that we were on our way to Holden Beach that night, and would only be there a few hours before continuing back to Lumberton. Much caution was urged as we departed in the darkness. As we traveled down NC 211, I brought up the rear of the pack - no one wanted to ride behind me with that super bright Dinotte taillight. I felt I was providing increased visibility for us, as traffic was a little heavy. Not too far from Holden Beach, JoAnn flatted, and I mean really flatted. She picked up what looked like a 2.5 inch wood screw that stuck right into the rear tire and had to actually be screwed out of the tire. No one had a 650 tire, but Jerry provided a tire boot and with JoAnn's spare tube she was soon back in business. The mosquitoes had a feast at our expense - I counted 50 to 60 wounds just on myself. It was good to get rolling again. Tony was waiting at the Gray Gull motel, and reminded us that we had to ride out to the pier (3 mile round trip) and get our control cards signed before returning to the motel. Grunting up the bridge over the Cape Fear River is not the most pleasant thing to do when you are looking forward to getting a shower and some rest. Maria did great and I fell off the back as she, Jerry and Mike powered up the bridge for the return to the motel. Mike went on with the Colonel and JoAnn to the next control at Sunset Beach, where he planned to get some rest. JoAnn and Colonel Mike were going to ride straight through. Jerry, Maria and I got cleaned up and agreed to get up in time to leave for Sunset Beach by 0445, picking up Mike D along the way. I managed to get a couple hours of sleep, waking around 0320 thinking I had overslept. The alarm went off at 0415 and it didn't take long to get our stuff together and take the drop bags over to where Tony would find them. It was a little chilly in the early morning darkness, so arm and leg warmers as well as a jacket were good to have. Sunset Beach was a comfortable 20 miles away and Mike met us at the pier for a wake up breakfast of coffee and grilled cheese.

Watching that glorious sun coming up on a clear coastal morning, with some early fog, is a wonderful experience. Traffic is still light, and the previous day's aches and pains seem to be at least temporarily forgotten. We ducked into a McD's another 6 miles up the road for a second breakfast, and then settled into getting some mileage behind us. Mike and Jerry did the lion's share of the pulling, and Maria was third. I basically slacked off until the Boardman control, when I commented that the sidewalk looked pretty inviting as a place to take a nap. Jerry and Mike nixed that idea, saying what I needed was to get out of the sleeping car and start pulling our little train along. So it was up to the front as I pedaled away my drowsiness.

I think we were in Bladenboro when we were met with bells, lights, and railroad crossing arms coming down. Oh no, you mean we have to stop?? A long freight train proceeded to thunder past, shaking the ground. There's something about being outside, right up near a moving train that you miss when just sitting in a car at the crossing. The excitement was over in a few minutes and we were on our way, taking a break (Elizabethtown?) for a sit down meal at an Italian restaurant. By the time we arrived at Roseboro (mile 338), anticipation was building in everyone. The closing stretch was upon us!

What would a brevet be without a little taste of bonus miles? Leaving the Roseboro control, we turned right instead of left and went about half a mile up 242 N, instead of 242 S. A little bit of a roller in there made it interesting, but we all took it in stride and were soon back on course. Jerry kept us motivated with regular updates on how many miles were left. Mike suggested we stop at Tar Heel to put on night gear, and we took a break at the store's inside seating for a final recharging (chocolate milk, Dr Pepper, and cheese crackers for me) before throwing a leg over the saddle and hitting the road (just 15 miles to go!). We left Tar Heel at 6:45 with the goal of making Lumberton by 8 pm. I wasn't looking at the clock when we pulled in to the parking lot, but based on our pace I'm sure we made it with a comfortable margin. Tony was waiting there (napping?) in his truck, and it was great to offer our congratulations to Maria for completing her first SR series. Tom and Mary Florian drove up shortly and we joined them (after a cursory attempt at cleaning up) at a Mexican restaurant in the same shopping center. I hung around to try and get a little bit of "sleep" (facing that 2.5 hour drive back to Graham wasn't real comforting). Branson, who rode 300K but left Holden Beach at 8 am, pulled in on his fixed gear around 10 pm. I took off right after that, leaving Jerry and Branson to drive back to Holden Beach in Jerry's car. I believe Joel (rode back to back 300Ks) wasn't far behind. My return trip was uneventful and I was alert.

A great 600K, with great riding companions. Thanks to Tony for organizing the ride.

Apologies for my extremely limited set of photos. Maria and Mike took a much more comprehensive set. I need to get a smaller camera that easily fits in a jersey pocket and is "at the ready."