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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Harrisonburg 300K

A brilliant flash of lightning directly in front of us, followed by KA-BOOM!!! We had just crossed the intersection of Coalter St. and Commerce Rd. in Staunton VA at about 10:15 pm in a heavy rain, slowly closing in on Harrisonburg to finish the ROMA 300K August 13. Maria F and I got off our bikes before the really steep climb up Coalter and sought shelter under the nearest store awning we could find. We were already thoroughly soaked after being in the rain for a good hour (and making it through a "stream" flowing across the road without falling over). If the temperature had been another 10 degrees colder, I'm sure we really would have been shaking - the "in your face" encounter with lightning and thunder was enough to leave us quivering. Byron M had disappeared up the road after staying with us until about mile 160, but no doubt he was thinking of getting in early enough to get some sleep, as he was responsible for driving himself and Maria back to Raleigh in the morning.

Once the fireworks had passed and it was apparent the rain was not going to let up, we had no choice but to keep going. 21 miles doesn't sound like a lot, but it seemed like the longest end to a ride I've been on. We both took a look at the steep hill of Coalter, with a river of water cascading down, and decided to hoof it on the sidewalk. A quarter of a mile later the road leveled out and we began riding, hoping we hadn't missed a turn. Thankfully the lights of US11 appeared (Coalter runs kind of parallel to and eventually merges into US11). We saw some open stores along the route, but we didn't need to say anything - I think both Maria and I didn't care to stop - we knew the rain wasn't quitting and all we wanted to do was get this thing over with as quickly as possible. It was like some non-verbal communication passing between us. The navigating was done - just stay on US11 and eventually the welcome sign of the Super 8 (across the street from the starting location of Southside Diner) appeared. We must have looked like a couple of drowned rats as we dismounted and made our way into the diner at 12:35 am. The waitress was exceedingly helpful - provided some dry towels and hot tea while we looked over the menu. It was a good ending to a tough ride.

Weather for the majority of the 300K was pleasant - things got a little hot and sticky in the afternoon near Buchanan - but it was really just the late evening when our stamina was put to an extreme test. The ride is challenging with about 11,000 feet of climbing, but you are treated to some excellent scenery and exciting downhill runs. Part of the route overlaps with the ROMA 600K, so I "re-lived" my experience of colliding with a dog in May. Things look a lot different in daylight. I was ready with a can of Halt! but there was no sign of a dog anywhere near where I had crashed earlier.

A Performance rack trunk is not up to 3+ hours in the rain, as anything that was not in a zip lock bag got wet. Lights performed flawlessly - I was thankful for the Dinotte taillight as we rode north on US11 in the rainstorm (I stayed in the back or abreast when traffic permitted). We had no issues with getting buzzed by traffic.

My camera is not waterproof, so good thing I didn't bring it. See Maria's report here for some pictures.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DNF = Dog No Friend (of mine)

I went up to Middletown VA last Friday for Matt Settle's 600K brevet, which follows a rugged, scenic course through the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke and back (mostly a long narrow loop although the section from Buchanan to Roanoke is an out and back). Things were going well for the 8 or so of us that started (broke up early into a couple of small groups of 2 or 3 and some solos). I was riding with Chris Mento and Phil Creel and we were on our way to the return control at Raphine (where drop bags were located). Around mile 233 at 3:30 a.m., we were starting down a long hill and heard some dogs barking close by. Phil and Chris got by them, but I did not fare so well. With no warning, a medium size black dog appeared square in front of me. There was no time to react, and I t-boned the dog, sending me over the handlebars. I felt the impact of the helmet on the road and then went down on my right shoulder. I laid on the road for a minute or so, and managed to get to my feet, but my knees buckled and I went down. Chris got on his phone and eventually reached Tom LePore, the volunteer working the Raphine control. While waiting for Tom to arrive with his van, Phil and Chris did what they could to make me comfortable and also gathered up all the stuff that had been knocked off my bike (cue sheet holder, water bottles, helmet light, mirror, pump).

Tom's wife Rose provided excellent help, carting me to the hospital in Winchester and staying there for several hours where I had a full round of xrays and the various scrapes and contusions were cleaned up and dressed. I ended up with a broken rib, another one cracked, and assorted bruises. Thankfully, no broken collar bone or dislocated shoulder. Now I just have to deal with the pain and wait for the healing to run its course.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Uwharries 400K

To be different, I thought I would title this entry Uwharries 400K instead of Morrisville 400K. The route extends another 32 miles past Seagrove (turn around point of the 300K) into the Uwharrie Mountains of central NC. The name Uwharrie means "rocky field", and some sources claim that this mountain range is the oldest in North America. I will leave that to the geologists to debate, I will just enjoy riding over some of the hills in Montgomery County and admiring the scenery.

The middle 100K of this ride was the new part for me. Having heard plenty of tales of Flint Hill Rd, I opted to use a bike with a 28/28 low gear combo. As we were screaming down the long hill to the Pee Dee River on the outbound leg, I was dreading the return. However, just gearing down and patiently turning the pedals soon left Flint Hill behind. Perfect weather and great riding companions, not to mention the volunteer help at the controls (Richard and Joel Lawrence, Ian H, and Lin) combined to make this a wonderful day (and night). My only mishap was a broken rear rack bracket late in the ride that caused the rack to flip all the way back and drag the rack trunk against the ground. Martin heard a distinctive metallic snap, and commented "that doesn't sound good." Five seconds later, we were all startled by a loud rubbing noise. I really thought my back tire had gone, as I had ridden over some piece of trash earlier in the day. By then it was dark and I was at the back, so no one knew what the problem was until I stopped, turned on my helmet light and looked. A few minutes to fish out some zip ties for a temporary repair to the rack (reinforced later with an old toe strap from Byron) and we were on our way.

Busted rear rack bracket

For clothing, anticipating a possible chill to the air once past midnight, I lashed on "old blue", a warmup jacket originally purchased in 1974 (importer West Coast Cycles - no longer in business). It is not wool, but that mystery material "acrylic" that has stood up amazingly well. As we were getting ready to leave the inbound Snow Camp control, Martin expressed his regret for not bringing along a shell and gratefully accepted the offer to use the jacket, as I was not needing it (long sleeve base layer under my jersey and a windbreaker were enough).

I (almost) learned my lesson about bonking from the 300K two weeks ago, and had a sit down meal at Seagrove both outbound and inbound. I should have eaten some more at the corner of Lystra and Farrington Point (Farrell's, where we took a little break), as I started to bonk about 8 miles from the end. I hung with Martin and Denis rather than stopping to eat, as I decided it was better to follow them and not have to focus on reading the cue sheet (I'm still not totally confident of the new route into Morrisville, especially after being up for 25 hours). When we arrived at Alan's house, consuming a gel and energy bar was my first priority, and then signing the control card. We made our way back to Morrisville Square (the Parkway is wonderfully free of traffic at 4:45 a.m.), and it was time to change and take a sleep break.

"Old Blue" warmup jacket, circa 1974

Glad everyone who started the ride finished successfully (special congrats to the 6 riders completing a first 400K, and to John M for toughing it out after a crash).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Morrisville-Seagrove 300K

This was my second time on this ride in as many seasons, and this year's time was pretty close (16:25 vs 16:08). As we were lining up at Morrisville Square, I noticed Vance over in the parking lot with what looked like his bike upside down. I debated briefly whether to hang back and wait for him, knowing that it can be discouraging to start out solo and try to chase somebody down. However, Vance is experienced, he doesn't need me, and he will probably catch up at Snow Camp. So off we go, and I kept checking in my rear view mirror every 5 miles or so, expecting to see Vance appear. I lost the main group on Farrington about half a mile from Lystra, and eventually caught up with Chloe and Thai. We rode together most of the remaining distance to Snow Camp. Martin was about to leave as I came in, which was a little surprising as he was long gone at the same point on the 200K two weeks earlier. Must be conserving some energy for the extra rollers on Coleridge Rd. I stood around at Snow Camp, scanning Greensboro - Chapel Hill Rd, thinking "Vance must be coming along, should I wait for him?" Chloe shoved off, so I decided even if Vance doesn't catch us, we will at least see him on the return sometime after Seagrove. Just before the Siler City control, here comes Lin O on his recumbent, riding back toward Snow Camp. Now Lin is a lot better rider than I am, but there are definitely some faster riders than him today, so I know he hasn't already been to the Seagrove turnaround. Apparently he decided to not push things after recently coming off serious illness. Smart move.

Chloe, Thai and I bought some snacks and water in Siler City and then Thai took off ahead of us for the Seagrove control. Still no Vance. We caught up with Thai in a few miles and rode together, eventually getting strung out over about a mile. Soon the fast crowd came rocketing toward us on their return trip; I would also see Geof, Bryan, Mike D and John M, and a couple other solo riders before turning into the Seagrove control. Another surprise - Martin was still there! I thought I had seen him five miles back, returning to Siler City. Must have been someone else. As Martin wrote in his account (2 year experts), Ian and Mary had a spread of fruit, sandwiches and Coke. Cheapskate that I am, I figured why go into Hardee's when I can just eat here? Looking back, it might have been wise to follow Denis and Paul's example and go get some real food inside (Martin writes about my bonking). It was here at Seagrove that I finally learned that Vance had decided to abandon.

Martin left with Denis and Paul, and about 5 or 10 minutes later Thai followed. I was ready, and Chloe assured me she was confident about navigating on her own without a computer (forgot to put a wheel magnet on after switching wheels). After overtaking Thai, I felt pretty good (tailwinds and downhills certainly help), but didn't entertain any hopes of catching Martin and company. However, Martin's flat tire gave me the advantage I needed, and we formed a new trio (Paul kept going after the flat and must have recovered, as we never saw him again).

Joel set out a big spread of food (those orange slices really hit the spot), and I did eat what I thought was a pretty good amount (bagel sandwich, plenty of water, cookies, etc.), but I think my energy reserves were getting steadily depleted, and the results would be evident between Snow Camp and Andrews Store. I did sense I needed some more food by the time we got to Snow Camp, so ate some more there (should have grabbed one of the pre-made sandwiches instead of thinking a Reese's ice cream bar and Starbucks double shot would do the trick).

We turned on lights and headed down Greensboro - Chapel Hill Rd (Old Greensboro Highway). As darkness came on, my slow flash Dinotte taillight was getting more and more obnoxious to Martin and Denis, so we stopped briefly at the corner of 87 and Chicken Bridge Rd, where I changed the mode to steady low power. That seemed to relieve them, but it was a temporary reprieve. At Andrews Store, Martin announced that I would be in the back of the pack. I was desperate for some more food at this point, and also needed to put on a jacket and leg warmers. The pizza grill was empty and clean, but I asked anyway. Sorry, we are out. However, the clerk was helpful and suggested some food that could be microwaved. Chef Boyardee to the rescue! 45 seconds later I was devouring some hot meatballs and spaghetti. I wolfed down a large turnover and a bottle of chocolate milk for good measure.

It takes a little while for the extra food intake to be absorbed, so once we turned onto 15-501 and started up the little incline to Jack Bennett, I quickly fell off the back. That nice downhill on Jack Bennett was a relief (glad I put on the extra clothes), but I had lost sight of Martin and Denis by the time I reached the T at Lystra. Good guys that they are, they were waiting at the corner of Lystra and Farrington Point Rd. I couldn't keep up on Farrington, but they waited up again and by the time we turned left on Lewter Shop Rd I was feeling pretty well recovered and we cruised in together, arriving at Alan's at 11:25 pm.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lumberton Coastal 400K

In, then out, then in again (referring to my registering for the ACP 400K held March 19). I made an appearance at the Lumberton NC Super 8 around 7 am, arriving with about 2 hours of sleep behind me. Skies were perfectly clear for the close to 60 riders who had signed up for one of Tony Goodnight's early season brevets (200, 300, 400, 600). Tony was a busy man in the control room, as money changed hands, waivers were signed, and control card packets handed out. We departed en masse at 7:30, with everyone following the same route for the first 30 miles. I managed to keep up with a group pulled along by Vance, who was setting a good clip of 19 or 20. RicoBoy Rob jumped for the first county line sprint, but paid for it later when he started having stomach issues. Needless to say, the Hot Shot crew had left us slower folks several miles back, but we would start seeing them again (those doing the 300) when they reversed course after the first 200/300 control at 30 miles. The 400/600 riders had 14 miles to go before checking in at a control. By this time I was trailing the group of half a dozen I had started with, and they took off before me. Rob pulled in, followed by Robert "Ricochet" Bergeron (doing his first 600K). The three of us stayed together until mile 58 (second 400K control), at which point Robert encouraged me to have a great solo ride. Well, it did go well until about mile 91, when I hit a stiff headwind that I battled for the next 9 miles. Dave Miller from Columbus OH was sitting on the sidewalk of the control store in Hallsboro, looking kind of beat. He said he was not used to the heat this early in the year. I watched Dave leave on his Bike Friday, hung around a few minutes, and contemplated the fact that we had just completed a century but were not even half done.

I caught up with Dave about half a mile from the next control (131 miles) and held his wheel while we ground up one of the "hills" of the ride (an overpass). Dave takes less time at controls than I do, so I would not see him again until Sunset Beach (143 miles), where the Continental Motel/Condo served as a control. Jennifer had a spread of food and drinks set up in the room. As I looked over the check list of riders, I exclaimed "There's no way Keith Sutton can be behind me! He must have forgotten to check his name when he was here." I did cross paths with JoAnn F about a mile from the new Sunset Beach bridge, but this control would be the end of my having any contact with other riders. Dave left before me, and the cool evening temperatures along with mostly diminishing winds must have given him an extra boost.

It was another 35 miles to Tabor City SC (not a control, but a place to replenish supplies). It was here as I was waiting for more coffee to finish brewing that the first hints of discouragement began to appear. Like, if I had signed up for 300K, I would only be 15 miles from the end. My stomach isn't doing great. These energy bars taste lousy. I didn't put any sun screen on my legs and they are burned. Riding at night solo in rural NC for hours doesn't thrill me.

Time to hit the road and shake off these negative thoughts. The cue sheet said take a right out of the gas station onto US 701 Business. So I go out the same way I came in and turn right. The road curves to the left but the sign says US 701. I bounce along a rough road with no shoulder for a mile, looking for the next turn. It doesn't appear. So I pull a U turn and ride back to the gas station. There I explain my predicament and was kindly given directions. Turns out I should have gone out the other side of the parking lot before turning right. Ah, back on course. 26 miles to the next control at Boardman doesn't sound too bad, even though I know the store wouldn't be open and it was just an information control. However, the 26 miles included some sections with DOGS, which are a problem in daylight but worse at night. All I can say is county line sprints don't hold a candle to dog sprints. You forget all about sore knees and aching arms when a dog (or pack of them) is on your tail. How I wished for a nice 18 wheeler to be barreling down the road the same time those dogs hit the pavement!

I slogged into the information control at Boardman (205 miles), sat on the sidewalk and tried to eat. I thought about the next 46 miles and then remembered that was not a good thing to do. Just get on the bike and pedal to the next turn. More dogs. More sprints. A lighted church building with a good looking porch. Even has a semi soft mat. Better not lie down or I won't get up. So I sit on the steps and sort of doze. 10 minutes later it is time to go. I carefully go down the steps and look around for my bike. Gone! What happened? Dummy, it is still up on the porch leaned against the building. I'm starting to zone out. Back on the road, I start seeing what look like big shrubs in the sky with faces like the Greek comedy masks, all laughing at me. As I draw closer, they just kind of fizzle away. Finally arrive at the penultimate control in Clarkton. Convenience store closed at 2 am and it is now 2:30. That's ok, I knew I wouldn't make it (control cut off time was another 5 hours, so there is plenty of time in the bank). The clerk closing up sees me and comes out to sign the card. I mix up my last batch of energy drink using the extra bottle of water. I seem to have new enthusiasm now and my little bout of nausea has disappeared. Let's get going! Even though the wind has picked up a bit and I could use a vest under my jacket, I'm feeling pretty good for the final 28 miles. I pull into the Super 8 at 5:30 am and wake up Tony as I stumble into the room. It's over. Another tough 400K behind me. I find out from Tony that Dave was almost done in by dogs - he had one bite him (minor, not like Tom F's on a permanent earlier this year). I get cleaned up and crash for a few hours, then over to the Waffle House with Tony before heading home.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lumberton 200K - start of the new season (for me)

Wes, Jerry, and Lynn getting ready to roll

I feel like I'm kind of getting off to a slow start this year, but Saturday's ACP 200K out of Lumberton (shortest brevet offered) was a good warmup. The day started early as I had to drive 2.5 hours and still leave some extra time to get ready before the 7 a.m. start. Clear skies and above normal temperatures helped to make it a pleasant day for biking. I could not hold on to the main group after about 17 miles, so battled headwinds solo for another 13 miles to the first control. Dean was still there, and Rico Boy pulled in shortly after me, so the three of us left together in a few minutes on the next leg up to Ellerbe. The wind continued to slow our progress, but Dean and I were savoring the return trip as we thought about that nice tailwind. Rico would continue on from Ellerbe as he was going for 400K.

We picked up Jack about 5 miles shy of Ellerbe, and he would join Dean and I for most of the return to Lumberton. Ricochet Robert (see Ricochet 300 for his writeup) was already there, and would go on to complete his first 300K.

Ricochet Robert at the start

Cruising along at 19 or 20 with hardly any effort made the second half of the 200K pretty enjoyable. I did miss a turn about 12 miles from the end so Dean and I ended up with about 6 bonus miles, as well as having our worst dog encounter of the day. No bites, but I think this cur would have attacked if we hadn't stopped and faced it down. We thought it had left and then it turned around and charged across the field in a cloud of dust. Dean got away and I stopped again. I could see the owner on his tractor in the distance, and he finally got the idea and called the dog.

Arriving at the Super 8 in Lumberton, we were greeted by Jack who was more careful in navigating and thus finished with no bonus miles. Tony had plenty of food to pick from in his control room, and I thank him for the work in putting on the rides this weekend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

R-12; Year 1 in Review

Christmas Eve marked the completion of my first R-12, following a DNF on the same permanent route 4 days earlier. I'll leave out the embarrassing details, but suffice it to say that a wallet will not stay put in an unzipped jacket pocket very long while riding a bike. Also, cell phones are pretty useless if left in a vehicle while the owner takes off on a bike.

I joined RUSA in December 2009 after reading some interesting blog posts from members of the NC Randonneurs. Veterans such as Joel Lawrence and JD Stewart had been urging me for years to get into the sport, but the distances over 200K sounded way too long without a lot of training (I'm thinking 300 - 400 miles per week of training). So I signed up but planned to be strictly a 200K rider. The 'fever' first took hold sometime in April, as riders were relaxing in Alan's front yard after completing his first brevet of the season. I started hearing some new members talk about going for the full SR series, and soon I had talked myself into the same mindset, rationalizing that "300K is only a 200K with a little metric century tacked on the end ... 400K is just a pair of 200Ks" ... and before you know it I was hooked.

2010 was a great first year of randonneuring. The first and last 200Ks both started at 26F. I appreciate all of the work done by RBAs and permanent owners to set up so many good routes in all parts of the state, and for the encouragement and helpful suggestions. I learned something on every ride.