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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quest for 2012 SR

Left eye looks better now.  Photo taken by Joe Todd.
I started out the year with a carefully planned sequence of brevets designed to garner three SR series as well as a 1200.  The end results were a few injuries, a couple of DNFs, and a single SR.  Maybe I'm slightly wiser in the ways of randonneuring.

Things were going according to plan through the end of April, with three each of 200, 300, and 400 brevets behind me.  I deliberately picked a couple of tough mountainous brevets to help prepare for the Taste of Carolina 1200 in August.  However, a little nuisance called an Achilles tendon inflammation made itself known for the last 100K of the NCBC 400.  Just a little rest is needed, thinks me.  Two weeks later I participate in a 100K charity ride, and finish with more pain and swelling.  So much for the 600K brevets scheduled for the next 5 weeks (May and early June), and it's time to seek some professional medical advice and physical therapy.  Overuse injury is pronounced, followed by a couple of weeks of therapy to be continued at home.  The therapist said it was good that I did not delay seeking help, as chronic injury could have resulted from pushing through the pain.

The choices for 600K brevets were quickly slipping away.  The record setting high temps in late June scared me off from one possible 600 starting in Salisbury NC.  A month later I attempted a very hilly 600 that also started in Salisbury.  The 13 mile climb to Jonas Ridge totally depleted my time bank as I was forced to stop several times, and at one point had to ask for water at a house.  I made it as far as Blowing Rock (200K) before deciding to pull the plug.

There was one month left before the Taste of Carolina, so I focused on riding some permanents (one of which was R-12 insurance for August), being careful to keep up with the therapy exercises, and general preparations.  The T of C arrived and I felt reasonably confident.  Unfortunately, at the 300K point a pothole leapt up to bring an end to my ride (see previous post).  I still had no SR for the year (qualified for T of C using SR from 2011), and by this time I figured I would have to end 2012 without even a single SR.  I communicated the same to a couple of rando friends.  One of them committed to "rescuing" the R-12 series and we bagged a September permanent with one day to spare.  Only one chance left (in NC) to snag a 600 - Lumberton a week later (Oct 6).  I made a final decision to go for it on Wednesday.  There were a few other randos signed up that I had ridden with before, so I felt I would have some company most of the time.

Other than dealing with some leftover shoulder pain from the T of C accident, the Lumberton/Sunset Beach/Lumberton 600 went well.  Weather was better than forecasted (the 1000K riders had to endure all of the bad weather).  I was blessed with great riding companions for the whole distance.  Our particular group only had to deal with one dog, who apparently had a short term memory loss, as it needed a second dose of Halt! within minutes of rubbing its face in the grass after being sprayed once.

During the low points of this year (riding to the hospital in an ambulance and later trying to deal with pain from bruised ribs), I was ready to give up on night riding since that is when I have had mishaps.  However, another commonality is that I was wearing a NC Rando jersey while riding in Virginia.  I appreciate the rando buddies who have been encouraging and helpful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

T of C Accident Report

I would much rather be writing a ride report of a successful 1200K, but things did not turn out as planned and therefore I put together an accident report of my recent Taste of Carolina experience.  Quick summary - I completed the first 300K before hitting an unseen pothole at around 2300 Wednesday night near Stuart VA.  I was on the ground before I knew what happened.  Injuries were too serious to proceed further.  Thus my second attempt at a 1200 also ended in a DNF.

A couple days after the accident, I went back to the scene to get a better look at the pothole.  I carefully checked my mileage from the last turn I made on the cue sheet, so I am fully confident that the culprit is shown below.  Needless to say, while I was riding this particular section of US58, it was late at night and dark.  I have a good headlight (Lumotech IQ Cyo), but visibility and peripheral vision are seriously compromised at night.

After refueling at the Willis VA control (169 miles), I departed solo around 2050 on 8/29 for what was supposed to be a reasonable 82 mile trek back to Greensboro, to finish the first third of the event.  Most of the heavy duty climbing was behind me.  I arrived at the T intersection of Cloudbreak (610) with US58 (Jeb Stuart Highway) and turned left.  A wonderful 6 miles of downhill followed, and as it was dark I held my speed back with generous use of the brakes.  About 3 miles west of Stuart, the shoulder disappears and the road just has some minor undulations as it curves around.  While pedaling up a very minor upslope, I felt the impact of the front wheel on something and the next thing I remember was picking myself up off the pavement.  I asked myself if this was a dream, and realized it wasn't when I put my hand on my forehead and came back with blood.  My handlebars were twisted to the side, so I pulled them back in position and walked over to the grass and sat on the guard rail.  I knew I needed help and waved at a couple of cars that went by.  No one stopped, so I retrieved my phone from my trunk bag and flipped it open to dial 911.  Apparently one of the passing motorists must have already called 911, because I looked down the road and saw some blue lights coming up the hill from the direction of Stuart.  A couple of police cars arrived, followed shortly by a fire truck.  Everyone was helpful and said an ambulance was on the way.  The EMTs in the ambulance worked to stop the bleeding and stabilized me for the ride to the hospital in Stuart.  Either the police or firefighters transported my bike to the hospital.

What followed was a set of X rays (no broken bones or dislocated shoulder, but some heavily bruised ribs), a CT scan, and several stitches to close up the gash above my left eye (possibly caused by my mirror).  My wife Deane was pretty upset to hear from the hospital, but kept her cool and called Tony (RBA) to let him know my status.  Tony wouldn't let Deane make the trip to Stuart VA and arranged for another volunteer (Paul R) to bring a van from Greensboro.  Much thanks to both of them, and to the hospital staff.

Paul arrived in Stuart to pick me up along with my bike, and we got back to the Greensboro Best Western just in time to see Jerry, Ed, and Geof as they were about to start the next leg of the 1200.

Anytime there is an accident serious enough to require 911 services, there is inevitably some analysis that follows.  I have already submitted my report to the voluntary RUSA online reporting mechanism that is now set up.  Would wider, lower pressure tires (and a bike designed around them) such as 650B x 42 have helped avoid this accident?  Would a handlebar mounted mirror have left a gash in my head, like the eyeglass mirror did?  If I had mounted my headlight on the fork, or even down at the hub level (instead of a couple inches below the handlebar), would I have seen that pothole in time to manuever around it?  Or were my general fatigue and lack of attentiveness the main factors?  There are so many variables that cannot be isolated from each other, making quick answers impossible.  The fact that approximately 50 other riders made it past this point safely using similar equipment (and in some cases, even narrower tires than 700 X 25) kind of rules out equipment as a major contributor.  We can't eliminate risks from life, especially if we want to enjoy some activities that involve endurance.  I am thankful that the injuries were not any more serious.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dawsonville GA 400K

Mercifully, the Dawsonville 400K does not include the ascent up Brasstown Bald (we went by the base), but there was enough climbing on this brevet through the mountains of north Georgia to make it an extremely challenging event.  The ride is front loaded, with about 2/3 of the 19K feet of elevation gain occurring in the first half.

A small group of 9 gathered shortly before 6 am on April 28 at the Ingle's parking lot in Dawsonville to receive final instructions from RBA Kevin Kaiser.  The weather forecast was excellent, but Kevin urged everyone to pack some extra clothes for the nighttime descents.  My chances of finishing this brevet would have gone down significantly if the high temperature had been in the 90s, or if there had been periods of heavy rain.  Climbing was the order of the day, and the descents were a blast.  Wet rims and wet roads would have really been a bummer.

Leaving Dawsonville, the route heads north into the Chattahoochee National Forest and goes up Woody's Gap and Wolfpen Gap before getting to the second control at mile 45.  The Sunrise Country Store had some great homemade fruit pies, so I indulged myself with one.  There was a good number of other cyclists out enjoying the beautiful day, but like most sensible folks they would be home and resting while we were still out traversing hills at 2 am.  Jack's Gap and Unicoi Gap awaited us before control #3 at mile 104 (Clayton).  I thought Unicoi Gap was particularly tough, perhaps due to the time of day and lack of shade.  Roger and I left Clayton together and enjoyed a few miles of mostly gentle downhills before taking the left turn on Highway 28 for the dreaded 12 mile climb to Highlands NC.  There were a couple of short downhills but it was mostly a relentless steady climb.  Kevin and a couple of volunteers were waiting outside a cafe in Highlands, and we took a welcome break to have a sit down meal.  However, the clock is always running and on this ride, I just didn't have that much of a time cushion.

Roger, Dave and I pulled on some extra clothes and departed Highlands a little after 7 pm for the 56 mile segment to Toccoa GA.  This took us through part of SC before crossing back into GA.  Once we had refreshed and refueled at the control, we were supposed to retrace our route about half a mile down Highway 17, and then stay on it.  However, possibly due to our rather "numb" mental state at that point, we trusted a GPS unit that had us making a premature right turn, on GA 184 that we had just used to enter Toccoa.  None of us realized we had just been on this road, so we proceeded to go about 6 miles before stopping and asking directions.  The driver of the truck that stopped informed us we needed to backtrack to Toccoa.  He offered to give us a lift, but we had to decline his kind offer in order to "stay legal."

I went to the front, put my head down, and hammered for all I was worth.  All I was thinking was that I had driven 340 miles one way, paid for a motel room, and I was not going to let this turn into a no-credit training ride.  We got back to Toccoa, found our error, and got back on course.  A long climb awaited us leaving Toccoa - it seemed to go on and on and on ....  I was still pushing it, far more than I normally would on a 400.  Our plans for an early morning breakfast at the Waffle House 53 miles from the end were dropped due to lack of time.  With about 45 miles left, I grunted about a third of the way up a steep hill and had to unclip and stop.  My tank was empty.  The dreaded bonk hit me full force.  I slurred something to Dave to the effect that I had to walk the rest of the way up the hill.  Once at the top, I ate my last Clif bar and Hammer gel.  We soft pedaled for a while until the food could take effect, and then hit it again.  About 15 miles later, the bonk returned, harder than before.  My water, energy drink, and food were gone.  Dave broke off half of his remaining granola bar, gave me his last couple of energy bites, and split his remaining water.  We continued, savoring the breaking of dawn.  With 18 miles to go, Dave said we had two hours left.  We can make it, just nobody get a flat!

We were near the end, on a level stretch of road, when a car stops abruptly 100 feet ahead and suddenly backs up.  I move off onto the shoulder and the driver stops and lowers the passenger window.  "You [expletive] need to get off the road, you understand me??" he yells.  I just looked at him.  Dave came to the rescue and simply barked out "Yes sir!".  The driver (whose 25 year old Lincoln Town Car somehow escaped the cash for clunkers program) proceeded to fumble with his shift lever and then took off.  We swung into the Ingle's parking lot with 20 minutes to spare, didn't spot Kevin's van, and rode over to the Super 8 to get signed in.  Kevin joined us for some breakfast and Roger called from Ingle's a few minutes later (we had dropped him earlier but I think he rode steadier).  All three of us were glad for each other to have successfully completed what is certainly a tough ride.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Fleche

This is my third year of randonneuring, yet I had never done a fleche. The opportunity to help form a NC team came up, and with the finish location at Nags Head, I felt reasonably confident of completing it within 24 hours (barring any spring hurricanes or other severe weather).

Three initial members met in late February to begin planning, and tentatively agreed to follow a course north of Raleigh. I volunteered to come up with a route based on NC Bike Route 4 (Northline Trace). This began several hours of work with a magnifying glass and an atlas of NC county maps, recording road names and numbers, and attempting to determine mileage between turns. The first edition of the course had us starting from Burlington, but when the total distance added up to around 320 miles I knew we had to shift the starting point further east. There are some randonneurs in NC who could easily cover that distance in 24 hours, but I'm not one of them. Desiring to retain the Northline Trace (BR 4) in our route, I settled on Oxford as a starting location. Providentially this turned out to be a good decision, as our team was far enough north to escape the rain showers that lingered into Friday morning (the three other teams that started on Thursday or Friday all had some rain to deal with).

I knew better than to trust a completely manually created route and cue sheet, so engaged the help of fellow randonneur Martin to give me some pointers on Trimble Outdoors. Using Trimble enabled me to get more accurate mileages than was possible using only an atlas. After a few iterations I had a draft cue sheet and spent an afternoon scouting out the course. My wife drove and I did the navigating, making notes on where stores were located. We turned back at Elizabeth City, as from that point on the course would simply follow US 158 to Nags Head.

There was still some work to do in determining controls, and after my initial attempts didn't quite meet ACP rules, Tony (RBA) gave some helpful suggestions. This led to a few more tweaks on the cue sheet and Trimble trip. By now the original team captain had to withdraw due to medical and family concerns, so I picked up the reins. Incidentally, our team was called "North State Navigators", not a real catchy title but it captured the essence of what we were doing. Ed of SC called a few days before our departure, looking for a team to join. Again, this was providential good fortune, as a second of the original team members had to pull out just a few hours before we were scheduled to start at 7 am Friday.

I left Graham in a heavy rain at 5:20 am for the drive up to Oxford. I had been monitoring weather maps all week and fully expected we would have some showers for a few hours. However, as I traveled north on I-85, the rain gradually diminished and had completely stopped when I arrived at the Just Save grocery parking lot. Ed was waiting and before long Keith rode up on his bike, inquiring if anyone was interested in a ride to the Outer Banks. The Just Save opened at 7, and after getting our cards signed we headed out under a mostly gray sky, but hoping the wind would keep rain clouds to the south.

The confidence that comes from scouting a route was a big advantage. We did miss one left turn in the dark that night, but at most I think this cost us only one bonus mile. The road was unmarked and the turn was oblique rather than 90 degrees. Our progress for the first 55 miles was not great (5 hours) due to having 3 controls and fighting some crosswinds and headwinds, but we built up a time bank as the day wore on. I was looking forward to a good meal at the 103 mile open control in Severn, but inquiring at the post office produced only the reply that "there's nothing in Severn." The lady at the counter was very helpful though, and refilled our bottles as well as stamping our cards. Murfreesboro was only 10 miles away and had a McD's.

At some point between Gatesville and Winfall, the lights and noise of Friday night drag racing (Northeast Dragway, Hertford) were visible and audible to our left. I think we were all dreading the possibility of having some spectators leave the racetrack in their cars, pumped up with adrenaline, and try to use the road as a track. Fortunately, there was maybe a half dozen vehicles towing trailers or race cars that passed without incident. About 20 miles after the open control in Winfall, we endured the bone rattling surface of Halstead Blvd in Elizabeth City (the entire top layer of asphalt had been removed in preparation for resurfacing). Ed's GPS was helpful in finding the IHOP, which was a welcome place to get some food around 11 pm. We took our time and didn't leave the IHOP until around 12:30 am, as we only had a little over 40 miles to cover to get to the 22 hour control. US 158 was pleasantly almost traffic free, which would be a plus after we left the 22 hour control and had to get across the Wright Memorial Bridge (about a 2 mile long dual span bridge crossing Currituck Sound). We were getting blown around a good bit, and I was thinking the barrier didn't look very high. It was a good feeling to reach the high point and know we were over half way across. With traffic very light at 5:30 am, I was just concentrating on staying in the right lane. A real white knuckle experience. Once we reached the Outer Banks, life was good as we cruised down 158 at 22-23 mph with a strong tailwind. Jerry was waiting at the Food Lion to greet us and sign cards, and we also saw the folks gathering for the 200K. Another fleche team arrived a couple hours later, and some of us hung around to enjoy a breakfast at Grits Grill after getting cleaned up.

Keith has a write up with some pictures here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Salisbury 300K

"Why do we do this stuff, anyway?" [Quote from Ricochet Robert, about 10 miles from the end of the Salisbury-Hoffman 300K, after complaining that the previous 11 miles were the longest 10 miles he had been on]

I confess I had some negative thoughts of my own, soloing along for hour after hour. You know, this randonneuring is just another form of bike racing, and one of the reasons I joined RUSA was to get away from the club racer (Lance wannabe) crowd. Yet here I am, dropped within the first 2 miles, figuring I will be a perpetual solo red lantern. It didn't help that I racked up 9 bonus miles in the first hour, having missed a turn and following someone who I thought knew the way. We did pool our collective wisdom, consulted a map at a convenience store, and backtracked to where we missed the turn. This individual was kind enough to stay with me for 25 or so miles, and then gradually dropped me as he was just doing the 200K. I resigned myself to plugging along solo, although it was good to encounter the other riders in 3 or 4 groups scattered along the last 6 miles as they returned from the turnaround in Hoffman. Vance was just leaving Hoffman as I arrived, and as I have had at least 2 bad experiences with bonking on 300K brevets, I sat down for some real food and stocked up on supplies.

I never could catch up with Vance, although the clerk at the next control mentioned "a big black guy" had just left 10 minutes earlier.

Night had long fallen, when about 45 miles from the end, I spot 3 randos pulling out of a convenience store on my right in Oakboro. "Tim, I never thought I would catch up with you!" Tim confirmed that the other two were Phil Creel and Ricochet, then filled me in on why they were delayed - 12 bonus miles for missing the left turn on NC 138, and going 6 miles north toward Albemarle. Sorry for the bonus miles guys, but I sure welcome your company! None of us were in any particular hurry, just kind of in that mode of enduring an early season 300K. We took a leisurely stop at the penultimate control, where I consumed some more "bonk prevention" insurance. Then it was 33 miles of more or less soft pedaling our way to the end, although that last long stretch with no turns did a number on Ricochet's patience.

We arrived at the Windsong Bike Shop shortly after midnight, which was actually a little better than I was calculating. I was thinking I was going to have to adjust my saddle back some more, and then noticed that my seat post did not look like there was quite as much exposed as I remembered. Back home, I got out the tape measure, and sure enough, my seat post had slipped down about an inch over the course of the brevet. No wonder I was having to move around on the saddle to get comfortable, as well as stand up to get any power.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jersey Turns 40

2012 marks the year this long sleeved wool jersey turns 40 years old. It is a relic from John F Kucharik, whose name has been synonymous with quality bicycle clothing for several decades. No doubt some of you are thinking that bike I am on in the 1972 photo looks more interesting than the jersey, and you would be right. It is a Bianchi Campione from the early 50s (it was NOS when I bought it in '72). I know, I should have sold the jersey and kept the bike. I think it had the same frame as a Specialissima except the seat lug was not chrome and there were no chrome rings on the seat tube. It had Campagnolo drop outs, Gran Sport derailleurs, Magistroni steel crankset, and long arm Universal brakes. By the time I sold it I had replaced everything with a Nuovo Record groupset, so that would have lowered its "classic" value.

Note that the only bike helmets available in '72 were padded leather "hairnets". I did have one but was not consistent in wearing it.