Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Eastern Pa 2008 400K

"This bodes poorly" he observed clinically, while writhing on the floor of the Quality Inn's finest suite.

Thus began my day, the morning of the Eastern Pa 400K. I had set the alarm for 3:15 AM, as well as requesting a wake-up call for 3:20. Due to my uncanny powers of self-waking, I bounced out of bed at 3:00 on the dot. Full of vim, vigor, and general enthusiasm, I bent to snag my sandals; then the back spasm hit. And I collapsed like a tree under assault by methamphetamine-crazed beavers. I'm not normally prone to back problems, so this was an unpleasant surprise. Luckily, the spasm eased after a mere couple of minutes, and was reduced to a low-grade ache for the next few hours. I still have no idea why it happened, but devoutly hope this does not become a regular feature in my life.

Once the muscular misery had run its course, I got dressed, checked out of the hotel, and drove over to Tom's house for checkin and breakfast. As usual, oatmeal, bagels, bananas, and granola bars figured heavily into the pre-ride fueling equation. Tom reviewed a couple of minor cue sheet changes, and cautioned us with regards to a couple of the descents and less-well-maintained roads. Then, we set out into the pre-dawn gloom for the first leg to Cherryville.

I followed my new strategy to the letter; start with the fast group and try to keep up through the first controle, then find my own pace at the first real climb up Blue Mountain Drive through Little Gap. This helped me get nicely warmed up, as well as avoid early-morning navigational blunders, before dropping back a bit to a more comfortable pace. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

At this point, I must note that the one and only true irritation of the ride became manifest; somehow, in my tinkerings earlier in the week, I managed to shift the chainline just far enough inward that the return line was rubbing on the plastic chain keeper under load. This became MADDENING, as I could both hear and feel the power loss on every serious climb. I still have not figured out what I changed to produce said effect; however, to give away a bit of the plot, it obviously didn't hamper my performance that much.

From Cherryville, I rode more-or-less solo to Water Gap and the bakery controle, where I found myself tempted by vast quantities of cannoli and chocolate chip cookies. After giving in to temptation in truly epic fashion (no, I will not reveal how much I actually ate; suffice it to say that I, who do not embarrass easily, am embarrassed...), I crossed the Delaware via the I-80 pedestrian bridge, then set off up Old Mine Rd through the Delaware Water Gap. Scenes of natural beauty abounded; deer bounded 'cross my path; and millipedes, in biblical-plague quantities, bound me to a less-than-straight path through the park. To expand on the theme, let me just say that the 'pedes ranged in size from a mere inch to 8-inch monsters as thick as my tire, dripping with fangs, pincers, and a hunger for cyclist flesh.

Tom came out on his bike and accompanied me through a portion of the Gap; for some strange reason, he chose to peel off before the descent to 615 and the associated climb back up to Millbrook Village. I ended up riding with/near Guy Harris for much of the remaining leg to Hainesville; said leg was fraught with anticipation of turning around so that the fairly enthusiastic/vicious headwinds would become assistive tailwinds instead. A quick grilled cheese at the Flat's Deli controle, and Jim Logan, Guy, and myself were back on the road. The first sight to greet our eyes was Old Glory flying proudly and directly along our line of travel, indicating that yes, indeed, we had a nice strong tailwind to speed us along.

I decided to pick up the pace a bit; knowing that the climb up Old Mine to Millbrook would slow me down significantly, I figured that taking advantage of the prevailing winds and smooth new asphalt on 615 would be wise. Of course, the climb up Old Mine was not nearly as dreadful as I recalled, probably due to my choice to forgo all machismo, drop to the granny, and trundle up the hill at a stately and steady pace. Once past Millbrook, the Water Gap is pretty much a gentle descent with a few rollers all the way back to I-80, so I took full advantage of my recumbent's aerodynamic properties. Another crossing of the Delaware, and some coffee and pie a la mode at the Water Gap Diner controle were my reward.

Back through Cherry Valley and up through Wind Gap, I began to notice a bit of fatigue setting in. Not so much physically but mentally, as distinctions between "bear left" and "turn left" became harder to draw; for that matter, distinctions between "left" and "right" were getting fuzzy. Time to break out the big guns; Expresso Love Gu packs with the extra caffeine. Thus fortified, mental acuity sufficient to get me to the farmer's market controle was achieved.

I blush to admit it, but at this point, I've begun to lose track of the thread of events. I recall providing Joe, Jim, and Andrew with a couple of good strong pulls on 519; I also recall some pretty, yet monotonous segments of railway frontage road on the way out to New Hope and the penultimate diner controle. Friendly waitress, tasty muffins, and slightly surreal conversation with assorted fatigue-plagued randonneurs figured into the picture somehow as well. Frankly, all I recall clearly at this point was a strong desire on every one's part to bring it home by midnight. So, we formed up our pack for the final 45-mile push back to Easton; I did my best to lead us astray at one point, but wiser heads prevailed. Several long flat stretches, a few rollers, and a couple of moderate climbs later, and we were back at Tom's house, with an elapsed time of 18:40. I was delighted, in an out-of-focus sort of way, in that my goal for the ride was 20 hours; less than nineteen was fantastic.

Summary: Great weather, great route, good fun, and yet another 100% completion. I'm really curious to see if we can get 100% for the 600K as well.

Accomplishments: First double century, longest ride ever taken, 253.1 miles with rolling average of 15.6 mph.

Lessons Learned:
  • My pre-ride fueling strategy of eating like a pig for a week was a poor one. ESPECIALLY the heavy steakhouse dinner the evening before. While delicacy forbids details, let's just say that my digestive system was the focus of a great deal of my attention for the first half of the ride.
  • I already knew this, but did it anyway. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER perform serious maintenance on the bike without taking it for a shakedown ride BEFORE the primary ride. I got off lightly with 253 miles of rubbing chain; it could have been so much worse.
  • It's probably time to break down and put a rear rack on the P-38. It would make cargo handling significantly simpler, as I could use my existing stock of bags and panniers, rather than jury-rigging a diaper bag as a seat back bag.
  • I did suffer from a bit of hot foot on the balls of my feet for the last 60 miles or so; it was tolerable while pedaling, but clipping in was agony. I don't know if I need to change something, or just deal with it; maybe break down and resort to painkillers if necessary.

Monday, May 19, 2008

400K: To-dos

The 400K is upon me, I've got most of the tinkering complete (including a remount of the fugly light switch from the handlebars to the seat), so just need to pack and be on my way.

I'm taking Friday off work, and will detour through York County on my way eastwards; that way, I'll get to stop in and have lunch with the 'rents, as well as hopefully catch up with an old high school buddy. Leave York by 3 or thereabouts, and check in to the Quality Inn in Easton at a reasonable hour. Consume vast quantities of dinner with an eye towards pasta and other carb-like substances, then sack out early before my 3:30 AM (!) wakeup call. Tom's house, breakfast, check-in, and bike inspection at 4, then ride start at 5 AM.

Looks like a fun route, albeit with a lot of out-and-back sections. Tom was kind enough to yank the Fox Gap and Millbrook climbs; that will help, although I'm stil dreading a repeat of the climb up Old Mine Rd just off NPS 615 in the Water Gap on the return from Hainesville. Ah, well...I did 2 MPH before, and I can do it again...

Here's the Bikely routes (usual caveats: not official, subject to change, not approved by RBA, etc.)
Controle 1 (Easton, Pa) to Controle 2(Cherryville, PA). 31 miles

Controle 2(Cherryville, PA) to Controle 3 (Water Gap, Pa). 33 miles
Controle 3(Water Gap, PA) to Controle 4 (Hainesville, NJ). 30 miles
Controle 4(Hainesville, NJ) to COntrole 5 (Water Gap, PA). 30 miles
Controle 5(Water Gap, Pa) to Controle 6(Martins Creek, PA). 26 miles
Controle 6(Martins Creek, PA) to Controle 7(Bloomsbury, NJ). 25 miles
Controle 7(Bloomsbury, NJ) to Controle 8(New Hope, Pa). 36 miles
Controle 8(New Hope, Pa) to Controle 9(Easton, Pa). 40 miles (looks mostly flat...thanks, Tom!)

It'll be fun. I'm hoping for roughly 20 hours, so I'll get in by 1 AM or so. Shower, eat, nap in Tom's guest room for a few hours, then set off back to the 'Burgh on Sunday.

I am a little concerned about/curious to see how I'll handle the 4-5 hours of riding in darkness while fatigued. That could well slow me down more than a little bit; but, safety trumps speed, so I will quite happily seek out a park bench or a comfy conveneience store aisle if necessary to catch a nap. We'll see...the wild-eyed optimist in me says I'll be fine. :-)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sputter/Gasp/Splash to Work Day

Unless I utterly misremember, this is the second year in a row where my Bike To Work Day commute has involved precipitation ranging from "stinging" to "torrential" to "biblical".

I need a shell that is actually water resistant; the old cheap one from Nashbar looked and felt more like a wet tee-shirt by the time I arrived at the office. The sleeves did a good job of supporting sloshing puddles around my elbows (Yay, recumbent riding position!); allowing arms to hang straight down and loosening elastic at wrists produced copious quantities of water pouring over my hands.

Wool socks and SPD sandals were a good choice, though. I'm using that combination for most of my cycling at this point, as it seems to Just Work for most applications.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Eastern PA 300K Brevet, Water Gap Edition

Vital Statistics: 191.43 miles, 15.1 mph rolling average, ~15K' climbing, 14:37 time.

Results(1 DNS, 100% completion!)
RBA Ride Report (added 05/13/2008)

The PA Randonneurs 300K brevet was held this past weekend out of the Weisel Hostel in Quakertown. Although the weather forecast was a bit ominous, we enjoyed sunny and partly cloudy skies for much of the day, with temperatures ranging from the high 40s to the low 60s; quite acceptable, really.

As per usual, vast quantities of oatmeal, bagels, and coffee were consumed before heading out to the porch for a brief rider meeting. The RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, cautioned us about a couple of the more exciting descents, and we were off into the morning mist. I was happy to find that my new home-brewed switching system for my lights worked as expected, although I think I'll reposition it under the seat or somewhere else less obtrusive.

The first leg took us through Bethlehem to Cherryville; nicely minimal traffic, due to the early hour. I found myself off to a slow start; not feeling bad, but a little sluggish, and a nagging sore throat that was to prove a near-constant companion for the remainder of the ride.

After a quick stop at the Turkey Hill controle, we set off on the longest leg of the route; 50 miles, including two of the big climbs and Appalachian Trail crossings. First, the climb up Little Gap, ending up with a lovely view of the mist-filled valley below:

Valley seen from top of Little Gap climb, by Blue Mountain Ski resort.

After plummeting down from Little Gap, a series of scenic rural roads led us eastward.
Abandoned house between Little Gap and Fox Gap

From there, we headed up to Rt 191 and the Fox Gap climb; however, Tom had mercy upon us this time, and routed us such that we only did the top half of Fox Gap. Small mercy, that; however, the secret controle at the top, stocked with caffeinated beverages, was a truly welcome sight.
After bombing down the hill to Portland, a quick river crossing led to Columbia (New Jersey), and a surprisingly tough little climb up from Rte 46 starting on Walnut Rd. Eventually, I found myself in Blairstown, where a peanut butter and jelly bar at the Gourmet Gallery controle provided some much-needed sustenance before the looming Millbrook climb.

The aforementioned Millbrook climb on the start of the third leg was a good tough one, but I found myself flagging badly on the subsequent bit from Millbrook Village to Walpack. Definitely hit my low point for the ride in this stretch; creeping angst had set in pretty strongly, as had a tendency to crawl up hills in the sub-4 MPH range, until I hit a lovely stretch of freshly repaved road along NPS 615 through the Water Gap park. The clean asphalt lifted my spirits enough to make the remainder of the cruise to Flat's Deli in Hainesville fairly painless.

I ordered a roast beef sandwich at Flat's; I was not expecting to receive half a cow on a bun, however. Tasty, but I ended up pitching half of it to Rob, who arrived a couple minutes after I did. After a few minutes to allow the vast quantities of beef, cheese, and veggies to find equilibrium, I set off on the return trip through the Water Gap. Got almost a quarter mile, too, before turning around to retrieve the gloves that I'd somehow forgotten on the table...
Delaware Water Gap

The last real climb lay ahead on this fourth leg. By retracing the route through Millbrook Village, I had the delightful task of scaling Old Mine Rd in the other direction; yes, the same descent labeled as scary, dangerous, use caution, etc., would now be the delightful 17% obstacle I needed to surmount in order to get back to Pennsylvania. I didn't actually drop below 2 MPH, but came fairly close to cracking that low-speed barrier; it almost certainly would have been faster for me to walk the bike, but excessive pride prohibits such indulgence. Anyway, once past that little obstacle, the rest of the leg was delightful; smooth rollers all the way down to a Delaware River crossing via I-80's walkway to Water Gap, PA, and the Water Gap Diner. There were other randonneurs (Jud and Rob), and, more importantly, there was PIE A LA MODE. No better way to fuel up for a quick jaunt to the next controle than with cherry pie and vanilla ice cream...

Water Gap to Belvidere was uneventful. I rode with Jud and Rob out of Water Gap, following the river down through Portland and back across to Belvidere and the Pizza Mia shop. We were all anxious to wrap things up, so we kept the controle stop mercifully brief and embarked on the last leg back to the hostel. There was a bit of a climb up to the top of 519, but nothing compared to earlier in the route.

We crossed the river for the last time in Riegelsville, then headed south to follow the border of Nockamixon State Park back to Weisel Hostel. Back in at 7:37 PM, and I had successfully completed my second brevet and longest ride to date. (I will confess to a desire to hop back on the bike and put in an extra 10 miles to make it a double century, but discretion proved to be the better part of valour...)

I grabbed a shower, then loaded up the car and headed home. I had every intention of making it back to da 'Burgh, but decided to play it safe and got a motel in Breezewood for three hours of much-needed sleep.

Lessons learned:
  • There really wasn't much difference for me between this ride and the 200K. As long as the hydration and nutrition were kept up, I didn't notice any deterioration in energy or comfort after about 100 miles or so. I hope this keeps up at least through the 400K, although I suspect my handling of sleep deprivation on the bike will be the next hurdle to overcome.
  • I should strive for a bit more minimalism; I carry a lot of crap, much of which is unnecessary; although a lot of the tools are nice to have, some of the excess bags and spare bits could safely be dispensed with.
  • I confirmed something I'd read, in that simply pedaling through the low points is one of the best ways to handle them. It was nice to find that even feeling utterly drained and demoralized was something from which I could rapidly recover.
  • The HEED seemed to work well, although I ended up carrying at least a half-pound more than I needed.
  • I should give up on the notion of driving home after a brevet without sleep. Highway driving is too monotonous for me to tackle it in a post-ride state.
  • Although not a problem thus far, I could probably have optimized my controle stops well enough to buy an extra 30-45 minutes without much trouble; something of which to be aware for later brevets.

OT: Prettiness

NO bike content whatsoever. One of my favorite pics from Deena's performance at Your Inner Vagabond last Thursday.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Worst possible time...

...to make modifications to your bike? Why, the day before a brevet, of course! The Eastern PA 300K is this weekend, so I couldn't leave well enough alone, now could I?

As mentioned previously, I felt a need to over-complicate my nice, simple, and reliable SON dynamo lighting system with a handlebar-mounted three-position switch. The concept was simple; center position == off, other two positions correspond to primary (LED) headlamp only and primary + secondary (halogen) lamps. The execution, well, let's just say that A) it's a prototype and B) I still have some strategic work to do with heat-shrink tubing and sealant of varying forms.

Pictures(please excuse quality: rushed lunchtime camera phone shots are not my forte)
Sheerest elegance in recycled design. Note the velcro strap holding the case together.
Glorious proliferation of unrestrained cables
Note lack of bulb in front view. Silly-looking, eh? Cries out for something to fill the aching void.
The interior. Actually, this looks neater than it has any right to...
Extra quick-connects at the hub, so I can readily rewire the lights directly to the hub if necessary

I ended up cannibalizing an old Schwinn halogen handlebar light for the main housing; pulled out all of the guts, and did some drilling and filing to get an el cheapo SPDT center-off switch to fit nicely. JB Weld-ed a two-position barrier block inside, just so I didn't have to twist all the wires together, and did up a bunch of connectors using 18ga speaker wire and standard 1/4" quick-connect terminals. I was clever enough to wire it such that, if needs must, I can throw in a little 2" jumper cable and cut the switch out of the system completely, effectively going back to the original wiring plan if the switch barfs.

I still need to do some weather-resistance work on most of the joins, and may well throw some dielectric grease in all the contact points while I'm at it.

It's ugly as sin; the old Schwinn light is huge, and having the empty reflector in front just looks silly; I'll probably throw in a blinking "be-seen" LED at some point. For that matter, I'm giving thought to attaching a LED reading light to the housing as well, for cue sheet perusal in darkness.

Long term, I'd like to fabricate up something more polished, maybe design it in kit form so that it can be readily added to an off-the-shelf dynamo system.