Monday, April 28, 2008

04/27/2008: 200k, plus a bit

As a means of prepping for the Eastern PA 300K in a couple of weeks, I went into this ride with one real goal: push myself a little, but finish up feeling strong. This worked out pretty well, as I was suffering from naught more than a little tiredness and some hot spots on my left foot at the end of a nominal 135 miles. Assuming I watch my hydration and nutrition as well as I did on this ride, I'm feeling pretty confident about the 300K.

The route was a bit of a hodge-podge; Freeport Rd, Russelton Rd, 908 Ext, Sun Mine Rd, Saxonburg, Butler, skirting Moraine to Cooper's Lake, Portersville, Ellwood City, Cranberry, Red Belt, Orange Belt, and Mt Nebo. This does not include a couple of detours; Gulf Lab Rd closure and a bit of cue sheet confusion on Sunset Drive. More on that later...

I left my place around 5:15, and plummeted down the hill to my friend's house for a brief errand of pet maintenance. Met up with Tim at the Science Center, then made our way over to Freeport Rd and caught up with Jim by Trizilla. A brief stop at the Giant Eagle Get-Go down the road for supplies and restroom, and we were off on the ride proper.

Side note: We made a fairly unusual riding group, as our steeds consisted of : Jim's carbon-fiber high-zoot Madone, with a Brooks B-17 (!) saddle; my production P-38 recumbent, festooned with lights and bags; and Tim's well-executed homebuilt dual big wheel stick recumbent. All we really needed was a folder and a British racing trike to complete the set...

Side note 2 : it became apparent that my cyclocomputer had lost its' mind, when it began stubbornly insisting that my average speed was 28.5 mph, and that I'd already covered over 800 miles. After a few failed attempts at rehabilitation, I gave up and turned it to face away on the bars; makes navigating in unfamiliar territory all the more interesting, when you don't actually know how far you've come at any given moment. Good practice for primitive way finding, though.

The original plan called for hopping off Freeport and picking up Gulf Lab over to Russelton Rd; however, it turned out that Gulf Lab had been shut down for construction. Fortunately, Jim was familiar with the area, and knew which side street would become Russelton Rd (Pearl, IIRC). A leisurely climb up Russelton was followed by the delightful descent down 908 Extension to Bull Creek, which led to the climb up Sun Mine Rd. (I might add that this climb was not nearly as bad as I recall; guess I'm not as much of a wimp as I used to be.) Sun Mine eventually becomes Westminster all the way up to 228; it's a set of moderately tough rollers, but is good fun to ride.

At 228, we jogged left over to Saxonburg Rd, then meandered through Saxonburg proper to find Butler Rd. More rollers ensued. We stopped briefly at a Sheetz (corner of Freeport Rd and Butler Saxonburg Rd), then dropped into downtown Butler and over to New Castle Road. A quick right on. and decent climb up, Mercer Rd, and we had left town again. Eventually, we picked up Sunset Drive, a nice little frontage road paralleling Rte 8. Unfortunately, this nice little frontage road had a bad habit of crossing Rte 8 on-grade repeatedly, which kind of robbed it of the traditional benefits of a nice little frontage road.

Even more unfortunately, one of the crossings led to a different road completely (Swamp Run Rd), with Sunset bearing off to the right in highly inconspicuous and unmarked fashion. Even MORE more unfortunately, I, in my bid to win the Christopher Columbus Award for Excellence in Navigation, specifically disregarded the more level-headed members of the party (i.e. both of them) when they pointed out the "No Outlet" sign on Swamp Run that should have given me pause for thought, or even *gasp* provoked map consultation. So, we found that Swamp Run (eventually becoming Chestnut) is an absolutely charming road, with the unfortunate disadvantage of ending in a pile of rubble deep enough in the backwoods that the strains of banjo music and screams of panicked canoers could be heard. That's where I checked the map, and found that yes, indeed, the road went no-where from here; in fact, our location on the map was surrounded by what looked remarkably like swamp markings, thusly discouraging the idea of striking out cross country through Moraine.

Once said navigational mishap was corrected, the rest of our ride through the wilds of Butler County was quite nice. We made our way through the town of Liberty (in theory; I don't actually recall any town, but maps don't lie, right?), then swung by Cooper's Lake Campground. The camp store was closed, so we hopped over to Rte 19 and stopped for lunch at the Subway/convenience store a mile down the road.

Picking up 488, we made our way down to Ellwood City, enjoying the welcome loss of elevation as we came down off the plateau. From there, we joined the traditional Wheelmen Fall Rally route to Brush Creek, then paralleled the Turnpike until we took 989 into the backwoods (such as they are in Cranberry). Jim and I parted company with Tim at Lovi Rd, as he decided to continue on 989 and visit his aunt in Economy.

Lovi Rd to the Red Belt to Ambridge to Sewickley was familiar enough that I registered very little; according to Jim, I ended up hammering pretty hard on the Belt, but, due to lack of computer, I didn't notice that I was pulling at 23.5 for several miles. Heh. I love the Red Belt in that stretch.

From Sewickley, I had gotten a bit sadistic when route planning; rather than the time-honored tradition of return via Coraopolis/Neville Island/McKees Rocks Bridge, I decided to wrap up the route with the dual climbs of Blackburn and Mt Nebo. This is a truly spectacular idea after well over 100 miles in the legs. But, again, training for brevets and all that...In any case, the final climbs were completed without undue agony, mostly because the gear range on the P-38 goes pretty darn low, and I have no shame about plumbing the very depths of said range.

A quick cruise along the ridge via Roosevelt, and we descended to The Street of Many Names (AKA Center/Church/Division/California/Lincoln/etc). I peeled off in Brighton Heights (coincidentally, the return route went two blocks from my house...wonder how that happened?), and Jim continued down the hill.

Lessons learned:
  • I really like the Hammer Heed electrolyte drink; far less cloying and sweet than Gatorade or Powerade.
  • I need to experiment with Perpetuem for the longer rides; I keep hearing glowing reports, and should really see if it works for me.
  • (Also nutritional) I'm noticing that my stomach starts flipping a bit with heavier beverages as the weather gets warmer.

The route (official, that is; the Gulf Lab detour, and the extra couple of miles on Swamp Run and Chestnut, are not included).
Good fun...I think next weekend will be a nice, easy metric, so as to let the legs store up a bit of energy for the 300k.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lake Arthur

So, I needed a sanity break. Ye Olde Place Offe Employmente has successfully driven me to the very brink of madness, which would explain why I thought it'd be a good idea to venture up to Moraine Park and back via roads I've never traveled. That's roads plural, as in darn near all of them were unfamiliar.

The route included only 5200 feet of climbing, even with a few bonus miles on Rte 8 due to a bodged cue sheet on my part; but it was unrelenting up-and-down for at least the middle 75% of the ride...good fun, but a little more vigorous than I was planning on for the day. I'd forgotten how exciting 528 from Evans City to Prospect was; that was okay though. The part that really did me in was the return; while the first two-thirds of the route was derived from one of Oscar's rides, the return was entirely of my devising; thus, the aforementioned "unfamiliar roads". 68 was rough; 989 was rough; and Lovi Rd, although not normally that bad in the short stretch with which I was familiar, was pretty much torture in spots after I'd already tired myself out. I was so happy to see the Red Belt that I darn near kissed the sign; heck, I nearly included bonus tongue action.

I'd call it a good training ride. Highlights included a lovely 1/4 mile stretch of freshly graveled road (Badger Hill back to the lake); a life-sized, and fairly realistic, horse statue placed on top of a nearby barn; and a woman at Bear Run Campground who was absolutely determined to convince me that the rabidly barking frantic canine beast in the back of her car "was really friendly" and "was nothing for me to worry about".

Since BikeJournal is currently non compos mentis (apparently SLantz left his SQL Server in his other jersey or something), here's the vitals for posterity: 117.63 miles, 14.6 rolling average.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Long Distance Bents

[For Vik's Long Distance Recumbents collection]

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Rando Experience:
1 200K brevet. (Gotta start somewhere!)
Metrics or centuries at least every other weekend, mostly year-round.
I'm planning on tackling the rest of the Eastern PA series this year, then see what happens betwixt now and L-E-L in 2009.

Bent Make/Model: Lightning P-38, Large frame made up with XL-tubing for added durability, stock 105 component level

Why did you start riding bents? Never really did much on uprights; I found ‘bents more interesting, initially from a pure “unusual and novel device” perspective.

Why did you pick this model? Reputation for climbing ability (I live in southwest Pennsylvania, after all!)

Modifications from stock: SON wheel from Peter White, lights, folding Marathon Racers (406x40 front, 700cx30 rear)

Lighting: Lumotec/E6 combo for the front, dual Cateye tail-lights for the rear, Petzl head torch for backup/supplemental lighting

Fenders: SKS

Luggage: Fastback M70 + pump pouch and tool pouch add-ons on left behind seat for extra clothes, tools, and spare parts; Fastback Flash frame bag for camera and miscellania, and a random old handlebar bag jury-rigged to the other side of the seat for food, medical supplies, and maps. Two bottle cages under seat, one bottle cage on stem, Terracycle Accessory Mount for headlamps. Tum bag for cash, emergency rations, wallet.

Navigation: maps, cue sheets, following people who look confident. I usually try to get the cue sheet in advance and map it in Bikely, so as to do a “virtual ride” ahead of time.

Riding with other bents & DF bikes: No problems thus far. I’m fit enough at this point to keep up with most of my local club riders in all but the steepest terrain (e.g., greater than 15%, I still tend to lag behind), and I seem to fit in with the pacelines acceptably well.

Eating on a bent: I try to alternate gels and solid food, as well as alternating slightly dilutes sports drink (Gatorade, Accelerade) with electrolyte replenishment drinks from Clif. Also, I tend to hit the salt tablets every few hours, as they seem to ward off cramping pretty well.

If you were to start again what bent/setup would you get? Well, I only just started…but I’d love to get either a high racer (Corsa SS, Volae Team) or something fun like a Baron or a Virginia for my fast day rides with the club, and keep the P-38 for brevets.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

First Brevet: Eastern Pa 200K


Short version:

That was fun. I'll keep doing this rando thing.

Long version:
The Eastern PA 200K Brevet was held yesterday, out of the Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, PA. Departure at 6 AM, 13:30 time limit, 125 miles, and between 10K and 12K feet of climbing.

My original cunning plan was to drive out to Quakertown, PA, directly after leaving work around 3, thusly leaving myself plenty of time to do bike tweaking, meet other randonneurs staying at the Weisel Hostel, and get a good night's sleep. This plan was complicated by the realization in the afternoon that I had forgotten to pack things like brake pads and chain lube (crap weather predicted), a towel, and miscellaneous other sundries. So, I popped in at home, kissed the family and petted the cats, grabbed my forgotten bits, and was on my way a bit later than planned.

Driving to Quakertown is a bit tedious, as the cheapest and fastest route appears to be a combination of two segments of the PA turnpike, a hefty chunk of routes 81 and 78, and a few back roads. Good times, especially in the dark. I arrived around 9 or so, signed in, and unloaded the bike and whatnot. Though the riders already present were too polite to say anything, I gathered the distinct impression that the expectations for my performance the next day were low; ye olde recumbent stereotypes creeping in, I imagine. That's okay; everyone was quite pleasant, and I don't fault anyone for laboring under certain common misconceptions when they have no reason (until now! BWAH-HAHAHAH!!!) to believe otherwise. Good mix of people; several rookies like myself, a bunch of experienced randonneurs, and an entire contingent up from the DC Randonneurs crew.

Woke up the next morning about 15 minutes before the alarms starting going off, and began the day. The RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, had put out a nice spread including coffee, oatmeal, pastries, and enough single-serving Accelerade packets to choke a camel. Gulped down the food, did the last-minute obligatory tinkerings with the bike, and got ready to....BOOM! FLASH! Pouring rain! Thunder, lightning, and meteorological drama of all kinds! So, the ride start was delayed for 15 minutes until the actual lightning stopped.

We started off nice and easy; aside from a mishap on a wet metal grate bridge (a couple of folks took a painful spill), the first leg to Wind Gap was straightforward. The climb up Lower Saucon Valley was a bit rough, as I hadn't really hit my stride yet, and the winding climbs around blind curves always make me a bit irrationally anxious. A bit of fog and humidity was also air-dropped into the fray, but proved insufficient to dampen my spirit. Regardless, we made it to the controle at the Petro Mart in good order. Stamp card, buy beverage, tinker with fender and seat mesh (a recurring theme on this trip), and we're off again.

I started riding with Eduardo (from Philly, if I recall correctly), David, and Crista and Chuck from DC, and ended up sticking with them for the rest of the route. Great company, and it was a good opportunity for me to take some cues from experienced randonneurs.

The "dreaded climb up Fox Gap" (1000' gain over 2.3 miles) to the next controle was certainly nothing at which to sneer, but it wasn't all that bad either. I went with a protocol of "keep the heart rate at or below 90%", regardless of how painfully slow my progress became; this seemed to work well, as I never blew up, and recovery at the top of the hill was almost instantaneous. Answered the informational controle question, then went blazing down the hill to the lunch controle at the Portland Family Restaurant. We passed Kelly and Mary (I think) on the way down, having tire issues on their tandem; apparently, it took almost an hour to resolve the problem.

After a leisurely meal, we moved on. Another decent climb lay ahead, Lomason's(sp?) Glen. Tom Rosenbauer surprised us at the top of the hill with a secret controle, the primary reason for which was apparently to disseminate food and water to those in need. Have I mentioned how well this brevet was run? From there, we shot down to Homestead, where we controlled at the General Store before another set of delightful (yes, that was sarcasm) climbs up Red Hill and Catterly. I think there were two or three minutes of angst at this point, wondering why I was doing this to myself, but it passed quickly. :-)

We dropped our postcards at the Point Pleasant Post Office controle, then did the last real climb up through the park. A good pace back to the hostel, and I was officially a randonneur at 5:07 PM.

Lessons Learned:
I need to work on my packing a bit better. Bringing things such as cameras is wonderful, but only if one intends to use them.

The seat mesh (or, more precisely, the cord binding the mesh to the seat frame) tends to stretch and sag in damp weather. I need to reinforce it, so as to prevent the rubbing of my back on the fender, and subsequent rubbing of the fender on the rear tire.

I became a bit sloppy with my nutrition and hydration around mile 90 or so. No ill effects, but it would have been quite problematic if the ride had gone for much longer (like, just to pick a random example out of the air, an additional 100km...). In hindsight, I think I started playing weight-lowering efficiency games with myself; "I won't fill the extra bottle, so I don't have to carry unnecessary stuff.", but I ended up husbanding the last few sips for the last 10 miles. No harm done, but I should have played it safer.


Overall, I'm delighted with the brevet. I felt good the entire time, and am feeling confident about my ability to tackle the 300K next month. I'm also pleased that I managed to maintain a good pace without overexerting myself, and that I had plenty of extra time available.

Thanks go out to many: to Tom, for putting on a great brevet and tolerating a lot of n00b questions; to Jim Logan, whose example helped solidify this wild-n-crazy randonneuring idea into concrete reality; to Crista, Chuck, David, and Eduardo, for allowing me to ride with them; and to my tolerant and supportive wife and child, for helping me to pursue these dreams.

(obligatory hero pic)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Random bragging

Small potatoes to many, but I had another personal best on Tuesday with the Unfriendly Bastards. 19.1 mph average for 35 miles of "typical southwestern PA terrain"... I gotta keep riding with these guys, 'cause they're pushing me to improve far faster than I would on my own.

That's it. I'm just pleased, given that I couldn't have maintained a 13 mph average over that route a year ago.


Monday, April 7, 2008

04/06/2008 Easy 50

One last longer ride before the PA 200K next weekend. Nice route, good weather; shame my heart wasn't in it, or my legs, or something.

The route: Noblestown to Finks to Kelso, Old Steubenville to Potato Garden, 151 to 51 and home.

Thingies of note:
  • I got tired of dinking around with the indexed 9-speed shifting (Side note: I have never had much luck with indexed 9-speed for some reason. 8-speed, sure, but 9-speed clicky bits and I just can't seem to reach an agreement.), so I threw the magic lever on the barcon and voila! Friction shifting! Now I'm wondering why I didn't do it sooner.
  • This was my second time on Potato Garden. Last time, I was delighted to be paced for a short distance by a blue heron that took off from the stream paralleling the road; this time, a year later, SAME THING. I'm starting to feel as if someone is sending me a message re: totemistic stuff, or at least what my first cycling-oriented tattoo should include. ;-)
After the descent down 151 to 51, I realized that I just wanted to go home, so I skipped the left and river-crossing to Ambridge, and just went right on 51 instead. Says something about my state of mind that I'd rather do the bonus climb on 51 near University Blvd than do the extra 5 flat miles that the Ambridge option would have entailed.

I dunno; it was a really nice ride, and I enjoyed myself, but I'm a little concerned about how well I'll do in the brevet next weekend. 13 hours is a L-O-O-O-N-G time to do 125 miles, even given the truly delightful elevation profile; but I've still got that nagging little voice in the back of my head. On the bright side, it looks like a lot of interesting people will be there, including both rookies like me and highly experienced randonneurs and anciens like Jim Logan and the DC crew. Besides, I'll be the first recumbent rider to complete Tom's 200K, so that's something to look forward to...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Is it f$%^ing spring yet?

No, I'm not whinging about the weather here in the Northern Hemisphere.

I've just grown tired of the end-of-winter edginess on display in most of the online cycling forae (forums? forii?) I frequent. From petty quibbling and "verbal jousting", to dragging out deceased equines; from whipping oneself into a lather over the frickin' pronunciation of phrases borrowed from other languages, to self-panicking over cloddish insurance ads; this is the third year I've watched environments normally notable for courtesy drop into various forms of uncouth online behavior.

It's not universal, by any stretch of the imagination; but it's there.

And yes, I'm well aware of the irony of posting a rant on the subject; but my blog, my rules, dammit. :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New bike go fast. Heh.

I took the P-38 out with the Unfriendly Bastards Wheelmen ride out of North Park last night, something I'd previously avoided on the Rocket.

I'm happy to report that, even with tools, fenders, lights, genny hub, and all the other assorted crap I tend to drape on my bikes, I was not slowing them down in the slightest. :-) Of course, the combination of vicious headwinds and my aerodynamic advantage may have had something to do with that, but still...

Basic route: North Park to Mingo to State Gamelands to Conway Wallrose to Knob to Red Belt, back to North Park. 30 miles, 17.2 rolling average...the only time I've done better was 17.4 over 65 miles on day 2 of the MS 150 last year, and that was significantly more flat than this was.