Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Crush the Commonwealth 2010

(Now with 30% more E P I C, when compared to last year's edition)

Ride Reports on the CtC blog
Eric's ride report: Day 1, Day 2

Short version
  • 380-ish miles, ~37:30 elapsed time.
  • Third finisher, behind the Tressler brothers who came in together at an awe-inspiring 34:48.
  • 1 mechanical (flatted)
  • No physical or emotional harm done.
  • Much Type 2 fun was had. No, not that type of fun; that type of fun.
  • The P-38's drive train and brakes are pretty much trashed.

Long Version

The Plan
Not much to it. Make it through the abandoned turnpike tunnels before dark, push through to at least Bedford before sleeping, and wrap up at the Point in under 36 hours. Try to only stop once every 65 miles or so, and keep stops under 15 minutes until the sleep stop.

Prologue, Thursday May 6th
For some reason, I had decided it would be a spiffy idea to rent a U-haul to transport myself, sundry other CtC participants, and various bikes from Philly to Pittsburgh. So, I rode over through West View and down Babcock to the U-haul place on McKnight. There awaited my glorious steed; a cargo-hauling behemoth, with fuel economy measured in gallons per mile, seating three in discomfort. At least I got it at the 10-footer price.

Threw the P-38 in the back, with a few strategic bungees to keep everything in place, then drove back to my place to load Joh-doh's bike and meet Bill. Bill parked, we threw his bike in as well, then drove over to Shaler to pick up Jim on the way to the turnpike.

The Turnpike itself wasn't bad...we only stopped twice, so made good time. Hitting Philly was unlovely, however, as I'd arranged to meet Joh-doh and Nick at the Amtrak station on 30th and Market. At roughly 5:30 on a work day. In a vehicle roughly the size of Rhode Island. WhatthehellwasIsmoking?

(To digress briefly; driving in downtown Philly makes me, frankly, apeshit. The manner in which people casually block an intersection is appalling; what makes it worse is that said behavior practically forces you to drive like a self-obsessed lump of douchebaggery yourself, in order to make any progress at all. I had to sit through three cycles of the light by the train station, no doubt driving those behind me into fits of foaming rage, before I got pissed enough to do what everyone else was and just wedge myself into the intersection. Meh. A pox upon them all.)

Traffic chaos aside, I got Jim and Bill unloaded, then reunited Joh-doh with his bike. (I had thrown a front fender from my spares stash on there for him, and he seemed quite pleased.) Fought my way over to Manayunk, dropped off the U-haul, precariously strapped my box-of-crap-to-be-shipped-home onto the seat back bag, and pedaled carefully to cousin-in-law Carrie's place a few miles away. She was kind enough to put me up for the night, as well as tolerant enough not to mind me getting up at O-Gawd o'clock on a work day. Although I usually have a great deal of trouble sleeping the first night in a strange location, I had cleverly brought along a tome on developing for and administration of the open-source DotNetNuke Web portal framework, so was yawning in no time.

Day 1, Friday May 7th
3:15 AM: Amidst various muttered imprecations, I silenced my cellphone's alarm, and blearily prepared for the ride. Poured pseudo-food powder into bottles, plopped pseudo-beverage tablets into Camelbak bladder, pulled on shoes and helmet, pulled off shoes and helmet, pulled on jersey and shorts, pulled on shoes and helmet, and was out the door. A stop at the nearby WaWa for breakfast, then down Ridge to pick up Kelly Drive and the trail into town. Wildlife highlight: a large, healthy-looking fox looked down his nose at me by the river.

4:45 AM: The Bell is mighty deserted. After a few minutes, Jim and Bill arrived; then Dan G. came around the corner and politely informed us that everyone was gathering on the other side of the building. Heh. A few minutes of the usual milling around, then we set off on the neutral rollout to the trail. After, I dunno, 10 miles or so, we'd cleared the confusing bits, so the flag was thrown and suddenly the ride got a little 'spirited'. Myself, the Tressler brothers, and Scott (not riding CtC, but came out to say hi) took the rest of the trail to Phoenixville in the high teens and low twenties.
Got onto the roads and picked up Route S, and the spirited riding continued, until I discovered that the rear end was feeling a little wonky on the turns. Crapola...not 35 miles in, and I've already flatted. Fortunately, I've done this enough that A) it only killed 10 minutes and B) I knew not to stop looking until I'd found the culprit: a tiny piece of wire, roughly 1 gnat's whisker longer than the thickness of my tire, had punched right through and created a lovely pinprick in the tube. Dug out the pliers (don't mock my toolkit...every tool in there "might come in handy some day"), pulled the wire and swapped in a fresh tube, then was back on the road somewhere in the middle of the overall pack. Picked up the pace a bit, and managed to reel in everyone by New Holland (due in no small part to a mechanical on the part of the Tresslers), only to promptly be passed by two groups while I'd stopped at the Getty station for my scheduled refueling. Ah well, the day was yet young....

I kept a good pace across Lancaster and York, until my second stop at the Rutters in East Berlin. Shortly thereafter, the climbing began, roughly at Arendtsville on Rte 234. It's not terribly steep until the end near Caledonia State Park, but it does slow you down a good bit. Finally crested 234 and hit Rte 30 a few miles east of Chambersburg, then enjoyed rush-hour Chambersburg traffic on the way to my third stop at the Sheetz. Stocked up heavily there, as the services would be limited until Breezewood, and both Cowan's Gap and the abandoned turnpike were in the way.

The next leg to Breezewood was actually really nice. To put it into perspective, last year I'd come through here in the opposite direction in darkness; actually being able to see the Gap and the turnpike made it a far more pleasant experience. I do have to confess to a bit of trepidation when approaching the first tunnel; I'd had company for them last year, and was feeling more than a wee bit of boogeyman-in-the-dark jitters as I went in solo. Made it through to Sheetz in Brezewood uneventfully; took a look at the time (roughly 8:30 PM), and decided that I'd just stick to my Bedford rest plan, rather than trying to gut it out to Somerset as I'd been idly thinking to try.

I'm glad I decided not to push, as I'd completely forgotten just how nasty the next few miles would be. The biggest problem, aside from the terrain itself, was one of the few route inconsistencies I found; specifically, the online Route S map specified a left turn, but the sign for Route S at the intersection specified straight. To make things worse, there was a "PA Bike Route Cornucopia" sign, that pointed in the direction of the online Route S map. After dithering, and a couple of bonus miles rolling back and forth, I decided to just follow the Route S signs and not worry about it. Seemed to work out just fine that way.

10:00 PM: Made it into Bedford just as everything had closed, so had to backtrack on 30 to Yet Another Sheetz for dinner. Here, I made my first real nutritional blunder; rather than grab some balanced, healthy, high-calorie, protein-and-carb-laden food, I fell victim to temptation and went with the bag of chips and can of processed dip. I'm quite confident that this led to a serious lack of energy the next morning...Anyway, I strapped my sack o' empty calories to the bike, and rolled up to a lovely $37 stay at the Motel Town House, just a block or two off route in the touristy section of Bedford. Shower, chips and dip, and 20 minutes of heavily edited 'Fight Club' on Bravo, and I was out for the night.

Day 2, Saturday May 8th
4:00 AM. Not feeling great, but not terribly poorly either, I set out back on the route. Not as cold as I was expecting, fortunately. Maybe I should take off my...and the rain started. Then the temperature dropped. Then the wind hit. And THEN, just a few miles later, the flashbacks to this segment last year began to hit, and I truly understood just how much the next bit was going to suck.

I've said it elsewhere, but it bears repeating. That was a truly soul-crushing segment: the climbing alone was bad, but the high winds, rain, and sub-40 temperatures made it a candidate for Worst 4 Hours On a Bike This Year. The only thing that kept me from throwing in the towel was the realization that I'd have to ride out to civilization to be picked up anyway, so might as well just keep going.

8:00AM: Made it to the Somerset Sheetz, and consumed ludicrous amounts of made-to-order breakfast food while trying to warm up and dry off a bit. I'd reached the point in such rides where I'm getting too eager to tell people where I had started riding and what I was doing, and I noticed that the smiles were starting to glaze and the polite nods of interest were being replaced with slow, careful retreat. So I decided to shut up for a while, and I think everyone was happier as a result.

Reluctantly got back on the road, and (mostly) coasted down Water Level Rd to Rockwood. I still had some feeble hope of cracking 36 hours; that lasted for, perhaps, the first 10 miles on the trail, until I realized that I was so shattered that I could barely push the pedals at 12 mph. I'd like to point out that, to someone with my aversion to limestone, having to endure 90 miles of it at 12 miles per hour is pretty much one of the worst ways to end a ride I can think of.

Regardless, all good(HAH!) things come to an end, and I found myself in McKeesport. Then the next burst of rain hit, and I emitted profanity that was great, and copious, and blasphemous in the eyes of entire PANTHEONS of deities. Then I got over it, briefly enjoyed the new trail and Riverton Bridge, then feebly crept up 837 and back to town. Called Eric from the Point (I have no recollection of the conversation, but I'm sure it happened), and finally rolled down the Ohio and up McClure to home.

Lessons Learned
  • Under no circumstances shall I ever drive a U-haul or similar vehicle in downtown Philly during rush hour.
  • I'm pretty good for 12-16 hours of a mostly liquid diet; after that, some solid foods every 4 hours or so keep the system happier.
  • Don't underestimate the speed-sapping abilities of even the best-packed limestone trails.
  • The fuel combination I'd tested at Calvin's Challenge, consisting of three Camelbak Elixir tabs in the 70-ounce bladder, plus Perpetuem in the form of two two-hour bottles, worked very well to enable roughly 100km traveled between stops. I rarely had much wastage when cleaning out the bottles/bladder (yes, I rinsed 'em every time I refilled...no desire for foul cooties to grow in the midst of me caloric goodness...), but never ran completely dry, and never had a serious bonk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Calvin's Challenge

Short Version
~9 hours, 158.5 miles, 0 mechanical failures, 1 biomechanical/willpower failure
Personal bests: 50 miles at average speed 20 mph, century in 5:30

Gary's Video
Pics on RecumbentJournal
John Foote's Pics
The glamorous life of a race owner

Thanks to Larry, Christine, Jeff, Julie, and all the volunteers and crew for a great event, catering to everyone from lowracers to high-wheelers.

Long Version

The first of May dawned bright and clear...no it didn't. I went to bed the night before to clear skies, but awoke to heavy clouds and thunder rumbling to the west. Got the car loaded, and headed over to the nearby Marathon station so that Annie (my long-suffering crew) and myself could indulge in a caffeine fix before I started the ride. As we emerged, the rain began...

Found our way to the starting point at Shawnee High School; chatted with Travis, Denny, and Tom for a few minutes, whilst I committed the ultimate faux pas and mounted a rear fender on my nominal race bike. Not that the fender helped much, but I like to think that at least the poor suckers trying to draft me may have benefited.

Tom and I rolled to the start just a few minutes before the whistle blew. Larry provided some words of wisdom and other profundities, at least in theory; Tom and I were far enough back that we could have been being addressed by Charlie Brown's teacher, Cajun Man, or Buckwheat for all I could tell. The whistle blew, and we were off!

The first few miles were interesting, as the riders sorted themselves out by initial pace. Wet roads, rain-covered glasses, and lots of red blinkies make for a rather hallucinatory effect; I was quite grateful to break away from the press and assume my rightful place in solo mid-pack splendour. The rain was fairly constant; rarely a deluge, but also rarely less than steady precipitation. Route finding on this first loop was particularly challenging, as many of the directional signs were located under puddles of water. Fortunately, the event workers had mostly stuck to the standard of arrow before the intersection, arrow at the intersection, and arrow after the intersection...I only overshot one turn, and that was more due to excessive speed and wet rims and brakes than anything else. Despite the rain, I finished up the first lap quite comfortably at my target pace of 20 miles per hour.

A quick change of Perpetuem bottle and hydration bladder, 30 seconds of leg stretches, and a banana later, and I was back on the road for the second circuit of the 50-mile loop. Hey, the rain stopped! Wait, what's that Invisible Force Bastard pushing against me? The wind was, uh, unfriendly, and I must confess to a good eight-to-ten miles of serious angst at that point. Fortunately, after passing the halfway checkpoint at South Solon, the wind was less of an issue. However, I had definitely burnt a bit more energy than I should have fighting it; if I'd allowed my pace to drop just a little bit further, perhaps I would A) have had more energy and B) not started my knee's downhill progression.

The third lap was quite pleasant, except for the occasional flare from the knee. I had regained my equilibrium, determined that I was going to shoot for no more than 200 miles, and dropped into my familiar brevet-style sustainable survival mode. My pace was down, but still in the 17 mph range, which was on-target to wrap up somewhere just over 200 miles. By the time I'd rolled back into the school, however, the knee had stopped muttering and was sending up warning flares.

I rolled out on the seven-mile loop anyway; figured I'd give it a shot, and see how things went. After the first mile, it was pretty clear that pushing for 200 would result in more damage than I wished to contemplate, the weekend before defending my CTC title. So, I threw in the towel at hour 9, with 158.5 miles under my belt.

I'm not at all unhappy with the event; first and foremost, it was a chance to give ultras a try without spending a lot of money on training and equipment. I enjoyed myself a great deal, so now I know that I want to pursue it further. It did sting a bit, as I've never dropped out of a major ride before; however, I'm comfortable that I made the right decision.

Nutrition and hydration were almost entirely liquid. One three-hour bottle of Caffe Mocha Perpetuem per loop supplied most of my calories, with a 70-ounce bladder of water, doped with Camelbak Elixir for hydration and some electrolyte replenishment. I augmented the electrolyte fluid with two Endurolyte capsules every hour or so, and had a couple packs of Jelly Belly Energy Beans when my stomach requested something solid.

The P-38 was shod in old Stelvios, running 110 PSI. (I had ordered a Durano in 406, and the nifty-looking Ultremo in 700c, but, sadly, my order was sent too late to get them for the race.) Cargo and hydration bladder was carried in a ludicrously oversize RANS seat back bag, which happens to fit a Lightning seat with some gentle persuasion.

I went with a wool base layer, poly jersey, cycling cap, and arm warmers on my upper half; shorts, wool socks, and shoes on my lower. This proved to be just about right for most of the day, although I ended up pulling off the arm warmers on the last lap.

Lessons Learned
  • Aerodynamics matter (says the dude on the 'bent...). My P-38 was not the optimal steed for this event; certainly not poorly suited, but something with the seat a bit more laid back (say, by an extra 20 degrees or so) would have been a better choice. Methinks a Corsa or something similar is in my ultracycling future; use the P-38 for brevets and lumplander rides, and bust out the highracer for the fast flatties.
  • Camelbak Elixir tabs seemed to work okay for electrolyte replenishment. The flavor was strong (1 tab per 24 ounces, so 3 tabs in a 70-ounce bladder), as I'm used to HEED, but not objectionable.