Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Endless Mountains 1240K, 2009, the uncut version

Photo by Bill Beck, morning of Day 2, Hallstead. The last time I look anywhere near this perky...


One becomes tempted, after a ride of this magnitude, to fancy oneself some form of Icelandic bard or other crafter of epic prose. Much as I'd like to deliver my Endless Mountains 1240 ride report in saga form, I fear that my readers (yes, all three of you) would rapidly lose patience with endless variations on a theme of
Grey was the morn,
And dismal the skies,
As the winter-wulf howled from the West.
Out rode Bill, leader and scribe, garbed all in wool to his eyes.
Followed he was, by numbers dwindling, of comrades weary and vexed.
Etc., etc. So, I shall resist such temptation, and instead blather on in more modern style.

Pictures, Results, etc.

Bill's Photos and Music Video(!)
Maile's Photos
George's Photos
Christine's Photos
EM1240K Blog
Rob Welsh's Ride Report

Day 1: An old familiar friend (This hill AGAIN?)
'Twas the usual drill for the morning of a long brevet; eyes popped open a few minutes before the alarm (okay, they popped open every hour or so all night long, but who's counting?), last-minute bike inspection ("Pedals? Check! Do they spin? Check!"), and down to the hotel lobby to scarf food and chat with other riders. Tom gave us the traditional pep talk, and we were off in a blaze of glory and tail-lights.

The first day's course was more-or-less identical to that of the 1000K from last year, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect: a half-dozen long, tough climbs, interspersed with plenty of shorter ones, plus a lot of rollers to keep things interesting. I figured I'd follow my now-standard protocol, wherein I'd try to ride with the fast group as far as the first controle, then fade back on the climb over Blue Mountain and find my own pace. Sadly, the testosterone poisoning kicked in, and I was foolish enough to nearly burn myself out by keeping pace all the way to the beginning of the Fox Gap climb. I did maintain enough presence of mind to slow down for the 2-mile 1200'+ climb, so was merely hurting at the top, rather than utterly blown. Surprise, surprise, there was a "secret" controle at the summit; probably the worst-kept secret in the history of secret controles, at least if one has ever ridden any of Tom's brevets before. From there, we dropped back down to a crossing of the river in Portland, then over the ridge to the next control in Blairstown, and the next major climb in the form of Milbrook Rd. I like to call this stretch "the demoralizer", as it is a seemingly endless climb, with a fairly evil false summit, followed by a drop to Old Mine Rd and an immediate granny-gear-grind up that next hill. Once past that obstacle, however, the 10 mile passage through the Delaware Water Gap is quite lovely.

I popped into the corner store at Layton to stock up before the drop to Dingman's Ferry, as I knew the Raymondskill Falls climb was imminent.I also remembered how much fun the bits immediately following Raymondskill were, so took it nice and easy all the way to the next controle at Barryville, in the great state of Gnu Yahk. A quick sandwich, and some goofing around in front of George's camera, and it was off on the next leg. This included the Dreaded Carbondale Climb (AKA Mt Salem), which took us to the highest point on the course for the day, followed by a screaming (or at least occasionally yelping), brake-pad-eating descent into downtown Carbondale and the Dunkin Donuts controle. Then, of course, we got to climb OUT of the valley, on our way to a fairly nasty set of rollers and the first sleep controle at Hallstead. I got in just before 9 PM, so enjoyed a luxurious 4.5 hours of sleep.

Day 2: The gathering storm (Knees, mechanicals, and morale)
Bill, Rob, and myself departed Hallstead bright and early at 4 AM. I was feeling ok as we were rolling out, although the sporadic rain was a bit annoying. Soon, however, I noticed that both knees were starting to twinge a bit, then more than a bit. I pulled over into a gas station, took some Aleve, and put on my spare knee warmers under my tights; that seemed to help somewhat. I was more than a bit concerned, however, as knee troubles at mile 220 of 776 is generally a Bad Sign.

Shortly thereafter, I felt the rear end go all catywumpus. Called out "flat" and bid Rob and Bill a fond adieu for the duration, then pulled over to deal with the problem. A bit of forensic work, and , a-HA! A glass shard! I pulled the shard, glued down the patch, re inflated the tube, got back on the road, and ffffffffttttt in less than 5 minutes. Profanity ensued. More forensics determined that there had been two glass fragments in close proximity; the one I had removed was probably not the first culprit, but the one I hadn't seen most assuredly was. Pluck/patch/inflate/replace/back on the road. 10 minutes later, "Gee, the handling is getting sloppy back there." Off the bike, inspect tire, find mushiness of great degree. More profanity ensued, at slightly greater length and significantly higher volume. Forensics ensued, and detected no immediate leaks, so I broke down and threw in a new tube. Inflate/replace/back on the road, to the same sinking mushy feeling in less than 10 minutes. Yet more profanity, this time in a continuous low-voiced stream even before the bike had come to a complete halt. Forensics ensued...briefly. I had neglected to screw the Presta valve cap back down, and it appears to have stuck in a slow-leak open position. That, at least, was an easy fix.

Finally, I was back on the road to Sayre. The knee pain and flats, plus rain, had done a number on my morale and my performance; while this was a lovely flat stretch, and a great opportunity to make up some time, I was deeply enough in a funk that I simply couldn't bring my speed up over the high teens. Then, probably due to the rain and road dirt, the rear brake started rubbing badly, and I darn near chucked the bike off an overpass in disgust. I was NOT a happy camper by the time I limped into Sayre, so I stopped at the first convenience store I found to console myself with food. Utterly by accident, this was exactly the right thing to do, as my mood improved dramatically within 5 minutes of shoving a couple of breakfast sandwiches into my gaping maw. In hindsight, I realize that part of my mood was probably due to insufficient solid food; contrary to the experiences of many, I tend to ride much more happily with a well-lined stomach. I had successfully experimented with mostly liquid on-bike nutrition on several 150-milers over the summer, so had assumed that it would work well on longer rides. Live and learn, I suppose.

From Sayre, I maintained a steady pace through Towanda and a few climbs to the controle at Dushore. I wasn't feeling great either physically or mentally, but had gotten back to a state of equilibrium that I could maintain indefinitely with sufficient care. This was good, as the bit from Dushore to Canton was a fine test of that equilibrium; Rte 154 is a very exciting road on which to cycle, with its' 20%+ climbs and its' screaming blind-curve technical descents. Regardless, the trip to Canton was made without serious damage to my Zen-like state of serenity.

In Canton, I made sure to eat a bit more solid food, as my memories of the next stretch indicated that it was going to be about 15 miles of really rough rollers and climbs. before getting to Liberty and the long descent into Little Pine Creek. Surprisingly, I was feeling pretty strong at this point, and powered through this stretch with nary a moment's dismay. Heh...except for the dogs. I almost forgot the dogs. There was a little pack of three farm dogs hanging out by the road, obviously interested in harassing passing cyclists. Two were apparently merely bored, and looking for something to chase; the third, who appeared to be a mix of Greyhound, Rottweiler, and (in my fearful state) Brontosaurus, was a little more intent on putting teeth to lycra. I wasn't TOO concerned, as they accosted me at the top of a decent valley, and there isn't a dog alive who can keep up with a fat guy on a 'bent _starting_ a descent at 20 miles per hour. Then I hit the other side of the valley, maybe a quarter-mile away, glanced in my mirror, and realized that Rover the Bionic Dog was only 50 feet back and had achieved missile lock. When Pennsylvania's answer to the Hound of the Baskervilles had taken the first snap at my left thigh, I discovered that yes, recumbents can climb hills at speed. The only parts of my body touching the bike were hands on bars, feet on pedals, and shoulders pushed into seat, which, while not sustainable, is a lovely way to put a bit of extra grunt into climbing a 15% slope in the big ring. Finally, after a couple more snaps, Fido dropped back, or maybe his batteries ran down or something.

The rest of the day was uneventful; hard as blazes, but in that very familiar "ho-hum, a 5-mile steady climb followed by 12 miles of sawtooth rollers" sort of way. Rolling into the Lamar controle at just before midnight, I was tired, but still feeling good about the ride. Little did I know...

Day 3: OMFG. Hardest day on the bike I've ever had, bar none. (Fog, rain, abandon?, exhaustion, treehouse)

Lemme just say that, in hindsight, there was no one thing that made this day really tough. The combination of a lot of things led me closer to abandoning a ride than I've ever gone before; sheer stubbornness was the only thing that got me through this (27-bloody-hour) day of riding.

I departed the Lamar controle just before 5 AM, after a whopping 2.5 hours of sleep. A chilly fog had set in, making early morning navigation spectacularly difficult; fortunately, the route was not too complex at this point, so dull wits and fogged eyes were up to the task. I winced when I read the cue to turn on a Long Run Rd, however, as the combination of the words Run (usually denoting a valley with a stream cutting down through it) and Long (usually denoting, well...) bodes poorly. Boy did it ever.

After an icy-cold descent on the far side of the ridge, plus a nice game of leapfrog with John and Dan Fuoco on the way to the Loganton post office controle, we found ourselves rolling towards Boalsburg. Then the rain set in. For the first time.

Much of the day was a blur; it was chilly, and hilly, and I'd already punched out 500 miles in the last 2.5 days. I spent much of the rest of the day riding with John and Dan, who were quite congenial company; we had all pretty much hit the same state of disconnection from reality, which manifested itself mainly in slow, steady-paced riding (or "dieseling", as my friend Rob likes to call it). We made it through the next controles without incident, then added Craig Martek to our merry band, just as the REAL rain set in. For bloody hours.

After several of us started feeling hypothermia settling in, we set up camp at a Sunoco in a feeble attempt to dry off and warm up. We're talking catastrophically soaked to the bone, uncontrollable shivering, no dry garment amongst us, just about ready to throw in the towel. Actually, the prospect of abandoning was discussed very seriously; finally, we decided to ride to the next controle, a 24-hour Dennys, where we could stay as long as we needed, and where several EM1240 volunteers were waiting.

The rain had mostly slackened off when we reached Dennys, and it was *only* another 60 miles to the overnight controle, and *only* midnight or so, so pushing on seemed like the done thing. I'm glad we did, but that ride through the night was naught but a haze of fatigue for me. I ended up having to pull over twice for catnaps, as I was no longer capable of keeping the bike in a straight line. The first time, John and i found a wooden picnic table so long as to allow us both to sleep comfortably; the second time, John rode on, while I curled up in a kid's tree house structure on a lot full of Amish-built sheds and outbuildings. Less than refreshed, but at least less dangerous, I limped my slow and sorry way to the final overnight controle at Pine Grove. I arrived at 7 AM, as dawn was breaking, 27 hours after leaving Lamar. Shattered, utterly shattered.

Day 4: Homestretch
After a whopping 90 minutes of sleep, I dragged my sorry carcass out of the room and down to the lobby. Peering blearily around, I noticed vaguely food-shaped objects arrayed on a counter, and concluded that I should consume some of them. I'm pretty sure I did, but, to my dying day, I will never recall what they were. While absentmindedly shoveling food into my face, I had the chance to chat with Steve Scheetz, whom I hadn't seen since the PA 1000K last year. I think we talked about the upcoming route, although it could have just as easily been a conversation on the relative merits of death metal versus grindcore for all I recall. I think I've successfully conveyed the idea that I was less than mentally acute at this point, so will cease beating that particular drum.

Signed out with the volunteers, handed over my room key, and I was on my way. Rolled out the door and was struck full between the eyes by an unfamiliar sight, blinding sunlight. Although painful to my solar-deprived retinae(sp?), that worked better to produce awareness than a cup of coffee poured down the front of my chamois. Ah, light. Warmth. Not wearing tights, knee warmers, and base layer for the first time in days...what luxury!

Buoyed by the delightful weather, I made good time on the way to the one and only intermediate controle of the day, a Sheetz in New Holland. Pedaling through the gentle rollers of Lancaster County in the morning sun was exactly what I needed, and I maintained a reasonable pace for the next few hours.

As I approached the homestretch, however, the knee pain with which I'd been struggling all ride started flaring up badly. At Morgantown, as I left Amish country behind, the left knee started grumbling; by the time I headed into the approach to Harmonyville and made the mistake of powering up a particularly steep incline just after a metal-grate bridge, it was in full-fledged revolt, with only 25 miles to go! I had a good eight hours before the time cutoff, so I popped a couple of Aleve and dialed way back on the effort.

Fortunately, the rest of the route back was fairly familiar, from previous brevets in the 2008 PA series. I had hoped to make it back before dark, but ended up slowing a great deal by the time I hit Swamp Creek Road, so it and the last few miles of back-roads navigation was done in darkness. Regardless, I pulled into the hotel lobby at 8:10 PM, the eighth finisher, less than 5 hours behind first finisher and all-around-good-guy Randy Mouri.

Lessons Learned

Happily, I can say that there were very few negative lessons on this ride. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I've done this enough now, and trained well enough over the past few months, that I really didn't do too much that was wrong.

That said, I did a poor job of sticking to my plan on the first day. I should have eased off after the Blue Mountain climb as planned, rather than trying to hang with the fast group through Fox Gap. I also should have been a bit more careful about solid food intake; until the morning of Day 2 in Sayre, I was mostly running on gels, beans, Heed, and Perpetuem, and I think my system gets unhappy and weaker than it should be with more than 150 miles or so of such a diet.

In the future, I think I want to try a more minimalist approach; I carry a lot of stuff, and it'd be nice to see if I can simplify and trim the load down by 5-10 pounds. For that matter, trimming 20-30 pounds off ME would be a fine idea for future endeavors.


This was a tough ride for me, but not for the obvious reasons. I expected a hard route, and I expected mechanical problems and sleep deprivation and suchlike; heck, I even expected to go through at least one long physical and/or emotional bad patch every day. I thought the weather might be poor in spots, even if I didn't quite realize how poor. But what I didn't expect, because it's never happened to me before, was that I really didn't have fun for much of the ride. For whatever reason, my heart wasn't in it, so I had to substitute sheer stubbornness (and end-goal Ben & Jerry's visualization games! Thanks, Maile!) for actual desire to be riding.

Do I feel a sense of accomplishment, and of pride? Yeah, I do, and I'm glad I didn't give up. Also, I'm willing to wager that, given a few weeks for the sharp edges of memory to be softened into nostalgia, I'll be eager to do such things again. Now, though, the thought of a multi-day brevet is less than appealing; I think I need to be done with such things for a few months. Fortunately, this aversion does not extend to fast day rides and 12-hour races and such...I'm still excited about the idea of training for and riding in Calvin's Challenge next year.

All in all, it was worthwhile. I can't thank Tom, or the Helpful Horde of volunteers, enough for their efforts; their example leads me to believe that I need to do a bit more for the sport than brevet route design and bicycle inspection duties. Anyway, thanks again to Tom and the crew...you couldn't have done more to make my first 1200 a good one.


J Doncevic said...

Wow, Dan, this is really something. The tire troubles, the dogs, the freezing soak, the knee. Wow. Quite an accomplishment to persevere. Also quite vibrant descriptions of the events. John

Anonymous said...

Yo Dan... GREAT write up and a tip o' the proverbia hat to ye for a yeoman effort and yob well done.

As a slow riding recumbo good to see someone who can run with the big dogs, in more ways than one.

Planning to crew at Calvin's and look'n forward to meet'n ya.

Slo Joe Recumbo

Will Hively said...

Oh yes, you have rendered an Icelandic saga after all. The modern prose is just a smoke screen. Thank you.

And please, keep up the good blogging. I'm in dire need of an antidote to the crazy, alarming notion I sometimes get that it would be "fun" to try working up to a 1200k (from my current comfort-limit of about 200k).

Reddan said...

John: Thanks. I couldn't have done it without our Pittsburgh hills (the ride, that is, not the prose...)

Joe: It's a date for next Calvin's.

Will: If you can do a 200, you can most likely do a 300 without much more trouble. I found that the first real jump in difficulty wasn't until the 400K, when riding in darkness for multiple hours became a reality. Assuming your 600K has a sleep controle at the 400K mark, it's surprisingly easy to get back on the road after 2-4 hours of sleep and do that last 200K. Ok, "easy" may not be the right word, but it's not anywhere near as tough as riding straight through sans snooze.

MG said...

Great synopsis of your adventure, Dan... I'm sorry you did not enjoy the ride more. I have to say I have only had that feeling on an endurance event a couple of times and cannot imagine experiencing it on a four day ride...

Ms. Blumenfeld said...

Oh brother. I love it. Your robo-dog put the street racing mangy curs of Phoenix to shame. Incroyable!

Kinglearpa said...

Dan A yowmans Job,and a great read. The human spirit has a habit, of turning the bad times into vague memories when the end result is positive. During RAAM 5 days into the race I commented when the race was over I was going to take a couple weeks off the bike. 4 days later, back home I was back on the bike hoping to get the call to do it again. I suspect you're there now.
Calvins sounds like an interesting adventure. I think you've given me a new training goal.
See you on the road.