Monday, June 5, 2017

Rochester 400K

In addition to doing my own brevets, I try to support the other regions in the midwest by doing their brevets too. Rob Welsh and I had spent some time when putting our 2017 ride schedules together so that our events didn't conflict so I had the chance to do their 400K out of Rochester organized by Tom Ehlman. This was a new route for 2017 and I was looking forward to riding it.

Looking at the forecast before the ride I posted on Facebook that "it looks like we're in for a bit of everything" and this turned out to be the case as we had heat, wind, some hail, lightning and heavy rain along with some really beautiful weather after the storm had moved through but more on that anon.

The route had a little more than 10K feet of climbing and the profile looked as though it had more than a few longer, challenging climbs. Prior to the ride I decided I'd try to make quick turns through the controls until somewhere around 100 miles where I'd take a longer break for some "real" food and I pretty much stuck to that plan.

There were eleven of us at the start and we left in very nice conditions with a following wind. The group spread out to the first control with 4 riders ahead of me and 6 behind. As planned, I made a quick turn through the control and was first out but was soon overtaken by a group of four riders: Kit, Jonas, Keith and Scott. We rode more or less "together" through to the control at Winona at 93 miles mostly with a tailwind. I debated taking my longer break in Winona but decided to push on to Plainview another 34 miles on. It was already pretty hot but I didn't think it was as hot as it was going to get (and I was right) so I thought I'd get as many miles in as I could before taking a longer break.

I left Winona by myself and pushed on. About 12 miles out of town I'd already drank all of one of my water bottles and knew I wasn't going to be able to make it to Plainview on just the remaining bottle so I stopped at a Cenex station and bought a bottle of water and a V8. Jonas and Keith passed me while I was in the store and were about 1/2 mile ahead of me when I pulled out. After a few miles of flat we hit a long climb and I gradually caught and passed them on the climb. The day had really gotten hot by that point and I think they were wisely taking it easy in the building heat. That was the last I would see of any of my fellow riders and I rode the remaining 160 miles or so solo.

The next stretch to Plainview was the hardest part of the ride by far. The wind was really blowing hard at that point, it was above 90 and I was riding straight into the wind. Hot and windy really sucks the moisture out of you so I was trying to drink regularly and stay on top of electrolytes by taking one Enduralyte Extreme per hour. By the time I got to Plainview I was cooked. I did an extra couple of miles riding around town looking for the Subway before I finally came upon some people and asked them where it was. I took a leisurely break, had a sandwich and refilled my soda three times.

I felt better but not great when I left and it was still pretty hot with storms building to the north and west. Leaving Plainview there was a long 40+ mile loop back to Plainview going out to the east then coming back west. There was a nice tailwind on the eastern leg but I knew that meant a grind into the wind on the return leg. As I was riding eastward, the storm kept building and by the time I reached the info control at Minneiska it was raining hard with lots of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning though the lightning was distant.

As I turned west to return to Plainview it started raining harder and the lightning got closer. As I crested a long climb it was raining so hard I could barely see with a little hail mixed in and the lightning flashes were getting disturbingly close. I saw an outbuilding at a farm with the door missing and decided I'd duck in there to get out of the storm. I ended up waiting about 20 minutes or so before the storm passed through.

Leaving my little oasis, the day turned very nice. The storm had cooled it off about 20 degrees and the west wind that I'd been dreading had mostly disappeared. The only barrier between me and Plainview was some road construction that I had to walk through which was a sea of mud. Once I got to the other side my Speedplay pedals were so packed with mud I couldn't clip in. I rode into Plainview unclipped and before I left the control I washed my cleats and pedals. I was able to clip in but the residual mud and water mixed to form a cement that had my feet welded to the pedals. I nearly fell over at the next control and barely caught myself against the building when I couldn't unclip. I ended up having to take my shoes off and pull them off the pedals using both hands. Another good washing to get the remaining mud out prevented a repeat performance at the next control.

Wait for the ricochet

A while after leaving Plainview I was doing a long climb, possibly the steepest of the day, and saw a couple of buzzards up ahead feasting on a dead raccoon. They eyed me as I approached but were determined to stay on their food as long as possible. As I got closer, I saw a pickup truck coming down the hill. When I was within 10 feet or so of the buzzards they launched into flight and one of them flew directly into the path of the oncoming truck which hit it squarely and knocked it in my direction! It was headed straight at me chest high and because I was climbing there was a limit to how much I could swerve to avoid it. I just managed to avoid it hitting me - it flew past and landed in a heap just behind me. I never did see whether it got up but was thankful it hadn't gotten tangled up in my wheels as the thought of trying to disentangle a dying buzzard from the spokes didn't sound like a whole lot of fun at that point.

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. I felt like I was really crawling the last 40 miles or so but post ride analysis shows I was still maintaining a reasonable speed. In keeping with the "little bit of everything" on the weather front, I rode through patches of fog, cold valleys, warm ridge tops, etc., and it seemed like I was zipping/unzipping continuously in the last part of the ride. I finished at 1:52 (19 hours, 52 minutes) and was glad when I saw the finishing control. A long day with some weather challenges but a very nice route. Glad I went!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Driftless 200K/400K/600K June 4th

Our final brevets of the series (but not the season!) took place on June 4th with one rider doing the Fennimore Frolic 200K, two riders on a tandem riding the Scale the Mound 400K and three of us taking on the South then West 600K. The longer two rides share the same route giving us five riders on the longer course on Saturday.
When I awoke at 3:00 it was to the sound of a hard rain falling - oh no! By the time registration was done and we rolled out it had diminished to sprinkles and wet roads and after an hour or two turned into a pretty nice day. Because I was riding the 600K, I didn't have the opportunity to meet Juliet Droege who would be starting at 8:00 taking on her first brevet! My wife graciously handled the check in details for me (thanks!) and got Juliet on her way. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to finish but did complete 70 miles of the route and reported that she enjoyed the part of the course she rode.
Juliet taking on her first brevet!
Juliet taking on her first brevet!

400K/600K Day 1

As is often the case, the climb out of town "split the peloton"  so we arrived at the first store stop individually but regathered at the stop. This was to be the theme for most of the day with everyone riding their own pace over the many tough climbs in the middle 150 miles of the route. My barometric altimeter showed just under 14K feet of climbing for the first day and the route is such that the first and last 40 miles or so is flat to rolling so all of that climbing happens in the middle with a number of long and steep grades. Here's the profile of the middle section:
Alex Piotrowski and I rode together to the first store stop in Boscobel and at various times in the middle of the day until he, Jerry Christiansen and I grouped together toward the end of the day to ride together in the dark. Alex becomes the first person (beside the RBA) to complete a brevet series in SW Wisconsin!
Alex rolling through the morning
Alex rolling through the morning
Following a number of long and steep climbs along with some stunning vistas from the ridge tops which almost made the climbing worthwhile we all arrived at the store stop at Cassville at about 80 miles in. Everybody elected to take a longer break and get something to eat since this was the last opportunity for "real" food until the stop at Belmont at 160 miles. There's a stiff climb leaving Cassville but fortunately it's a few miles out of town to give us all an opportunity to let the food settle before tackling the climb.
We then rolled through a nice section along the Mississippi on Great River Road, the day was heating up but this section offered abundant shade along with some nice views of the river.
The mighty Mississippi
The mighty Mississippi
Because of the warmth of the day, most riders elected to make a stop in Dickeyville to get something to drink but I was OK on fluids and feeling alright so I pressed on to the next control at Hazel Green. Alex caught me just before arriving at the control and the rest of the group arrived not long after. I cautioned everyone that the next stretch up to Belmont was a tough one and advised them that although it wasn't a control there was a store stop in Shullsburg if they needed to take a break or restock fluids. Nobody but me did (local knowledge) and everyone said how hard that section was. Pretty much straight north, not a tree in sight and a dozen or so "rollers" - not the "good" kind where your downhill momentum carries you to the top of the next hill, the "hard" kind where you grind up one 6%-9% grade after another.
About 5 miles outside of Belmont there's an ATV trail that crosses the road. I'd been through there a number of times and the ATV's fly on that trail (the speed limit is 60 believe it or not). As I was approaching the trail, one was coming from the right at a very high rate of speed and it didn't look like it was going to stop. Long story short, I was so busy watching it that I hit a pothole with sharp edges - instant pinch flat. Alex hadn't stopped in Shullsburg so he was ahead of me and Jerry came by while I was fixing the flat. I told him I had everything in hand, got it fixed and headed to the control into rapidly darkening skies.
Since this was the last food opportunity on the route, everyone stopped for a meal at the Subway with Paul and Jennifer Danhaus being the last to roll in (those hills are tough on a tandem!). While we were there a hard rain started to fall so we all decided to take a longer break and wait it out and probably stayed an extra 20 minutes or so before it started to subside. We all put on rain jackets and left in a steady but not hard rain but fortunately it quit about 5 miles out of town.
Paul and Jennifer rolling through ominous skies.
Paul and Jennifer rolling through ominous skies.
Alex, Jerry and I grouped up for the rest of the ride to the overnight. The period between when we left Belmont and before darkness set in was just beautiful: clean, fresh air with a scent of alfalfa and clover in the air and beautiful skies. We were rewarded with a nice rainbow.
Rainbow after the storm
Rainbow after the storm
The view across the fields was very nice and with the setting sun off to our left we were treated to a beautiful view across the fields.
Across the fields
Across the fields
We all made it into the overnight (finish for Paul and Jenn) in good order with Alex, Jerry and I arriving a little after 2 AM and the tandem team finishing a bit after 4 AM. A long day for all and a tough route but a beautiful day and all in all the weather was pretty nice.

600K Day Two

Q: Which direction is the wind coming from?
A: Which way you goin'?
Every cyclist has had those days: you do a route where you are riding against the wind no matter which direction you go. This was one of those on steroids. The forecast was for winds gusting 30 MPH from the NW. Looking at the route profile this would mean we'd have a long grind up to Norwalk then a nice push to Cashton and some help the rest of the way to Boaz where we'd only have 15 miles or so to go.
So much for the way it should go. We ended up riding against gusting 30 MPH winds for much of the day.
We'd agreed to sleep in and leave just at the control close time from the overnight. Because the first day was such a tough one, the RBA wisely made the first control an untimed info control so our first "on the clock" control was in Norwalk at 54 miles. We all made this with a couple of hours in the bank. We mostly rode separately all day, joining up at the control in Cashton for lunch then each of us riding at their own pace into the wind.
I left Cashton first and rode from there to the finish 70 miles away with only a few brief stops. I "dodged a bullet" just before the long climb up CR-I. I'd installed a larger cassette on my bike without installing a new chain. I knew "big/big" didn't work but thought I'd get "one more ride" out of the chain before I put a new one on. As I was approaching the climb I was going up an early part of the grade and shifted the rear derailleur all the way onto the biggest (easiest) cog not realizing I was on the big ring in the front. Fortunately, I didn't destroy the derailleur, just jammed everything up tight. I had to remove the wheel in order to dislodge the chain but after 10 minutes or so of fooling with it I got underway again.
Alex caught up with me not long after and he and I rode into Boaz together. He said he wanted to stop and get something to drink, I was smelling the barn so I told him I was going to ride on to the finish. I did stop just on the side of the road under a tree on the other side of Boaz for a little bite to eat and something to drink though. Fueled by an ice cream and coke, Alex caught me about a block from the finish and I was pleased we were able to finish the ride together.
Greg and Alex
Greg and Alex at the finish
Naturally, after successfully completing such a tough ride, refreshments were in order:
Earned it!
Earned it!
Jerry rolled in a short time later for a 3-for-3 finish of the 600K!
Jerry at the finish
Jerry at the finish
So all in all, a great capstone to the series. A DNF on the 200K but an enjoyable ride just the same and all starters of the 400K and 600K got it done on a very tough parcours. Congratulations to all!

Off to Elkader 400K

Two weeks after our "Where Eagles Dare" 300K with temperatures in the 20-30 degree range we finally got some warm (and for some of us, too warm!) weather, unfortunately accompanied by thundershowers.
When I woke at 3 AM it was pouring and I thought "it's gonna be a long, wet day". It turned out to be a long day but not a totally wet one.
Seven of us lined up for the 5 AM start (sorry, no start photo) including Alex Pietrowski, Bob Booth, Dave Meridith, Tom McKenna, Lech Kiedrowski and Eric Peterson. In previewing the route, I'd discovered the Cenex control at Ontario closed at 9 PM and since I thought doing 216 very hilly miles in 16 hours was a tall order I changed it to an info control. Little did I know I had a couple of supermen (Dave and Tom) in the group! They pretty much dropped the rest of us in the parking lot and got there a little after 8 and finished together just after 10 - fast!
It was, as Bob Booth described it, a "perfect day for cramping" with cool temperatures at the start and super high humidity so you didn't "feel" hot but were pouring off water. The group (minus the speedsters!) got to the first control at Fennimore 40 miles in more or less together. Alex was the first one to leave the control along with Lech and Alex was on a mission! I left just after them and chased hard trying to catch but wasn't able to. I caught up with Lech on the long and steep climb on CR-C but Alex was gone.
Shortly after that Lech pulled up saying he was cramping. He had a V8 with him and drank it which he said helped. I thought "poor guy, awfully early to cramp on a long ride" and about 3 miles later I started cramping in both legs. I doubled down on Enduralite Extremes and the cramps eventually subsided but I was forced to soft pedal all the way to the control at Elkader at 106 miles. I was riding with Eric and Bob and we caught up with Lech (he passed us when we stopped at a store) before reaching Elkader.
I'm forced to turn the next bit into a personal ride report since that's all I have for the next segment. I've been struggling with heat for the last 3 years and after trying everything and beating my head against that wall with the same end result - me throwing up on the side of the road - I've finally concluded the only thing I can do that avoids that outcome is to just shut down in a cool place for a while until my core temperature drops.
I got to Elkader just behind the other three but was in "zombie mode". I bought a big plate of food since I knew I needed to eat but could only manage about 3 bites. I told the other three to go on and decided I was going to sit there until I started shaking from the AC which took about 30 minutes. The urge to quit was pretty powerful but I was at the extreme point of the route farthest from the start so I decided to continue at least to Monona where it wouldn't be such a long trip for my wife to come and get me. Fortunately for me, the extended break worked and I felt good for the rest of the ride.
As I made my way north (with a nice tailwind) I saw the skies darkening behind me. I tried hard to outrun the storm but it finally caught me at, poetically enough, Waterville. Unusually for me, I made the smart decision to stop and wait out the storm. 25 minutes of heavy rain, hail and lightning later the skies cleared and I continued on to the next control at Lansing. Had I tried to continue on in the storm I'd have had 10 miles on exposed ridge tops so although the urge to press on was powerful it really was smarter to stop. I hoped the others were more fortunate with the weather but learned later that Eric, Lech and Bob had heavy rain going into the control at Lansing but no lightning so they soldiered on through the rain. Alex had better luck, dark skies everywhere but no rain. He sent along a few pictures.
mississippi_east_channel_thumb [27634684]

rainbow_near_viroqua_thumb [27634686]
Although it was raining when I left the control at Lansing it quit not long before the long and steep climb up from the Mississippi river and that was the last rain I saw. I rode on to the control in Viroqua and stopped for something to eat at Culvers - the first "real food" on the ride for me - at about 8 PM then continued on into the descending darkness. I was riding strongly and thought if I were to see anyone else on the rest of the ride it'd be where the route did an out and back to Ontario and sure enough I encountered Eric, Lech and Bob on the retour about a mile out of town. I continued on to the control with only a brief stop and worked hard to chase back on. I caught Lech on the long climb up CR-P but really had to work to catch Eric and Bob - I found out why later when Bob said that rather than "soft pedaling" waiting for me "we were going 18 or so across the valley". I finally caught them just outside of Yuba and we rode the rest of the way together finishing just after 2 AM. Lech came in about 30 minutes later, turned out he'd gotten lost(?) in the "big city" and had to stop in a bar (surprisingly, he said it was "full of drunks" at 2 AM, who'd have thought?) to ask directions to the Ramada.
So a long, sometimes wet ride on a very hilly but very beautiful route. Although none of us wanted it to rain there was an unexpected upside to the threatening weather and that was significantly reduced traffic around areas that are busy on holiday weekends. Most of the route is on very quiet country roads but there are a few places, especially along the Mississippi river, where crowds can be heavy.  The fact that this wasn't the case was due in part to the less than ideal weather. As a result we spent the overwhelming majority of the ride rolling through beautiful scenery on quiet roads - randonneuring at it's best!
My barometric altimeter showed a little over 14K feet of climbing which, considering there are a number of runs through river valleys can only mean the climbs are long and steep! Dave and Tom were the first finishers followed by Alex about two hours later then the rest of us between 2 and 3 AM for 7 finishers and no DNF's. Great work everybody!
Three happy guys at the finish! Bob, Greg and Eric.
Three happy guys at the finish! Bob, Greg and Eric.

Where Eagles Dare 300K - Spring in the Midwest


Spring in the midwest

The forecast for today's ride was temperatures in the 20's at the start, "warming" up to the mid-40's, winds gusting 25+ MPH out of the WNW and occasional sleet. Hit it right on the nose. Including wind chill the temperatures ranged from the mid-20's to mid-30's and it was mostly overcast all day.
Tough conditions that seem to be all too normal this year.
Hardy souls at the start!
Hardy souls at the start! Mike F., me, Eric P., Alex P., Todd H. and Bob B. (Lech K. missing)
Seven riders registered for the ride and, perhaps foolishly, all seven showed up! In addition to the "usual suspects" (myself, Alex Piotrowski, Bob Booth and Mike Fox) we had Eric Peterson, Lech Kiedrowski and Todd Hoskins. Todd was not only doing his first 300K this was his first brevet at any distance. Talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool!
The first 106 miles of the route to Spring Green can best be described as "steep climbs linked together by challenging rollers"! Here's the route profile:

Six of us rolled out promptly at 6 AM. It turns out Lech was waiting for us at the front of the hotel and didn't see us ride by. Fortunately, my wife saw him on the route and was able to give him his brevet card and cue sheet. Although we wouldn't see him all day, he successfully completed the brevet.
See that first steep climb on the elevation profile? The first control was at the top. Between the climbing and fumbling about at the control the group split up. It turned out that Eric missed a turn at the bottom of the descent and would end up having a long and adventurous ride that ultimately led to a DNF. Among other things, he'd forgotten to put his pump on the bike and as "luck" would have it he naturally got a flat once he was on his own where none of us could help. Several misadventures later we'd eventually see him at the control in Spring Green and from there he rode directly back to Richland Center where a hot shower and refrigerator full of beer awaited. Come to think of it, he might have gotten the better end of the deal as the rest of us soldiered on into the wind!
Speaking of which, the winds were really howling, especially on the ridge tops, as we completed the first 100 or so miles to Spring Green. As it happens though, we "mostly" had some part of a tailwind during that segment as we went generally eastward in the WNW winds. I was really dreading the rest of the ride onward from Spring Green though, anticipating it would be one of those "put your head down and grind to go 10 MPH" kinds of efforts.
We made a rather lengthy stop at Spring Green since it was the only opportunity for "real" food on the ride then headed out to face the headwind. Although I might give up a few "hard man" points by saying so, it actually wasn't all that bad. We were either sheltered somewhat by the hills and trees or by the time we got to Muscoda the wind had lessened enough that it wasn't such a terrible grind.
From Spring Green we'd whittled down to a group of 4 with Eric heading back to Richland Center and Todd and Lech making their own way. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful with the most challenging stretch being up CR-X. For those who've never been there, the road is approximately 9 miles long and it feels like you're going uphill that entire time - and steep too! We stopped to collect ourselves at the final convenience store stop on the route in Boaz then pressed on toward the finish with Mike and I finishing about 10 PM and Alex and Bob about 15 minutes later.
Two happy guys at the finish!
It was so cold Alex and Bob's skin froze off!
Caption this!
Normally, I leave an envelope in the hotel lobby for late finishers to leave their brevet cards but by this time of night it was cold and getting colder fast with temperatures in the mid-20's. I'd not heard from Lech all day and only had a message from Todd saying he'd gone off route about 16 miles so I didn't know where they were. Given randonneuring is "self supported long distance cycling" I suppose I could have gone home, showered and gone to bed but the thought of those guys having a mechanical in the middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin with temperatures in the 20's would've kept me up so I started driving back against the route. I encountered Lech first and he was on pace to finish inside the 2 AM time limit but despite driving more than 50 miles against the route there was no sign of Todd.
I returned to Richland Center and met Lech at the finish at 1:25 AM. I then got a message from Todd that he was in Boaz which meant he had more than 50 miles to go so there was no way he was going to finish in time. I drove to Boaz and retraced the route and finally found him in good spirits and riding strongly. I told him he wasn't going to make the time cutoff and he said "it was more about the experience than checking a box" and was going to continue riding the route to the finish - cheers to him! He rode the entire route (and then some!) and finished about 7 AM, 25 hours after he started.
New randonneur Todd!
New randonneur Todd!
Despite a few misadventures all of us had a great ride on a challenging but lovely route. But next time - maybe a little less "epic" huh?

One for the hard men!

One for the hard men!

TLDR version: temperature never cracked 45, 4 hours of hard rain, 2 hours of drizzle, 2 flats, 15-25 MPH winds. Tough day but we got it done.
The forecast for the ride wasn't promising. As is usually the case, all of the online forecasts varied pretty widely ranging from "not very nice" to "really awful". Fortunately, although the weather was nearer the latter we were spared some of the more dire predictions (40 MPH winds).
Three hardy souls showed up at the start with ominous clouds and temperatures in the low 40's. Most forecasts agreed the rain wasn't going to start until mid-afternoon so we thought we'd get a few miles in before donning rain gear. About 30 miles later it started to rain....
We got to the first store stop at Soldier's Grove in good order. While there it started raining - not hard yet but enough to get the roads wet so we all put on the rain gear (except Mike F. who had a lovely Showers Pass rain jacket keeping his closet dry). After leaving the control, Alex P. got a flat in his rear tire, we all stopped to help and got it repaired pretty quickly. A looooong climb got us warmed up again and a few miles later Alex got his second flat (some guys have all the luck!). Our first thought was given the short interval between flats he'd not found what caused the first one but it turned out to be in a completely different place (some guys have all the luck!).
Patched and on our way, we rode into our control at the Co-Op in Viroqua for a nice lunch - hot soup on a cold day really goes down nicely! The rain started falling harder while we were eating giving us "encouragement" to get back on the bikes - not!
Leaving Viroqua in steady rain which would remain for the next 60 miles. Fortunately, the route was on quiet roads although shortly after going through the "town" of Avalanche a guy in a pickup coming the opposite way rolled down his window and yelled "get the f#%$ off the road". I don't understand people sometimes.
We rolled on past the Amish farms that dot the area and into the Kickapoo river preserve area toward our next control at La Farge. A relatively quick stop to regroup then up the long climb to West Lima followed by a rapid descent and then through the valleys to our final store stop at Rock Bridge. Mike was pretty cold at that point but my lovely wife was waiting there and had brought a couple of extra jackets for me "just in case". I offered one to Mike and he was good for the rest of the ride - thanks Marcia!
It finally quit raining while we were at the control! Leaving Rock Bridge we headed toward the last steep climb of the day on CR-D, a nasty 10% with a "sting in the tail" of 12% at the top. Then a couple of rollers, a nice descent and roll through Sextonville then the finish! A tough day all in all but great company and one of those "epic" rides that strangely enough are the only ones we randonneurs ever talk about.
Some hard men!
Some hard men! Mike F., me, Alex P., Bob B.

Driftless Randonneurs 200K - Nowhere but Norwalk

What a difference a week makes!
Exactly 7 days earlier, several of us lunatics did a 300K permanent in Black River Falls. The wind chill at the start was 14 degrees and the air temperature never got above 35 all day long.
Fast forward 7 days: temperature at the start a positively balmy 55 degrees and forecast to get into the upper 70's. For most of the riders this was the first ride this year without jackets and tights - quite the contrast but enjoyable just the same.
We had a great turnout, 14 riders at the start of what promised to be a lovely day.
The route is a new one for 2016 and features as the "second day" of our June 600K so riders can get a taste of what they're in for. The route has a nice variety with lengthy stretches rolling through river valleys and a few challenging climbs up to the ridge tops to keep things interesting.
14 Riders at the start
14 Riders at the start
We rolled out of Richland Center as a group and stayed together through the first info control. The route to Norwalk goes through lovely Amish farm country and the limestone bluffs of the Kickapoo river.
Limestone bluffs in the Kickapoo river valley.
Limestone bluffs in the Kickapoo river valley.
Beautiful farms on the way to Norwalk.
Beautiful farms on the way to Norwalk.
Leaving Norwalk we were faced with the looooong climb out of Norwalk. Everyone made the climb without issue although a few riders missed the turn and ended up doing a few bonus miles before they discovered it.
John Thier and Matt Levy at the top of the climb out of Norwalk.
John Thier and Matt Levy at the top of the climb out of Norwalk.
Bill N. at the top of the climb saying "was there a hill there?"
Bill N. at the top of the climb saying "was there a hill there?"
Dan and Steve top the climb. This was Dan's first brevet and he killed it!
Dan and Steve top the climb. This was Dan's first brevet and he killed it!
After the control at Norwalk we had a little over 12 miles to Cashton where most of the group stopped for lunch although Dave Meridith would press on without a break (he was the first finisher). After lunch it was a long grind into a freshening SE wind for the next 60 or so miles. It was heating up so keeping the fluids going was critical!
John T. staying hydrated
John T. staying hydrated
A tough climb up the 11% hill on CR-I followed by a grind straight into the wind for a few miles then a nice descent on CR-E led us to Boaz. Although it wasn't a control, everyone was grateful for a chance to stop and get some fluids on board before the final 15 miles or so back to Richland Center.
At long last, the finish was in sight with most riders rolling in within an hour or so of each other and a few "extra value" riders a little bit later.
Team Greg at the finish.
Team John at the finish.
"Extra value" riders Dan and Bob.
Bill N. at the finish.
Matt Levy rolling in.
Matt Levy rolling in.
All in all, a great day of riding with glorious weather, good company and beautiful scenery!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Super 600K

October is the time of year those of us in the frozen north start thinking about rolling out the fatbike, waxing up the skis, dragging out the trainer or just resigning ourselves to sloth for several months. It's also the time of year when I start reviewing the past year and conjuring up ride plans for the coming year.  I realized I wasn't quite ready to give in to ever shorter rides as the days got shorter and colder so I started thinking about one last ride for the year.

I've been wanting to do a "Super 6" since RUSA introduced them last year.  For those who don't know, a Super 600K is a 600K permanent with 30,000 feet of climbing that must be completed in 50 hours.  There are several in the U.S. but I had my eye on the Lynn Kristiansen Inspirational that starts and finishes in Front Royal, VA and is mostly on Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I'd been on both several times in years past and they are just beautiful, quiet roads with little traffic and spectacular vistas.

I had talked to several friends about perhaps doing a Super 6 together but due to the short notice I'd end up doing this one solo.  I do 100% of my riding at home solo and have done long brevets including 600K's and whole days of 1200K's solo so I'm pretty comfortable riding by myself.  Having said that, this effort was daunting enough that having company would really have been welcome but it was not to be.

I contacted the ride organizer, Gary Dean, who was really super supportive considering my short notice plans.  Several emails and an express delivery later I had everything I needed and settled on a ride start date of October 20th at 4 AM.  My wife Marcia and I made the long drive to Front Royal in two days of driving.  Since no support is allowed on a Super 6 I needed to arrange for a bag drop at the overnight hotel in Raphine, VA so we drove straight there.  This gave us a chance to drive the part of the route that would start off the second day - ouch!  The climb from Raphine back up to the Parkway was really steep with a number of switchbacks and gradients in the 15%-20% range.  I also realized I'd be doing this descent late at night, likely at 1-2 AM and it was pretty daunting.

We drove on to Front Royal and got everything ready to go.  One last bit of drama: I normally wear Assos bibs on long brevets.  A while back, I decided to give the shorts a try and ordered a couple of pairs.  I didn't realize it but I ordered the wrong size.  Didn't bother to check when they arrived, pulled the tags off and laundered them then put them aside for several months (well past any return date) before finally pulling a pair out for a ride.  Way too big, not a chance, no way they were going to work so I put them aside.  Long story short, they got mixed up with my bibs and when packing for the trip I managed to grab both pairs and stuffed them in my bag.  Fortunately, on a whim I threw in a third pair of bibs and these are the ones I wore on the first day.

The night before the start I didn't sleep at all.  OK, maybe I dozed for 10-15 minutes but I spent most of the night eyes wide open staring at the ceiling.  Sadly, it isn't unusual for me to not be able to sleep before a brevet.  I usually managed to "power" my way through the first day on adrenaline then get a good nights sleep after that.  To cut to the chase: this just isn't possible on a Super 6.  It's just too damned hard and you need to be in great shape and firing on all cylinders to get it done.  I briefly considered delaying my start 24 hours but decided to go ahead.

The morning of the 20th dawned cold (38 degrees) with a forecast high in the mid-70's and light winds.  You couldn't ask for better weather.  Given that I wasn't sleeping anyway, I got up at 2 AM, dressed and had something to eat and my official start time was 03:45.  Here was the tool I was using for the job:

The first 12 miles or so of the route are mostly uphill so I was dressed fairly lightly given the cool temperatures but it was spot on and I was very comfortable.  I saw a lot of critters while climbing in the dark including a fox, two bobcats, a couple of skunks, several raccoon and numerous deer.  I rode for a couple of hours in the dark then was treated to an absolutely glorious sunrise.  The sight of the morning sun on the canopy of red and gold leaves on the mountainsides is one I'll never forget.  I didn't bother to stop and take a picture as there was no way my point and shoot was going to do it justice.  It may sound trite to say it but the image is etched in my mind permanently.

Not a lot to say for the next several hours.  I was riding strongly and making good time, well ahead of my planned pace at each of the controls.  I was mostly riding along enjoying the spectacular vistas and grinding up the long climbs.  One thing of note was that given the time of day and topography it seemed like I was climbing in the sun and descending in the shade.  This pretty much meant I was boiling while I was climbing and freezing going downhill.  This took a toll.

I did take one "non-control" picture while I was stopped to eat an energy bar:

I reached the control at Humpback Rocks (photo above) at about 111 miles with a little over 10,500 feet of climbing and about 1.25 hours ahead of schedule.  The problem was, the lack of sleep was starting to catch up with me.  I didn't feel drowsy, I just felt tired.  No energy at all.  My legs were still turning well enough but mentally I was starting to feel really fatigued and every time I came to a climb I had a feeling of dread.  Not good.

A word about the route.  Here's a shot of the southern part:

See that jog to the left (west) that shows as mile 225?  That's the overnight control at Raphine and my destination for day one.  As you can see, you ride past the turn for that control on the way out, continuing straight on the Parkway until approximately mile 151 where you make a very long, very steep descent into the next control in Buena Vista.  In the roughly 17 miles of the Parkway between what would be my turn down to Raphine and the exit for Buena Vista I found myself on every descent (and there were several quite long and steep ones) thinking "I'm going to have to climb that on the way back - 70 miles from now" - not good.  I was feeling more tired by the minute.

When I made the turn down to Buena Vista and did that descent my average speed was well above 40 MPH. I don't know the gradient but I'd estimate it was a consistent 8% all the way down.  I knew full well I was going to have to regain that altitude and then some before the very steep and very technical descent into Raphine.  That's when I decided I'd had enough. On the last climb before descending into Buena Vista even though I was still climbing well I just felt drained.

I got to the control at Buena Vista 1:45 ahead of schedule but I was done.  I texted Gary that I was abandoning and called Marcia at Front Royal to come and get me.  I got something to eat while I waited for her and if I'd started to feel better I'd have called and sent her back but if anything I felt worse as I started to get sleepy in addition to just feeling like I didn't have the strength to lift up a french fry.  Marcia arrived a few hours after I called her and we drove to Raphine where we spent the night.  

My overall stats for the day were 155.89 miles in 12:11 for a moving average speed of 12.8 MPH with a corrected altitude gain of 16,361 feet of climbing.  

Given my analytic nature, I spend a lot of time post-processing my rides to try and learn what I can. I've concluded several things:
  • I wasn't so much physically done as mentally done.  I realized driving home that I actually felt better after I decided to quit. 
  • The lack of sleep sapped my mental/emotional energy past the breaking point. Although I can go all day the first day of a 1200K on little to no sleep, this was just too damned long and hard to "power through".
  • Other than feeling completely drained of energy, all other "systems" were go. Legs were fine, no real physical issues at all.
  • I think having a simpatico riding companion would have made a huge difference.  A solo Super 6 is pretty tough, it's just hard to be out there by yourself working that hard.  I hope to be able to hook up with someone for a future attempt.
  • One thing I thought about was whether or not listening to music would have helped.  I've got a bunch of music on my phone and was wearing a hydration pack with a pocket near my head so I could have put the phone in there and jammed some tunes without having to wear earbuds (which I won't do while riding).  It might have made a difference and given me something to focus on instead of how I was feeling and how much climbing remained to be done.  Wish I'd have tried it and I will in the future.
  • I need to do something about not being able to sleep before brevets.  Since this has been an ongoing problem, I've already tried a number of things with little to no success.  I might try getting some sleeping pills prescribed and try using them before brevets next year.  I'm a little concerned about after effects such as grogginess upon waking but need to find something that works.
To end on a more positive note, the ride was absolutely beautiful.  The weather was picture perfect and the vistas so stunning as to take your breath away.  I am definitely planning to do this one (notice I didn't say "try") again in the future.