Monday, February 2, 2009

The First "Real" 200K of 2009

For most people, winter is about staying indoors, sitting by a hot fire with your loved ones, drinking mulled cider and eating fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. You venture out into the frozen tundra only to trek to work or school, shop for more cider or spices or chocolate chips, and to occasionally frolic in the snow.

Oh, Norman Rockwellian bliss!

For most cyclists, winter is about riding the trainer in your basement in front of a blowing fan, watching last year’s Tour de France on TiVo. You try to keep something in your legs as you grind away, churning miles to nowhere, eyes glowing dully as you chant “All Watts and No Play Makes Lance a Dull Boy.”

Less Norman Rockwell — more Edvard Munch.

Then there’s randonneurs, for whom riding during the winter is an exercise that involves designing the perfect combination of embrocation, base layer, jersey, outer layer, and chemical warmth to make you only marginally miserable as you slide over frozen roads against 20-mph headwinds, doing at least a century ride every week so that you can be ready for that 1200K this summer.

Pain in preparation for more pain.

And then there are the fools that came out Saturday for this:

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, this is a topographical projection. It shows the changes in elevation traversed by a specific route. Ordinarily, for winter rides, it is less jagged, because climbing tends to put you on top of mountains, where it is cold. And it makes you suck in lots of superchilled air, which causes ice to form in the respiratory bronchioles, where it bursts the lungs and makes your chest fill up with blood, which then freezes again as it pours out of your mouth, so that you become a red popsicle and fall over and go skittering back down the cliff/road to crash on top of the pile of other red-popsicles-that-once-were-idiot-randonneurs at the bottom.

There is no artist that paints this way, although baboons come close when they fling scat at the wall.

OK, I'm Exaggerating

Actually, most of the ride this past Saturday was not that bad. There were even 20 masochists who started the Harpeth Bike Club's first 200K brevet of 2009, riding in the gentle hills of middle Tennessee, enjoying temperatures that began at 23 F, but rose into the pseudo-balmy mid-50s.

I got to the start just before 7 am, in time to grab brevet cards and wave everyone else goodbye. I chatted briefly with Bob Hess, whose baby daughter had been born two weeks earlier, and Alan Gosart. Jeff Bauer and Vida Greer could not make it to the start until 7:30, so I climbed back into the RAAMinator to wait and ride with them.

By the time the three of us started, it was almost 30 F, so we rolled out wearing fewer layers, and were only frozen during the first hour of the ride. We took it pretty easy during that stretch, chatting and averaging between 15-17 mph. When we turned onto Locke Creek Road, however, Jeff warned us that he would probably have to walk part of this road, since he was riding his fixed gear with a 48-16 (Oops! Make that 48-17 ... RB) setup. This is the hill he was talking about:

Yeah, he walked.

Fortunately, Vida and I had lots of gears and rode it out. We both had to stand for much of the climb, but doing this hill seated would probably put enough weight on the back of your bike that you would flip backwards. And that’s not good.

Once past this bump, we moved briskly through the second control in Liberty, TN. We began passing some other riders at this point, as we picked up the pace and enjoyed the relatively easy grades. We managed to get over the second major climb of the route on Big Hill Road, and caught up with more riders at the third control, in McMinnville. We quickly filled bottles, shed some clothing layers, grabbed food, and rolled out, with Bill Glass joining us.

The route was more level from McMinnville, with a general decrease in elevation, but the winds were not kind. Bill, Jeff, Vida, and I formed a nice rotating paceline for most of this stretch, enabling us to keep our speed up without wearing ourselves out. We thus surprised a number of the faster riders as we pulled into the penultimate control in Bell Buckle.

Michael Revelle, riding his first brevet, joined us for the last fast 17 miles. With the wind now mostly at our backs, we zoomed along the final miles, getting back to the start just after 4 pm – well before dark. There, George Hiscox and Peter Lee were packing up, having gotten in 15 minutes earlier with the lead pack.

Is this a hard ride? Did you not see the topo map above?! But, unseasonably temperate weather – especially considering what we have had so far this winter here – and great riding companions made the trip more than bearable. Think an edgy Norman Rockwell.


  1. Actually my fixed gear is 48x17. Despite a couple of killer climbs, a very nice route.

  2. 48x17 and you had to walk a measly 20% climb? Hmmm ...

  3. Glad to read that you are still out and about and apparently seeking out the hills!

  4. Andy: Just trying to get ready for Ten Gaps in the fall!