Friday, December 10, 2010

Route Scouting

For an ultracyclist, there are five ways to deal with a crappy weather day this time of year:

  1. Harden up and ride. Tell yourself that a 200K permanent in the rain and temperatures just above freezing will make you stronger when the season starts next month, and help you fine-tune your equipment. Make sure that you tell as many people as possible about this ride afterwards, so that they can be properly impressed with your fortitude (actually, they just question your sanity ... again).
  2. Ride inside. Six hours on the rollers will have even the "harden up" guy above questioning your sanity. It will also have everyone asking for your saddle-sore cure.
  3. Do chores. Maybe this is when you knock items off of the list of home repairs, yard-work, shopping, or other to-do's. If you can, tackle that big project at work. Either way, you tell yourself that doing it now will free you up for riding when the weather is decent again. And, if somehow your boss or significant other doesn't think of something else that you can do in the spring, you could be right. Yeah, sure.
  4. Veg out. Catch up on those missed Glee episodes. Read the latest John Grisham novel (hint: the lawyer did it). Play Call of Duty XVIII: Grenades for Granada. Maybe you won't lose too much of that hard-earned fitness you built up during the fall. Yeah, sure.
  5. Prepare for the coming season. Clean your bike. Build a new wheelset. Overhaul your bottom bracket. Program the spring 600K route into your GPS.
This past weekend, I did the "prepare" thing ... but for other folks. I drove out to Cookeville to scout some of the roads on a new 400K that we may use in Tennessee this spring.

If you've ever planned a route for cyclists, you know how important it is to actually see the roads before you put a bunch of riders on it. For example, the first time that RandoGirl and I went down the Natchez Trace we decided at the last minute to stop in Lawrenceburg. I pulled out the GPS and we quickly plotted a route that would enable us to bypass the busier roads. Of course, unbeknown to us, one of those roads was gravel ... well, mud, really. We got through it, but it was not a good road for a fully loaded tandem.

The other thing about testing a route is that you need to see how tough the climbs are, how many dogs are running loose on it, and whether any of the roads have been recently washed out. To do this properly, you really should bike the route; thus, I put the Lynskey in the back of the RAAMinator Saturday morning.

And, since it rained all day, the bike stayed in the back of the RAAMinator. All day.

This was not easy, either. I kept finding myself on beautiful, quiet, smooth roads where it had not rained in the last hour or so. It was cool outside, but not cold. I would have just found a church or school parking lot where I could quickly change, get the bike out, and "test the road," when it would begin to rain again ... just enough that, had I been out in it, I would have been soaked and chilled within 10 minutes.


On the plus side, though, I was able to find a couple of new roads and tweak the route perfectly. For example, I found a road that runs between Baxter and Cookeville that should avoid the worst of the Saturday-evening traffic. It even goes by Baxter's gutsy little water tower.

You'd have to visit Baxter to understand just how ironic this is.

This route uses the Key West Inn hotel in Cookeville as the starting and ending point. It takes a big loop north into Kentucky -- actually using most of my as-yet-unannounced Honest Abe 200K permanent -- before returning to the hotel as the middle control. Riders will then be able to replenish their gear at the hotel before going out for the last 115 miles.

The trick with a 400K is getting riders in and out of towns that are big enough to have late-night stores, but not force the riders to get on major roads. I found a lovely one for the riders to use to get from the Key West Inn to TN-135 at Dodson Branch, without going through downtown Cookeville.

Most of the southern loop is my Green Acres permanent, but run backwards. Variations include a climb up to Spencer on Yates Mountain Road that promises to be epic, with steep sections early on that will make the riders wish that they had brought a triple-crank. To get there, and make the route simpler, the route keeps the riders on roads like Frank's Ferry a little longer. This takes the route closer to Sparta, where I discovered a few more stores Saturday. The riders will also get to do the fun descent from Spencer towards McMinnville on Hwy 30A, before getting back on Green Acres through Rock Island Park and on to Baxter.

A little after 1 pm Saturday, I had looked at all of the roads that I needed to check and started back west to Nashville. That's when the sun came out, and I realized that I probably could have stayed home and gotten a decent ride in. But checking the 400K route was a chore that needed to be done, and I'm hoping that the riders this spring will enjoy biking all of these beautiful roads. I know that I will.

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