Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Announcing the 200K of Nowhere

As anybody who’s ever had any kind of trouble in a relationship (in other words, everybody who’s ever had any kind of relationship … which I hope could be further shortened to just “everybody”) knows, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Now, sure, this is a gross simplification, not to mention a physical impossibility. Venus is covered with clouds of sulphuric acid, which is very bad for a woman’s complexion. Men could be from Mars, however, since scientists have recently detected trace amounts of methane there, and we are notorious for our ability to produce this (preferably at night, in bed, and then pulling the covers up over our wives’ head … take that, you weak Venusian!).

My point, however, is that John Gray was (grossly) generalizing when he wrote that “Martian” men and “Venusian” women react differently to certain events. The classic example is tragedies: Women will just go ahead and be sad for a bit, while men run around trying to “fix things.” While I know a lot of women who are “Martian” at these times, and a lot of men who are “Venusian,” I must admit that I am a classic Martian when bad stuff happens.

The best example of this is when my friend and fellow randonneur, Peter Lee, was dying from cancer in November. We all focused on “doing things.” We helped his family as best we could and cheered him on when he was working to beat the cancer. When the end was near, we all jumped into planning and organizing mode – tying up business issues, updating his Will, planning the funeral.

(Of course, two of the best organizers throughout this were RandoGirl and Fredia Barry. In particular, Fredia was more Martian and Venusian than just about anybody, juggling business issues with compassion and sensitivity throughout. John Gray would probably say that Fredia is from Jupiter. He’d have to give her a whole new book.)

Since business is not one of my skills, my role in most of this was court jester. When Peter was in pain, I told him jokes. Since my jokes are very bad, the pain of hearing them distracted Peter from the cancer. Fortunately, he did enjoy hearing from all of us about long rides that we had just done, or rides from years past, or rides that we were planning. As regular readers can attest, I like to yammer on endlessly about these kinds of things, so it was easy for me to help in this way.

Near the end, I told Peter about a ride that I was planning for this spring. I wanted to do something that would honor Peter, but since I am a Martian it also needed to fix things. It needed to be an easy way for cyclists to try their hand at randonneuring, and maybe also raise money to fight the disease that was killing Peter.

I told him about the 100 Miles of Nowhere.

If you’ve ever looked over on the right side of my blog’s home page, you may have noticed links to a couple of blogs that I read regularly. One is Bike Snob NYC, who now writes a regular column for Bicycling Magazine. The other blog that I regularly read is Fat Cyclist.

Fat Cyclist is Elden Nelson, a blogger in Utah. If you’ve never read his blog, you should. He may even be funnier than I am. (Okay, just kidding! We all know that’s not possible.) Anyway, Fatty’s wife, Susan, battled cancer for a number of years, and he blogged about that. Many of these blog posts are heart-wrenching. Most have flashes of humor wrapped in pain. All of them are inspiring.

Since Fatty is also Martian, he dealt with Susan's illness by trying to fix cancer. Even though she passed away over a year ago, he continues to fight by raising money for such folks as the Lance Armstrong Foundation (a logical tie-in for someone who blogs about cycling and cancer). He has four "Team Fatty’s" in different cities that have regularly been the top fundraisers for Livestrong. He is what they call, in charity circles, a cancer-fighting money-raising machine.

Fatty can do this because
  1. He’s likeable. You really should read his blog. If you only have time to read my blog, then move some things on your schedule so you can read his, too. Emphasis on the “too.”
  2. He’s passionate. I can’t imagine fighting cancer for five years with RandoGirl. I won’t imagine it, actually. It makes me really sad, and that’s Venusian.
  3. He knows how to get companies to donate swag. Big companies, with really good swag.
So, if I didn’t have your attention with talk of Peter and helping to fight cancer, I hope that I now have you hooked with the mention of swag. Because, after all of this la-de-daa and folderol, I am announcing …

The 200K of Nowhere!!!

Yes, this is your chance to ride a real brevet (sort of) just like your randonneuring heroes, without all of the hassles of nasty weather (I hope) and getting lost (probably) and … well, okay, all of the other hassles are still there. Of course, you still have to ride a bicycle 125 miles, but it’s really just the same 25 miles done five times. That’s why it’s a “200K of Nowhere” ... Peter just didn't think that a mere 100 miles would do.

It’s on some very pretty, very smoothly paved roads down in very quiet College Grove. Some of those roads are even moderately flat … if you like that kind of thing. And there will be a rest stop with snacks and cold liquids ... the same rest stop, you will just hit it five times. And, when you come in, there will be somebody there to also mark your brevet card … just like what your randonneuring heroes do on a real brevet.

(I’m having just too much fun with that phrase: Randonneuring heroes. Who’d of thunk?)

This event will be “part of” Fatty’s 100 Miles of Nowhere. The quotes are because I’m not sure that Fatty knows that I’m doing this, although ultimately he doesn’t need to. (I’ve sent him a couple of e-mails warning him, and so long as less than 100 Nashville cyclists swoop in and grab all of the open spots, he probably won't care.)

Anyway, to sign up for the 200K of Nowhere you just sign up for the 100 Miles of Nowhere here. You must do this on April 11 – and do it first thing that day, if you can. Registration will be open until April 18, but Fatty usually only allows 150 people, and once it’s full … it’s full.

(By the way, if you clicked the above link to sign up early, you saw last year's page. I'm assuming that they'll use the same page this year. If you don't sign up in time, the page that you'll see on April 12, 2011 will probably look like the above-linked page. Wow, was that confusing!)

Anyway, if you sign up for the 100 Miles of Nowhere, you should then post a comment on this blog letting me know that you're coming for the 200K of Nowhere. Make sure you do this, so I can get enough snacks and drinks for the rest stop. Then, come to the parking lot of the College Grove Community Center and start riding about 7 am on May 21. The “control” will be open until 7:30 pm, so you have 13-and-a-half hours ... just like a "real" brevet. If you can’t ride 125 miles, that’s okay, too. Do as many 25-mile loops as you can.
It will cost you $85, but you get
  • Event t-shirt designed by Twin Six
  • Banjo Brothers seat bag
  • Winchester Bar
  • PRO Bar
  • DZ Nuts chamois cream sampler
  • Some other stuff

Not enough for your $85? Well, Fatty usually also has some door prizes that are pretty good, so you could win one of those. And, to put some skin in the game, everybody that signs up is in the raffle for the following goodies:

Light and Motion Vis 360

Due to my stupidity and impatience, I ended up with two of these for Christmas. I've been using one all winter and absolutely love it! My ride in is bright, thanks to the headlight, and I am very visible, thanks to the flashing taillight. It mounts on my helmet, but weighs next to nothing. I charge it off my laptop at work, so it doesn't run out of juice.

I've only got one of these. Whoever gets this is going to start regularly commuting on their bike, and their yearly mileage will quadruple. Maybe.

Pearl Izumi Convertible Glove/Mitten

I bought three pairs of these last month, and the extra-large ones are too big for me. They're really comfortable, lightweight gloves with this nifty pocket on the back of the palm. The pocket holds a windproof reflective mitten-thing. You pull the mitten-thing out and over your fingers, and suddenly your gloves are now mittens. For me, they're good down to the low 40's by themselves. You put liners on under them, and you'd be cozy at about every temperature range that you get in Tennessee.

Again, I've only got one pair, and they're XL.

Assorted Arm-, Knee-, Leg-, and Head-Warmers

Vida Greer from Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Solar System, Run by the Greatest People in the Galaxy) gave me 10 pairs of assorted warmers from "eleven 81" for this event. They're all still in the package, so I haven't tried any of them, but they look great. And you can never have too many pairs of knee warmers.

Finally, everyone gets one of these:

No, not a manly forearm (eat your heart out, Popeye). Everyone gets a commemorative band. One side says, "Peter W. K. Lee" and the other says "RUSA 4001." That was Peter's Randonneurs USA number ... kind of like a social security number, only we put it on brevet cards rather than paper we give to identity thieves.

Still not enough for your $85? Did I mention that the money goes to fight cancer? And that this is for Peter Lee? Well, if that isn’t enough, then you aren’t from Mars or Venus. You crawled out of Uranus.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Hip is Square

So, Monday I was telling you all about how my hip was kind of clunking towards the end Saturday's 400K in Florida. It's been doing this on long rides ever since my "unintended dismount" in January. At the 200K in Memphis two weeks after, it started hurting about mile 80. At the 300K we rode the last weekend in February, it held off until mile 150.

But Monday I noticed that when I put my hand on that hip and walked, something was slipping in there with every step. I'm no doctor, but I remember enough high school anatomy to know that it ain't supposed to do that.

So, I went to see my doctor. He agreed -- I'm not a doctor. But he also sent me to get an MRI.

It turns out that, when my hip smacked the ice, it did not break any bones. That was the good news. Unfortunately, when you hit something as solid as a thick layer of ice over an asphalt base -- particularly with about 220 pounds of force (that's not just me ... I'm including the bike and my laptop and stuff ... so it's probably more like 230 pounds ... jeez, I'm fat) -- something's got to give. In my case, what gave was apparently a bit of tendon.

Again, there's good news: It doesn't seem to be really "torn," or even pulled loose from the bone. It just seems  a little frayed in one spot. The doctor said that if I take it easy with it, there should be no long-term debilitating damage. He even said that I can still ride a bicycle ... I just have to stop when it begins to hurt.

Most cyclists would call this common sense. But randonneurs have a term for stopping a ride before the finish. We call that a DNF. As in "Did Not Finish." In other words, "Failed."

I've DNF'd on rides before. You second-guess it for years after. "Why did I give up so easily? I should have stuck it out and finished."

My first DNF was on the Georgia 600K. It was 100 degrees and I was suffering from sunstroke after about 250 miles. My second DNF was on a cold 300K here in Tennessee, where I stopped after 100 miles. I'd had stomach flu for the past three days before and still couldn't eat or drink anything ...but who needs food or drink on a 190-mile ride?

Those DNFs still hurt. You rode all that way for nothing?!

So, here's my choices:

  1. Keep going on my qualifying rides for Paris-Brest-Paris and ignore my doctor's advice. When the hip starts to hurt, ignore it and hope that the tendon doesn't shred the rest of the way.
  2. Keep going on my qualifying rides for Paris-Brest-Paris and follow my doctor's advice. When the hip starts to hurt, stop riding and get somebody to carry me and my bike back to the start.
  3. Forget Paris-Brest-Paris and just ride my bicycle the way normal people ride. Do only short brevets for the rest of the season and hope that everything heals up for next year.
OK, so obviously I've really only got option 3. I'm too young to cripple myself and too proud to DNF any more. I'll skip PBP this year, and maybe do a tour with RandoGirl instead. There's always 2015, you know. Live to fight another day.

I still feel like a failure.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Hybrid Flower Blooms

As regular readers of this blog know, last year I began suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder -- aka, "multiple personalities." One of the cycling sides of me was RandoBoy, who liked to ramble long distances on a bike, seeing as much of the world as he could in a variety of good and bad weather, with regular periods of night when all he could see was a cone of light on grey pavement. The other side was Max Watzz, the bike racer, who just wanted to go very fast for a reasonable distance, driving his muscles to the limit.

One of the treatments of Dissociative Identity Disorder is to "reconnect the identities of disparate alters into a single functioning identity" ... basically, merge the personalities into something that can work in the real world. I think that may be what happened this past weekend.

Back in the fall, when middle Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) Jeff Sammons got permission to add the old, abandoned north Florida 400K route to our schedule, I knew that I had to go. We would be starting from less than an hour's drive from my house near the beach, and it would be good to get down to a warmer climate in mid-March. A flat route like that should also make for an easy 400K, helping me get over that hurdle in my preparations for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Driving down Friday afternoon with Jeff and John Hickman, the weather was incredible. The forecast was for a high in the mid-80's with very light winds and no chance of rain. For once, the forecast was pretty close to being right.

Nine of us rolled out at 5 am from the Tivoli Inn in Bonifay. The route was a series of two loops -- the first one 300 kilometers long, followed by a 100K loop. Four riders were just doing the 300K, while the rest of us would go back out to finish the last 64 miles in the dark. This made it simpler in some ways, since you could go with minimal night-riding gear for the first loop, and grab provisions when you returned to the hotel.

Although the first 90 minutes were ridden in the dark, seven of us made good time on the quiet roads, arriving at the Ebro control 35 miles in around 7 am.

In spite of the early hour, the gas station was crowded. Locals were telling us to watch out for the crazy kids down for spring break. Crazy kids were just trying to fill up their gas tanks. I saw a small Toyota with four large teenage boys wearing Oklahoma sweat shirts, and they looked as if they had driven through the night. I vowed to myself to keep the lights on and stay well on the edge of the shoulder for the rest of this ride.

I moved quickly through the control, topping bottles, grabbing a candy bar, and removing my jacket. I was starting to chill down, but everyone else seemed willing to linger, so I told them that I would see them in a few miles and continued alone.

I stayed more or less alone for the next 100 miles.

Rolling down Hwy 20, I was doing the reverse of a route that I've done a few times from the beach house. I hunkered down and worked -- at first in an attempt to warm up, but then just because it felt good. The route soon turned southwest on quiet SR 81, and I bombed this stretch as well.

I went up busy Hwy 331 to Freeport, where I stopped at one of the stores there for another bottle, frantically watching out the window for the other riders to come by. I was sure that they would catch me as I continued west on Hwy 20, and then north on the quiet road through the Air Force base. When I got back on Hwy 331, with RVs passing me inches from my shoulder at 70 mph, I was glad that the other riders had not caught up with me, since more cyclists would not have changed the driving behaviors of these thoughtless schmucks.

After eight miles of Hwy 331, I pulled into the next control in DeFuniak Springs -- another Subway. I wasn't hungry for a sandwich, so I just bought a bottle of water and got my card signed. As I was leaving, six of the riders pulled in. At first, I was going to wait with them, but when they decided to eat another breakfast I just rolled down to Walgreen's, bought a couple of candy bars and a spare drink, and headed back out.

Bob Sikes Road headed west again, but was nice and quiet. We were still on the fringed of the Air Force base, and the smell of a recent controlled burn gave the air a not-quite-unpleasant tang. The road was slightly rolling, with a decent surface, and my legs felt great. I had originally thought to just soft-pedal until everyone else caught up, but soon found myself in the drops doing 20 mph. It felt good to ride hard and fast, in Max Watzz style.

After 17 miles of this quiet road, I turned north on Hwy 285. The pavement was a little better, and traffic was not too bad, but the winds had come up out of the north a little more than forecasted. Again, I could have soft-pedaled and waited for more riders, but I was enjoying the hard work and the solo effort. Also, I knew that there was a state line just before the next control in Florala, AL, and that getting there first assured me of the sprint.

Just before Florala, the bike computer rolled over to 124 miles -- or 200K. I had done the first 200K in less than eight hours. Here's a picture that I tried to take showing my watch and the computer.

Yeah, it's hard to read it, but the watch says 12:45 and the computer says 124. Trust me.

I was still alone when I came to the sign pointing to the highest point in Florida. I pulled over and took a quick picture of the bike at the intersection.

By the time I got to Florala, I was hungry. Really hungry. The kind of hunger that a few candy bars would not quell. Fortunately, the control was another Subway, and I ordered a sandwich. While they were fixing it, Tom Gee walked in, having ridden away from the rest of the pack a few miles back.

By the time I finished my sandwich, the rest of the riders who were with me at the first control had come in. We all ate, filled bottles, rested a bit, and then rolled out together back towards Florida in a fast paceline. I came up to the front in the rotation soon after we turned onto SR-85, and so took the state line "sprint" again as we left Alabama. I was two-for-two ... just the way Max likes it.

The roads here were fairly rolling, and we were soon down to a pack of five, including me, Tom, Ian Flitcroft,  Robert MacLeod, and Bob Hess. Here's a picture I took over my shoulder that caught Ian and Robert.

The next control was only 25 miles from the finish for the 300K riders. We stopped at the quiet store and topped off bottles, getting a bag of ice to share as well. The thermometer on the front porch read 92 degrees, so we sat in the shade for a few minutes and waited for John and Jeff to come in. When they did, we offered to finish with them. They said that they wanted a longer break, so we rolled on.

Soon after getting back on the road, Bob said out loud that if we finished by 5 pm we would have done the 300K in 12 hours. We all started working hard then, taking long fast pulls on the rolling roads. The wind was behind us for most of this section, and my legs felt really good. This was a kind of fast randonneuring that I've only rarely done before ... not quite racing, but definitely not a gentle touring pace. I was not RandoBoy, then, nor was I quite Max Watzz. Maybe RandoWatzz ... or Max Boy?

We almost made the 12-hour mark, getting to the hotel control at 5:03 pm. I thought that everyone else in the group was only doing the 300K, so I went to my room and took a shower, planning to rest until Jeff and John came in. Then Ian came by and told me that he was doing the 400K as well, and was ready to roll.

I was pretty toasted after the fast finish, but the prospect of finishing the 400K in less than 18 hours was tempting. I quickly re-dressed, got my night-riding stuff together, scarfed one of the bagels with peanut butter that I had brought for breakfast that morning, and followed Ian out into the late afternoon.

Bonifay was hosting a rodeo, and things were just getting going there was we went past. Soon we were on quieter roads, however, and quickly covered the 20 miles to the control before dark. We put on reflective gear, turned on our lights, and headed back out.

Ian was doing a lot of the work here. My stomach was a little bothered from the earlier effort and the day's heat, and my hip was starting to throb again. It has never really recovered from smacking it in January, and the "click" that it has had since starts to turn to a "clunk" after 150 miles. I was able to ignore it in the heat of the "sub-12 300K" effort, but not any more.

As we rolled along, Ian did a great job of trying to converse with me, but I was a less than stellar conversationalist on this stretch. I needed this ride to be over with, and his efforts at distracting me from my various pains didn't work. I had reverted to the speed of RandoBoy, with the "whining" of Max Watzz.

We stopped for a few minutes at the penultimate control on very busy (and a little scary) US 231. I drank a Diet Coke (ah, blessed caffeine), which helped quiet my stomach a bit. We then rolled south for a couple more miles down US 231, with spring break kids yelling undecipherable things as they whizzed past, before getting onto quieter CR 280.

Ian and I probably averaged 13 mph here as we headed back west on a series of calm dark roads. My stomach felt a little better, but the hip was worse. At one point, a pit bull came out of one of the dark yards we were passing and scampered around our bikes, more racing us than trying to bite us. Later, we turned off our lights for a bit to ride by the light of the very full, very large moon. My conversational skills had come back somewhat, and we talked about kids in college, the challenges of cycling in traffic, and the upcoming PBP (which will be Ian's fourth). It was an easier pace ... but I don't think either of us was having what we would call "fun."

The route hit Hwy 79 again for a few miles, and more spring break kids zoomed past us here in the dark. We crossed under I-10, went by the busy McDonald's, and pulled back into the hotel parking lot. It was 10:35 pm when the manager signed our brevet cards ... 17:35 for a 400K ... my fastest ever by almost four hours.

But it took a toll. Ian and I shook hands, thanked each other, and briefly discussed plans for the next day. Then I collapsed back into my hotel room. I had to lay on the bed for a couple of minutes before I could remove my helmet, shoes, and then night-riding gear. Another couple of minutes and I was able to get up and remove the rest of my dirty cycling clothes and take a shower. I shambled next door to McDonald's to get a hamburger and fries, and then went back to the hotel and ate half of it before calling RandoGirl. She was glad to hear that I had finished okay, but said later that I sounded exhausted.

Sunday was beautiful. John and Jeff had finished just over an hour later, and thus gotten some decent sleep. We loaded up the bikes and went to the beach to drop a spare bicycle at my house there, and then ate a great breakfast in Seaside. You couldn't see the Gulf of Mexico for the thick fog, but you could hear it.

As we started north, other than my throbbing hip (gotta get that checked out) I felt pretty good. I had set some tough goals, and met them. In my heart, I felt the contentment that comes when I ride a pleasant route as RandoBoy, and the satisfaction that comes when I do well in a race as Max Watzz.

I think this new hybrid me is going to be all right.

(Special thanks to John Hickman for a couple of these pictures.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Caffeine Detox

I'd like to tell you about the great ride that I did Saturday. I'd love to tell you about the great weather, and the incredible scenery, and the friends with whom I rode. That's the blog that I want to write.

But I won't.

I won't because, truth be told, the weather sucked this past weekend. It was rainy and windy, and then it was drizzly and cold and windy. And then it was Monday, and it stayed drizzly and cold and windy.

And the roads were wet, and nobody wanted to ride, and I could have put a bike on the trainer, but ... well, that would have sucked, too. I could have at least done a spin class, but I'm sure that would have sucked.

Basically, everything just sucks. Out loud. Big-time.

Oh, come on, you say. Is it really that bad?

No, it's worse. I've had a headache now for three days, too. And I've got no energy, and it's hard to concentrate. And, on top of all of that, everything -- and I mean everything -- sucks.

You see, Saturday -- on top of being a totally crappy day, weather-wise, with rain and wind and yadda-yadda -- I used up the last of my magic beans.

Espresso beans, of course. Lavazza, to be precise. I had my last cappuccino Saturday morning, about 7:15 am.

Ah, that sweet, sweet smell. The lovely crema. The tart bite and rich darkness that can only be coffee. My beloved coffee. Precious. My precious.

And now? She's gone.

I knew that I was running out of beans. I did it deliberately -- can you believe that? I let my stash dwindle to nothing, and all for randonneuring.

Randonneuring. How I hate it so.

You see, the really long rides are coming up. The Bonifay, FL, 400K is March 19, and then my first 600K is two weeks after that. You need to be able to ride all night for those, and that means you may need "chemical assistance" ... like caffeine.

Now, some people get a good jolt out of caffeine, but I don't because I drink a lot of it. I mean, seriously, a lot. I start the day with at least one quad-espresso-shot cappuccino, and usually drink another on my way to work. If I'm biking in, I stop at Panera for at least one refill ... usually two. Then I drink the crappy work coffee most of the morning. When I get home at night, I unwind with another cappuccino.

For most people, drinking a cappuccino after the middle of the afternoon will keep them awake all night. Me? I'm so used to drinking caffeine that I can just about have an espresso as a bed-time snack.

Fortunately, if I get all of the caffeine out of my system, it starts to have an effect again. Thus, on a 400K, at midnight when I (hopefully) have only an hour or two of riding left, I can stop at a convenience store for a big coffee, and it will wake me up enough to finish the ride. I'm hoping to maybe even get off caffeine enough that I could ride that 600K straight through, without sleep.

And that's why I'm getting all of the caffeine out of my system. Once off it, I will avoid caffeine until after Paris-Brest-Paris in August ... other than the above-mentioned convenience store stops in the dead of the night. I do this for the sake of randonneuring.

Randonneuring sucks.