Monday, January 23, 2012

A 200K Like No Other

It had been four months since I last rode a brevet, and it was time for me to get back into "real" randonneuring ... as opposed to just going out and doing an ad hoc 125-mile-plus ride. The Central Florida region of Randonneurs USA was holding a 200K this past Saturday out of Jupiter, FL -- just under three hours drive on the east coast -- so I headed over there for the fun.

Since I turn 53 this Friday, a 200K brevet also allowed me to get in that "twice-my-age" mileage ride that I've been doing for about 10 years on the weekend before or after my birthday. I may still get in another 106 miles this coming Sunday by doing a t-shirt century here in Naples, but now it's entirely optional.

When I got to the hotel where the ride began, I could not believe the size of the crowd.

Tim Bol, the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA), told me later that there were 84 starters. In Tennessee, we never had more than 20 starters for any brevet that I could remember.

As I rolled up await rider instructions, I talked briefly with a bevy of Bachettas. I was wearing my Gran Fondo Fixies jersey, and the leader of this group remembered us from RAAM in 2008, where he had raced. As you would expect from someone of that caliber, he pulled the lead group for most of the ride, finishing in six hours and 29 minutes.

Since it was a big crowd, there was a big fast pack at the front as we started. The sun had been up for almost an hour, but traffic was still manageable.

As we rolled north, we had a light wind at our backs. The pace remained high at the front, and the group thinned down to about 30 riders or so.

Tim had put together an excellent route, going through some lovely state parks and secluded residential areas. Since the route paralleled Hwy A1A most of the way, cars didn't much bother with the secluded smaller roads that we were on.

We even had some shady spots, biking beneath the boughs of beautiful Banyan trees.

The speed remained fast, as you would expect in a group seeking a sub-seven-hour 200K. While it was not too difficult to sit in on this pack at this pace, it was a little unnerving when we would blow through red lights and stop signs, and barely miss little old ladies in pedestrian crosswalks. Obviously, I was able to still enjoy the view -- or I wouldn't have taken all of these pictures -- but moving along like this was not what I did brevets for.

The lead group split about two miles from the first control, since about half of us were not willing to run the red light over US1. A few of us nonetheless hammered our way up the road after the light changed, and had just about caught back on when we got to the control.

All of the controls were at parks manned by RUSA volunteers. This was also very different for me, as Tennessee typically used convenience stores for controls, staffed by clerks who have to find pens. Tim had coolers full of cold Gatorade, water, and soft drinks; bags of chips and pretzels; and lots of cookies. It was pretty easy to get your card signed, top off bottles, eat something, and get back out. Other than the card-signing thing, it was more like the rest areas of a fast t-shirt century.

I purposely did not jump out with the recumbents and the fast group when they soon went back out. I was not looking for that kind of personal best ride, and wanted to enjoy the view instead. I pulled out on my own, and slowly formed a group of riders who had missed or fallen off the pace of the lead pack.

About a mile from the control, we passed the four recumbents fixing a flat. Soon, we entered another state park as we passed a nuclear power plant.

Suddenly the recumbents came by us, having fixed their flat. I thought that we would all jump on as we rolled through the park, so I did. In a few minutes, I realized that I was the only one from my group to do so.

Team Bachetta cruised north at about 27 mph through the park, and caught back up with the lead pack just before Fort Pierce.

As we hit the Fort Pierce Inlet (where you can just see the small container ship in the above picture), I decided to go back to my plan from the previous control and slow down a bit. This gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery.

Obviously, Fort Pierce is a boat town. The route went past a huge dry stack marina. Note the bow of the speed boat sticking out of the wall in the picture below.

There were also lots of boats in "real" docks ...

... and sailboats on moorings.

Of course, I had to stop and pull out my route sheet for the first time that day, since I now had no idea where the turns were. At least in this way it was more like a normal brevet, since I had to actually navigate for a while instead of looking for arrows on the road.

We went past the National Navy UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) SEAL Museum. I had to get a picture of this for the RandoDaughter's boyfriend.

About here another group of riders came by, and I jumped on.

They were still doing a fast pace, but were not as driven as the lead group. For example, they would slow down for pedestrian crosswalks when we got to the beach.

That was good, because there were a lot of pedestrians out by this time. It was almost 11 am as we hit the top end of the route -- almost 70 miles in three hours -- where the control was.

We pulled in just as the lead pack was pulling out. There was a lot of scrambling to catch up -- unlike the SEALs, there was none of that "No Man Left Behind" crap here.

Again, the control was manned and fully stocked. I drank a Diet Coke, ate a bag of pretzels and a cookie, filled my bottles, and grabbed another bag of pretzels for the road. When the next big group rolled out, I went with them.

We started out with a pretty large pack, most of which was a randonneuring group that called themselves the Crazy Amigos. They were a lot of fun. Even though we were working pretty hard trying to maintain 20 mph into a headwind, they still joked and chatted some at intersections and stop signs.

This group was also a little better about slowing down in congested beach-town areas.

Although it was a fairly calm day by Florida east coast standards for January, the wind made us work pretty hard as we rolled alongside the Indian River. Fortunately, the beautiful water on one side and the stately homes on the other made for great views.

We had picked up some folks from the lead pack on Indian River Road, and thus had from 15-20 cyclists. Apparently, this was frustrating to a lot of the cars here. I felt a little bad for them, but this should not have been a road for anyone trying to get anywhere fast, since it's really an exclusive neighborhood of older homes on a secluded, scenic road. Eventually, a Sheriff's deputy passed us with his lights flashing, hollering something at us.

I found out later that they will tickets cyclists for not riding single-file on this road, and by Florida law they can do that if you're impeding traffic. As you can see, we were single-file. After he got ahead of us, he pulled over and got out. As we were passing, he was calling at us to "Get off the road."

We didn't. Maybe he wanted us to get on the shoulder ... or better yet the sidewalk. The above picture gives you a good view of those options. He probably meant for us to all pull into somebody's yard and wait for the cars behind us to go through, but that can be even more dangerous on this kind of road.

Pretty soon we came to an intersection with US1, and a dozen cars swept past us to return to the speed that they considered their right. This is the downside of living in paradise: You get blind to the beauty that is around you every day, so you spend your time scurrying instead of meandering and gawking. Slow down. Enjoy the view.

Not far past this we came to the penultimate control, where Tim had boxes of pizza. I scarfed a couple of slices and sat for a minute, watching a lady play with her dog at a nearby fountain. The dog was trying to bite the columns of water shooting up, and it was a hoot.

I also drank two more Diet Cokes and refilled my bottles. I knew that I was a little dehydrated, since it had taken far too much work to eat a bag of pretzels on the road earlier. I wasn't making enough saliva, and ended up having to swallow lumps of chewed pretzel mush. The break gave me a chance to drink and chat some with Tim -- we were trying to remember what ride we had done together where we had previously met. I also got a little more information about the upcoming Florida brevets.

Soon, the Amigos were ready to go again, and off we were off to climb over some more bridges.

Ten miles out from the control, we were just on the pace to finish the brevet in under seven hours when some debris in the road caused the pack to swerve and hit their brakes, and two bikes went down. Both riders had only minor scrapes, but one had blown out his tire badly enough to need a boot. Half of the pack went on, in search of that fast time, but I stayed with the Amigos who were helping the downed rider boot and repair his tire.

As we got going again, we slowed down a bit to make sure that the boot would hold. We were retracing our northbound route at this point, and everyone -- not just cyclists -- was out enjoying an extraordinary day.

As we neared Jupiter, the pack was just down to the Crazy Amigos and me.

About two miles from the finish, I fell off the back to spin my legs out and rest. This also gave me a chance to get a decent picture of the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, which I had seen early in the route.

From there, it was up and over one last bridge to cross the Intracoastal Waterway.

My finishing time was still under 7:30, and I felt pretty good about it. My legs were tired, but not unbearably so. Most importantly, I had met some really nice folks and had my first introduction to Florida randonneuring. Of course, if this is what a normal brevet is like in Florida, it may take me a while to get used to it.


  1. Wow! Huge crowd with fast riders. Congrats. If that is the same hotel in Indian Harbor where Tim started his 1000 then it has that nice rundown quality coupled with a bar pavilion.

    1. I just wish that I could have gotten a room there. They were booked up when I called Friday ... which should have tipped me off about the number of attendees.

  2. This must be the ride they were talking about when I was at Kennedy a few years ago in January or February. Evidently, I was there that same weekend and the people at the hotel thought I was doing some really big ride. I always take a bike to the rocket launches and plan to stay several days to a week due to delays. I ride each day and I love Indian River Road. The speed limit is 25mph and other than the speed bumps, it's not that hard to do the speed limit. But it's more fun to slow down and see the wildlife. I've seen an Eagle along this road. I've stopped and watched a heron grab and eat a baby Manta Ray. The pelicans are amazing to watch. There is so much to see there! There is also a park nearby where the Manatees hang out. I like riding out to Cocoa Beach and then heading north on Merritt Island and rounding the Cape back to Titusville. It's easy to get 40+ miles in on this route. Riding in the Merritt Wildlife Refuge is entertaining also but take lots of fluids with you. I once was riding all alone and I spooked a heron along the rode that flew up in the same direction I was travelling. It accelerated beyond my pace but stayed at a height of about five feet. I sped up to move alongside it at 24mph. I could hear the wind from its wings. I felt like I could have reached out and yanked it out of the air I was so close. We were side-by-side for nearly a mile before the heron increased its height another 10-15 feet and turned left to fly over me. That was really incredible! Thanks for your posts Robert. Keep them coming.

    1. Lonnie: There used to be a century out of Melbourne that I think they called the Space Coast Century. It went through those areas, as well. Another windy course, the pace was fast on that one and you didn't dare fall off. Kind of sad, given the beauty of the area -- you had to focus on the wheel of the guy in front of you instead.

  3. I'm sure the boyfriend will be glad to hear that you were thinking of him. Looks like a beautiful ride, Dad; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Great post, and see you soon!

    PS: Stop drinking so much Diet Coke. Soda is bad for you.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Boo. I'd back off the Diet Coke, but one of the bad things about it is all of the sodium, and I needed that.