Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quadzilla Day 4: Chaotic Systems

On the morning before a big ride -- and sometimes the evening before that -- I entertain myself the same way that many randonneurs do. I watch the Weather Channel.

So, maybe it's not really entertaining, but it does give us an idea of what to expect. It tells us what we should wear, what we should pack, and what we may need to find out on the course. Riders can control how we've trained, where we ride, and what our equipment is like, but weather is always a variable in a brevet.

It is also a chaotic system, with near-infinite moving parts. You've heard of the "Butterfly Effect," wherein a butterfly flapping his wings in Malaysia determines whether or not the tornado in northern Alabama skips over your house and kills your neighbor's dog? No? Okay, how about the Ashton Kutcher movie? Well, it's like that.

Friday night, the weather looked pretty good for Saturday. When I turned The Weather Channel on that morning, however, things had changed a bit, with a 30% chance of showers until 2 pm, and 50% afterwards. When I looked outside, of course, it looked even more dire.

That's the Auburn Correctional Facility, which you could see from my hotel window. Periodically during the night, the lights would dim and screams could be heard. (Just kidding -- this is New York, not Texas.)

The rest of Auburn, by the way, is very nice. We got to see the prettier part of it on the way out of town. I had pulled the rack and big heavy Arkel bag I often carry from the back of the bike, hoping that going lighter would make me climb better. Again, my friends from Tennessee -- Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan -- were with  me as we rolled out, along with ride organizer Mark Frank.

Mark had wheel troubles in the first couple of miles, however, and soon it was just the Tennessee contingent. We had just left Auburn when the rain began, and it stayed with us as we entered the lovely town of Skaneateles. Passing through the little downtown there, I saw that they had a wooden boat show going, and could smell fresh-baked goodies and coffee percolating somewhere. It made me want to get out of the rain for an hour and take a break, but 127 miles and over 10,000 feet of climbing made that a bad idea. We rolled on.

The rain continued, and soon we heard rumblings from the low clouds. At about 30 miles, we went up another one of the famous Quadzilla hills, with the pitter-patter of rain and deep basso profundo of thunder forming an entertaining back-up for my deep, labored breathing.

Crista Borros and Chuck Wood -- who weren't allowed to ride after Chuck had chest pains on the first day -- were at the top of this hill. Vida, Mary Beth, and I quickly ate some food and drank something, while Chuck showed us the current weather map.

It did not look good. Basically, the rain that was supposed to be south of us had moved up, so that the 30% chance of rain for the morning was now 100%. That would make the afternoon rain chances 120%.

After missing Thursday, I really wanted to do this route -- but not enough to stay soaked and freezing for the entire day. Also, the lightning was not letting up, and many of the descents were of the "clamp down your brakes" variety. I kept envisioning my brake pads getting worn down to nothing, and flying out into a street right in front of a dump truck.

Vida, Mary Beth, and I talked about it a bit, and decided that we didn't need this. As I said, "Right now, the ATM of my life is flashing 'Insufficient Funs.'" We decided to stay with the route to the next control and -- if the weather had not improved -- call Vida's son, Justin, to come get the ladies and their bikes. Since they didn't have enough room in the car for all of us and our bikes, I would just take a more direct route home and ride the storm out.

The weather was, if anything, worse at the control. We had also somehow missed a turn on the course, picking up an extra mile and skipping one of the hills that makes Quadzilla what it is. When Crista and Chuck pulled in, we told them our plan and made some phone calls.

I drank a big cup of coffee and ate two big cream-filled donuts trying to get warm, then left Vida and Mary Beth to wait for Justin. The roads that I took headed more or less towards Ithaca, but stuck to the valleys instead of criss-crossing the ridges as the Quadzilla route did. The route was lined with little farming communities loaded with character.

Obviously, the rain made it difficult to take pictures of things. If I pulled out my camera, the lens got wet. There was no part of my clothing and nothing in my bags that was dry enough to wipe things off.

After five miles, the rain stopped. I thought about heading back and getting on the course, but was pretty sure it was just a momentary lapse and the rain would return. Besides, with the missed turn it would have meant almost 20 bonus miles, and even if I had the miles in my legs, I was pretty sure that I would miss the next cut-off time.

After rolling south for another 10 miles, I headed west on Hwy 90. The clouds were now breaking up as noon approached, and I realized that the chaotic system was having fun at my expense today.

Stupid Malaysian butterfly.

Hwy 90 is apparently the Yard Sale Capital of central New York. Cars were constantly pulling on and off the shoulder, slowing down, turning around, and generally making for some interesting cycling.

At one point, I came to a road with this sign on one side ...

... and this on the other. I looked it up, and apparently this really is the birthplace of our last Whig president, Millard Fillmore.

The Whig Party was notorious for being nudists. This is why they threw Ben Franklin out of the party -- let's just say you did not want to see that man naked.

This road was across from a restaurant that advertised barbecue chicken, where dozens of trucks full of Yard Sale plunder were parked, with rather rotund natives waddling their way inside. You would not want to see any of them naked either.

A few miles further on was something that I was frankly surprised not to have encountered before on this road.

Obviously, somebody had been unwilling to slow down in their rush to either get home or find that cheap used snowmobile. Although two ambulances and a tanker truck showed up, everyone seemed okay. It gave me a chance to eat the bananas that had been sitting in my jersey pocket for 70 miles now.

Another few miles brought me to this:

Twelve percent?! You put up a sign for 12 percent?! This wouldn't even count as a hill on Mark's course.

The bottom of this brought me to a little town where I could check my bearings. I decided to continue on west on 90 for a few more miles. Guess what? More yard sales.

I wish that I could have done it justice, but that thing to the right of the love seat is some kind of tracked vehicle -- like an open-cab snow cat -- but painted for jungle camouflage. It would almost fit in back in Florida.

I soon turned off onto a side road that went through quiet cornfields, and towards the end began to see the top of Cayuga Lake, north of Ithaca.

The road ended on Hwy 34, which was busier but had a good shoulder. 

I have to say that, in general, the roads in upstate New York are superb for cycling. Many of Mark's "Hill" roads on the Quadzilla route were not in great shape, but those were obviously secondary roads impassable to cars during the winter (and barely passable to cyclists at any time). Most of the state roads had good shoulders, and the drivers took appropriate care when going around me. Also, each of the towns that we went through seemed to have enough cyclists that cars did not see us as an impediment. I would definitely come here again, particularly to do a longer tour.

I entered Ithaca from the college side, so took a little side trip into Cornell.

Eventually, I headed back to the hotel, with over 90 miles and about 6,000 feet of climbing for the day. It was not what I had planned, but it was better than nothing. I had just finished getting cleaned up and packing away my bike when John Bayley and Pamela Blalock came in on the tandem. Just to finish that route on a tandem was huge, but I think that they did it in under nine hours. They both seemed fresh and ready for more, making them my new heroes.

The other riders soon came in, and we had a great time eating pizza and drinking various beverages.

Everyone had great stories from the road, and it almost felt like I had gotten to climb the last 2/3 of the route with them.

Except, of course, that my legs felt good.

Two days did not go as I had planned, but I really had a great time on this trip. I want to thank Mark for designing the route and organizing everything, Marcia Swan for taking vacation to provide support, Chuck and Crista for supporting us when health issues curtailed their rides, and all of my fellow riders for entertainment, camaraderie, inspiration, and nice long pulls.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing up your experience of doing Quadzilla staged. Looked like a nice group of people to ride with, too! I was curious about what Quadzilla staged was like. I can only imagine how challenging the days were, even without the added issue of inclement weather.