Monday, March 31, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It was just a little after noon when I finally said it out loud:

"This is stupid."

I'd been thinking that for the previous five hours, cycling in the rain between Leiper's Fork and Bell Buckle, TN. It wasn't too bad at first, when the temperature was a "balmy" 59 degrees and I was relatively dry. But as the day wore on, we all got wetter and wetter, the temperature dropped to 50, and the wind started to blow.

Let's be honest. I had really been thinking this was stupid for a couple of hours before we started, when I checked the weather report at 5 am and saw that the rain chances were still 60% at 10 am. The night before, the forecast was for the rain to stop an hour or so after we started, and while it still seemed stupid to hassle with that and the cold and rain due to follow, that was only a little stupid.

Part of the problem was that I didn't need this 300K. When Jeff Bauer and I drove down to Athens two weeks earlier and rode the 300K there, one of the reasons that we gave for the trip was so we could skip this 300K if the weather sucked. When I realized that -- surprise, surprise! -- the weather was actually going to suck, I tried to talk Jeff out of this ride.

"You should do the rides on days like this to prove to yourself that you can handle it," he said. His reasoning was that riding in crap like this when you didn't have to makes it easier to ride in crap when you had no other choice.

And I did need a long ride, since I had been completely off of the bike since that Athens 300K. RandoGirl, the RandoDaughter, and I went to the beach last weekend, and weather and work had kept me from riding on other days. If I didn't get out for at least a 200K, my legs might lose some of the fitness that I had worked so hard to build during the previous months.

Surprisingly, eight of us had started the ride in miserable conditions. By the time we reached the first control in Eagleville, the group had separated so that I was just riding with Jeff and Mark Young.

We got in and out of that control quickly, since we were too wet to stay inside the store. Leaving, you always find yourself more cold and wet than you thought that you were, and I shivered for the next few miles. As usual, Jeff and I kept up a running conversation about one thing or another -- movies, books, work -- which makes for a welcome distraction. We began talking about hypothermia, and Jeff told me about another randonneur friend who has suffered from hypothermia twice on Paris-Brest-Paris. Both times, the rider was seeking a Charly Miller Society ride, where you must finish this 1500K in 56 hours and 40 minutes or less. Since this typically demands doing the 750-mile-plus course without stopping to sleep, hypothermia and exhaustion are common.

Jeff's friend is already a member of the society, having done the ride under the time limit in 2007. I couldn't understand why anybody would want to put themselves through that.

"He likes to suffer," Jeff said.

"Come on," I said. "Nobody really likes to suffer."

"He does."

And that got me thinking. I don't like to suffer. I am willing to suffer to accomplish a goal, but it certainly is not something that I actively seek out. And right then, I was suffering when I did not really need to be suffering.

As we approached the Bell Buckle control at mile 70, I started to fall behind. My fingers were numb, so that it was difficult to shift, and my legs were much more sore than they should have been after so few miles. Once I got to the store, I went to the bathroom and washed my hands in hot water to get some feeling back, then went in search of stuff to put on to get warmer. I found a sweatshirt on sale for $15:

And some Incredible Hulk gardening gloves:

I drank a cup of hot cocoa, put the sweatshirt on under my jacket, put the dry gloves on my hands, and put plastic bags over my socks. Mark and Jeff had waited for me, putting bags on their hands and feet as well, and we headed out together on the long busy road towards Lewisburg. That's when I finally said it out loud:

This is stupid.

I kept falling off the back as we battled the growing wind. It was still raining, so getting into a paceline wasn't an attractive option, and my will and interest were waning. Mark and Jeff were almost out of sight when we started west on SR-270, and as I rode along I realized something about that road: It went straight west to Chapel Hill. And I know lots of ways to get home from Chapel Hill.

So, I "missed" the next left turn. I stopped at the next driveway and sent Jeff a text message -- "Struck by epiphany. See you Tuesday."

The 40 miles between there and Leiper's Fork well and truly sucked. The rain never really stopped, and the wind was blowing a steady 15 mph out of the northwest -- the direction that I had to go. I stopped briefly at the Sonic in Chapel Hill for some tater tots and a pretzel dog, but decided that the break wasn't worth the shivering as I acclimated back to the road for an hour after that. I did not stop again. Finally, about 4 pm, after 118 miles, I got back to my car and drove home.

Should I have stayed the course and finished the ride at all costs? Maybe. The physical costs were not that dire, but the psychic costs were racking up as I rode along and began questioning my resolve to do a full series this year. I felt that I got enough miles in Saturday, but just in case I rode another 80 miles on Sunday with the Harpeth Bike Club. My legs hurt today, but pain is just weakness leaving the body.

Isn't it?

I would probably be a more successful randonneur if I enjoyed suffering. But then I wouldn't be me, and I kind of like being me. So, instead, I'll choose my battles carefully, and I hope that I have enough strength to win the ones that really count.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Windows of Opportunity

With winter being what it's been this year, any time you get a tiny window of decent weather you better jump right through it. Saturday was one of those windows, and so -- although there was a perfectly good 200K available less than an hour's drive in Watertown, TN -- Jeff Bauer and I drove five hours Friday evening down to Athens, GA, to do the Audax Atlanta 300K.

There were other factors, of course. It was a good opportunity to see some of the Georgia randonneurs with whom we have so often ridden before, and the route was reportedly excellent. Plus, it gave us a chance to go ahead and get in the 300K for the series that we would need this year, just in case the Tennessee 300K at the end of this month is not so lucky regarding temperatures and precipitation.

Following a brief breakfast that the host hotel graciously prepared early for us, we rolled out into the pre-dawn dark at 6 am onto quiet roads. Jeff and I found ourselves riding with a fast bunch as the sun slowly rose, passing through (literally) the first control -- a covered bridge -- as the first hints of pearl tinged the eastern gloom ahead.

For most of the first half of the ride, Jeff and I rode with various Georgia riders, including his old Gran Fondo Fixies teammate from RAAM, Kevin Kaiser. Although Jeff had gears, Kevin was riding a fixed-gear bike. The fairly flat terrain -- just over 8,000 feet of climbing over the full 192-mile course -- lent itself to that kind of bike, but Kevin later had stomach issues that forced him to cut his ride short.

Also with us for much of the day was Kevin's brother, Chris, who had just completed RAAM as part of a four-person team.

Chris had also been part of our Gran Fondo Fixies crew, as well as crewing for Kevin on his two subsequent solo RAAM finishes.

About 70 miles in, we stopped at an information control at the Georgia Guidestones.

Here, Jeff and I tried to make ourselves into matching sundials.

The Guidestones are a set of perpendicular monoliths, aligned in such a way as to provide various astronomical tricks. For example, the picture below is a hole that always points at the North Star.

Supposedly, nobody knows who paid to have these erected. After it went up, I don't know if there were any Cro-Magnon men beating one another with the jawbone of some beast, but doubt it since they've only been up since 1979.

From here, the course took a long out-and-back to the Richard B. Russell State Park, on the border with South Carolina. We rode much of this stretch with Andy Akard and Robert Macleod. The day had warmed up enough by then that they were able to show off their stylish new Audax Atlanta wool jerseys.

There were hints of spring's coming everywhere, with some trees finally beginning to bud and miles of daffodils dotting the landscape.

The course turned west at this point, and we soon realized how much we had been enjoying a tailwind. Of course, you never notice a slight tailwind as much as you suffer with that same headwind. The 15 miles to Royston were tougher as a result, and Jeff and I were happy to stop at the Wendy's there for lunch. We were just finishing as Kevin and Chris came in, and they looked as if they had been working hard out there as well.

The miles had taken more of a toll on me than I had thought, and I sat in on Jeff for most of the next stretch to the control in Commerce. The break helped, as did eating some pretzel bits and drinking a cream soda at the store. We missed a turn leaving town and got in some extra miles on a busy road, but this worked out well since we soon caught up to Julie Gazmarian and her husband, Paul Foster.

Jeff and I have ridden many times with Julie, but it was my first chance to ride with Paul. They are both super-strong riders and good folks to talk with in the late afternoon hours of a very long brevet. The miles passed comfortably with them as we rolled into the penultimate control, a Waffle House on US-78.

Jeff and I stopped to eat something, and Julie and Paul rode on. Soon, Chris came in, and we all put on our night-riding gear as we headed out into the sunset. The wind was dying, but was finally at our backs again.

We only ended up riding about half an hour in the dark. Chris had a flat on his front tire about two miles from the finish, but we still made it back to the hotel about 8:30 pm.

My legs felt great, and should hopefully be able to survive the tough 400K in Cookeville, TN, next month. We avoided the rain that came in that evening, stayed relatively warm, saw lots of old friends, and generally had a good ride. It was a good window to jump through.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Perfectly Honest

Saturday, Jeff Bauer and I went out to Cookeville to ride the Honest Abe 200K permanent. We were willing to drive an hour to get to this ride because
  • We're kind of bored with the regular permanents around here. This was my sixth 200K for the year so far, and a change of scenery was in order.
  • We needed to check out the route and make sure everything was okay. Regional Brevet Administrator Jeff Sammons submitted this route to become an official RUSA 200K in April, when he will be running it concurrent with the 400K in Cookeville.
  • It's a pretty route, with enough climbing to test your legs. And Jeff and I felt that we needed a test to see how well we were preparing for the Cascade 1200K, which we are both doing this summer.

It was still pretty cold at the start -- it's been a tough winter all over -- but that was also a good test of our equipment. You need to use the winter rides to make sure that you can carry the clothes that you may need on the longer rides, and the Cascade 1200K is well-known for its wide variety of temperatures and weather.

Riding north on TN-135, we quickly left the early morning Cookeville traffic for gently rolling farmland. It was good to see that the state had finally paved the descent down towards the Cumberland River about 15 miles in, since the winter had pretty much left that road unscathed. We rolled along the chilly Roaring River, quietly belying its name, then touched a corner of Gainesboro at the Cumberland.

It's always pleasant riding with Jeff, since our strengths usually complement each other on the road and we are of similar philosophies in our riding styles. And, of course, we are friends who can usually find something interesting to discuss and pass the time. Thus, the 50 miles to the first control went by easily, and we soon found ourselves eating a sandwich at Cherry's Grocery in Moss, TN, about one mile from Kentucky. It was nice to hang out at the store for a minute, with Mr. Moss telling us how Standing Stone State Park got its name, but we managed to drag ourselves away and headed on to Celina.

One of the things that I wanted to check was here, where they have widened Hwy 52 and brought it straight into town. The route follows the old road, and I was worried that they might have torn it up; fortunately, that wasn't the case. Although it is now possible to "short-cut" the route by staying on the busy four-lane Hwy 52, riders that follow the route will instead get a much more quiet road ... albeit a lot hillier.

You still stay on the shoulder of Hwy 52 for a few miles, but it's a wide shoulder with no rumble strips. Soon, you turn off and head into Standing Stone State Park.

There's a tough little climb just past the one-lane bridge, but the bridge helps keep traffic light as you then continue on through the park to Hilham. Here, the store is still closed, but we found another store two miles further down TN-85. Its hours will work out just fine for the control.

The wind had come up out of the west, so we had to do a bit of work to get back to Gainesboro. After a quick lunch, we climbed out of town towards the Avery Trace, then slogged our way into the wind to Granville.

We still had a crosswind going up Hwy 96, but the wind finally blew our way when we hit Hwy 70. We flew along this stretch, mostly about 20 mph, through Baxter and down Buffalo Valley Road and to the end.

One of the things that I was really happy about was how well the changes to my bike fit were helping my ride, particularly the new Specialized insoles in my bike shoes. Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo Cycles (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Galaxy) did a great job tweaking my Lynskey to better support a good pedal stroke, and the insoles with their arch support ensure that every watt of power from my legs goes into the drive train. Since the new fit, I haven't had any leg cramps -- either during or after a ride -- and my shoulders, neck, and arms are much less fatigued.

About 100 miles into the route Saturday, Jeff Bauer said that he thinks that we will be fine for the Cascade 1200K. We've put in the rides that we had to this winter, in spite of the weather, and both of us have been pretty good about losing weight in preparation for the long climbs out west. Oddly enough, we've even managed to have some fun.