Thursday, November 21, 2013


I recently posted this in a forum thread about randonneuring:
"I will help anyone start participating in randonneuring, but there is so much potential for suffering that I would never try to recruit anyone into randonneuring. I have ridden myself to the verge of tears more than once, and probably will again. "Epic is not a synonym for stupid""

Funny thing is, I wasn't thinking of Endless Mountains.  I got a little anxious about time during EM, but never really felt miserable.  I have more to say about this and what I think beginning randonneurs need to know.  That's a post for another time. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dirt road frame

A little over a year ago, I was invited on a ride in Rothrock State Park by Tom Hovan.  It revolutionized my riding.  There are so many quiet gravel roads up in the park, and it's right behind my house.  In 5 minutes, I can be riding in solitude.  Granted, I'll be riding up a mountain, but it will be in solitude. 

Last year, I rode my road bike with a little bigger tire.  I would switch wheels when it was time to ride on the road.  I got tired of that, so I went to the stash of frames in the attic.  I have been riding an old touring bike I made decades ago on gravel roads.  It doesn't fit me, I got the idea to build a frame that was too big for me because I'm shorter than the nominal bear.  And back then, I wanted to sell this frame.  But as a framebuilder, it's more than a little embarrassing to ride a frame that doesn't fit.  Maybe it's a "French Fit," because the reach is just fine for me.  But my thighs hit the seat stays, so it's time for a new bike to replace it.

I have a "monster cross" bike in the works, but I like the touring bike/frame so much that I want to replicate it only without the very high top tube.  Long reach side-pull brakes and pretty much a road geometry.  Maybe a little slacker head angles, I have to decide how much work I want to do bending the lugs.  I have a set of Llewellyn "Slant 6" lugs, so it's going to be lugged.  I will use one of the forks I rejected for the monster cross because it's not heavy enough for discs. 

More on this when it starts to happen.  Tubes are due in on Wednesday.

2013 Endless Mountains 1240K

 Endless Mountains is a grand randonnee sanctioned by Randonneurs Mondiaux and put on by Tom Rosenbauer and a legion of wonderful volunteers.  Tom is one of the most thoughtful and competent ride organizers I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and it's always worth riding one of his rides.  I volunteered on the last EM1240k, and I always wished I had ridden it even after seeing the misery that faced the riders.  So there was no way I was going to miss it and wait another 4 years.  Tom moved it from late September to August this time, which really seems to have been a good decision in retrospect.  Maybe I'd feel differently if it had been hotter, but I'm not good at alternative history, so I'll just say that I think it was a great time of year for a long, ridiculously difficult ride.

My involvement started with marking the turns in my area.  Tom somehow got the idea of marking every turn on a 770 mile course, and it can really be a ride-saver out on the road.  There are some areas where this can be a problem, and I gather that Tom marked a large number of turns himself.  It's simply an audacious undertaking, but I know a lot of riders really appreciate it.

I apologize for the word salad that follows.  I was taking pictures until I realized that I was not going to have an easy time of this ride, which happened fairly early on, much to my dismay.  I was in good shape for the ride, maybe a little heavy.  I resolved many times to lose weight, we'll see how this works out.

I was riding with the front group until I found it harder and harder to keep up.  This coincided with a bump on my back tire, "was that a flat?"  Ten miles later, it turned out I was riding on my rim -- it was a slow leak.  So I have trouble getting my tire off, and then my pump failed.  I've felt guilty about having equipment failures before, but who expects their pump to fail?  Thanks, Topeak.  Anyway, I started walking, because I wasn't too far from a controle.  The only problem was that my glasses were fogged over and I took a wrong turn.  After walking up a hill -- "I don't remember this hill" -- I saw a road sign that said I was on Dogwood instead of Elm.  Oops.  Starting to worry about time, I decided to ride the tire flat to the controle.  I got back to the course, and kept going until Tom sent Len to save me.  First of many times Lenny bailed me out.  I'm sure I would have abandoned if it weren't for Len.

I really had planned not to get any attention from the course sweeps, but I'm not a fast climber and there were a lot of hills.  At the first overnight, Dan B. got me a room, and in the morning he made me some soup when I told him my stomach was upset.  Another save.  By the time I left, I felt good enough to talk math with Dan. I'm glad he humors me, I had just written a paper and was feeling uncomfortable about some of the finer points.  Only time for 1 1/2 hours of sleep, and I'm still leaving after the controle closes.  Not good.

I got confused in Binghamton, not sure why I just didn't trust the arrows, but I could never let myself do that for the entire ride.  So I was having trouble making up time.  Jeff B. catches up to me a little later, lots of encouragement.  That's when I realized he was my roomate the night before.  My mood was pretty low until I got to the un-timed controle where Jeff was forcing food on me.  It was very tight to the next controle in Towanda.  Then more bonus miles.  "Oh, that was supposed to be a T intersection."  Apparently others had the same problem, it's tough to navigate when you ignore the cue sheet and the arrows.   I was very happy to see Jeff at the controle.

Shortly after leaving the controle, I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack.  Look for the arrows!  As I was riding to Canton, a storm blew past me to the north.  I felt really lucky that it didn't hit me, looked wet.  It was not to be, since just as I saw a sign that said, "Canton 3,"  a deluge let loose.  I thought this was it for my ride.  Got to Canton, soaking wet, called Tom thinking I should abandon, but he told me to keep riding.  I realized there was not really an option since the sweep shift change had happened and I was now the course sweep.  Four years ago, I remember driving up to Canton to pick up some riders that were abandoning.  It's a really long way up there from Lewisburg.

So my prize was to keep riding.  The next section was fun, although I kept thinking, well, I just climbed up a really long way, now it's going to be downhill, right?  Well, after about 8 miles of climbing there is a warning about a downhill on the cue sheet, but it's not the last downhill.  In fact, it's not the only downhill where you have to be careful.  That section reminds me of my teenage years in Virginia -- massive rollers.  Keep your speed up as far as you can and the rest of the hill is only a lot of work instead of a major slog all the way from the bottom.  I swear they built that road with one blueprint.  House in the center of the turn on the right, barn on the left.  Very steep.  Finally, a long downhill.  And another long downhill.  More long downhills.  That was a welcome section.   Downhills never get old.

Got to the untimed controle and was happy I was back on schedule.  Bill Reagan was there, said he had been feeling sick.  It seemed like he wanted to wait for me, but I told him I would catch up.  I never did though.  I caught up to Louis and Paul on one of their roadside confabs.  We rode on to Lamar.  After Lamar, we picked up Ian just before the big descent.  Paul goes, "what was that!?" "didn't see anything" "It was a rider!"  I saw nothing.  I think it was just a roadside clothing change.  Get into Lewisburg for a luxurious 3 hour sleep.  I actually had time to eat too.  Ate again after sleeping.  Spent too much time talking to John Fuoco, Jud finally dragged me to my bike.

I wasted too much time in the un-timed controle.  I know better, why do I keep doing this?  Story of my ride.  Riding out of there, I got to ride some roads that I always thought looked interesting when driving along the river on 322.  If they hadn't freshly chip-sealed it, they would be really nice.  That stuff is bad when it's fresh, and this was really fresh.  So hard to keep up speed, and it was a series of rollers that would have been so much easier on smooth pavement.  Got to the turn and knew I was in trouble.  Lenny catches me and I get a much needed ice/cookie stop.  He tells me what I know intuitively, 30 miles and 2 1/2 hours to do it.  I think there was something wrong with my mental odometer, there is no way I could have done that 30 miles in 2 hours.

I limited my time with Len, and really tried to hammer.  Chip seal, thanks.  I saw Hugo and Gloria, "no problem, you have an hour to do 10 miles."  Well, it wasn't much of a problem except for a couple of really steep hills.  I started cramping, ride through the pain.  Got to Mount Union with a half hour to spare.  How did that happen?  Ate and got going again.  Mount Union gives me the creeps for some reason.  Appalachian poverty is making a comeback in some places, and I suspect that nearly the entire population of Mount Union is on some form of government assistance.

Lenny catches me near the top of Sugar Grove climb.  The climb was bad, but not as bad as John Fuoco's editorial statement at the bottom, "Oh my!" -- on this ride it's just another hill.

Paul and Louis catch me as we start the big climb up to Jo Hay Vista.  They made a wrong turn, I feel bad because I painted this section of the road.  I put arrows before and after their wrong turn even though there was no cue there.  They say they didn't see anything.  They ride off -- how do riders in Florida get so good at climbing?

 All I have is the climb to Jo Hay Vista and I'm on home turf.  Easy ride to Lewisburg.  I thought I was ok, since I rode up to Jo Hay Vista twice the weekend before with no issues.  Well, I was wrong.  The climbing before the actual mountain turns out to be almost as much as the mountain itself.  It also served to drain the cache battery in my light.  When I got to the bottom of the climb, it was flashing like crazy because I was going so slow.  That didn't exactly speed me up, and I ended up walking a considerable portion of the climb.  I wait at the top of the climb for a minute for a gap in the traffic, but then some horrible person catches me just as the turns start and tailgates me the rest of the way down. Jerk.  Thanks, Cletus, in the future please remember that nobody wants you to visit State College.

At the bottom, the controle gas station is closed.  I expected that, to be truthful, they are always closed when I need them.  Someone has left a note and some food, I don't need any so I leave it.  Paul and Lewis are at the bottom of the hill.  I stop to ask them if they are ok, "yes, but we need food and batteries."  Someone has told them about the Sheets 5 miles off course.  I tell them about the all-night Unimart just off the course in Boalsburg and how to get there.  I go see my wife, she's been nearly bed-ridden after foot surgery and I know she's been worried about me (yes, Gloria, she did give me a hug even though I stunk).

Meet up with Paul and Louis and ride off towards Lewisburg.  Hugo and Gloria are there.  This is one control I really wanted to avoid closing.  Paul and Louis are in no hurry to leave, and my visual hallucinations have actually gotten to the point of concern.  So I take a 5 minute nap.  Wake up, tell them we have to leave about 5 times and finally we get on our bikes.  I clipped in just as I realized that I wasn't properly balanced and I fall right over -- bam!  My knee and elbow sting, but no serious injuries.  Now it's just a matter of staying awake all the way to Lewisburg.  I succeeded well enough to get to the overnight just as everyone is leaving.  Ouch.

Chris R. is trying to talk me into leaving before I could get in a full 90 minute sleep cycle.  Finally, the safety argument prevails and they agree to my request for 100 minutes.  I climb into bed in my rain jacket, I just took off my shoes and socks.  Jud apologized that someone had slept in there before me, ha!  Sleep is over in a second (this is actually good news because it means I slept well). They feed me, pump up my tires and I'm off.  To ride some bonus miles.  Oh, yeah, I remember something about a detour.  So I ride back to the course.  Story of my ride, did I mention that?  I used this part of the ride on my Fleche route, so I know a lot of it.  This was one time where course knowledge didn't help me.

I'm feeling really good, but I have two pretty big climbs to go.  I get some much needed assistance from Scott at the bottom of the first climb, up to strip mine central just above Pine Grove.  The climb wasn't as bad as it had been on my fleche.  Not bonking leads to better riding in my experience.  Riding down into Pine Grove, I got confused and asked for directions.  When I get them I realize that I'm a moron and forgot there was 4.7 miles before my cue, I had gotten the idea that it was a half mile somehow.  The Swatara Gap detour on 645 looms in my future.  2 miles, The last bit at some outlandishly steep grade.  When I first rode a ride that went through Swatara Gap, I panicked before I realized I wasn't going to have to climb that mountain.  Well, this time I did have to climb the mountain.

The first part of the uphill wasn't too bad, but when it gets steep I miss a shift.  I toughed it out for quite a while, but I'm running out of steam so I start walking.  It flattens out a bit to 15% and I shift and get back on.  Steepens again, start to weave and the fast traffic convinces me to get off and walk.  I see Scott walking down the hill.  He encourages me, but gives me the bad news that I have barely enough time to make it to the next controle.  Ok, he lies and says no problem. I make it though.

Mike Anderson is there, nice to see another rider, but on this ride I usually felt bad for them when I caught anyone.  I ate, stayed too long again.  On leaving, I realize I didn't get my hydration pack together right and it soaks my shorts.  Not a good thing for my imminent saddle sores.  Nothing I can do and I lost sight of Mike.  I immediately miss a turn and have to backtrack.  Arrows?  What arrows?  Next controle is un-timed and then the finish.  Only 70 miles, no problem.  See a paramedic truck, what is this some kind of weird secret controle?  No, Scott passes me and says that Paul has crashed and gone to the hospital.  Hard not to think the worst.  I think about how proud Paul was talking when about his new granddaughter and I tear up a little.  Turns out Paul was ok, and after a trip to the hospital frustrated that the doctors wouldn't let him finish the ride because they wanted him under observation.  The stories I heard were obviously third-hand, but it sounds like they asked him what day it was and were concerned that he couldn't answer.  I would be curious how many people on the ride could have readily answered that question after 700+ miles in 4 days.  It really isn't the sort of thing you care about, which to me is one of the nice things about a 1200k.  I probably could have answered after thinking about it for a while, "let's see, started on Thursday the 8th, and, um..."

Meet up with Mike Anderson just before the post office controle.  He navigates us through the evening.  I am having trouble reading the cue sheet, so this is a big help.  He's a very strong rider.  He does manage to get me concerned about running out of time though. Finally, Mike figures out the good news that there are no more turns.  The bad news is that I know the road and there is a lot of climbing  As grandma Keller used to say, "double-dang it."  We descend into Perkiomenville, where the climbing begins.  I didn't do too well in through here on the fleche, bonking again.  I am really worried.  Five miles and an hour to go with lots of climbing is not a good combination.

I decide to leave nothing to chance and start riding as hard as I can.  Not much I can do for Mike at this point except hope that he makes it.  When I'm climbing at night, my brain tends to interpret every roadside tree as an overpass.  With my enhanced visual hallucinations, I'm seeing all sorts of fancy bridges and viaducts.  My muscles are burning, but I intentionally concentrate on the imaginary bridges.  I think we are always seeing things, but somewhere in our nervous system the weirder stuff is filtered out.  Not when it's night time and you have gone 4 days with 6 hours of sleep though.  As long as they are off the road, no problem.  My favorite was 4 guys working on a red Jeep Cherokee -- yes, they are that specific.  When I got closer, it turned out to be a couple of small trees, a mailbox and a fence.

Finally, I get to the top and it's just a small downhill to the hotel.  Get in, there is a crowd cheering for me.  Not usually a big fan of that sort of thing, but I'm so glad to make it that it matches my mood exactly.  Mike comes in soon after me.  Eat, drink, talk for a while and then go to bed.  Without a shower.  Sorry about that, Hampton Inn.