Friday, April 27, 2007

200 km aka "The Easy One" Part 2

On a long bike ride, there’s nothing quite like doing a 180 and heading back exact same way you came. It becomes immediately apparent the effect the wind has had on your progress thus far and whether you are less or more than halfway, not in terms of mileage, but effort-wise.

As it turns out, I was only a quarter into the ride at the half way point. Later, I would learn that the wind strengthened as the day progressed, topping out head on from the S/SE at 14mph with 22 mph gusts. At the time, I knew only that I was reduced to 8mph on level ground and was sputtering profanities up—and down— the hills.

After 20 minutes it was also apparent that I had not rested long enough at the 2nd checkpoint. I pulled over and climbed up the embankment to lie down for awhile, hoping that I might look confident for napping. “Is everything ok?” the first riders passing called out. It would not be the last time this inquiry was made. Without looking, I gave them a thumbs-up, mainly to dissuade them from calling an ambulance.

I lay quietly in the sun for awhile, occasionally looking up to pity the dwindling riders still heading to the 2nd checkpoint, some with worried looks. “Poor fools” I thought, “wait ‘til they hit this wind.” Both my sympathy and sense of superiority would evaporate later, when they overtook me on the return.

Back on the road the going was slow. With so much time on my hands I had many revelations. The first was that all my long distance achievements —details of which I shall bore you with in later posts— have been with little or no wind or with the wind at my back, either by luck or design.

Another revelation was that for all the touring I’ve done, I still need to polish up some basic riding skills. I shift miserably, grinding, overshooting and expecting gears that aren’t there. I cannot shoot snot without getting it all over myself. I get dizzy holding my breath when suckling the water bottle. The road crossed the Glacial Drumlin Trail and I thought of lazy days when such details were inconsequential.

I was grinding along when Mike caught up. The first words out of his mouth were about the wind. This acknowledgment and his lack of sleep made me hopeful I would have some companionship for a spell, but I excused myself for another stop after a only few miles. Not eating enough, I was lightheaded and beginning to bonk.

Poor nutrition manifested again at about mile 90, when I started getting cramps. I had forgotten to buy peanuts at the filling station and now had no salty snacks to speak of. Periodically, I’d jump off the bike and stretch the knots out of my legs. For the remainder of the ride they would cramp up with any real exertion.

Further complicating things was my dwindling water supply. I had expected my two full bottles to carry me the 35 miles between checkpoints, but with the wind I was doing the last 10 miles with a quarter bottle reserved for washing down the last of my dried pineapple.

I cannot recall ever being happy to see a “Taco John”, but the one attached to the 3rd checkpoint thrilled me enough that I ate the overpriced, crappy fare with little complaint. Although it seemed a waste of my temporary freedom from a strict diet, the deadly high sodium content was just what the doctor ordered.

I chatted with the other wind burned stragglers and met Tom (?) who kindly offered me a fist full of “electrolyte pills” and an assurance that all the cool kids were doing them.

In addition to the eating style and the drugs taken, the orienteering was also different than what I am accustomed to. Instead of a map and cardinal directions, riders are given cue sheets with the mile #, roadway names, turns, and distance in-between. This means you spend a lot of time checking at the odometer to make sure you haven’t missed a turn, which sort of makes the miles drag on.

Since I had my cyclometer set wrong, I had to re-calibrate a few times. I’d wait for it to show the mileage of the next turn and then hold it away from the wireless transmitter until I got there. Usually I’d clench it in my teeth, so I wouldn’t forget to put it back.

The route was excellently marked, but it takes more than large spray painted arrows keep me on course. Regardless, I was proud to only add one extra mile by missing a turn. The second extra mile came from panicked backtracking when I didn’t recognize the landscape. Both mistakes came on the last leg, with few riders ahead or behind to guide or confirm. A 1.6% mileage-in-error rate—a new personal best!

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip the part about the dogs and just say that I rolled up on the Motel at 8 pm sharp, a full 4 hours behind the first riders. True to their slogan, they did leave the porch light on for me, but it was the organizers who had growlers of cold draught from J.T. Whitney’s Pub & Brewery.

95% of the riders were long gone and with them my chances of scoring a ride to train or home. So, I booked myself a room and procured and individual sized pizza pie from an adjacent eatery on the corporate strip. I wouldn’t have to fight the wind again until the morning.


Monday, April 23, 2007

200 km aka "The Easy One" Part 1

Saturday 4/21 was the first of four qualifying brevets held by the Great Lakes Randonneurs in Wisconsin. The route would be Delavan to Sun Prairie and back, 128 miles to be completed in 13.5 hours.

Friday night I took Metra’s UPNW Line to its terminus Harvard, IL. 8:30 PM was the first available train after the outbound rush hour, when bicycles are prohibited, which got me in town at 10:20 PM. Lucky for me, none of the brevets are scheduled on one of the 22 “blackout” days on which bikes are still prohibited.

From here it was 18 miles to Delavan, WI and the five star accommodations of the Motel Super 8. The ride along U.S. 14 was pleasant, lightly trafficked with the wind at a dead calm and a waxing crescent low in the sky.

En route, Julie called to say she’d be later than expected. Sam Van Dellen had put me in touch with this kindhearted woman, who hooked me up with some floor space. Good thing too, cause my plan theretofore had been to stand around asking the other riders to crash in their room—riders who were all sound asleep when I pulled in at Midnight.

Like a good boy, I limited myself to 1 beer at Kimberly’s in glamorous downtown Delavan and met up with Julie, Ben and Ben shortly before lights out.

After a restless night, I awoke early, joined the crowd abusing the continental breakfast and registered where I was issued my checkpoint card, route sheet and a handful of hamster pellets (protein laden energy bars.)

We assembled on the tarmac minutes before 8 AM for a motivational speech and liability reminder and I began to feel a bit out of place. Organized, group rides aren’t really my typical thing. Some cats had wheel sets that cost more than my whole bike. My “good” bike. I was wearing a mountain bike style jersey and cargo pants. I had a camera around my neck. Nobody else had a front rack. I’m pretty sure nobody else was carrying a lock. (NOTE: I expected to lunch at a diner! Are YOU going to replace my stolen bike!?)

Anyway, off we rolled. I chatted awhile with Jim Krepps from the CCC, who was riding through tendinitis in his ankle. Jim’s done ‘em all-- PBP, Boston-Montreal-Boston, Cascade, Gold Rush. He’s going to PBP this year, but then taking some time off from endurance cycling. Kinda wimpy, no?

I was quite enjoying myself, riding along at 16-18mph in the considerable wind break of the group. I knew they would drop me eventually, but my thought was “If I can keep up for just 20 miles, it will be worth the effort.” Soon more grandiose strategies unfolded in my mind. “I should definitely keep near the bike at the first checkpoint (mile 35,) so that I can leave with them in a hurry.”

At mile 8, I was dropped.

For awhile I paired up with Frank, an Industrial Psychologist from the Twin Cities. He claimed to be nearly 60, but didn’t look a day over 45. He had been to PBP in 2003 and informed me that the roads were much nicer than stateside. Then he dropped me.

The first (and third) checkpoint was a filling station in Edgerton. Ordinarily, I might rant a bit about big oil and the irony of its involvement here, but I have learned, both from touring and living on the west side of Chicago, that sometimes patronizing a gas station unavoidable. I snapped a shot of Julie.

Back on the road, I found myself in a small group with Jeff, who owns a bike shop in South Bend, IN. He reassured me that the Long Haul Trucker was a fine steed for the job at hand. We chatted until I dropped my water bottle—which upon my retrieving it had a nice wheel shaped dent. All apologies to the nice lady behind me…

I missed yet another good photo op at mile 60 as the leaders approached on their return. Another PBP veteran, Scott McIntire, who I know from his days bartending at Cal’s, was close to the front. I was pleased to see they were only about 10 miles ahead at the halfway point, although the wind that had built up behind me did have me concerned about the reverse ride.

At around 12:30 I pulled into the second checkpoint in Sun Prairie, mile 65. About this time I was realizing that nobody else was going to stop for a 3 egg omelet, hash browns and bacon, so I decided I would go with the flow and eat gatherer vs. hunter style. I slammed a Starfucks “frappasomething” from the cooler case and ate another pellet.

I was saddling up when Mike Feirstein arrived. He and Scott were the ones who fist told me about PBP 4 years ago. The proprietor of Cal’s and grandson of its founder, Mike had a late night with a show at the tavern. Operating on no sleep he looked a little weary and had started 20 minutes late.

I told him he would catch up to me and headed into the wind…


Friday, April 20, 2007

The Burger and the Damage Done

Thomas Christopher O’Rourke

Male, aged 34

Born November 21, 1972 in Oak Park, Illinois

As of: April 18, 2007

Weight: 193.5 Lbs

Body Fat: 22.6%

B.M.I.: 27.4

So my percentage body fat falls into the “acceptable” range, which used to just be called “overweight.” I doubt this name sugarcoating did anyone any good.

Since I am so very out of shape, I set no specific “numeric” goal, but rather desire to get fit as possible in the little time I have.

At the end of our grand experiment I shall publish the “after” photos, hopefully in dramatic contrast. Perhaps I can even sell them to snake oil marketers or do commercial spots for fast food vendors. Alas, I don’t think I’m heavy enough to qualify for my own talk show.

But for now I remain just another random weirdo clogging the web with pictures of himself in his underpants.


Monday, April 16, 2007

“What the hell IS randonneuring, anyway?...”

... I blurted, as we labored along Giant City Rd. The word was painted along the top tube of a friend’s loaded down bicycle and I realized that I had no clear definition of the term. I cannot recall Josh’s answer.

That was 9 days ago. In the interim, I have decided to ride the granddaddy of all randonnées, the Paris-Brest-Paris. It is the oldest bicycle event in the world.

For those disinterested in links, ‘randonnée’ is a French term which loosely translates to “ramble” or “long journey.” A randonnée not a race, but it must be completed in within the allotted time. There is no motor-vehicle support, participants ride day and night, whatever the weather and are expected to be self sufficient-- lights, tools, outerwear, etc.

PBP is 1200km in 90 hours. I’ll spare you the math: 750 miles to be completed in 3.75 days. It is listed first on Google under ‘sleepless grueling long distance bicycle ride.’

As if simply preparing for the event in August weren’t daunting enough, the first of 4 qualifying brevets --200km/13.5hr-- is this Saturday (April 21st), with another every two weeks thereafter, each increasing in distance, concluding with the 600km/40hr ride 8 weeks from today. To top it all off, they all start in Delavan, WI, near Lake Geneva.

Some fun facts about me:

· The longest distance at a stretch I have ridden this year: 60 miles. In the last 4 years: 140 miles.

· I will be using a regular ol’ touring rig—not quite the ideal machine for the task at hand.

· I am currently around 25 lbs over my fightin' weight.

So stick around, this should be interesting.