Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mountain Music 200K Brevet

About two months ago I started not one, but two new jobs!  I’m excited, and things are going well, but I’m still getting my feet under me.  Although I’m riding lots, I haven’t had much time for writing.  Last weekend’s ride, however, is definitely worth a report.  It was my first brevet that started in another state.

The Mountain Music 200K, hosted by the Alabama Randonneurs, began in Ft. Payne, AL.  Originally, I had planned to do a permanent that day, which is the only Saturday this month I have available to keep up my R-12.  Then, when my rando buddy Andy posted on the Audax Atlanta Facebook page about the Mountain Music 200K, I changed my plans.  Not only did this present a terrific cycling opportunity, it gave me an excellent chance to visit my father and stepmother.  Ft. Payne is about a 3.5-hour drive from my house but only about a 1.25-hour drive from theirs – definitely an easier early morning drive to the ride, especially gaining an hour going west to the Central time zone.

I had a wonderful visit with Daddy and Marian – so wonderful that I stayed up way too late.  I barely got six hours of sleep before I had to leave for the ride, but it was worth it to get to see them.

The drive to Ft. Payne was easy, almost entirely on interstates.  A little rain fell right before the 6:00 AM start.  Fortunately, it cleared out, and we had a dry ride.

When I got to the high school parking lot where the ride started, I was delighted to see not only Andy, but also Robert N. from the Audax Atlanta club.  We Georgia randonneurs made up nearly 50% of the seven riders doing the brevet.

Me and Andy (photo taken by Robert N.)

It was a beautiful morning.  Although I had to wear arm warmers, it was a good tradeoff because the cool dampness brought out the fragrance of the prolific honeysuckle along the roadside.

After about seven miles, we began our first significant climb of the day, three miles at about 7% into Mentone, AL.  I have to admit that although mountains aren’t my favorite terrain in general, I do kind of like climbing them on my bike because I’m built for it.  I was the first one to Mentone.  This had a drawback, however.

As I followed the route and turned off of the main road in Mentone, I noticed a cool photo opp, one of those things where you stick your face in a hole to take a picture.  One of my life rules is never to pass up one of these photo opps.  Unfortunately, I had gotten to the top of the climb first, and no one was there to take my picture.  It wasn’t the typical animal or other similar scene.  It was a plain brown board with three holes and “Mentone, AL” across the top.  Delightfully prosaic.

Mike, Max, and Robert soon caught up to me.  We rode together for a number of miles.  Mike and I in particular rode at about the same pace.  One time we were riding past a peaceful herd of cows.  Mike said hello to them and then confessed to me that he talks to cows.  As if I would think this was odd.  Not only do I do the same thing, earlier that morning I had sung to a buzzard.  It was a variation on “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers Band: Don’t fly Mr. Buzzard.  I’m just riding down the road.

About 66 miles in, we got to the second big climb of the day, just after the control in Menlo, GA.  This one was about two miles at 8%.  Relatively speaking, the overall elevation gain wasn’t outrageous to be in a mountainous area: a little over 7,000 ft in our 132-mile route.  One thing that makes riding in the ridge & valley topography of NW Georgia/NE Alabama unique is that you can minimize your climbing by staying in the valleys.  You only have to climb if you get up on one of the plateaus.

Mike soon caught up to me after this second big climb.  We rode together to the next control, which was also our last store stop.  Max arrived soon after Mike and I did, and the three of us mostly stayed together for the remainder of the ride.

A highlight of the day was riding through the Little River Canyon National Preserve.  An incredibly scenic road winds around the canyon and offers multiple, beautiful vantage points:

The brevet included several info controls.  The last one was at a fire hydrant:

I think I'll go for a ride.

I felt good at the finish, a bonus given that I then had to drive 3.5 hours back home.  I said goodbye to Mike, Max, and Bruce.  Bruce is the RBA for the Alabama Randonneurs, and he did a fantastic job of putting on the brevet!

About an hour into my drive home, I started feeling really sleepy.  I pulled into a large, busy travel plaza along the interstate.  After making sure my car doors were locked, I took a 30-minute nap.  I woke up refreshed and drove the rest of the way home without feeling sleepy at all.

Thank you to all my Alabama and Georgia rando buddies for making my first out-of-state brevet so fun and successful.  I hope to see you all again soon!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Athens-Augusta-Athens 400K

Usually it doesn't take me five days to write a ride report.  However, things have been in a state of flux for the last couple of weeks.  Friday, March 17 was my last day at my old job.  Then on Monday, March 20, I began not one, but two new jobs!  I'm very excited about them, but it's been rather like trying to drink from a fire hose or trying to ride a tidal wave.  I'm grateful to still be able to ride my bicycle in the midst of it all.

Last Saturday's brevet was only my fourth 400K.  Preferably, I would want to be well rested going into it.  This time, I really wasn't.  I had to get up at 4:30 AM on Monday and Friday during the workweek before, and then I had to get up at 4:00 AM the morning of the ride.  Also, I didn't sleep very well most nights that week simply because of to-be-expected nerves during my job transition.  Nevertheless, because there are only two 400Ks on the Georgia randonneuring calendar this year, and I can't make the second one, I bit the bullet to do the Athens-Augusta-Athens 400K even in my fatigued state.

Five of us gathered at the SpingHill Suites on the outskirts of Watkinsville: Chad G., Chad H., Graham, Robert N., and me.  Chad is definitely the statistical mode of the names of my cycling friends.  I've come to the conclusion that if your name is Chad, you're an excellent cyclist.  Conversely, if you're an excellent cyclist, your name isn't necessarily Chad.

Within a quarter mile, Graham turned back to get something he forgot.  The other four of us continued on.  Somehow I became the de facto navigator.  The sun hadn't come up yet, and I couldn't see my bike computer screen because I had minimized the back lighting time-out to save as much battery juice as possible.  Nevertheless, I thought I had the first part of the route memorized.  I was wrong.  In downtown Watkinsville, we were supposed to turn left onto Simonton Bridge Road.  I had us go a block farther and turn left on Barnett Shoals Road.  We realized our mistake fairly soon.  We could either backtrack or ride a few extra miles and loop back into the correct route.  Robert said that it's psychologically harder to backtrack.  So we rode an extra 5.8 miles instead.  Wow.  That's so much better.

I hoped that would be our greatest excitement of the day.  The ride was, in fact, rather uneventful - yet pleasant - for quite a while.  Chad H. powered ahead early on, leaving Chad G., Robert, and me to ride together.  After discussions about politics and religion, I suggested that we talk about sex.  Thus, I yelled, "Monkey butt!"

There was an info control at mile 30 (actually mile 36 for us because of the early extra miles), but the first real stop wasn't until mile 90 (actually mile 96 for us) in Norwood.  We were ready for a break!

I headed out a few minutes before the guys to find a nature break spot.  Honestly, most of the time I prefer the woods to a convenience store restroom.  As I got back on my bicycle, I noted with amusement the important role that duct tape plays for us randos.  Here, it's holding my bike computer charger to my frame to keep it from rattling, and it's securing my fork to my can of sardines:

My two companions soon caught back up to me.  Most of the next section of the route was out and back to Augusta (actually Evans).  By the time we got to the next control at Publix, Chad G. and I were starting to pull ahead of Robert.  Chad G. and I took a shorter break than Robert and got back on the road.  Robert was able to hook up with Graham at Publix.  Chad H. had already left this control a little before Chad G. and me.

Chad G. started fading as he and I rode toward the next control in Thomson.  He's obviously a very strong rider, and he outrode some of the more experienced randonneurs at the 300K a few weeks ago, but this was his first 400K.  That's a big step up.  Still, I hoped that he would keep riding steadily.

After Thomson, Chad G. was feeling pretty rough.  On the other hand, I got a second wind, so I pulled ahead.  I don't know if it's the Coke I had in Thomson, the fact that one of my most alert times of day is around 6:00 PM, or I've simply gotten more accustomed to ultra distances.  It's probably all three.  Regardless, I felt great on the 32-mile stretch between the controls in Thomson and Washington.  I figured it wouldn't last the rest of the ride, and so I enjoyed it while it was there.

Before I got to Washington, I was riding on a quiet, rural road.  (Actually, most of the roads on this route were quiet and rural - beautiful!)  I saw some cows that had gotten out in the road.  They got spooked as I rode by, running alongside me for a short distance.  I looked for a person at the adjoining farmstead but didn't see anyone.  Fortunately, I was able to flag down a neighbor about a quarter mile down the road.  She called the cows' owner.  Later, I was talking with my rando buddies about the cows, who simply thought the cows were chasing them.  Although I grew up a city slicker, I'm glad my father-in-law, who is a farmer, taught me about cows getting out.

At the Huddle House control in Washington, I was ready for something more akin to a real meal.  A waffle and some bacon hit the spot.  However, the Coke I ordered tasted terrible.  Sure enough, it turned out to be Pepsi.  They can't trick me!  I got a Mountain Dew instead.

Chad G. got to the Huddle House pretty soon after I did.  He ordered food but looked like he was about to fall out.  Then Graham arrived.  I was fueled and ready to go, and so I headed out solo.  The sun had just about set.  I was on schedule to finish somewhere around midnight.

Earlier in the day when my Garmin battery got low, I turned on my charger and gave the battery a good boost.  Now my Garmin battery was getting low again, and the charger was used up.  I had wanted to bring a backup bike computer, but I never was able to get the route to upload to it.  Then, I intended to bring a second charger, but I accidentally left it at home.  So it was time to go to my backup backup plan.  You always need one of those in randonneuring.  When my Garmin battery finally gave up the ghost, I started the Strava app on my phone to collect the remainder of my ride data.  (Fortunately, I had charged my phone back at the Huddle House.)  To navigate, I used my cue sheet, which I read with the extra front light that I mounted on my handlebars.  (I had brought the extra front light as a backup to my dynamo wheel hub.)  Because I didn't have a way to mount the cue sheet, I put it in my pocket.  I memorized a few turns at a time and then stopped to memorize a few more.  My little system worked well.  Until it didn't.

At about mile 231 (which should have been about mile 225), I took a wrong turn.  Later, when I studied what went wrong, I determined that my mistake was due to a change in road name that wasn't noted on the cue sheet.  On the other hand, it might simply have been the late hour (about 11:00 PM) and my growing fatigue.  I wound up taking an out-and-back side jaunt to Colbert.  By the time I realized my mistake, mapped a route to get back on track, and got on the correct road to the next control, I had ridden about 7 more extra miles.  Along with the wrong turn first thing that morning, I rode 13 extra miles total.  That put me nearly an hour behind schedule.  Major bummer.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  When I finally got to the last convenience store control in Athens, there was Graham!  He was looking and feeling strong and invited me to ride the remaining miles with him.  I was happy to do so.  Not only was it nice to have a companion for the last bit (he really helped keep me going!), but I got to accompany him as he finished his first 400K.  We arrived at 1:17 AM.  Another great example of randonneuring camaraderie!

I had enough adrenaline to get me part way through the hour-long drive home.  When I started getting sleepy, I pulled over for a short nap in my car at the Morgan County landfill.  I have done work there, which is why I picked that spot.  It was only later when I was telling a friend that I realized this sounds a little odd.

The next day (well, actually later the same day) I had to go grocery shopping.  The only other things on my agenda were resting, reading, and drinking wine.  Remember how Gilligan's Island started with a three-hour tour?  I had a three-hour nap.  A three-hour nap.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Athens 300K 2017

Here's a brief ride report from Saturday's Athens 300K brevet.  A good crowd gathered at the start, about 15 riders.  Nine of us formed a nice subgroup that seemed to ride about the same pace: Andrew, Brian, Chad, David, Dick, Joe (visiting from Pennsylvania), Judah, Michael, and me.  Chad, Judah, and Michael live in Georgia but were doing their first brevet with our Audax Atlanta Club.  Chad comes from a triathlon background.  Michael was using the brevet as training for the upcoming Dirty Kanza (200-mile gravel grinder race), and his sister Judah was doing the brevet with him.  Here we all are at the Georgia Guidestones:

The Guidestones are an intriguing point of interest.  They consist of granite slabs from a local quarry.   (Nearby Elberton is the granite capital of Georgia.)   The slabs are inscribed with words of wisdom for humans to live peacefully and sustainably on Earth.  The words are printed in a different language on each slab side.  No one knows who constructed the Guidestones.  Cue "The Twilight Zone" music...

Michael and Judah eventually rode off the front.  I thought they might burn out, being new to randonneuring, but they rode strong the whole way.  The only thing is that they didn't have a map or cue sheet of the route.  Later, they passed us going the opposite direction about 20 miles from the finish.  I guess they were trying to find a shorter route back to the parking lot.  Michael had mentioned wanting to finish by 6:00 PM because he had to get on the road to go to Florida.  A 12-hour finish was a mighty tall order for the Athens 300K.

The other seven of us mostly stayed together, particularly after the control in Royston.  I had hoped we could go back to the neat little indoor farmers market that we had found on last year's Athens 300K brevet, but it was closed.  So, we opted for more convenience store food:

Andrew tickled me with his observation that we do a lot of things while randonneuring that we would never consider other times.  For example, we would never plop down on a curb outside a convenience store because we wouldn't want to mess up our clean pants.  On the bike - no big deal.

While I was sitting on the curb, I looked across the street.  At first, I was taken aback by this sign:

I thought, "Wow!  I've never seen an agnostic church before!"  It turns out that the first two letters of the sign were obscured from my vantage point.  It's actually some kind of medical diagnostic facility.

The stretch between Royston and Jefferson is pretty far and doesn't have a control.  The route goes near the farm of David Nixon, one of our rando buddies.  David has graciously provided an extra food/water/rest stop the last few years.  We were grateful that he repeated his hospitality this year:

We got to the last store stop, about 18 miles from the finish.  I was kind of antsy to get going because I was supposed to meet my husband Robert after the ride at Amici in Madison, a good Italian restaurant on my way home.  However, Andrew and Brian wanted to rest a few more minutes.  No big deal - I'd rather stay with my group.

Finally, we got underway to knock out the few remaining miles.  After a while, Joe started falling behind.  It turns out that we didn't take into account the Michelob factor.  Back at the store, Joe had had two Michelobs.  He explained that he and his rando buddies in Pennsylvania always drink beer during their rides.  We Georgia randonneurs aren't teetotalers, but we generally save our merrymaking for after the ride!

Andrew and Brian were so nice to hang back to check on Joe.  I rode on ahead to rejoin Chad, David, and Dick so that I could finish and head out to meet Robert.

We finished in just under 14 hours; Andrew, Brian, and Joe were only a few minutes behind.  All in all, it was quite an enjoyable 300K, and I managed to keep the pace moderate enough so that I wasn't totally exhausted at the end.

One interesting side note: the Athens 300K route goes on or past roads that have the same name as five people I know: Robert Hardeman Road, John Pruitt Road, Joe Bolton Road, John Stowe Road, and Jim Daws Road.  Technically, I don't know John Pruitt, the longtime Atlanta news anchor, but that's still a lot of familiar names.

Speaking of familiarity, several of my rando buddies remind me of musicians in famous rock bands.  I've always thought that Kevin, our RBA, looks like Michael Stipe of REM but with more hair.  Also, Robert N. looks like Neil Peart of Rush but with more hair.  This weekend I kept thinking that Andrew reminds me of someone.  Finally, I realized that he looks like Ric Ocasek of The Cars but with less hair.  It's cool that my rando buddies resemble so many great rockers!

Ride on, and rock on!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dirty Pecan, a.k.a. You're Gonna Make It after All

The Dirty Pecan is a dirt road ride in Monticello, FL.  It offers three route lengths: 60, 100 or 150 miles.  Of course, I had to choose the longest one...  After racing the Middle Georgia Epic (200K, or approximately 124 miles) a couple of weeks ago, I looked forward to doing the Dirty Pecan as just a ride.  Besides, dirt takes more effort than pavement, probably close to 1.5 times as much.  Therefore, simply finishing the 150-mile option at the Dirty Pecan was my only goal.

Robert doesn't do as much off-road riding as I do, and so I planned to go to the Dirty Pecan by myself.  I didn't mind.  Not that I wouldn't miss him, but I kind of looked forward to proving to myself I could be self-reliant on such a big cycling adventure.

On Friday after work, I headed to Monticello (FL, not home!).  It was my second visit to this lovely town in about six weeks.  At the end of January, my Georgia Neuro cycling team spent a weekend in Monticello.  The beautiful roads and mild temperatures made it an ideal location for a winter training camp.  By the way, I have a longtime connection to Monticello, FL.  Robert and I have had greyhounds for nearly 22 years, and many of our greyhounds came from the Jefferson County Kennel Club.  The racetrack closed a few years ago, and our adoption group has shifted its efforts to Ebro.  Still, as I passed the old facility a few miles north of downtown, I thought of Robert's and my beloved greyhounds who have passed away and felt gratitude for all the tremendous volunteers who work so diligently to find homes for as many greyhounds as possible.

Before I got to Monticello, I stopped in Thomasville, GA for dinner.  I went to the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, which I've wanted to visit for a long time.  Sweet Grass produces artisan cheeses that are served in high-end restaurants in Atlanta and sold wholesale across the Eastern U.S.  The store in Thomasville offers samples and has a casual yet classy restaurant.  I enjoyed a hamburger with pimento cheese and bourbon bacon jam, a side spinach salad, and a glass of Spanish red wine featuring Cabernet franc, one of my favorite grapes.  As if that weren't great enough, there was a giant photo of a chicken on the wall:

I definitely need to go back and take Robert.  Maybe we'll get a chance in May at the Georgia Tandem Rally, which will be in nearby Valdosta this year.

From Thomasville, it was about a 30-minute drive to my motel in Monticello, the Super 8.  I wasn't looking for the Ritz, just something clean, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive.  It was all those things.  It also had a group of young guys staying there before a wedding the next day.  They were playing cornhole in the parking lot outside my room.  I couldn't resist.  I put on a T-shirt over my pink flannel pajamas with the bicycles on them.  Then, I pulled my shirt up over my head, walked outside, and did my best Cornholio impersonation:

I usually don't sleep too well the night before a big cycling event, particularly when I'm in unfamiliar surroundings.  It's just as well because the cornhole dudes woke me up several times with their all-night partying.  I tried to be gracious in my heart, thinking about the couple who had an even bigger day coming up than I did.

The ride didn't start until 8:00 AM, which gave me time to eat a free continental breakfast at the Super 8 - woo hoo!  When I stay at a motel before a brevet, I have to pack a breakfast because I usually have to leave for the ride before the motel starts serving.

We gathered for the ride at the University of Florida extension office a few miles west of downtown Monticello.  Some riders had camped on the spacious grounds, and the remnants of the previous night's bonfire felt really good in the early-morning, 40-something degree temperatures:

As I waited in the starting area, I ran into my cycling buddy Pete.  He was doing the 60-mile option and planned to race it.  As he so correctly put it, if you've got a starting point and an ending point, there are going to be guys who race.  When I told him that I was doing the 150-mile option, he warned me that there weren't a whole lot of stores along the route.  I explained that I was prepared, pointing to my jersey pockets filled with four Clif Bars, an Epic bison bar, a can of sardines, a cut-up apple in a plastic bag, and some homemade trail mix (peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips).  All my food supplies weighed down my jersey, making it hang down to my butt.  Pete congratulated me on my J. Lo. look.

We were off!  I stayed near the front group for the first few miles.  After a short distance, we got to a bad sandy spot.  Remembering how Robert had told me that it's easier to go fast through such areas, that's what I tried to do.  Unfortunately, a couple of guys in front of me slowed down in the soft, deep sand, and I veered right into even deeper sand to avoid hitting them.  I fell over, and a couple of others went down, too.  Fortunately, none of us was really hurt thanks to the soft landing spot.  However, that put a substantial gap between me and the front of the pack.  I resigned myself to solo riding, which I had expected anyway.

A little while later, I caught up to a guy that looked like he was riding about my pace.  However, he was only doing the 100-mile option.  Bummer - for both of us.  He hadn't been able to upload the gpx or tcx file with the route and was trying to rely on tire tracks in the dirt.  That's a heck of a way to try to navigate!  I told him I'd be happy to direct him for as long our routes coincided.  We picked up a few other guys who were doing the 60- or 100-mile route.  Unfortunately for me, they soon went in a different direction as the 150-mile option split off.  Back to solo riding.

I settled in for a long day, fully expecting not to see any other riders.  I stopped for a photo opp on a particularly picturesque road that illustrates why the Dirty Pecan is so aptly named.

Just as I was getting my phone camera ready, here came some other riders.  I waited a few minutes for them to move out of view, but I was't patient enough.  If you look very carefully in the distance in the photo, you can barely make out a couple of riders.

Then, I caught up and passed these same riders.  Later, I played leapfrog with still a few other riders as I stopped for more photos.  This field of greens was absolutely lush - the most beautiful collards I've ever seen.

Across the road was some other crop growing profusely.  I don't know what it is, but the lacy, green tops were lovely.

I had plenty of food.  Liquids were a little sketchier.  I had two bottles of Skratch Labs powder mixed with water, but I would need a lot more to drink than that, even though it was a cool day.  The precautions about it being a self-supported ride were totally serious.  There were only two store stops available on the entire 150-mile route.  I made sure to get water at churches when I could.  Fortunately, I was never in danger of running out of fluids.

The first store stop was at mile 67 in Boston.  Georgia, that is.  The Liberty convenience store was like an oasis.  Four other riders were there at the same time I was.  We enjoyed sitting on the curb, taking a short break and refueling.  One of the guys got some fried chicken at the store.  I opted for the sardines I had packed because I knew it was one of the few places where I would be able to dispose of the empty can.  I had duct taped a plastic fork to the can.  When I pulled everything out of my jersey pocket, I discovered that the end of the fork and tines had broken off in that morning's minor crash.  I used the fork handle to scoop up the larger pieces of sardine.  Then, I sopped up the mustard sauce with one of my apple slices.  Rocket fuel.

One of the guys left the store before I did, and the others were still there when I left.  I passed the first guy fairly soon, and then it was more solo riding.

I was grateful for the second store stop in Cherry Lake.  I bought a magic Coca-Cola and sat outside at a table to drink it.  The sugar and caffeine in Coca-Cola - particularly at mile 108 - are what make it magic.  A store clerk sat down at the table next to mine.  We chatted for a few minutes.  She was about to begin an eight-hour shift after having run a mail route.  She had started at 6:00 AM and wouldn't be finished with work until midnight - an 18-hour workday.  I told her that she would inspire me as I finished up my mere 10-hour (I hoped) bicycle ride.

I felt pretty good and hoped to make it back to the extension office in Monticello around sunset.  This sign buoyed my spirits:

If this were up North, it would be something like Chowder Rd and Pierogi Way.

Because of my experience doing long brevets, I knew that my Garmin battery likely would die before the end of the ride.  I have a charger that I can attach to my bike, but for this ride it was simpler to bring a backup computer.  Sure enough, I got a low-battery message.  I decided to let my Garmin run until it died before switching to my backup.

Then came an unexpected twist: about two miles of hike-a-bike sand.  It was impossible to ride through.  Obviously, others had had the same problem because I saw footprints alongside tire marks.  Not much I could do except hoof it.  That was a major slowdown that meant I definitely would have to do some night riding.  I wasn't worried about that, though, because I had front and rear lights.

While I was hiking, sure enough, my Garmin went out.  I swapped it out with my backup.  However, for some reason the course file on my backup wouldn't load.  Fortunately, I had grabbed a map and cue sheet at registration that morning just in case.  We had been warned that no such provisions would be made, and so thank you to whoever changed that policy.  As much as I enjoyed the ride, one comment I would make is that better maps should have been provided ahead of time.  The only way to get the course was to upload a gpx or tcx file.  I had to find an online app simply to view the gpx file on Google Earth or Google maps.  I like to have a feel for the route ahead of time.  In fact, I normally build my own route file from whatever map and/or cue sheet is provided.

I didn't have a cue sheet holder, and so I stuck the papers down the front of my jersey, which was easier to access than my pockets.  I would memorize a few turns at a time and then stop to memorize the next few turns.  This wasn't a bad system with only 18 miles to go.

Woo hoo!  Back on faster pavement and only 14 miles to go.  What's that ahead?  A blinking taillight - another cyclist!  Maybe I'll have someone to ride with at the very end.  Or not - the cyclist went straight at the next right turn indicated on the cue sheet.  Oh, well.

Straight at an intersection, another straight, and then left on Ashville Highway.  From there, I was pretty sure I could find my way back even without a cue sheet because I was back on roads that were familiar from team training camp back in January.  Wait - the second straight was actually a T-intersection, albeit slightly skewed.  Did I miss a turn or something?  I checked Google Maps on my phone and saw that I was on the correct route.  The cue sheet should have indicated a turn.

The sun was setting.  Despite being tired, frustrated by the horrendous sandpit, and totally ready to finish, I appreciated the beautiful rose-colored sky to the west through orchards of pecan trees.

Monticello city limits - just a few miles to go.  I went around the traffic circle at the courthouse, heading toward the extension office.  About a mile from the end, I spotted the same cyclist with the blinking taillight.  I said hello as cheerily as I could as I passed her.

I finished!  The grounds were empty except for my car and a few others.  One fellow called out to me right as he was leaving.  I asked him if I was supposed to check in with someone.  He said no one else was there.  Hmm...even though I didn't need a juice box and a hug every 20 miles, I did expect the basic courtesy and safety measure of 
someone being at the end to make sure everyone made it OK...

The guy left, and a few minutes later, the woman I passed during the last mile rolled in.  She had done the 100-mile route.  Bless her heart, she had been out there as long as I had!  We wished each other well and were glad we both made it safely.  She must have wanted more chamois time because she didn't even change clothes before heading out.

On the bright side, it was now totally dark.  That's a bright side because I was alone again and didn't even have to bother with ducking down in the passenger side of my car to change clothes.  I could simply stand out in the open next to my car.

It was too late to get the barbecue meal I had purchased.  I suppose I should have had the foresight to realize that it wouldn't work for the 150-mile option.  At least 4-H got a donation out of it.  So, after a quick text to Robert, I drove off in search of vittles.

Before I got back to the roundabout in Monticello, I saw three of the guys I had seen back at the first store stop in Boston, GA.  (I don't know what happened to the fourth guy; I hope he made it back.)  I rolled down my window and shouted encouragement.

Pizza sounded like the perfect recovery meal.  The Lazy Lizard Pizza Company was happy to oblige, and, apparently, they have no problem with serving homeless looking people.

I drove the few miles back to the Super 8, which now seemed palatial.  After a marvelous shower, I lay in bed, figuring that I wouldn't move for the next 12 hours.

Actually, I woke up a little before 7:00 AM.  I dressed and went to the motel registration area for another complimentary continental breakfast.  Then, I headed back to Monticello (home, not FL!).

Before I really got going, I made a brief stop at a roadside stand that sells yard art.  I figured they wouldn't be open early on a Sunday morning, but I had fun taking a quick look.  I love kitschy stuff like this:

It's just as well that they weren't open.  I would have wanted to buy something, which wouldn't have fit in my car with my bike and gear.

As I drove home, I enjoyed listening to my latest audio book from the library, a spy thriller.  Interestingly, it has taught me a new word: pakhan.  It's the Russian mafia equivalent of a godfather.  It's pronounced "puh-KAHN," the same way I pronounce the nut.

By the way, the National Pecan Shellers Association polled Americans and found no clear consensus about the correct pronunciation of “pecan.” Some people say “PEE-can,” and some say “puh-KAHN.” Some even opt for “PEE-kahn” or “puh-CAN.” Pronunciation doesn’t seem to follow any regional, urban vs. rural, or other pattern. Furthermore, I happened to look up the correct pronunciation of “piquant.” There are three: “PEE-kuhnt,” “PEE-kahnt,” or “pee-KAHNT.” Therefore, there are 12 possible ways to say, “piquant pecan.”  I'll bet the pakhan likes piquant pecans.

Back home, I laid out my swag.  I bought one of the Dirty Pecan T-shirts.  I suppose I need to start collecting T-shirts depicting bicycles with wheels made out of various foodstuffs.

I also got some dirty (chocolate-covered) pecans.

They are really good and have a hint of cinnamon.  I've only let Robert and me have a few at a time each evening for dessert along with our hot tea.  We've managed to eat only half the bag in the last few days.

One last note: I had planned to ride the Dirty Pecan for a number of months, but the timing turned out to be great.  On Friday before I headed to Florida, I gave my two-week notice at my job.  When one quits one's job, what else does one do but ride one's bicycle 150 miles?  Obviously, I've given a lot of thought to changing jobs, and I've worked toward it for several months, but I'm still a little nervous.  However, I'm even more excited!  As I rode hour after hour on the dirt roads of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia, I took a little inspiration from Mary Tyler Moore - for both my career and successfully completing the Dirty Pecan.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Middle Georgia Epic

It lived up to its name.  124 miles of mixed surfaces, a squirrelly sandpit, wheel-stopping peanut buttery mud, fatigue, pain...

I'd do it again!

Robert and I got up at o'dark thirty on Saturday morning to drive to the Blue Goose in Irwinton, where the Middle Georgia Epic started.  Friendly volunteers checked us in, and we each got a gallon-size Ziploc bag to put stuff in for the single SAG stop.  Robert and I both had two extra bottles for our bags, which were a little too big to allow us to zip the tops.  Monte to the rescue!  He had some duct tape in his truck.  It worked perfectly and also made our bags a little more distinctive, a plus given that we would have to find them among dozens of others at the SAG stop.

Our teammates Cal, Cody, Jeff, and Van joined us at the starting line.

I love training with these guys even though they put me through the wringer.  But that rigor - along with lots of endurance riding and gravel riding in general - is what prepared me for the race.  As ready as I was, I knew my teammates would get out front quickly.  I had no illusions of trying to stay with them.  I was reminded of of a Jack Handey quote:

"If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let 'em go, because, man, they're gone."

Within three miles, the front group of guys pulled ahead, and I was by myself.  That didn't last long, though, as the next group of 8-10 riders soon caught me.  Immediately, I noticed a woman in the group.  Hmm...likely competition.  It was going to be a long day, however, and so there was a lot to time to see how the dynamics would play out.

The racecourse was a lollipop.  The first and last approximately 14 miles formed the "stick," and the rest was a long skinny loop.  The stick contained one of the major dirt sections of the course.  It was about six miles long and had potentially treacherous mud.  During last month's pre-ride (see my 1/14/17 report), it was so bad that it stopped us in our tracks and forced us to scrape sticky mud off our wheels just so that they would turn.  Fortunately, the mud wasn't bad on Saturday morning on the outbound portion of the racecourse.  Things could change, however, by the time we came back that way in the afternoon...

At about mile 12, there was a steep hill.  I climbed ahead of my sort-of group, including the woman.  It was too early in the race for me to expect it to stick, but you never know.  I did know that I wouldn't be able to stay ahead if I were by myself.  Therefore, as I approached a solo rider, I suggested that we work together.  He was a very friendly fellow who soon figured out that we have common a cycling friend.

We spotted another solo rider ahead.  I came up with a short-term strategy: act like a Hoover, sucking up stray riders like a vacuum cleaner to form a paceline.  This second solo rider gladly hopped on our train.

Another rider ahead - we Hoovered him up, too.  The four of us seemed like a good group, but then the group behind caught up - including the woman!

I wasn't worried yet about my rival.  It was still way early.  Apparently, I was a better climber (maybe not much of an advantage because there weren't many other significant hills), and I thought I might have better endurance.

So, about 12 of us settled into a pace line.  It wasn't easy (I didn't get to see much of my surroundings all day), but it seemed sustainable for the long haul.  Each person pulled maybe five minutes.  I took shorter pulls.  I wanted to make a nominal contribution, but I wasn't competing against these guys, just the woman.  Besides, she seemed to have teammates among the group, and so I figured I'd let them do the lion's share of the work.  By the way, I learned her name is Anne :)

We turned onto Ellington Road.  I thought I remembered from the pre-ride that this was the road with the really squirrelly section of sand.  I remembered correctly.  We hit the dry, loose stuff, and everyone in the group had to hike-a-bike.  Fortunately, it was maybe only a few hundred yards long.

As we rode through Chester, we passed a water tower with buzzards perched all over it.  We decided that they were a little too early for us racers.

It was about an hour to the SAG stop, which was roughly at the half-way point.  I think all of us needed a nature break but were reluctant to add a stop.  We toughed it out to Eastman.

Approaching Eastman, I did a mental checklist of what I needed to do at the SAG, strategizing to minimize my time stopped.  Swap out my bottles, open a few Clif Bars to stick in my jersey pockets (annoyingly, I had forgotten to open the packages for the first half of the race), and figure out where to go to the bathroom.  There wasn't a good bathroom spot, and so I took care of my food and drinks and rode ahead to find a secluded pee spot.  I left the SAG before the rest of the group.  Would I get much of a jump on them?

Just as I was pulling up my pants, I saw some cyclists.  Yep, Anne and four guys.  I got on the back of their group.  They seemed to be going faster than before the SAG stop.  Jolly.

I had been feeling strong thus far, but as we got about 80 miles in, fatigue started to set in.  It wasn't typical fatigue, not even like what I feel on a 300K brevet.  I could tell this was related to intensity.  The race got mental for me after that.

Keep going.  Hang on.  Don't let Anne get away.  You've done plenty of long events.  This won't last but a few more hours.

I put things in terms of remaining distance.  Just a Tuesday Worlds to go.  Just a Fullerton-Phillips Loop to go…

I didn't care when it started raining.  I only thought about the race, or more specifically, the pain.  But I knew I had to break out of that fatigue/pain mental zone and focus on something more positive.  I thought to myself, "This time yesterday, I was having my picture taken next to a giant fire ant."

Coming back from a work site the previous day, I went through Ashburn, GA, home of the Fire Ant Festival.

Then I thought, "If I had to choose between racing right now and getting bitten by fire ants, I'd choose this race."  It kept me going.

Although the rain didn’t last too long and wasn’t very intense, I knew that it was enough to wreak havoc.  We got back to the lollipop stick.  We approached the dirt hill where I had climbed past Anne that morning.  Now it was a descent.  Descending isn’t my strong suit anyway, and sure enough, the rain had made it even more dicey.  I proceeded downhill cautiously.  Anne zoomed past.  I thought that she probably had me then, but I preferred to maintain life and limb.

Then I got back to the section that had been so peanut buttery during the pre-ride.  It was now at least as bad because of the race-day rain.  There were Anne and several other guys from our group, stopped to clean mud off their wheels.  I had to stop, too, but I got rolling before she did.  Those few moments off the bike while I was wiping off my wheels gave me an energy boost.  Maybe I still had a shot at this!

A few more miles of dirt remained in this section.  Then I hit some more peanut butter.  My wheels seized up again – arrrgh!  Not even bothering with a stick this time, I scooped out the muddy glop with my gloved hands.  There went Anne, straining up the hill, but the mud didn’t stop her a second time.  That was it…

I got rolling again as quickly as I could, but Anne was out of sight.  I knew I couldn’t catch her, so I resolved to finish the best I could.  I was by myself at this point, and every muscle in my body rebelled as I coaxed myself to keep going.

I turned left onto J.R. Sims Road, which is paved.  Only about five miles to go.  Breaking my rule of always pedaling downhill during races, I allowed myself some respite and coasted a little.  A couple of my earlier cycling companions passed me on the downhill.  We said hello.  They very kindly eased up to let me ride with them, but I told them not to wait for me.  I simply had to get back the best I could.

I knew I would make it, but boy was I ready for it to be over.  Then, of course there was the climb into downtown Irwinton in the last mile.  How rude!  But I powered up anyway, even passing a couple of racers.  Truly, I left everything out of the course, but I managed one last little burst of adrenaline to steer through the finish chute.  Yea, I made it!  And I didn’t regret at all coming in second.  Anne was a worthy competitor, and I’m glad she rode so well.

The Blue Goose graciously set up a bike wash station for us.

My teammate Van's bicycle - he won!

Although I hardly knew up from down at that point, I figured that washing the major chunks of mud off both me and my bike would begin to restore some semblance of my humanity.  I went back to the car and managed to change into clean, dry clothes.  Grabbing some of my uneaten bike food (I desperately needed calories), I stumbled off in search of Robert.

I found him inside and discovered that we got a post-ride meal!  Woo hoo!  Pasta with meat sauce (protein!), bread, salad, a magic Coca-Cola, and a couple of mini brownies were like manna from heaven.  And I got to save my leftover bike food for another ride :)

While we waited for the third-place woman to arrive so that we could do our podium, I enjoyed talking with a few fellow racers who are also randonneurs.  We compared notes on all things rando, including brevets, dirt brevets (hey, doesn’t that sound like fun!), and fleches.  I shared how my fleche team had enjoyed stopping at the Blue Goose last spring, where we sat at this very same table where we were having our Middle Georgia Epic post-race meal.

At the next table over, I saw the first guy I had Hoovered up as part of my pace-line strategy that morning during the race.  It turns out that he is training to be on a four-person team for this year’s RAAM.  Guess who one of his teammates is?  Anne!  How exciting!  A third team member was also at the Middle Georgia Epic, as well as their crew chief.  I told them a little about my RAAM training and experience a couple of years ago.  I hope they have a great race this year!

The third female 200K finisher arrived.  Podium time!

I love the medals.  The dirt is the perfect touch.

On the drive home, Robert and I went through our play-by-plays of the race.  I particularly wanted his input on my unusually high fatigue.  I’ve done lots of 200K and longer brevets.  Although I knew the race would be tough – tougher than a 200K brevet – I couldn’t have known beforehand how different it would be.

My biggest surprise is that I did the race a lot faster than I expected.  I knew that some factors – race conditions, adrenaline, almost no stops – would make the Middle Georgia Epic faster than a brevet.  However, I thought those would be more than offset by nearly 50% of the racecourse roads being dirt/gravel.  I usually do a 200K brevet in 8.5 to 9 hours.  Therefore, I anticipated that I might do the Middle Georgia Epic in about 10 hours.

During the race, I kept my Garmin on the map screen, checking the main data screen only once, around mile 22.  At that point, we were averaging about 18.5 mph, faster than I expected.  Still, I didn’t want to exert any mental energy on elapsed time or any other race metrics.  I was simply going to race as fast and hard as I could, whatever the numbers turned out to be.

I didn’t look at my time until after the race.  According to my Garmin, my elapsed time was 7:31:25, and my moving time was 7:23:01.  Between the SAG stop, a nature break, and a couple of times to scrape down my wheels, around 8 ½ minutes of non-ride time seems about right.  Incidentally, my official finish time is 6:23:28.7.  For some reason, they have the race starting at 8:25 AM, but we really started at 7:15 AM, which explains the approximately 1:10 difference between my Garmin elapsed time and my official finish time.  No worries there – everyone else in the 200K race had the same faux 8:25 AM start time.  Regardless, I did the race in much less than the 10 hours I initially estimated!

OK, so I raced a lot faster than I expected.  Is that enough to explain my unexpectedly extreme post-race fatigue?  That’s where the Data Ho (alias Robert) came in.

It’s a matter of Total Stress Score (TSS):

TSS = intensity2 x duration (hours) x 100

Intensity = normalized power / threshold power

(Normalized power is different from average power, accounting for varied levels of intensity during an effort.)

By definition, threshold power is the maximum power that you can sustain for one hour.  Therefore, a one-hour time trial should have an intensity factor of 1 and a TSS of 100.  (Note that if intensity is > 1 for an all-out, one-hour effort, your threshold power is too low.)

I know my threshold power, and I know what various intensity factors feel like physically, based on actual power meter data from my road bike.  My intensity on a typical 200K brevet is about 0.6.  If it takes me 8.5 hours, my TSS is

(0.6)2 x 8.5 x 100 = 306

That’s a good bit of stress!  Now, let’s estimate my TSS for the Middle Georgia Epic.  Although I don’t have a power meter on my cross bike, which I used for the Middle Georgia Epic, I can reasonably estimate that my intensity factor for the race was about 0.8, based on perceived effort and estimated power from Strava.  Therefore, my TSS for the Middle Georgia Epic is

(0.8)2 x 7.5 x 100 = 480

That’s significantly more stress!  Even though my race time was less than a typical brevet time, my race TSS is a lot higher because the intensity factor is squared.  How cool that we have a way to quantify these things.

That night I slept about 10 hours.  I got to sleep longer than I raced – what luxury!

Thank you Dustin, Southern Wheelworks, the Blue Goose, Monte, and everyone else that made the Middle Georgia Epic possible.  We couldn't have asked for a better inaugural race.  I look forward to getting muddy again next year!