This weekend would be the final training weekend before my big ride for the year - the Last Chance 1200K. To prepare for the multi-day ride, I've been training on a three days on, one day off schedule. Friday was an hour run on the treadmill with 45 minutes of mile repeats after my 12 mile bike commute. Saturday was strength training - primarily 3x12 heavy reps on the v-squat machine and leg curls to failure. Sunday would be the long bike ride. I figure that this schedule would simulate riding on the tired legs of the second or third day of a Grand Randonnee.
Earlier in the week, I sent an email to the usual suspects to see if anyone wanted to ride over the labor day weekend. Janice, with whom I rode on this year's fleche, was up for it. The others opted for a shorter ride or no ride, so Janice and me it would be.
She agreed to ride the Independence Hall 200k. It's a relatively new Permanent that starts at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I chose it because I can ride to the start and, if I also rode home, that would add about 25 miles to the 128 mile official ride giving me a solid 150+ mile day. To keep the effort honest, I chose to ride the fixie. No coasting. It was a choice I would later second guess.
The lateness of Summer meant that sunrise would not come until just after we started. In the street light interrupted darkness of Center City, the Dunkin Donuts at 7th and Market was the only place open. It would serve as our start control. I arrived with enough time to eat first breakfast and have a cup of coffee. Janice arrived a few minutes later, found a place to park and then was pretty much ready to go. She does not waste time.
We start the course just at sunrise. Within minutes we cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Camden, New Jersey. We travel a familiar path. The beginning of the route uses the same roads that we used on the fleche. The footpath of the bridge arcs hundreds of feet above the Delaware River with only a waist high railing separating you from the expansive views and the water far below. It gets my full attention.
Camden seems a city in transition. The waterfront has the clear signs of investments to draw in visitors, the River Sharks baseball field, the Aquarium, Rutgers has a presence with new shiny buildings, but the roads are in disrepair and the surrounding off campus buildings share the worn edges of long term wear and tear as do the people that linger in streets even in the early morning. It reminds me of trying to put together two puzzles. The pieces buckle at the edges where they are forced to meet. We ride through quickly, making sure to stay on course.
A bike path and construction bypass take us out towards the suburbs which steadily grow until they become almost rural. We leave our familiar path and find ourselves on new roads.
The out and back course has only four controls. After second breakfast at the second control - a Wa-Wa convenience store 19 miles in - we have a 45 mile ride to the turnaround.
Janice and I use the time to reacquaint. I last saw Janice on the Catskill 600K when she was getting ready to ride the Gold Rush 1200k. As the miles pass, we talk of riding, of family, of past and future, of life and death and many other things both simple and profound. We are on an all day ride and we have the time to talk, or not, both of which we do. We see a hawk on a wire looking for its morning meal. We pass Labor Day weekend yard sales and last of summer produce stands. The course is basically flat. The miles diminish under a steady pace.
The turnaround at Southfield Plaza is once again familiar territory since it is the start point for several New Jersey rides. Pulling into the Grover Mill Cafe I see two very rando looking bikes. Janice says "Paul and Chris are here!" Sure enough, Paul S. and Chris N. (from NJ) just finished a 100k and decided to wait a bit knowing that we were on our way. We eat lunch with them and cool down from the humid heat that has been rising through the morning.
Then it is 45 miles back to the next control. These miles do not pass as easily. The morning fog has burned off and the day is hot and humid. Very hot and very humid. We stop for much needed water. Stop again at the control and then work our way back toward the final control. My legs start to protest every little rise. I think it would be nice to coast. But I can't. So I don't.
By the time I get to the bridge and climb towards the center, I don't want to ride home anymore. There is a steep climb on the trip home and my legs are aching on the less steep bridge. Maybe I'll take the train instead. It's right there at the control and I can take it to less than a mile from my house.
The last bit of the route goes past Independence Hall - where the Declaration of Independence was signed - the Liberty Bell and Constitution Center. It makes for a very photogenic ending.
Back in the Dunkin Donuts. We complete our cards and I check the train schedule. A train is leaving in 10 minutes. I can make that! After a quick thanks and good bye to Janice, I ride toward the train station.
But just as I get to the station, I realize that I am basically back on my commute route home. The pedals on the fixie keep turning (which is what they do). Then and there I decide to finish what I started. I continue riding and head toward the steep climb.
Ultimately, to finish a Grand Randonnee it is not enough to have trained. After all, there are some things you cannot train for. To finish a Grand Randonnee you have to be willing to ride when you are tired, when you feel weak, to push past the point you want to stop and see what lies beyond. You have to be willing to finish what you started.
I ride to the steep climb thinking I would walk it if necessary. I get to the steep climb and decided to ride it instead. Shut up legs, Last Chance is less than two weeks away. This is why you do the intervals. This is why you go to the gym. Now GO!