Monday, October 15, 2012

October 200k in Central Jersey (or what wouldn't I do for a hot cup of coffee.)

I guess I could blame the RBA.

Just before the start of the NJ Rando's October 200k, the "Ron Anderson Special", she explained the alternate procedures for the final controle:

If you finish before 5 pm, the coffee shop will be open and there will be a sign in sheet and envelope inside.

If you finish after 5 pm, you will have to drop your brevet card in the window of a parked car. (No coffee, no baked goods.)
The ride would start at 7:30 am. I took off my gloves and did the math - 9.5 hours to get in before 5 pm. Before arriving at the start, I was convinced that I would ride a relaxed pace - just enough to check the October R-12 box and get in before dark. I even brought the fixie to discourage any thoughts of a hard paced ride. But, hmmm, I have ridden a 200k on the fixie faster than 9:30 - just once - last year - when my friend Joe pulled me around the course. Joe wasn't riding today. Then Katie really put the carrot on the end of the stick - she said it was a fast course. And then we were off. 

Guess what happens when you give a group of Randoneurs - people who ride long rides to beat essentially arbitrary time constraints - a time constraint that involves possible coffee and baked goods at the end of a ride? 

We rolled onto the course, a mix of experienced and novice Randonneurs, forming an impatient line accelerating with eager expectation. If patience is a virtue then the start of the brevet was a place of vice.There was no way that all of us would maintain this pace for the whole event. Riding a fixie has a built in governor - leg speed. Under good conditions, I can maintain about 16-18 mph relatively comfortably. Those that rode faster pulled away, those that rode slower fell back. I rode with Jimmy for a while. Still new to the sport, he had lots of questions so we passed the early miles chatting.

The central New Jersey course started mostly flat with a few easy rollers. Cool morning temps were predicted to rise into the low 70s. A warm mid-October day. Then came the wind.

Indoor air is controlled and docile. It sits still like a well behaved child. Occasionally it may be a few degrees off of comfortable, maybe a draft, perchance a cooling breeze from an open window in summer, but overall it's just kinda there.

Outside air moves untamed and variable. Outside air makes its presence known. The light caress of a breeze can change into an incessant pushing gale that rushes whistling past your ears. When riding a bike, moving air seems to turn hard asphalt to soft thick mud that sucks at your tires and drains the strength from your legs. Moving air can fill your lungs till they are hot and tingly, and puff your cheeks as you blow out the bad and suck in the good as you struggle through it.  Moving air can make you bow your head to its invisible omnipresence. Then, with a change in direction, moving air can speed you on your way in blissful silence as you move with its assistance.


We rode into the wind.

At the Clarksburg General store, Jimmy mentioned that he was taking my prior advice and keeping the stop short. I said I was following different advice today and not pushing the ride. He took off. I left later between groups of riders.

Approaching the 50 mile mark and the WaWa controle, I found myself riding alone, slowly losing speed to the invisible burden of the headwind, burning through calories to maintain forward motion. Bill O. and Norm S. were riding a tandem. After a slow start to address some mechanical issue, they were now under way and making up for lost time. Individually, they are strong riders. On the tandem, they moved through the wind with a juggernaut's disregard for resistance, seemingly impervious to its effect.

They slowed as they passed me and offered to pull. I gratefully tucked in their draft and felt the weight of the wind lift from my shoulders. They re-accelerated to the limits of my sustainable cadence. I held on. The miles shrank under the pace. There's only one way to go faster on a fixie: pedal faster - 85 rpm - 95 rpm. I ride inches from their rear tire as they pull me to the next controle.

Patrick and Robin were there. All of us left together. Bill and Norm began to accelerate. Pat gave chase. I saw them off with a salute. Riding that fast was fun but I was done.

The head wind continued. The struggle resumed. In my mirror, I saw Robin riding the same pace a short distance behind. I soft pedaled until he caught up and, with no words exchanged, we began to ride together sharing the work of pulling into the wind.

Along the way, Patrick re-appeared ahead of us. The Juggernaut had returned to full speed and took off into the distance well in excess of 20 miles per hour. Pat, Robin and I formed a riding group.

The headwind continued unabated to the control at 75 miles - Nixon's General Store. Checking my watch showed that, despite the conditions, we were somehow on pace for sub nine hour finish. But I said nothing about that to Pat or Robin. My stomach's fuel gauges were  hovering on empty.  Forget the sub nine, must eat now. 

People from two different bike rides converge inside the store. The line inside began at the register and snaked its way through the store back to entrance. I get in line and select items as we step forward one customer at a time. When I get to the register to order a sandwich, I find out that ordering a sandwich requires getting on a different line to order then getting back in the first line to pay. So I do that too. Then we wait for the food. And then we go outside to eat.

Bill and Norm, who are preparing leave, tell us that the wind will now work in our favor for the remainder of the ride - first a quartering tailwind then a full tailwind. I am dubious. Clearly the wind hates me and will change direction to thwart me yet again. Plus what do they know about wind. They are on a tandem and riding well over 20 miles per hour. I sit on the ground to eat. The wind curls around the building to find us even then. Salty sweat stings my eyes. I shove the cold sandwich in my mouth and chew it.


A half hour later, Patrick, Robin and I leave together. With a sated appetite and slaked thirst, I am happy to ride a digestion pace. Then I notice. The harsh voice of the wind now whispers softly in my ears. Maintaining pace takes less effort. I move out from the rider’s draft and find that the resistance has diminished.

I lift my head and take in the view. Fields of brown border the central New Jersey roads on which we ride. In the warmth of the afternoon sun, the colors are vibrant. Dried cornstalks and soybeans stand in sharp brown relief. We pass apple pickers, antique cars and bright red tractors. Motorcycles roar past, the sound of their pipes harshly ripping into the quiet. Early Halloween decorations playfully haunt the farmhouses. Pumpkin patches display their orange gourds. Our speed picks up. The flags blow in our favor. We have a tailwind. A dachshund puppy wiggly runs out to greet us when we stop to change the cue sheet.  

Life is good.


One of the Rando pearls of wisdom - 
no matter how you feel right now, that feeling will change.

I managed my fuel poorly, again running low on water, again thirsty and hungry again. But we were getting close. Doing the math in my head told me that a 15 mpg average would get us in under the wire. I say nothing to Pat or Robin but work to keep the pace above the average to offset the red lights and cues sheet stops. Just ride to the next turn.

With less than 10 miles to go, the whole thing starts slipping away. I feel flat. No zip for last big push. Pat and I stop to answer a call from mother nature. Robin keeps moving. My bottles are down to their last sips.  Not enough time to digest the fig newtons that I have in my pocket even if I could swallow them without water. I mention to Patrick that I am running out of steam. He offers me a GU gel pack. I accept. I have just enough water left to wash the filmy thickness down.

Time keeps moving into the past. We chase the clock. Just minutes and  a few miles left.

We get to the last intersection before the final control and catch a red light. A long red light. Time does not wait but we have to.

On green we sprint the very last bit. We arrive at 4:59 pm. The coffee shop closes at 5:00 p.m. But the door is not locked and they are still serving. Woot Woot! I'll have one of those and two of those. We sit and shoot the breeze with the folks already there and those soon to arrive.

I guess I could blame the RBA but I also could have stopped for coffee and pastries on the course. 

Oh well. Next time, I will just take it easy.



  1. Blame me all you want! and I'll take credit for the tailwind too! :) congratulations

    1. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, Princess. ;)

  2. That's Waffle Princess to you!