Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 April 200K - a change in perspective.

Given a choice of climbing vicious hills or riding into hours of unrelenting headwinds, some Randonneurs will choose hills and some will choose headwinds.

But some will choose both.

 The PA Randonneurs 200K. Saturday April 12, 2014, in eastern Pennsylvania.


There are some climbs that make me want re-evaluate my priorities. To come up with some new organizing principle; something simple yet profound. Copernicus made a name for himself with the radical idea that the earth revolves around the sun. That change in perspective set the world on end. The Copernican revolution they call it. The sun still rose in the east and set in the west but this blue planet was no longer the center of all that glory - just its only known witness. I needed something like that, not so huge of course, not so important, just a little change in perspective. Some little thing to help answer that inevitable question that always arises on the hard climbs: "What the hell was I thinking?"

The course for the April 200K had a few climbs with that potential. The course was last run in 2009; before I started Randonneuring. The Randos referred to the notorious climbs by name, Fox Gap, Lomasson Glen Road, Tinicum Church Road, Staats Rd. By the end of the ride we would all be on a first name basis. 

I was pleased to see that Chris N. (from NJ) had signed up to ride. I have ridden with her enough to know that she is steady, patient and practical. Riding with her means few, if any, bad decisions, no drama and a high likelihood of success. Best of all, I can usually ride her pace (or close too it if she waits for me on the really steep climbs) on hilly rides. She had completed this ride before and knew the course. I shamelessly latched on to her in the first few miles of the ride.

Much to my surprise, a short time later, we see a bicycle with an orange triangle displayed on it's rear bag. That looks like - no it can't be. We get closer - wool socks and bike sandals. It can't be. He should be way ahead of us. A little closer and - Yes. It is Bill O. We find out that Bill is a lot low on carbs and lost a little snap in his legs. That has slowed him enough to ride with us.

The light chill of the morning faded with the warmth of the day. Or maybe it was riding the morning rollers which preambled the midday climbfest. Ron and Barb were on the tandem. We saw Bob T. too as his bike decided to lighten his load by shedding a rear fender.

Early Spring in Pennsylvania delights and a bicycle must be the best way to experience it. I spent years riding a motorcycle. I crossed the country twice and went to Mexico and enjoyed that thoroughly but riding a bicycle through a region gives you enough speed to cover substantial distance while going slow enough to experience the details - we saw an eagle's nest complete with bald eagle, a giant chicken that may be an Emu - the sights, the sounds, the small things.  

On a long climb, the details get a lot of focus. The garter snake that is fresh road kill. The sound of a creek on a hillside whose speed and volume tell you the climb is far from over:

I was good with all of it until Lommasson Road. No, that's not right, it was Buckhorn that just about put me over. Lomasson they had warned me about. I was ready for Lomasson - resigned to it, committed to doing it, to bearing down and dealing with it. But no one mentioned Buckhorn. I had to learn about Buckhorn on my own the old fashioned way - in the street. Buckhorn is the one mile climb that immediately follows Lommasson. And Buckhorn feeds right into Castners. It's the same damn climb for another half mile. Adding more and more time to the hours spent in the gear I use for steep climbs of unknown distance.

But Buckhorn is also where my perspective shifted. I let go of the idea that my climbing these steep pitches should look anything like the climbing I see on TV. I can only climb in my way, in my time, and bear witness to the glorious details along the way. 


 The NJ Randonneurs Cranbury 200K. Sunday April 13, 2014


The promise of a flatter course and a warm spring day lead to a large  turnout for the first NJ Rando event of the season. 

I signed up for this second of back to back rides weeks ago from the comfort of my couch when I was fully rested. Now my legs had to cash the check that my ambition had written. Bob T., Chris N (from PA), Bill O., and another guy whose name I don't know would also do the double brevet weekend.

The NJ RBA, Joe K., arranged to have Knapps Cyclery open and ready to welcome the riders. It made a great location for the start and finish.
The route was known. I had done this course on a fixed gear bike and even overnight. The wind would be an unknown. Bob T. said there would be a headwind for a major section of the ride. Janice C. talked about 30 mph gusts. I had not checked the weather beyond temperature and the chance of rain.

I planned to start slow and taper. Chris N. (from PA) and I rode easily together having both done the Pennsylvania hills yesterday.  A tailwind coasted us along to the second control. My new Garmin Etrex 20 shows stopped time and moving time. As we approached the control, I decided to be "efficient" through the controls and minimize the stopped time. I got my order to go, got my card stamped, jumped back on the bike and leisurely ate second breakfast at 10-12 mph over the next hour or so. 

The course is an eclectic mix of central New Jersey. To avoid major roads and connect  disparate regions it links small towns, housing developments, McMansion communities, beach bungalows, small farms and ocean vistas in a bracelet of New Jersey charms joined by a black ribbon with twin lines of painted gold.

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good."

Eventually, we turn the tailwind into a 20 mph headwind that gusted to 30. As I begin to face it, a rotating paceline of 6-8 riders comes powering through the course. Although I recognize them from the start, I don't know any of the riders. Nevertheless, I decide to jump on the train and take it as far as the next control. The group rotates through the front riders. When it's my turn I do my best impression of Joe K. and pull steady into the wind. So much for the recovery ride pace.

The wind will be a factor for the rest of the day. At the subway control, I buy a sandwich, remount and ride off alone at a more casual pace. My sandwich is my Rando special, turkey and bread with spicy mustard, oil and a splash of vinegar. It has nothing to do with taste and everything to do with calories and recovery. When I finally get around to eating it, I bite into lettuce, pickles, mayo and I think ham. 
Oh oh, I got the wrong sandwich! 
Hey! This tastes pretty good. 
I feel sorry for the person that ordered this but got my concoction instead.

With regular influx of fuel food, the miles slowly diminish. Two of the paceline riders catch up with me near the end of the day after I had leapfrogged them at a control. We share the road for a bit and I learn that this is their first brevet. When I mention yesterday's ride, they ease up on the hills so that I can keep up. I share some stories about the longer Rando rides and encourage them to come out for more. But then, as riders do, they continue with their pace as I continue with mine, and soon they are off in the distance.

A tailwind mercifully returns for the final few miles. I return to Knapps to eat hot pizza, drink cold drinks and enjoy a warm welcome. 

Two tough April 200K rides in two days. I wasn't at my best today but I did my best today with where I was at. 

What more should we really strive for? 

For pictures from the PA 200K click HERE

For pictures from the Cranbury 200K click: HERE 

I recommend watching it as a slide show. Just click the "play" arrow under the number of photos (top right of screen)


  1. Nigel,

    I always look forward to the interesting perspectives you come up with. Reading your write-ups and looking at the gorgeous shots you take, is one of the things that helps me keep going as an RBA -- Thanks!

    Best regards,

    -Tom Rosenbauer
    Eastern PA RBA

    1. Tom,

      Thanks for all the work that you put in to make these rides happen. I feel fortunate to live in an area with two brevet regions that offer a wide range of terrain, courses and difficulty levels. If doing these write ups and photos helps out in any way, then it is an easy, albeit small, contribution that I am happy to make.

  2. Nigel: Wow! Back to back 200K's with one hilly and one windy. That was a great indicator of how the balance of 2014 will go. And thanks for the great pictures.

    1. Less hilly and less windy would be fine by me. But thanks! Hope to see you out there soon.

  3. Nigel, you have a gift with words and I enjoy your blog.

    I knew something was askew turning right onto Buckhorn. See, bucks have antlers and not horns as the local kinfolk well know and in a strange way, that road was more than a thorn in my side, maybe more like a horn in the derrière.

    1. Thanks Anon. Now that you point that out, just what is a buckhorn?