Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dark Skies 200K

Why is it called the Dark Skies 200K? Because it goes through Cherry Springs State Park, on the top of this Ridge that Mount Broadhead is on (see photo below). Cherry Springs has an astronomy field, where you can rent for the night one of the domes to set your telescope up in, and view the skies. It's considered a Dark Skies area, with very little light pollution from cities and towns, and is said to be one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for stargazing and astronomy.

Bill Fischer and I left Wellsville at 7:30AM on Sunday March 11th. It was about 26 degrees out, but promised to get up to 60 degrees with 15mph winds. It did both unfortunately. The 60 was nice.  I could have done without the wind! This Permanent has 4 climbs that are quite nasty. The first one is at mile 10, and is about 1.8 miles long climbing about 500 feet then you stay on top of the hill for the most part with some rollers followed by a screaming downhill into Whitesville, NY at the 19 mile point.  After that it continues on pretty flat for another 6 miles to the control in Genesee, PA. At the top of the descent the temperature felt like 34 degrees and seemed to be starting to warm up nicely.  At the bottom it felt as if it was about 24 degrees, and warmed back up as we covered the remainder of this segment. We had seen 2 coyotes out hunting at different points in this first section. We had been on the road 2 hours.

At this point, it's important to mention that Bill was on what is considered a "fixie". There are no shifters, no options of an easier gear for climbing or a bigger gear for descending. His has a freewheel on one side, and can be flipped to true fixed on the other side.  It was like the old school bikes we grew up on, where you just pushed back on the pedal, and that was your brakes! This sounds great, but when you're screaming down a hill, and your legs are flying around at 150rpm, it's not fun. That's what I hear anyways.  Bill said it's also harder to get moving, balance, etc.. Obviously the bike is simpler and lighter, but I don't know that I am quite ready to buy one.. Not this year anyway.

OK.. So NOW it's important to mention the second thing. I bought a great book on Endurance Cycling Food - Feed Zone Cookbook by Allen Lim who was the main guy keeping Team Radio Shack in the Tour De France last year. There was a recipe for Cashew and Bacon Rice Cakes which Kris made the night before, we wrapped in Reynolds parchment and foil wrap, and I ate at the first two, and fourth stops. They were awesome! About 275 calories.  We edited the recipe a little, skipped the cashews (which I wouldn't do again), they didn't sound that great the day before, but I was craving the salt and protein later in the ride. We also didn't have nut butter, and I didn't want to use peanut butter, so we went with agave nectar, which was awesome. I was able to pack 4 of these in my pockets of my jersey. Each was about the size of the packs of Winstons that Dad used to smoke.

Back on the road - we left Genesee rolling down the beautiful PA roads. There wasn't really much traffic, and the little we came across was friendly. We rode along Route 6 with our first tailwind, and a slight downhill grade, and enjoyed making good time. We turned south in Galeton, and started up rollers, and dealt with the headwind. At mile 50 we started what was a 5 mile climb going up over 800 feet, with the last 1.3 miles of this climb covering half of that, and then dropping to our second stop in Germania, PA.

We arrived at the Germania Country Store with probably an hour to spare. We weren't breaking any records but we were solid, and I knew our next leg was the worst. This is a cool little old country store, in this little Adirondack style town, that makes you wonder what caused people to settle here so long ago. I had my second rice cake, and some lemon heads (my favorite) from the store, and some of the Mango strips I had dried the night before. We were almost 6 hours into the trip, and I actually felt pretty good.

We left the Germania Store, took a quick right, and headed up a little climb which topped out, and Bill mentioned "this doesn't look good", I asked what he meant and he said, all I see is hills, BIG hills, and this road drops down into the valley, and there's no way out but up. I explained that we were at mile 56, and by the midway point of our ride, the worst climb would be over. See, coming up out of that valley is a stretch of road that climbs 850 feet in just over 3 miles. What does this mean ? Well, if you've ever watched the Tour De France, the climbs have categories. The lower the category number, the steeper the climb. The Categories are from 5 to 1, with a HC meaning Hors Category (I think the first part of that is self explanatory), the old story that goes along with it, says that in the old days the cars would be parked along the side of the climb, because they couldn't get up it, but the bikes had to. Those were when men were men though. Heavy bikes, limited gears, and they smoked to "open their lungs" while riding.! This hill we were doing is considered a Cat 2 climb. A good one!

What probably saved me a lot on this ride was the fact that with limited gearing, Bill would walk his bike up the real steep parts of the big climbs. This gave me the opportunity to catch up, or in the case of this hill, to jump off my bike and walk it up also, giving my legs a little break, and keeping my heartrate down. I think the problem I was having in the past had to do with nutrition (more on this later), but also when my heartrate gets above 160 and stays there for extended time, on the endurance rides, its too much for me. I need to keep it from staying up there, or worse yet above there. For now, getting off the bike worked, in the future my conditioning will likely eliminate this problem. Here's hoping! Anyways - we got to the top of that hellion of a climb, and Bill was waiting for me AT the midway point which happens to be a sign:

After this picture was taken, the road FAR from flattens out, and there are killer rollers 'til mile 74, where you start  to descend to Coudersport. On the map it's 8.5 miles downhill!  Sweet, right? Nope! This is where the wind picked up. After the first mile which is the steepest part, it flattens out and the wind buffeted us for the next 7 miles. I was barely able to keep my average speed over 15 mph, and that was on a slight downhill grade. The wind was just killing me. So, I rolled into the Sheetz in Coudersport around 3:30. 44 Miles remaining, and I was starving! Craving a burger and fries, but I settled for a tuna salad sandwich. This was a mistake, I was to find out over the next 44 miles. It was nowhere near as bad as other rides, but it was stomach discomfort just the same. I mentioned it to Bill, and he said "yeah, I wondered about that. Mayo never sits well with me, especially on the bike. I figured you knew what you were doing". Well, Bill was wrong. I didn't know a danged thing!

So - we kept going, wind in our face till Singlehouse, PA. I was feeling slightly better, got some water down, and a grapefruit juice, and half of my 3rd rice cake (shoulda gone with a rice cake in Coudersport!). We got back on the bikes. Bill said he was shooting for getting back to Wellsville by 7:00 (it was a little after 5:30), and I figured I would be behind him a bit, but was shooting for more around 7:30.

Bill finished the ride (126 miles) in around 11:24 on a Fixie, and would have finished much faster had he not been waiting for me at the last couple of stops. I finished in 11:36, but I felt pretty good. I went home and was able to eat (first time), and though at the end of the ride I couldn't imagine putting myself through more distance than this, I was ready to get on my bike the next morning, and wished I had gone on the group ride with the Team on Tuesday evening, but I wasn't ready yet. My legs weren't fully recovered.

All in all, I had a pretty good ride, on one of the hardest rides I have ever done. I had little pain or discomfort, and little stomach issues, but I knew what caused them (I think). My legs are getting stronger, and I am starting to get in better shape. I ran 9 miles today at lunch, and had no problems there either, so it seems that all this long distance training is really starting to pay off.

It did have me re-think some things though. As much as I do in fact feel that I am gaining some ground, I have decided to back off my initial intended schedule for the year, dropping the Flesche (a 24 hour, 360K+ ride, with a 5 man team all counting on working at the same pace, and dropping the 600K in Boston, which would make me eligible for the "Super Randonneur Award" from RUSA. In order to get that award, I need to complete a 200, 300, 400 and 600K brevet in the same calendar year. Maybe next year. I believe I have a couple more 200K's to get my legs, and then hopefully my pace will pick up, and I might be able to do a 300K and a 400K before the end of the year.

Thanks for reading..  I am learning..

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