Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tour Diary Part 1

I'm still jazzed about the Tour de Cure that I rode in on Saturday. Hard to believe I finally got a century (100 miles) in one day. Here's the map and the mileage readout so it's official:

If you've never seen these MapMyRide maps before, they're a tool I use to keep track of my biking and workouts. You can click around and view the elevations, fly the route, or change the view to a satellite photo with the roads overlayed. It's a pretty cool gadget and it figures out the mileage and how many calories (lots) I burned so I don't have to guesstimate.

Mapping and statistics aside, it damn sure seemed like a long way around that loop. At the end of it though, I still had some fight left and I think I could have gone just a little ways further. The new 2.1 helped I'm sure. Somehow, the miles just rolled away and the lake stayed on my right until I wound up back at point A. Doc and I just kept hammering along until after seven hours, it was over. I never figured I could do anything like this.

It started badly. We were late signing in (of course) so the pack was mostly lined up and ready to go before we got through the registration tables. Before we knew it, the flag dropped and away they went without us. Somebody told Doc that if we didn't go right then, we'd have to wait an hour for the next wave. My mind was saying, "I'm not ready for this" one second then "We gotta get going" the next. Not wanting to be any later, we launched while half our team was still milling around in confusion and Chris was in the bathroom. Leaving without so much as a fare-thee-well, good luck wish or even a see-ya-later smooch from my team captain went over like the proverbial lead balloon. My cell rang from my jersey before I got a mile down the road. The conversation was decidedly one-sided and ended with a click. This did not bode well.

The initial five or six miles out of Watkins Glen was as advertised. Steep verging on vertical. This got us out of the valley and up on the hilltops where the Good Doctor and I fell into a steady cruise mode that just ate up distance. He claims he ran into my back wheel a couple of times in there while drafting me too close but you couldn't prove it by me. The Trek just kept rolling without so much as a hiccup from the impacts. By about twenty miles into it, we started passing a few people fizzling out or "hitting the bonk" real early in the game. "Bonking" is a nasty state of affairs which Wikipedia defines as, "In endurance sports, particularly cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores...which manifests itself by precipitous fatigue and loss of energy."
I started devouring Clif bars and chugging Gatorade to avoid any such developments on my part. Doc was draining his Camelbak at a record rate, slurping down whatever that high-powered stuff is he mixes up in his water.

We passed the first two rest stops without a pause, spinning along by the farms and Amish kids waving from the lawns. Lots of them were out on bikes also but the girls were in dresses and the boys had wide-brimmed hats and buttoned up shirts. No spandex or compression shorts but they all waved and smiled at the bike geeks. Speaking of the Amish, an interesting fact about their way of doing things is that they use steel wheels instead of rubber tires on their farm equipment. I sort of knew that but never thought about it much or realized what steel does to a paved road surface. The treads chew grooves in all directions whenever they move on or across the road. Zipping along on 23mm tires over those diagonal cuts in the asphalt felt like hitting rumble strips at 70 on the freeway. My hands started falling asleep from the vibration even with gloves on. Amish families also drive horse-drawn buggies instead of cars to get around, the key phrase being 'horse-drawn'. The motive power of these vehicles tends to 'exhaust' at random intervals which creates another minor obstacle to skinny tires without fenders. Nothing like hitting road-apples at high speed and throwing a stripe up the front and back of your jersey. Fortunately, a few miles down the road it was soon back to the usual expansion cracks, potholes and angry automobile drivers on our list of hazards.

By about mile 25, the pack had stretched out to the point where we almost thought we were riding alone. Then we hit a stretch of 3% grade which put a halt to any thoughts of making time for the moment. The climb up out of that valley was mercifully short but got me down into granny-low and Doc put on that gunfighter stare he does when his legs are on fire. We passed a couple of groups on the hill but as usual, a few exotics strolled by like they were on escalators. Showoffs.
Luckily the grade eased once we got out of the valley but it was still mostly uphill for what seemed like an awful lot of miles. A couple of further efforts at conversation on the cell were still pretty short and terse but at least I knew everyone else got out of the gate and was riding somewhere. Now if we could all just get back.

This being New York, the infamous Department of Transportation decided to tear up a portion of the route that was next on our cue sheet. This after everything was chalked and published for the Tour. Ah, summer in NY...road construction and visions of dust covered orange barrels. I'm all for off-roading, pounding dirt and that kind of thing but I normally do that with a mountain bike, not with drop bars and carbon forks. They just couldn't wait a couple more days to rip out that blacktop. We'd been given a hand-written detour sheet at sign-up which led us a merry chase around the missing pavement and added about 6 miles to the loop as a bonus. No big deal but it put in yet another climb and meant you had to back-track to get to one of the rest stops. We decided to pass on that one as well since there was another anti-bonk area about 14 miles further along and the weather was starting to look a little angry. It actually spit a few drops of rain at times but not enough to wet the road or fog my shades on the leg into Geneva. It was a long, mostly straight and downhill zoom into town and Doc and I traded drafts again to make up some time. The wind was behind us and it was smooth sailing right into the traffic lights and city streets.

Going into Geneva meant we had made the turn at the end of the lake and were now on the return side of the map. So far, so good. Legs feeling strong, no mechanical troubles, still one full Gatorade in the frame and lots of time left. Out of the city traffic and back out in the open on the southbound stretch. The wind was now in our face and that cut about 3 mph off our pace but Doc tucked in my wind shadow again and we put away the last stretch to a rest stop. More to follow...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tour de Cure - WOW!

Well, the 1st (hopefully) Annual Watkins Glen Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association is now history. I rode with the team of miscreants in the pic below as Team NS Thoroughbreds and from where I stand, I think we rocked the world!

The cast of characters goes like this from left sort of to right:
  • Dr. Alton Annabel - AKA 'The Good Doctor.' or just 'Doc'. My main man in the bicycling world. Riding partner and training guru, source of endless inspiration and hilarious mishap photos. He hung on through 2 broken spokes and a set of prize-winning saddle sores to finish the 85 mile loop and then had enough juice left to go on a search and rescue mission at the end of the day to total out with 101.48 miles. Large and in charge as always.
  • Angie White - My wife's sister and novice bicycle rider. She took on the 65 mile loop after only riding a few weeks on a borrowed bike. Her enthusiasm for this madness was contagious. Even though the initial 6 miles of 5% grade just about did her in, she soldiered on and got almost 20 more miles before she finally had to surrender. Even then, she stuck around and was moral support for the rest of us and keeper of wet cell phones.
  • Hiding in the back is Gary Thomas - More commonly known as 'Root' for reasons that will remain undisclosed in this context. He's an engineer like me but only recently got back on a bike. I'm particularly impressed with him since he only gave up smoking in April after being on cigarettes since he was 14. He's now is trying to lose the weight he inevitably gained when he quit and actually thinking about living longer. He bought a helmet, borrowed a bike, couldn't find Watkins Glen (how you lose a tourist trap like Watkins Glen I'll never know but that's another story), ponied up the entry fee and rode the 11 mile loop. He even managed to climb out of the valley at the end of the day to ride the to the rescue with Doc and I. We'll have him hooked for good by the fall.
  • In the black shirt is Jessica Bottoms - ADA Tour coordinator and leader of the cheering section. She managed to answer all our dumb questions and still have time to cover all the other silly details like developing routes, organizing the SAG people, setting up the rest stops, you know...coordinator stuff. She insisted on being in our team photo and frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way. Now about next year...
  • The big galoot in the back is our Red Rider, Mark Krukowski, fondly referred to as the uh...Big Galoot. He's also an engineer and another one that surprised me by signing up to ride right out of the blue. Unlike Gary, he at least has a really sweet bike to ride and has been out and about figuring what to do with 24 gears. Being pretty new at the bicycle game too, he teamed up with Gary and rode the 11 miler as a warm-up for greater things. He's another one that finished his loop and then went up the hill hunting for missing teammates. We're going to keep him on the team next year for intimidation purposes.
  • Down in front, smiling like a lunatic is the blogger himself. I think one reason I was so happy was because I was finally off that pointy little saddle but the main thought at that moment was how proud I was of the team. Ya done good gang!
  • Right behind me is my younger son, Connor. He's fallen for the bike bug pretty hard lately and put on a great day with his new Diamondback. He went on the 65 miler too and banged his way up that first climb non-stop. Then he hung on with the pack and did some pretty impressive ups and downs out there on the hills. He had to call it about 30 miles out but still really kicked butt in my book and showed an awful big heart for such a small guy!
  • Behind us is of course...Captain Chris - Leader, head honcho, chief herder, team banker and prime motivator. She got hooked into being Team Captain by virtue of not waiting for me to sign on the computer when we first decided to do this and since first on is Captain by default...she got the prize. It's lucky she did because I'm too idiotic to figure out the donations, envelopes, permission forms etc. All the stuff that she did while Facebooking, texting and volunteering for everything that wandered by all at the same time. On top of that, she led the 65 milers out of town until she broke 2 spokes and had to be patched up and caught up by the SAG wagon. Back in the game after roadside repairs, she shared the same sudden downpour, thrown chains, goofy detours and bizarre rest stop adventures with the rest and still managed to finish. All this without an iPod. She always was and still is a keeper.
  • The next two to the right are Dave and Norma Jayne. Probably our longest-lasting friends from way back in the bad old days when we had nothing and knew even less. They're another pair that fell into biking fairly recently but fell hard nevertheless. Dave went from a Target special mountain bike to a Diamondback Podium in nothing flat and Norma gave up the Sears hybrid even quicker. This by way of a pair of mountain bikes which we occasionally beat up in the woods for a change of pace. They also did the 65 and banged it out to the very end. To go from just about zero not that long ago to 65 miles is pretty darn impressive, especially since they did the rain and fought all the obstacles along the way. I figure they've got some bragging rights over the bike elite that showed up with unobtainium bikes, biometric computers and snazzy bib shorts but hung it up when the deluge started.
  • Way out on the right is Amy Bishop - Mrs. Bish to most everyone because she works in the same elementary school as Chris and if you remember that far back, no adults in elementary schools are allowed to have first names. She's put in an lot of hours on her bike getting in shape and pounding out miles. She and I had a long talk about gears once because I found out she was staying in the big rings all the time for a 'real workout' which; since she's damn strong, led to ripping the spokes out of her drive wheel and early bonks going uphill. She's a tough one and despite fears of looking like a bike snob by wearing a jersey or padded shorts, she put on the colors and rode an honest 65 through thick and thin. Someday maybe, we'll wear her down and get her beyond chamois shorts and into clipless pedals. One thing at a time.
  • And last but far from least is Karyn Freund - our faithful SAG driver who stayed with the team to the very end. She wouldn't leave them and even when there was talk of sweeping them in when the course closed, she stayed right there with her bright red VW bug protecting their tail and helping them along. She wouldn't let anyone else replace her because those four stragglers were hers and she wasn't letting them go. We made her a member of the team in gratitude, smothered her with sweaty hugs and dragged her over to be in the photo with the rest of the mob. A friend indeed for friends in need. Thanks Karyn!
  • Not pictured is Karin Stamy - She's our contact at NS Corporate who hooked us up with the jerseys, pointed us in the right direction on how to get started, answered a zillion email questions from the northernmost branch of Team NS Thoroughbreds and even admitted to being a trainmaster once-upon-a-time. We'll be hunting her down and running with her and the big dogs down in Roanoke one of these days.

All in all, it was one of the most fun, crazy, exhausting, exhilarating and inspiring things I've ever done. I'm not much of a 'team player' and don't really 'join' much of anything very often but I'm sure glad we did this. It kind of restored a little of my faith in people and maybe, just maybe...helped the world in some small way.

Thanks to all of Team Thoroughbreds! You guys are THE BEST!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On and On

I've sort of come to the conclusion that not too many people are actually looking at this little adventure I started. The Home may not be much read but not to be to discouraged, merely tardy in keeping up, I continue to fire off the occasional outburst. Time, as always is a factor. Summer is upon us and with the increase in outdoor doings, time at the laptop is somewhat limited. Like it wasn't most of the time during the winter, right? So where to begin to catch up...

I guess the best thing is to just jump in and go...School is officially over for the summer for my two offspring. They are now free to pursue more important things like a girl for the older one and who knows what for the younger one. The testing is over and the long-winded Middle School Graduation is under the bridge so now we can get on with July and August. Whew.

The Tour de Cure we're riding in is coming up Saturday. Doc and I are psyched for the 100 miles (psyched mentally...physically may be another story). It's turned into kind of a strange road to get to this thing. I was riding pretty steadily on my old 1400 Trek to train for my first century. I'd been seeking and destroying steep climbs and putting on mileage but the old aluminum warrior suddenly developed a nasty front-end shimmy at almost any speed above about 25. Very unpleasant when you suddenly can't steer at high speeds and the front wheel shakes so much you feel like you're going over the bars. Further investigation found a very much weakened fork and three cracks in the frame right around the bottom bracket. One on each chain stay and one in the seat post. Not good. The tech at my local bike shop suggested earliest possible retirement to avoid bodily harm should the cracks suddenly turn into breaks and the whole frame turn to mush at high velocity.
I couldn't really justify a new bike and the stuff on Craigslist and Ebay was too much hassle so I was resigned to taking it easy and trying to stretch the 1400 through the Tour and worry about upgrading later. My wife was less than enthusiastic about that plan but what can you do?

I wound up working on Father's Day and didn't make it home until late but I did find a really good steak on the barbie and a card from my brood waiting when I finally made it in the driveway. Opening the envelope, a printout of bike specs and a photo fell out along with the card. I guess she really was afraid I'd get killed on the old one because there were also instructions on when I could get fitted for and take delivery of a shiny new Trek 2.1 with all the trimmings. Sometimes, you just don't know what to say or how to say it if you could figure it out. I'm still pretty much speechless. I don't know how she did it and she won't say but the bike is here and I've already put sixty miles on it. It's an incredible, light, stable and equipped with more gears than I have fingers and toes. The thing sails down the road like nothing I've ever ridden. I thought the 1400 was a rocket but this is a whole different world. How she knew and got it so right, I'll never understand. I wouldn't have bought that bike for myself in a hundred years but that girl of mine got it together and set me up. It's a Father's Day gift that will be with me for many years. My only biking wish now is to keep riding until this Trek is old and to have her right there with me while I wear it out.

The Tour is coming up and I'm in pretty good shape to have a go at it. I just never figured I'd be doing it on a new ride but that weird shimmy and some cracked aluminum suddenly changed just about everything. I'll see you all after.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Sure is an awful lot going on around here. Even when I don't go to work...

I took a personal day to miss a round trip on the Saratoga Express yesterday. I'm pretty burned out from the endless RR insanity. There comes a time when I know I've had enough and need a break and this was one of those times. As I've said before, it's a good thing I like what I do or I'd never put up with it. An old buddy of mine said, "It's a good thing they pay really well or nobody would work there." Very true.
What wears on me the most is the almost universal view among some of the higher-ups of T&E (Train & Engine) people as liars and thieves. Just for example; last week I was accused by one of our "partner" railroads of lying about an engine defect and using it to hold up their operation for a couple of hours while I fixed it. Let me think about this for a minute...I'm on the homeward leg of my trip so I'm trying to make it as short and painless as possible...I'm making a bunch of extra work for myself since no one from said partner RR was available to assist...I still managed to get the train where it was supposed to go even with one unit dead...and oh by the way, I happened to be right. What kind of idiot would put himself through the hassle if it wasn't legit? Not me but for some reason, they wanted me disciplined for it. Luckily, there was some of our own guys who stepped up and stepped on the whole mess before it got too ugly. The only thing damaged was my serenity but as the saying goes, "It's the principle of the thing."
There's been a whole series of minor crisis' lately, mostly with junk engines but I just got to the point where I couldn't think straight and thats when I know I've got to miss one and just de-stress without the phone for a couple days.

For therapy, I dragged out the old Trek 1400 yesterday and pushed 72 miles around the countryside while the kids and spouse were at school. I'm trying to figure out if I can do 100 by the end of the month when we're riding the Tour de Cure all the way around Seneca Lake. I think I'll be alright as I could have kept on going yesterday if I hadn't run out of time. The last big climb almost did me in but hey, it's NY not Iowa so there's hills, deal with it. I normally don't try to find flat routes when I'm out and about anyway, I just go and if there's hills, there's hills. It's kind of tough to plan a route in this neck of the woods that doesn't have at least some climbs somewhere even if you wanted to. Pretty good practice for the jaunt around the lake.
Very soon I've got to come up with some new tires though. The front end has developed a tendancy toward a serious speed-wobble and I'm getting tired of tip-toeing around like I'm riding on marbles. The only cause I can come up with is tire wear setting up some kind of harmonic at just the right speed and road condition. Unfortunately, most of the town roads hereabouts are surfaced by drizzling tar out of a truck and spreading crushed stone on it. This makes for pavement that's basically filled with grooves so sailing down a hill at any kind of velocity has a feel like those miserable steel deck bridges. Very twitchy. The skinny road tires hunt back and forth in the ridges and the bike rides like its got flats front and rear. There's enough roads around like that that unless you ride on the main drags all the time (which I can't stand), it's going to happen. I never noticed it that much until recently which leads me to believe something has changed on the Trek ie., tires but I'm not even sure that's where the problem is coming from. None of the local bike guys have any really good ideas that I haven't already checked so it's got me a little puzzled. Oh well, I need new skins anyway so I'll give it a try.

The other part of the plan that involved missing a trip was to take Chris and the boys up to the Erie Canalway Trail and ride a while Saturday. That's what she asked for for her birthday and it sounds like a good idea to me. Off we go to try out a new path.