Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ride Report: 2013 Tour de Cure Michigan

It only took me a week to find the upside of riding for 12.5 hours, on a soggy trail, in the rain, uphill on the Great Allegheny Passage. Doing so makes riding 100 miles on perfectly lovely paved roads, in perfectly dry and reasonably cool weather, seem downright easy. That was my day on Saturday 6/15 at the Brighton, MI Tour de Cure Ride.

I rolled out with a lead group of about 20 and we would mostly stay together through most of the first 50 miles, with a little leapfrogging due to folks choosing to stop, or not, at the various rest stops. The TdC folks do a great job supporting this ride, and there are stops every 15 miles or so. I hit stops 2, 4, 6, and 7, and cruised through the others on the route which loops through parts of two MI state recreation areas: Pinckney & Waterloo.

The stats: I finished the ride in 5 hours, 40 minutes including all the stops. Rolling time was about 5:20 or so. I rode with my HRM and generally tried to go no higher than my zone 3 threshold of about 167 BPM until the last 21 miles when I gave myself permission to go as hard as I wanted to on the climbs back up from Hell to Brighton. I've done this course enough to know that this is the time when all the weekend warriors not used to going long would be loaded up with lactate and struggling home. I had been there in years past, because it is so easy to overcook the first 40 since it is mostly downhill.

Bill at Hell's Handbasket
All day, I rode well within myself in a Leipheimer-like effort. Then, after the last fuel & water stop at mile 79 in Hell's Handbasket where I got a fellow rider to snap a quick photo, I took off up the climb like a bat out of Hell.

I passed most of the folks I'd been riding with all day and soloed home for the most part. I offered my wheel a few times but everybody was waving me on. I felt like my energy-saving plan worked well. I had done a 5:20 century and enjoyed every turn of the pedals. Even what I like to call the "tough 20" between miles 60-80 that tends to be the most mentally taxing part of a 100 mile exploit seemed to fly by. I wasn't racing, and I could have likely gone a little faster (I'm sure I could do a sub-5 century alone now and, if I had a group to work with in an organized way, could likely do a lot better than that). But it was a great day on the bike all in all. And I was back in Brighton by lunchtime.

Most importantly, though, this ride is all about raising funds for the American Diabetes Association. I beat the drum on social media, and my wonderful, generous, and dedicated friends, family, and colleagues respond every year! This year, we once again produced a top-ten effort in terms of individual fundraising campaigns for the Michigan TdC. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

I continue to be inspired and energized by all of your support. Thanks to you all! We'll see you next year for this event, for sure.

And...stay tuned, because the June of Centuries continues with one more amazing ride coming up: the Allegrina 100!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ride Report: 2013 Ride2CW on the Great Allegheny Passage

On Thursday, June 6, I spent twelve and a half hours in the saddle riding the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh, PA to Frostburg, MD. Twelve. And a half. Hours. It was 125 miles. It was hard. It was wet. It was rainy and windy.  And it was, uh, uphill.

Here's what I'm talking about:
See Pittsburgh there on the left? and see Frostburg 119 miles from there, near the peak of that big pointy bit? The tippy top of that pointy bit is the Eastern Continental Divide, marking the point where rivers West of the divide drain into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and various tributaries, while rivers East of the divide drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

That was a great moment, riding through that tunnel. After spending all day riding uphill, it meant I could go downhill for the first time. I nearly shed a tear. Shortly after that, I crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Maryland.

I did not imagine this ride would take me quite this long.  But the wet conditions made this a much tougher ride in the second 2/3 or so of the trip. The trail itself is crushed stone and is quite well-maintained. Apart from a stretch in Homestead, PA and a few small sections here and there, there's not much pavement. And when stone dust gets saturated, well, its' slow going.

I made great time in the first 40 miles or so to Connelsville, averaging a little over 18mph. But as the track got slower, I also got a bit more tired. The elevation was not epic - there are no steep sections at all except for a bridge or two - but combined with a mushy trail it means that there is no end to the pedaling. Ever. Must pedal.

As with all epic rides (you can't plan an epic ride, they just have to happen to you), I learned a lot. Here are a few things I'd pass along:

1. Everybody else I saw was riding the GAP trail the *other* way. See elevation chart for details. Getting the climb out of Cumberland, MD out of the way early in the ride, I can imagine it would be a pretty nice trip down to Pittsburgh. If you can arrange that, give it a thought.

2. Ohiopyle State Park in PA is amazing. Hands down, the most scenic part of the trip. If you want a picture for your mind's eye, this is the area where Frank Lloyd Wright's famous house Fallingwater is located. The bike trail goes through the cliffs all along the Yough river(s), Upper and Lower. Fantastic.

Photo by Mike Mcleod @mcleodm3
3. Trail miles are not the same as road miles. I knew this in the abstract, of course, which is why I brought my 'cross bike. But this trip brought it home. In dry conditions, I think this ride is feasible in 8-9 hours counting stops to fill bottles, etc. It would help to have someone to ride with too. I did it alone. Though I had a friend up the road who I was hoping to meet up with (he did an out and back from Frostburg) we never quite made the connection.

4. The Homestead trailhead area is a fine place to overnight. It is suburban, near a big mall complex, with several hotels nearby. I got dropped off here and rode to the trailhead the next morning to start. After a long day in the saddle, I was very much looking forward to a shower and a bed. In Frostburg, mine were waiting for me in a dorm at Frostburg State University. Not quite the Holiday Inn Express. But the rooms there are available to riders who need a place to stay.

5. A few of the towns really cater nicely to riders on the trail. West Newton, Connellsville, Ohiopyle (the town), and Meyersdale all have nice stopping places where you can fill bottles, grab food, and rest near the trail. Because this is a converted rail trail, these town had stations that are now converted to trail visitors centers and most seemed to be staffed during working hours (9-4).

6. When you ride with an extra 20ish pounds of gear on your back in a backpack, a corresponding pressure is applied to the sit bones, altering ever so slightly but in a manner that is culumulatively consequential the otherwise well-seasoned touch points on one's saddle area. For the first time in years, my backside was sore during a ride. That started about halfway in. No lasting damage, but man was I glad to get out of that backpack. I don't have panniers, but I'd recommend them to anyone doing this trip.

All in all, it was a ride I'm happy to have done. It was for a great cause...we raised over $3000 for the Ride2CW supporting graduate students and fixed-term faculty grants. Apart from the weather, it was fantastic. The route was great. Kudos and thanks to the folks in Pennsylvania and Maryland (the GAP trail goes to Cumberland, but picks up another and continues all the way to D.C.) for this fantastic resource!

Monday, June 3, 2013

100 Miles of Nowhere: On a trainer in front of a bike shop with a big finale edition!

It would all end with me throwing up over and over and over again...

...but, you know, not in the bad kinda way. (that's what we call a "flash-forward"). My 2013 Fat Cyclist 100 Miles of Nowhere ride was a true nowhere affair this year. I did it on a staionary trainer in front of my local bike shop: Denny's Central Park Bicycles in Okemos, MI. We are fortunate to have several really great bike shops in Mid-Michigan, and I truly have nothing bad to say about any of them. But the folks at Denny's have always been helpful to me and the staff is geeked about bikes. All bikes and every bike. They love 'em, and they love that we love 'em. And all of that shows.

I was really happy when Dave, the store manager, gave me the green light to take up some sidewalk in front of the store this year. I set up before the shop opened.

Dave had me come in during the morning meeting where I told the techs and the sales folks what I'd be doing. They loved it right away, and one even said he'd rather set up another trainer alongside and do the ride with me than work...and, he was quick to add, "I love working here!" This goes to show you just how crazy bike people are. The Denny's crew ran bottles for me all day and were frequently coming out to get the race radio update.

The Ride
It was overcast and breezy in the morning, with some chance of rain. I quickly made a show of displaying my rain jacket on the nearby bike rack in plain view of the cycling gods to temper any hubris. This worked, because it stayed relatively cool, breezy and at least partly sunny all day. I rode non-stop, sans dismount, for 5 hours & 26 minutes to achieve the 100 mile goal. That's about 18.5 mph, a pace that allowed me to talk with folks as they passed by and to generally be something other than a suffery, sweaty man in front of store.

And that turned out to be the best part of the whole ride: talking to folks about what would possess me (and hundreds of others in divisions all their own) to do such a thing as ride on a trainer on a perfectly lovely day in June. "It's Fatty," I said to one person who asked me precisely that question. "He's a really persuasive dude." Which is true of course. I mean, I've never met the guy and here I am with his name on my jersey pedaling along to no avail right there in public.

But of course the bigger reason is what Fatty is up to. And it is, I suspect, what a lot of us are up to, too, who do the 100 Miles of Nowhere. We are out to ride in a way that not only makes our own lives a little better, but makes others' lives a little better too. Fatty has found a bunch of ways to do that. He raises money for great causes that matter to him and that have touched the lives of people he loves.

Why I Ride to Nowhere
I wrote all about that already in an earlier message, so I won't re-hash it all here. But I ride to nowhere because riding to nowhere gave me my health back. I don't hate the trainer like some do. I am deeply grateful for it. Don't get me wrong, I love to ride on the road and go fast. But riding on the trainer is what got me to the place where I could do that.

I dedicated my 100MoN to a fundraiser of my own - my American Diabetes Association 2013 Tour de Cure campaign.  We raised $601 dollars in a single day on Saturday, bringing my total so far for this year over the $2100 mark with a couple of weeks left to go. Truly awesome. My #100MoN entry fighting cancer, and the ensuing spectacle inspiring others to fight diabetes.

Thanks to all who helped!