Friday, March 30, 2012

More Away Brevets - Eric in Australia and Seattle!

I have been inspired by JLE's Away Brevet stories to report two of my own. The first arose from my desire to complete the requirement for my UA frequent flyer status. If one is to fly a great distance to accumulate miles a good bike ride should be incorporated into the trip.

After much searching, the planets aligned in early November with a long weekend off work, a relatively inexpensive airfare to Sidney, Australia and a 200km ACP brevet from north Sidney with Audax Australia. The Yarramalong Valley 200km runs north from Hornsby, a Sidney suburb, easily accessable by the city rail from the airport.

Eric shows his preparation for these far-flung rides:

Ricky O'Brien the ride starter was quite helpful in smoothing the path to registration and suggesting places to stay near the ride start. Another advantage to me was that Theresa and I had stayed in the same area of Sidney when we visited in 2009. A visitor's visa and a hotel reservation completed the plans.

The inexpensive airfare had its ups and downs as I had to fly via Chicago-LAX-Sidney from Colorado Springs. The up side was that on the LAX-SYD leg I got upgraded to a business class seat which had all lie-flat beds for sleeping. This was especially nice since the flight took 18 hours rather than the usual 15-16 hours because of headwinds. United had made a pre-flight announcement that strong headwinds were anticipated and might increase the flight's duration. As we were next in line for takeoff the pilot announce that the wind had just shifted and we were so loaded with fuel (anticipating the long flight time) that we could not take off unless we were headed into the wind and the plane had to taxi to the other end of the runway in order to take off into the wind.

I slept like a baby as I had worked a 72 hour weekend before leaving Wednesday morning and still had sleep left. We arrived in SYD about 0700 on Friday AM (the international dateline thing) walked straight through customs, baggage claim and onto the city rail. It will be a wonderful thing when the light rail connects the Front Range to DIA! My room at the hotel was available by 10 AM and I spent the day putting the bike together, picking up food and CO2 cartidges for the ride, and scoping out the start and finish of the ride. I took my lights as the official finish time was an hour or two after sunset and I was not going all the way to Australia to ride as fast as I could, I wanted to enjoy every K of the ride, especially in a country where the flora, fauna, sounds and smells are totally different to what we experience in North America.

At the ride start Saturday morning I met the few riders on the ride, several just home from a successful PBP. I told them not to wait for me as I was taking the full 13.5 hours to smell the roses or whatever flowers were in bloom in the Australian spring. Ricky and another rider kindly stayed with me to show me in and started out of the Berowra Valley Gorge and to give a few tips about tricky parts of the ride. The extremely foggy descent and climb out of the gorge was quite like the switchbacks on Devil's Gulch Rd into Glenhaven but more of them and no cinnamon rolls as a carrot to look forward to.

We rolled along a ridge line above the fog after leaving the gorge behind. The day gradually warmed, the winds stayed light all day, the fog burned off and the "bush" came alive with wild life. Multi-colored parrots, were everywhere and bird called the Bell Bird for its distinctive bell-like call "rang" throughout the day. The route gradually climbed along the ridge then took a screaming descent into the valley to Wiseman's Ferry, both a town and a ferry trip across the Yarramalong river. The next portion of the ride consisted of flat valley floor roads along rivers either up or down a valley followed by a steep climb of 4-8 Km with grades 8-10% average with 16-20% in the switchback turns. I was really glad I had put some appalachian type gearing on just for this ride, 9,000 feet of climbing in 200K.

It was really a 'Sweet Spot" of a day with a few clouds, slight cooling headwind in the afternoon as the day warmed. I passed large ranches with plantation sized homes and barns then moved into areas that reminded me of Ward, something besides the climbs similar to Appalachia.

The flat valleys along the rivers had almost no traffic other than the occasional waterskiier passing by. Most roads had no painted lines and were narrow enough that if two cars met, one had to move partway off the road in order to pass the other car. I stopped at McGregor's (Australian for Conoco) for a burger and waterbottle refill, then on to the control at the far end of the "oval" loop we were riding.

Shortly after the control there was a descending stretch of road Ricky had warned me about. It had an appropriately terrifying name (which I have forgotten) at least for those riding down it. The same steep pitches I had ridden before but with huge potholes everywhere making a straight line descent impossible, 180 degree hairpins, and a lumpy road surface made of stones just small enough that you couldn't call them cobblestones. I could hardly control the bike and rode the brakes all the way down fearing I would go over the bars on some of the steep corners. The brakes are not effective if the wheel keeps bouncing up in the air losing contact with the stony surface.

I stopped to recover at the last control before the end about 1600 only to find that the store had closed over an hour before the control was to close: no one to sign my card and equally important, no food or drink and I was running out. I headed out on a short climb to a ridge top which then followed the ridge line down toward the Pacific Coastal Highway, a beautiful stretch of road in heavy evergreen forest that followed costal estuaries, my only company a group of motorcyclists racing each other back and forth along the winding climbs and descents along the bays, ending with a crossing of a long bridge over an small inland bay. Though the cue sheet listed many small villages/landmarks that sounded like food and drink might be available, I could find nothing open. As the bonk descended so did I, off the route to a marina which had an open store where I quickly gathered food and drink and slowly moved on hoping the calories would kick in soon.

I made a quick stop to turn on lights as dense high trees were blocking the setting sun and just as I made to get started again noticed a small quilled animal digging at the road side. Unable to get a good picture I did my best to memorize it's markings for later, thinking it to be a wombat. I was way off, I have since seen another at a zoo display and it is an echidna, a small quilled animal like a very small porcupine like animal. I slowly recovered from the bonk and rolled the last 15-20k through the small towns and suburbs of Sidney back to Hornsby, got my card signed by a nice agent at the train station as all the riders were long gone from the Olive Bar restaurant that was the end of the ride control.

I was then back to my hotel for a shower and a trip to the family bar, pub, restaurant that was part of the hotel for pizza, salad and drink. I stayed up as long as I could - putting the bike back in its travel case and packing for the return - but eventually slept.
The return trip to the airport late Sunday morning reminded me of several aspects of Australian society that stand out in my mind. There must have been some large school related event going on over the weekend as the downtown area was taken over by groups of uniformed students. Each school has its own uniform for it student's and in the mornings and afternoons one sees groups traveling to and from school all dressed out in their school colors, including many hats as part of the uniform. It's very striking. Also, along the rail route were many lawn bowling clubs with teams of men, women, or couples, all in team uniforms bowling outdoors on perfect, smooth, green bowling "pitches". There were also several croquet clubs with uniformed teams all out doing battle with the mallets, balls and wickets.

Mercifully on the return trip that strong headwind was now a strong tailwind and flight back in the coach seat took only 12 hours to LAX rather than the scheduled 14. We left SYD at 3pm on Sunday and arrived in LAX at 0800 Sunday morning, two sundays on the return as payback for having completely missed Thursday on the way out. Jet Lag? I have no idea if there was any. It seemed I fell asleep on the plane on the way there and woke up the next morning. Then, I wasn't there long enough to get "acclimated" to the new time zone before returning home.

I returned home to discover I was 642 miles short of my Frequent Flyer goal.
What to do?

For several years the Seattle International Randonneur club has held a Winter Solstice 200k, December 21st, brevet. After all where's the challenge in seeing how far you can ride in beautiful June weather on the longest day of the year? They have combined a winter solstice ride with the Festivus celebration. I am not sure if you get extra credit for riding on an aluminum frame (see the details of the bare aluminum pole which is the Festivus symbol) but Feats of Strength (endurance) are certainly involved.

This insanity seemed to match mine in what I was willing to do to keep my FF status. So, a ticket to Seattle was purchased after a partner of mine begged to do anything for me to work a few days for him the previous weekend ... such as giving me several days off around the Winter Solstice.

A large group of around 45 met at the IHOP in Issaquah, WA for dinner around 1700 with a start time of 1900. The group gathered in the parking lot about 1845, lot's of wool, reflective gear, bright taillights, beefy winter road tires, fenders, mudflaps (in the NorthWest it's a grave social faux pas to flip road flotsam or jetsam up onto the rider behind you, an almost unheard of occurance in Colorado) blinding head and helmet lights. As an anesthesiologist at a trauma hospital I was proud of the whole motly, but highly visible crew.

We rolled out slowly with a pact to stay together as a group until we reached the bike path. Even at 1900 the rush hour still has not settled down there but the route was set up to have most of the first third of the ride on paths. At the start the temperature was 38 degrees and as the paths run along some of the lakes and streams there was a great deal of fog and I did not notice that the sky was clear that night until we made a brief climb above the fog in Woodinville. It made for a rather odd sensory experience, moving quietly through the cold, fog and dark but at the same time passing homes lit and decorated for the holidays for most of the first 80 miles of the route.

At a traffic light in Woodinville I noticed that Jason, a rider I had joined with, had burned out his headlight bulb. He said that he didn't have a spare but would continue on following our lights. Over My (or his) Dead Body. His friend David and I had LED lights so, no spares to loan out. I did have a "Big Bang" battery powered backup headlight but the battery would not last for the rest of the ride. We stopped in a park under a street light and moved my Big Bang to Jason's bike. Hard to do and time consuming in the cold. Eventually we were moving again on to Snohomish and onto another nice path to the turn around point at the Arlington Safeway. Along the path I began to notice frost on the asphalt and my quads were aching from the cold. I stopped and put on a pair of Rainlegs for a wind break and continued on. At the Safeway, David and Jason wanted to stay a while and warm up but I felt like I wasn't warming up but just getting colder and convinced that that time was short, running out. I passed out a tube and patch kit to the only other rider I had seen in sometime then got David and Jason going as the only way for them to get warm again. We returned along the same path to Snohomish and west to Monroe, the home/start of the Cascade 1200.

At the 7-Eleven in Monroe it was 20 degrees at 0330 and we made a quick stop for liquids and a signature. Heading south out of Monroe, David noted that 3-5 cm ice crystals had formed on my spokes and that the tail light reflecting off them had the appearance of an all red kaleidoscope or disco ball. We were rolling along through the fog that continued to freeze on glasses, the plastic cue sheet cover and any other material with the ability to lose heat rapidly. If you stopped and put your foot down you discovered that the pavement had fog freezing to it. Jason begin to drop back a bit as he was feeling poorly from some digestion disturbance, perhaps related to the 600mg of caffeine he had taken. Earlier in the ride he was feeling sleepy and I offered him a 200 mg tablet and he took 3! My Big Bang battery had run down and I had given Jason my Dinotte helmet light to use as a headlight. This is when we discovered that we had 2 different GPS files for the ride and 3 different versions of the cue sheet. Lesson: wait till the very last minute to download the file to your device and use the cue sheet passed out at the start, especially on an all night ride in an area where you have never ridden before. Each turn for about two hours required a stop, turn on the iPhone flashlight (lesson: never give your helmet light to another rider), scrape off the ice, read the next cue, move on to the next turn.

While we were separated from Jason for a time, the rider with the flat at the Arlington Safeway caught up to David and myself and we moved on through the dark and fog and arrived at the next to the last control in Fall City just as the eastern sky began to light up. Jason had just arrived and was planning on taking a break but I knew that half the climbing (only 1400 feet for the whole ride) on the ride happened in the remaining 8-9 miles of the ride. Tired and cold, David and I got our cards signed and hit the road. Jason call his wife to pick him and my lights up from Fall City. We pushed over the seemingly endless climb that pitched up then leveled off time after time, fooling me into thinking I was at the top. Finally, reaching the descent with the *asterisked* instruction "Do Not Miss This Turn" in the middle of the descent, even looking carefully, I missed it! At the bottom, at a light I pulled out the iPhone, Googled Issaquah and found I was less than a mile from the finish.

The Control Card said that the time alloted for the ride was 13:20. I thought 13:30 was the official time for a 200K brevet and David, the flat tire guy and I were given an 0830 finish time with a "Sorry about that guys" from the organizer at the finish! A week later we all received another, "Sorry about the mixup - congratulations on your official finish."

And, somewhere over Idaho, on my way from Denver to Seattle, I picked up those last 642 miles.

- Eric Simmons

Friday, March 23, 2012

RUSA Cup and American Explorer - 2 New Awards!

RUSA has launched two new challenging awards!

The RUSA Cup is earned by completing all the types of RUSA events, and riding 5000km in total RUSA events, within two years.

You must complete a 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k, and 1000k brevet, a 1200k-or-longer grand randonnée, a RUSA team event (Flèche, Arrow, or Dart), and a Populaire.  Permanents and foreign events (e.g., PBP) do not count. The award is retroactive.

The RUSA Cup has some of the flavor of the ACP Randonneur 5000 award, as it encompasses all of our event types and you can take multiple years to earn it.  It's a nice combo of a challenging volume of riding with a wide variety of events. 

And while two years may seem a tight squeeze, it's two years starting with the first counting event, so you could actually have parts of three seasons to earn the RUSA Cup.

The RUSA American Explorer is earned by completing RUSA-sanctioned rides (including permanents) in different US states and territories. Initial recognition is achieved at the 10-state level and additional states are earned as you explore the nation. This award is also retroactive.

The philosophy behind the American Explorer is that randonneuring is about "ranging around."  This award is a nudge to riding farther afield, exploring new places, and meeting new riders.

If you choose to purchase the physical award, it's engaging in its own way.  You get a metal US highway-sign plaque and your initial ten or more magnetic state tags, which you can arrange as you see fit.  As you ride in or through more states, you get more state tags.

And yes, all states through which an ride passes count.  That's two states for the Last Chance and two for the Colorado High Country, for example ... and five for the Shenandoah 1200, four for BMB.

Have a look at the RUSA Cup awardees and American Explorer awardees who've already applied.

A big thanks to the RUSA volunteers behind these awards: from the original concepts, to the physical awards, to the Web and database design.  Nicely done! 

I hope that these awards will suggest new goals for you to pursue!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lyons-Berthoud Populaire - Blown Away!

An unseasonably warm late-winter day for the season's first randonnée, the Lyons-Berthoud 100km Populaire.  We had conditions like this a few years ago ... but without the wind!

A good turnout of 25 starters ...

Ably led by Tammie Nakamura, just back from pre-riding the Arizona 400km Brevet and then supporting the actual event.  

Here Tammie is already enjoying the breeze, as Buster the mascot looks on from below ...

Steve Le Goff and Michelle Grainger are at the start bright and early.  What might they have in mind?

Steve shows off his baggage arrangement, replete with a miniature cutting board:

It's nice seeing returning faces - including Chris Baker, Brett Cook, Bob Dean, Paul Foley (bringing his Will son along), Chris GrealishPeter Hoff, Mark Lowe, Mark Niedermeier, Brian Rapp among others, ith Charlie Henderson sporting his new Triple Crown jersey also in attendance. 

Here is Lloyd Jones, RMCC membership chair, looking good in his RUSA SR jersey commemorating his first Super-Randonneur Series, in 2011:

Plenty of new faces, too, including two from Wyoming: Gurudatha Pai from UW in Laramie and triathlete Michelle McClenahan from Casper who travelled four hours from Wyoming ... to ride in the wind:

At the turnaround-point in Berthoud, the plan is revealed: Steve and Michelle are staffing a "secret" alternative to the info control.  They've sliced up tasty sports nutritional food for the riders - there's hydration, too!

Everyone appreciated this caloric and hydrological boost, and some noted that these were some of the same products Michelle had talked about at the REI seminar the week before.

Ken Heck accepts valued calories ...

As Steve and Michelle head windward through the dust and tumbleweeds to the finish, congratulations to everyone braving these fierce if balmy conditions and turning out to ride with us!

And a big thanks to Tammie for leading this Populaire, and to Michelle and Steve for enhancing the experience!