Back Roads Century: Hello Again PPTC

After a long time away, I rejoined the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club this year, specifically to ride the Back Roads Century.

The club moved it last year from its longtime location in Berryville, Va. to lovely Shepherdstown, W.Va., and routed it over the rolling hills of the state’s eastern panhandle.  The reviews were good and we know two of the organizers, Eric Pilsk and Rudy Riet, so that got me and Mary interested.

The forecast this last Sunday was mixed, with showers predicted, so Mary took the day off from riding while I grabbed a single bike and went out to Shepherdstown all by myself. I did everything I could to ward off the rain, such as bringing a rain jacket, carrying my rainproof camera and riding with full fenders, among other it’s-going-to-rain strategies, which involved a fair number of Ziploc bags. I even left my tinted sunglasses in the car and rode with clear lenses.

The rain never appeared, to everyone’s delight, and the support and route were terrific. I rode with a number of Friday Coffee Club regulars, just like at the 50 States Ride last weekend, but this time out on the open roads.

Here is the route at my Garmin page.  The full set of photos can be seen at my Flickr page.

Quick Stop at Lost Dog Coffee Before Leaving Town

Quick Stop at Lost Dog Coffee Before Leaving Town

I had to stop at Lost Dog, a Shepherdstown institution.  Here you can see the Rivendell Rambouillet I rode today.

Engle Molers Road

Engle Molers Road

The ride was well stretched out by the time I got on the route about 8 a.m. The hills did a good job in splitting up the big groups, which made for easy riding.

Mike R. and Me

Mike R. and Me

Mike was out there. It was our first time riding together with neither of us on tandem.

John Pickett Getting Down the Road

John Pickett Getting Down the Road

John had his Surly out and we shared a few miles.

Cindy and John on their Co-Motion Tandem

Cindy and John on their Co-Motion Tandem

These guys, like us, dabble both in the randonneuring and big event rides.

Jean and Dave and their cool Co-Motion Tandem

Jean and Dave and their cool Co-Motion Tandem

Jean and Dave always look like they are having fun. Today was no exception, and they gave me a nice draft on this section.

Gordon and Kay – Another Tandem Team

Gordon and Kay – Another Great Tandem Team

It was a delight to see Kay and Gordon, our touring companions from Labor Day weekend. They were decked out in red and black.

Lots of Food at the Rest Stops

Lots of Food at the Third of Four Rest Stops

The Pedalers did a good job at the rest stops. This one at mile 61 had hummus sandwiches and lots of mini-Clif Bars.

Last Rest Stop, Famous Potatoes

Last Rest Stop, Famous Potatoes

Though it was warm and humid at mile 83.5 at the Yankauer Nature Preserve, the potatoes hit the spot and got me back to the finish.

Eric Pilsk cresting one of the many small hills

Eric Pilsk cresting one of the many small hills

This coming weekend, Mary and I are off the bike for a trip to Pittsburgh to see my daughter, who is in her first semester of college at Pitt. We’re also going to the Thrival Festival to stand in a field with thousands of people and listen to modern music. See you next week!


Cobbled together

Cycling season has gotten underway in earnest on this side of the Atlantic too, helped along by a dry spring and some warming temperatures. So far this year I’ve gotten in a 100K audax, a hilly 110K sportive and a 10-mile time trial, but the big early season test awaits on Sunday: the Paris-Roubaix challenge. Organised by the organiser of the professional race, Amaury Sport Organisation, (also owners of the Tour de France and Paris Marathon), the amateur’s sportive version of Paris-Roubaix will be a shortened 148 kilometres and cover 30 of the 50 kilometres of cobbled road that the professionals cover. I’m honestly a bit worried about this — covering that distance over flat terrain is not a big worry, but handling the cobbles will be, which is of course makes it an appealing challenge.

I have no illusions about finishing fast. The goal will be to finish within the time limit and upright — which, come to think of it, is my main goal most of the time anyway. I’m looking forward to getting a taste of what the pros withstand. It should be good insight into what it takes to win.

The Dunwich Dynamo

Cyclists take a dip

The water is cold here. Really really cold.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember my love for the Dunwich Dynamo. It’s an all-night ride from East London to the lost city on the Suffolk coast. It’s about 200 kilometers long, it makes a perfect prep ride for Paris-Brest-Paris, particularly if you, as I plan to do, ride it both ways. It’s not an audax, not even a sportive, just a fun grass-roots ride with no real organization other than one group of people draw up a route and another group organize a coach trip home for those who are so inclined (in the past I have ridden another 50 km to the nearest mainline rail station in Ipswich and taken the train home). There will be a lot of undertrained, under-lit riders on the road. It’s flat, so many will try it on fixed gears, and I’ve even seen penny-farthings and unicycles.

Right now, the rain is hammering down and we have a steady southwesterly wind. The latter phenomenon promises an easy spin up to the North Sea (although a hard return journey). The former? Well, I’m an audaxer. I’ll suck it up and deal with it.

Iron Cross VII Quick Report

UPDATE: I added my GPS track to MotionBased. It came out a little shorter than actual distance. See it Here. I also uploaded a map of the course below the post.

I just got back from the Iron Cross VII cyclocross/expedition race in the Michaux State Forest. Bright sun and trees bursting with red and orange leaves made for a perfect fall day. This was my second year at IC, and I posted the same time as last year, a barely-sub-six-hour 5:50 for 62.5 miles.

See photos by me from the course and scores of shots from the start & finish by MG at my Iron Cross VII Flickr page.

I don’t ride singletrack more than once or twice a year, and this is my only race of the year, so I know that I’m mostly there for the challenge and scenery. The course features miles of difficult singletrack with big rocks, roots, creek crossings and unrideable hikes up steep inclines. Overall, riders are either crawling up long grades — think Shippensburg Road — or careening downward on sketchy gravel and winding singletrack. The granny gear and big ring got a good workout.

After flailing through the singletrack last year on a cyclocross bike with 32mm tires, this year I went to the other end of the rubber spectrum and rode my rigid Rawland dSogn 650b mountain bike with 58mm Pacenti Neo-Moto tires — and a sprung Brooks Flyer saddle. There were only a few of us out there with big tires, and just one other bike with a sprung saddle.

This combination did not make me any faster, but I stayed on the bike for most of the singletrack and enjoyed the course much more. The tires rolled well enough on pavement and gripped like mad on dirt hardpack, while letting me plow over rocks and roots most of the time. I had a blast flying down the gravel roads, knowing I could bomb over the rocky bumps.

All that said, I’m beat. This is a tough ride for a non-racer. By mile 50, I was starting to wonder what I was thinking when I entered. The satisfaction at the end, however, is not unlike the feeling of finishing a super-hilly brevet. And, finishers get wool socks!

Thanks to Yellow Breeches racing and all the volunteers for another fine edition. See you next year!

The Wild Edric Cyclosportive

Twenty-five percent grade forces most riders off their bikes.

Twenty-five percent grade forces most riders off their bikes.

I admit it: I got off and walked. I cut 12 miles off the course. I cursed the organizer to the seventh generation. I traveled five hours each way and paid £25 for the humiliation–but at least I could get a massage at the end.

The Wild Edric Cyclosportive covered 97 miles in Shropshire (England’s hidden county, or so we were told several times during the ride prep) and Wales, with an estimated 3,800 meters (that’s meters) of climbing that included three grades of 25%. And not just 25% for 100 yards–25% for a half mile or more.

To be honest, I can’t really recommend this ride. It seems to me that there’s no point in routing a bicycle ride up a climb that even fit cyclists who would choose to try it can’t actually get up. These were roads more fit for a hill-climb time trial than an endurance cycling event. I won’t be going back to this unless I learn that the organizer has omitted some of these climbs. On the positive side, it was a good day out. Atop some of these climbs (I didn’t walk every single one) were spectacular views, with open heathland with grazing sheep and picture-postcard overlooks of valley farmland. I just have to think that there’s a rideable way to the top.

A full account follows below.

The march to the top.

The march to the top.

Wild Edric: Two Longs, Too Steep

“There’s a contest on among organizers,” said the graying Yorkshire rider pushing his Bob Jackson alongside me, “to see who can design the hardest route.”

If my Northern friend hadn’t told me this, I might have guessed. I was pushing my own bike up a 25 percent grade over the Long Mynd, the mountain in England with the Welsh name, just one in a long column of riders trudging up this Shropshire landmark. We were not even 20 miles into the Wild Edric cyclosportive, and we were reduced to this: walking and pushing. The occasional cyclist still astride his steed would ride by, in a 34-tooth compact chainring or a racing triple, but for the most part we had our feet on the ground. And even some of those still riding would finally surrender to the Gods of Gravity, click out, and join our slow march.

“Well,” the Yorkshireman added with a laugh, “I guess that’s why they call them pushbikes.”

At one time, they might have been called pushbikes, but I found it cold comfort. It took me five hours, two trains, and my own journey over the Long Mynd by a different road just to get to the start, and I hadn’t made that journey to walk. I came to ride, and I found myself cursing the cyclosportive organizer who would put in a climb that nobody could actually climb. Stupid, sick, pathological–words that came easily to me on the trudge, along with some others that I won’t repeat here.

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

My Yorkshire riding companion had warned me of the climb: Right turn at the phone box, cross the cattle grid, and then up. I sensed it happening before it happened. Downshift into the 39/27, and get up out of the saddle. Do a long set of alternating one-legged leg presses with abdominal crunches on the off-leg, and hope. But just … too long. The walk up revealed to me that I indeed had chosen well. It was a solid half-mile, bottom to top. Any effort to have gotten up that would have trashed me for the rest of the ride, and for what? A chance to say I’d climbed the Long Mynd? Forget it. I’ll walk.

At the top was an airfield, glider station, and waypoints for the Shropshire Way walking path. I stopped to snap a couple of pictures. The paramedics sent to the top by the ride organizer offered to take a shot of me aboard my bike as if I had climbed all the way to the top. I declined.

“That’d be lying,” I said.

“Well,” one laughed, “I think only about one in 20 made it up without walking.”

The route took us across a heathy plateau, with walkers and free-grazing sheep with a high view of the irregular valley farm plots that only metes-and-bounds surveying creates. It was almost enough to take my mind off the knowledge that I had more than 70 miles to go.

Then came the descent: A bumpy, twisty, steep hand-cramper of a fall down the mountain that left me cringing in fear of a blowout from overheated rims. At the bottom–another cattle grid. Braking as hard as I dared, thrusting my rear backward, I got my bike back to a reasonable speed, rolled over the grid and then into Church Stretton, shaking out my hands. Only 70 miles to go.

We continued much like this. Brief passes on undulating valley B-roads, only to be directed onto narrow lanes with more steep climbs. At another point, a fellow rider joked, “It looks like somebody just strung together all the hardest climbs in the area–twice.” It was true. More than once, descending from a summit the route made a sharp left or right–sometimes on blind corners with gravel and debris–and we would climb back onto the ridge we just crossed.

Later, I ran across my Yorkshire friend at the point where the short ride of 68 miles divided from the long ride of 97. “I’m going to take the short route today,” he said. “I’m stuffed.” It was tempting to follow him–but I’d traveled this far to ride 97 miles, and I wasn’t going to do any less.

The climb of Long Mountain–the Welsh mountain with the English name–forced me to walk once again. I have no idea how long the climb was–we were in a tunnel of trees that kept me guessing where the top was. And then a third mountain late in the day, which found me on and off several times before I finally reached the top, cursing the organizer and his descendants to the seventh generation. Another short descent and re-ascent of the same ridge found me uttering the worst profanity I can think of in the loudest voice possible.

In the valley after that climb, I found myself at a crossroads. A signpost suggested to me it was 8.5 miles back to the finish in Bishops Castle via roads in the valley, although my odometer told me the ride-as-written had another 20 miles. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk up another hill. The course had beaten me. Forty minutes later, I crossed the timing mat, 12 miles short of my goal ride, but happy I’d skipped the final hour of pain.

Lights: Because The Night Belongs To Us

Those in North America were struck by the return of standard time over the weekend. Those of us in fair Britain have already been oppressed by its tyranny for more than a week. Because of our northerly latitude I’ve been riding with lights quite a bit for a month now–and with the return to Greenwich Mean Time, our sunsets are almost as early as the earliest sunset in the Lower 48 states–affording me a chance to try out some new purchases.

For a taillight these days, I’m sticking with the DiNotte taillight that has served me well so far. On the front, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve put aside the DiNottes–which require me to faff about with recharging AA batteries all the time–and have gone to the NiteFlux Vision Stick Photon 4 Enduro. It’s a fairly ingenious design. The rechargeable lithium-ion stick battery attaches to the frame with a bracket that screws into your water-bottle bosses, like a mini-pump. The bracket can hold two of the stick batteries, one on either side of your water-bottle cage. A partially-coiled cord then runs up the downtube to your light on the handlebars. And if you need it, you can screw the stick battery directly into the light, making it a very useful flashlight.

At its brightest, the four-watt LED lamp has a claimed runtime of six hours. With a second battery, that would be easily enough to get a rider through a full night of riding, making it a useful light for events up to 600K. I plan on using it in the 250-mile ultras-sportive I’m entered in next July, when the night hours will number only seven.

It’s a sad fact that winter nights curtail our riding so much. The good news is that we get to test out theproducts that make summer playtime so much fun.

Scottish “Ultra-Sportive”

The crossing to Skye, where the sportive finishes. (courtesy conner395 at Flickr)

The crossing to the finish at Skye. (courtesy conner395 at Flickr)

Thinking about riding in Britain, but 1,400 kilometers seems too far? Accelerace, a British organizer of ultradistance triathlons and runs, has an idea for you:

Now this one’s pretty special. Basically the idea is this: a 250 mile bike ride that follows the bike course for our Scottish Ultra Triathlon (180 miles), then rides the run course (35 miles, including cycling over one of Britain’s highest roads: the Pass of the Cattle), then the small matter of a final 40 miles or so along the eastern edge of Skye before hopping a ferry back to Mallaig…

The interesting part – because of the distance (and hence length of time it’s likely to take), we’ll be starting at 10pm (or so) on the Friday night, and riding through the night and the Saturday, and hoping to catch the 7pm ferry back on Saturday evening. That’s actually the last ferry, so if we miss it, things could get interesting.

The best part: Unlike most sportive organizers, who really take the mickey on their entry fees, Accelerace is charging you nothing for this event. Just follow the link and email them if you’re interested. They warn that there’s no support, but that’s nothing to an experienced randonneur. Just be warned that getting to the start may be the biggest challenge of all!

UPDATED 12:25 p.m. British time 23 October: After an email exchange with the organizer, I’m entered, as much as anybody enters a free event. I figure I can take the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston station, about two or three miles from my flat, to Fort William, switch to a local train to Mallaig, and be just a few miles from the start. The organizers are planning on camping at the start, but I reckon a room at a bed and breakfast in Mallaig may be more my speed. It will give me someplace to crash upon our return from Skye.

Powerman Zofingen: A Brief Report

As Ed mentioned last week, I did take on the Powerman Zofingen duathlon Sunday. I just got back to London and a reliable net connection last night. Short summary for those who didn’t follow via Twitter: Finish time of 8:54:01 for 150 kilometers of cycling and 40 kilometers of running. Bike course was three loops with three climbs per lap. The middle climb, the Bodenberg, was the hardest, the equivalent of MD 77 over South Mountain, if I was forced to make a comparison. Running was just straight out brutal, going up the side of a mountain for two kilometers each of the four times leaving Zofingen.

Other notes: Zofingen veteran John Phillips, one of the American stalwarts of the event, ran into a car that pulled out in front of him, according to fellow Yank Josh Beck on Beck witnessed the accident, assisted Phillips afterward, and still managed a top 10 finish.

I’ll file a longer report soon.

Dunwich Dynamo: Final Notes

You may remember that a few months back I completed a project to extend the runtime of my DiNotte AA lights. I can report success with them. For both my two front lights and my rear light, the doubled battery backs driven by lithium AAs made it easily from sunset to the food station (approximately 50 miles/four hours), with the rears on strobe high/low setting and the fronts on low. They had plenty of life in them but I changed them at the food stop anyway, thinking it was better to do it there than on the roadside. Then the second set of batteries made it the next three-plus hours until daybreak. To be honest, I think they could have gone all night. I supplemented with the DiNotte helmet light on a strobe high/low setting, and it went all night on a single battery pack loaded with lithium AAs, although that light was visibly weakening as dawn approached. Although neither cheap nor without some hassle, it may be the ultimate lighting set-up for the long brevets.

Dunwich Dynamo: Ride All Night, Play All Day

Dunwich Dynamo Start

Originally uploaded by jamboi

While some of the mid-Atlantic cyclists are huffing up Piney Mountain at the end of the Warrenton 200K, I’ll be rolling out of London with a couple hundred like-minded cyclists for an all-night 200K ride to the East Anglia coast called the Dunwich Dynamo. As is described on the Dynamo faq page of the Southwark Cyclists, the legend of the Dynamo is that in 1993 “a few half-civilised City couriers just headed east after work one balmy Friday evening…and kept going till they hit the sea.” It was run for awhile as a entry-fee ride, but now exists as a show-and-go event–that is, if you have a bicycle (or other pedal-powered contraption), just show up at London Fields park at around 8 or 9 p.m. and take off with one of the groups that slowly filter out. It’s £1 if you want a route sheet. Not everybody asks for one, I guess. You can have a pint at Pub on the Park if you like, but I tend to save that sort of thing for afterward.

I did this in 2006. It’s much more of a party than an audax ride, although the all-night aspects of it make for good randonneuring practice–how many lithium batteries will I need to get through eight hours of darkness? And it’s said that some of the audax riders who take part turn around after a breakfast at the beach cafe at Dunwich (pronounced “dunnich”) and ride all the way back to London. Others pay Southwark Cyclists for a coach ride home. For my part, I intend to ride another 30 miles back to the mainline rail station in Ipswich and take a train back to London.

Right now the forecast is calling for light rain in the evening, tapering off during the night, with a low of 13C, and, sadly for us, a bit of a northerly vector to the winds.

ADDED: A flickr pool of DD photos is here.