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Coffeeneuring during foliage season

coffeeneuring 2016: something old, something new…

It’s autumn, so it’s time for another round of Coffeeneuring. Still being underemployed (seriously, folks: somebody hire me!), I didn’t really jump on the challenge like I did last year. Perhaps it’s the general malaise of being extremely constricted financially, perhaps it’s that my hip is being pesky (let’s just say that, once ski season is done, that hip replacement can’t come soon enough), or just exhaustion from a contentious political season that left me emotionally spent.

Let’s face it: it’s been a tough 2016. I’ve had some great highs and some awful lows. As the year nears its end, my level of optimism isn’t particularly high. But there are bit of hope. Ski season is nigh, and I’m enjoying the challenge of being Head Coach for Liberty Mountain Race Team. The holidays always bring friends and family together – and these connections matter more than ever during low times.

And without fail, the bike provides escape to a more carefree world – a needed batch of smiles and freedom, if only for a while. Get your escape where you can, right?

Following in last year’s footsteps, I didn’t choose a secondary theme. This is likely because of my general “meh” feeling of late – I just couldn’t be bothered to think up some funky way to bind all of these rides together other than “well, they all have a coffee break in the itinerary.” So that will have to do for another year.

As with last year, if you click on the mileage numbers you can see the Strava recordings of each ride. These contain additional photos from each adventure and are worth the click!

Adventure the First:
Date: 10 October
Distance Ridden: 67.5 miles
Location: Middle Ground Cafe, Stafford Springs, CT
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (on a main drag through the center of a New England mill town, so not a lot of bike parking adjacent to the shop, though the town is sleepy enough that leaning your bike outside the shop is fairly safe; lots of great food options here)
Drink: double espresso (Counter Culture… I think?)

Lesson Learned: My first coffeeneuring outing for 2016 happened over Columbus Day weekend while sprite and I were in Connecticut. My initial plan for this day was to ride a full 100 mile century visiting Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts with three or four stops for coffee. However, the day started out a bit more chilly than planned, so I got off to a later start and had to scrap the three state itinerary. I decided to improvise my route instead, while still making at least two coffee stops. This was the first stop, and one I’d been meaning to visit for some time. It was worth it: fun staff and a really great pull of espresso. I also stopped at Coriander Café in Eastford, one of my stops in 2015, and enjoyed lunch in the sun. The new route introduced me to some lovely gravel roads through scenic and peaceful woods, as well as a country store that offered many kinds of candies for 2¢ per piece – score! I arrived home just before sunset. Tara Rule invoked.

Adventure the Second:
Date: 22 October
Distance Ridden: 14.5 miles
Location: Armed Forces Retirement Home grounds, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 5/10 (not a place you can ride outside of DCCX, but the roads are fun and winding, and it’s a splendid venue for cyclocross, roads to access the AFRH have bike lanes and nice pavement)
Drink: drip coffee (Ceremony Coffee from La Mano Coffee)

Lesson Learned: The plan for this coffeeneuring day was to do some on-the-spot brewing for The Bluemont Connection and District Cycle Works at their DCCX tent. However, the weather was very windy, so any hope of running a camp stove to heat water was quickly quashed. Luckily, Idit was able to stop at La Mano Coffee and brought hot coffee and chai for folks to enjoy. The racing was spectacular – so cool to have a UCI cyclocross race within the District of Columbia! I also got to cheer on many friends in their races, catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and take in a place in DC that I’d only seen from the windows of National Rehabilitation Hospital back in January 2014. Coffeehouse in the wild.

Adventure the Third:
Date: 5 November
Distance Ridden: 48.4 miles
Location: Spokes Etc., Belle View (Alexandria), VA
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (it’s a bike shop, so it’s bike friendly by design, though the road it’s on has a decent amount of traffic; there’s also another good coffee shop in the same shopping plaza)
Drink: drip coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts)

#latergram of my #coffeeneuring at the @potomacpedalers maintenance clinic at @spokesetc in Belle Haven.

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: I was at Spokes to help teach a bicycle maintenance clinic for Potomac Pedalers. The coffee and donuts were procured from the Dunkin’ next door to the bike shop. The class was held in the basement of the store, where Park Tool classes are typically conducted. There’s also a large storage area down here, where Spokes keeps hundreds of bikes at the ready to sell. I rode to and from the clinic, and after the class concluded I went on a ride around the Fort Hunt area with my friend Ed, who was fresh off a multi-week trip to the Canadian maritimes. It was a great day for riding a bike, and the foliage at Fort Hunt Park was spectacular!

Adventure the Fourth:
Date: 6 November
Distance Ridden: 5.6 miles
Location: Grace Street Coffee, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (easy to get to and has lots of tasty food with its fellow co-location businesses, but there’s a lack of good places to lock a bike in front of the store, and a narrow sidewalk preventing the installation of racks – though there is a bike rack at a plaza adjacent to the C&O Canal Towpath approximately 200 feet west of the shop entrance)
Drink: latté (Grace Street Coffee Roasters)

#coffeeneuring in Georgetown – cool new coffee house in the ‘hood. #alwaysbecoffeeneuring

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: The new coffee house in Georgetown is a funky little place, and opened just before this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge commenced – splendid timing. The space is shared with a juice bar and a brick-and-mortar location of SUNdeVICH, a well-known food truck. It’s also on the same street as the awesome Dog Tag Bakery (another solid coffee stop) and Chaia (vegetarian tacos!). The crew in there is always in motion, which is good, as they became backlogged with orders due to a lack of barista manpower. The space seems like a good place to hang out or even get some work done. There’s a cute little patio in the back of the space that gets sun at some points in the day. sprite and I ended up enjoying our beverages and edibles (the latter from Dog Tag) in the little plaza outside of HOK Design, next to the C&O Canal.

Adventure the Whateverth:
Date: 12 November
Distance Ridden: 78.1 miles
Location: Zaglio’s Bakery, Poolesville, MD
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (tasty treats, friendly staff, and a good bathroom here, though no bike parking in the strip mall location)
Drink: drip coffee (roaster unknown)

#coffeeneuring and #granddonut? Yum!

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: This coffeeneuring stop was the main rest stop on a lovely weekend ride with Ted. We rolled out to Poolesville via both well-traveled and less-well-known roads, making Zaglio’s our primary coffee and snack stop. My donut there was awesome: light and fluffy, with chocolate, caramel, and coconut flake toppings. The foliage on this ride had some spectacular flourishes (see the headline image for this post as an example), though it was definitely heading into a past-peak state along many parts of our route. We made quite a few stops for pictures, as the weather and the light were ideal for this. Early in the ride, we saw Dru Ryan at the Starbucks in Potomac Village Shopping Center – great to finally meet him in person. He was rocking some excellent A Tribe Called Quest socks, appropriate given their new album dropped the previous day.

Adventure the Whateverth-plus-two:
Date: 13 November
Distance Ridden: 5.1 miles
Location: Kristina’s Cafe and Pastries, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (on a side street off of the lower end of MacArthur Boulevard, no bike racks but plenty of deck space for parking a bike, clean bathroom inside, and decent food options)
Drink: latté machiatto (Illy Coffee)

#latergram of my #coffeeneuring outing with sprite to @kristinascafe in Foxhall Village. #latte #caffeine #bikeDC

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: sprite and I spent some Sunday afternoon time on this coffeeneuring outing to the new café in Foxhall Village. Our route involved a couple of sidewalk stretches to avoid cresting the hill at the intersection of Reservoir and Foxhall Roads, taking us instead through the lovely British pastiche of Foxhall Village. The café wasn’t busy – it was late in the afternoon – but the one outside table in full sun was taken by another patron. We managed to move another table into the sun, which was nice. Our cupcakes were underwhelming: small and nondescript. My latté was better than the cupcake by far, though I wish this place used coffee from a local roaster – nothing against Illy, but given the wealth of local options in coffee roasting, it seems odd to go with “the Starbucks of Italy.”

Adventure the Whateverth-plus-a-few:
Date: 19 November
Distance Ridden: 66.8 miles
Location: Cafe Kindred, Falls Church, VA
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (1.5 blocks from the W&OD Trail, 1 block from Bikenetic, )
Drink: double espresso (Vigilante Coffee)

#coffeeneuring stop the whateverth-plus-a-few: espresso at Cafe Kindred. #radlerlife

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: This day was the last one predicted to be really warm for a while (likely for the rest of the year), and my available days for riding on weekends are coming to a close with the approach of ski season. So I gathered some friends and went on a lovely bike ride in northern Virginia, all the while logging my final coffeeneuring stop for the season. The ride spent a lot of its outbound leg on the W&OD Trail, and it was great to see the new segment of trail in Vienna: wide, smooth, with good sight lines. There were a lot of people on the trail, but nothing like the density of mid summer. Once in Reston, we ventured north off the trail toward Great Falls. The sunny, pleasant weather was perfect for riding, and a bit of die-hard foliage greeted us along Beach Mill Drive. Ed led us down an unpaved, slightly rough trail to Great Falls Park. We had a snack stop at Yas Bakery in Vienna, a favorite Persian market, where sour cherry nectar was the drink of choice. On the way back to DC, Marc and I had a lunch, espresso, and beer break at Cafe Kindred – so good! As we left, a dark wall of clouds approached from the west. The air grew colder, the wind started to gust. By the time I reached Georgetown, gingko berries hit me like rocks due to the stiff, gusting wind. I sought shelter at District Cycle Works, then made the rest of the ride home just before the rain began to fall. Winter definitely rolled in with fury.

Total Mileage: 286 miles

Friends visit me at NRH, January 2014

how to deal with orthopedic surgery: before and after

Recently, a friend of mine suggested I post a guide for people dealing with orthopedic surgery. After all, it’s traumatic, life-disrupting, frustrating, and mysterious.

As #projectfemur is an orthopedic adventure – and one that is ongoing, with new chapters ahead – I thought that it would be good to get this stuff down in writing. So here, without any further ado, is my basic guide (and it will evolve over time, as I remember more key points):

  1. Enter with a positive attitude. You’re getting the surgery regardless, so you might as well embrace the situation and enter with optimism, smiles, and a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors tough questions before surgery. They are there to help, and for some people – especially for me – I like to know what’s going to happen. I’ve had some great Q&A sessions with admit nurses, anesthesiologists, X-ray techs, and my surgeons. Some of the questions are totally banal, others are quite serious and complex – and all received thoughtful, appropriate answers.
  3. During the first 24 to 48 hours after surgery, you likely won’t feel quite like yourself. Anesthesia, opioid pain killers, nerve blocks, and the like wreak havoc with your mind. They can give you a false sense of happiness, can make you queasy, and can even make you do things you would never do when sober. There’s a good reason most hospitals make you sign a document stating that they can’t be held responsible for any decisions you make while under the influence of anesthesia.
  4. Follow your doctor’s/physical therapist’s recovery prescription to the letter. Don’t rush the recovery. Your body won’t always communicate what’s going on (especially when you are on the high-level pain meds), so it’s best to be conservative and let things heal. Orthopedic surgery is traumatic, and the body responds to trauma by slowing itself down, concentrating its energy on healing things.
  5. Manage your pain. Trust me on this: it’s always best to be ahead of the pain curve, especially in the early days of recovery. Pain often creates more problems than it solves, including biomechanical compensation that can lead to new or further injuries. And for some people pain is a good indicator of progress in healing, or that a move you’re trying to do isn’t smart. But this isn’t about completely eliminating pain, but managing your pain. So lay off the heavy-duty painkillers as soon as you can, but the non-addictive ones? They’re good to have by your side.
  6. Get rest. Sleep when your body says it needs to sleep. The rest will help with recovery, and will also help you during your awake periods when you’ll need the energy for PT, day-to-day life, and socializing.
  7. Eat healthy food before and after the surgery. Sure, have some treats here and there – you will crave and, frankly, need them after all you’ve been through. But it’s best to stick with healthy, balanced, real food meals. Eat complete proteins. Make sure you get all of your necessary vitamins in your diet. Lay off the alcohol for a bit (at least lay off the second drink, and if you are on opioids or high-dose acetaminophen, try and abstain completely). You’ll heal faster, have more energy, and will gain less weight while you’re down.
  8. Realize that your body will be different after the surgery. Things won’t necessarily work like they did before Your biomechanics will be changed. Accept this as a welcome challenge, because you will get better and learn how to work with your renewed body parts.
  9. Accept that there can – and likely will – be setbacks. Have patience. Be ready for them, and treat them as speed bumps. Be honest with your friends and loved ones – and most of all, yourself – about the setbacks and related frustrations. They will pass, given time.
  10. Smile a lot, and have a sense of humor about the situation. Attitude is everything! Honestly, this is possibly the biggest key to maintaining composure and optimism during the throes of recovery. When in doubt, read a favorite pick-me-up book or watch a go-to movie or TV series. For me, the James Bond films were must-see recovery fodder after both of my surgeries.

Like I said earlier, there’s bound to be more – that’s just what I can rattle off right now.

Have any advice? Leave it in the comments!

(The picture at the top is from January 2014, during my recovery from the original #projectfemur surgery, when my friends Mary, Ed, Ryan, and Ted stopped by for a visit.)

bringing it all back home: #projectfemur hits the slopes

Well, it was bound to happen: last Saturday, I donned my trusty Lange boots, clicked into a well-worn pair of skis, and got on a chairlift.

Destination: to ski again, this time at Mount Snow, Vermont.

I happened to be up north for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, staying with sprite’s folks in north-central Connecticut. We drove up to Connecticut in a winter storm that produced much rain, freezing rain, sleet, graupel, and snow, arriving to a wet, 5-inch accumulation in Connecticut. But that same storm dumped 12-14 inches of fresh, fluffy snow on top of a very good man-made base at Mount Snow, so my choice of venue made sense. Also, it’s only 90-or-so minutes from sprite’s folks’ place, so the drive isn’t an all-day time suck.

I arrived at the resort about 20 minutes before the lifts started turning, and there was already a large queue at the Bluebird Express lift, the only chair serving the summit of the mountain. That was fine by me, as I wanted to start my day on something a bit less of a full commitment. So, after picking up my lift ticket (pro tip: buy online in advance, it saves a decent amount of money), I donned my skis, tightened the strap on my new Briko helmet, and proceeded to the Canyon Express lift, which serves the lower half of Mount Snow’s front face.

As I rode solo on the lift (all of the crowd – and I mean all of it – was heading toward the summit on Bluebird), I surveyed the open terrain: two rolling intermediate-level slopes, recently groomed, with excellent snow cover. I assessed my legs, and both seemed up to the task. I did have a little trepidation, as I wasn’t able to get a needed shim installed on my right boot to compensate for the loss of femoral length (1.5 cm) on #projectfemur. But this was going to be a low-key, low-speed day, so being a little bit out of balance wasn’t a big deal.

Most of all: I was elated to be back on skis!

As I promised myself and friends, I took it easy. The lack of shims on my right boot meant that turns involving said foot would be awkward, and that flat-footed gliding would be nigh-on-impossible. But, just like riding a bike, the feel came back. My back wasn’t in the best of shape (strained it a week prior), so I decided to mete out my runs in small chunks. Eventually, I waded into the crowd to catch a ride to the summit, where I snapped the panorama you see at the top of this post – it was a beautiful day, ideal for skiing and being outdoors.

After three runs of short-swing, slow GS turns, and stance drills, I retreated to the base lodge for coffee and some light stretching while I waited for the lunch spot to open. I figured that taking an early lunch would allow me to enjoy shorter queues as the crowds ate.

As you can see, the queue for Bluebird Express was quite large while I ate my chili and enjoyed a local microbrew (and Canyon Express was handling the overflow, and had a decently long queue, as well):

After lunch, I decided to explore more of the open terrain at the mountain, heading over to the Carinthia area. Yes, it’s technically a terrain park, but this early in the season most of the runs are groomed, without the rails, jumps, and other trappings of the park crowd. The snow was soft and easy on my legs and back, and I was able to enjoy a slow ride up one of the few old-school, fixed grip lifts remaining at Mount Snow.

I skied until 1:45pm or so, as my lower back started to ache and impede my skiing motions. I managed nine runs for the day, soaking in each one as I did my first outdoor bike rides back in August. There was a lot of smiling, laughing, and joyful yodeling easily traced back to me.

Yes, there’s work to be done – namely, getting my right boot shimmed and re-aligned to the new reality of #projectfemur. But it was skiing, it was brilliant, I was back in my element – home, again.

cycling log: 2 november 2013 (edinburg gap)

Activity: road cycling (club ride)
Location: Front Royal, VA > Edinburg, VA > Middletown, VA > Front Royal
Distance: 101.4 miles (two very steep climbs)
Duration: 4:50 (4:00 rolling time)
Weather: cool, crisp, sunny to cloudy, wind from west, 55-68 degrees
Climbing: 5,217′
Avg HR: 143 (max 181)
Type: aerobic

A lovely club ride with the Potomac Pedalers gang, on an atypical day for November: one that was sunny and relatively mild. It was so mild that I wore shorts sans knee warmers (arm warmers were a must for most of the ride, however).

The group rode a mostly smooth pace. While fast, it wasn’t breakneck for most of the ride, and the group stayed together for far longer than is typical on this ride. The route went form Front Royal, down the Fort Valley, over Edinburg Gap (the only big climb of the day, though many rollers peppered the parcours), then back northeast in the Shenandoah Valley, before crossing back to Front Royal. There were three county lines (read: sprints), a town line (into Edinburg), and a KOM point (Edinburg Gap) – good for some spirited moments. We stopped twice to regroup and refresh.

Jonathan organized the ride, as he does every year on the first Saturday in November. The nice weather – as well as the prospect of peak fall foliage – attracted a big crowd. Luckily, we were a sympatico group, and rode well in a pack, each taking our pulls on the front. The first county line came about 10 miles into the ride, and I ended up being the lead-out into the line. I managed to hold off the crowd – zing! Having over 5,300 miles under my wheels this year, and still having good speed and strength, I recovered quickly and enjoyed the ride southwest through Fort Valley, down to the turn west to Edinburg Gap.

Jonathan and I weren’t into going full gas up the gap, nor was Greg. Al and Mike raced ahead, while the three of us “slackers” kept them in view. Toward the top, Jonathan and I started to reel in the others, and while we didn’t catch them, I managed to pass Jonathan about 100 meters from the summit. Mike waited for his wife, Susan, at the summit, so I raced down the hill to catch Al, pass him, and continue going hard to the town line sign (two “palmares” acquired).

The group gathered at the rest stop in Edinburg, at a convenience store where the proprietor was watching the cricket test between India (his home country) and Australia. An iced green tea and fig newtons consumed, we rode northwest toward Back Road – our main thoroughfare for the return leg. In the distance, dark clouds amassed over the Blue Ridge, a sign that the predicted cold front was on our doorstep.

It hit as we rode, without rain but with a stiff head/crosswind that made riding in a pack a matter of efficiency. The group splintered in this long stretch (over 20 miles), and a core group of Jonathan, Greg, Ed, Vince, Al and me ended up racing to the second county line, at the bottom of a hill, across a short bridge span. Jonathan tried to distract me via conversation, but I managed to out-sprint the group, taking the line (that’s three). We turned east to ride the handful of miles to our next rest stop in Middletown.

The rest of the group arrived in ones and twos, having been splintered by the wind and pace. The refreshments at the 7-11 were welcome, even if we were only 12 miles from our cars in Front Royal. At least we could look forward to a nice tailwind for the eastbound trek that lay ahead.

The final county line came a few miles after the 7-11. Greg and I were conversing on the front of the pack, and I mentioned the impending county line. He gave some chase, but I powered through the line (we have four “points” sprints there – yes!). The group quickly reconvened, but gradually split again, as those of us with some pep in our legs kept a higher pace. It wasn’t a big deal – the rest of the ride was enjoyable, and everybody made it back to Eastham Park without difficulty.

So it was a fun day, a fun ride, and a fun group – just about perfect!

This is another NaBloPoMo post – number two!

cycling log: 29 june 2013 (c&o canal end-to-end)

Activity: trail cycling (bucket list)
Location: Cumberland, MD > Washington, DC
Distance: 191.0 miles/ 307.5 kilometers (mostly flat with gradual descent, a few climbs here and there)
Duration: 18:47 (14:01 rolling time)
Weather: warm, humid, partly cloudy, some rain at dusk, 60-82 degrees
Climbing: 1,883 feet (less than 10 feet of climbing per mile)
Avg HR: 131 (max 170)
Type: aerobic

In life, there are “bucket list” items: the things you want to do before you leave this mortal coil (and no, I’m in no hurry to do so). And riding the C&O Canal Towpath – the whole thing – in one day is one of those.

I hadn’t planned on doing this ride, in actuality. Yes, it’s bucket list material, but this year? Maybe, perhaps, but it wasn’t on the radar. And then my friend, Eric, said he had to scuttle plans to do the ride – all 184.5 miles, plus commutes to and from the start and end points – as our friend, Lane, was having knee problems. I expressed my interest, Eric asked, “how about next weekend?,” and the die was cast.

The ride is a bit of a logistical challenge. Being a one-way, point-to-point ride requires one-way transit to the ride start. Regrettably, Amtrak doesn’t handle bikes as baggage on the line that serves Cumberland (though I’ve heard that it’s not difficult to get a bike on the train on low-traffic weekdays), so we had to go with another route.

Luckily, Hertz offers one-way car rentals from DC to Cumberland, so that was the choice. Eric and I braved the Friday rush hour traffic out of DC (which cost us an hour of driving time), stopped at the wonderful 28 South restaurant in Hagerstown for dinner, and settled into our hotel room around 11:30pm – later than planned, but not too bad…

…except that our plan was to wake at 4:30 for a 5:30-something departure. We were well prepped: bikes packed with essentials (food, clothing, tools, tubes, toiletries), everything in order to roll in the morning. But waking at 4:30 was painful.

We rolled out of the Holiday Inn at 5:41am and made the short crossing to the start of the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail, the latter of which meanders to Pittsburgh (another time for that, I’m afraid). We snapped photos in the early morning light, mounted our bikes, and left.

I chose to ride my 16-plus year old Marin mountain bike (named “Skully” because of a foam skull sticker on its head tube) because it offered more rugged components, the ability to run wider tires (1.5″ slicks), and front suspension – all reasonable considerations when the rolling surface is a dirt trail, with mud holes, crushed stone, bumps, tree roots, and other things that make it a bit less smooth than my usual paved routes. Equipped with a seatpost rack and rack trunk, it was suitable for the task.

The C&O Canal Towpath is a curiosity, one that only had a short usable life as a commerce channel before the railroad made it obsolete. It only exists today because of the intervention of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, whose love of the towpath prevented it from being converted to a parkway, instead becoming the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath National Historic Park. The National Park Service provides upkeep over the full 184.5 mile run of the towpath, repairing flood damage and keeping it passable.

Eric and the towpath

The first 30 miles showed the side-effects of this area’s ongoing rain: a lot of mud. It wasn’t impassable, but it made the going a bit slower than we planned. Our “timetable” had us averaging 16 mph for the ride, and we were mired, as it were, at 14 mph. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did make a mess of things.

Muddy drivetrain

I was glad I brought the mountain bike, as its drivetrain was tolerant of a bit of mud and other muck from the trail.

We eventually arrived at one of many engineering marvels of the towpath: the Paw Paw Tunnel. This tunnel cut the journey on the canal by over six miles. It was also a dark, eerie place to ride a bike.

Paw Paw Tunnel - west portal

The path through the Paw Paw Tunnel is narrow and bumpy. Headlights are a must if you plan on riding in the tunnel, as it is extremely dark inside. We both made it to the other side without incident. Once there, you emerge onto a boardwalk and can see where a rockslide blocked the east portal back in May.

I made it through Paw Paw! Photo by Eric Pilsk.

From Paw Paw, we continued toward Little Orlean, where we stopped at Bill’s Place. Essentially the only hangout in the town, Bill’s Place is a bar, general store, restaurant, canoe rental, town meeting hall, etc. The owner is a nice, middle-aged guy, and the service comes with a smile. We spent some time on the porch here, enjoying cool beverages and salty snacks.

From Little Orlean, we rolled toward Hancock. As the towpath was still muddy, we made the decision to take the Western Maryland Rail Trail to make up some time (I’ve ridden the stretch we skipped today back in 2011). Our average speed tipped up to 19 mph once we were on the WMRT, which was a nice boost. We saw many other cyclists on the trail, including a couple who were riding the full GAP-C&O length from Pittsburgh, albeit over multiple days. They were far more sane than Eric and me.

Selfie in Hancock

A quick stop in Hancock allowed us to top off our bidons and grab some snacks at C&O Bicycle. I also bought a bottle of chain lube here, as the mud and grime had already washed away the lube I’d applied to the bike on Friday. A quiet drivetrain was a nice thing.

On the way back to the towpath, we took a wrong turn, adding a mile or so to our journey. However, we passed a house where the yard had been converted into a “field of dreams” baseball diamond, presumably for the family’s kids.

Field of dreams near Indian Spring.

We did find our way back to the towpath, which wasn’t quite as muddy by this point but had its rough spots. The lovely thing about staying on the path is that there was shade pretty much everywhere. On a day that promised high temperatures near 84°F/26°C with ample humidity, it was a nice perk. The thick foliage did block some scenery, but not too badly: Big Pool was, indeed, big, and tough to miss.

Milepost 100. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

So we kept rolling through the day. We had a lunch stop in Williamsport (a Sheetz MTO hasn’t tasted as good), where we saw a young woman catch her first fish in the lock pond, squeeing at it and shying away from removing it from the hook. We passed a tour boat on the canal. We saw more cyclists out on short trail excursions.

Outside of Sharpsburg and a little over 110 miles into our ride, we stopped at the quaint Barron’s Store & C&O Towpath Museum, a family-run outpost (literally run in what would be the living room of their house) that provided needed cold drinks and fresh fruit, as well as some indoor seating. Our legs still felt just fine (mine did, at least), but it was nice to sit back. A quartet of teenage boys rolled up to the store as we prepared to leave, each on a BMX or older mountain bike, reminding me of a hybrid of Stand By Me and Back to the Future in terms of “groups of kids on bikes, out having fun.”

Eric and the Potomac

By this point, we were well behind schedule, but enjoying ourselves, all the same. Soon after Barron’s Store, we approached a section that Eric believed to be closed: the Big Slackwater viaduct. This wonder of civil engineering replaced a portion of the towpath that settled into the Potomac, and it was a joy to behold – and to ride! It was one of the more exposed areas of the path, clinging to the side of a sheer rock wall, and as we passed a group of boaters taking a dip in the water, we were tempted to jump in….

Eric approaches Big Slackwater

Riding the Big Slackwater viaduct. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

We soldiered on with an increased tempo at this point, past Sherpherdstown and Harper’s Ferry, toward our dinner stop in Brunswick at the wonderful Beans in the Belfry coffeehouse. A Celtic group was playing there, I and recognized the lead singer and guitarist from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (he didn’t recognize me, which is all well and good). Eric and I noshed on spinach quiche, and also took advantage of the nice bathroom to wash our faces and brush our teeth. The cleanup had an amazing energizing effect, which was good, as we saw dark clouds approaching as the daylight grew long. As a nod to the weather gods, we donned our cycling caps under our helmets to ward off the rain.

Getting back onto the towpath, we increased our pace yet again, taking advantage of a smoother section of trail to try and make as much progress as possible before the sunset. We made it to Mouth of Monocacy rather quickly, stopping briefly to snap a picture from within the aquaduct, looking toward the setting sun.

At Mouth of Monocacy. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

A little further down the trail, we found an even better view of the sunset, near Dickerson:

Sunset over the Potomac in Dickerson

It’s at this point that our cycling caps ran out of good mojo, and we experienced our first rain of the day. We weren’t sure whether it would be heavy, as the clouds looked very black. We decided to carry on to White’s Ferry and make a decision whether to stay on the towpath and risk the mud, wind, and rain, or to take the well-known paved roads down to Riley’s Lock.

Luckily, the rain stopped about 1/2 mile before we pulled into White’s Ferry. At the ferry store, we bought some cold sodas and talked with the ferry operator, who deemed us crazy for wanting to carry on to DC along the towpath in the cover of darkness. We laughed, wished him well, and got back on the path.

Less than 1/4 mile from there, the battery on my Garmin Edge 500 died. It had sent out a warning beep a little while earlier, but as my unit has a blown-out screen, I had no way to verify that the beep was battery-related (though I suspected that it was). It did well for an older unit: 15.5 hours of runtime. Luckily, my phone had a decent amount of charge, so I swiftly started the Strava iOS app, missing only 0.1 miles of tracking (easily connected when I combined the two GPS tracks).

As we rolled along, there were frogs all along the towpath, their song growing louder as we rode deeper into the woods. The amphibians would jump out of the way just in time as we rolled. Our pace was slower, but our lights allowed us to find safe passage. The towpath started to have more muddy patches as we neared DC, so our lines had to be chosen more judiciously. When we passed one of the lockmaster’s houses, the group staying there was making s’mores over an open fire – and we were quite tempted to join them and crash there for the night.

We also weren’t sure where our next known landmark, Riley’s Lock, was. Yes, we had the mileposts to go by, but we weren’t sure where Riley’s was in the grand scheme of things. This added an eerie quality to this section of the ride, and while we weren’t necessarily physically fatigued, this added to our ever-growing mental fatigue. At least the frog song was there.

At this point, we made a decision: due to our growing mental weariness, we would exit the towpath at Great Falls. The stretch from Great Falls to Fletcher’s Lock features a good deal of technical trail: mud, ruts, damp boardwalk, things that require full mental faculties to navigate in the dark. It wasn’t that tough a decision: safety trumps stupidity. And both of us had tackled this stretch many times before, so it wouldn’t be big loss to skip.

So we stopped at the restrooms at Great Falls, let our significant others know that we would be getting onto MacArthur Boulevard to complete the trek into DC, and climbed our biggest hill of the day. My legs were quite spry here, and I climbed the road quite quickly. I waited for Eric at the top, and enjoyed the light show put on by thousands of fireflies in the trees over the Great Falls access road.

Once on MacArthur, we made decent time: nothing approaching my typical Wednesday night club ride, but still a good clip. We wound our way to Georgetown, took a left on 35th Street, wiggled to 34th Street, then made our way back down to the towpath for its final 3/4 mile to its origin.

Marker at the start of the C&O Canal Towpath

We stopped, took photos, congratulated ourselves on a bucket list task now complete. I was confused by a text I received from sprite, saying she had refreshments in the parking lot – I was unable to remember that there is a parking lot by the Watergate, only 1/4 mile from where we were. We turned toward The Burrow, up the Rock Creek MUP. I stopped my Strava app, sat down, and I was done.

So what would I do differently? I’d like to do this again – over a period of 2 or 3 days. I’d take a hydration pack to allow for easier drinking while on rougher surfaces. I’d use regular panniers that keep the center of mass low on the bike (read: better handling). I’d also setup a dynamo wheel to charge my lights, Garmin, and phone via USB (I have a dynamo hub that needs to be built into a wheel).

But I’m so glad I did this ride! Eric was a great riding partner, his experience with the DC Randonneurs giving him many bits of sage advice to help on such a long ride. We had a great time – what more can a guy want?

cycling updates: a 2012 summary and more

I realize I’ve been remiss in summing up my 2012 in any meaningful way (happy new year, by the way!). It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, but I just haven’t been in the right place (with a computer with a full keyboard – no offense, WordPress iOS app, but thumb typing posts is not my thing) when the mood struck.

Tonight, though, I felt like it was time to buck up and put down my thoughts in this maligned blog.

So, without and further delay, here is a quick synopsis of my 2012 in cycling terms:

  • Total miles ridden: 4,599.18
  • Total rolling time: 300 hours, 40 minutes (yes, that’s a tad more than 12.5 days in the saddle – yikes!)
  • Highest mileage month: September (754 miles)
  • Lowest mileage month: March (zero miles, as I was injured)
  • Longest single-day ride: 111 miles (Great River Ride, October 7)
  • Total rides 100 miles or greater: 6
  • Miles ridden on the Pedal Force ZX3: 2,314
  • Miles ridden on the Jamis Eclipse: 2,143
  • Miles ridden on the Marin Indian Fire Trail (mountain bike): 77
  • Miles ridden on Capital Bikeshare: 65
  • Total commuting miles: 915
  • In summary, it was a very successful year on the bike. Given I missed 9 weeks due to injury, I likely would have ended up with almost 5,500 miles (if not more) in 2012. I managed to do that while mostly avoiding the “two-per-weekend” long rides away from DC, choosing to venture further afield only one weekend day for most of the year. I focused on quality miles, not sheer quantity, and that worked well.

    So thank you, 2012 – you were a great cycling year (which made up for the crapfest that was 2012: The Ski Year).

    Thus far in 2013, I’ve covered almost 260 miles on a bicycle. Looking back through my records (I only started closely tracking my miles in 2006), I’m already 27 miles ahead of my previous record for January. Given the month is only 15 days old, that’s quite the feat! Blame the overly mild winter, I guess, but I’ll take it!

    cycling log: 16 september 2012 (bridge-to-bridge)

    Activity: road cycling (special event)
    Location: Lenoir, NC > Linville, NC > Grandfather Mountain, NC
    Distance: 101.4 miles (very hilly over the last 50 miles)
    Duration: 5:48 (5:46 rolling time – data here)
    Weather: cool, damp, foggy, rainy, 59-68 degrees
    Climbing: 8,590′
    Avg HR: 151 (max 178)
    Type: aerobic

    Given my injury earlier in the year, I had to cancel my plans to ride the Death Ride in July. so, in the search for another “bucket list” ride to conquer, the 24th Bridge-To-Bridge Cycling Challenge entered my mind. So I entered, I got Chris to join me, and we took on this beast of a ride.

    Lenoir is a town that seems to be in transition. Old industry has died off. Hulks of old factories and warehouses sit in lonesome decay. Downtown wears shadows of a former life: the shuttered movie house, the old department stores with boarded-up windows.

    But there is a rebirth beginning to show. Main Street has a variety of new stores. A wine-focused bistro fills its tables every night. Craft stores and coffeehouses have loyal clientele. These customers may work at one of the new data centers that are taking over some of the old industrial spaces in and around town.

    The people are friendly. They smile at you and say hello. They ask you, with all sincerity, how you feel, how the day has gone, and what’s new in your world. It doesn’t matter if they’ve known you for 2 minutes or 20 years – they treat you like you belong.

    For a few hundred cyclists, many of whom are somewhat local and some of whom traveled from points far from Lenoir, it was a perfect introduction to the town, and perhaps a way for the locals to say to themselves, “these riders must be crazy.”

    Our agenda, after all, was to ride 101 miles, ending our journey atop Grandfather Mountain in the Appalachian Range. The final 51 miles featured most of the climbing – a back-loaded affair, and very daunting on paper.

    In real life, it was every bit as challenging as promised – and somehow, a lot easier to handle than other challenge rides I’ve completed.

    Chris and I arrived on Saturday, the afternoon before the ride, after a six-plus hour drive from the DC area. The drive was uneventful – most drives on Interstate highways are – and allowed us a chance to size up the hills as the Appalachian Range became a constant driving companion: up and down, flirting with the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Eastern Continental Divide.

    After pulling into Lenoir, we immediately found Main Street and a street festival the town held for the cyclists. Food was a focal point: pasta, salad, bread and barbeque created a lovely mix of fuel for the next day’s miles. Local vendors, part of a weekly farmers’ market, sold their wares alongside children riding strange tricycles and bicycle variants. There was local beer. Volunteers mingled with cyclists. Chris and I enjoyed our dinner with a couple whose charge was the fourth aid station along the ride route. They thanked us for coming all the way from DC for their “little bike event.”

    After eating, signing into the ride, picking up our number packet, and buying the lovely event jersey, we checked into our motel. The management of the Days Inn was warm and welcoming, and the room was basic and comfortable. Seeking out Mexican food (my preferred pre-event fuel), we made our way to a great little place with honest-to-goodness Mexican (not the typical Salvadoran) food, hit up a grocery store for breakfast food, and returned to the room around 9pm to prep our bikes and get some needed shut eye.

    The next morning, we awoke before dawn – after all, the ride started at 8am, and we needed time to wake up, eat breakfast, and ride the short, 1 mile commute to Main Street. It was damp, foggy and misty outside, a sneak preview of what the day held in store.

    I had to decide what clothing to take with me. It wouldn’t get especially warm today, so long as the mist, fog and clouds clung to the mountain ridges. I decided to wear my SmartWool PhD socks*, which are excellent in all conditions, wet or dry (and I anticipated some wet tarmac along the route). I packed my wool arm warmers in my jersey pocket, and donned a vest for the ride to town, unsure whether I would want to wear something so substantial once I was riding with the pack. I opted against wearing knee warmers, as it wasn’t that cold in the morning. My clothes pack contained clean, non-cycling clothes, and eventually held my vest.

    Chris and I arrived at Main Street 35 minutes prior to start time – early for both of us. The ride is chip-timed (i.e. they use little timing “chips” to measure elapsed time on course), so we made sure to affix our chips onto our shoes after arriving at the start area. It wasn’t too difficult, though the chips were clearly designed to be attached to running shoes with laces, rather than cycling shoes with velcro straps. Regardless, we worked out any problems, and dropped off our bags with clean clothes for transport to Grandfather Mountain.

    I rode a few laps around the closed streets of downtown Lenoir, snapping a few pictures of their current state of urban rebirth. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood – I somehow felt a bit off, but was willing to shrug it off as an anomaly. After around 15 minutes of warm-up riding, Chris and I took our places in the start pen.

    A cornucopia of multi-colored bike jerseys were sardine packed into the start area. Local teams all amassed at the front, treating this event ride like a full-on race. Clubs from North Carolina queued up behind the teams, hoping to test their mettle. Chris and I, in our non-club kit, planned to seek out some fast riders – not racers, per se, but fast, smooth riders who would ride a good tempo until the rode tilted up at mile 51.

    Pre-ride announcements were broadcast on the PA. A local country radio DJ was the honorary starter. A local official said a prayer. The rules of the road were spoken, though hardly audible over the din of hundreds of Garmin bike computers being clicked into action, anticipating the start.

    And at 7:56am – a whopping four minutes early – the 2012 Bridge-to-Bridge Cycling Challenge commenced. The sound of gears shifting, chains whirring, and “on your left” could be heard up and down Main Street.

    The crowd was thick at the beginning, with everybody on guard to avoid a crash, as well as to find the right group of riders with whom to collaborate. The racers, as expected, took off as if they had a plane to catch, and Chris and I ended up in a fast-but-not-insane peloton that fell just behind the racing pack. It felt right, so we forged on.

    One of the wonders of Bridge-to-Bridge is that most of the intersections over the first 40 miles were controlled by police officers. So we were able to continue, no breaks in momentum, through busy intersections. And while the typical DC attitude to such things would be scowls, shouting, horn blowing and tantrums, the locals in North Carolina seemed to welcome us with open arms: cheering, smiling, ringing cowbells and making us all feel like we were in a grand tour. It was amazing.

    And my feeling of unease quickly morphed into a feeling of contained power: I felt strong on the bike, able to accelerate with ease. Our peloton settled in initially as a group of 50, then 40, then eventually 20 to 25. Only a handful of us seemed to take turns pulling on the front, as not all were willing to put in extra effort to keep the pace up. But most of us shrugged it off, as the hills would arrive soon enough.

    If anything, the weather – which, to this point, was a mix of overcast, damp, and fog – worked in concert with the closed intersections to allow me to excel. Keeping up a consistent momentum helped regulate my energy expenditure, allowing me to conserve a lot of fuel for the climbs while maintaining a 22 mph clip. I never felt a need to stop to get more water or food. The aid stations also contributed to this, with volunteers lined up along the road offering food and drink without the need to stop. This was one of the hallmarks (among many) of the excellent organization of Bridge-to-Bridge.

    While the first 50 miles were lovely, lightly rolling country (truly ideal riding terrain for most cyclists), the latter 51 miles had a different side. And with a right turn onto Route 181, the road tilted up. And up. And up.

    The climb on 181 is a long grind, averaging 8 percent grade with sections approaching 13 percent. It is long enough to separate those with good climbing legs from those who would have a tough time throughout the day. A local rider, Adrian (a Swiss expat), explained to me that the road has a few false summits, and that I should treat the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing as the true summit of the climb. Message understood, he followed that up with sage advice that I try to follow on every ride: “ride your own ride.” In other words, don’t try to follow anybody’s lead, know your body and its limits.

    My body was saying “let’s get this thing ON!”

    I dropped the majority of the peloton on 181. Chris fell behind, unable to keep up with my pace. I ended up in a group of 8 riders, all of whom seemed to be doing this thing non-stop, which increasingly became the approach I took. My only annoyance was a slowly building need for a “nature break,” but it wasn’t that bad, and I kept taking on fluids and food without it causing any more bother – why stop?

    I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing with a lot of pep left in my step. The fog kept rolling in and out, and brief (as in 10-20 second) glimpses of sun added contrast. The traffic, as it was, didn’t bother us much: they were courteous and gave us wide berth. People sat on their porches and cheered us on. Dogs were on leashes, likely thinking “what is up with this?” The road dipped downhill for a while, the pavement damp due to the fog and mist. Grandfather Mountain rose to our right, shrouded in clouds. Linville lay ahead, behind it an extremely dark, foreboding cloud wall. The freshly-wet roads were its calling card.

    We stopped at a traffic light (the only time we had to all day), and two of our ranks decided to make the very stupid decision to run the light. They were almost broadsided by a SUV, and the rest of us kept our distance, glad it wasn’t us who got impatient with a 25 second stop for three lights on a post.

    As we turned off of Route 211 (which would have been a shortcut to Grandfather Mountain, albeit an extremely steep one), we rode smack into the dark cloud wall. At mile 71, the deluge began.

    The rain was hard and pelting. Some of the drops stung. Most of us had lights, which was a good thing, as the road spray created a situation that seemed risky, even though the roads were wide and the traffic kind. This was one of the busiest roads of the day, and we were all grateful to make the right turn onto Shull’s Mill Road.

    For all the bustle, commercial buildings and open territory that our previous 7 mile stretch held, Shull’s Mill was anything but. The tree canopy enveloped us and shielded us from the hardest rain. The road was narrow and winding, with a 6 to 8 percent grade feeling far gentler than it was. The group shared a few laughs as we enjoyed a little slice of cycling heaven, climbing toward the ridge and the possible traverse along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Grandfather.

    But as we emerged from Shull’s Mill, the fog closely resembled that of Sherlock Holmes lore: thick, yielding to neither sun nor lantern. Approaching the on-ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway, riders were directed to stay on Route 211, which was more undulating, if a bit flatter than the Parkway, albeit with more foliage, more rain, and less fog.

    By this point, all of the riding in rain had caused my freehub to start making some grinding noises when I wasn’t pedaling. The water and road grime had found its way inside (I would later learn that my freehub had cracked at some point during the ride – ouch!). But it didn’t deter me, and I kept up a steady clip through the rainy deluge toward Grandfather Mountain.

    By mile 95, though, I started seeing yellow – I needed a nature break. Fortunately, at mile 97, an aid station beckoned, free of most riders and featuring a most welcome port-o-let. I went inside and let forth a stream that seemed to last forever, but only lasted about 90 seconds. During that time, the aid station volunteers topped off my water bottle – very nice.

    I got back on the bike, unencumbered by bladder complaints, and as I approached the turn to Grandfather Mountain, I let out a loud “WOO-HOO” to the state trooper who was flagging cyclists onto the road. He laughed, smiled, and cheered me on.

    The climb to Grandfather Mountain is exactly two miles from 211 to the summit. This road is only open to cyclists one day per year: for the Bridge-to-Bridge Cycling Challenge. So I knew that it had to be something special. The elevation profile is daunting: it opens with a 12-13 percent kicker, which leads to a flatter section at 5-8 percent that goes on for 300 meters, allowing some respite as you view the field where the post-ride party takes place. The road then kicks up with ramps of 16-18 percent, testing your mettle, followed by a short, false flat of 200 or so meters.

    And then it just. goes. up. The last 2/3 mile is foreboding. The road never dips below 13 percent. There are switchbacks and kickers that touch 18 to 19 percent. And the final 400 meters averages a steep 20 percent grade – no margin for error in terms of losing traction. Add into the mix the fact that the mountain was shrouded in fog and drizzle, and the whole thing seemed like something lifted from Lord of the Rings.

    I realized that I still had a lot in the tank at this point: the legs showed no signs of cramp, my feet didn’t bother me, my back was fine, my mind was sharp. I passed two riders on the initial ramp, after the guard station. I passed another 5 or 6 in the flatter section after that, and another rider at the next kicker. One of these riders had number 666, so I said, “hola, El Diablo!” as I passed him. In his tired state, it took him a few seconds to make the connection.

    All the while, I also passed a few riders who had stopped and pulled over. A couple were doubled-over in pain. One was violently emptying the contents of his digestive system on the side of the road, having cashed a larger “physical check” than his body could fund.

    I simply soldiered on, sitting in a powerful, if not overly rapid, spinning cadence. The photos taken by the official event photog (stationed about a mile from the finish, near Split Rock) show me at relative ease, which was the case.

    As I approached the switchbacks leading to the finish, the fog thickened, and I could hear the first sounds of the finish line: the cheers, the cowbells. I passed another rider on a 16 percent ramp, and another in the turn leading to the final stretch into the finish. Where a rider in front of me was tacking his bike up the ramp, I rode a straight, purposeful line to the top – which I still couldn’t see, due to the fog. Eventually, the shapes of the people and the summit station came into focus. My legs kept pumping rhythmically, moving me up the steep ramp, tires gripping the wet pavement. I reached the top of the ramp, made a hard, right turn to the timing mats, and was done.

    I didn’t make note of my time, even though I stopped my Garmin unit and my Cateye computer. I made a quick move toward the food table, where I drank approximately 20 ounces of Coca-Cola (the first Coke I’d had in a month, if not longer), ate grapes and peanut butter sandwiches, and finished my still-mostly-full water bottle.

    And I wore a smile that seemed like it was a mile wide.

    I didn’t know how far back Chris was, given I hadn’t seen him since mile 40 or so. So, after handing my bike to one of the Boy Scouts who were helping with the ferry down to the field, I explored the top of Grandfather Mountain park. To fight the chill, I donned the wool arm warmers that I’d carried with me in a jersey pocket for the entire ride. My change of clothes was down the mountain, so I had to make do walking in my bike shoes – not ideal, but workable.

    I cheered on fellow cyclists as they finished. I climbed up the stone stairs to the swinging bridge between two crags of the mountain. The mist truly made this place seem like Tolkien’s Misty Mountains, and when the cloud layer briefly cleared, the view of the town of Grandfather was lovely, indeed.

    Chris eventually came across the line around an hour after me, having suffered a flat tire on the Shull’s Mill climb. He was happy with his ride, as well.

    + Excellent ride organization, with great people running everything
    + Excellent support at the aid stations
    + State police controlling all intersections from the start until mile 40
    + Locals who turned out along the entire course, cheering all riders
    + The camaraderie of the riders, who all seemed to be of similarly friendly persona
    + The pre-ride street fest was awesome
    + The post-ride picnic and BBQ were top-notch
    + The finish on Grandfather Mountain – how could that not rock?

    + The long wait for a shuttle back to Lenoir – a bigger bus might work better than smaller vans paired with moving trucks

    You can see all of the pictures I took over the weekend by clicking here.

    * – I am a SmartWool Athlete Ambassador, so this could be considered an endorsement of their product – and I love the PhD socks!

    recovery update: day 74 (back on the horse)

    It’s been 74 days since my adductor/glute injury, and things are progressing well, albeit slowly.

    Four weeks ago, I was cleared to ride a bike indoors, and I’ve done a few indoor trainer sessions – not thrilling, but useful, as I’ve been able to work on weak points in my pedaling mechanics.

    Three weeks ago, I was cleared to ride my bike outdoors for commuting, slow and steady, spinning the entire time. That was a very uplifting thing, and I’ve enjoyed every pedal stroke along the way.

    Not long after, my doctor gave me the OK to ride longer distances outdoors, limited by time and intensity (i.e. no big “dancing on the pedals” climbs, no sprints, mostly a smooth spin).

    And I hadn’t really put that last step to the test until last Wednesday, when the Potomac Pedalers’ “Downtown Breakaway” (DTB) ride embarked on its third installment for the season. I had my doctor’s marching orders:

    – Nothing intense.
    – Ride no more than 1:15.
    – Spin a lot – a lot!

    So I rode up to Mitchell Park, where the ride starts, for the first time this season, having walked up the first two times simply to sign people in. I said hello to all my friends, introduced myself to the new DTB riders, and shoved off with the group at 6:00pm.

    And it was great!

    Yes, I was slower than usual, and on the one major climb I did, I was dropped almost immediately by most of the riders. But I was all smiles.

    I ended up riding “sweep,” which was good, as I was able to direct some riders who hadn’t grabbed a cue sheet with ride directions (the DTB route is, to say the least, chock full of twists and turns in its first half).

    So I ended up covering 15.1 miles in 1:04, climbing a little under 1,000 feet along the way.

    I followed up with some stretching, the new routine.

    Since then, my doctor has approved longer rides, and I’ve been out with Chris and Ed on a loop out of Glen Echo (31.1 miles), and on this week’s DTB, where I went for 25 miles and wasn’t the last one up the Chain Bridge Road climb (though I was still far from the front).

    So I’m back on the horse. By no measure am I ready to tackle big rides (especially ones with big, long climbs), but those will come around in due time. And physical therapy continues off the bike: deep tissue massage, a lot of stretching, resistance work, more stretching – this will remain the case for at least another 4 to 6 weeks.

    For now, though, I’m happy to be riding again.

    cycling log: 25 june 2011 (diabolical double)

    Activity: road cycling
    Location: McHenry, MD (Wisp Mountain Resort)
    Distance: 125.38 miles (many steep and technical climbs and descents)
    Duration: 8:25 (9:17 with stoppage time)
    Weather: overcast and cool, occasional drizzle, 59-71 degrees
    Climbing: 15,913′
    Avg HR: 154 (max 183)
    Type: aerobic

    Last year, I rode the Diabolical Double – a.k.a. the Garrett County Gran Fondo – and called it “truly diabolical.”

    And it still is – but this time, I was prepared.

    Oh sure, in 2010 I believed I was ready, and I probably was, by and large. However, this year things simply were, well, better.

    The ride organizers tweaked some of the checkpoints, adding an extra one between Westernport and Deer Park to prevent the mass dehydration spectacle that plagued the field last year.

    I equipped my bike with lower gearing, taking my own advice from last year to heart.

    I stayed at the base of Wisp the night before the ride, which was a big plus, as any extra sleep netted before the 7:00am start is “money” (i.e. energy) in the bank.

    I ate a dinner that was balanced “comfort” food: Mexican, with plenty of protein and carbs and a little bit of fat, chased by a locally-brewed oatmeal stout and plenty of water.

    And the next morning, it looked dank, misty and cloudy – possibly the best part of ride day.

    In 2010, it was sunny and hot for the ride, especially after dropping down to Westernport and during the climbs back out of the river valley. It was at this point last year where I ran into a battle against dehydration.

    But this year was different – very different.

    Chris and I drove out to McHenry on Friday afternoon, shortly after he picked up his new bike (yes, he rode a 125 mile event on a brand new bicycle – he’s a brave man), and marveled at the undulating geography that would present itself to us first-hand the next day. After checking into the hotel and meeting up with Mark, we headed to dinner at the Santa Fe Grill to eat the aforementioned Mexican dinner, then headed to the local grocery to pick up breakfast rations (our hotel room had a fridge, so fresh juice and yogurt were nice breakfast perks). We settled down around 10:30pm.

    The alarm went off at 5:00am – a painful hour, but I managed to get moving rather quickly. We wanted to be on the road to the summit of Wisp (only a 2 mile drive) by 6, as there could be a traffic jam as people arrive for the event. This year, the field was expanded to 600 riders in the various distances, with approximately 250-300 of them riding the 125 and 100-mile rides. We arrived at the summit by 6:15, prepared the bikes and decided how to approach the cool, misty morning. While Chris opted to go with short sleeves and shorts (he thrives in the cold), I opted to layer a long-sleeve tech shirt under my Connecticut College jersey, knowing that I could doff it at either of the first two checkpoints. Mark also opted for a warm layer that was a bit more substantial, made of wool.

    After the usual pre-event running around (the queue for the men’s bathroom was long, though only for the toilet stalls – thank goodness I didn’t need them!), we moseyed over to the start area around 6:55, where we met up with Tim, Mike, Jeff, and John, waiting for the end of the pre-ride announcements (“this is not a race… be careful on the descents… you still need sunscreen, even on a cloudy day…”). Of this group of Potomac Pedalers riders, I was the only one who had previously ridden the course, so I knew that the initial descent might be a bit scrappy.

    So when the starting call went out at 7:11am, I made sure to work my way toward the front. Tim did the same, while the others hung back a little ways. So the descent wasn’t bad for me at all, while others, according to Chris, experienced flat tires from…. well, who knows what. Within the first few miles, I had distanced myself from my crowd and settled into a nice pace through the first two checkpoints.

    I spent very little time at the checkpoints: 5 minutes at the first one, maybe 10 at the second one. I saw Jeff again at the second stop, as he was arriving and I was departing. I dropped off my base layer at checkpoint two, and while it was a chilly start for the third leg of the ride, it was a good move as I wasn’t in any risk of overheating. I was eating and drinking well, too – things just seemed right.

    The third leg of the ride is the hardest in terms of hills. While previous hills were steep, they weren’t particularly long, so it was possible to power up the slopes and recover quickly. The hills on leg three, however, were long, steep and relentless. Bowman Road and “Killer” Miller are epic climbs that, while separated by eight miles, seem to lie atop each other. Both feature sustained steep sections that, while scenic, wear on legs that have over 45 miles of other hills already under foot. I tapped into my power and made it up them without much difficulty, and wasn’t passed by many people as I climbed – in fact, I passed people on both the climbs and the descents, which served not only to build my confidence, but also put me in the position where I was riding with very few people close by.

    The third checkpoint was another shorter stop, where I considered leaving my car keys for Chris – he originally stated his intent to ride only the century on his new bike, which would have put him back at Wisp at least an hour ahead of me. In hindsight, I’m glad I kept them with me. The next section included a lovely dirt road segment, where I bombed past a team of triathletes on time trial bikes. Let me state for the record: I have no idea why anybody would ride a TT bike on this course! The terrain is ill-suited for the extreme geometry of a TT bike, and even if it is equipped with better climbing gears, it’s still best suited for, well, a TT or flatter triathlon stage.


    After descending into Westernport (where I did not climb “The Wall” this time, and where the temperature was in the low-70s), I pulled into the Luke P.O. checkpoint to the cheers of excited volunteers (as a side note: all of the volunteers at this event are so positive and supportive, and they make a huge difference to the riders). I spent a few minutes chatting with the women at this stop, all the while drinking (water, HEED and Coke) and eating (mixed nuts and PB&J sandwiches), knowing that the upcoming segment was my undoing in 2010.

    I got back on the road (again, to much cheering from the volunteers), and started up the Route 46 climb into West Virginia. This is a longer, more “western style” climb that isn’t very steep, but is very tough after 86 miles of riding. One of the few people I saw during the ride – Tom, from Baltimore – joined me on the climb and we chatted the whole way up, all the while keeping up a brisk pace. This continued to the top, where I distanced myself on the descent (broke 50 mph on the bike for the third of five times on the ride), and he spun back up for the climb. We pulled into the new rest stop at mile 100 (Kitzmiller, MD), and I made it a very quick stop to top off the (still mostly full) bottles and drink a quick cup of Coke. Tom also made it a quick stop, and we both scaled North Hill at a nice pace: not too hard, but not slow, either.

    As I passed the Deer Park water spigot at mile 103, I remembered spending a lot of time there last year, trying to cool down and re-hydrate. But not this year.

    Pulling into checkpoint six in the town of Deer Park, Tom got a spot of cramp (he’d never ridden more than 87-or-so miles in one day before the DD), and after a quick stop, I left him behind and forged on toward Wisp.

    13 of the final 15 miles are mostly mild rollers, with one steep climb up to US 219. The road passes farms and hugs the shore of Deep Creek Lake, passing vacation houses large and small, new and old, most available for rental (something to consider next ski season or, indeed, at next year’s DD). This is ideal time to enjoy the scenery and spin any lactic acid out of the legs (if possible), because….

    ….the final two miles up to the top of Wisp are a killer climb. Actually, only the first 3/4 mile is tough: a 13-15% grind to the ridgeline that is the summit of Wisp. Fortunately, Tri Team Z had established a wonderful cheering station for riders. I passed many riders who were cramping terribly on this pitch, and I cheered them on as I spun past, legs feeling remarkably fresh. As I rounded the final turn toward the finish, I upped my speed, and I finished the ride in a standing sprint, with many cheering me on.

    I heard the finish timer say “4:28….” as I passed.

    Wait a minute: nine hours and seventeen minutes?!?!?

    Hot damn! I had eclipsed the previous year’s time by over two hours!

    Needless to say, I was elated! I let out a cheer, pumped my fist, then proceeded to the scorer’s table to get my finisher’s shirt. I was 23rd over the line for the day amongst the long-haul riders (125 and 100-mile riders), which made me even more amazed.

    It was a perfect ride: perfect preparation and execution.

    I cheered on many others who finished after me. Mike, John, Chris and Mark all made it across a while after I did. Tim crossed at some point, as I never saw him again after the morning. Jon and Elizabeth arrived back, as well. And we all celebrated a great day of riding with beer and pizza at a local brewery that evening.

    Another diabolical day, somehow made anything but. I’ll take it!

    (Note: the ride is also a fundraiser for the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation, and I’m still raising money for this worthy cause. Click here to donate – thank you!)

    cycling log: 17 july 2010 (giro di coppi)

    Activity: road cycling
    Location: Barnesville, MD
    Distance: 38.75 miles (rolling hills)
    Duration: 1:54
    Weather: very hot and sticky, 95-105°F
    Climbing: 2,025′
    Avg HR: 158 (max 188)
    Type: aerobic

    As my token tip ‘o’ the hat to bike racing in 2010, I returned to the Giro di Coppi, a race I last competed in back in 2008. That year, the race was rained out on its initial date (a hurricane-induced rain), so it was rescheduled for September, when the weather in the DC area is a bit cooler than in July.

    So how was it this July?




    Seriously, it was a very tough day for racing in Barnesville.

    The Cat 5 men started their race at 1pm, when the air temperature was already in the mid-90s (°F), with temperatures on exposed tarmac topping 101-105°. My group raced three laps of a 12.5 mile loop, which can be seen here and here.

    There was a neutral roll out to the start from the Barnesville School, at the intersection of Barnesville and Peach Tree Roads, so we started out on an uphill – always a tough start, even after some warm-up riding on Peach Tree Road’s gentle hills. The route is rolling, covering a lot of familiar ground for Potomac Pedalers (PPTC) folk, albeit at a faster pace than usually seen on club rides and with the ability to really fly through the corners at warp speed – and all of it with a police escort!

    I rode primarily with Shaun Sohljou (a fellow PPTC member) and his Whole Wheel Velo Club teammates, though I also did a bit of work with the DCMTB guys (I raced with their team, as a guest, in ’08). I made sure to keep Shaun and his guys in contact with the lead group the whole time, as that’s the key to this race: stay in the front pack and attack on the uphill leading toward the start/finish line. That way, you’ll be in the mix at the end, and anything can happen.

    Rudi racing the 2010 Giro di Coppi

    I'm racing here, on the right-hand side. It was HOT!

    Did I mention it was hot? Well, that heat took its toll on the field, and I was no exception. I went out of the blocks with three bottles (one in my jersey pocket), and knew from friends who raced the 1/2/3 race that 4 or 5 bottles would be the minimum for this. So I made sure to hydrate well before the start, ate well, etc., and still it was tough to stay on top of hydration and keep up with the pack. But I managed, and helped Shaun and his teammates bridge some gaps and stay well in touch with the leaders.

    At the latter end of lap 2, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace for all three laps, given the heat, so I ramped up my speed and helped Shaun match an acceleration that was instigated by DCMTB and NCVC heading toward the start/finish line. After I was sure that Shaun was near the front, I dropped off, slowly drifting back and settling into a pace that wasn’t necessarily slow, but wasn’t full race pace, either. I joined a few other riders in this quest (“the quest for top 30 placement”), and we rode out the rest of the race, with my legs finding a bit of zip after Kirstin handed off a bottle to me during lap 3 that I used to both drink and douse myself, allowing me to pass some of the crowd in the final kilometer. I finished 18th, a few minutes behind the crowd.

    And Shaun? He placed 4th behind two Squadra Coppi guys and (I believe) an ABRT guy. Not a bad way to finish in his last outing as a Cat 5.

    The picture was taken near the end of lap 2, I think. And yes, I wore the PPTC colors in the race – gotta love that!

    And boy, was I worn out that night! I slept like a brick.

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