Under the moon, in the dark, playing with the camera.
A week ago I rode the NERds VT 400k Brevet. I had planned on being in organizer mode, but when a solid group of folks pre-registered and I figured that day of registrations would be minimal – I decided to ride. The weather was going to be near perfect, and I’d be able to connect with old friends at our halfway stop.
Our ride started in Waterbury, VT and would circle the state clockwise, running east to Montpelier, then south to Roxbury, Woodstock, Springfield, and Putney. From Putney we would jog southwest to Newfane, and then turn north and climb to Grafton and Chester. From Chester west to Ludlow, then turn the wheels north on Rt. 100 to Waterbury. 258 miles, ~16,000′ of climbing. A big day.
I rode with a few of the starters to Montpelier, and then settled in as Lanterne Rouge. Wil, Tom, and I would leapfrog each other throughout the day, and eventually saddleup together for the home stretch through the night. Having not planned on riding anything longer than a 300k this year I made a worst case scenario plan based on the amount of climbing and my general fitness. My endurance base is there, but I’ve only just started working on speed and intensity, focusing on further weight loss and core strength. Wil vowed to stick with me if I committed…
We rolled into Roxbury ahead of schedule, topped off water and grabbed a snack. Our next control was 94 miles away, nearly a century, and we were just getting warmed up. Everything on Rt. 12a seemed to flow through to Randolph, where we stopped for a convenience store breakfast. We met up with Tom again, just as he was heading out on his Rivendell. Randolph to Bethel had choppy pavement and a fair amount of traffic for a Saturday morning. When we hit Bethel the road turned up for ~8 miles. I settled in to spin over the top, wherever it was. Wil stopped at the general store in Barnard and then later to shed layers – allowing me the rare chance of getting over the top first. The drop down into Woodstock was a blast – we spun along at 30-35 mph for what felt like an eternity.
We passed through Woodstock proper and made a stop at the South Woodstock General Store, and followed 106 to Springfield. We made a quick stop outside of Springfield to top off bottles and calories as I wanted to make the final stretch to the next control without venturing off route for supplies. I was starting to notice the heat – all 68 degrees of it. As we left Springfield the road turned up. It bordered on ridiculous as I cursed the organizer for sending us up 12-16-18% grades on our way to Saxton’s River. The climbing on this stretch seemed to go on forever, with Wil actually getting off to walk and talk to me as I grannied up the final pitch. Over the top and the rain let loose. At first we opted to ride it out, only to stop under the next set of trees to suit up into rain jackets. Aside from trying to bomb a descent in a sheet of water – the rain was welcome, and after the initial downpour it settled in as a pleasant drizzle that lasted until just south of Saxton’s River. The final push to the control was over Westminster West – another climb – passing washed out driveways and lots of downed branches and leaves in the road. We rolled into the West Hill Shop ahead of schedule – crossing paths with Tom again. We were just in time for lunch and a party – the shop was celebrating their 40th anniversary and at least a hundred people had just finished a long road or mountain bike ride to celebrate. Real food was consumed and I caught up (quickly) with familiar faces. Wil and I were easy conversation targets – wolfing down food, soaking wet and filthy, with odd luggage, lights, and cue sheets strapped to our bikes.
We rolled out ahead of schedule to tackle the terrain to the Dummerston Covered bridge. 15+ miles, and it hurt. I’ve done this stretch of road so many times when I lived in town – but with 125 miles in your legs the 18% kick at the end and the steep switchbacks hurt. Alot. I clawed my way over the top for the ripping descent, feeling completely spent. And we were just halfway.
The route then took a mild turn up Rt. 30 to Newfane and a grocery store / market. On the wide shoulder of Rt. 30 I pulled my feet out of my shoes and slipped off my socks in hopes of drying them before nightfall. When I pulled into the control there was no sign of Tom, but Wil was soundly asleep in the ditch.
The last few years has had me baffled by what to eat on long rides. Things that used to work have failed me, and GI issues were the cause of my DNF on a recent 400k out of Boston. This time out I couldn’t let stomach issues be a show stopper – so I stuck with foods that I’ve had previous success with – until I got to Newfane. I knew that I needed to get my electrolytes back in balance, and I know that sports drinks available at gas stations and convenience stores often send my stomach south – so after a bathroom break and face washing I popped 3 lactaids (to be sure!) and downed the most satisfying chocolate milk I’ve ever had. I chased that with some salty chips, reloaded the water bottles, and grabbed a ginger ale for good measure. Within 15 minutes I felt like a new person. Ready to roll I found Wil still asleep in the ditch. He started moving, got his card stamped and reloaded, and we were off again. I burned more time than I had wanted at this control – but I felt refreshed as we rolled out – and we were still ahead of schedule. Next up – 31 miles to Ludlow, via Grafton and Chester. With plenty more climbing, as day turned to dusk.
The route to Grafton is superb. I’ve always enjoyed the climb – and with 140 miles in my legs it still was some fine cycling. Roaring creek to your right, no traffic, smooth pavement, daylight fading but glowing on the tops of hills, and the peepers starting to peep. Up over the top and you are rewarded with a rolling 6-7 miles into town. A few quick turns and we were climbing our way up and out of town, for what felt like forever. Up and over the top we dropped into Chester in the dark. I really enjoyed watching Wil’s tail light twist and turn as he tucked into curves and was able to pick my line well ahead of time following his lead. We passed through Chester and turned up VT 103 for 12 miles to Ludlow. Wil took off ahead of me and we agreed to meet at the next control. I struggled for this section – it was one of those ‘longest 12 miles of my life’ portions of the ride. My feet were still wet, it was dark, nearing 10pm, I was calorie deficient, and what I remembered as a relatively flat road had several not so subtle climbs between me and a break. I moved pretty slowly, but rolled into Ludlow still ahead of my schedule – and found Wil and Tom stocking up for our final leg – 85 miles to the finish with no resupply save water at the 41 mile mark. My pictures fade away here. Lots of work to do in the darkness.
I took some extra time grabbing calories and extra liquids, and snagged 2 plastic bags from the clerk. Returning to my bike I had a yard sale and reorganized my kit, then tucked my wet feet into the bags and then into my shoes. I donned my rainlegs to ward off the chill, and put my rain jacket on to keep in the heat. The rain legs would come off 5 miles up the road – too warm – but the jacket and the bags would stay on until just about the end. The three of us rolled out onto Rt. 100 for a night of riding what some folks think is one of the more scenic roads in the state.
The miles out of Ludlow ticked by predictably and I focused on how far I’d come, and what was left to do. I had a few goals in mind for the ride and was checking them off in my head – the biggest goal was to make it halfway in good time without burning out. That was surprisingly easier than I thought it was going to be. Following on that I knew that if I could get to Ludlow I knew I could finish. After Ludlow I had just two minor goals – get Killington behind me, and gracefully climb Granville Gulf with 230 miles in my legs.
Killington and River Rd. came and went with a quick stop in Bridgewater to regroup. We pressed north – sometimes riding together and chatting, sometimes drifting apart into our own tunnels of light and darkness. I think we had 6 cars pass us through the night – 2 of them some kids screaming nonsense out the windows. Near Stockbridge revelers at a bonfire cheered me on – which put some pep into my spin. I caught back up to Wil and Tom as we entered Rochester for a break on Green Mountain Bike’s front porch. We reloaded water at their fountain and I cleared out pretty much every calorie I had with me – everything I thought I’d want I didn’t – so my choices were limited, as were our options – all services north of Ludlow close at 10pm (and many do not open until 7) – so we were on our own until the finish. Feeling refreshed we headed for Granville.
We made good time to town and the road tipped up. This was the last speed bump to get over – the remaining route – while not flat, was relatively easy. I lost Tom and Wil to the grade, and somehow managed a strong climb, at 3:30am, with 230 miles in my legs. The terrain through the gulf closes in on both sides of the road as it twists upward, and a creek follows you. Before the top, from the south you pass a series of waterfalls – scenic in daylight – surreal after dark. Surrounded by trees and water and darkness the sound was what I remember most vividly. Unreal, and inspiring – the roaring of the water at times deafening and overpowering what little other senses I had available. Truly inspiring despite some oncoming pain and the fatigue I was fighting.
Over the top I passed Wil napping in the ditch and Tom raiding his handlebar bag. As I rode ahead I pulled out something I’d been saving all night – and enjoyed the most amazing Twix bar I’ve ever had. Simply delicious.
Somewhere on the flat(ish) top of the Gulf I saw what looked like mud on the road, then heard something very large splash into one of the ponds to my left. I circled back just as my companions arrived and we scanned the woods for moose. Our lights turned up nothing – but the thought of dodging a 1200 pound animal had me riding cautiously on the descent into Warren.
From Warren to the finish everything is a blur. Wil and Tom were having trouble staying awake – so I shared some caffeinated gel with them. I also tried to engage Wil in chit chat – which derailed into me sing songing nursery rhymes and finally querying him math problems. He apparently had enough and he sprinted off the front in an effort to wake up. I’d see him again up the road cat napping on a bench as I rode by. The last 20 miles were tough. They didn’t make it into ‘death march’ category – but fatigue, lack of sleep over 30+ hours, some saddle pain, my stomach complaining about anything I’d eat, and being calorie deficient all compiled to make for a long slog. I spent a fair amount of time standing on this stretch, and at one point I got off and walked for about a half mile. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the ride – so I just geared way down and crawled along at 6-8 mph. Those last 10 miles were mental agony looking at my computer. Moving so slow… and so close to being done.
Wil and Tom rode on ahead, and I proudly carried the Lanterne Rouge to the finish for a 25.5 hour time.
~16k of climbing
Rain, sun, twisty descending, steep climbing.
What worked – chocolate milk, real food, Twix bar, Sport Beans, Nunn tablets
What needs work – saddle interface after 200 miles started to hurt, and while my endurance base is strong – I need to push for speed and intensity – climbing well is the only way to ride fast in this terrain
The usual suspects have built a solid team for the Northeast Flèche 2009, have scouted, mapped, and controlled a route, and sent in our application. The ride is patterned on the Flèche Vellocio that has run in France since the late 1940’s. The modern ACP Flèches USA is a 24 hour team randonneuring event that takes place each spring with groups of 3-5 randonneurs embarking on rides of a minimum of 360 kilometers over a period of 24 hours. There are subtle rules about control points, brevet card verification for proof of passage, two hours maximum stopping time at any one control, and the need to document your location at the 22 hour and 24 hour mark.
The spirit of the ride is simple – head off into the day (or night) and keep moving as a team for 24 hours. Most routes are designed as one way ‘arrows’ targeting the regional destination where all teams meet. The Northeast rides have historically ended in Westfield, Massachusetts – teams from Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire all point their wheels to this location. Routes are devised by each team – so groups may try to get in as many miles as they can, while others ride the minimum required for certification (note that everyone gets ‘credit’ for the same 360k). All savor the time on the bike and the chance to tell the sometimes epic tales that come from being in motion through day and night in all weather over varying terrain.
We’ve called our route a ‘Green Mountain Ramble’. We plan to leave from Burlington and head south along Vermont Route 100 to Ludlow (passing through Waitsfield, Warren, and Killington). After dinner in Ludlow (and as night falls) we climb to Grafton and then cross into familiar territory at Saxton’s River and on to Putney where we will have a planned two hour sleep control at the West Hill Shop. As the moon rises we head into Brattleboro, cross into New Hampshire and flow down the Connecticut River Valley to Northfield, Massachusetts (for late night coffee at a friend’s), Amherst for breakfast, and then on to the finish in Westfield.
Rode a great out and back century to Montpelier. Snapped a picture of the golden dome and enjoyed a snack at Capital Grounds before heading back home. Managed good time on the relatively flat route along the Winooski River – I had a headwind for most of the way back and only struggled over the last 10 miles. I started in the late afternoon and finished well after dark. I used the ride as a shakedown for some gear that I plan on using on my upcoming brevets. I really like the Carradice SQR Tour bag and I spent some time fine tuning my lights.
I’ve been feeling much better since last month’s sufferfest. I’ve added some intensity to my training mix after (hopefully) building a large enough endurance base to have a successful (and more intense) summer season. I’m also close to working with a coach – not that I need one for competition purposes – but I’ve been looking for someone who can work with me to focus my limited training time for the greatest benefits as well as direct me to make healthy on and off bike nutrition choices. I’ve interviewed a few folks via email and had a great one on one discussion today with a professor at UVM’s human performance lab.
I picked up a Petzl e+Lite about a month ago at my local EMS. I really like this little light – I’ve been using it on after dark runs, on my cycling helmet, and even while installing a ceiling fan. I’m using the e+Lite as a helmet mounted compliment to my Schmidt powered lights. The combination of the white and red LEDs in the same package sold me – white light for repairs and as needed for extra road illumination – and red light (which preserves night vision) for reading cues and cockpit illumination.
The light runs on 2 Lithium CR2032 batteries. They fit in the head unit behind the LEDs, are easy to change, and appear to be available in most convenience, hardware, and grocery stores (I’ve been checking locally). Published run times are 35 hours on maximum and 45 hours on economy. I’ve gone through about 20 hours of use and have not noticed a fall off in brightness on either setting. With batteries installed the published weight of the light and strap is 27 grams.
Light is generated by 3 white LEDs and 1 red LED. White has 3 settings – maximum, economy, and flash. White maximum is bright enough to read street signs at some distance on a moonless night while cycling, as well as fully illuminating my handlebars and a patch of ground directly in front of me. White economy puts out ample enough light to run along the unlit lakefront MUP on a moonless night, read my cyclocomputer, make adjustments to my bike, or fuss with the digicam. Red has two settings – maximum and flash. The red light is perfect for cockpit illumination and cue reading when helmet mounted – and would work well mounted to my stem or a cue holder. It has also worked well for off bike rummaging through my seatpack. Flash for both colors works as advertised.
The e+Lite comes with an elastic band for head wearing, as well as an integral clip that will work on hats and helmets with some creatively placed strapping. The body of the light swivels on an integral ball / socket connection to the clamp. Positioning the light exactly where you need it is easy – no tightening mechanisms or special cams to deal with – although the light is small enough that this is a bit clumsy to do wearing lobster gloves for winter cycling.
I’ve had the e+Lite out for several night runs and both short and long night rides. Currently I’m not in need of cue navigating on my local routes so I’ve been using it primarily for cyclocomputer reading and off bike lighting. It works perfectly for this – and I plan on adding this to my long distance cycling kit.
I had a wonderful full moon ride out around Mt. Philo and back. It was noticeably colder on the Spear St. side of the ride – as I turned at the halfway point the wind seemed to shift and I shed a layer as I began the return. I caught glimpses of Bolton Valley lit for night skiing, and when the moon peaked from behind the clouds I saw Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield in the distance. I’ve been inside on the rollers and spent some time running the past few weeks – so getting out on the road and watching the moon and the stars was a wonderful start to the new year. I covered 43 1/2 miles in mild January temperatures. My pace is well below that of last fall as I’m continuing to build my winter base. As I cleared the traffic in town and made it to some less travelled roads I longed for the speed and fitness I had last fall, and the long summer rides that got me there.
I’ve been using some new gear with mixed results:
The Petzl e+Lite continues to work well on my helmet as a cockpit reading light (using the red LED). Set to high with the 3 white LEDs it worked great for handling the camera and digging though my saddle bag as I changed layers, as well as for throwing enough light at low speeds for street sign navigation.
I had my first ride with the Cactus Creek Reflective Vest I purchased from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I’ve worn it out running and have been pleased with the fit – seeing as it was designed for cycling I’m even happier with it on the bike. Reflective materials on the front and back which spillover to the sides, and 3 pockets on the rear that I can use when I can’t access my jersey pockets. Its nice to see that someone has finally designed a cycling accessory that includes pockets on the back! Most of my jackets have a single zippered pocket – which for distance riding has limited uses – I like to tuck extra food, the digicam, and my gel flask in the rear pockets. The pockets on the vest are a bit tricky to get in and out of – but for now I’ll assume it has to do with the winter gloves I’m wearing – and if need be as warm weather approaches I’ll modify the stitching a bit with some elastic. So far the vest is a welcome addition to my long distance riding gear – and a cycling specific replacement to the disappointing Amphipod sash I have been using.
I’m not yet sold on the Schwalbe Marathons I’ve been running. I like the relfective sidewall and appreciate Scwalbe’s tradition of developing tough tires that resist wear and tear from the road (flats!), but they just don’t feel as good on the road as the Continental GP 4 Seasons I used last year. The Schwalbe’s feel squirmy during high speed descents – and with their tread design and interior flat protection layer they seem to develop a noticeable “hum” going down the road. I’ll give them through the winter and early spring – but my gut tells me I’ll be moving back to a more traditional road slick come next Brevet season.