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600k Wrap Up

Posted by admin on Jun 22, 2009 in Mind
Click here for a gallery of photos from the 2009 600k

Click here for a gallery of photos from the Davis Bike Club's 2009 600k brevet

I rode in the Davis Bike Club 600k on June 5-7. I should have written about it earlier, but haven’t had the time. Sorry. Long story short, as they say: rode it straight through without sleep. The ride was 378 miles (not counting the the 10-mile roundtrip to the start/finish). It took me 30.5 hours, which is 30 minutes longer than my anticipated best time. If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be this: Brutal.

Which is not to say it was a bad experience. In fact, in many ways, it was the opposite of my Davis Double Century experience. I was happy with my riding, happy with the way the ride went, and I learned a lot of things that I think will get me through the Gold Rush Randonnée.

But it was a very uncomfortable ride, and at times, a very unpleasant ride. Parts of it, especially near the end, were just no fun at all.

The interesting thing is that none of the riding was particularly challenging physically. There was climbing, some hills . . . but nothing as tough as Cobb Mountain on the Double Century, for instance. And I now realize that the the long, tedious stretches of the ride – a slow 70 miles up Feather River Canyon, the circumnavigation of Indian Valley, and the long straight slogs through the Central Valley – were exactly the kind of riding that makes people tell you that a long ride is far more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

It was challenging physically only because I didn’t sleep. I am certain that if I stopped at the 400k mark, napped for a few hours then went on, the rest of the ride would have been fine.

So, you’re asking, why didn’t I at least take a nap. Good question! The organization that sanctions brevets in the US is called RUSA, Randonneurs USA. They give you a handbook when you join. One of the articles in the book talks about training for a 1200k like the GRR. The author recommends riding the 600k straight through as sample of the fatigue you will experience on the 1200k:

If you aspire to do a 1200k, don’t pamper yourself. Instead, intentionally make things tougher since doing such a long ride is essentially all about suffering, and how to ignore it. . . . I would strongly suggest that if you aspire to do a 1200k, then endeavor to do a sleepless 600k precisely because it is so much harder than doing it with some rest. Afterward, this will give you better confidence to tackle The Big One.

Made sense to me, so I tried it. Unfortunately, it actually had the opposite effect on me. The entire second part of the 600k, I went over and over in my mind how stupid this kind of riding was and how I was going to drop the idea of riding the 1200k. A straight 600k didn’t give me confidence; it brought me to my senses. For a while anyway. By the day after the ride, I was applying what I had learned and determining that I could ride an enjoyable 1200k if I did it right. The recipe? Eat and sleep. But more about that later.

By the way, they for the ability of long distance riders to forget how miserable the last ride was is called “randonesia.”

As to the ride . . . the next three entries pretty much cover it.

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Outbound leg

Posted by admin on Jun 22, 2009 in Mind

The ride started at 8pm Friday. This was my first nighttime start. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but nighttime starts are really hard. It’s one thing to wake ay 4am, get dressed, and start riding. It’s another thing entirely to have full day behind you right before you start. I took an afternoon nap. But still, I was up for 36 hours straight. I’m too old for that.

There were just over 30 riders total (down from nearly 150 for the 200k!). We went out at a reasonable pace and hung together pretty well. I ended up in the second group of about ten bikes, including two tandems. All was going very nicely until about mile 35. It was dark by then. Someone up front did something, and people put on the brakes, and Glenn Mounkes, a Davis Bike Club rider I ride a lot with, ran into the back of a tandem and went down. It turned out that he broke his collar bone. Fortunately, a SAG vehicle was only 10 minutes away, and we got him to the hospital quickly. But that cast a pall over the ride. For the next few hours, I kept replaying what went wrong, what we all did wrong, and how we could have avoided the accident. If there’s one thing you have a lot of time to do on a 400 mile ride, it’s think. That’s not always a good thing.

After the accident, we were down to a group of three: Paul Guttenberg, Mario, and me. We rolled northeast across the Central Valley farmland for about 100 miles until we started up some rollers and made our way into Oroville. Larry “The Legend” and Dee Burdick ran this stop. And even though it was about 2:30 in the morning, they acted like it was Sunday afternoon and had had invited us over for lunch. They were making sandwiches and coffee and chatting like it was normal to be entertaining guests at that time. Very pleasant.

From there, we headed across Lake Oroville and up into the Feather River Canyon. Paul dropped back in the hills, and Mario and I rode ahead. The two of us ended up doing the rest of the ride together, which worked out nicely.

Now, I could go on a turn by turn account of the Feather River Canyon, but that’d be kind of dull. It all boils down to this: It’s a spectacularly beautiful canyon that rises into the Sierra Nevada mountains and goes on, and on, and on. I thought it was never going to fucking end. The leg from Oroville to our next control at Tobin was 50 miles, and our first turn after that was another 20 miles on. That’s 70 miles of more or less continuous light climbing. It was torture.

Plus, we delayed our trip by close to an hour due to mechanical issues. My gear shifter cable broke (at Tobin, luckily, where a SAG with replacement cables was sitting), and down the road, Mario split a tire on a rock.

After hours of riding, we finally turned off the canyon road and headed into Indian Valley. It was mid-morning now, and we were both ready for a break. But the next control, in Taylorsville, was still over 20 miles away. As it turns out, we had to bypass a direct route to Taylorsville, and instead, circle the entire valley to get there. That was frustrating, to say the least. So, on the one hand, I was thinking, “This is really an amazingly beautiful place,” and at the same time thinking, “I’m fucking sick and tired of looking at this gorgeous fucking valley.” We were just over 200 miles at the turnaround point here, and I really needed a break. There was a very comfortable looking restaurant in Greenville, the main town. But as we usually do, we passed right by on our quest to make it to our next check point.

Well, we got there and ate and sat around for a while, then, eventually, got going again. Mario made a classic mistake: he tried something new in the middle of a long ride. He drank some coffee to help stay awake, and he’s not a coffee drinker. That decision came to haunt him later in the ride.

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Inbound leg

Posted by admin on Jun 22, 2009 in Mind

So, there we were. About 16 hours into the ride, fed and rested, sort of, and sitting at 3500 feet of elevation with nowhere to go but back down into the Central Valley. Things were looking good.

We started out nicely away from Taylorsville and back to the base of Indian Valley. All was fine until we got back to Highway 70, which runs through Feather River Canyon. Instead of a nice gradual downhill, we were met by a headwind that made the downhill just as hard as the uphill. So we fought our way back to Tobin, the 400k mark on the ride. That was as far as I had ever ridden a bike, and now I was beat. Mario was hurting too. The coffee was hurting his stomach.

After an hour-long break we got going again. We made Oroville around dinner time. Larry and Dee had bought some veggie rolls for me, and they had ice cream, which was a real treat. We left there near sunset feeling much better now that we were out of the canyon and its headwinds and were heading into the flats. I think we expected to make good time.

Things went nicely until it got dark. Then Mario started to fade, so we slowed the pace. Not long after, once it was completely dark, something really interesting happened. Time seemed to slow way down. I don’t know how to explain it. But I can go out and ride for two or three hours and barely notice the time passing. This ride just got tortuously slow. Our pace wasn’t too bad. But in the darkness, with nothing but long straight stretches of flat road between us and home, the ride started to seem pointless and endless.

I kept making the mistake of calculating how long we had left, how many miles and how long each leg wold take. Very dispiriting. We didn’t talk, and without words, shared the load by alternating turns in front. In a different state of mind, it would have been a beautiful ride. We were passing beautiful rice fields. The moon was full. There were thousands and thousands of frogs in the ditches alongside the road for miles and miles. No cars to bother us. Really an extraordinarily peaceful ride. But when you’re as tired as I was, it is hard to enjoy all of that even if you can appreciate it.  Even still, it seemed like it would be a mellow, if boring, ride back to Davis.

Then the wind started up.

It was a south easterly wind – a rare direction here – and for the most part, it was right in our face. The closer we got to Davis, the stronger the wind became. There were stretches where I was hoping a SAG wagon would pass by, stop, and offer to pick us up. I felt we deserved it. I really thought that we should be given a pass on completing the ride because we had put up such a good effort so far. But no dice. No SAGs passed us, and even if one had, I probably wouldn’t have gotten in.

We caught up to two other riders and the four of us rode together, silently, for some miles. We reached a point where we had to stop and answer a question on our brevet card to prove we rode the correct route. When we were done, I suggested that we take a five minute nap. No one said anything, but everyone laid down. It was peaceful lying there around midnight on a deserted levee road, feeling the warm asphalt and the cool wind. I wished I had said ten minutes.

But we were soon up and moving again. A little while later, Mario pulled over and said he’d catch up to us. I thought he had to pee. Not long after, we stopped in Knights Landing, the next town, for a brief snack. After ten minutes or so, Mario still hadn’t shown up, so I doubled back to go find him. A few minutes later I saw him riding toward me. It turned out that he wanted another nap. He said he completely passed out, but somehow awoke and got under way again.

So we continued on. Eventually, Mario and I pulled ahead of the other two riders. And finally, finally, we made it into Davis.

We checked in, then there was nothing to do but ride home. It was now 2:30am, and the wind was cold. I didn’t know how tired I was, and I was worried I’d crash on the way home. So I borrowed a blanket, got out of the wind, and napped sitting up for a while. Afterward, I got up and felt very lightheaded. Mario was eating, which seemed like a good idea, so I went to look at the food. Something about that thought was just wrong, and I instantly became nauseous. I was certain I was going to lose it, so I went into the field at the end of the parking lot, leaned over, and waited. The next thing I knew, Mario was shaking me and asking if I was okay. I was on the ground, and as I woke up, realized I had passed out. Very weird.

So I thanked him, rolled back into my blanket, tried to get out of the wind, and took a longer nap. I woke up around 4:30, got on my bike, rode home and went to bed dirty so I wouldn’t wake Kazu and Lisa.

The next day I was tired, but otherwise fine. Sore leg muscles, but not sorer than I’ve ever felt. And everything else — neck, back, arms – felt fine. I told Lisa I was thinking of dropping the 1200k, and a little later in the day, took a long nap. I think when I was waking from that nap was when I started thinking maybe the 1200k was doable after all. All it needed was some good planning.

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600k Lessons

Posted by admin on Jun 22, 2009 in Mind

So here’s what I took away from the 600k. That 1200k is doable, but only worth doing if I ride it like a scheduled tour and not like a quasi-race. That means, simply, that I stop occasionally, eat, and sleep.

On these rides, there is food at the controls. But it is largely the same at every stop. That’s okay for about 200 miles, and maybe 250. But eventually, Clif Bars and PB&J are just not appetizing enough to get you excited about eating. I think that at least once a day I should stop in a town I would otherwise blow through and get a hot meal.

Now, I’ve been meaning to do that since the Davis Double Century, and don’t seem to have been able to. I attribute that to the mentality of these rides, and the fact that I buy into that mentality. But after the 600k, I know that if I try to power through the 1200k, I probably will not finish.

The next thing is to sleep. Many of the controls on the 1200k have cots to sleep in, and some even have hotel rooms people share. Screw that. I’m getting my own hotel room. I’m going to have a meal, a shower, and a bed every night, even if for only a few hours.

Which brings me to the third part of the plan. That is to break the rides into thirds: Three 400k, or roughly 250 mile rides with breaks in between. I think I can ride fast enough to buy that time, and I think I will enjoy the ride all the more for it. Because I think the last lesson of the 600k for me is that 400k of riding in one day is as much fun on a bike as I can have in one day. After that, it’s just work. It’s an interesting thing to learn. And I think it’s a good thing to know.

We’ll see!

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