Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cooked in Italy

Eighty-one kilometers from the start of the 999 Miglia, I made a wrong turn in the town of Anagni as we climbed to the first control. Not a big deal - the streets of the old town were confusing and I realized the mistake in less than a minute and before going more than 100 meters off course. As I turned around, I felt lightheaded. That seemed weird.

2500 meters later, I reached the control. I got off my bike and nearly passed out. I pushed the bike over to a shady spot by the church, but kept stumbling and running the bike wheels over my feet. Now I was worried. Although the day was hot, it was not yet noon and we had been on the bikes for less than five hours since the ride start. We had covered about 84 of the 1600 kilometers of the ride; we had climbed about 1400 of 20000 meters of elevation gain expected; temperatures were in the mid-30s C - certainly warm for a Seattle guy, but not yet the brutal temperatures forecasted.

Just like that, my scenic six-day randonneur tour of southern Italy had morphed into a battle. Gone was any thought I may have had of “competing” in the “Concorso 999 Selfie” contest to take pictures at a list of scenic spots on the route. This would be a fight and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. Although I’ve had many a brevet experience turn into a “survival mode” ride, never had it happened with more than 1500 kilometers to go!

With the help of my extremely solicitous SIR ride buddies (Mark, Ricky, Bob, and Bill), who helped me find shade, soda, water, food, and coffee, I was back on the bike in about 30 minutes. Anagni would not be one of the highly efficient control stops that we had planned to get us through the long first day of the ride. A quick downhill and 40 km of flat riding helped the recovery, but perhaps the damage was done.

The next 130 hours of day and night riding up and down endless hills in a beautiful and hot country are a bit of a blur to me now a week later. In total there would be 85 hours on the bike at a pace of well under 20kph and a massive 50 hours of off the bike time, much of it spent cooling off with Cokes and and ice creams. (Probably only 15-16 hours was sleep - over five nights!). I would focus, as best I could, on getting enough water, electrolytes, food, and sleep and hope that the distance and time problems took care of themselves. There would be ugly attrition among our fellow riders including three of my Seattle friends, two who realized on the second day that they had better options than slow broiling under the Italian sun and one who succumbed to a nasty and fast-developing case of Shermer’s neck on the fifth day.

To get through, I resorted to every trick I knew and some that I made up on the spot. I rode at night. I rode slowly. I walked steep hills. I rode on the wrong side of the road to find scarce shade. I drank water; I poured it on myself. I looked for ice. I drank sodas. I dumped salt on food. I dissolved electrolytes in Cokes (after the first massive eruption, I learned to do this slowly and patiently). I whined incessantly. I gave myself pep talks. I sought sympathy on Facebook (“crowd sourcing good vibes,” I called it euphemistically at the time). I took pictures of fabulous scenery and uploaded them as if it were a normal ride, if only to fool myself. I laughed. I cried. I made silly bargains with myself (ride for 15 more minutes and then you can look at elevation on computer to see if you’ve made any progress). I begged Bob to go on ahead, probably because I knew that he wouldn’t and he’d tell me that I was fine and that we would make it. We changed our plan for sleep stops on the fly so we could have a short day (fourth day) which did (temporary) wonders for my outlook. I took Susan’s advice and tapped into my “vast reserves” of “bullheadedness” (her words). “Play all your cards,” Joe said. By the finish, I felt that I had done just that. Although I was bluffing most of the time, it sure felt good not to fold.

Even with all the cards I played, the truth is that I probably couldn’t have finished without the steady companionship and support from Bob Brudvik every pedal stroke of the way. He might say that he stuck with me because I’m a good navigator, but I know better. Support every night from Joe Platzner, who would help us get into our hotels and find food, proved invaluable as well. The many kindnesses from the event volunteers and fellow riders may not have cooled the air or flattened the hills, but they certainly lifted the spirits.

When I finished, Joe asked if it was the hardest brevet I’d ever done. To his surprise, I hesitated and equivocated. I’m well aware of my tendency to think that the ride I just finished is the hardest one that I’ve ever done, so I wanted time to think about it. Looking back on it now after a week of relaxing and walking and looking at art in the Netherlands with my daughter, I think I can say that Joe had it right. The hot temperatures (to 40C or more), the distance (1600km is a lot more than 1200km), the many kilometers of dreadful pavement, and the relentless climbing (18,000-21,000 meters, some of it steep) added up to a real challenge. I won’t pretend; I’m pretty damn proud of getting that one done. The beer sure tasted good.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Perfectly Logical Obsession

The idea

“A perfectly logical obsession” - Bob Brudvik’s response to a text message from me at the end of April this year.

We were fresh off our attempt to ride a 24 hour 600k brevet. Although we didn’t make that goal, crazy ideas began to germinate. Less than two weeks later, I was starting to think about attempting to ride the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris in Charly Miller time (56:40 or less). Nutty, I thought. “Perfectly logical,” Bob said. 

At the time, however, other cycling business dominated my thinking. After a wonderful week at PAC Tour’s Desert Camp in Arizona in the spring, I had flirted with the idea of, and ultimately signed up for, PAC Tour’s “Elite” Transcontinental, an 18-day tour across the United States from San Diego, California to Tybee Island (Savannah), Georgia. That I knew four other Seattle riders on the tour, all of whom were much faster riders than I, only augmented the trepidation with which I approached that adventure. 

Mississippi River
On arrival in San Diego, Bob, who likes to plan a couple rides ahead, asked me about the Charly Miller idea. Much more worried about getting across the country, I deferred: “we can discuss that after we cross the Mississippi.” But as anyone who has ridden across the US knows, and as I was learning, it’s a really, really big country. I reached the Mississippi River still uncertain of the outcome of the tour. Indeed, the longest day of the tour was still a couple days away – nearly 200 miles into Camden, Alabama. So I deferred again, somewhat more colorfully: “F--- off; we can discuss that after Camden.” 

Atlantic Ocean
Camden came and went and before long we reached the Atlantic. Deferring the discussion was no longer an option. And to be honest with myself, I realized that accomplishing one audacious-seeming goal only emboldened me to attempt another. So I was in. 

Nothing in my long history of riding 1200 kilometer brevets suggested that this would be easy. I looked back over my times. Since 1999, I had finished thirty-five 1200km events (plus a 1400). My average time for the 1200s was a hair under 84 hours. I had finished under 80 hours exactly three times (Canada’s Rocky Mountain 1200 in 2002, Japan’s Hokkaido 1200 in 2010, and the Rocky Mountain again in 2012). None of those rides had the elevation gain of Paris-Brest-Paris. I had finished a 1200 in under 70 hours exactly zero times. Under 60 hours? Hah. My fastest 1000k took me longer than that (64:15). And on four previous PBPs my average finish time was 85:38; my fastest was 84:29. 

I needed some encouragement, reasons to be hopeful, a plan, and a lot of help. 

The Planning

Encouragement came readily. Bob never wavered in his insistence that we could do it. (We already knew that Bob could do it; he had made the Charly Miller Society at PBP 2011 with a strong group of SIR friends). He had watched me crawl across Alabama and Georgia at the end of the cross-country tour and he still thought it possible. Although hoping to keep the whole thing pretty low profile, I asked a few friends. They said “go for it.” Well, actually Mike Dayton said “Hell, yeah!” Joe Platzner tried to dope out if I really wanted it; concluding that I did, he cheered me on.

On-bike times.
Looking for hope, I took a more detailed look at my previous dozen or so 1200s. Because I had used a GPS on those, I knew how much time I spent on the bike riding. The picture was not too pretty. Ride time was 53.5-61.8 hours for all but three of the events. Two of those three were extremely flat (less than 5000 feet of climbing), but one – the California Central Coast 1200 in 2014 – had PBP-like elevation gain and I had 51:47 of ride time. 

What if I could cut that down to 50 hours, spend only 3 hours at the controls, and limit sleep to a two hour break for a nap? That would be good enough.

Every piece of that was a stretch. I felt that I had performed at the top of my ability on the 3CR and dropping two hours of ride time would not be easy. I rode that ride with three great overnight sleep stops (> 5 hours every night, as I recall). Surely limiting sleep to a 90 minute nap in a two-hour stop would slow me down. And three hours of off-bike time spread over 15 controls? Wow. (By comparison, Bob and his SIR Charly Miller cohorts in 2011 had spent seven hours off the bike with support.) Certainly I would need help. 

Chris and Marko Baloh
With seven PBP’s worth of experience between us, we figured that we’d need support at the controls. Bob went right to work on that project. He lined up Chris Ragsdale and a friend. Really?!? Chris Ragsdale?!? The fastest American finisher at PBP in 2011? The guy that would have been the first finisher but for being led off course by a motorcycle “escort”? Yeah, that guy. Holy smokes, as Andy would say. I didn’t know Matt Smith, but I did know that he had crewed for Chris on RAAM and that Bob had spoken highly of him. So we had the resources we needed to keep us moving, . . . but could I move fast enough? (I wasn’t worried about Bob’s speed.) 

Fully aware that I knew nothing about training for speed (or about training at all, for that matter – I just “ride lots”) and even less about getting ready for a specific event, I sought professional help. (And not the kind my family thought I needed.) My one previous attempt (thirteen years ago) to work with a coach had failed miserably – my fun activity turned into work and not only did I fail to stick with the training plan, I also just quit riding my bike for weeks. I didn’t know very much about coaches, but one had done well for friends of mine and was highly respected by people whom I respected. So I sent Michelle Grainger from Boulder an email asking if she’d take on a two-month project to deliver me to PBP in the best possible form. 

Help. Please.

Michelle agreed and we were off. Will spare gory details on the training plan, which she developed as we went along. Essentially, we assumed the endurance was there already. Michelle focused on some intensity work and also a lot of recovery and rest. I chose to trust her recommendations implicitly, despite my nagging concerns that I was not doing enough. Although I understood why the volume of riding would be much lower than that to which I was accustomed, I still felt that I wasn’t working hard enough with the intensity drills. These varied from hill repeats to sprint drills, but never amounted to a lot of time/distance. Most of the time, I felt pretty good about progress, but not always. (From a mid-July email to Michelle: “Today really felt like a setback. By the end of today’s ride I was overheated, salt-encrusted, bonk-y, and discouraged. And a little mad at myself for mistakes made.”) Other days were awesome – on some of the “go hard” days, my Strava uploads were scattered with PR segments, which felt good.

The lower volume and strict limits on riding became a recurring source of amusement for my riding buddies. “Want to ride a 200k?” “No, I’m only allowed 60 minutes today.” Eventually they would just ask: “What does Colorado HQ have on your plan for tomorrow?” I was completely on board with letting CO HQ call the shots, however, and suppressed my urge to ride up to Mt. Rainier, go out on a 1000k, pre-ride the 300k I was organizing, and any number of other fun ride plans. On the other hand, I loved the 20-30 minute “easy spinning” days that allowed for a ride to coffee or beer.

In addition to lining up support and training, I obsessed over equipment. Bob encouraged me to bring my carbon Parlee rather than my usual travel coupled titanium travel bike. He said that I was faster on it. Although I strongly suspected that the bike choice didn’t matter, I couldn’t quite argue with the record – my fastest 1200 (Rocky Mountain 1200 in 2012), one of my strongest 1200s (California Central Coast Randonnee in 2014), my fastest 600 (in Wenatchee in 2015), my fastest 300k (a permanent in late 2014), my PAC Tour Transcontinental, and other good rides had all been on the Parlee. So I decided to suck up the airline bike fees and take the non-coupled bike. 

In an obsessive effort to avoid mechanical issues during the ride, I outfitted the bike with lots of new stuff. With the help of Joe Platzner and my friends at Element Cycles in Redmond, the bike soon sported new shifters, new cables, new derailleurs, new chain, new cassette, new bar tape, new tires, newly rebuilt pedals, and new brake pads. Cranks, bottom bracket, and hubs were inspected. Sunday best wheels (Enve 4.5s) would make the trip, accessorized with new Continental GP 4000SII tires and latex tubes. Knowing that we would have support, I packed spares of all sorts – spokes, components, wheels, pedals, cleats, etc., etc. 

Parlee Tour - fully loaded
Over a number of pre-PBP rides, I fine-tuned the list of what I would carry on the bike. I opted for the Revelate Designs “Gas Tank” top tube bag and a small Ortlieb waterproof saddle bag. I added a strap for my reflective vest and one for my Spot satellite tracker. At the last minute, I chickened out on carrying a minimalist pump in favor of a Lezyne mini floor pump style pump strapped to one of my seatstays. I opted for battery lights front and rear. I decked out a raincoat with a ton of 50mm wide reflective tape to use in place of the reflective vest in case of nasty weather. In the bags, I would carry tubes (2), CO2 cartridges (2), CO2 inflator head, patch kit, valve extenders, tire boot, chain quick link, duct tape, multi-tool, sunscreen, lip balm, battery and cable to keep GPS running, electrolyte tablets, anti-inflammatories, caffeine tablets, and a few bits of emergency food. Other food would go in the jersey pockets. 

No surprise: it’s a lot easier to have a light load on your bike if you have support.

At Michelle’s urging, I thought a bit (well, a lot, really) about how I would handle my nutritional needs during the event. In a dramatic departure from my usual approach – eat real food, and lots of it – I planned instead to bring “bike food” along. The plan was to take on only 250-300 calories/hour during the ride. I would drink an Ensure at each control stop and then start out the next leg with a bottle of Perpetuem (270 calories and 50mg of caffeine) and enough other food in my pockets to reach the calorie target (a mix of Honey Stinger chews and waffles, Power Bar protein bars, and Clif “Builder Bars”). Bob and I figured that Chris and Matt could add some real food to the mix from time to time at the controls, but I wanted to be confident about the rate of calorie intake. 

With the lower than expected volume of riding, I had plenty of time to obsess over details beyond just training, equipment, and nutrition. I prepared an iPad for Chris and Matt with the support car route loaded into a mapping application and a couple of bookmarks for locating us via my Spot tracker. I loaded the PBP route into my Garmin GPS and into my phone.

I did about a million iterations of a spreadsheet with planned speeds/times for each leg and amounts of time off the bike. Lacking any hard data on my likely speeds over a non-stop 1200, I opted to pick two default speeds – one out to Brest and one back - and then adjust the speed on each leg downwards by a factor that depended on the climbing/distance ratio for that leg. I tweaked the numbers until I was close to 56:40 (53:27 riding / 3:00 stop time / no sleep). For comparison, I checked the overall time at each stage with Bob’s groups’ times from 2011. It tracked reasonably well. Bob and Chris both felt that the speeds were too low, especially at the beginning of the ride, but I thought it better psychologically (for me, at least) to have a plan against which we might build some margin early in the ride than to have a (possibly) more accurate plan that we were more likely to fall behind.

Sleep presented another planning puzzle. We strongly suspected that we wouldn’t have time. (Bob’s group had slept maybe 10 minutes in 2011). Michelle believed that I could not afford not to sleep. Would a good sleep stop pay off with increased speed? I had no idea. One consequence of my somewhat faster brevets over recent years is that I slept more on longer events than before. As a result, I had lost experience about how I would handle a lack of sleep. We settled on a plan of sorts. We had access to beds at around 800km. (Rick and Barb had rented a gîte on the course). If we were doing really well, we’d sleep a couple hours. We were not at all sure that we could make up those hours with road speed in just 400km remaining, but it was possible – the difference between 25km/hr and 22km/hr, for example, would be 2:20. If we didn’t feel that we had time to risk, we’d keep going. (And if we were completely off any possibility of making CM time, then we’d have a good long sleep and a nice ride to a 79 hour finish.). With few good options for sleep during the ride, I resolved to get as much sleep and rest as possible leading up to PBP and as much sleep as I could manage immediately prior to the ride.

To supplement all the planning, I did a lot of hoping. Seemed like a good use of time. 

The Event 

I love PBP. Love the traditions of it. Love the spectacle. Love the involvement of the local residents. Even like the route. But most of all I enjoy the big randonneur reunion that happens there. I know randonneurs from all over the country and the world from my travels (and theirs). And many more from social media or from reading their stories. The days before the start of PBP passed in a blur of faces of old friends.

Colorado HQ
In front of the Campanile hotel one day, I ran into Coach Michelle. (In a nice little PBP vignette, I found her with her husband Steve, long-time randonneur and RUSA volunteer John Lee, first-time PBP’er Terri, and SIR’s Big Mark). I appreciated the opportunity to thank her for her work in preparing me for the event and just to chat in person after all the calls and emails over the prior two months. I confessed that I felt a bit anxious about the event. Not one to miss the opportunity for a little coaching, Michelle opined that the anxiety merely reflected the intensity of my desire to achieve the Charly Miller goal. She encouraged me to “be in the moment” during the ride (“whatever that means,” I thought) and wished me success.

Bob and I had arrived in France a few days before the ride so we could get ready for the ride without stress. We took care of the necessities – building up the bikes, getting rental car, purchasing supplies, organizing our stuff – at a relaxed pace. 

Sightseeing took a back seat to ride preparation; Bob and I managed one trip into Paris, including a nice lunch with SIR buddies Adam Morley and Vincent Muoneke. Remembering that one of the critical factors for the ride would be the ability to ride with little or no sleep and that one of the tactics was to sleep as much as possible, I tempered my usual inclination to stay up late catching up with friends. Even the usual pre-PBP shakedown ride – often 50km or more along the course – fell victim to the plan. (My instructions from CO HQ said 10-20 minutes easy riding – that didn’t get me very far.) 

Our selection of an early slot for bike inspection / registration worked well as we avoided the long lines that formed by midday. Again I had the chance to meet and catch up with a lot of other riders, while remaining mindful of Michelle’s admonition to stay off my feet as much as possible. At check-in, we were helped by the legendary Jennifer Wise (RUSA #1) as well as SIR members Renee Lewis and Deena Heg. As with all the volunteers that we would encounter during the ride, they were helpful, encouraging, and cheerful. Did I mention that I love PBP?

Finally the day of ride arrived and I could shift gears from obsessing to riding. In a final attempt to bank sleep, I went to be early the night before, slept 10-11 hours, ate breakfast, took a sleeping pill, and slept for 3-4 more hours. With the ACP’s excellent new start procedure for PBP, there was no reason to get to the velodrome too far in advance of our 4:15PM scheduled start time. Chris sent us a text message a little past 3 saying that lots of folks were massing at the start, so we headed over then, arriving at about 3:30. 

Let's ride.
Bob and I had signed up for the second start wave – the “B” group. We saw some familiar faces in that group and chatted with Grant and David from SIR, Wes from NC, Aaron from SF, Paul from Australia, and others. Bob also spoke with his friend Marko Baloh, a noted ultracyclist and randonneur from Slovenia. He clued us in about an expected ride dynamic – a number of folks who were out to “win” PBP had chosen the second wave with the idea that they would work hard, chase up to the lead group from the first wave, and then finish the ride in that group, but would be 15 minutes ahead. To the extent that we might have had any temptation to try to stay with the front part of our wave, that pretty much finished it off. That kind of pace would be out of our league (or mine at least).

As for Bob and me, our ride plan was a bit vague, but we assumed that to be successful, we’d need to ride with groups of compatible riders as much as we could. Our thought was to stay with a good group of riders from our wave for a long as possible, then pick up with folks from the “C” wave and just surf our way along in that fashion. If all went well, we’d pick up with a handful of agreeable companions to finish PBP in style. 

We headed out to cheers (did I mention that I love PBP?). Great to be riding. Soon we were zipping through the countryside at 30km/hr or so. Although I knew that we were unlikely to sustain that pace, it sure was exhilarating. The first 100 kilometers passed quickly. Then disaster struck. The lead group from the “C” wave approached our bunch. On a mission, they passed our group on the wrong side of a narrow road only to be greeted by an oncoming vehicle rounding a bend at around 101km (before Mortagne-au-Perche). Everyone moved together and Bob was trapped behind two riders that hit their brakes hard.

From my position (about 20 riders in front of Bob), I heard a crash, checked it out in my mirror, and realized it was Bob. Damn. Once the group cleared, I circled back and we began a damage assessment. Bloody hand, sore wrist and neck, non-functional front shifter, and a front wheel that wouldn’t turn. No dent in his desire to finish. We found a position for front brake that allowed him to roll. We called ahead to Chris and Matt at Mortagne-au-Perche and suggested that they get our spare front wheel and some first aid ready to go. Then we got back on bikes and rode like hell.

At Mortagne-au-Perche, Bob got a new front wheel. The shifter was beyond help. Bob would have to ride with just big chainring upfront for 1100km. He didn’t find this too intimidating because he had gears smaller than when he rode PBP on a single speed in 2007. And because he’s a badass. 

I hoped and thought we’d stay together anyway and we did ride together until a little past the control at Villaines-au-Juhel when Bob sent me on. He basically pushed me up to a group of riders, told me to go on with them, and dropped back. Quite a disappointment. It was helpful that we had discussed in advance our plan to make sure that at least one person would be supported by crew to aim for the Charly Miller time. (Of course, it never occurred to me that that person might be me.) It did me a world of good later in the ride to see him on the out-and-back just east of the Roc'h Trevezel. I could see that he was in good shape, in good spirits, and would make it just fine. And indeed, he soldiered on despite aches and pains and finished well in about 70 hours with some of our SIR buddies and others. 

For another 100km or so after Bob sent me on, I was able to stay with groups of riders that were moving along at a good clip and continued to stay ahead of the planned schedule. With the help of Chris and Matt, controls were astonishingly efficient. They’d give me an update on my progress against plan, check on my status, give me something to eat while I got my control card signed, ready my bike and bottles for the next segment, and stuff my pockets with food. In five minutes or so, I was back on my bike and riding.

One unintended consequence of the great support soon became clear. Most of the riders that I’d see around me were faster riders than I. We were only together because they had spent more time at the controls. For a while, I’d try to latch onto some groups of riders, but it would never work. Too much effort. So I rode by myself. (With few exceptions, probably for the last 800 kilometers or more). 

Despite this issue, the support was a wonderful benefit. Never having done an event with a crew before, I was quite astounded to experience how much the support freed me up just to focus on riding the bike and on achieving the goal I had set out for PBP. That focus stayed with me. It didn’t come and go. I guess I wanted it. A lot. On the road, I think I wanted it every minute. I thought about how good I’d feel when I made it. I stayed on plan. I didn’t waste time and energy thinking too far ahead. 

On the bike, I freed my mind up further by ignoring the wealth of data available to me (on my Garmin and elsewhere). Normally, I like to keep myself occupied with things like figuring out my likely arrival time at the next control based on current speed, distance to go, and terrain. Or I’ll look at the upcoming elevation profile to see what was ahead. Instead, I kept the GPS on the map screen, showing only a field for distance to next turn (to keep me honest on navigation) and a field for speed (to keep me from fooling myself about how fast I was going). I’d look at the road ahead and try to optimize my gearing and cadence for steady climbing or for grabbing a bit of extra speed on flats and downhills. I’d notice how good I felt and allow myself to believe that it could continue that way for the rest of the ride. Maybe that’s what Michelle meant by “being in the moment”; I didn’t know, but it felt good. 

Under 24:00 to Brest
Truth was that I was having a blast. The guys who rode on the SIR 2011 Charly Miller team warned me that it wouldn’t be fun during the ride, but it would be fun to have done it. Michelle had warned me that it would be work, not fun, even “very sucky at times." Others had said similar things. To my  delight, that wasn’t my experience. I had fun and kept on having fun. Riding by myself through the French countryside, happy with my efforts, staying on plan, and at one with the bike, I was in heaven.

Throughout Monday, the ride just clicked along – out of Carhaix, up to Roc’h Trevezel, seeing the lead group coming back, out to Brest, back over the Roc again, seeing many friends heading out, coming back into to Carhaix. All good. At Carhaix on the return, I was more than 2 hours ahead of plan and decided to make a stop at Rick and Barb’s gîte. The next stretch was a little challenging. In the dark, with a steady stream of headlights aiming at me, my pace slowed a bit. Situational awareness suffered a bit too. I arrived at the gîte full of plans: I’d like to shower, I said, get some food, change my kit, sleep for an hour or so, and leave by 3AM. “You know that it’s 2AM?” Uh, no, I guess I didn’t. New plan: “I’m going to close my eyes for sixty minutes and hope for some sleep. Wake me up after an hour and get me going.” I probably slept for 45 minutes and felt ready to go. 

Quiet Villaines
After Tinteniac, the sun came up again, the finish was less than 400km away, and I was an hour ahead of plan. The rest of the ride continued to be wonderful. I was riding faster than planned. Although I allowed myself some longer stops - to eat real food at Villaines and Mortagne-au-Perche and some recovery time at Dreux – I built a little bit more margin against the planned pace. I had some nice conversations with other riders – Ed from NJ, the screaming fast tandem of John and Ann, Paul from Ireland, Christiaan from South Africa, among others.

Chris and Matt never tired and kept me moving, even taking on a nice gentle coaching and encouragement role. One fun anecdote - at Dreux, I think Chris decided that I was slacking off (maybe because I took my shoes off). He told me that I should “get on it” for the last leg - even though the Charly Miller time was pretty much in hand, I should get under the time of the SIR CM team from 2011 or even break 55 hours. Whenever I had any urge to take it easy on last stretch, I’d hear him in my ear - “get on it!” - and I’d jump on it again. I attacked the hills in the forest like a lunatic. Not fast by any objective standards, but a wonderful feeling into the finish. I rolled into the final control a bit after 11pm, high as a kite. And a bit incredulous – it was a bit hard to believe. After all the obsession, planning, and riding, I had finished in 54:50. Chris and Matt performed their final support duties – handing me a beer and taking a finish picture.

54:50 - Happy

Final thoughts 

Fortune smiled on this PBP. I was very lucky – in many ways. Lucky to have the opportunity to ride my bike for fun, a luxury not available to the vast majority of people in the world. Lucky to have the support of my family and friends. Lucky to find and benefit from a great coach and wonderful support team. Lucky to have Bob’s inspiration, encouragement, and companionship. Lucky that my bike had exactly zero mechanicals. Lucky that my body held up - no saddle issues of any sort, no real cramping, no tendon issues, no real issues with feet other than a few bouts with hot foot, no problem with hands (a bit battered, but not numb or blistered or anything), no issues with digestion or nutrition. Lucky not to get sleepy (maybe a bit loopy once or twice, but not sleepy). Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Plan vs Reality

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who's in charge anyway (Garmin notes)

The SIR and other lists have recently recounted rider questions and irritations about the Garmin Edge bicycle GPS computers. Of course, I recognize that riders have varying tolerances for frustration, more or less time to devote to the problem, and different expectations for what the technology will do, but for what it's worth and on the off chance that it might help someone, here's my experience.

Over the past few years, I have used the Garmin Edge GPS units with considerable success to keep from getting lost on more than a dozen 1200km brevets in numerous countries. Some of those brevets had fairly inscrutable cue sheets. I have used the Edge 705, the Edge 800, the Edge 810, and most recently, the Edge 1000.

To make the Garmin work for me, I focus on five key things. (Or perhaps these define how I work for the Garmin, but let's leave that philosophical question for another day).

Maps. Early on, I used Garmin's maps. Frustrated by the price and by Garmin's idiotic policies about transferring maps to replacement units, I switched to open source maps from the Open Street Maps project and have never looked back. Before traveling, I visit this GarminOSM and create a map for the countries to be visited. The coverage of OSM maps varies by country - sometimes under-inclusive (missing streets in Korea) and sometimes over-inclusive for my purposes (hiking trails, dirt paths). But they work. Inasmuch as OSM is an ongoing project, the more recent the download, the better the maps.

Backup Plans. I don't place complete faith in the GPS to stay on track. I also use the cue sheet and a smartphone application. When I started randonneuring, sonny, I had none of these new-fangled GPS thingys. My navigation came from the cue sheet and sometimes from paper maps (now replaced for me with maps on phones). My first long brevet was a 1000km from one end of Vancouver Island to the other and back. Cues were minimal and navigation not really a factor. My second was Paris-Brest-Paris and the route was signposted and navigation was again not a factor. (I did recover from a group navigation error by offering up my own hand-marked Michelin maps to some accompanying French riders, who were quite able to dope out the correct answer from there). My third long ride, however, was the 2001 London-Edinbugh-London 1400km brevet with, as I recall, a 14-page dense cue sheet filled with cues like "take right on unmarked lane." Fearful of getting lost in a land where I did not speak the language, I paid a lot of attention to that cue sheet - by studying with maps in advance, by trying to dope out the local customs of cue sheet presentation, and by paying careful attention to it on the road. Although cue sheets are not always perfect, I still consider them to be a very important navigation resource and a key backup to the GPS. In addition to the cue sheet, my second GPS backup is a smartphone mapping app the use of which I I've described here.

Power. One significant weakness of the Garmin Edge units for me is that their batteries don't last as long as our rides do. So I add external power. Usually that involves bringing on a "power bank" type of device that charges from a USB outlet and provides power to one or two USB ports. I use these to charge the Garmin (and sometimes my phone as well). My preferred approach (works for me; others may have good reasons to do differently) is to have some idea of how long I can run the Garmin on it's internal battery. With my 810's bluetooth features off, it seems that I can rely on at least 12 hours of runtime. Based on that, if I expect to ride for 20 hours in a day, I'll run the GPS normally from its internal battery for 8 hours, then plug in the power pack and ride that way until the device shows 100% charge. Then I unplug the power pack and let the Garmin run down until I stop for the night. If possible, I charge it from the wall at night and repeat the next day. If not, I'll charge it up from the power pack while I sleep. With  drop bag support, I'll have four smaller capacity power packs and carry a fresh one on the bike each day. With no drop bag support, I'll carry one large one sufficient to power the Garmin for the whole ride (and/or bring a charger for opportunistic recharging of the power pack and/or Garmin when time at a power outlet presents itself). As a backup, I carry a lightweight USB power pack that runs from 4xAA batteries. (Sometimes I carry it empty and sometimes with four lightweight Eveready Energizer Lithium batteries installed, but with some electrical tape over the ends to prevent accidental discharge.) With AA batteries fairly readily available at stores, this provides a backup power plan. One related problem to manage is that attaching the USB cable to the Garmin compromises the waterproofness of the Garmin. So some effort is required to manage the charging in inclement weather. Instead of following the script above, I'll take advantage of a dry spell or protected rest stop to charge up the Garmin or I'll use a long stretch without cues to put the Garmin, cable, and power pack all together in a waterproof bag and get some charge into the Garmin.

Courses. Most of my preride efforts as they relate to GPS navigation revolve around creating a "course" file in Garmin's TCX format. My goal is to have a file that has both a "breadcrumb" track that follows the course along with "course points" along that track that represent the entries on the cue sheet. I use RideWithGPS, but depending on what may be available from the ride organizers or fellow riders, the exact process may vary. Perhaps a rider who uses the same approach to their Garmin has created a course in RwGPS with cues for turns inserted automatically by the RwGPS application. Perhaps the organizer has provided a GPX file that traces the route that I can import into RwGPS. Perhaps I only have a cue sheet, in which case, I will make the effort to create a RwGPS route. From any of these starting points, I'll painstakingly follow the cue sheet along the course and edit the RwGPS route file. My goal is to have a course point in the TCX file for each line on the printed cue sheet. (RwGPS puts a course point in the TCX file for each of the route's cue sheet entries). If I start with a bare track, this means using RwGPS "add to cue sheet" function to add a cue for each turn or other feature (like controls). If the track has cue sheet entries already, I'll follow along, one-by-one, adding entries from the paper cues sheet that are missing in RwGPS route, deleting extraneous entries, or editing existing entries. Once done, I export a TCX file from RwGPS and copy it to the /Garmin/NewFiles folder on the GPS. Good practice is to divide a 1200 into smaller chunks, but if I have one that has fewer than 200 cue sheet entries, I'll often live dangerously by running a single 1200k course. (Side note: the Edge 800 can't record a ride longer than around 450-500km without crashing hard. So I reset the unit every 400km or every day, restarted recording, and then restarted the course).

Defeat the Garmin. I'm forever at war with my Garmin and its engineering team. They want to navigate for me. Provide them some parameters - destinations, waypoints, a track, whatever - and they'll figure out how to get me there and give me turn-by-turn directions. I want something else; I just want it to help my find my way around the course that I spent all that time creating. Garmin doesn't get it; so we are locked in battle. My happy place with the Garmin happens when I load the course, tell it to ride the course, turn off that annoying "virtual partner", and then have the GPS display a few pieces of key information to me as I ride. The two most important things that I want to see are the map and a field called "Course Pt Dist" that will tell me the distance, along the course, from where I am to where the next course point (i.e., cue sheet entry) is. The map should show my location and the line that is my course. With sufficient attention, this could be the only navigation aid. One would ride to stay on the course line and use the "off course" warnings to cover any misses. I've done that, but it's much better for me if I can see the distance to the next cue sheet entry. As that decrements towards zero, I'll look at the map screen or the paper cue sheet (or both) to familiarize myself with my next required course action. Usually that's good enough, but if I get it wrong, the "off course" warning usually helps me to recover. The Garmin folks have reluctantly conceded that one might want to navigate to a course, as opposed to destinations and way points, but they will not surrender easily their desire to calculate a route to do so. That route will get stuff wrong, so I don't want it. So I try to defeat that route calculation effort. Most of the time I can do so by starting the course, then going into the currently active "Activity Profile" and change the navigation method to "Direct Routing." Annoyingly, it will not save this a setting in the "Actiity Profile," so I have to do it every time. Idiots! I have occasionally resorted to turning off the routable maps in the GPS, starting the course, and then re-enabling the maps. A real nuisance.

On the road, I usually set up the Garmin to display five separate screens while I ride. One is a map screen with two data fields added. One of those fields is the Course Pt Dist that will tell me when I'll reach the next cue. The other may vary (sometimes I use a battery indicator if that's a key consideration, sometimes I'll use Distance to Go, sometimes current elevation. Second is the elevation profile screen that will show me the profile of the course behind and ahead of my current position. I'll usually put two fields there too - one with my all-important (to me) Course Pt Dist field and one the current elevation. Third is a screen, created automatically, that shows all the upcoming course points. The entries are severely truncated, but I can, for example, scroll down to the next control to determine how far away it might be, or I might want to look at next couple of cues to know if one comes fast after another (and therefore might be easy to miss). Fourth is screen filled with data that my geeky riding heart desires - elevation, grade, speed, distance travelled, time of day, etc. And of course my Course Pt Dist. The fifth screen is deeper geek - cumulative elevation, average speed, sunrise/sunset times and the like.

It's work, but it works. At least for me. At least so far.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Southwest Washington 1000

Rick and I rode the 1000km course last weekend. See ride record here. We thought it was a glorious ride. The first day took us around the sound, including a nice loop of Point Defiance in Tacoma, up to Mason/Limerick Lakes, before heading out to the coast for a nice dinner stop in Westport and a peaceful nighttime jaunt along the ocean and Willapa Bay.

The second morning, we took a detour around the peninsula at Bay Center before riding out to the Pacific in Ocean Park on the Long Beach peninsula. After a lunch stop with some liquid carbs, we rode along the Columbia past the Astoria Bridge and then over KM Mountain and through the Whitetail Deer refuge to a early dinner in Cathlamet above the Columbia. A wonderful detour around Longview provided great views of Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier on the way to Castle Rock. The climb up to Toutle was rewarded with a butter-smooth pavement descent to Toledo with the Big Dipper guiding the way. The late night trip into Morton under the Milky Way was surprisingly enjoyable, even the sections on US-12, which was largely deserted.

Mount Rainier kept an eye on us for just about all of the last day. The backroads that kept us off US-12 for most of the way from Morton to Packwood were wonderful. Quiet and peaceful, although with some rough pavement. Skate Creek Road from Packwood to the huckleberry ice cream at Whittaker's in Ashford was a delight - a mostly gentle climb along a mountain stream on one of my favorite roads. Ashford to Elbe to Alder Lake was nice despite the headwinds. Not so nice was the Alder Cutoff Road into Eatonville. With WA-7 closed, this is the detour route and the traffic was fairly unpleasant. After Eatonville, it was calm again along Ohop and Kapowsin lakes on Orville Rd. Milkshakes and dinner at Wally's in Buckley fueled the trip home, which included the climb out of the Green River valley that we all "loved" from Greg's Chili Feed 200k all those years. And then the usual ride back through Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Hobart, Issaquah, and Redmond.

In summary, a nice tour of southwest Washington, with a good variety of roads and scenery. Hope many of you can make it. Any questions, feel free to ask. Pre-registration will be appreciated.

Some notes about support:

You should plan to be able to ride 100 kilometers without services on this ride. It's 100k from South Bend to Long Beach and it's 100k from Castle Rock to Morton.

On the scouting ride, we refueled at

Mile 52 - Sumner control in coffee shop. They have pastries and drinks.

Mile 83 - Lunch in Gig Harbor. This may be less necessary during the regular ride because there will be support at mile 121.

Mile 143 - Food at Matlock store. Note that this store closes at 8PM. You can get services before at mile 128.7 and after at mile 166.5.

Mile 200 - Dinner at Half Moon Bay in Westport. They probably close at 10PM, but we expect to provide support there for later-arriving riders.

Mile 240 - South Bend overnight control.

Mile 304 - Lunch at Pioneer Tavern. The stretch to here was probably the leg between services that seemed longest.

Mile 330 - Snacks at grocery store before Naselle.

Mile 363 - Early dinner at diner in Cathlamet.

Mile 397 - Snacks at convenience store WA-504 and I-5. The store at the control spot in Toutle (mile 408) was closed when we got there.

Mile 459 - Morton overnight control.

Mile 497 - Diner breakfast in Packwood.

Mile 523 - Ice cream in Ashford.

Mile 542 - Snacks at convenience store in Eatonville.

Mile 573 - Dinner at Wally's drive-in in Buckley. They close at 9PM. 24 hr services are available a short way off course at mile 576.

The longest stretches (40 miles or more) that will be without services, especially if you are running close the time limits:

Mile 121 - 166 (Vinny's cabin to 24hr convenience store in Montesano)

Mile 200 - 240 (Westport to South Bend. There is a 24hr convenience store in Raymond, but that's only about 3 miles from control.)

Mile 240 - 304 (South Bend to Pioneer Tavern or Pioneer Market in Long Beach)

Mile 397 - 459 (Castle Rock to Morton)

Mile 573/576 - 622 (Buckley/Enumclaw to finish. You may find stuff along the way, but not sure.)

Hope to see you there.


Friday, April 15, 2011

1200k planning

Today someone showed me a detailed spreadsheet for planning out a 1200km ride, complete with average speeds, control open/close times, sleep stops, and loads of other data. That set me to wonder why a data-hungry nerd like me has never been interested in using that sort of spreadsheet and to think about what I use instead.

Perhaps I fear that with too detailed a plan, I'll get overly concerned (especially when tired) about deviations from the plan and that the concern will do more damage to my ride than a lack of planning. Or maybe I just don't want to see just how slow I ride enshrined in Excel glory.

So for what it's worth (bring your own salt grains), here's my approach to a 1200km event (I'm up to 13 finishes):

  • Try to maintain 20kph (including stops) during the day.
    • This is easy to calculate, even when tired.
  • Keep stops short enough to keep on that schedule.
  • That gives me 6 hours in 24 for rest.
    • 18 hours x 20kph = 360km or 24 hours of brevet time.
    • 5 hours rest instead allows me to start with an hour in the bank.
  • Don't panic if falling behind.
    • I assume a shorter sleep break can fix.
  • Be cognizant of the 10 hours extra time on return.
    • Forgetting this can induce unnecessary panic (as it did on my DNF).
  • Ok to settle for 15kph (including stops) during days 3-4.
  • Anything better than the 20kph/15kph is gravy. Stop for ice cream.
  • Did I mention already? Don't panic.

Looking over this, I can see why I almost always finish in about the same time (83-87 hours). My very few shorter times have generally come when I've only had 2 sleep breaks instead of 3.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Platzner Makes Fool out of Thomas in Media

Recently, in a (perhaps futile) effort to expand the appeal of the fringe sport of randonneuring, local club president Mark Thomas defended the sport against the charge that it was simply "cycling while sleep deprived." Mr. Thomas asserted to the Seattle PI that "sleep deprivation is not an inherent part of randonneuring." Article.

In a deliberate attempt to embarrass the current leadership, Joe Platzner of renegade website RandoLeaks published not one, but two, all night rides, ostensibly to celebrate an invented holiday he calls Festivus. With plans to have "stupid fun" by "riding all night," Mr. Platzner actually encourages sleep deprivation on December 18th and/or December 21st.

Even the mainstream media was forced to take note, with the Seattle PI now printing that sleep deprivation "is definitely an intentional part of randonneuring events." Retraction.

Worldwide reaction has been swift and derisive. Unable to defend itself in the court of public opinion, the SIR leadership has attempted to have RandoLeaks shut down and deprived of funding. Rumor has it, however, that this attempt has resulted in swift an furious retaliation, with hactivists shutting down Mr. Thomas's paypal account and preventing him from registering for future rides. It also appears that RandoLeaks has now raised vast sums through the sale of glasses ironically used for Mr. Thomas's drink of choice.

More as this story develops.

Ed note: Further research has uncovered evidence that Mr. Platzner's vendetta against Mr. Thomas started long ago. Poisoning?!?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Out Collecting

Yesterday, I joined Alan Bell, Joe Platzner, and Ken Ward for a wonderful 200km permanent ride around Seattle. At a time of year when Seattle randonneurs can expect to ride in cold rain, the four of us instead enjoyed a gloriously warm and sunny day. At the finish, we celebrated Ken's successful completion of his R-12 quest and I happily collected another nice randonneuring memory.

My blog updates have been scarce since last summer, but not from any lack of riding. Although my motivation to write about randonneuring disappeared, my motivation to ride stayed strong as ever. In 2010, I've added quite a few gems to my collection of randonneur experiences. Looking back today, I see two grand randonnees, eleven other brevets, one populaire, and one fleche on my 2010 list of event finishes, matching exactly my totals for 2009. Along with a good collection of permanents, these made for a lot of nice days on the bike with good friends already this year. As is often the case for me, the standout additions to the collection in 2010 came from the longer rides. 

In June, I traveled to Oregon for John Kramer's Oregon Blue Mountains 1000km brevet. I saw the OBM1000 as a rematch for his XTR600 that nearly did me in the year before. Getting shelled out of the back of the pack within the first 10 miles put an early dampener on my hope for a triumphant return to central Oregon. With cooler temperatures than 2009, however, I manage to ride myself back into the ride. As with my Scandinavian adventure in 2009, I felt better each day of the ride. By the third day, I was boasting on Facebook: "What else you got?! Clarno Climb? Bah! I killed it!" Although vicious headwinds turned the last 40 miles into a slogfest, I finished happily with Rick Blacker (SIR) and Karel Stroethoff (Montana) and the year's adventures were off to a great start.

July brought the opportunity to participate in the Hokkaido 1200, which would be the first RM 1200km brevet held in Asia. As a collector of rando doodads, I was quite eager to join this ride. It would give me the chance to be one of the first, if not the first, rider to earn an International Super Randoneur 1200 (4C) patch for collecting a 1200km ride from each of four different countries on four different continents. I had previously collected an ISR 1200 (3C) and an ISR 1200 (2C) and had a European and North American ride already collected towards this one.

Although not the most challenging or the most scenic 1200 in my collection, the Hokkaido 1200 may be the most unique. Some extraordinary help and generosity got me to the start line in Sapporo. David Thompson of Tokyo, whom I had met on his trip to Seattle in June to participate in the Cascade 1200, and his wife Tomoko rolled out the red carpet for us. Chris accompanied me to Japan and we had a lovely time touring Tokyo, Kyoto, and the Izu peninsula before she returned home and I headed north with David for the ride. I scarcely had to think about any logistics and could just show up and ride.

Before I had even left home, Toshio Muto, ride organizer, and Hiroshi Horikawa, my anglophone correspondent, had done everything possible to welcome me to the ride and to make me feel like an honored guest of Audax Japan Hokkaido. As it turned out, I was the sole rider from outside Japan. Despite the language barrier - my Japanese consisting solely of a vague ability to say hello or thank you while grinning enthusiastically - I felt immediately at home with the riders from AJH and elsewhere in Japan.

Careful work by the organizers and some advance GPS prep effort on my part kept me on course for the entire ride despite the mysterious (to me) cue sheet and indecipherable (to me) street signs. Staying fueled in a different culture proved to be no problem - great food was offered by the volunteers at the few manned controls, including the first octopus that I can recall consuming on a brevet. The other controls were at convenience stores (including the ubiquitous 7-11s) and I soon found a routine that worked for me - a coffee drink, a sports drink, water for the bottles, and onigiri. These seaweed-wrapped rice balls with mystery fillings (I couldn't read the labels) proved to be perfect ride food for me. I probably had at least 50 of them!

My friend Peter Donnan from Australia describes randonneuring as a sport where one can make up "lack of ability with lack of sleep." For various reasons, I only managed one good night's sleep on the ride - six comatose hours at about 850km. With little sleep, I collected the fastest 1200 time of my slow career - 76 hours, 34 minutes. An extraordinary adventure.

Back home, I rode very little until my next long event. A 200k permanent in California highlighted the two months between big rides. Chris and I took our bikes along when we drove our daughter to her first year in college in Southern California. On the way back we stopped to visit friends in Santa Cruz. While Chris went off mountain biking, I rode a bit with rando legends Lois Springsteen (current Randonneurs USA president and five-time PBP finisher) and Bill Bryant (prolific writer and historian of all things rando) and completed their hilly, scenic Skyline permanent.

The hill training of the Skyline permanent proved quite useful for my next long event - the pre-ride of a one-way 1000km brevet from Seattle to Crater Lake in Oregon (and on to Klamath Falls for train ride home). As a public service, Geoff Swarts, Vincent Muoneke, Kole Kantner, and I went out the week before the scheduled date of this brevet to take all the bad weather that might otherwise mar a great event. We had headwinds and hours and hours of torrential rains (whitecaps on the road?!?) to enjoy.

Having seen pictures of Crater Lake, one of the natural wonders of the world, I had eagerly anticipated the chance to make my first visit there and on a brevet, no less. After a difficult couple of days along the Washington and Oregon coasts, I almost didn't get going for the challenges of the last day of the ride. But Roseburg (Oregon) is a very long way from home and the 100 mile climb from there to the crater rim seemed like the best among various lousy options to get home. Happily for me, Vincent hung back with me for the long climb. His company proved a great counterweight to the disappointment of the day's weather. The crater was in the middle of a raincloud. No views of the lake were to be had. Indeed, I could barely see my front wheel. I could, however, see Vinny's ever-present smile, appearing Cheshire cat-like out of the mist. We regrouped with Geoff and Kole at the top for a long last 100km to the finish. (Happy postscript - the big group of riders the next weekend enjoyed fabulous weather and beautiful views on this terrific course).

Next up was Australia (I needed another continent, after all) for the fourth edition of the Perth-Albany-Perth 1200km brevet in Western Australia. I turned 50 in the company of great randonneuring friends in Perth before the ride. As I've noted before, one of the great joys of this sport for me has been the collection of friends from all over the world that I see over and over at these events. Nearly 90 riders made for a great field. Common overnight stops led to a very social ride. I saw riders that I knew from the US, Canada, the UK, and Sweden along with the many Australians that I've met on two prior riding visits to Australia (and at other rides).

Many things came together to make this a terrific 1200k for me. Nick Dale and his colleagues did an extraordinary job of organizing the ride. The weather was perfect for me - cool evenings and temperate days. Not a drop of rain (until our plane taxied off to the runway as I left Perth after the ride). Although I usually spend a fair amount of time riding alone (which I enjoy) on long rides, I rode nearly the whole ride in the company of other riders. In particular, I spent much of the ride with Greg Courtney (Iowa), Spencer Klaassen (Kansas City), Maile Neel (DC), and Jos Verstegen (Holland). In addition I rode the first night and most of the second day with Vincent and all of the last day with Peter Donnan (Melbourne), who had hosted me (and towed me in) at the Great Southern Randonnee in 2008. Varied scenery and interesting wildlife added to the fun. (Some pictures of my ride can be found online - mine, Spencer'sMaile's, and Greg's).

All in all, a wonderful collection of randonneur memories already in 2010. A great year. And I collected some new stickers for my luggage box too.