Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Paying the Piper

Around here, we tend to say "why would I ever ride in the rain?"  Indeed, because it's so seldom rainy, why would you go out?  Tomorrow it will be sunny and you can go ride then.  But . . . sometimes I guess it doesn't work out just that way . . .

It was actually a very odd weekend.  High winds were forecast, and the club ride was scheduled to go out to the area around Lake Matthews.  That's usually windy under the best of circumstances, and with high, gusting winds, it just didn't seem too appealing.  Plus, they were planning to take a route that goes up a very steep, I mean wretchedly steep hill.  We've done it on the tandem, and I am not going to do it again.  Just not worth it.

So I'd suggested to Roger that instead of taking that hill, we could ride out with the group, then continue around Lake Matthews while they climbed up.  We'd either meet up with them or not later on, but we'd get a good 65 miles or so.  But then he just really did not want to go out and fight the wind.  And I had a lot of other things to do on Saturday - things I usually cannot do because we are on the bike.  So I went to the Farmers' Market, and we just did not ride at all on the weekend.

Which was fine, because of course - we can ride any day!  We agreed that we'd do a longish ride on Monday, and then we took the weekend off.

Well, Sunday the forecast for Monday was coming in chance of rain.  But, we'd decided it was a good thing to get some time in the saddle, even if it did rain - because we want to be prepared for that in the case of bad weather during one of these brevets, or PBP itself.  So off we went, headed to Banning Bench and lunch at Gramma's Restaurant.

Clouds piling up on the mountains, from Banning Bench
And wouldn't you know it?  We were headed straight into the wind for the first 25 miles or so!  There's no way to get around it, it seems.  You skip one day, you will pay the next.  The clouds piling up over the mountains were beautiful - but a bit fierce looking.  Weenie that I am, I suggested we not stop for lunch so that we could make it back before the storm began.

Roger back at the coffee shop
But Roger reminded me we were out with our rain gear, and that it would be okay if we got caught, and of course that was right.  We had a good lunch, and we just FLEW back down San Tim with that fabulous tailwind, and the rain did not begin until we were enjoying our post-ride coffee at Stell's.  (I knew this would happen.  We were getting a few little sprinkles halfway down San Tim, and I figured that while we were sitting with our coffee, it would start to rain.  Which it did.)

Over all, I was pleased with our pace.  We made it up to the top of the ride, on the bench, in reasonable time.  I think it was 30 miles with 3300 feet of climbing by the time we were there, and we averaged just about 10 mph.  Since that's twice the climbing rate we need for the average "day" at PBP, I felt pretty good about it.  And once we started for home, we were able to bring our average up to 13.5 mph overall.

And it was nice to be able to pull the jackets on, after having toted them to Banning and back!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stagecoach Century

A group of us from the club went out to Ocotillo this past weekend to do the Stagecoach Century.  This is a great ride through the desert, with about 5000 feet of climbing and (sometimes) rather fierce winds.  We were lucky this time; it was gorgeous weather, clear and probably about 75 to 80 degrees for the better part of the ride  Just fantastic!

Roger and I came in under 6:30 rolling time, with a 15.5 mph average.  Total elapsed time was 7:38.  (I figured it was a good practice to put that onto the Garmin, so that I'd be aware of how much time we were spending at the rest stops and lunch.)  We even had a flat to fix, so we got some time in for that.  Doing 100 miles in under 8 hours works out just fine; the standard pace expected for PBP would give you about 12 hours for the 100 so there's your little cushion for real food and sleep.  Not a lot of time, but some!

On this ride, I tried to work out what we'd need to keep track of on the computer.  It was handy to have the elapsed time, but I can't imagine keeping the Garmin going for a full 90 hours.  So I'll have to figure out how that works.  And you definitely need to see the total accumulated miles, but again -- am I going to want to see 750 miles on that thing?  Don't know how useful that will be.

Just for grins, I've gone on the United site to see if we can use award miles to get to France.  As of this date, we can - but we are not ready to make a commitment yet.  We need to survive the other brevets.  Roger has started to identify some that look good.  We are on for the 300 km on February 7.  It will be a flat course, so kind of a cop-out.  But at least, since I have never ridden that far before, it will give me a chance to see if I can hold up.  A couple of our club friends are planning to ride it, also.  Now, I know why I am doing this.  But what on Earth are they thinking?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Juniper Flats

This past Saturday the club ride was out to Perris Airport and back via Juniper Flats.  Which is definitely mis-named!  Altogether, it was 70 miles and just over 4000 feet of climbing.  That's actually about the rate of climbing that we need to sustain in our training to get ready for the route in PBP, so I really should not complain.  But I was tired when we got home!  I actually felt more tired from this club ride on Saturday than the 125 miles we did on the 200 km brevet.

One reason for that is probably that we really try to keep up with the group, and when the road is tilted up, that tandem is just going to go slower than our friends.  While we had a slightly better average pace on the 200 km (14.2 versus 13.7) the terrain Saturday just had more of the "up" stuff proportionately,  Trying to stay with the group, or at least not lag too far behind, is taxing.  And when we are with the group, Roger loves to be out in front, dragging everyone along.  So of course, instead of taking a moderate pace when it's flat, he's going all-out.

The real figure to watch, though, is the total average mph for the tour.  Since we stopped for a burrito at the airport, and occasionally held up to wait for others in the group, we were "on the road" for six hours.  (We got back to Stell's just before 2:00 pm)  That means our touring average was actually 11.6 mph.  That's not really where we want to be; 12.5 mph is a much better pace for the distances we'll be doing, as it will allow us a chance to accumulate more time to sleep.

However, as we rode, I was sort of figuring it this way:  if we can go 70 miles in 6 hours over and over again, we'd make it through the 750 miles in about 66 hours.  That still allows 24 off-the-bike hours, which is not too bad.  And that not riding through the night thing?  Over it.  Apparently, there is no way to start the ride without going through the night unless you commit to a shorter time at the outset, and start in the morning on Day 2.  I don't think we can give up that much time, so we'll be starting in the evening on Day 1.

That's okay - it's one of the more intriguing aspects of the event - riding along through the night with fellow travelers.  I can wrap my head around that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I am now a randonneuse.  I like the sound of that!  According to the rules of randonneuring, I can now call myself a randonneusse (female form of randonneur) because I have successfully completed my first 200 km brevet.  Fancy that!

All in all, it was a very nice day.  We had gorgeous weather - what could be more pleasant than riding along the coast, the deep blue Pacific Ocean sparkling on one side and the hills and sights of Southern California scooting by on the other?  (Or crawling by, as it seemed by mile 90.)  Of course, it started out cold.  And we started in the dark - not something that we'd counted on.  The ride began at the Ralph's parking lot, but it ended at the organizer's home about 3/4 mile away.  He suggested everyone park there, which we did.  But that meant that we were riding downhill at 5:40 in the morning, and at that time, it was DARK.  So we had to put the light on the bike - even though, of course, Roger had insisted we would not need the light on this ride!  Neither of us counted on needing it to start, so I guess that was okay.

We turned in our registration documents, waiver, and check, and received our brevet card in exchange.  This is like a little passport that contains your control points.  You must make it to the control points on time, or you are disqualified.  You must document your passage through the control points by obtaining a time-stamped and dated receipt, or you are disqualified.  You must sign your brevet card at the end of the ride, or you are disqualified.  (Like a golf tournament, I guess!)  You must not lose your brevet card, or you are disqualified.  Obviously, hanging on to the brevet card is a major goal.  I tucked ours safely into a baggie with the cue sheets, so they would be safe from wind and sweat.

The all-important brevet card
Everyone pulled out promptly at 6:30, although we were just a tad later as I was finishing a little breakfast sandwich.  No matter; the route started with a five mile climb so we would have been off the back in any case.  We did reach and pass one rider as we climbed up to Santiago Canyon in the pre-dawn.

A fellow traveler along the route
He was the only one we saw before getting to the overpass near the first control point.  There, three cyclists were assisting a friend with a flat.  Roger and I were happy that they did not need our help!

It was freezing in the canyon, and we had it more or less to ourselves.  Two red sports cars zoomed by us - twice!  They must have been doing laps.  The temperature kept falling; I recorded 36.3 degrees at one point.  But how beautiful it was - the dawn coming slowly and lighting the road and trees, finally giving us just a bit of warmth and a shadow just before we reached the summit.

Control # 1
The first control was at the Chevron station there at the base of the canyon where our club rides have stopped many times.  What you must do is purchase something so that you get a timed and dated receipt showing when you were there.  We had to make this first control point within 1 hour and 36 minutes after starting.  And - you could not get there too early, either - not that that would ever be a problem for us!  The control was open from 7:18 to 8:06.  Period.  You make it in within that time frame or you do not get credit for the brevet.  Apparently, these times are calculated based on a standard range of speeds established by the officials in France.  All very precise!

From this point, any of our club members would know the route.  We headed down to the coast on the bike paths to Newport, where we had our second control.  At this point, we actually caught up with a couple of the other riders.  Did I mention there were 15 riders on this thing?  15!  Not exactly a crush.  Anyway, you buy something at this Chevron, and then cram some food into your mouth, hit the bathroom, fill bottles, and go.
We did manage to pick up a few folks who were happy to draft the tandem for a while on this next stretch.  Of course.  And there was a fellow from Riverside who had not downloaded the Excel version of the cue sheet, because he had downloaded it from the RidewithGPS site.  Big mistake, it turns out.  Our ride organizer had all sorts of extra notes and tips in the cue sheet, whereas RidewithGPS said stuff like "Go south on I-5"!  When he realized that, he stayed pretty close to us!

We rode through Laguna Beach (always a nightmare) and then crawled through San Clemente.  It seemed to go on forever.  We scooted around Dana Point, and took the old highway south for miles past the nuclear energy station. We rode through Pendleton, where the guard at the gate recognized our jerseys and said he was from Yucaipa!  And at last, on the far side of the base, we had our third control, got a bite of lunch, and turned around to head for home.

Some really fantastic tacos, and then back on the bike!

It was here, at mile 77, that I swapped for my second pair of bike shorts.  Ah!  It made a huge difference in my comfort level for the next 30 miles or so.  (And then somewhere around mile 115, I realized that my butt was just numb.  It was amazing!  I thought I would be squirming and dying to get off the saddle and I just could not feel anything.  I figure this is something like that runner's high that I have heard about, but never experienced.  Call it "randonneur's butt"!)

Coming back up the coast, we had some pretty stiff headwinds.  Our average speed began to fall.  Up to this point, we'd been doing very well - averaging over 15 mph.  And of course, a headwind in your 90th mile is different than in your 10th!  But it was beautiful there along the ocean.  That's what I tried to appreciate.

A gorgeous day for a bike ride
There was also a fair amount of climbing as we headed back toward the start.  The Antonio Parkway was particularly taxing, with a nice long stretch of 8 to 10% thrown in for good measure.

Our final control was what is called an "information control."  You don't need to worry about the time you get there.  Instead, there will be some feature or landmark at a given mileage marker.  On your brevet card, there is a question, and you must answer it based on what you see.  This gives the ride something of a scavenger hunt feel.  Of course, this part of it appeals very much to me!

Just beating the sun home!
At last, we made the turn off Portola for the last 3/4 mile climb up to the finish.  The sun was just clipping the horizon.  It was getting cold again; in fact for the last half-hour I'd been tempted to call a stop so we could put our shells back on.  But we were so close, and the day was going fast . . . I did not want to have to get the lights back out for a final mile or two!

We arrived at the finish just before 5:00.  According to the rules, we had three hours to spare, as the 200 km must be completed in 13.5 hours or less.
Pulling into the finish

I was pleased with our overall performance; we averaged 14.2 for the ride of nearly 126 miles with 5826 feet of climbing.  Our touring average was 12 mph.  That's about what I had figured we would need to do over the long haul.  But, we were pretty relaxed about our time off the bike and we will certainly need to get faster with the "necessaries" as we pursue the longer distances so that we can accumulate enough time to actually get some sleep between the riding sessions!

We were not the last to finish, in any case.  So that's something.  We signed our cards, filled in our time at the control points, and headed off to find a beer and a burger.  Some things never change!

One down, three to go!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Game Day

Actually, Game Day minus one.  We are staying tonight down near the start, so we have to leave the house in a few hours.  Do we have everything?

Bike - check (Roger is responsible for checking the condition and lubing, etc, but of course I will go through that all with him to "double check" just as he does for me with the clothes and gear.)

Clothes - check (it could be quite chilly for the start and the high tomorrow is not expected to be much above 60 degrees.  Spectacular riding weather!)

Helmets, gloves, shoes, booties - check, check, check, check!

Maps, cue sheets - check, check

Baggie to keep cue sheet, brevet card and receipts safe and dry - check

Lights, back-up lights - check (even though Roger says, "we will not need them for this one.")

Reflective vest and ankle straps - check

Clothes for after (you don't want to ride home in your chamois!) - check

Sandwiches, banana, apple/orange slices, bars - check

Chamois cream - check (oh yeah, check, check and double-check!)

Camera - check

ID - check (we ride through Pendleton, so this is a must or we'd be turned back)

Waiver and registration - check and check

Check for payment - check!

And I guess that is it.  If we are successful, tomorrow I will be a randonneusse!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sleepless night

When we joined the RUSA, we got a guide book about randonneuring.  I was reading that the other night before bed.  Well, that was a mistake!  Most of what I read seemed pretty reasonable, sensible, and in line with what Roger has said and I had imagined.  But there was this little thing that I had not realized, which for some reason just upset me no end:  the control points are only available for a certain span of time.  You cannot get there too soon, and you must get there before the close time.

I don't know why that had not occurred to me.  It does make sense, but it threw me into a complete tailspin.  In my first calculations about completing the PBP, I had figured we could avoid most of the night-time riding by using the dark to schedule our rest, and riding for long days (it will be August, after all, in the northern half of France - days should be long.)  But if we are made to start at 6:30 pm, as the 90-hour folks did four years ago -- AND if the control points are only open for a certain amount of time -- THEN we would be forced to ride through the dark in order to reach them in time.

In addition, the author posited that, if your goal was the longer distance (that is, the 1200 km PBP or other grand ride) then you should do your 600 km brevet as a "sleepless" event.  That's the only way to train properly for the grand event.  And I thought NOOO!  That's not what I want to do at all!

Ay yi yi!  You would think I had already bought a ticket and paid my fare to Paris, they way this upset me!  For heaven's sake, we don't even know if we can handle the intermediate distances yet.  Roger says the 300 km is very telling.  That's about 200 miles, and that's pretty much what you need to get through each day of the 1200 km PBP, and he hasn't tried to ride that distance in a while.  Then, as he put it, to do the 600, you have to do your 300, then get some rest, and do it again the next day.  "But the book said you should do it without sleeping" I said.  No - that's ridiculous, he said.

And he's right.  It's ridiculous.  There's no reason that we need to do anything other than what we need to do.  We will, for sure, do some riding through the night.  I guess that's inevitable, and if so, then fine.  (Of course, if that is the case, then I don't guess it matters whether you are jet-lagged or not when you start.  Because who really cares if you are going to be up all night anyway?)

But we do not need to do an all-nighter just because some guy in a book says so.  And we certainly don't need to make any decisions about how we plan to ride PBP right now.  And we most certainly do not need to be losing any sleep about this at this point in time!  So just calm down, Kathy, and keep those legs turning.  That's all you have to do right now!

Talking about it

Roger sent many of our cycling friends an email announcing that we were considering doing this thing, and would be starting by doing this first brevet on Saturday.  Now, I am not one to do that sort of thing.  Since I have no idea yet whether this will work out or not, I just would not say anything to anyone until I had a little clearer idea of what I was doing.  I guess I don't like saying, "oh well - it didn't work out."  I don't want to have to share my failures so publicly.

But, Roger is an event planner, it seems.  He can say, "We're going out to Bautista Canyon" and get six folks to come along.  He sets up remote trips to the coast, or invites people to join us at the Mammoth century, or Stagecoach, and people come!  So this was very natural to him.

"Hey, everyone, here's another thing you can do, and we're going out to do it, so why don't you think about coming out with us?"  And that's how it happened.  I can totally understand why he did it.

And maybe, just maybe, I can also imagine that it was a strategic move on his part.  Since I have to believe that he understands at least a little bit about how I think, and he's figuring I won't be able to back out if everybody knows about our plans!

Well, I've got to give this to him:  today on the Annual New Year's Day Rubidoux ride, Candy was asking about our ride Saturday, and saying how everyone was so excited about what we are trying to do.  Others also asked about our plans as we rode today, and last week.  And I guess there is no harm in having a bit of cosmic energy coming your way via the good wishes and excitement of your friends.  So, Roger - my hat's off to you!  Maybe we will actually get to Paris, and maybe we will not.  But we will at least have the support and interest of our friends to help us keep the energy level up while we go about figuring it out.

Two Hundred Kilometers

The first required brevet, at 200 km, should not be terribly difficult for us to complete.  It will be further than I have ridden in a single sitting, but not by much.  When I first started riding, I planned a trip for us from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.  We had completed the Lake Tahoe century that summer, and were still riding regularly, although not those distances.  I figured, having finished the Tahoe ride about 2:30 pm or something like that, that we could easily do the trip in two legs of about 120 miles or so.  And I wasn't concerned about that additional distance, because, hey!  I'd done 100 miles and felt just fine, so why wouldn't I be able to do two more hours at more or less the same pace and be done by 4:30?

So I got a room for us in Sedona (about half-way) and our plan was to ride there, stay two nights, then ride on to the Grand Canyon through Oak Creek Canyon.  Well, there were a couple of things that I did not consider.  One big factor in tour planning is the amount of daylight you have.  We did the Tahoe ride in June, with plenty of daytime.  Late November, there's just not as much day.  We left Phoenix in the dark, but we were at least riding along city streets with lights.  Out in the canyon, I just did not feel we should continue once it got dark.  I only had one back flasher, and so I gave it to Roger and I stopped at a hotel and tried to find a cab that could ferry me and my bike the rest of the way up the road to our B and B in Sedona.

Another key factor in touring is the terrain.  Now, I was confident that I could ride a good pace across Arizona, since the Tahoe century had had a fair amount of climbing (around 5000 feet, I think), and it was at altitude - around 6500 to 7500 feet.  However, I did not consult a topo map of our planned route to Sedona.  Nowadays, it's simple to plot any excursion in advance on the computer and see what the climbing requirements will be.  We didn't have access to tools like that in 2000, and I completely underestimated how much up and down there would be.  I knew the south rim of the Grand Canyon was about 7000 feet, and Phoenix is at 1100, but I did not realize that we would climb and descend the same 1000 feet so many times on the way!  Every time the road would turn DOWN and we'd lose the feet we'd just gained I would silently scream, "NOOOOOO!  Not again!" Obviously, pacing depends on the amount of climbing you have to do.  So that threw my estimates off, also.

And then there is the issue of food.  When you are doing a supported century ride, you stop every 15 to 20 miles and grab something from the rest stop.  You can pack your pockets with bars, you can fill up your water bottles with Gatorade, you can cram some peanut butter sandwiches in your mouth and have a banana and be on your way in a few minutes.  When you are touring, you have to stop somewhere to eat.  Even a quick burrito grab at Taco Bell takes a while.  So there is likely to be more time off the bike for a given number of miles ridden when you are handling your own food.  That's not a problem, necessarily - it just increases the elapsed time.

Well, the combination of these three factors meant that I just could not go the entire distance on that first day.  I stopped at about 117 miles, and Roger continued to the B and B, and I believe that I did finally reach a cab with a big trunk who came and ferried me in.  As far as I can remember, that is my highest daily mileage to date.  So this 200 km (which is listed as 125.5 miles) will be my longest ride yet.

Given that we do know how much climbing to expect, and we have ridden most of these streets before, and we have good lights and reflective clothing if we run into trouble and need the twilight hours, I am confident that we'll be able to complete our ride in the allowed 13 1/2 hours.  Even stopping for food!