walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mutinous Malfunctions, Astounding Ascents, Daring Descents, Toiling Triathletes, and A Good Time Was Had By All*: the Inaugural LBC 100k Populaire -- a Beauteous Brevet

There's a bit of irony in the fact that it's taken me this long to get around to riding a brevet (and a short one, at that).

Back when I started riding again, my primary goal was to ride a 200k brevet in 2010 (which now seems like roughly six million years ago).  I scuttled that goal completely by picking a fight with a lamp post while riding my old green Hybrid, Swift -- and since then have evolved into a rider with racing asirations who spends way more time on the bike while somehow simultaneously being way less disciplined about it.  If you call that evolution**.

What that really means is that I lost a bunch of motivation somewhere (I thought I saw it on the way home on Saturday, but it turned out to be someone's lost sunglasses).  I wrote a bit about that recently; I neglected to also mention that my relationship with DD -- which is wonderful -- also acted as a bit of a demotivator.  Specifically, I wanted to spend more time with him, and also couldn't yet get my head around the fact that it actually wouldn't bother him if I wandered off now and then by myself in order to ride my bike..

At this point, my motivation is returning, and I feel secure enough in my relationship with DD to feel comfortable going off by myself on the bike for, like, an entire day on the weekend (I feel free to wander off and ride during the week, since I’m usually home by myself).

And when I say 'by myself,' what I mean is 'occasionally by myself, but usually with 5 or 50 of my favorite bike people.'

So it was that today, for the second week in a row, I went on a ride while DD stayed home (though he, being the sweet and thoughtful guy that he is, drove me to the ride start, even though it was only 7 miles or so away, because we’d stayed up too late last night kibbitzing with our friend K’s Mom after dinner and drinks at K’s new restaurant, ‘garage’).

Saturday morning, I arrived earlyish at the start point on Morton Ave, where I received a brevet card and a doughnut (breakfast of champions randonneurs).  Then I hung out for a bit to wait for with Dave, Michael, and Tim (in alphabetical order).  Soon they arrived and checked in, and in the twinkling of an eye, we were all off on the inaugural ride in the LBC's new Populaire brevet series -- assuming that it is, in fact, a series, and that I'm not just totally imagining things.

The day's ride began with a cruise down to River Road, which is a pleasant enough ride at 9:00ish on a Saturday morning.  We encountered a few brave triathletes already out plying their trade; they were coming the other way, so there was much waving and ding-dinging of bells on our part by way of encouragement.  To their credit, many of them waved back -- for the triathletes, it was early in the day.  They had not yet realized the demoralizing, life-sapping effect that a dip in the Ohio River must inevitably carry

As we spun merrily along, I noticed a weird sensation in my left pedal, followed by some front-derailleur problems (specifically, I seemed to be stuck in my small ring).  Since I was riding Hg, you might think that I would've had the sense to wonder if my left crankarm was working itself loose again: I didn't.  Instead, I continued blithely along until suddenly and with no real warning I found my left crankarm dangling from my shoe.

Needless to say, this presented a bit of a problem.  Not only could I no longer pedal worth a darn (I was worried that the drive side might fall off as well if I tried), but it was surprisingly hard to figure out how to unclip and stop.  I did, however, finally manage to unclip my right foot and glide to a stop in the grass with my left one sticking out at what I'm sure was probably a hilarious angle and thinking, "Crap, I'm done."

Dave happened to notice that I had pulled over, shouted to the group that we had a mechanical, and pulled over to help me out.  I had brought the set of hex wrenches with the requisite 8mm wrench just in case, so between the two of us, we managed to get the left crankarm back on -- at which point, Dave torqued the bejeezus out of it (I have little T-rex arms and am not much good for torque or heavy lifting).  Our theory was that it would be less likely to come undone again, that way.  Upon remounting, I found it a little stiff, but satisfactory; within a couple of minutes, we were back on the road.

In fairly short order, we caught the group, which then proceeded along River Road, then branched left onto Rose Island Road.

There, Tim told us the story of a strange and prominent member of the Socialist party who (perhaps in defiance of his own anti-capitalist ideals) owned a huge chunk of property on said Island at one point, including a small zoo where -- once upon a time -- the public could visit his menagerie of exotic animals.  Turns out that the zoo remains, at least in part, now populated by some camelids of some sort, various waterfowl (including Canada Geese, who may or may not be part of the menagerie at all), and some other species I didn't really see well enough to identify.  There were white cattle of some sort.

Musings about the nature of the zoo kept us distracted for some time as we rolled down a beautiful stretch of road shaded by tall stands of trees on either side.  The road lulled us all into a kind of happy complacency: where were the hills the organizers had warned us of?  I thought perhaps they'd been eliminated by a last-minute route change, since indeed just such a last-minute change had been effected.

And then, suddenly, our friendly little road took a sharp turn onto a hill, and we were climbing.

In fact, the first steep climb probably wouldn't have been much more challenging than the Iroquois or Cherokee climbs, and certainly not worse than the most challenging of the climbs we encountered on the RCCS ride I enjoyed back in February -- if it weren't for the fact that we were riding in the climactic equivalent of a steam proofer.

I've learned over the past few significant rides that my climbing ability goes completely to crap in hot, humid weather.  Saturday was no exception.  I managed my frustrating with this personal flaw the way I normally do: which is to say, badly.  Instead of shrugging off my own momentary limitation, I got in a big ol' fight with gravity and my bike and my lungs, and eventually everybody but me won.  To make matters worse, as we toiled our way up the hill, a blue pickup badly in need of exhuast-system work rattled past us, belching fumes.  After it passed, my lungs officially shut down in protest, and I had to stop, hit the inhaler, and wait for them to sort themselves out.

Fortunately, albuterol is a bit of a miracle drug, and in a minute or so I was back in action.  Well off the tail of the group now, I banged my way to the top of the hill in solitude, deciding meanwhile that my training rides, from now on, will consist entirely of murderous hill repeats sprinkled with occasional interval workouts.

I guess it's probably worth observing that, all struggle aside, I have -- in fact -- come a really long way, cardiovascular fitness-wise.  Last year, I'm not sure I would have made it to the bottom of the first real climb, given the heat and (especially) the humidity -- and last year, at this time, I was still taking both Advair and Singulair as well as hitting the albuterol before any expected hard effort.  I'm trying to keep this in perspective, instead of just being pissed at myself for not being as strong a rider, this time of year, as I think I should be.

Anyway, after a short break, I plodded the rest of the way up that first climb, and in short order my pulse and respiration rates were back to normal.

Even Dave on the recumbent had passed me by that point -- only a tandem and possibly a couple other riders remained behind -- and being as I belong to a subset of proto-randonneurs that live in mortal fear of misreading the cue sheet, I set to work catching up.  This meant I probably enjoyed the beautiful rollers that followed as a reward for climbing the Col d'Ile Rose less than I should have.  It was, however, impossible to fail to enjoy the descents.  I had forgotten how quick and how stable Hg is on the descents, and how keenly he cuts whatever line you sight.

My efforts were soon rewarded: soon I caught sight of Dave and a mysterious mulberry-jerseyed rider up ahead.  Across a long flat section plagued by an unrelenting headwind, I labored (though not all that hard, because totally cooking myself at this point in the ride seemed ill-advised) to catch them.  When at last I did, it felt really good to be back in contact with the group, especially since Dave had a bike computer and we stood a much better shot, between the two of us, of actually successfully following the cue sheet.

The mysterious rider was one Ann, who would stay with our group for the duration of the ride.  After a brief stop for a surprise control at a country store, where Michael and I acquired cold beverages (he water, I PowerAde), we rolled on into Oldham County, past Foxhollow Farm (home of the CSA that DD and I just joined), and through yet more rollers and oncoming triathletes.

By this time, the triathletes in question were looking a little less dapper, though many of them still tried to smile or wave.  Perhaps their impending appointment with Old Man Ohio had settled upon them like a fog.

By this time, we were getting hungry.  So hungry, in fact, that at one point a few of us pulled over for a brief pow-wow to make sure that we hadn't failed to turn off for the lunch stop.  After more rollers and more climbing, we had emerged from the trees to travel the same long, straight stretch of sunbaked road for what seemed like forever: needless to say, we were concerned.  Fortunately, it turned out that we were but a few miles from our lunch stop, and feeling at least a tad rejuvenated, we rolled on.

At this point, I was just about out of both water and PowerAde, and rather concerned that I was beginning to sweat less and less (a sign, I feared, of impending dehydration).  It was heartening to know that I could probably make it to the lunch stop without keeling over, though, and soon we were in sight of civilization -- the little town center of LaGrange, where we would stop for a bite at the Red Pepper Deli.

Famished, we stacked our bikes outside and packed into a little Victorian storefront, where the friendly folks at the counter signed our brevet cards and took our orders.  I had something I think might have been called a 'poncho wrap,' though I'm not entirely certain, some delightfully salty chips, some pickles (which I soon realized are the ideal ride food: water, salt, and potassium all wrapped up in a cool, crispy package!), and a whole lot of caffeine in the form of diet pepsi.

At the height of the cycloswarm, the Red Pepper looked like this:

...on both sides of the aisle.

My table, however, looked like this:

clockwise from bottom:
Ann, Dave, Tim, and Michael, waiting for food

I, of course, would be sitting in the seat where you see my helmet holding my ridiculous number of accessories, if it weren't for the fact that I had to stand up to get the whole table in the shot.

At the Red Pepper, we were also able to refill our water bottles with ice and water, which we desperately needed.  We enjoyed our meals and pleasant conversation as we cooled our heels.  Soon, however, the lunch stop was at an end, and we gathered ourselves up and headed back out on the road.

I felt very much refreshed after lunch.  In fact, I felt stronger after lunch than I had first thing in the morning, possibly due to the prodigious amounts of food and caffeine I engulfed while sitting in the pleasantly-chilled atmosphere of the Red Pepper.

Perhaps just as importantly, we were well past the halfway point.

By this time, I was certain that we were all going to make it.  Nobody was going to have to call his or her personal sag wagon -- we were, in essence, home free.

If you didn't count the twenty-some miles of rollers, climbs, insects, and humidity between us and home, that is.

We rolled out from the Red Pepper by the same route we'd come in.  Roads that had seemed endless just before lunch were now behind us in a blink.  Lovely farms rolled past us, and we coasted by a soccer field occupied by the minivan set on an outing -- and then disaster struck.

Or, well, at least, mild irritation.

While shifting into my big ring, I neglected to remember that Hg's front shifter is built for a triple and is therefore exceedingly finicky.  As such, I shifted my chain right onto my crankarm, where it proceeded to get caught between the big ring and the front derailleur for all it was worth.


I shouted, "Guys, I'm stopping, I've got a mechanical!"  Ann dropped back to make sure I was okay; I told her I'd get it ironed out and be back with the group in a minute.

In fact, it took roughly the minute in question to iron out the chain (which behaved itself admirably thenceforward); by then, the group had hit a nice long descent and gotten a pretty good head start.  I decided, then, to actually do some work -- and rather amazed myself by catching up with them as we approached a fork in the road.

Together again, our group proceeded through some beautiful farmland:

...Where we proceeded to take pictures of each-other taking pictures of each-other:

Soon, we were back in the woods, descending like madpersons, then climbing like ... um ... well, to be honest, turtles, for the most part.  At least, I was climbing like a turtle, though at least like a faster turtle than before lunch.

Some part of me was comforted, however, by the fact that I managed to climb faster than Dave on his 'bent, if only because 'bents don't climb very fast.  I'm sure if he'd been on an upright bike, he would've left me in the dust.

A lot more rollers and a couple more real climbs later, we came to a long, long, loooooong flattish stretch out of which suddenly loomed the specter of what I came to call 'Disney Norton Commons' -- a planned community that's trying really hard to be a New Urbanist live-work kind of place, but failing because its location and buy-in-price tag make it necessary for most of its residents to work somewhere else, and for the people who run the small businesses there to live somewhere else.  There, we stopped at 'Gelato Gilberto,' a purveyor of gelato that I would rate as decent, but not quite up to the standard of the place my Dad used to take my sister and me in Hartford's little Italy when we were kids.  I found the chocolate-hazelnut flavor too sweet, and ate only a little of it.

Regardless, the girl at the counter was friendly and courteous and seemed happy to sign our brevet cards and refill our water bottles, so they get full points for great service.

For a few minutes, about half the total sum of the ride sat around, enjoying gelato and kibbitzing -- but we were all, undoubtedly, 'smelling the barn' by then, and ready to head back out.

The next leg of our journey took us through Wolf Pen Branch, home of hills.  Our heading, however, meant a few could-be significant climbs were descents for us.  It was on the last of these that we finally encountered the toiling triathletes yet again -- by this time, fully demoralized, and laboring their way up what was to them a long climb on foot (to us, it was a pleasant descent on wheels).  Had I been among their number, I think I would've chosen to lie down by the side of the road for a nap.

At the bottom of the hill, we turned left, and suddenly we were back on River Road.  By this time, Dave and I were riding in a little groupetto of two, though occasionally we leapfrogged with the same titanium tandem we'd been trading spots with all day.

A unique excitement entered my veins: we were almost home!  I was going to actually finish something, for once in my life!  I was going to manage to get all the stamps on my brevet card and everything!  And so was Dave!

Never mind that I actually kind of hate riding on River Road.  Never mind the irritation of near-constant traffic and drivers who seemed unwilling to wait for a safe spot to pass.  Never mind the heat, the humidity, the bugs: we were almost done!

And I didn't even feel cooked yet!

...Though I had noted (hours ago, by this time) that Hg needs a shorter stem and maybe deeper drops, and more recently that choosing the shorts with the fuzzy terry-cloth-like chamois for a 100k ride in super-hot weather had been a horrible, horrible idea (next time, I'm wearing my ironic Trek kit -- the one that says 'Trek, SRAM, Speedplay, and Bontrager,' when my components consist of 'Fuji, Shimano, Shimano, and Chen Sheng Tire' at the moment -- or my team kit).

The oncoming triathletes, meanwhile, were looking perkier, if only because we were now waving to a group that had yet to realize the staggering scale of the climb they would face up Wolf Pen Branch.

River Road always seems endless to me, and after an endless period of River Road, we came to the turn-off at Frankfort Ave, only to discover that the remainder of our group was gathered there, changing a tire.  Dave and I waited with them, and soon we were all back en route -- just a few more miles to beer! the end of the ride!

We rolled up the tiny little climb to Story Ave, turned right, took a Main-Wenzel-Market loop to get going the right way, then rolled up Baxter Ave (which no longer seemed like a hill at all) and around the corner on Morton to the garden seating at Flanagan's, where waiting riders shouted that we had just made it and cheered us on as we settled our bikes and sprinted for the last control stamp.

And then, it was over: we had all made it!  Dave, Michael, Tim, Ann, and I were all signed, sealed, and delivered randonneurs ... at least, sort of.  Through a combination of wit, hydration, and slowness, we had survived our first populaire, rolling in just under the wire.

 post-brevet libations at Flanagan's

It was a merry time at Flanagan's, then.  I opted not to partake in the beer, having learned that lesson after the previous week's gravel ride (a single beer after a long ride makes me very, very, very tipsy).  Instead, I opted for a diet Coke and a water, both of which I inhaled as Dave, Michael, Tim and I sat basking in the glow of our mutual triumph.

Over the course of the day, our speeds had ranged from 5 to 45 MPH (topping out, of course, on some truly-blissful descents), and our spirits from flagging to delirious with joy.  We had all made it back together -- and, perhaps most importantly, we all had a good time out on the roads.

It was a party atmosphere at Flanagan's as our intrepid collective cooled off and reminisced.  I think, though, our table may have been the happiest: happy that Dave was able to come, happy that we all made it through the ride, happy that we managed to squeak in under the wire even though we apparently lingered rather too long at the controls.  I think any one of us could have put in another ten or twenty miles without complaining (though I may have complained about my shorts if I'd had to ride any further).

After a while, Michael and Tim headed out, and Dave and I moved over to the table occupied by the tandem-riding couple, with whom we traded stories until DD came to hang out for a while and then collect me.  The last thing Dave said to him was, "You'll have to come ride with us some time."

I suspect that he will, and probably sooner rather than later.

Lessons learned on this ride:

  1. Double-check the crankarm bolts ;)
  2. Don't linger so long at the controls.
  3. You can't bring too much water.
  4. Pickles are the perfect ride food.
  5. Triathletes are crazy, but dedicated, and therefore I kind of like them.

*Except Maybe the Triathletes.
**Consult your Pokemon Guide for a more formal definition.


  1. Nice post. I think your observations of the trithletes (not a word, mind you) were spot on. I noticed that some of them on River Rd. on our return looked more than a bit peaked. More than.

  2. Heh, yeah, a few of them looked about ready to fall over. The first one we saw -- well, if I could have snapped a picture of him, I'd have submitted it to the OED website under the heading 'demoralized.'

  3. It's funny, just as I was reading (or rather re-reading) your post, I saw you leave a comment on my blog. Fortuitous timing.

    Great writeup -- I think you did a great job of capturing the feel of some of the sections. Plus, you say you weren't climbing well but it seems to me that once we got warmed up (after 15-20 miles or so), you found your climbing legs (or lungs!) and did a lot better after that.

    And yes, Tim and I discussed the same thing: we felt pretty good after the ride. Not completely cooked. We could have ridden more. That's a good feeling, after a long, hot day on the bike.

  4. Also ... astouding alliteration!