Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jelly Beans!

I love jelly beans. In fact, jelly beans are my favorite post ride snack. I am especially partial to the cinnamon flavored ones! So it's no wonder that I am a fan of Jelly Belly, who not only make the best jelly beans, but also sponsor a bicycle racing team.

In addition to a bazillion flavors of regular jelly beans, Jelly Belly also make Sport Beans. These are electrolytes, vitamins, and calories in a nice tasty jelly bean shaped package! Some even have caffeine! My friend Cristine got me hooked on the caffeinated ones while we were climbing Monte Grappa a few years ago.

So naturally when I saw that Jeremy Powers,  a member of the Jelly Belly road race team, was putting on a fun dirt road event in one of my favorite places, I had to check it out, knowing that there would be jelly beans on offer. As a US cyclocross national champion, he'd also include some great dirt roads, along with lots of climbing, which of course would bring us up to lovely scenic vistas, followed by some screaming descents.

The JAM Fundo Grand Fundo/Hundo ride takes in some amazing beautiful, quiet, steep dirt (and a few paved) roads in the Berkshire foothills, starting in Southampton, MA. This was the third running of the event. We missed the prior two, because we were away, but this year, the timing was perfect. Earlier in the year I'd bought tickets to the Green River Festival, mainly to see Richard Thompson perform on Sunday. The ride and festival were on the same weekend, and in close proximity, so we decided to combine some riding with some music.

We decided to take the tandem because we've just been having so much fun bombing around dirt roads with it. We also figured we've been doing enough long hard dirt road rides this year that we'd just go for the full Hundo experience.

We booked a room at a fabulous solar-powered B&B, the Starlight Llama, not too far from the start. We'd stayed here a while back and had a wonderful time. John and Dee are fabulous hosts and are quite happy to share a wealth of information about solar power. The llamas, goats, peacocks and other assorted farm animals are cool too.

After a great breakfast, we headed down to the ride start, about 5 miles away and started bumping into loads of friends, and what seemed like everyone in NECX. I haven't seen official numbers, but it appeared there were several hundred riders. I saw that they made over $30K to help out some lucky, hard working young local cyclists, which is very cool.

It was a brutally hot day and while we planned to do the long route, we also planned to take it easy in the heat. So we started at the back, and got to enjoy the sight of cyclists strung out on the road for a long ways ahead of us!

The route is a little lumpy and has quite a bit of dirt. We flew through the first section past lots of ejected water bottles and folks pulled off to the side repairing punctures.

We were feeling pretty chuffed with out fat tires as we rolled along, that is until we hit pavement again and noticed the rear tire was going a bit soft! We had just caught up with Gary, who I'd ridden with on Green Mountain Double, and he stayed with us while we stopped to put in a new tube. We couldn't find anything obvious in the tire, but did discover that our brand new pump was either defective, or that maybe we needed to have a pump designed for high volume, low pressure. It took forever to get air back in, and even loads of pumping, we still had fairly low pressure. We'll have to look closer at the pump before the next big ride.

Anyway, shortly after getting back on the road, Jeremy Powers came riding by and taking note of the tandem, slowed to chat a bit and warn us about the upcoming climb on King's Highway. We had a great climb but managed to lose Gary on the descent. I knew we had a jelly bean, uh, I mean rest stop ahead, and figured we'd regroup there. 

We arrived at the stop and I filled my pockets with more Sport Beans and had a 1/2 banana. We also tried to locate a pump to top off the tire. There were two SRAM neutral support vehicles on the course, but they were still behind helping all the other folks who'd had punctures. Fortunately they rolled in shortly after we did and we were able to get the pressure back up to a comfortable 75 psi (Grand Bois 650BX42 Hetre tires).

While this was going on, Gary slipped past us. We managed to catch back up to him before the famous ice cream truck stop, where he also found one of his teammates.  Cooled a bit by some frozen treats, we headed out for more climbing.

The scenery continued to astound. The sun continued to bear down. Before the ride, Matt and David had talked about stopping at swimming holes, but try as we might, we didn't see any! They would have been littered with hot cyclists!

We continued along, enjoying quite a few new roads, with loads of dirt, mostly smooth and fast, until we hit one section where the organizers had painstakingly put orange paint on the various large rocks poking up. We were bombing along this section when we noticed the rear tire seemed soft again. This time we were able to find a small piece of flint. Hopefully we would not have any more issues. We had now used both our tubes, although we could patch if necessary. John again struggled to get proper air from the pump. But we again managed to top it off at the next rest stop, thanks to the SRAM support. 

After doing the extra Hundo loop, we rejoined the Fundo course at the final rest stop. While chatting away about tandems with the lovely ladies handing out jelly beans and cold drinks, John commented how it would be awesome and fun-scary to ride a tandem with Jeremy Powers captaining, especially on the screaming descents. It was at this point that they told us they were Jeremy's mom, aunt and nieces! They joked about having t-shirts made up with these labels next year.

We arrived back at the start hot, thirsty and hungry. It was around the time that I was inhaling the bar-b-q that I realized I'd not had much to eat for 82 miles other that Sport Beans! I think I was supposed to supplement with them, and actually eat some other stuff, but it's good to know that I can survive on them. We made it back in time for the raffle, but sadly did not win Jeremy's cool bike from last season or the Rapha shoes. We did have a great time chatting with lots of folks and talking up tandems.

We were pretty hot and tired and ending up passing on the music festival that evening. And just to give an idea of how hot it was on Sunday, I plotted a nice easy ride up and down the shaded Green River Road, getting us back to Greenfield in plenty of time to see RT!

Richard is awesome live, and did not disappoint.

It was another fabulous weekend. No rest for the weary. We are off to race up Mt Ascutney next weekend before heading out to the Finger Lakes for Quadzilla!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shifting Gears

We've been doing lots of long distance rides this year - between various brevets, the fleche, Green Mountain Double and Rapha Gentlemen's Race. But last weekend, it was time to switch gears and do a short intense hill-climb race. Due to various conflicts, our first hill-climb event of the season was a biggie,  Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington! We had penciled in the race up Okemo for the weekend before Newton's, to at least get one pure hill-climb race in before climbing Mt Washington, but as the weekend drew near, we finally had to admit that we were pooped from all the travelling! So we decided to save some energy by not loading up the car and driving to some far-away event for once, meaning Newton's would be the first hill-climb of the year - way to ease oneself into these things, eh?

Fortunately, I did a little hill climb training in the early spring, but truth be told, neither of us has really done any specific training for pure hill-climbs this year.  Since the long events have been coming at us fast and furious every weekend since April, we can barely think about any event beyond whatever is happening in the next few days. So there we were last week, suddenly faced with a Date with the Rock Pile.

I had been planning to stick to my usual fixed gear bike, but at the last minute, decided to throw caution to the wind and try gears again. The first time I rode up Mt Washington solo, I did it with gears, and it was brutal. I was on the edge of cramping for the final two miles and it wasn't a pretty picture at the top.
not a pretty picture

The next three times, I rode fixed, and I felt much better at the top, as well as on the way up. So I sort of had a mental block about trying gears again. But John and others finally convinced me that my bad experience was much more due to it being my first go, rather than the gears, and I should try gears again!

that is a smile!

Of course I knew it wasn't like I would do much shifting anyway. What does the fixie pixie even know about shifting gears? For the climb up Mt Washington, I basically get into one really low gear and find a good rhythm and pace where I can breathe hard for an hour and a half and just stick to it. Gears just make the start easier. Only someone who has ridden a seriously low fixed gear or unicycle can truly appreciate the screaming downhill start of Mt Washington! OK, it's not really a screaming descent, but it is downhill enough to be very hard to start with such a low gear. Having some higher gears would make the first 2/10 of a mile a bit easier. After that I'd shift down to my lowest gear and stay there for 99% of the time, with an occasional upshift for a few seconds once or twice. 

My geared hill-climb bike is a Co-Motion Ristetto that we picked up back in 2004 while visiting the factory in Eugene. With all our bikes still making their way home from our overseas move, John borrowed it, and using a long seat post and long stem, taught it to climb Mt Washington.  It has made the journey up Mt Washington a few more times in various different configurations with me at the helm. I now have it set up with a teeny XX crank and front derailleur with 26/39 chain rings, but otherwise, it still sports the standard DuraAce equipment that it came with. It weighs a bit over 16 pounds, which for my bikes is quite light, but many hill-climbers bring machines that make this one look positively obese!

So last weekend, I put some super-skinny (for me) 23 mm tires on it, pointed it uphill and pedaled to the top of Mt Washington in 1:34:32 (a PR for me by almost 5 minutes, but just off the podium in my age group). The 50 mph winds did their best to blow me off the side of the mountain and push me back down to the start, but I managed to stay on the road the whole way up. Despite having such a great ride with gears, I am planning to come back in August on my Pixie Fixie bike - just because I am the Fixie Pixie!

smile or grimace?

approaching the finish line - barely visible through the fog

John had an even more fabulous ride at Newton's this year, despite his non-specific training.

He has been racing on the Ride Studio Cafe Endurance team for the past couple of years. He and his teammates picked a brutally long and mountainous course for their fleche and then did a screaming fast time to win and set a new record on Green Mountain Double, which is to say that he's done no real intense hill-climb training, but has plenty of long hard efforts in his legs for the year. Last year, he toured on his new Seven Axiom with rack and fenders, raced it on the dirt roads of the Green Mountain Double Century, then stripped it down for Newton's and had an amazing race, and proved how versatile one bike could be. He was able to get it pretty light, but the frame still has couplers and a longer wheel-base and such. I talked with Rob and Patria at Ride Studio Cafe about possibly loaning John a Seven Cycles 622 or Axiom SLX for Newton's this year. The demo 622 was set up with Campagnolo, and was just going to be too much trouble to change around to get a nice low gearing setup required for climbing Mt Washington. But they had a lovely light Seven Axiom SLX with SRAM Red components, including a compact (34/50) crank. Swapping in John's Zipp 202 (carbon tubular) wheels with a giant 32 tooth cog would give him ideal gearing and should work without any other major changes. So with the pressure to do well on a loaner bike, John powered it to the top in 1:04:44, good enough for 5th place overall and 1st in his age category! Thank you to Ride Studio Cafe and Seven Cycles.

loaner Seven Axiom SLX with SRAM Red

Not bad for suddenly switching from long distance to short, eh? We also managed to take 2nd place in the family category, where they need a super-computer to calculate the points. Results are posted here.

We're planning to shift back to some longer rides in coming weeks, with a trip out to the Finger Lakes for Quadzilla Staged, but then it will be back to hill-climbs later in the month - yep constantly shifting gears!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Twenty Years

I was reminded recently that it's been twenty years. A lot of things have changed in that 20 years. A lot of things haven't. I'm happy to see some of the changes, sad to see others. I'm disappointed in some of the things that haven't changed or haven't changed enough. And I'm happy to see that some other things haven't changed at all.

I have many before and after moments in my life, some significant point that becomes a dividing line for me. Collectively we share some dates of significance, where we know exactly where we were and what we were doing. Sadly many of them mark deaths - the assassination of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon,  and the events of September 11. We can talk about our innocence or naivety before the event, and how different things were after.  We all have stories of how these events changed us personally.
June 7, 1992 is one of those dividing lines for me. I lost a dear friend on that day, one who taught me to seize the day and to have the courage to try to overcome obstacles in my path. I changed the way I approached everything after that day. I now know that life is indeed short and random. I'm much less likely to put things off, or to be afraid to try something new and challenging and outside my comfort zone than I was before. And I don't save stuff for special occasions. I make every effort to live in the moment and appreciate exactly what is happening at the time.

Al Lester was killed on June 7, 1992, while doing a 24 hour bike race. He was hit head-on by a teenaged drunk driver, and killed instantly. Al was not killed because riding a bike is dangerous. He was killed because driving drunk is. Sadly, Al and many other innocent and random folks, have been in the path of drunk drivers and paid the ultimate price. While statistics point to the wee hours on weekends as being particularly lethal, drunk and otherwise distracted drivers are on our roads 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The only way to avoid the danger is to lock yourself inside your house and never go out, but that is not living. The better approach is to spread the word NOT to drink and drive, NOT to text and drive, to always drive as if it matters.

I was taking part in same race, and was stopped at a control when word came in of a tragedy - although with no real details at the time. The officials stopped the race and sent support cars out to pick up all the riders. I learned about Al when our support driver came into the control - pale and shaking after driving past Al's crumpled bike on his way to pick us up.

Al's mother asked his cycling friends to ride our bikes to his funeral. I think she may have realized that we needed to do this as much for ourselves as it being a tribute to what Al loved. I had not been back on my bike since that night. But when I did, the day before Al's service, it felt like riding a bike. It wasn't scary, it just felt right. I'd lost some innocence and naivety, but the joy of turning the cranks around and gliding along was still there.  The first time I rode at night was the same. It was quiet and peaceful and the stars were brilliant. I think of Al often, when riding on some road we had ridden together, when riding along a quiet country lane at night, and when my heart rate is at its max as I try something new and challenging.

The following in from a tribute I wrote back in late 1992...

I met Al Lester on a bicycle. Where else? We met while doing qualifying brevets for Paris-Brest-Paris. Al and I, and thousands of others riders dreamed for years about doing this ride. We lived it, breathed it, ate it and dreamed it. 

Al had epilepsy and his doctor's told him it would keep him from doing long distance rides, but he defied them by doing a century. They said nothing longer. He did a double century. They said that was the limit. He did a triple, and then a quad. After he completed Boston-Montreal-Boston in 1990, they decided to stop telling him he couldn't do things anymore.

Al started taking conversational French lessons before we traveled to Paris last year. He used to drive me crazy calling out obstacles in French while on rides, but it helped to prepare him for the ride and got him psyched. Telephone callers were even treated to an answering machine greeting in French when they called.

But Al had so much energy, that in addition to all his training for France, he was on the crew that pushed Cathy Ellis to victory in last years RAAM. 
When I was getting burned out riding last year, he helped bring the fun back into the ride. He was one of the ride leaders for TOSRV-East. This ride tours scenic rural Vermont, by traveling up route 100 for 100 miles and then back the next day. This year will be the 21st year of the ride. Last year, Al and I had planned to drive up together, but at the last minute, I broke a shift lever. I suggested that we try the tandem. Al had never been on a tandem before, but decided to try. We set the seat height, put him on the back, and rode around my neighborhood. Based on that 3 mile ride, we decided to do the back to back centuries the next day. He did great, and rarely complained about sore stoker butt. He fell in love with tandeming on that ride. We did a few more centuries together. I even let him on the front once!

He had just started riding with a new tandem partner recently, and we were looking forward to doing a little competing on TOSRV-East this year!

Al completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 1991 and was ready to do it all over again in 1995! We had a blast on the ride and touring around Paris. Al practiced power napping while standing over his bike on the first day. He would get ahead of me, and stop, sleeping standing up over his bike. When I rode by, I'd wake him, and he'd do it again. He helped me through some of my low points during the ride.
Al served as president of the Greater Boston Chapter of American Youth Hostels for 4 years, until he did a walkabout this past winter. His leadership there pushed a great many projects along. He led trip after trip and ride after ride. He was an absolutely tireless volunteer. 

Al had done a tremendous amount of touring in the US and in Europe and had incredible stories about the people he met along the way. 

Al attended MIT, and received a degree in Computer Science. This past year, after suffering major burnout or plain dissatisfaction with his career, he decided to take some time off and tour through the southeast for a while. He planned to lead several trips and tours this summer and then enter graduate school in the fall. He wanted to teach math.

Al had mentioned Ididabike and RAAM as future possibilities. Al was competing in his first 24 hour ultramarathon in Johnstown, NY. He was always a strong rider, but he was shocking everyone with how well he was doing. All that touring this winter had really paid off. Apparently, he was just playing with us, when we won those town line sprints from him on the 300K this year. 

Al was 31 years old, and had definitely packed a great deal of adventure into those 31 years. He touched a lot of lives along the way. You may have been one, and not even known it. He touched my life and I miss him dearly.

It was during that 24 hour marathon bike race, that he was hit head on and killed by a drunk driver. In the same race, and just minutes apart, Andrew Spiller suffered a similar fate. Please don't drink and drive, and don't let your friends, family and children drink and drive.