Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Monday, October 29, 2012

The Fall Five

This week, a unique solo stage race, Fall Five is being hosted by our local bike and coffee shop, Ride Studio Cafe (RSC). While RSC is clearly one of the best places for cyclists to hang out, drool over cool bikes and accessories and clothes, drink espresso and meet with cycling friends, the proprietors do recognize that we all have very busy schedules, and sometimes it's just not possible to coordinate and all get together for a ride/race at the same time. So they came up with this clever stage race, that let's us compete with each other, on our own schedules.

There are 5 stages, a prologue time trial, a road race, a mountain stage, a circuit race and a criterium. They are all really time trials though, since no drafting as allowed and folks are riding at different times. As incentive to be social, well at least to network socially about it, up to 5 second time bonuses per stage are given for photos, tweets, facebook posts, etc.  Bonuses and prizes are also awarded for town line sprints and possibly other criteria. I'm hoping for special category prize for 50+ female riders with brown leather shoes!

Rumor has it that strict doping controls may be enforced, as riders will be tested to be sure they have a minimum level of caffeine in their system! Ride Studio Cafe is a coffee shop after all! Various other forms of doping, like group doping (ride solo), transportation doping (no drafting cars) and aero-doping (no disc wheels or aero-bars) are not allowed. Apparently hurricane doping - taking advantage of tailwinds from the Frankenstorm Sandy is OK.

The solo racing/timing is accomplished through technology, thanks to RideWithGPS, an awesome online mapping routing tool for GPS devices.

A little aside/promotional note about RideWithGPS. I've been using this awesome routing/mapping tool for a while now to plot out various routes, including the rides I lead every Tuesday from RCS.  Once plotted (and vetted), a cue sheet can be printed (or downloaded to a GPS). I must say it is now a lot easier to create a cue sheet than the old method of plotting something out on a paper map, then riding it, taking notes, including distance at each turn, and typing it up; especially if you need to make changes mid route at some point in the future and recalculate all the distances. For a formal event, where folks will be using cue sheets, I map out the route with the software, generate a preliminary cue sheet, and then go out and ride the route, following the cue sheet and taking additional notes to be added to the generated cue sheet. The software does lots of the initial work, by getting accurate distances and including most of the cues. But I will add this one caveat for anyone using any software to generate a cue sheet, especially here in New England. Technology is only as good as the data, and sometimes the data may suggest a turn that may or may not be a turn, so what appears as a straight to the software, is actually a turn, and vice-verse.  Also the map data doesn't indicate if a road is paved or not, so if seeking or avoiding dirt roads is important, it's a good idea to check. Also map data is sometimes just plain wrong, or sometimes may show a hiking trail as a road. Finally the software  does NOT include landmarks and other hints, like mention of traffic lights, stop signs, T intersections and such that are really helpful to folks following a cue sheet. And it doesn't know about hazards and construction. It does generate a nice route profile that can be quite handy for determining how challenging a route might be. So while I highly recommend this site for creating and maintaining cue sheets, it is still important to do the on-the-ground research too.

For smaller informal rides, like the rides I lead from RSC on Tuesdays, I will alert folks if we are taking in a new route. Most of us use GPS units and we stick together for the social ride, so if we come upon something ambiguous, we can compensate. That said, I do have a library of about 10 well vetted routes based out of RSC and they can be found here.  But I've gotten way off topic!

RideWithGPS also provides the ability to upload, track and compare rides. So you can keep track of your mileage, compare efforts over a season, or compare your performance to others.  Patria, the curator at RCS, has been working with Zack at RideWithGPS to add some additional features to enable this solo stage race. Events is a new feature that allows folks to register, get routes and information and updates. Segments are used for the stages and sprints, and a leaderboard shows the standings. There is even a tab to show tweets tagged as #fallfive.

Now, I'm not a racer. I do a few hill climbs and some long distance stuff, but I like socializing while riding, lunch and photo stops and such,  way too much to put my head down and actually race. But this seemed like fun, and the stages are fairly short, so could be incorporated into a longer day out, so I signed up.

But then came the challenge of what bike to ride. The shifters, derailleurs and cassette on my Seven were well worn, and ready to be replaced when we returned from France. I am not a retrogrouch, but I am frugal. I have old 9 speed parts on this bike that were actually transferred from a previous bike.  And as parts wear out, I have been replacing them with parts from a box of other previously-used parts that have been removed from other bikes as they have been upgraded to more modern components. The theory is that these parts are still good, since we would certainly throw away anything that was truly worn out. Well I'm not so sure about that theory anymore. I changed out various parts a few weeks ago, and have been less than happy with shifting recently, so I threw caution to the wind and broke the bank and ordered some new 10 speed SRAM parts (rear derailleur, cassette and barend shifters). They will be in later this week! So this left me with either being frustrated by mis-shifts or riding my hill-climb bike, my commuter or my fixie. I decided on the hill-climb bike. It's light and fast on the hills. It just has one tiny downside. The big chainring is a 39! So if a route was flat or had a lot of downhill, I'd be spinning a lot. I decided to go for the spin!

My 26/39 crank! With some seriously styling shoes!

John opted for fenders and 30mm tires - and some nice Irish colors!
The race and first stage started last Friday. One could do stage 1 anytime Friday or Saturday. I had already planned a 90 mile group ride on Friday, so decided 90 miles was too much of a warmup for a 2 mile race, so planned to do both stage 1 and 2 on Saturday. John headed out to do Stage 1 at lunch time Friday, but was a bit confused about the actual starting line and stopped mid-course to start his race from where he thought was the start line. He didn't realize that he had done this til uploading that night. So we asked about a do-over. Seems the software takes the best time, so the do-over was possible on Saturday.

We headed over to the underpass that marked the start. I got photos of John heading off, and a couple of minutes later, started my race.

Two miles later, we were done, so we headed over the RSC to recover and get a coffee before Stage 2. We both were coughing and hacking like crazy, after getting air in parts of the lungs that hadn't seen use in a while. Rob commented that maybe we should give up the cigarettes, but later that day, I believe he would also experience the same coughing fit, when he raced!

So after a bit of recovery time, we headed back out to do Stage 2. As a solo effort, we did not start or ride together. I started first, while John stopped to catch up with fellow team member, Jay. He then did a short warm up on a nearby hill to try and get his heart rate up and ready.

I get a little credit and blame for the first part of the course. I'd suggested a lightly traveled route out of Lexington that would avoid an awkward left turn on a busy road. It turned out to be new roads for some, so that was cool. But it did start with a short cruel climb, followed by a lot of downhill. I paid the price for my wee little gears on the downhill, as I spun away like a mad-woman!

About half-way through the 13 mile race, John came roaring past, taking photos as he did. Sadly they came out a bit too fuzzy! He powered on and posted a great time. And then cycled part way back to get some photos of me coming up Strawberry Hill. 

Pamela working hard climbing Strawberry Hill

Me and my cheering section, as seen in the mirror

A post-stage reward!

The road race concluded at the top of Strawberry Hill in Acton, but Keyks Bakery in Chelmsford offered a reward of a free cupcake to racers. These are seriously delicious and enormous cupcakes and well worth the ride out. John and I decided to share one!

Fueled by chocolate, we headed home, passing cheering crowds along the way.

The cheering crowds is Weston center!

Sunday was the start of the mountain stage. Someone had invited Sandy, the great Frankenstorm of 2012 to town. She wasn't actually scheduled to arrive until Monday night, but apparently sent out a forward party to check things out. Despite a forecast of clear skies, it was dreary and grey and misty on and off all day.

The stage would climb to the water tower in Arlington three different ways. It's a well known landmark in the area, at least to any cyclists looking for climbing. There are numerous routes up, most about a mile long. It is rare for me not to see other cyclists climbing the roads when I am doing the same. Last spring and summer, I did regular rides up, trying not to repeat the same way up in the same day, and sometimes climbing up as many as 10 different ways. The water tower has become like an old friend!

We headed out from home in Watertown, so got in a bit of a warmup climbing to the tower from our side of town. John took a round about route over for even more of a warmup, so he started the race up Park Avenue well after I did and then passed me part way up. But as I approached the top, I noticed that he had stopped a bit shy of the finish line.

The stage has three segments, each a climb. Only the climbs would count, so folks wouldn't have to do crazy stuff on descents and could even rest in between. The email with all the details for the stage said the finish line was at the crosswalk in front of the fire station. The problem is there are two crosswalks and John had stopped at the first one before the fire station. I told him that he'd need to do it again! So while I headed off to do the second climb, he went back down to start over! For the fellow who rides up Burke Mountain as his warmup for the race up Burke Mountain, it seemed appropriate!

The second climb, Quincy, is actually one of the ways up that I rarely take. I use this road mostly for descending. It turns out it is a good climb. I should add it back in to the repertoire next spring! I took advantage of my tiny gears and twiddled back up to the tower, where I took some time to take a few photos and tweet.

My old friend, the water tower

Pamela, tweeting from the steps of the water tower!

John's Seven, complete with 30 mm tires and fenders

A view of the Boston skyline on a grey day, from Arlington water tower.

Pamela, hammering up Eastern Ave, with some fall foliage still on trees - pre-Sandy

Fender-doping came in handy!

Two more stages to go. Hopefully Frankenstorm Sandy will leave town before we have to do the next stage!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Chicks on a Tandem do the Great River Ride

This week my Tuesday ride had 4 riders of the female persuasion and one lone male. When Bob joined us en route, I commented to him that he was lucky to ride with 4 chicks. He agreed that we were delightful company, but commented that while we were allowed to call ourselves chicks, he probably was not!

Ah well, I've never been one to worry much about political correctness. I love telling the story of one of our fleche rides. We had three gals riding fixed gear bikes, and our team name was "Fixie Chicks".  But that's not the story. My two teammates were 10 or 20 years younger than me. We were close to the end of our 250 mile/24 hour ride, when we came to an intersection. I must have been slightly ahead and crossed safely, but the other two stopped and got a kick out of watching the guys passing by on Harleys, who apparently twisted their heads around quite noticeably checking me out! So now I call myself a post-feminist, because my reaction to that was to think that this was pretty cool!

Of course none of this has anything to do with the Great River Ride, except that this year I got to have a great time being politically incorrect warning people about the girl-driver on the front of the tandem I was stoking, and we got to surprise a few folks when they realized there were two chicks on that tandem!

Regular readers may recall that Dena bravely captained for me, stepping in at the last minute, when our Epic Avengers Team was decimated by injury mere days before the Rapha Gentlemen's race. We had a great time, but I feared she might stop taking my calls after that event. On the contrary, we are still best of friends, and she still agrees to do crazy things with me. Not only that, she has taken to suggesting them. In fact, we were out riding together one Sunday in September and I was telling her that I had finally gotten around to replacing the chain rings on the tandem. These were the parts that had seemingly contributed to various episodes of chain-suck (complete with sudden stop, fall over sideways incidences) during the gent's race. While helping me reinstall the cranks, John realized that the bottom brackets were a bit past their use-by date, so we decided to replace them as well. Anyway I mentioned all this to Dena, and she asked if the bike would be rideable for the Great River Ride, and would I be interested in doing that event together on the tandem...

For those who don't know the Great River Ride is a century in Western Massachusetts. Don't be fooled into thinking it's some flat ride following river valleys. The ride starts in Westfield and climbs up into the Berkshires seeking out the source for the three different branches of the Westfield River, accumulating over 8000 feet of climbing in the process. And equivalent descending. But all on paved roads. It has been run for 25 years. I've been doing it pretty regularly for most of the last 20 years. It is a well organized, well supported, beautiful ride, complete with a hot baked potato rest stop at mile 75, and a great feed afterwards.

Given that our first tandem ride together was a 120 mile ride over dirt roads with even more climbing, this one should be quite doable. But what caught me by surprise was that Dena wasn't agreeing to some suggestion from me. It was her idea. I guess we have killed off a few of her brain cells over time! Once I recovered from the shock, I readily agreed.

John and I were heading off to France for two weeks, but we'd be back a full week before the event, so I'd have plenty of time to get the bike ready. We had barely touched this bike since the Gent's Race. So it would provide good motivation to really get it back rideable. Our Seven tandem is too large for Dena to captain, but the Co-Motion (our travel tandem) works out great. Sadly for it, we've been using our singles for travel for the last two years, and it has been neglected a lot recently. It would be good to give it some well deserved attention.

Once bottom brackets and cranks were reinstalled, I swapped out the 2 inch tires we'd used for the dirt roads, for more road friendly 1.5s. Checking the weather forecast for the weekend, I decided fenders and a rear rack might come in handy for keeping us dry and carrying some extra clothes.

Dena and I headed out to Westfield Saturday afternoon with plans to spend a couple of nights for the Columbus Day weekend. Shortly before turning in for the night, she alerted friends and family that she would be tweeting about the ride. I asked if she would be tweeting shifting and standing commands too! She assured me she would not be texting while driving, and would only tweet when we were stopped. Stoker now happy!

The weather forecast early in the week was dire, but had been improving as the weekend approached. Superstitious as I am, I still like to be prepared. I was certain we would get wet at some point. Saturday night the rain was forecast to start around 2, but by Sunday morning I was seeing a reprieve until 6pm. Still the rules are that you can't utter the four letter word that begins with R. You can't talk about good luck. You just cannot talk about weather before or during an event. 2 weeks after is OK!

But as I said, being prepared, is not the same as talking about it. And in fact, it's when one goes out unprepared that fate is more likely to be tempted - as it was at the Gent's race.

Also, it is always cold, so it is a really good idea to have a fair amount of warm clothing. I had winter tights and winter softshell, along with overshoes, neck warmer, helmet cover, wool hat and heavy gloves. I also had a rain jacket in the racktop. Dena was atired surprising similarly. I say surprising because I have been on rides with her, where I was wearing all the above and she had bare knees!

The ride starts out with a pretty tough climb up to Montgomery - which I long ago renamed Mount Gummery. We were left in the dust, but we knew we had a long day ahead, and you really can't finish the ride in an hour!

At the start, we were joined by Dave Cramer, who was on our Fleche team this year. He stayed with us all day and was great company. As we were huffing and puffing up the first climb spinning away our little granny gear, Chris and Gary, came by. Chris and Gary had kept us company for the first half of Green Mountain Double this year. We had a nice easy descent down toward Huntington, and then had a grand time chatting with Chris and catching up with all our summer adventures., while Gary and Dave rode up the hill ahead of us.

Dena and I ride together a lot, and sometimes when we've done lots of rides within a short time span, we run out of things to talk about. Last spring, we did the Fleche, followed by Green Mountain Double, followed by the Gent's Race pretty close together. It seemed like we had nothing left to talk about at the Gent's race! But by the time GRR rolled around, Dena and her husband had been to Russia, and I'd just come back from France, so we had some fresh topics of conversation. 

At the Gent's race, one of the issues that caused us to fall over sideways was that I don't normally unclip at stop signs and such with John, but Dena couldn't hold the bike up with me still clipped in. It took me a while to instinctively unclip as we came to a stop. But I was much better this time, and called out "Landing gear deployed" as we rolled into the first rest stop, with both feet unclipped and prepared to catch us on either side!

We were drawing a little attention, being two chicks on a tandem, but surprisingly not as much as I might have thought. Maybe it was shock!

We refueled with PB&J and bananas, and such, and then hit the road again for more climbing. I may have inadvertently suggested we would have a bit more descending than we really did. It seemed like a 3 minute descent followed by a 2 hour climb to get to the next rest stop. Dave was great company the whole way. And Ted Lapinski, who'd had a late start, caught up to us at the second stop. Ted had just run a marathon the weekend before and was taking it a bit easy.

I knew we had lots of descending after this one, but Dena is still a bit cautious going downhill on the tandem, so we knew Ted would catch us again when we left before he did. We made a comment about how he'd blow past like we were standing still.

We started down, but had another little up, so Dena stopped believing I had ever even done this ride before. But we did finally get the extended downhill, and were having a great time rolling along. We passed a few folks on this section, but they all seemed to take great delight in telling us that our fun would end soon.

I warned Dena that we would practically come to a screeching halt at East Hill, where we'd have to winch our way up for a couple of miles, but then be rewarded with baked potatoes. We decided to take a quick break a mile or so before the wall to meet with nature, de-cloak some and get some food in. At this point Ted went blowing past and we were indeed standing still.

I started thinking of the baked potatoes and mentioned they had fixin's too, like sour cream and Baco's. Well I could have Baco's, since I was certain this ride had come nowhere near close enough to push vegetarian Dena off the wagon. I've joked over the years that I will know the ride was too much when Dena looks at a cow, and says yummy! But then she told me that Baco's are actually kosher and contain no meat whatsoever, so she could indeed have Baco's! Thoughts of this got us up the wall.

Ted got some nice photos of us rolling in. I am ashamed to say I accidentally left my camera at home, so all these photos came from Ted.

Dena, the vegetarian, pointed out that Baco's contains no meat product whatsoever, and happily sprinkled them onto her baked potato.

I was quite toasty when we arrived, and hungry too.

We left the baked potato stop and began the last slog up to Becket. At least we had plenty of fuel to get up there. But once we finally got to Becket, we had 25 miles of glorious downhill.

The final rest stop in Huntington was a welcome sight and we just plopped down and ate as much as we could.

It's my blog. I can delete the unflattering photos, but...
 Then it was just a few miles to the finish where another feast awaited.

The Great River Ride is one of my favorite annual events. A couple of years ago, Dena had the nerve to schedule her wedding for the day of the ride. I gave her endless grief about choosing that date. But John and I went out the day before to do the ride, and then came back to attend the wedding. The sacrifices you make for friends! Well this year, Dena's husband was to be out of town, so she decided she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I think she now understands my dilemma!

The Great River ride and many other wonderful long distance rides (including a full brevet series) are run by the fine folks at New Horizons Bikes in Westfield Massachusetts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Missed Opportunities

We will definitely make a return trip to the Cevennes. First and foremost to visit our friends, Eddie and Chisa. But we missed a few climbs, and we must do them all. We also missed about half the Gorges du Tarn, and according to some sources, the part we missed was even more spectacular than the part we saw. We didn't ride across the top of Mt Lozere. We never made it back to ride through  the Ardeche Gorge. And we totally missed out on Nimes. When we arrived in Nimes at the beginning of the trip, we really only saw the area immediately by the train station. It was all under construction and just wasn't appealing. Eddie's GPS then picked the most unattractive way out of town. And with all the construction in the area, Eddie was none too impressed with the city and made his feelings known.

For our return trip, Eddie drove us back into Nimes, where we'd spend the night and then catch the TGV the next morning to get back to Paris for our flight home. As we wandered around Nimes that evening, we realized we'd have to come back and spend some time there. I managed to get a few shots the next morning before we caught the train.



Of course the trip was too short. It actually took me longer to blog about it than our time there. We had a mixed bag of weather, but in the end, really only had an hour or so of heavy rain, and that led to such a nice evening, that I can't complain. I'm happy I have done so much hill climbing this year, as the fitness made the rides much more enjoyable! I'm also quite happy we only put rack mounts of John's frame when we got our bikes last year. It made my rides so much more enjoyable! And I'm so lucky that John likes the training benefit he gets from carrying a little extra gear. He absolutely gets Husband of the Year points for this!

Monday, October 22, 2012

One More Day to Climb

We had one final day for cycling in France and it was a exquisite one. We had such a nice time climbing Mt. Bouquet the first week that we thought we'd head back out and take Eddie with us this time. We decided to make it a shorter ride than our first journey, since we needed to get back and take the bikes apart and pack up all our stuff before getting a lift into Nimes where we'd stay the night before catching the train to Paris the next morning.

We also decided to approach the mountain from the opposite side this time, which would make it a completely different ride for us. The interesting thing about this approach was that we could see the mountain sitting out in front of us for miles and miles, where the route we took the first time left the climb as a sudden shocking surprise. We suggested to Eddie that he could bring folks he didn't like up the surprise way!

The conditions were also dramatically different from our previous ride. On this day we had a splendid cerulean sky overhead and a clear view out to Mont Ventoux far to the north. The first time we climbed Mont Bouquet, we had to rely on blind faith and the table d'orientation that there was a giant mountain out in the distance. On this day, the view was unobstructed.

The temperature was quite pleasant for climbing, and the descent was comfortable in knee warmers and a light jacket. Doing the ride in reverse essentially meant the climb was much easier, but the descent was a bit hair-raising, not to mention brake-pad burning. Remembering the brutal climb in the opposite direction, I started down first knowing that I'm a nervous nellie on descents, fully expecting the lads to blow by at any point. My hand was still quite sore from my fall the first day, and descents were where I noticed it the most. I stopped several times on the way down, to give my hand a rest and to take in the amazing view. I had not noticed the stunning view behind me the first time we climbed, but when we went back to look at the photos from that day, we realized there simply was no view that day, so even if I had been able to look over my shoulder while climbing a 20% grade, I would not have been dazzled like I was coming down.

After reaching the bottom, we all commented that we'd actually prefer to do the steep climb, rather than the steep descent. I guess this officially means I have become a climber! Or more likely that I will just never make a good descender. 

Wow! What an amazing part of the world! While we had to take care to bring food for lunch and snacks and needed to maybe do a bit more research about accommodations in the off-season, this is definitely an area I can highly recommend,  with its remarkable scenery, dramatic variety and sublime quiet tiny twisty roads. We will most definitely be back to explore parts we missed and revisit many places we loved.

I have one more post to do with photos from Nimes. I hope you have enjoyed these photos and stories and much as we enjoyed our trip, and that they might serve to entice you to visit the Cevennes. Sorry it has taken so long to get all the reports out. I had really hoped to do it in real time, but there simply weren't enough hours in every day, and to be fair, I preferred to spend that time riding and eating and drinking, rather than typing!

A view of Mont Ventoux

Eddie's Hetchins

Balancing on the edge of the precipice!

The End Is Near

After the drama and excitement of the day before, our ride back to Vezenobres seemed almost like a let down. Moreso, since this was our last day out touring. It was sad to think our holiday was almost over. I think this made me ride slower and stop more often just to make the trip last longer.

After coffee and many thanks to Vincent for his kind hospitality (Joelle had left for work very early), we rode into town to find some food for breakfast and lunch. We would be following a lot of the roads we had ridden with Eddie when coming back from Mt Aiguoal, and we remembered that there weren't many services along the way, so again it would be a good idea to stock up where we could. 

The rains from the previous evening were now just a memory, and again we had majestic blue skies and light wispy clouds. Our route trended downhill, that is, after the first climb of the day. Autumn was definitely settling in and the day started crisp and cool, but that first climb warmed us nicely.

We diverted off route slightly after seeing a signs of civilization, with hopes of coffee and croissants. At this stage, no one should be surprised to hear that the boulangerie/epicerie had closed years before! But there was a lovely bar nearby where we were able to get a couple of nice cafe cremes. We soaked in the delightful warm sunshine, while enjoying the nice warm drinks.

Maybe we were getting tired. We only had 40 miles to ride, and it was definitely downhill the remainder of the way, but my legs just wanted to take it easy. We found a pleasant field for our picnic lunch, and again savored the warm sunshine, and gazed out at the dazzling blue sky.

Someone in the public works department definitely had our route. This road was paved last week!

Never tempted to take the bus! That would be cheating. But John and I each had read Tyler Hamilton's book on the flight over and had learned that Edgar, as in Edgar Allan Poe, was a codename for EPO. We joked lots about taking Edgar, and being Edgar'd for the climbs!

In another stalling maneuver, I spotted a patisserie, where I had to have another sublime chocolate eclair. Coffee in France was a real disappointment, but boy do they know how to make eclairs!

This was one of our best views of Vezenobres. Eddie and Chisa's place is to the right of that really large building - the Mairie. It was great to see our friends again, but still sad to be so close to the end of the holiday. We headed across the street to the local bar and told tall tales of our week away and then planned to do a short ride together the next day, before packing and getting a lift into Nimes, where we would catch a train the next day.

Last day report next...