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Monday, July 29, 2013

Grand Fundo - Seeking Jelly Beans!

My wakeup call at the wonderful Starlight Llama B&B came from this fellow


My favorite ride in 2012 had to be The JAM Fund Grand Fundo, in large part due to my obsession with jelly beans. So when planning out our must-do rides for this year, this one was at the top of the list. I loved the quiet dirt roads. I loved the quiet paved roads. I loved the climbs. I loved the scenery. I loved the ice cream truck and the post ride BBQ. But more than anything I loved riding from rest stop to rest stop and filling my pockets with jelly beans.

This year, I came better prepared than mere jersey pockets. See, I have this cool new handlebar bag from Dill Pickle. According to her blog, Emily has measured the capacity of her bags macaroni, but I figured it would be fun to measure my new bar bag capacity in Jelly Beans! So I planned to start the ride with a completely empty bar bag, and then fill it throughout the day with as many of those little bags of jelly beans as I could scavenge at the rest stops. Last year, they had boxes and boxes at every stop. I filled my pockets at each stop, but then ate them all in between! Maybe with the bar bag, I could get enough to power me around the course and also have some for the drive home!

Ah, greed and karma. Just before the start of the ride, I took note of how they treat pigs here! Maybe I shouldn't be so greedy and only take what I can eat! But at the end of the ride, if they have any left over, I'll ask to borrow some for my scientific measuring.

Some of the volunteers spent the day cooking while we were riding

The ride started fast. This was a fast crowd (lots of racers and CXers), and despite all the dirt roads, most folks were on skinny tired road bikes. I had remembered lots more dirt last year, but apparently my memory was faulty. It also wasn't helped by our Saturday ride - where we rode the bonus part of the Hundo loop. It had loads of dirt with a few loose sandy sections. Turns out all the other dirt was glass smooth and quite rideable on the skinny tired road bikes!


Wonderful quiet dirt roads on the Hundo bonus loop






My empty bar bag!











But there was a far greater percentage of pavement than I'd remembered, and my 42mm tires really were overkill, comfortable and confidence inspiring, but overkill. But since I'm still so nervous about falling, it probably was good for me to have the big cushy tires regardless.




John and @the_wilcox started at the front - and stayed there. I started at the back and also stayed there!


I had a little company early on. Apparently a couple of the Jelly Belly guys were sweeping - or at least hanging out near the back end of the ride. One of the riders introduced himself as Brad Huff.

Ah I recognized that name. Jeremy Powers had introduced the other pro-riders at the start, and said they'd be along to fix our flat tires!

Brad noticed my big cushy Grand Bois Hetre 650BX42 tires, and maybe recognizing that he might not have to help fix a flat on my bike, asked what the tires were.  He then seemed to take notice of my perfect for dirt roads Honey Bike. I believe he used the term "sick" - which I think meant he liked it! I, of course, noticed his Jelly Belly jersey, and accused him of teasing me with pictures of jelly beans. He assured me that I would find jelly beans along the way!

I did spot the two Jelly Belly lads a short while later making a quick repair or adjustment on their own bikes. And then later providing cheering and moral support to those folks struggling up Kings climb. This was the brutal climb I'd remembered from last year. Thanks to my super low 34X36 gear, I spun up past folks weaving and walking. But then more of my memories from last year were wrong, and the rest stop was not just over the crest of the hill, but rather another few hills past.


I reached the rest stop salivating for jelly beans, but only found fluffer-nutter sandwiches, clif bars and clif shots. What....

Was I so slow that I'd missed all the jelly beans. The lovely friendly gal handing out sandwiches said I would find them at another stop along the way, and that the ice cream truck was the next stop. With ice cream to look forward to, I pressed on.


The ice cream truck was a real treat, and came at a perfect time. I had a great frozen lemony drink and found a spot of shade. A few others were doing the same. I heard a couple of gals sitting behind me talking about getting old, and how at 25, it was all downhill from there. I thought to myself, if you are heading downhill at 25, you'll hit light-speed by the time you reach my age! Encouraged by the thought of young people suffering, I pressed on in my search for jelly beans.


But first I had to safely get my Honey through dangerous territory like Bear Meadow and Bear Swamp and Bear Hill. I couldn't resist the "Honey for Sale" sign, but no fear, MY Honey is not for sale!


I was having a glorious time. However, I didn't pull the camera out very much! So you'll have to take my word for the fact that we had some amazing views!


I reached the final rest stop and was happy to see John and his group there (with them having ridden 20 miles more already). But I was more interested in finding some jelly beans. John sadly informed me there were none there either. He'd picked up some on the Hundo loop, and had a partially eaten bag to pass on. Well as I said earlier, it must have been karma for my greed.

I did have a fabulous ride, and found plenty of fuel along the way, including the awesome barbecue at the end. I didn't win the bike, but @the_wilcox brought home a nice bag full of Oakley glasses. And despite John begging him not to feed my addiction, once we confirmed that I wasn't a buttered popcorn fan, Brad Huff found me a giant handfull of jelly beans to take home!




Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rapha Rising - more like Mercury Rising

According to our local meteorologists, a heatwave is defined as more than three days in a row where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Growing up in the south, a heatwave would typically start in April and end in October! But thankfully I left that weather behind long ago when I moved to Boston. The reward for putting up with long cold winters here is supposed to be a nice pleasant summer. But life isn't fair, and this year, we had a cold miserable winter, followed by a chilly wet spring, and you guessed it a hot humid summer. So careful what you wish for... it's not cold now! We have had many days of 90+F temps along with some brutal humidity this summer. Once every 7 to 10 days, we'll get a lovely 75F day with low humidity, but then the oppressive stuff comes right back... thus multiple heatwaves...



So naturally the Rapha Rising Challenge took place in the midst of our longest streak of 90F+ days this year. I tagged it Mercury Rising!

Redemption Rock 200km
To kickoff the first day of the challenge on Sunday, I planned a route with about 3000 meters of climbing, including the ascent of nearby Mt. Wachusett. This was the same route where just a few kms shy of the end, I fell and broke my collarbone 6 weeks prior. So this was to be my attempt to avenge that defeat. Happy to say that I was successful and had no misadventures with wrong-way cyclists this time. But boy was it hot. We had lots of stops to refill water bottles. Or maybe getting water was just an excuse to stop and go inside an air-conditioned shop and writhe around on the cool tile floor.

Monday continued hot and sticky, but I had a day full of appointments, and made it a bike-rest day.

Harvard Tuesday Ride

I selected one of my hillier routes for the weekly Tuesday ride to clock up another 1300 meters. Fortunately it wasn't brutal in the morning, when we had most of the climbing, but the return leg proved hot enough for water/AC stops every 15 miles! And then I spent an hour or so back at Ride Studio Cafe drinking cold coffees and getting my core temp back down before riding home.

I had a busy week of appointments with a vet visit for the cat, physical therapy for me and followup with the surgeon to check progress on my collarbone, so aside from Tuesday I couldn't really get out for all day rides. But thanks to the nearby climb up to the Arlington Water Tower, I was able to clock up a few meters in very few kms. This was also a good kickoff for some proper Mt Washington training. As I mentioned in the last post, I really haven't been doing the types of rides I should be doing to prepare for this event later in August. But this would all change thanks to the challenge. 
Frenemy X 6 Wednesday
Of course, it was also a real shock to the system to start doing hill-repeats.  An by hill-repeats, I mean repeatedly climbing hills, but not going up and down the same hill the same way. That would just be much too boring and much too much like actual training!

I decided to start slow, and by slow, I mean lanterne rouge notifications were sent from Strava while I was riding. I didn't just get the usual slew of emails proclaiming yet another slut, OK - fast woman, had stolen yet another QOM. I got the emails that I was now positively the slowest person ever to go up this climb!

But it was not my goal to go out and reclaim any QOMs on day 1 of hill-climb camp in 90F temps. My plan was simply to go reacquaint myself with a few of the dozen different routes to the tower. I pride myself on tackling this climb as many different ways as I can - thereby temporaily claiming QOMs for routes no gal had ever thought of taking. So the first day, I did Prospect, Robbins, Rt 2 Access Road, School Street, then Somerset to Concord Ave to Marsh, and finished off with Eastern Ave. I took breaks every time I got to the tower, took photos, tweeted and FB'd my return to visit my old Frenemy. I guzzled water, and washed salt from my eyes. It was great to be back at this place, but it was hard. I love and hate this spot - my Frenemy!

Frenemy X 3 Thursday

I had hoped to get out earlier in the day on Thursday to beat the heat, but of course I didn't. But this wasn't just about hill-training. I need heat-training too! So I can claim, that I did these rides in the heat on purpose. I probably had a worse time with the heat at Newton's than the climb! But in a concession to both the heat and my renewed affair with the Frenemy, I only climbed up three times, starting out gradually on Marsh, then Menotomy/Grandview (an new QOM), followed by Eastern Ave. Later that afternoon, I saw my surgeon and got to see the new x-rays. I was surprised to see that the bones have not yet fused. A growth has started, but it will take more time. Given that I have full range of motion and am able to function normally, I really thought it must be all healed. That plate is amazing! The surgeon prescribed "no full contact football." He did tell me riding was okay. I didn't actually tell him I had ridden up Mt Washington already! Or what I'd done that morning.
Frenemy X 6 Friday
Friday, I wanted to clock up some more meters. So I decided to go for 6 times up. Due to some construction in Belmont, I headed over to do the gradual climb up Marsh again. But then followed that with the second hardest way up on Robbins, then Rt 2 Access Rd, followed by Walnut (another QOM), then Eastern Ave, and I finished myself off on School Street. None of the climbs were fast, but they weren't as slow as Wednesday either, and unlike the first day out, I didn't stop and take long breaks at the tower. Maybe if I keep this up every day, I ... I ... will go insane. Thankfully the weekend means variety.

Hundo - bonus loop

With those short, but condensed climbing days, I had ticked off a few more meters on the way to the challenge, and I only had just over 1000 meters to meet the goal of 7235 meters with 2 days remaining.  I knew with the 2000 meters from Grand Fundo coming up on Sunday that I should be able to make the target. So Saturday, we just decided to head out an explore some dirt roads near Conway. Of course the dirt roads we chose were actually part of the Grand Hundo loop, and I knocked off another 1000 meters, hitting 98% at the end of the day.  

Grand Fundo
The final day brought the planned 2000 meters anda Rapha Rising badge. The challenge came at a great time, when I really needed to get serious about climbing and getting ready for the second ascent up Mt Washington this summer.



Thanks Rapha for the inspiration. But could you pick a season without such extreme weather for the next challenge!




Friday, July 19, 2013

Mt Washington Demands Respect!

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. " -George Santayana

Research suggests that for women who experience mild to moderate pain during childbirth, the euphoria and relief of having a happy healthy child seems to overwhelm the memories of pain such they later report their pain as less severe than those present for all the screaming might otherwise expect!

So maybe it's like that with me and Mt Washington. I just remember the relief and euphoria of being on the top and done, and forget all the dread leading up to the start, and all the suffering during the actual ascent. Or maybe I'm really just a masochist.

However, the article I read about mothers seemingly forgetting the intense pain of childbirth did go on to say that those women who initially reported their pain as unbearable - worse pain ever, did not have diminished memories of the severity of their pain later.

So maybe I don't actually need to record my feelings in blog form to ensure that I remember that my 10th ride up Mt Washington was less than blissful!

Having broken my collarbone a mere 4 weeks before the Newton's Revenge race, I had the perfect excuse not to race. The problem was that I had this brand new bike with special gearing machined up by the fine folks over at Seven Cycles just for riding up Mt Washington. I'd been planning to do Newton's all year, and even though I'll get another crack at Mt Washington in August, I just couldn't fathom pulling the plug on the July event.

Fear Rothar was none too happy when he realized Newton's Revenge was on the long July 4th holiday weekend. He wanted to just go to Vermont and do some fun dirt road riding and not deal with a bike race in the middle of a holiday. Especially since neither of us have done any specific hillclimb training this year. We've both been really focused on long distance, and even though this is typical for this time of year, we usually mix it up and would have also done some short intense rides and a bit a hill-climb specific training. Yet, neither of us had even climbed to the water tower this year.

I call the water tower in Arlington my frenemy. It's the best place nearby to put in some good hard hillclimb efforts. There are numerous approaches to it, most about a mile long, with about 300 feet of elevation gain. It's only a few miles from home, and one can get a lot of feet in a very few miles. Last year, I was making multiple visits to the water tower every week, starting in March, but this spring, so many other things were going on for me and I was just doing different types of rides. Then after the accident, I was too spooked to do much in-town riding. I also hadn't made it up any of the other not-so-close climbs, like Pack Monadnock or Mount Ascutney. So it should have been obvious to me that just jumping into a hillclimb might not go so smoothly!

After Highpoints on the tandem, I did a few more rides on my single bike, and while they were slow, I felt like my form was starting to come back. Standing was still awkward, but I don't stand on a climb like Mt Washington anyway, so if I was doing more seated climbing, that was a good thing. But my riding was not consistent. Between physical therapy and the multiple heatwaves we've had this summer, I just wasn't putting in my usual miles.

Everyone around me assumed I'd show better judgement...

But I had a new bike...

When I ordered my Gates Belt-drive fixed gear Seven last winter, it was mainly intended to be my new lightweight fixie, but with the option to also use it on some long rides, like the fleche and with fatter tires and fenders for winter. And given the fact that I seem to love climbing Mt Washington on fixed - could we make it do that too? That's not too much to ask, is it?

Seven's Rob V. said, "Sure." But because the Gates belts are only made in a few sizes, we'd have to find a gear combination and chainstay length that would work with one of the standard belt lengths. Since they don't make a belt short enough to handle the wee tiny combinations I've used in the past, like 20X20, we'd have to approach it in a different way. So Rob came up with the idea of going larger and using two chainrings, or what Gates calls pulleys, the belt equivalent of chainrings. He said Seven could machine some sort of adapter to use a front pulley in the back, and I could use a 42X39 gear, with one of the stock length belts, and normal length chainstays.

After hearing about a tomicog that allows one to turn a disk hub into a fix-wheel hub,  I asked if using the disk mount would make it simpler to machine an adapter to put a front pulley on the rear wheel, and the idea took off.

After the accident, Rob had figured I wouldn't need it for a while and my adapter's priority got bumped. But I was still myopic with regard to my various goals for the year, and whined lots until it got put back onto the schedule. Of course in addition to putting pressure on Seven to make the adapter, this meant there was pressure on me to do the ride! 

For those who have been asking for more details on how we'd do this, as I have been leaving teasers in earlier posts, here's a photo. The adapter fits on the the ISO 6 bolt disk mount on the hub and takes the Gates 4 bolt pulley. The plate also had to take into account chainline, as the belt is very particular about precise chainline. The magicians at Seven worked their magic, but it wasn't easy and it took a lot of time, so don't expect this to be a standard offer on their price sheet, not that anyone else would be insane enough to want this.



Lily delivered the bike with the special gearing about a week before the race. I registered shortly after. Yes. It's true. While it was on my calendar, I hadn't actually registered, and I could have just shown some sanity, but now I had the very special bike.

If only I could do it justice.

But Mt Washington demands far more respect than I showed her this year. And Sir Isaac Newton definitely kicked my butt and got his revenge on me.

Another heatwave continued to bake us, and it was brutally hot at the base. I started in the last group, and as soon as I hit the first steep bit, I knew I was in trouble. Apparently I hadn't done any deep breathing since the accident, and I'd actually forgotten that I'd also bruised my ribs when I fell. But I was reminded of it as soon as I started to breath hard. The ribs suddenly were being stressed in a way they had not been in a while.  Breathing was so painful that I just had to sit up and try to noodle. In the first mile, I was so far off my normal pace that I began to doubt if I'd make it in under 2 hours. The heat was bearing down, and I thought my head would just explode, then I got above tree line and hit the 60 mph sustained winds, and heat was not such a problem anymore.

I'd seen the wind reports on the monitor at the Glen House before the start, but the same state of denial that led me to think I was ready to climb this beast, had me thinking that it couldn't be much worse than last year - the year we'd all previously referred to as the windy one, but now it will just be called the mildly breezy one. But it was not the sustained wind that caused so much grief, it was the hurricane force gusts.

The first part of the dirt section near mile 5 was actually somewhat sheltered, but then we came through a gap and turned the corner to the steep part. A gust of wind knocked over the rider just ahead of me. My doctor's orders flashed through my mind: "Just don't fall." I had to stop or ride over this poor guy and fall myself. Then once stopped, it was impossible for me to restart. Between the wind and the super low fixed gear, I couldn't get moving on the bike, so I walked a while. I looked back and everyone behind me was walking, either also having been blown down, or just out of gears. I tried to remount several times, but with such a low gear on fixed, I need to be on the saddle to get moving - otherwise I spin out too quickly. It seemed like I walked forever, but it was actually less than a 1/4 mile, when I was able to find enough shelter to start back up riding.

I pressed on, leaning hard into the crosswind to stay upright. Visibility was about 2 feet. I could see my front wheel, but really not much beyond that. If anyone was near me, I did not know. At some point I heard a weird pinging and looked closer at the front wheel, but it was actually a spectator with a cow bell! Then I came around the corner and heard cheers. I couldn't see where to go, but from 9 previous rides, I knew I needed to take a hard right and climb the wall. The wind hit hard again. Doctor's orders: "Do not fall!" I climbed off the bike and walked the final bit, not even bothering to run, or try to remount for the finish line photo.

I was mentally cooked, but physically OK. I had just noodled my way to the top of Mt Washington, 20 minutes slower than last year! But given that no one thought I should even be there, I guess it wasn't so bad. Despite the fact that I was using a gear slightly larger than my last ride, I was able to just spin it slowly to the top.

Fear Rothar was there to greet me. He'd had a tough day, as predicted, but at least he had no mechanical problems this time, and the soles of his shoes were intact.




The drive down was slowed by the lack of visibility. We stopped a couple of times to cool the brakes and get some photos.



Now here's the funny part - I had my worst time ever. John posted his worst time ever - not counting the duathlon last year. Yet we collected more medals than ever! I was 2nd in my age group and we got 2nd family team! John won his age group.

So I got some hardware to go with my hardware!





The rest of the holiday was much more fun. We had a great stay at our favorite motel in Gorham, the Top Notch Inn. We enjoyed fireworks and other July 4th festivities, and we had a great time riding with our friends.










But I'm now actually training for August. Mt Washington demands respect and my new bike deserves a better showing. Here's hoping for better conditions.



Thursday, July 11, 2013

HighPoint Ride - presented by Ride Studio Cafe

A bit over a year ago, Rob Vandermark starting talking about doing a hilly ride. And by hilly, he meant he wanted to find the biggest climb in Massachusetts, and ride there from Ride Studio Cafe. Exploring on Strava, he found that Mt Greylock was the only Hors cat├ęgorie climb in the state, so he decided that would make a good destination. I pointed out that it would be more than 300 miles round trip, so we started planning a two day ride. Even with two days, it would still be quite the challenge, so he made the concession of allowing remote starts for folks who might be a bit less ambitious than to want to do 160 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing out to Greylock and 160 miles and 12,000 feet back!



In the autumn, John, Rob, Patria and I had a planning session over dinner, where we pulled out maps and starting looking at routes. I had done a bit of plotting ahead of time and had a rough route in mind already, which would take in some lovely off the beaten path quiet roads. When I mentioned taking in all the big climbs, Rob corrected me saying he just wanted the ONE. We compromised on a taking a backroads route that would have to involve some climbing, but would not go out of the way to do bonus climbing. As much as I wanted to go up Kingsley Hill, everyone else said NO.

We talked about using the lodge on top of Greylock for the overnight, and penciled in a few possible dates that wouldn't conflict with other big events. When we called to book the lodge, we were lucky that it was available on one of those dates - the last weekend in June.

Feeling we had loads of time to prepare, we set off with our assigned tasks. I was to provide a route, and Patria would do everything else! I got the tentative route mapped out, but had a few sections that I wanted to check out myself. I had added a few new-to-me roads. I consulted with some friends who lived in the area, and got a thumbs up. Then I headed out to ride them myself. The new sections turned out to be some of the best roads on the route.

Then someone pressed the fast-forward button and the event was almost on top of us. Patria had been very busy recruiting support staff and arranging for folks to make food. Cristiano, Mark, Roger and Steven would be driving three support vehicles and manning various rest stops along the way. Ariela prepared food for days in advance, wth help from Drew and Julie. Drew and Ariela manned the shop and phones duringthe event. The rest of us would have the easy time of riding.

Rob did about 10 miles of training... OK, maybe I'm exaggerating.  Maybe it was 10 miles per week!

I had been planning to do one of the remote starts from the beginning. I knew I could do the full distance, but just figured anyone riding at my pace would likely opt for a shorter ride. I really had thought the only ones crazy enough to tackle the whole ride would just be the RSC Endurance team. But at some point a few minutes before I broke my collarbone on that fateful day in early June, I had started to think that maybe I'd just go for the Full Monty.

Well, maybe I have a right to be superstitious, because look what happened!

So as I started riding again, I really wanted to do some part of Highpoints. I'd put a lot of work into it, and I needed to do it. On my first ride, I thought, maybe the 50 mile (each way). Then after a longer ride, I thought I'd go for the 70. Then John and I had a good tandem ride, and we decided to do the 110 option on the tandem. Maybe if another week had gone by I would have gone for the 160 mile full ride!

We joined folks at the studio at 5AM for a pre-ride breakfast, before getting into our car to drive out to Westminster for the first remote start.




Steven Lim brought his espresso machine and full coffee setup. We found him at our first stop in Ashburnham. It was so hot, that we opted for cold brew!



Lunch was at Erving State Forest. A dip in the lake was very tempting!




The road over South Mountain got everyone's attention after lunch. Fortunately the construction sign was old. The road got freshly repaved during one of my scouting missions. It was still outrageously steep, but smooth as glass.



And the descent offered some of our first nice mountain views.



No one complained about the smooth dirt road by the Connecticut river that took us down to this lovely pedestrian bridge with the French King Bridge in the background.




As we approached Greenfield, the mercury was starting to boil. More cold brew was on order at Steven's next coffee stop.


And then the climbing began in ernest.




But there were plenty of great descents to go with the climbs.



The climb up to Whitcomb Summit was a doozy. I'd alerted everyone that it was harder than the climb up Greylock, mainly so folks wouldn't be discouraged by it. For my part, I may have downplayed the final climb too much. It was hard too!



The hairpin on Route 2 is well known in this area. We don't have many  - most roads just go straight up or straight down. So when you say THE HAIRPIN around here, everyone knows what you are talking about.


After a break at the top of Whitcomb, we zoomed down into North Adams and then found our way onto the road up Greylock. We started out with @thewilcox, but a blown derailleur left him limping the remainder of the climb. But he did it under his own steam! We got to the top, and found the tower closed for repairs, but took consolation in beer that was being sold in the lodge. A shower, massage and dinner followed. 

The 160 mile folks had started a bit later than scheduled and were running late. Rob made a valiant effort and despite no training, made it over 100 miles before waving the white flag. Never-say-die Patria and Katie hammered on and finished after 10PM to a warm welcome.





Steve was up in the wee hours tuning the espresso grind. And what a great job he did!









When planning to route, I'd eliminated most of the dirt, but left in a few sections that I thought were really nice. Prior to the weekend, a rider who'd pre-ridden some of the route reported that the dirt early on day 2 had some washed out sections, so we mapped out a longer route around. My sources all said it was rideable, so John, David and I took the shortcut with the dirt, while everyone else rode the long way around. There was one steep section and the washout while potentially challenging for a car was easy to avoid on a bike. This section was sublime!




We regrouped at the bottom, where Rob showed off the awesome t-shirts we'd get at the end. With that motivation, we pressed on, up the long climb to Plainfeild.


It was a brutally hot and sticky return journey.  The roads on the way back were more wide open and sun-drenched that the tiny lanes would took the day before. We all suffered as the day wore on. But we were rewarded with lots of descending, including 25 miles of coasting after Plainfield! Of course, then we had to climb back out of the CT river valley in the hottest part of the day.




Amonh many other treats, I found this delicious "Kevin Bacon" rice cake at one of the sag stops. And I stopped counting the number of cold brews that I had along the way! Powered by coffee and rice cakes!

In the end, we were quite happy with our remote start/finish, and even picked up a couple of extra passengers, eager for a lift back to Lexington, where we were greeted with more food and drink and those promised t-shirts!

Rob and Patria rode all the way to Westminster. Clearly the ride wasn't as hard as I thought. With practically no miles in his legs, Rob tackled over two hundred miles of some of the toughest hills I could find in MA. And he looked fresh as a daisy at the end!

It was a great weekend. I'm working on some mods to the return route for a future ride, keeping the descending of course, but on a few quieter roads. Hopefully this will become an annual event!