Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflections on the Year


One year later I look back on what I listed would be my goals for 2010.* I made some and I missed some.

Most notably, I missed riding with Lance Armstrong in Austin. I set out to be the best fundraiser ever for LIVESTRONG but along the way discovered the journey was more important than the destination. Raising money for the fight is important but my website became less about raising money and more about caring for others in their fights. Was that wrong?

In a year of great memories, here are my Top Ten Riding Moments of 2010

My first century after cancer, there would be four more this year, this one was also the toughest. It featured "rollers" until Mile 60 then a 3-4 mile climb at 12%. Rollers again for 40 miles then a four mile 12% killer climb to Mountain Lake (think Dirty Dancing). It was my first real test to see if I could regain my fitness during this year of recovery after cancer surgery. It wasn't great but I passed the test.

Finish Line at Mountains of Misery

9. Encountering a bear

I always wanted to see a bear in the wild. I thought as much as I drive through the mountains, someday I might. I never expected to come across a bear when I was on my bike. But on July 4, my niece, Emily Cramer, and I turned a bend while on the Great Allegheny Passage in Maryland, near the Pennsylvania border, when we saw a bear about 75 yards ahead. We stopped. It looked at us and decided it wasn't interested.

View from inside Borden Tunnel

8. Altoona

Riding in the Allegheny Mountains around Altoona brought a special peace for me last year while starting my journey with cancer. My first real ride "back" during recovery had to be in Altoona and I took six friends with me on April 4. It was the best day I had so far since surgery last November.

Scott Scudamore leads the pack up Valley Forge Road

7. 5,000 miles in 2010

I started to record my mileage for each ride in 2009 but quit when I was diagnosed with cancer. Prior to this year I rode around 2,500 miles annually. Five thousand miles was not a cycling goal but it was a byproduct of feeling good only when I am on the bike. After the LIVESTRONG Challenge in August when I passed 3,000 miles it dawned on me that I could reach 5,000 miles although I knew in late fall it wouldn't be easy. But I also knew that if I pushed through the darkness in the fall and continued to ride far on weekends in October and November I would make it. On November 27, I went to Oysterburg Road in Oley, Pa., site of the toughest hill on the LIVESTRONG-Challenge Philly course, to symbolically finish my fight against cancer, although the journey continues.

The Devil was nowhere to be found on this day

6. 52 mph

My "Quest for 50" (mph) was something I always am seeking to do and I even went to U.S. Rte 30 near Stoystown, Pa., in August just for that purpose. And failed. I did hit 48.9 though. But then, at the Civil War Century, out of nowhere, I hit a downhill and hit 52 mph. Nothing else that day could ruin it, not even a mechanical (flat tire). Going 50 mph on a bike is both exciting and scary. If you let yourself think about what would happen if you crashed at that speed you will never go that fast. Or you will crash.

51.9 mph

5. Saved by Biscuit

Being attacked (and scared) by Rottweilers is nothing to record as a Top Ten Moment. However, I was able to bike from Somerset to Punxsutawney two weekends in a row in August. The distance, without a wrong turn, is 80 miles. But my encounter with these beastly dogs also led to me being saved by Biscuit, the Yorkie, and a news article about my adventure.

Dog Saves Former Punxsy Resident - Really?
Former Punxsy resident?

4. Civil War Century

I have done a number of centuries (100 mile rides) but never lined up at the start with a friend. Ernie Rodriguez joined me for this 103 mile ride over South Mountain, to Sharpsburg, Md. (Antietam), then to Gettysburg. The route was outstanding.

Ernie Rodriguez
I could have gone faster, and Ernie said near the end he wanted me to jump in with some faster riders and leave him behind. I have certainly felt that way when just hanging on with other riders - "please, go ahead without me." But this was Ernie's first 100-mile road bike ride and there was something about riding together with a friend that is more enjoyable than adding one mph to your average speed.

3. Team Garmin

The day before the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, I went for a warmup ride in North Conway, New Hampshire, just to keep the legs loose. Two guys came up behind and asked "mind if we jump in?"

How many times have I been in a big event and some old rider appears stuffed in an HTC-Columbia, Radio Shack, Discovery Channel, or Garmin kit? Many. The biggest offenders are the Basque who all wear Eskutel-Escadi kits. So to see two riders in Garmin wasn't a complete surprise. But I knew in an instant that they were the real deal.

Garmin riders Walker Savidge and Peter Salon
Walker Savidge and Peter Salon were to ride the next day in the race and had been dropped off in town. "Sure," I said. "After a picture." I pulled and they stayed on my wheel for about seven miles. Great kids. I wish them the best in their pro careers.

2. LIVESTRONG-Challenge Philly

This is overwhelming. Simply by bugging my friends they donated more than $6,500 to LIVESTRONG this year and $10,000 since I was diagnosed with cancer. I am speechless.

The physical part should have been much tougher but I don't recall it being that tough. My legs were powerless but the will was strong. I raced in the MWARBH the day before, drove nine hours until 1:00 a.m., slept for four, then went to registration at LIVESTRONG. And I biked 100 miles in a steady, and sometimes, heavy rain.

1a. Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb

My first attempt was 07/07/07 and ended up with the race canceled due to dangerous weather on the mountain. Perhaps it was just as well. I don't know that I would have made it and whether the failed attempt would have defeated me or encouraged me, I don't know.

In 2008 I made it, albeit with a crash, and returned in 2009, battling cancer. But 2010 was the year that I would return cancer-free. A different attitude surrounds my attempts now. I have gone from wondering if I will make it to simply how long I will suffer.

1. Riding in France

I guess I ran out of numbers. Make this a "Baker's Ten."

Words cannot describe how much fun I had riding in France. Cyclists are respected by motorists. And dogs. Climbing the Tourmalet and Col d'Aspin the day of the Tour, we were cheered by spectators who were waiting for the real riders. I met 24 other cyclists and four great guides with Trek Travel. And one English-French-American. Having Ashley meet me in Paris at the end of the tour made it even more special.

I can't wait to return.

Barry with Ashley
Atop the Eifel Tower

As for 2011, I'm not declaring any goals other than being cancer-free. For the first time in four years I'm not sure about going back to Mount Washington although I imagine I probably will. I would love to go to France again. I am always willing to support LIVESTRONG but maybe in a venue other than Philly (Davis, Ca., or Austin). World's Most Beautiful Century (Lake Tahoe)? Ride the Rockies? RAGBRAI? The list is endless...

*Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, a week of riding in France, the LIVESTRONG Challenge ride with Lance in Austin.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

5,000 Miles


Total miles ridden in one year was never a goal; specifically, I never set out to ride 5,000 miles in one year (8,047 kilometers). Rather, it was a byproduct that in this year of my recovery riding was the one activity where I felt normal.

Although I made an effort to track every mile in 2009, I gave it up once I was diagnosed with cancer. In prior years I simply noted the odometer on my bike at the end of each year. My previous mileage counts were in the 2,500 mile range and in three years on this bike I had 6,600 miles at the end of last year.

This year was different. I recorded every mile in a spreadsheet. On August 22 I completed the LIVESTRONG-Challenge Philly and went over 3,000 miles for the year. On that day I noted that I could hit 5,000 miles by the end of year if I could keep riding deep into the fall. It becomes difficult because the light of summer evenings turns to the darkness of the fall. Weekends could be cold and rainy and the enthusiasm for being on the bike wanes.

I looked at where I had been and what I needed and knew I would reach 5,000 miles. It was a question of when. That was answered yesterday. I had left myself just 27 miles short and could break 5,000 on the Reston Bike Lane shop ride or go to Pennsylvania. I decided on Pennsylvania. I rode 21 miles in the late afternoon and left myself needing just 6 1/2 miles today.

My niece, Emily Cramer, was in the Pennsylvania Outstanding Young Woman competition in Reading. She was the winner of the Somerset competition and was representing Somerset in the state-wide competition. Emily and I also rode together on July 4 when we encountered a bear.

Rev. Harry C. Sherry, Emily Cramer, Naomi Sherry

Not far from Reading the LIVESTRONG-Challenge Philly course rolls by. The longest and steepest hill is on Oysterburg Road up to the village of Landis Store. This is also where the "devil" will taunt riders trying to make it up the hill.

Ha! It was too cold today for a sighting of the Devil

On a cold and very windy day, we drove through Reading out to Oley and found the intersection of Hoch and Bertolet Mill Roads. The temperature was just 40 degrees and the winds were howling. I misread the map and pushed off in the opposite direction. Oh well, bonus miles in the valley before beginning the climb. Once righted, I found Oysterburg Road and began reflecting on every mile that I rode this year. That's 5,000 reflections.

Two years straight I rode this route and flew by the prettiest stone and wood barn, always going by too fast to stop and take pictures. Today I could.

Not far beyond the barn is another barn near the base of the two-mile climb. Although not a rest break in the LIVESTRONG Challenge, there is always bottled water there for the riders to refill before the climb. It is also where riders are taunted with signs that the hill is steep. And the hill is long.

Photo in summer (Aug. '09) stating the obvious

I hit the climb and was all smiles. Although I had to work, there was an 18-19% wall, but it was all good. I reached the summit in two miles and came to the Landis Store Hotel at the Village of Landis Store, Pa.

During the Challenge this is a major rest stop. It is beaming with riders glad to have made it 57 miles. Live music, hot food, plus water and Gatorade are a feature at this stop. Today, nothing. But that's OK. I came back to the place where I twice came to fight the global fight on cancer. 

Once I arrived at Landis Store, which is now a restaurant but has been a store and hotel over the years, I was ready to pack up and leave and get back to Reading to see Emily. But so many times I enjoy or suffer the climbs and don't reap the reward on the other side -- the "wee" factor that comes with the descent. So I turned around and flew down the mountain I had just climbed.

I came back to tell cancer you have picked on the wrong person.

5,000 miles indeed!

EPILOGUE: My niece, Emily Cramer, was named the 1st runner-up in the statewide competition as Outstanding Young Woman. Congratulations Emily!

Map and Stats at Ride with GPS.com

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blair Witch Project


This was one of the hardest 50 mile rides I have done. Stupid wind.

I had a rough idea where I was going when I left Ashley and Bryan's place in Ranson (near Charles Town, WV) but wasn't completely sure. I knew I wanted to go to Burkittsville which is the home of the Blair Witch Project. It was Halloween, after all.

My route eventually took me on U.S. 340 across the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry then, about three miles later, across the Potomac River from Virginia into Maryland. The bridge is narrow with no shoulders and the pedestrian sidewalk was closed. I had no choice but to pedal across it.

I fought a brisk wind for most of the ride. It was so strong, and cold, that at times I was out of the saddle even on the flats, trying to generate enough power.

At Burkittsville I headed up Gapland Road. It was less than a one mile climb but one portion measured at 16%. It was a neat little climb. At the summit is a memorial to Civil War Correspondents. This was also the site of the battle for South Mountain. 

Burkittsville, Md.

Also, it was here that was Rest Stop Number One for the Civil War Century ride I did last month. To go from 1,600 riders in one place to just one seemed quite strange. 

One of many plaques at South Mountain

Last month Townsend Road had been newly "chipped," that is, there was lots of fresh gravel on a tar base. It was the scariest portion of the century ride just trying to stay upright. Today the road looks like any other asphalt road.

Chip and tar but in great shape

In September I was leading a group of 6-7 riders down Burnside Bridge Road around 25-30 mph. We came to Antietam Creek and I wanted to capture a picture of the creek next to the road and a bunch of swimmers and tubers enjoying the last swim of the summer. But I couldn't apply the brakes and pull over so that memory is engraved only in my mind.

Today I was able to stop and take a picture. No kids swimming. Just a beautiful scene.

Burnside Bridge Road, near Sharpsburg, Md., at Antietam Creek

At Sharpsburg I headed towards Shepherdstown. Bethany, Ashley, and my money attended here. But it had been a while since I had been to this quaint town. There is a historical marker on Rte 9 at the Va.-WV border that states that it had been urged to make Shepherdstown the nation's capital. Interesting.

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

I had wanted to follow the bike path that parallels Rte 9 but discovered it ends with no access to Rte 9 (bicycles prohibited). I followed Rte 115 to Ranson not knowing where I was going. My sense of direction told me to turn on 17th Street looking for a way to Flowing Springs Rd then back to Ashley's. However, it was a pleasant surprise when I followed this street and discovered that there was a back entrance to Ashley's development. Who knew?

"City" of Ranson

Fifty miles and I was more drained than on any of the century rides I have done this year. Stupid wind.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

St. Mary's Century


"The Lone Wolf"
"What the hell am I doing?"
"Just Hanging On"

Titles for this blog entry go racing through my mind.

Wheels down at 8:15 a.m., later than I wanted as the course opened at 7:00 a.m., I headed out of town with little knowledge of where I was going. Although I was handed a cue sheet, I don't like to use those. Besides, if I got lost I could always program Garmin "back to start."

Well marked if you're looking for it

I started out on a lonely road and saw no one ahead and no one behind. I figured starting so late I missed any chance to jump into a group. I was resigned that I would ride by myself so I turned around to get a cue sheet then did a 180 and decided to forgo it. I would simply take it slow and enjoy the scenery.

The markings on the road were very small and it is easy to blow past a turn and go for miles waiting for the next mark, which would never come. But I found my first turned and stopped to take a picture of the road and the sign marking - an Amish horse and buggy.

Horse and Buggy sign

While I was stopped fumbling with the camera, I was passed by two guys. I thought that if I hurried I might be able to join them but they went by pretty fast. I counted and they were 17 seconds ahead and wondered if I should hammer it to join them. And what they would think. I let them go.

Settling in enjoying the scenery, I came upon an Amish horse and buggy. Or horse and wagon. I respected the driver's desire not to be photographed and be recognizable by snapping a picture from the distance. From the rear.

Horse and Buggy - No sign

Over the next couple miles I passed eight buggies including one charming family of eight. On the back, and they could see me approaching, were two older girls facing backwards on the top bench and three smaller boys sitting one bench down. Up front were dad and mom driving with a baby in between. It was actually pretty cool in an Amish sort of way.

The horse took off on the downhill section, approaching the steep uphill. And I did the same. I was side by side by passing with a wide berth. I didn't want to scare the horse. Then we hit the 12% grade wall. And I flew by that horse. Ha! (Of course I wasn't pulling a family of eight.)

It was Amish market day as I assume every Saturday is. I passed one young Amish man on his bike and just wanted to stop and show him my bike. But I didn't. I wondered what he would say about a carbon fiber bike with a Garmin GPS unit on it.

Just as I was catching a group of riders, riding a bit too slow for me though, I was passed by the same two riders: John Phillips and his boss, Enrico. I didn't know who these two guys were and I caught their wheel. I can only imagine that they were wondering why I was hanging on and I wondered if they were trying their best to drop me. They didn't. Eventually I said I was willing to work and took a couple of pulls. We were in a group of three.

As is typical of group riding, we didn't say much or introduce ourselves at first. Why should we? We may ride together for one mile then split. But eventually we did. At the first rest stop.
Coltons Point on the Potomac

The first stop was at Coltons Point on the Potomac River. Here the Potomac is five miles wide, not real far from the birthplace of George Washington across on the Virginia side.

Rest Stop #1 at Coltons Point

After a brief stop to fill the water bottles, and it would get hot today, we headed back out to complete the first 50 mile loop. The more I rode the more I felt I wasn't going to be able to hang on with these two guys. Although I had jumped in with them, they were much younger than I first thought and I thought that would wear me down.

We neared the end of the first 50 miles and came to a bit of a climb -- more a roller than a climb but one where I have some problems keeping a fast pace with younger riders. I started to lose contact with John and Enrico and actually felt good about it. But then I saw Enrico sit up and wait for me. Nice gesture but damn -- that meant I was going to have to ride hard the entire day.

Rest Stop at St. Mary's College

Back at the College of Southern Maryland in Leonardtown, John told me the farthest he had ever ridden was 70 miles and that was just a few weeks earlier. I was impressed that he would try to increase his max mileage by 50% on one ride. Enrico had just flown back from Italy and wasn't feeling well and decided to call it a day.

We had ridden the first section at 19+ mph without the benefit of a large group. I was hoping to ride more sensible in the second half.

River Festival at St. Mary's River

John and I left the rest break with six other riders and it appeared that we would stay together. But at the first rise in the road about three miles in, John and I pulled away. We weren't hammering it, just keeping it comfortable.

And that would be it - John and me, for the next 50 miles. There was one stretch where a group of four was catching us and I told him we would sit up and latch on, which we did. But there was no real formation in that group and the leader was hammering it. After a couple of miles I told John I was going to drop back and ride at a more reasonable pace. He did too. And about 50 meters later, the group broke apart.

Rest stop at Piney Point

The remnants of that group all pulled into the rest stop at St. Mary's City together. I don't know what happened to them after that. Perhaps they departed before us or passed us when John flatted about five miles later.

The day was hot (upper 80s) and four rest stops hardly seemed like enough places to fill our bottles. On our way out to Piney Point we passed a small beer store and stopped in for a Coke. It's not quite the same as the Cokes I had in France in July but it was good enough. It was the pause that refreshes.

John is a younger, stronger, and faster rider than me. But around Mile 85 he had pulled for the last time this day. It was just the two of us working together and we had not been passed by anyone the entire day, save for the group of four that soon splintered after we dropped off.

I was up front for a mile or so and pulled to the side to let John pull. But he was no longer on my wheel. I looked and saw him about 200 meters behind so I soft pedaled. And this would continue all the way back to the college.

Party at the finish

I (we) caught another rider and I went to the front thinking I was pulling both but realized I had dropped both. I could have gone on home solo, and I think most roadies would have -- in some ways it is survival of the fittest -- but sitting up and waiting seemed like the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do.

We made it back, John accomplished his first century ride and said the last 15 miles were the hardest miles he had ever ridden. Funny thing, our bodies. After a summer of long distance riding, it knows how to dole out the energy stores for a 100 mile ride. John's body simply had never been pushed to that limit and quit around Mile 85.

Brusters Ice Cream

The organizers of the St. Mary's Century are very proud of their work, and they should be. It was just $40 and they provided a nice T-shirt, four fully stocked rest areas, and showers at the college. Except for our (the 100 milers) first rest stop at Coltons Point which had a port-a-john, every other rest stop at fully functioning rest rooms, including some nice facilities at Piney Point.

The welcome package was full of information on St. Mary's County including discount coupons. At the finish they had a band plus a grill with hamburgers and hot dogs and Brusters Ice Cream.

With many century options available to me and wanting to sample each one, I don't know if I will be back to this one but highly recommend it to anyone if they have never ridden it. Well down, Paxvelo!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rappahannock Rough Ride


The Rappahannock Rough Ride started and ended in Washington, Va., a place often referred to as "Little Washington." As the sign proclaims, of the 28 Washingtons in the U.S., this was the first of them all.

Shortly after we rolled out from our mass start, the cable to my front derailleur broke, or at least I thought it did. I had been rolling with the very front pack but knew I couldn't keep up this pace in a small ring up front.

Stuck in the 30-tooth gear, I did OK climbing hills but could not keep pace on the flats and downhills. All the other riders were in their big rings producing high speeds. I had to pedal furiously which eventually took its toll on me. My cadence even hit a ridiculous 168 rpm.

This was a beautiful ride. The Sheriff's department actually blocked all traffic on US 211 westbound as we rolled out of Washington, Va. Some of the roads were as smooth as glass. Despite my mechanical, I still averaged 19.0 mph for the first 18 miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by the support on the ride. I did not expect water and Gatorade but was expecting a glorified Potomac Pedalers ride with rest stops at local country stores or service stations.

The route was hillier than I expected. I expected this to remain in the valley but there were still plenty of rollers. More than one mile of vertical gain over 58 miles. This certainly qualified as a hilly course, normally a course I love where the hills produce the right amount of pain and the thrill of a descent over the top. Except I couldn't produce the big speeds on the descent. Without the big speeds down the hills I couldn't roll up the other side quite as easily. Oh well.

The Grinch - Great Jersey!
Three of  us rolled out of the first rest stop; my friend, John Dockins, a guy named Ray, and me. Ray commented on how fast I was pedaling and saw my derailleur cable. We soon caught a fourth guy and then John and Ray pulled away. We had two groups of two and eventually, I pulled away from "The Grinch." I rode more than five miles solo before finally catching back on with Ray and John. Ray even congratulated me on the good work of rejoining them. I thought that they could have "sat up" and waited. Oh well, this builds character.

Over the next few miles I tended to get up the long hills a little faster than John but on the flats and downhills he could pull away. And he jumped in with two other riders and pulled away, waiting for me at the Marriott Ranch rest stop, although he was never more than one minute ahead.

At the second rest stop we examined the cable and noticed that it wasn't broken - just disconnected. So, we became bike mechanics and were able to reconnect and adjust the derailleur. I could ride again.

But for the last 20 miles I was pretty much toast. I had worked hard pedaling in the small ring, and didn't have much left. I was content to ride home at a comfortable pace.

The roads were super and the views superb. Much of the route we could see the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. On a great weather day, temperatures in the 70s, I still came in probably in the top 10% of riders. It was a day that I thought if the SAG wagon came by I might decide to abandon. But I also decided I could ride along in a little gear and then was rewarded by fixing it. My average speed was 17 mph which, on a very hilly route, still qualified as an A pace.

It was a great day on the bike.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Civil War Century


It was 48 degrees when Ernie Rodriguez and I rolled through Frederick, Maryland on our way to Thurmont for the start of the Civil War Century. The big question was arm warmers or no arm warmers. Ultimately I decided no warmers and it was a good decision. The temperature climbed into the high 70s and it was one less thing to carry, and potentially lose along the way.

Ernie Climbing South Mountain

The ride began with a seven mile climb through Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains. This is where Camp David, the presidential retreat is located, although we did not pass the secret Campground Number 3 (shhh!). And that was followed by a 14 mile descent and then some "rollers" before the mile and a quarter climb up to the South Mountain Battlefield site.

South Mountain Battlefield Site

On the descent I picked up enough speed that I looked down and saw my speedometer go over 50 mph. Only once before had I pushed it to 50 and I was so concentrating on pedaling or holding on, or both, that only when I checked my max speed later did I see it go over 50. Today I looked at the speedometer while it was occurring. It hit 51.9 (52 mph!). Awesome. Nothing, not even a flat tire, could ruin this day.

Max Speed: 51.9 mph

After a short break, enough to use the porta-johns and refill our bottles, we headed off to Sharpsburg, the site of the Antietam National Battlefield. Then it was on to Boonesboro and Smithsburg.

While on Rte 64 in Smithsburg, I ran over something that wasn't good. Ernie thought it may have been a cable of sorts but it sounded like a baseball card was in my spokes for 30 seconds or so then it freed itself. But about 60 seconds later I flatted. It was the first flat I have had in more than two years and probably 6,000 miles of riding.

Still not sure what occurred. When I got home there wasn't a puncture in the tube. But the valve wasn't functioning properly. Whether that cable somehow hit the valve, I don't know, but it was shortly after I picked up the road debris that I flatted.

Ernie fixing my flat

Ernie used his hand pump to fill up the tire. After a repair I always worry that there's a piece of glass embedded in the tire which will cause another flat. And I feel like I am riding on a flat.

Ritchie Road
I felt sluggish on the 4 1/2 mile climb up Ritchie Road. It was the high point of the ride and the beginning of a 40 mile downhill or flat ride back to Thurmont. But I was afraid to let the bike roll on the descent.

Rest Stop, Fairfield, Pa

When we reached the rest stop at Fairfield, Pa., I immediately went to the repair tent for a floor pump. Tire pressure was 62 psi. I normally ride about 100-110 psi. Once I fully inflated the tire I never thought about it again.
Fairfield Inn. One of six inns in continuous service since the 1700s.

At Gettysburg, we were reminded at every intersection to ride single file. We did.

We rode through the Battlefield. What an impressive site seeing all the monuments lining the roads.

The run in back to Thurmont was basically flat. We passed through the Roddy Road covered bridge. It was the second covered bridge we had on the route.

Roddy Road Covered Bridge

Back at Thurmont they had ice cream and sandwiches.

 Sean Walker and girlfriend

It was a GREAT day in the saddle.

Garmin Maps and Stats (on Ride with GPS.com)

104 miles and 7,000 or 9,000 feet of climbing. Who knows for sure? But 52 MPH! Sweet!!!!!

Ernie wearing his changing skirt