Friday, August 29, 2014

T-Town Turnpike


Well, it's not really the Trexlertown Turnpike. I began the day hoping that my sister, Betsy, and I would take our dad to the Great Allegheny Passage at Rockwood and ride about 12 miles to Fort Hill. But he said he was too tired to ride (he is 85) and I had kept him out late past midnight at the Pittsburgh Steelers' game.

Pumping Station Road Entrance

Betsy previously had expressed interest in riding the Abandoned Turnpike at Breezewood. Fresh off buying lights for her bike last week at the 25 Hours of Booty, we both drove to Breezewood. 

Entrance off Pumping Station Road
It is not marked

I had my Trek Domane and a Trek MTB with me. The pavement on the Pike2Bike ranges from average to poor, with a lot of poor. All things being equal, I would choose a mountain bike over a road bike but it's not bad on a road bike. It's just better on fatter tires. However, since I had both with me it meant I had to leave one in the car so I chose to leave the MTB in the car instead of the road bike.

Entrance off Pumping Station Road

Entering from Breezewood, and after climbing the steep trail up to the start, you have your choice of four lanes of pavement, although it is often hard to tell. You start out in the left "lane" - that is where the entrance puts you. My experience is to ride the left lane to the Rays Hill (first) Tunnel. After exiting the tunnel, ride the left lane for a couple of miles but then switch over to the right lane before reaching the Sideling Hill (second) tunnel. After exiting the second tunnel, stay left. These are my suggestions only and know and there is no perfect line to follow.

Eastern entrance to Sideling Hill (second) Tunnel

I flatted after exiting the Sideling Hill Tunnel. I couldn't find any glass in the tire but there is a little bit of glass on the trail. I think it was probably a pinch flat from the rough pavement.

Closest intersection to Pike 2 Bike

Once out at the far end, we rode another mile just to see where the roads lead. Then we 

turned around and went back.

Exit of Sideling Hill Tunnel, looking west

After our ride I drove to Trexlertown. The last couple of years, the cancer support group, Spokes of Hope, was at Trexlertown to honor pediatric cancer survivors. This year, the invitation did not come until Wednesday, so we scrambled to get participants, both big and small.

Valley Preferred Velodrome
Trexlertown, Pa.

I arrived at 3:30, we took some practice rides on the track at 4:00 p.m., coached by Cindi Hart. The kids stayed down (on the track). The grownups stayed up. Cindi ran us through some drills but in the end I think it was just the two of us.

Cindi Hart

After the practice ride I went on to over to the Bob Rodale fitness track. Three lanes: slow bikes on left, roller bladers in the middle, fast bikes on the right. What a great track to ride.

Cancer Survivors and Warriors

At 7:00 p.m. (scheduled) or 7:15 or 7:20 (actual) we were introduced to the crowd at the Valley Preferred Velodrome. We took 3-4 laps and the crowd cheered the entire time for the survivors and cancer warriors. It warmed my heart.

The races are a blast to watch, especially the Madison where teammates take turns and sling their partners ahead when they make the exchange. The German-Austrian duo
of Marcel Kalz and Andreas Graf killed the field, lapping them in both the 50 and 100 lap races although American and local favorite, Bobby Lea, was not there.

Josh Grecco

My dear cousins, Stacey and Gary Gravina, came over from Phillipsburg, New Jersey to see me (or maybe just see the races). It was so great to see them and their boys.

Barry and Stacey

Abandoned tunnels in western Pa., velodrome in eastern Pa. - I'd say it was a good day.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

25 Hours of Booty


  • Rain fell from the beginning at 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
  • Rode in Memory of Jacob the Hero Grecco and Jamie Roberts
  • Rode in Honor of Alex Shepherd
  • First 70 miles were tough with cold and wet conditions zapping my energy
  • Planned to ride throughout the night but was getting cold and realized I would not handle that many hours without sleep
  • Retreated to car about 2:45 a.m. for a couple of hours of sleep
  • Knew I was on pace for 200 miles but only by skipping lunch
  • I ate lunch
  • Marveled at a 20-something woman who rode like the Energizer Bunny. She was up to 280 miles and told me she wasn't stopping the rest of the way.
  • I escorted a woman to help her finish her first 100 miles.
  • After the event I was 18 miles short of 200 (14 really since Garmin was off for two laps). I stayed an extra hour to get the miles, hence 25 Hours of Booty
  • Final distance was actually 204.2 miles

Start Line - National Anthem

The weather did not look promising. Still, it was only a 40% chance of rain in Columbia. They missed that one. Try 100%. All day. It was raining as we took to the start line. While there a woman looked at me and said "Hey, you were here last year. You wore the F**k You Cancer jersey." I laughed. "Well, it's FUCANCER and I'm wearing the socks.

I then regretted not having my FUCANCER jersey (any of them). But I later discovered that I did have one of my jerseys with me. I wore my Bootystrong, Spokes of Hope, and Stand Up to Cancer jerseys.

Bootyville, on a beautiful Sunday morning

Survivors, followed by top fundraisers, were to line up at the beginning. It appeared to me the groups were mixed and everyone took off at once when it was announced. It would be more meaningful if they let survivors only go. And then one minute later, let the top fund raisers go. Then one minute later, let everybody else go.

Ready to roll in the rain

At the end of the first lap, and I went through it first - three years in a row, I pulled over and waited for my sister, Betsy, to roll by. And waited. And waited. Finally, after being lapped twice by the field, she came by and told me she had had a flat. She walked her bike back to the Race Pace tent and had them repair it.

Rode in HONOR of Alex Shepherd

We rode. We got wet.  The temperature was 70 degrees so it wasn't that chilly although there was no warming sun. When we stopped around 7:00 p.m. for dinner I had 70 miles but was chilled to the bone, sitting in a tent, soaking wet. I thought about calling it a day/night then. I went to the car, changed clothes, and turned the heat on high. Aaaaah.

Rode in MEMORY of Jake the Hero Grecco and Jamie Roberts

With dry clothes I hit the course again. My intention was to ride 24 hours although I am not a night person. I rode until "midnight pizza" arrived and then turned off my Garmin for the first time. I wanted to record a 24 hour ride but didn't know about battery life. So I shut down the Garmin while I ate.

Bootyville on Saturday afternoon

Done with pizza, I turned Garmin back on to a mishmash screen of incredibly small fonts. It appeared it was in diagnostic mode. I could not get it to work. My plan all along had been to count laps and take a water/bio break every 10 laps (21 miles). So I kept counting.

After two laps I went back to my car for an extra layer and turned on the Garmin. This time it worked. I only missed 4.2 miles.

One of the youngsters climbing the hill

Around 2:30 a.m. the realization finally struck. I suck at sleep deprivation. It seemed on course there were only four of us but it could have been five times as many as we were spread out. Still cold, but no longer wet, I thought some time off the bike would be useful.
A Wet Day at Booty

If I could make one cancer patient's life better by riding 24 hours I would never stop. But at this point, the money has been raised and the time on the bike was purely personal. That is all. I took a break.

Wore my Jamie T-shirt the first two hours of daylight on Sunday

When the sun came out I switched to my Trek Domane as the roads dried. At breakfast Betsy and I sat with Paul Lemle, a Key to Keys rider from 2013. On course I rode with John Phipps and counted laps with him as his Garmin quit working too.

These kids (not the big one) got ice cream after their lap

There were a few riders who openly declared they were riding 24 hours and piling up the miles. One of these had a coach or wife just beyond the start/finish line. He didn't plan to exit the course to take on food/water but simply have it handed to him on course. I saw him take bottles from her on the fly and toss his empty bottles aside. And then he was sitting in the grass. Just sitting. For an hour. Then he left. I don't know what happened. Hard crash? Mechanical?

Jim Gleason was one of the ultra-riders (although not the one mentioned above) and was the top fund raiser. Another was a young (20-something?) woman who routinely lapped the field every 5-6 laps. Around 10:30 a.m. she told me she was at 280 miles and was not getting off her bike until the end.
Ultra-Distance Rider

But she was no longer lapping me (and John) and each lap on the climb up the start/finish line, we passed her. She passed back on the back stretch but I also noticed she no longer pedaled on the downhill portion. Near the end she was off her bike and sitting in the grass. She was awesome, racking up more than 300 miles and also she was human.

Ultra-rider, on left

Garmin beeped. Low battery. I knew if I was to get 200 miles that I was going to have to skip lunch. Once Garmin beeped I decided to go for lunch. I put Garmin in the car on accessory and gave it a charge while taking my time at lunch. I traded miles for lunch and my chance to reach 200 miles.

Someday my sister will see this and ask that it be removed

We were instructed to talk to people, and I tried. But so many people had ear buds in which screams to me "LEAVE ME ALONE." So I didn't talk to them. But late in the ride I was next to Veronica Galindo de Otazo and asked her who she was riding for. She said a friend of her daughter's mother, who had a second recurrence of breast cancer. We rode and talked.

Some young riders on road bikes

Veronica was also trying to get to 100 miles. At 12:26 p.m. we told me she was at 84 miles and wouldn't make it. I told her she would. We would break it down. I told her we needed eight laps and at eight minutes per lap, we could finish with 20 minutes to spare. We did and she thanked me. She told me without me supporting her she wouldn't have made it.

Last year's Team Jake's Snazzy Pistols
This year Team BootyStrong
Betsy Sherry, John Phipps, Barry Sherry

As we were held at 1:45 p.m. to begin the last lap, I put on my Team Alex T-shirt. At the completion of Booty I was at 184 miles. I decided to make it 25 Hours of Booty and get the 200 miles.

Rode the final lap in honor of Alex Shepherd

When I got home I realized those diagnostics that appeared in Garmin - it was fried. I could not offload the data. But I do have picture and the course is a loop.

204.2 miles (remember those two missed laps?)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Didn't Want to Do It


Each year it seems harder to bring myself to New Hampshire to ride this mountain. But it seems to be more about the 1,400 mile drive (round trip) than the ride up the mountain. And this year I wasn't "feeling it."

Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont

I was surprised when earlier this week my daughter, Ashley, asked me when I was going and if I needed a driver. I hadn't made any climbing adjustments to my bike and was planning to call it a career at six successful hill climbs.

Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont

But with Ashley wanting to go, I decided to go. Besides, I would see the Gubinski family again.

Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont

Two years ago was to be my last time racing this mountain. I needed a ride down and found the Gubinski family, or they found me. But every rider needed a driver and no vehicles could go to the summit that Saturday morning unless they were bringing a cyclist back down the mountain. It was a marriage of convenience. Lucas and Alexa were hiking to the summit and their parents, Vic and Alison, were to drive up and meet them - as long as they were bringing a rider back down. And thus we met.

Mount Washington Hotel

Navigating here yesterday, and anticipating it would be the last time, I decided to try a different approach to North Conway. We came up I-91 so we could stop at our favorite rest stop in Vermont.  Then we followed US 302 and came in the other side of the mountain through Crawford Notch, a drive neither of us had done before.

Near Crawford Notch, NH

I never saw a moose before until Ashley came with me in 2007. The race was canceled that year but she was happy - she saw a moose. She came with me again in 2008 and, again, we saw a moose. Ashley hasn't been with me since 2008 and I haven't seen another moose. Yesterday, we saw a moose. When I told my friends, the Family Gubinski about her "Moose Whispering" skill, they didn't believe it - they always wanted to see a moose. So we left registration at the same time. We found another moose. 

This morning I was hoping the race would be canceled. It would be appropriate book ends that Ashley was with me for my first (2007) and last (2014) races and both were canceled. The weather did not look great. When I checked before leaving the hotel it was 37 degrees at the summit with winds at 44 mph - wind chill was 23 degrees.

At the summit - no hitchhiking, no bicycles

On the other hand were the Gubinski twins, Alexa and Lucas. I had met them two years ago when they hiked to the top of the mountain. They loved watching the race and decided to come back - as racers. And they talked me into coming back last year. And this year. And today they were excited and ready to go. Alexa had taken brakes off her bike, weighed her water bottles to take the lightest ONE, and was going up without a spare tube or tool kit. She is extreme!

Before coming here I had purchased a larger cassette (32 tooth) to put on my bike but hadn't, thinking I would return it unopened for a refund (if the race was canceled). This would make the bike easier to pedal. The gun went off for the first wave of pro and "Top Notch" riders. I decided I better put the cassette on my bike. I was in the fifth and last group to start, 20 minutes behind.

Start of the Purple Wave (Group 4)

But it did not go as expected. I have a new wheel on my Trek Domane which I planned to switch to my climbing bike. It has an 11-speed cassette. I tried putting the new 10-speed cassette on the wheel and couldn't get all the gears tightened. It could have been operator error but the second group was now headed up the mountain. (Just three groups left to go.) I took the last three gear cluster from the 10-speed and replaced the last three gear cluster from the 11-speed and tightened it. Now I was running an 11-speed cluster on my 10-speed bike/derailleur. This, my friends, is not a good combination.

Cold and Windy at the Summit

The gears would have to be. I lined up at the back of the last group, which was also the largest group. I started dead last (which I always do). There were two unicyclists ahead of me. The gun sounded. I didn't move. The group had to space out first as they took off.

I should have listened

My gears seemed to work only for the first three but anything beyond that and they were skipping. So I tried to stay only in those gears. 

Lucas, Alexa, Barry

The weather was warm, around 70, at the base, and I, along with most racers, wore a short sleeve jersey. No jacket. No arm warmers.

At the base of the 22% finishing climb at the summit

The lower section (first two miles) is just beautiful. It's just a 12% grade road headed up through deep forest. At 1.5 miles I passed the first of a few people pushing their bikes. In the past this was mentally deflating but not today. I kept going not even thinking about them.

Around mile three or four it got cold. Real cold. Real fast. I sort of envied those riders who had jackets or arm warmers. The wind was strong - at times it was a head wind.

Seven Climbs up Mount Washington
In honor or Alex Shepherd

I came to Mile 4 realizing it was more than halfway. I wasn't working that hard. I felt good. I passed a red bib rider (first group). Plenty of yellow (second), blue (third), and purple (fourth) too. Although I had been passed earlier by both unicyclists who were racing (after I passed them at the beginning), I overtook them too.

The top of the mountain was cold - my hands were starting to feel it a little, but otherwise I was OK. I came to the final 22% grade and saw the Gubinski family cheering for me. I smiled. I waved. I gave thumbs up. I slowed down.

Jill Landman Alfond, Geoff Hamilton 
I don't know them - they just passed in front of me here

I shifted into my lowest gear. I made a big deal about changing that cassette and never once used the lowest gear. So I made sure to get my money's worth. I climbed the 22% grade and looked at the time - 1:48. Yuck.

I was surprised. I thought I had done better. It's about power to weight and even though my weight is up this summer I felt good. This was the first hill climb where the "Quit Monster" didn't hound me. Thoughts of Jake The Hero Grecco, Alex Shepherd, and Jamie Roberts carried me to the top. Every previous climb here I have had to fight not to quit or stop. Today was cool. Just climb. And since I didn't use the easiest gear, I thought I might be going better than last year. I guess the wind or maybe cold slowed me down. Ah, it didn't matter.

Looking down from Mile 5 at the start

I don't have power data but I do have heart rate data for my seven climbs:

2014 - 161.1/176 bpm
2013 - 161.8/173
2012 - 160.8/178
2011 - 153/173
2010 - 156/176
2009 - 158/177
2008 - 156/176

Each year I hit my max on the final climb. The last three years my average has been 161; before that it was 156. I have no idea what all this means except I'm alive.

As far as perceived effort, my climb in 2008 was a 10. I want to think today's effort was a 6, which is probably not what one wants to do in a race. But twice I almost stopped not to rest but to take a picture. The only reason I didn't was it is so hard to get started on a 12% (or higher) grade.

One of the last finishers approaching the summit
Every finisher is a beast!

Ashley found me, we took some pictures (seven times up the mountain!) and I found the Gubinski Family. Alexa came in at 1:20:30 and, as she would find out later, finished 5th in the Women's Division. Lucas did well too, coming in under 1:15.

7x - Shirt in memory of Jamie Roberts

At the bottom we enjoyed a great turkey dinner and said goodbye to our friends. I didn't want to make this trip this year but am glad I did. Although it's good to retire with seven straight climbs, I do have that new cassette only used once (and with a low gear almost not used at all). Any takers?

Alexa, Lucas, Vic, Barry
Apparently I need coffee

As for real racers, John Kronborg Ebsen beat Cameron Cogburn (and 516 others) to win in 52:53. Marti Shea won for the fourth time in 1:06:01.

Alexa Gubinski
Photo Credit: Alison Gubinski

"Shea hoped to finish the climb in under 65 minutes, but the cold and windy weather got in the way of that plan. The temperature was just over 40 degrees and winds about 35 miles per hour for a wind chill factor of 25 degrees when the top riders reached the summit.

Lucas Gubinski
Photo Credit: Alison Gubinski

"'Down below, the weather was good,' said Shea, 'But around four miles the wind started, and then it was off and on – a side wind, then a head wind. I was losing body temperature. There have been a few races here with conditions like this, but this may have been the worst I've seen. Anyway, I'm happy about my fourth win.'"

Vic GubinskiPhoto Credit: Alison Gubinski

Race Report Source: Facebook page of Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb
 (16 Aug 2014)