Monday, May 18, 2009

Blue Mountain 400km

Two weeks after Victor’s crash, we took on the challenge of riding 250 miles at one time, something neither of us had ever done before. Victor had a new bike. Well, not exactly new. Since his bike was totaled, he planned to ride his Surly Trucker. After nearly getting dropped on a few club rides, he realized that was not the best plan. Instead, two days before the 400, he pulled an old Trek frame out of his bike-stuff-pile and about three hours later, he had built a new bike. He also decided to leave the Garmin at home, and use a regular cue sheet. But, we had to figure out some lighting to read cues in the dark. Plus, we knew it would be raining, so we needed to print the cue sheets on waxy paper. All of this took some preparation, but it was well worth it.

For many reasons, we figured we should take it easy on this ride and not be tempted to push too hard. Maybe we were taking it a bit too easy, because we showed up just as everybody was rolling out. Steve waited and we all took off together. It was wet and dark. Then, Steve got a piece of wire stuck in his tire and had to fix it. So we were having a hard time getting going.

I read an article Tom wrote about what you need to be a randonneur. One of the things is knowledge. Knowing your equipment, nutrition, set up and fit so that you are prepared is key. One of the things I have been working on in this area is the saddle. At first, I had a Terry but I spend a lot of time in aero position, so in spite of the cutouts, I was getting sore. Then I got an ISM, which basically eliminates the nose of the seat entirely. This was great, except it was very hard on my sit bones. After the long rides I was swollen and bruised. I rode a lot between the 300 and the 400, so they never healed. So, I started the day with some discomfort, and just hoped it wouldn’t get worse.

Of course, it got worse. In fact, after the second control, as we were climbing, I started to feel pain emanating from my right butt down my leg. At first it was not so bad, but then after the third control I was pushing the pedal down and felt a shock of pain down my leg. I nearly fell off my bike. After popping a couple of Advil, I was struggling to figure out how to ride without further irritating the problem. By this time, Steve had been having knee problems, and although we waited at the third controle for quite a while, we heard after we left that he dropped out. I felt bad because I was looking forward to riding with him again.

Anyway, I figured the pain was from the swollen sit bones pushing against the sciatic nerve. I didn’t think it would do any permanent damage, so I decided to tough it out. We sat down to breakfast at Blondies with Christine. I enjoyed spending time with her and hearing her stories. She told me about her saddle, a Selle-An-Atomica, which seems to be a great design, so I have ordered one and we shall see if it ends my saddle problems. I wondered what was in her large trunk (silently marveling at its size and wondering how she manages to haul the thing over the mountains) and learned there were things like extra clothes for late at night when it gets cold and dark. I remembered those words later, with a sense of irony, as I was cold and shivering. We rode with her and Dan on and off for a while. At one point I saw a line of a dozen black sedans next to a farm building. At first I thought it was some sort of strange car dealership. Then I noticed each was a different brand. Victor thought maybe I was hallucinating. Did anyone else notice that? We got to the fifth controle just before dark, hung around for a while, and then headed out into Lancaster farmlands.

We have ridden in the rain before, but riding in the dark was a relatively new experience for both of us. In the rising darkness, I looked around and saw we were passing through an old graveyard. I heard a banshee scream, and although I knew it was just a barn owl, I have to tell you I was scared. In fact, I told Victor and he replied, “If it makes you feel any better, I am way out of my comfort zone.” We got to the next control and waited for the others, but they didn’t show up so we took off. That was when the thunder and lightning began. It was raining buckets. We pulled into a store and just looked at each other wondering why we were doing this insane thing. Passers by confirmed with words, “You guys are crazy.” There was nothing to do but ride on.

I was starting to get used to riding in the dark rain. Still, I was happy to get off the busy roads into French Creek State Park. But then, I started to think about how desolate this place was. There were no houses or lights and I was pretty sure there was no cell service. In the thick dark forest I could have sworn I heard a grunting sound and thought of bears. I can tell you that the only good thing about all this was that I was no longer thinking about my pain. I just wanted to ride as fast as I could back to the hostel. I was thankful for well-paved roads as we flew the rest of the way back. In fact, we caught up with some others who had been riding ahead, and road in with them.

This ride offered new observations, new knowledge and more questions. I think I am richer from the accomplishment. Plus, the medal for the 400 is really pretty, with a pink and purple spanch across it. I am still holding out for the Super Randonneur medal though. To get that one I have to make it through the 600 in two weeks. I think I can, I think I can…

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