Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Lackawanna Special

“Rise & shine! Time for the Freeze Your Ass Off 200km!”

Last year, Nigel posted about getting a RUSA Cup award, and I decided right then and there I wanted one. I said this out-loud on a ride with some New Jersey Randonneurs, which resulted in a chain of events leading to the start of my Quest for the Cup, and the Lackawanna 200km. To get the cup, a rider has two years to complete a 200 km, 300 km, 400 km 600 km, 1000 km, a Fleche (24 hour team ride) a Populaire, and a total of 5000 km. Victor and I decided that, as nice as last year’s focus was (touring for fun and adventure), we needed a bigger goal. Really, I think he realized I need a bigger goal, and he is not wrong about that.

As the text above indicates, sent from my friend Nick at 6:00am yesterday, we faced below freezing temperatures, rising to very low 40’s. We arrived at the Rando Clubhouse (Weisel Hostel) on Friday night. Many of the Rando Clan were already there- only our traditional clan leader, Tom, was missing. It’s like a family reunion with relatives you have known for years, along with new additions, all drawn together by this crazy love of long distance riding. Everyone has different motives and reasons for doing what we do, but our shared experience sets us aside- and together- in a way that feels comforting. For me, I think more than ever, I need this to keep me going.

There is some research that indicates exercising for long periods of time builds neurons in the brain. I think part of the reason my MS has not progressed has to do with cycling. Just in case, I keep taking the shots every week that are supposed to keep it from doing any more damage. The thing is, damage was already done. And, on top of that I have a host of other chronic conditions that cause me a great deal of pain and discomfort, including Raynaud’s, tinnitus and fibromyalgia. I came across a website that has some examples of tinnitus- Sound 1- often followed by, or in addition to Sound 11- is what I experience. It comes and goes, but when it’s bad, it can make my vision shake and my head spin. Interestingly, when I am on my bike, the tinnitus goes away. The pain is there, but I have discovered ways to make it move to a small place in my brain where I can ignore it. Mostly I do that through mindfulness techniques and moving meditation. I have some good equipment to deal with the Raynaud’s, but when it is very cold, like it was at the start of the 200km, my fingers and toes turn blue and it can take hours to warm them up.

Luckily, Victor is always looking out for me. He bought a beautiful new tandem, we named Carlos, which we plan to use as our Rando bike this year. We are going to do some relatively flat rides, with the longest, the Cracker Swamp 1200, being the flattest, so we should be able to crush it on the tandem. It hurt me to reach down for the water bottle, so he put on a Speedfil and rigged it with some tubing and a magnet attachment. He also put in smaller cranks for me, which equalizes the disparity in our cadence. He gave me some lovely, padded flat top handlebars, a suspension seat post and the perfect little top-tube bag. With a compact up front and 11/40 in the back, we can climb anything.

Our plan, as we set off with a large group on Saturday morning, was to stop at the bakery in Milford to drink coffee, eat pastries and warm up. This was not an official control stop, but it was just as important for us. Most folks kept riding, and those that stopped did not linger. But we sat down and after about 20 minutes of drinking good coffee my fingers had stopped tingling and Victor had consumed a chocolate croissant and an apple turnover (my chocolate-chip-raspberry muffin was also delicious). When we got back out, it had warmed to above freezing. We discovered that my Garmin was reading several degrees warmer that his up front, which proves that Victor is, as we already knew, a hot ass. So I took advantage of that and kept my hands as close as possible to his backside, which he didn’t seem to mind at all.

The climb of the day happened pretty soon afterward, a steady couple of miles of up to 7% grade, so I warmed up and was fine for the rest of the day. It was great to be on the tandem with Victor. We chatted most of the day, enjoying the ride and each other's company. At one point, Gavin was riding along with us and told about how he and his wife used to ride a tandem. We all agreed that communication is key. He said, “We had a rule. When I wanted to stand, I would say 1-2-3 Up!”

“Well we have rules too,” I told him. “Mostly, I make them. He has to ask me if I want to stand, and has to wait for me to say yes- every time!” But I was thinking, it’s no wonder he and his wife don’t ride the tandem much anymore.

Victor & The Viaduct
The Lackawanna was one of those typical Tom rides I think of as Ripples and Ridges- You cross the Delaware and ride up over the ridges, come back down, cross it again, ride up the ridges on the other side, and replete 4 or 5 times. On this ride, we also got to ride through many tunnels under the Lackawanna Railroad. There was, as always, beautiful scenery, (which I can take in continuously- a great advantage of riding tandem) including the Paulinskill Viaduct. We cruised along the scenic River Rd. on both sides of the Delaware.

On Tom’s rides, there are typically lots of rollers, (which usually means a screaming downhill with a stop sign at the bottom and a long, steep climb on the other side) and a couple of flat miles along the river. But the rollers on this one favored us on the tandem, as we were able to slingshot up most of them. After many years of randonneuring together, we have our routines polished and know just what to do, taking fast stops and getting back on the road. We needed to get back to NY fairly early, so we kept a steady pace. We also wanted to poke the edges of the envelope and see what we could do. Our last 100 mile ride was back in October, so we weren’t sure how we would hold up. By taking it easy in the beginning and pushing at the end, we made pretty good time.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable ride. However, at about mile 90 I looked up to see a wall ahead. I anxiously scanned for a side road we might be turning on- to the left, no, to the right, no- and realized there was no way but up. It was maybe 17%, relatively short, and I don’t think we dropped below 4 mph, but it was followed relentlessly by more steep little kickers for the next 20 miles or so. At this point, every hill right up to the end seems gratuitous- like a personal insult.

This is the point where you start to wonder about Tom. He seems like such a nice guy, but could there be an evil wizard lurking behind that benevolent curtain? Or maybe he is just the kind of wizard that likes to challenge you to find your own courage and heart. At the end of the day, after a warm shower and food back at the Weisel, it’s easy to see him as the latter. We missed his being there though, and not just because there was no barb-b-que chicken. From riding his brevets, I have learned, and relearned, that I can do things I never thought I could do- that I can keep moving and enjoying life no matter what- and I am going to get that RUSA Cup. Thanks Tom
The Rando Clubhouse

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