Thursday, November 20, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

# 1:  Pony Espresso at Beaverton Farmers Market, Beaverton OR, Saturday October 5th

Absolutely fabulous day for a bike ride.  Warm and sunny!   I rode my dutch bike with grocery panniers attached.  Lots of fabulous fruits and veggies purchased at the market.

Bike: Gazelle Madalief
Companion: Asta on rollerskates (Bonues: chance encounter with Super Coffeeneur Bill A.)
Drink: Large Americano
Bike facilities:  The market is adjacent to the public Library.  There is a large covered bike parking area with plenty of racks.
Mileage: 13-14.  My dutch bike doesn't have a computer on it.  I rode all the way there from home, and multi-moded bicycling + the MAX train on the way home.

Farmers Market goodies

Me & Asta.  Photo by Bill A.

#2:  Longbottom's Coffee and Tea, Hillsboro OR, Sunday October 6th

Another sunny day!   Asta acquired a new bike, so we made a quick spin to Longbottom's for her first test ride.

Bike: Gazelle Madalief
Companion: Asta on her new bike
Drink: Black coffee
Bike facilities:  There a rack outside the front door, but we just lean our bikes wherever.   Super safe location with no need for a lock
Mileage: ~3.5.

<<Missing my photo!   Yikes!  Luckily, I did a bonus 8th coffee, just in case...>>

#3: Starbucks, Richland WA, Saturday October 18th

I drove to the Tri-Cities region to ride the Richland-Pendleton-Richland 205km permanent with Norm, Gary, Jason and Keith.  The meetup was at a Starbucks which was 2.5 miles from the hotel where Jason, Keith & I were staying.   This is what we call "Opportunistic Coffeeneuring."   Sometimes ya just gotta fit them in where ya can!

Jason works for Starbucks corporate, so it was funny to coffeeneur there with him.   Especially since the staff there was pretty clueless...

Bike:  The Troublemaker (my carbon Sweetpea)
Companions: Jason & Keith
Drink: Pike's Place, black
Bike facilities:  None.   This Starbucks is inside the Albertsons.   We just lean our bikes up against the storefront.
Mileage: 2.5 miles.   We rode back to the hotel too, with just a wee little 205km ride in between.  Does that make it 5 miles??  ;-)


Jason & me

#4: The Verboort Sausage Festival bingo tent, Verboort OR, Saturday November 1st

Another opportunistic coffeeneuring adventure.   This day began with a 100K populaire with Oregon Randonneurs.   This ride finishes at the annual sausage festival, where a local church makes and sells thousands of pounds of homemade sausages and kraut for it's annual fundraiser.   After finishing the ride, we wandered off to the Bingo tent for sausages, coffee and "atmosphere".   Bingo was in full swing and the polka music was blaring from the loudspeakers.   After our meal and much socializing, we rode our bikes back to our vehicles, which were parked near the start of the populaire, which was a few miles away in Forest Grove.

Bike:  The Troublemaker
Companions: Paul, Keith, Graham, Michal, Gary
Drink: black coffee out of the biggest urn I've ever seen
Bike facilities:  None.   We leaned our bikes up against the chain link fence near the church.
Mileage: 3 miles.  

Like ebony and ivory.  Only different

Banks Vernonia Trail
Group, post-populaire

OK coffee, tasty sausage.

#5: Coava Coffee, Portland Oregon, Sunday November 2nd

After the populaire the day before, I had a big post-ride party at my house.  A bunch of us decided to coffeeneur Sunday morning, and eventually settled on Coava, a place I've never been,

Gary crashed in my guestroom on Saturday night.  We had "grand plans" to take the long way to the coffee shop, but Sunday dawned cold, foggy and chilly.  Instead, we took the most direct route.  Still a lovely ride to get there, involving a ride up and over the West Hills in the fog.  Everything was drippy and eerie, and traffic was nearly non-existent.

Coava shares space with a wood-working showroom of some sort.   Neat space, but not enough chairs.   All the baristas were prototypical lumbersexuals.   In addition to a tasty pourover, I purchased some coffee to go.

After coffee, most of us rode to brunch.  And had more coffee.   After which the group splintered a little more and Asta, Theo & I headed off towards the MAX.   Somehow we managed to use up a goodly portion of the daylight by the time we got home.

Bike:  the steel Sweetpea
Companions: Keith, Jeff, Theo, Asta, Lynne, Gary
Drink: Pourover, black.
Bike facilities:  Minimal.   We locked our bikes up to a motley assortment of utility pipes and street signs.
Mileage: 17 miles from my house to town.  Plus additional unrecorded miles post-coffee to brunch and back home.  Probably about 30 miles, all in.

Foggy morning up on Skyline


The group.  Photo by Jeff A.

#6: Starbucks, Hillsboro OR , Saturday November 8th.

Every year, I bake a birthday cake for my friend Jill's son, Liam.  I've been doing them since he was born.  In the early years, I made the cakes based on whatever he showed an interest in, but now that he's older, I let him choose the theme.    Then, I start googling around for ideas, and usually come up with something fun.

This year, he decided he wanted a cougar cake. Well, if you google "Cougar Cake", the results that you are presented with are decidedly NOT fit for a child's visual consumption.    So, I spent quite a few weeks stressing over his cake would look like.   Finally, on Friday night, I settled on a design.

On Friday night I began baking the layers.  On Saturday morning, I started working at 8am, baking more layers.   Then I began the layout and fondant work.   Around 3:00pm I decided I needed more fondant, some foamcore to serve as the base, and an exacto knofe for easier and more precise fondant cutting.  Plus I needed a break.   So Asta & I headed out to Joann's for supplies, with a Starbucks's top along the way.   I ordered a latte.  It was terrible.   Watery and tasteless.  Should have stuck with black coffee, which is the only reliable thing at Starbucks these days.

After picking up supplies at Joann's we headed back to my house.   Cake was finally finished at 12:30am.  16 hours start to finish, not including the layers baked the night before.

Bike:  Gazelle Madelief dutch bike to carry supplies.
Companions: Asta
Drink: A very disappointing latte
Bike facilities:  None.  We left our bikes outside while we purchased coffee, then sat with them while drinking our coffee.
Mileage: 6 miles roundtrip including the stop-in at Joann's for supplies

LOUSY latte
But fabulous helmets

Cake plan

Finished cake!

#7: Poppa's Haven, Beaverton OR, Sunday November 9th

Liam's birthday party was scheduled for 1pm.   After breakfast, Asta & I headed out to Poppa's Haven for coffee.   This is one of my favorite places for coffee on the west side, but I rarely get over there.  It was a chilly ride over, but dry.

Poppa's Haven must be doing well, because they've expanded their seating area into the next space.   Much roomier now!   Asta ordered a pumpkin latte, so I decided to try one too.  Good choice.  It was amazing.   Best coffee of the entire coffeeneuring adventure, so ending on a high note was great!

After coffee we rode back to my house.  Our weather luck ran out, and it drizzled the entire way.    We were also running late, and by the time I got home, showered, and got to Liam's house, I was 15 minutes late and Liam was bouncing off the walls with excitement.   He was thrilled with the cake, which made all the long hours spent working on it totally worth it.   I love that kid.  :-)

Bike:  The Troublemaker
Companions: Asta
Drink: Pumpkin Latte
Bike facilities:  None.   We leaned our bikes up against a table.
Mileage: 12 miles round trip.

Poppa's Haven has expanded.
Asta loves having her photo taken.   Not.

Best pumpkin latte EVER.
In my belly.

Me and the birthday boy

Bonus#8: South Store Cafe, Scholls OR, Saturday November 16th

I was *supposed* to be riding a 300K with Keith and friends in Seattle.   But I've been battling a chest cold and despite being a little stir crazy I resisted the urge to ride an inappropriate distance, especially give our extremely cold weather this week.  

I have another new bike (new to me, anyway) and decided to take it on it's maiden journey.   As always, my faithful coffee companion Asta came along for the ride as well.  She has a new bike as well, and other than a brief coffee ride, it too would be getting it's first real road adventure.

We headed out into the very crisp day to South Store.   They make really excellent home made backed goods as well as excellent coffee.    We both had pumpkin spice lattes and shared an incredibly flaky apple turnover.

After leaving South Store we headed back towards my place, but decided to head to a local brewpub near my house for beer and happy hour food.  Good choice.   We managed to snag a table in the bar before it got totally crazy in there!

We heard from the guys later that we'd made the right choice.   They were popsicles on the ride, and not everyone finished.   We still missed them, though.

Bike:  Specialized Tr-Cross
Companion: Asta
Drink: Pumpkin Spice Latte
Bike facilities:  None.   We leaned our bikes up against the outside of the cafe.
Mileage: 3 miles round trip, including the short side excursion for beer-neuring

Maiden voyage for these babies!

Me. Photo by Asta.

After coffee comes beer

Me.  Photo by Asta.

Many many thanks to Mary for organizing another wonderful year of coffeeneuring.   After a long rando season, it's a wonderful thing to ride off the clock at a casual pace, with such wonderful friends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

PBP Tips for the First-Timer

This post originated as an answer to a question posted on Randon, a national randonneuring-focused e-list.

"I would like to hear about stuff that only comes from experience. Stuff that you only learn by either riding a Grand Randonee, or riding with Anciens who feel talkative.​"

I'm your run-of-the-mill 80-90th percentile rider.  While I sometimes have time goals, they are more along the lines of "shoot me if I'm out there longer than x-hours" as opposed to "I'd like to finish faster than y-hours".   

I don't have tons of experience at brevets longer than 600K.  I've done three 1000s (finishing two in time and one hors delai), PBP 11 and London-Edinburgh-London in 2013.  That's it.  So, ignore me if you are fast or experienced, because my PBP advice is mostly for the inexperienced back of the packers.    ie. those folks starting in the 90 hour group and taking 86-90 hours to finish.

1) Resign yourself to the unavoidable fact that you are going to be part of the great bulge.  At every control you hit, you will be there during it's busiest couple of hours, when the control/food/bathrooms lines are longest, the staff/volunteers are the most overwhelmed, the food choices get slimmest (especially if you are in a late start group and go the full 90), and the beds/dorms are fullest.  

On the bridge at Brest, with the same 3 guys I'd started with in Paris!
2)  Thanks to #1, EVERYTHING at controls will take longer than you think it should.  Do not expect to control in 10 minutes like you do at your local Chevron.   Not only will you wait in lines for everything, but everything is VERY spread out at the controls.  You may walk several minutes between the bike parking/ bathrooms/portopotties, the cafe, the dorms, etc.   Signage is sometimes great, sometimes crummy, and you may not find someone who can answer your question or understand what you need (not everyone speaks english, and no matter how much you pledge to study french between now and then, after 900km your English will probably be failing you, so forget about French 101.).     

Signage.  Confused?
3) If you plan to eat at a control, simply do not expect to get out of there faster than 30 minutes.   Or 45. Or an hour if you aren't paying attention to the clock, especially by the 3rd & 4th day.   All that waiting on lines, finding a place to sit, finding a place to fill your bottle, finding the portopotties, finding your bike again....  budget that time into your time estimates.

Labyrinth bike parking at Loudeac.

4)  Budget your time.   Like, in writing, on paper, and have a solid plan that you stick to.  I build ride plans for all my long bike events, based on average speed estimates, climbing on each leg, distance between controls, where I plan to sleep, etc.  I also have hard and fast "depart by" times in my plan, regardless of what time I arrive.   My goal in making my plan is to build my time bank throughout the day to enable me to get some rest at night, and still leave the overnight controls with a safety buffer in hand (which for me is 2 hours).   Late in a randonnee, when you are exhausted, it is easy to lose track of time and think you have more (or less) that what you really do.  Having a written plan that you can refer back to will help you stay focused and calm.  I can elaborate more on my methods if anyone is interested.  
Leaving Loudeac for the 2nd time, right on schedule.   Hotel garage parking.

5) As others have mentioned, try to use services OUTside of controls as often as possible.    As a slower rider, you should always be doing one of the following things: riding, eating, sleeping or urinating.   If you are doing anything else (like standing in a long line at a control) you are wasting time you simply do not have.   On PBP in 2011, I ate at a couple of street-side places (sausages, frites, etc.), a few bakeries, bought fruits and snacks in a few small shops, ate at some controls, ate on my bike a LOT (both stuff I bought, and energy bars, etc that were in my handlebar bag), accepted food from spectators, etc.   I also used bathrooms at places I purchased foods, in some town centers where there were public restrooms and peed in the dark on the side of the road more time than I can remember. (more on that later...)  Basically, if you have an opportunity to use services outside of the controls, do it. 

Roadside crepe stop

Jeff Tilden eating on the bike.  "Want some??"

6) Sleep.  Sweet sweet precious sleep.   I need it.  And never get enough on these things. (I got 10.5 hours on PBP '11 over 3 nights and only 8 hours total on LEL over 4 nights. )   On PBP, one of the very best things I did was pre-arrange for a hotel room at Loudeac the first two nights, and at Mortagne-au-Perche the 3rd night.   Here's the thing.   As a slower rider, that sleep time is absolute gold.  GOLD.  So I want it to be the very very best it can possibly be.   Having a REAL bed and a REAL shower all to myself was crazy important and very beneficial to me.  Plus, the hotel had "breakfast" going for the riders pretty much 24-7.   So, I was able to go straight from the control to the hotel, have a shower, sleep 4.5 hours both nights in Loudeac, go straight to breakfast where there was no line, no paying for anything, eat, get my bike out of the hotel's secure garage, then get out of Dodge.  I could also leave all sorts of stuff I didn't need at the hotel while I did the ride from Loudeac to Breast and back.   I also had my own place to plug in my chargers to top up my electronics, etc., without having to fight for/find an outlet.   The bed was comfortable, the hotel was quiet, the food was great, and I would absolutely do it all over again.

Private hotel room in Loudeac

Breakfast at the hotel in Loudeac.  No waiting.

Conversely, one of the biggest mistakes I made on LEL was NOT arranging for hotel rooms, especially the first night.   Again, we were in the bulge group, and when we got to the control where we wanted to sleep, there were no "beds" available.  We wasted tons of time sitting around waiting for something to become available.  Eventually they opened up another room, tossed some blankets on a hard wood floor and that was what we got.  After riding alllllll day and half the night, shivering for two hours on a hard wood floor in a room full of snoring, farting men with people constantly going in and out, talking, and phone alarms going off, was not very conducive to getting any rest.  It was a nightmare.    And it did not set me up well for the rest of the ride.   

So, if you can afford the luxury, I highly recommend a hotel room in Loudeac.   The quality of sleep you get is worth the extra expense and the few extra minutes you will expend finding it the first night.

7) Bathrooms - the bathrooms at the controls on PBP are downright disgusting.   Remember we are bulge riders and the controls are in schools, etc, where the facilities are not designed to handle the volume of people using them.  ANd they are manned/cleaned by volunteers who have other things to do as well.   Carry toilet paper, as the bathrooms often will not have any.    Do not expect soap or paper towels.  Expect the floors to be muddy or wet or worse.  If you drop something on them, you will probably not want to pick it back up.  (Really.)   Expect the women's rooms to be completely taken over by the men.    Expect to see men with their shorts around their knees applying butt lube.   The first organized food stop (not a control) is at Mortagne on the way out at 140km.  It's the middle of the night and nothing will be open during that first 140 km except a rare business or two that sees an opportunity and will hence be completely overrun.  So fully expect to do your "business" outside that first night in particular.  Ladies, there will be people everywhere, so expect to have to make your way down some dark driveway in the countryside if you want any privacy at all.

8) Can you sleep on the side of the road?  Yes.  Should you?  NO.  Why?  See #7 above.    Every time I saw someone sleeping just off the road, I wondered how many others had peed in that spot before them.  While the ladies might pee down a driveway somewhere, the men rarely strayed far from the pavement....

9) Remember that plan I mention in #4, and that 2 hour time buffer?  Plan to maybe have to use some of it up unexpectedly on day 3 or 4.   Like maybe you slow down more than expected. (check!)  Like maybe you are falling asleep and need an unplanned 20 minute nap in Tintineac. (check!)  Like maybe you puke your brains out and need some extra recovery time. ( check!  You know what they say: you aren't a real randonneur until you've puked in a french ditch.   Except in my case, it was in a lovely hotel in Mortagne on the final night).     Whatever you do, stick to that plan and keep that buffer those first couple days, because when you really need it in that final 200K or so, it's there for you to use up.

The bathroom of explosive vomitude.

When I left Mortagne before dawn on the final day, I was right at the closing time, having used up all my buffer by being slower than expected getting to Mortagne and by puking all over that lovely hotel bathroom.  I was a wreck, afraid that maybe I had come so far for nothing.  If I'd not left that buffer on the preceding days, I might have found myself in even worse shape for time.  Instead, I made it to Dreux, the next control, in time.  I cried tears of joy when the sun finally came up.  And I managed to finish with 1:15 in the bank, instead of 0:45 hors delai.

Leaving Mortagne, up against the control closing time.

10) Remember that on PBP you are never really alone.  There are always riders on the road nearby.  If you need some company and find yourself alone, even a moment's pause will find someone catching up to you (remember that when you try to just "stop and squat" roadside.  ;-) )     When I found myself alone and despairing on the side of the road in the middle of the final night, I no sooner stopped to have a personal pity party when several riders I know came along and saved me from myself.    Even if YOU don't need that help, maybe you can be that friend who stops and checks in on someone else in need.   It can mean the difference between finishing and not.  

You'll nearly always be in sight of many riders on PBP.

11) As long as you can safely ride, do not quit.   On the final day of LEL, I was soooooooo exhausted.   And so very slow.  I wanted to quit so many times that day.  Ultimately, though, my pride won out.  I eventually decided that I would just keep pedalling until I physically could not turn the pedals any longer, or until I ran out of time.   A wise rando planted the phrase "relentless forward motion" into my head very early in my rando career and it has stuck with me ever since.  Find a positive mantra that works for you (write in on your arm, or tuck it into your cuesheet holder, or wherever, and refer to it when you need it.)  As long as you are moving, you are making progress towards the goal.   And maybe - probably - you will feel better eventually.  Get a second, or third (or 20th) wind.   Lucky for me, I ran out of course before I ran out of time, and finished LEL and PBP.   Neither with very much time in the bank, but this sport is pass/fail.  I passed.   You can too if you just keep moving.  Don't make any rash decisions when tired or hungry.   Nap or eat, then move along again.
Ran out of road before I ran out of time.

12) Do PBP specific training, if you can.   We did a night-start 200K on a Friday night after work a month or so before PBP.   It's a good simulation for how tired you will be starting at night after being amped up and anxious all day waiting for the damn thing to start.  Turns out I love night starts.  Who knew?   ---  Find some courses that have similar elevation profiles to PBP.  There's a lot of climbing on PBP, but none of them are long.  More like relentless rollers.  Learn to love them.   ---   If you've never done a 1000K, consider doing one 8-10 weeks before PBP.   DO you need to ?  No.   I did my first one 8 weeks before PBP and for me it was a huge confidence booster.  

All new territory beyond 1000K for me.

 I learned what I would feel like on the third morning.  I also learned how hard it was to "ride through" the last night on that 1000K, spending almost 24 hours on the bike to get to the finish line.   Use those training rides to learn more about how you will fare on PBP and what you need to change.   I learned that my speed was going to drop significantly that last day, so I needed to plan for that.  I *also* learned that I could come back from a really sour stomach and significant nausea to ultimately finish.   It was a good lesson.  When I got sick on PBP, I had that experience to draw on.

Earned it!

Um, well, this was much longer than I expected it to be.  If you made it this far, you ought to do just fine persevering on PBP...  ;-)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rest in Peace, John

Image via Twitter feed of Martyn Bolt

The rider who was struck on LEL in 2013 died from his injuries this month. I've thought of him often since last year; about the risks we take during long randonneuring events and how much our fates are determined less by our own actions and so very much more by the faith we place in motorists to have our interests in mind when they pass, hopefully with care and not with malice, disdain or indifference.
I accept those risks. I do everything I can to mitigate them (lights, reflective, mirror, route choice, etc.) but I know that in the end, none of those things will make a damn bit of difference if its my turn to get creamed by a careless, drunk or malicious motorist.
I know some people who have chosen not to ride anymore, or who've switched away from road riding because of these risks. And I can respect that choice absolutely. But for *me*, the very best way I can honor the lives and memories of those who have been lost is to keep riding. To not let the fear win out over the joy.
Rest in peace, John. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Konsidering K-Hound

"Every 200K should feature a swim in the river."    

As we splashed around in the Willamette River at mile 110, Asta & I delighted in the warm sunny July weather here in Oregon that allowed us this luxury.   The boys looked on with somewhat bemused expressions from the shore, none daring to go in beyond the knee.
Mid-ride swim!

Two weeks later on yet another 200K, I found myself neck high in the Deschutes River, cooling down after 80 miles of hot, mostly treeless miles.    A girl could get used to this....


Asta & I have ridden a LOT of miles together this year.  Looking back on our quest for our first K-hounds, I've come to realize that water has been a recurring theme in so many of our rides, though not always in the most benevolent of manners.   

Here in the Pacific NorthWET, water is most often something that falls from the sky, requiring the use of fenders, the strategic deployment of wool, and the careful application of GoreTex, eVent and Windstopper.   We ride from espresso stand to hot cocoa machine to soup pot, as rain water soaks into our shoes and runs into our eyes.   Starbucks is our friend and Safeway is rando nirvana.

Pacific NorthWET.

In February, early in our K-hound quest, Asta & I joined Theo on a 200K from Portland OR to Olympia WA.  We followed the Columbia River north, and the rainstorm followed us.  By late-afternoon, we took refuge in Safeway, spreading our wet gear in piles around the table, the puddles beneath our feet widening with every minute.  We were soaked through to the bone, chilled to the core, and huddled around steaming bowls of tomato-basil soup.   Yet we were grinning from ear to ear, giddily reveling in our drowned rat status.  Pushing the time limits, we headed out into the early winter night, the wind whipping at the trees, while steering our bikes around downed branches and bottomless rain puddles.  Ahead, a vehicle activated it's flashers and pulled over.   What's this??  A secret control!   On a permanent!  The controller offered up dry gloves and warm hats.  How awesome is that?
Drowned rats in Safeway. (Hi Theo!)

In March, when old man winter still had his grip on the Northwest, we headed to Seattle for the "Spring" 300.  Asta engaged her superstar warp engines and rode with the fast boys all day.  But the old man had other plans for me.  It rained hard, and I was underdressed.  I got too cold and too wet.  I flatted and changed the tire in the wind.   Focused on the effort to make up time, to keep moving and stay warm, I failed to fuel properly.   By nightfall I was exhausted, with low blood sugar and double vision.  My first DNF.  I was crushed.  Was my pursuit of a K-hound merely a pipe dream??

Asta & I appearing a bit wrecked after a very long 400K...

In May, after endless months of rain, when drivetrains were grit-worn and moss was growing between our toes, Asta & I escaped to the deserts of eastern Washington to ride the Fleche.  We followed a route carved over the millenia by water, along the banks of the Yakima, Naches and Tieton rivers, as we headed west towards Olympia.   We climbed ever higher past Rimrock Lake and finally over White Pass, where the water greeted us silently in the form of snowpack along the roadside, and ice glittered on the summit lake, reflecting the midnight beams of our headlights.  Ten teams finished the Fleche, and we were the only one to escape the rain.  Ha HA!

Norm and The FlecheTones

Any body of water that can be seen from Outer Space is worthy of circumnavigation.  Seeking to whip out a big chunk of K towards the K-hound goal, I headed to my home state of NY to ride The Lap Of The Lake 1000K around Lake Ontario in July.   The crossings into Canada on the Thousand Islands Bridge over the St. Lawrence River, and back into the US again via Niagara Falls were highlights of the trip.   Standing besides the Falls at 4:30am, just before sunrise, the normally packed viewing platforms completely devoid of tourists, the thunderous and immutable power of one of the world's biggest waterfalls was awe-inspiring.

A Really Big Lake


As I write this tale, Asta & I are still in pursuit of the remaining kilometers needed to achieve our first K-hound awards.   We will try to knock out as many kilometers as we can while "water" still means warm swims in the river instead of rivulets of rain running down the backs of our necks.    While I can't know for certain that we will achieve our K-hound goal, I *do* know that I'm so very lucky to have Asta as a partner in rando-crime.