Sunday, May 27, 2007

Where Did the Day Go, Dude?

On Saturday, May 26th, Howard rode his Fuji Touring beater on a 300 kilometer brevet. In case you're looking at me like I just spoke French to you, this is the translation: 300 kilometers = 186 miles. (Kilometers were invented by the French.) And a brevet is a long-distance self-supported bicycle ride where the rider carries a brevet card and gets it signed and time-stamped at checkpoints along the way. (Brevets were also invented by the French.)

186 miles on a single bike ride is tough! And Howard is not above complaining or whining since his every thought gets verbalized anyway, much to the detrement of whomever he's hanging with at the moment.

The day started out wobbly after fretting and worrying for days prior about 300 K's of misery. Howard only got 5 1/2 hours of sleep on Friday night before waking at 2:30 a.m. After picking up his friend Deadhead and heading south to Louisville, where the ride would start, Howard was flying down the highway at 72 mph and got pulled over by the Lafayette Police Department for speeding in a 60 mph zone. Possibly because we had bikes hanging off the back of the car, he asked us where we were headed. So Howard told him we were going to the Louisville Park-and-Ride to start a 186-mile bike ride. The officer smiled and said he didn't want to add to our misery for the day, so just gave Howard a warning. Howard considered himself duly warned.

Arriving at the Park-and-Ride at 4:30 a.m., another buddy, bmclaughlin, was already there -- he had been there since 2 a.m. since that was the only time he could catch a bus! bmclaughlin's truck was totalled a while back and he never replaced it. He just rides his bike EVERYWHERE!

Then a third friend, ZenLC, showed up without a fourth friend, Zman, since Zman had decided not to make the trip from Pennsylvania after hurting his knee the week before. Afterwards, when the pain of climbing 13,400 vertical feet began to manifest itself, Deadhead and Howard remembered that they chose to do this 300K brevet for the chance to ride with Zman. The two of us agreed that we should have driven straight back home directly from the Park-and-Ride since Zman wouldn't be riding with us!

So bmclaughlin, ZenLC, Deadhead, and Howard began the brevet at 5 a.m. with head- and tail-lights and jackets and heavy gloves. About 10 miles into the ride, Howard led them all astray, missing a right turn towards the mountains. After a couple hundred yards, the mistake was discovered and corrected.

The sun began to come up, illuminating the foothills ahead of us. As we passed Highway 93 between Boulder and Golden, marking the start of the Coal Creek Canyon climb, Howard put his game-face on and began riding harder. A couple hundred yards later, looking in his mirror, he saw Deadhead keeping pace, but bmclaughlin and ZenLC were not. Oh well, the climb had begun and it was now every man for himself!

The Coal Creek Canyon ascent is 12 miles long, begins at altitude 5,550' and reaches its summit at 8,550'. It's a very steady and relentless 5% grade. Not exhausting, but 12 continuous miles of this is wearing. Along the way, we passed another Breveteer (Howard's name for the group of 11 of us doing the ride). His name was Robert. He was a strong rider but a slow climber. After we reached the summit nearly two hours later (we took one break) and taking some pictures of purple mountain's majesty, we zoomed down a very fast 600' drop with switchbacks. But then we had to "buy the elevation back" again before reaching Nederland and the first checkpoint.

Nederland, Colorado is a hippie mountain community famous for its Frozen Dead Guy -- some old Norwegian dude, whose body has been kept on ice for about a decade. Howard noticed that some of the Nederland hippie chicks and dudes were such freaks and space cadets that they made Deadhead look like a White House staffer! I'll show you a picture of Deadhead in a minute or two.

On we went, as we now faced the most challenging climb of the day -- a 900' climb covering 2 1/2 miles -- 6.8% at about 8,500' altitude. Feelin' the burn, Howard had to stop. Deadhead didn't complain. Though after we got started again, the summit was -- of course -- just around the next turn! Here's a pic of the descent we faced...

After much more picturesqe scenery and a few conveniently chosen "photo opportunities", we reached the Meeker Park Store -- second checkpoint -- where we bought a couple pints of chocolate milk, snacks, and then sat on their porch admiring the spectacular views of more purple mountain's majesty. (Deadhead's picture at this porch is shown below.) This 20-minute break was one of the highlights, for sure, because we knew that most of the next 50 miles would be downhill!

In Estes Park, we missed a turn and had to backtrack a couple hundred yards. At the third checkpoint -- MacGregor Ranch -- we took our bikes off Devil's Gulch Road into the ranch on dirt and barely paved road looking for someone to timestamp our brevet cards. Finally realizing that it was an informational checkpoint -- the brevet card read, "write down the year the MacGregor Ranch Museum was founded", and that was shown on the museum sign at Devil's Gulch Road! -- we were on our way again.

We stopped for lunch and pictures at the top of Devil's Gulch Road (see the photo at the top of this rambling story), and Howard commented that Robert was probably not going to catch up with them when... Robert caught up with them and took off down the mountain! Deadhead then brought reality crashing down around Howard's ears when he said, "well now we have to do a century [translation: 100 miles]." Howard kept his mouth shut, but inside he was weeping. Whatta big wimp.

The ride down Devil's Gulch and through Glen Haven was amazing since it was a continuous 4 to 5% descent without any traffic or noise other than the rushing river, tweeting birds... and 20 mph head- and crosswinds that dissipated once we dropped a couple hundred feet of altitude. This descent was The Highlight of the whole day! Deadhead and Howard agreed that a Coal Creek Canyon/Peak-to-Peak/Devil's Gulch century would be truly one of the most spectacular experiences to be had on a bicycle, but that all the added mileage on the high plains made it miserable instead.

After Devil's Gulch Road joined with the Big Thompson Canyon Highway, the descent continued, albeit with noisy traffic. Deadhead and Howard quickly caught up to Robert. Robert latched onto our draft for a few miles, then pulled in front of Howard and increased the pace. We would have preferred riding at 23-24 mph to enjoy the scenery more, but Robert was determined to fly at speeds approaching 30 mph. So we kept up. At the bottom of the canyon, and facing a short but sobering climb, Robert quickly fell back behind us, leaving Howard with the unenviable task of pulling up the hill [translation: the front rider exerts 15-20% more energy than the trailing riders] after pedalling hard downhill for six or seven miles!

Finally on the high plains, the three of us made our way to Berthoud, where Howard's right knee began to complain with each pedal stroke. Deadhead and Howard stopped at a grocery, while Robert went on ahead. Deciding the time was right for double-dosages of Advil and highly-caffeinated sickly-sweet beverages, Howard bought a liter of Mountain Dew and Deadhead bought one of those taurine/caffeine/ginseng/amphetimine drinks. Re-energized if not a bit jittery, off we flew.

A light breeze was blowing out of the northeast, so Howard and Deadhead took turns pulling for two minutes at a time, averaging nearly 20 mph. Crossing the South Platte River, we finally arrived in Platteville and the fourth checkpoint. Robert was finishing up a snack and drink, and he took off six or seven minutes before we did.

Since the majority of the remaining ride was west and south, with a breeze behind us, Howard put his shiny new drive-train into the big ring [translation: the largest front gear, usually reserved for high-speed descents and idiots], determined to finish the remaining 45 miles in the big ring. Problem was, there were still many climbs to make during the final 10 miles of the route. But Howard did it, staying in the big ring by standing up on his pedals a couple times and otherwise working hard to keep his cadence up [translation: peddling rpms] to avoid grinding his knees too much by pedaling slower.

Riding hard and again taking turns up front, we caught up with Robert after only seven or eight miles. The three of us rode the rest of the way together, picking up a fourth rider with about 12 miles to go. Arriving at the Louisville Park-and-Ride at 7:05 p.m., we were told the brevet ride official had left two minutes before we four pulled in. We'll have to mail our brevet cards in to have our rides recognized by the mucky mucks who worry about such things. We averaged 15.7 mph over 186 miles with 13,400' of vertical climbing [translation: combined amount of altitude climbed throughout the day].

Pulling two beers out of the backpack that he had carried all day, Deadhead handed one to Howard and the celebration/relaxation/discussion of the day's events began.

Deadhead and Howard took three bad turns during the day making the total ride time 11 hours 52 minutes. In addition to stopping at six checkpoints, they also took three long breaks which together added 2 hours 13 minutes. Overall time was 14 hours 5 minutes.

Lesson Learned: One does what one has to do to survive in this difficult and challenging world.


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