Fun With Google Earth

Click to enlarge image

I know people are tired of recaps of 2010 rides, but I was fiddling with Google Earth today and came up with the above image that I simply had to share with you.  I’ve added many of the rides stored on my Garmin Connect website and came up with this depiction of where I went.  Kinda cool.  I managed to get my rides in Prince William, Stafford, Fauquier, and Culpeper Counties and one in Fairfax County.  Not pictured are my rides in DC, the Mount Vernon Trail, and Canberra.

Besides overlaying the route, there are a few other tricks you can do with your GPS data in Google Earth, like moving a little icon along your route or doing a “fly thru” in the same direction that you pedaled a route. 

Anything to get me through the cold days…

2010 Wrap Up: Part 2 (The Pics)

As many of you know, I enjoy taking photos during my rides.  Here are some of my favorites from 2010:

Colvin Road, Nokesville

Quantico Wildlife Refuge

Quantico Marina

Prince William Forest Park

Tidal Basin, Washington, DC

 

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Rte 234 Bike Path

Orlando Road

Start Line, Culpeper Metric Century

Widewater Park

Canova Drive

Cromwell Road, Fauquier County

Hastings Drive, Manassas

Lake Terrapin

Reid Road

Quantico National Cemetery

Getting Ready For The Great Pumpkin Ride

This Saturday, I’ll be participating in Warrenton Cycling’s Great Pumpkin Ride, a 64-mile event in Fauquier County.  This should be an interesting contrast to the Culpeper Cycling Century event I rode in three weeks ago.  The Culpeper event was very forthcoming with information.  They provided me with hotel, restaurant, and local shopping info (none of which was needed, but still nice) and the all-important route and cue sheet.  So far, I have received nothing from Warrenton.  I see on Bikereg.com that approximately 200 people have registered, making it about the same size as the Culpeper ride.  The Great Pumpkin Ride has a presence on mapmyride.com, but the route information isn’t posted.  Email correspondence over the past few months has been largely ignored.  Sigh. 

I did manage to find a route created in 2009 which claimed to be “the Great Pumpkin Route.”  Lets hope this anonymous author is accurate and the route doesn’t change each year!  Here’s what I found:

My first impressions:

- The route is pretty flat, with only 1,000 feet of climbing.  The last 10 miles seem to be the largest climb of the day.  That’s not exactly the nicest way to end things, but I guess the organizers are looking to end the day with a challenge!

- There are three rest stops, compared with the four stops offered at Culpeper.  Just like Culpeper, the first stop comes fairly early in the ride at Mile 12.  I’m not sure what the point of these early stops are, unless they give folks with mechanical problems an early opportunity to make adjustments.

- The route takes me very close to my familiar stomping grounds in and around Nokesville.  In fact, I have already been on about four miles of road leading into Catlett.  This was the scene of the “Tenerife Incident,” where I learned just how fast a Doberman Pinscher can run.  I suspect I won’t meet my animal friend again, as we won’t be riding on Tenerife Road, but I will certainly be on the lookout for him!

- The weather forecast is fantastic: sunny with a high of 74 degrees.  This is actually mildly disappointing for me as I have recently purchased a skull-cap, cold weather cycling pants, and shoe covers, none of which will be necessary on this ride.  I’ve used my cold weather gear once or twice already and I’ll just have to wait to use them again in a few weeks.  Still, I would have liked to see how they performed over a longer ride.  C’est la vie.

So there it is – a flatter course with one less rest stop, great weather, and a mildly disturbing lack of communication from the ride directors.  I had no time goals during the Culpeper ride and finished with the pedestrian pace of 12.7 mph (avg moving speed of 15.3 mph).  I hope to get my overall pace over 14.0 mph and my avg moving speed over 16.0 mph.  I’ll let you know on Sunday how things worked out!

It’s A Small World, but We’re All Wearing Helmets and Sunglasses

I was walking my dog a couple of days ago and noticed my neighbor, Steve, working on his bike in his driveway.  Longtime readers with excellent memories will recall Steve from a previous post on flat tires.  We had a pleasant conversation about his bike, a Trek 2200, and I regaled him with stories of my reintroduction to cycling, culminating with a mention of the Culpeper Cycling Century.

“You were in Culpeper?” asked Steve.

“Yep,” I replied with uncharacteristic brevity.

“So was I!” said Steve, whereupon we bumped fists in mutual congratulation.

Remarkably, my longtime friend who lives one street away from me loaded his bike on his car, drove to Culpeper, and participated in the exact same event as I did.  And we never saw each other.

“Where were you cycling?” asked Steve.

“I was the guy in the back!” I half-jokingly replied.

Steve did the century route while I only did the Metric Century.  Still, we were on the same road for over 25 miles and we both stopped at the same first rest stop.  We also loitered at the start point for 15-30 minutes prior to the beginning of the ride.  I was at a loss as to how we didn’t see each other, but it make perfect sense to Steve.

“We were all wearing helmets and sunglasses,” he said.  “We all look the same.”

We briefly compared our schedules for the rest of the year and confirmed that we won’t be at the same event again.  Steve is an avid triathlete who is still performing well above my level in the cycling arena.  He’s thinking about a century ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a week.  I have my sights set on the more modest 64-mile Great Pumpkin Ride in the flats of Warrenton.

Maybe we’ll hook up next year.  After all, it’s a small world!

Culpeper Metric Century: Things I Think I Think

 

With the Culpeper County Metric Century now two days into my rear view mirror, here’s what I think I think:*

1.  I think I like organized rides.  They give me a goal to shoot for, provide some great interaction with other cyclists, and give me an opportunity to ride on routes I am not familiar with.  The t-shirt was nice too!

2.  I think the Culpeper County Century ride was well organized, well supplied, and well marked.  The route was a great route that provided wonderful views of the area and was not too difficult for novice cyclists.  The volunteers were friendly and eager to help.  If there’s a better ride for a relatively small group, I’d like to see it.

3.  I think riding with a partner is great fun and forces your heart rate to slow down (you can’t speak when you’re exhausted).  This makes for great endurance riding but not so good training, I think.  I think it’s probably best to train alone and have fun in groups.

4.  After the October 23 Great Pumpkin Ride, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any more 65-mile rides.  I think the money and effort to drive to the site require a 100-mile commitment on my part.  And I think I’m ready for the challenge.

5.  I think my seat is too high.  I have been experiencing chronic pain behind my left knee since I bought the Trek.  During Saturday’s ride, this pain appeared behind my right knee as well.  It was pretty bad.  Two days later it is subsiding, but still present.  A Google search indicates this symptom is closely associated with seats that are too high.  And Sloan mentioned that he thought my seat was high.  And I adjusted my seat upward after only one ride because it felt too low.  So I’m pretty sure I my seat is too high.

6.  I think I need to work on my upper body technique.  My elbows were in a good deal of pain, probably because I ride with my elbows locked.  I need to fix that.  On the positive side, I adjusted my hand grip and largely solved the numbness problem I experienced a week earlier.

7.  I think I need to figure out my cold weather clothing plan.  I got lucky with the compression shirt and the gloves.  In a few weeks, that won’t be sufficient.  Head, leg, and shoe clothing are in order.  Sadly, I remain a cheap skate and will probably dither over each of these purchases until I am satisfied I am getting what is absolutely necessary at a good price.

* My apologies to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, whose weekly column on the NFL was the inspiration for the title of this post.

Culpeper County Ride

Many people (including commentors on this blog) advise not to try new things when embarking on a long ride.  This is good advice.  New equipment may not perform the way you expect it to.  New food may not agree with you as you had hoped.  A lot can go wrong with new things and it is best not to try them out as you attempt something challenging.  I thought about this as I put on my brand-new long sleeve compression shirt and loaded my brand new full finger gloves and my brand new sun glasses into the car.  The thought also occurred to me as I loaded my three-week old bike, clipless pedals and shoes.  I even pondered it as I drank Gatorade’s Prime drink mix for the first time, 15 minutes before the start of the ride.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The day started off well.  Remarkably, I packed everything I wanted to bring, ate a light breakfast of toast and jam, loaded the bike on the rack and departed for Culpeper right on schedule.  It was cold out and the sun was just beginning to rise.  Light fog was burning off in the fields as I passed through Nokesville.  It’s a 45 mile drive to Culpeper and I briefly thought this was a long way to drive in order to ride a bike.  It then occurred to me that if 45 miles was a long distance to drive, how would one describe the 65 mile distance I was about to pedal.  A sobering thought, that.

I arrived at the start point – a store named The Bike Stop – precisely on schedule.  This was a bit unnerving because things were going too smoothly for me.  I fully expected something to go wrong and preferred it to occur as soon as possible so I could get on with things.  I did have a minor challenge during check-in when the volunteer briefly refused to wait on me because I have the same name as her ex-husband.  It was all in good fun (I think) and she eventually gave me my T-Shirt, yellow wrist band, and cue card.

Pre-ride instructions outside the Bike Stop

There were about 200 riders participating in the ride.  By 8:20, most of them were filling the street in front of the bike shop, where a lady from the country rec department welcomed us, thanked the sponsors, and quickly raffled off some door prizes (none of which I won – darn!).  At 8:30, a police motorcycle escort led the group out of town.  As we started, I was presented with my first challenge: clipping into my pedals in a crowd.  I slipped on the first attempt, but caused no harm to anybody.  I quickly regrouped and was on my way on a sunny cold morning, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

The pace heading out of town was pleasantly slow.  Everyone was in a good mood, joking with each other and happily waving to the police officers who were blocking the intersections for us.  I was polite to the police officers, but didn’t chat with many folks.  I focused on getting a feel for the group and not slamming into anyone.  At this point, things were kinda chaotic.  Many fast riders were working their way up to the front while less experienced riders (even less experienced than me!) were weaving  erratically and generally making things harder for the rest of us.  After two miles, we were outside of town and things had mostly sorted themselves out.  It was at this point that I met Jimmy.

Jimmy, showing off his Felt Z5

Jimmy was a gregarious fellow who was cycling alone, talking up a storm to anybody who would listen to him.  When I pedaled past him, we struck up a conversation that was to last the next 25 miles.  Jimmy lives in Ashburn, where he is a network administrator for an IT company.  For years he has been an ultra marathon runner and has participated in runs over 50 miles long.  Jimmy took up cycling this Spring when his doctor informed him he had microtears in his hips that would eventually make it too painful to run anymore.    He had never done a century before and was still debating whether to go on the 100 or 65 mile route.  Apart from being a great guy, he had one interesting aspect:  he absolutely refused to believe any of the data my Garmin GPS was providing.  He was convinced that we were going much slower than the computer suggested.  I eventually took to grossly exaggerating the read out to play into this paranoia.  “Now it says we’re going 55 mph, Jimmy!”  Jimmy seemed amused by all of this.  We took turns drafting and pulling and even joined a small four person pace line.  It was all very cool.  You can definitely feel the difference – when I was in trail there were times when I was barely even pedaling.

Rest Stop #1 - Rapidan VFD

The biggest event on this first leg occurred around Mile 12, when a woman strayed into the left lane and was almost rear ended by a pick up truck flying past our group.  After that momentary scare, we reached Mile 15 and the first rest stop – the Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department.   This being my first organized ride, I have no idea if this was a good setup or not.  I can report that many of the riders were very pleased with the place, including ample supplies of cookies, PBJ sandwiches, trail mix, energy bars, water, sports drinks, and an on-site mechanic.  The volunteers even went to the trouble of placing many of the snacks into zip-lock bags so the riders could put them in their jerseys and eat on the road.  A nice little detail, I thought.  I texted my wife and informed her I had lived to see Rest Stop #1.  After refilling my water bottle, I was ready to head back out.  Little did I know that I was three short miles from making a fool of myself.

Yours Truly at Rest Stop #1

The incident began innocently enough.  A group of about ten riders were waiting to cross Highway 15.  Jimmy and I were with them.  Jimmy shouted, “Car left!” meaning to stop because there was a car (you guessed it) on the left.  So I unclipped and stopped.  Then Jimmy noticed the car had flashed its lights, so we all began to cross the road.  Then another rider shouted “Car right!”  So we all stopped again.  Except this time I didn’t unclip.  Oops.  My weight was on my left pedal, which was at the downstroke position and the bike tilted to the left.  I was going to fall and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Shockingly, the fall was virtually painless.  I tried to roll with the fall and avoided putting my left arm out to brace myself (an excellent way to break a wrist).  I was pleasantly surprised to see my shoes come out of the clips, thereby avoiding a troublesome compound fracture, and I quickly regained my feet.  Smiling, I walked my bike to the side of the road and checked it out.  Only a few small scratches on the left pedal.  That’s it. 

Jimmy was good enough to wait for me.  I quickly caught up with him and informed him that he witnessed my first-ever fall in clipless pedals.  We both agreed this was a significant event and he probably owed me a beer.  I told him that once I realized I was going down it was my goal to do it as gracefully as possible.  Jimmy said that he didn’t see the fall, but suspected I was about as graceful as everyone else who has done the same (which is to say virtually everybody and not graceful at all).  A few minutes after this exchange, two cyclists who had seen me crash caught up to us and asked if I was ok.  After I told them I was fine, one guy said (and I am not making this up), “I got to tell you, that was the most graceful fall I have ever seen.  You never stopped moving!” 

Mission accomplished.

Prince Michel Winery

At Mile 26, we came to the turn off point for the Century Ride.  Jimmy decided he was going to go for it.  I wished him well and was once again on my own.  It was still quite chilly and I was very grateful for my new gloves and my compression shirt.  Both were keeping me warm.  I also was not feeling any ill effects from my pre-ride Gatorade drink.  It appeared that I had drawn Aces on all three new items.  The ride was becoming more hilly at this point.  I was surprised at how hard some of the riders found these s0-so hills.  I was passing several with little effort.  Morale was high as I pulled into Rest Stop #2 – the Prince Michel Winery.

The Trek at rest (shockingly on its side) at Prince Michel Winery

The fare at Prince Michel Winery was much the same as at Rapidan VFD.  The volunteers were very nice and were eager to chat about the ride, where you’re from, or just about anything.  I was a bit dismayed that sports drinks were only available in Dixie Cups.  I thought it would be a tad rude to grab 20 of them and fill my water bottles.  Instead, I drank four or five and kept one bottle full of water.  I switched my caloric intake plan to bananas, cookies, and energy bars.  After some stretching, I shoved off.

The rolling hills continued and I was still overtaking folks while the occasional cyclist passed me by.  At Mile 35, I caught up with a rider sporting a Potomac Pedalers Touring Club jersey.  I’d heard of this group and am an ocassional reader of their website.  The rider told me he was, in fact, a member and we struck up a conversation about the club, other local bike clubs, organized rides, the better centuries in the area, and a whole bunch of Northern VA stuff.  The man’s name was Sloan and he lives in Washington DC, working for the State Department as a lawyer.   He rode a steel-framed Rivendell.  About five miles down the road, I watched as Sloan almost died.  Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but I DID watch him almost get hit while standing in the road by two cyclists traveling at well over 30 mph.  Here’s how it happened:

Sloan at Rest Stop #3, shortly after the "cue card incident"

Sloan had cleverly attached his cue card to his brake cables by means of a heavy-duty paper clip.  During a steep descent, Sloan flew through a sharp right turn while a stupid minivan driver tried to pass him.  I thought this is where Sloan was going to “buy the farm,” but he got out of that jam without incident – except that his cue card came undone and flew off his bike.  Sloan didn’t realize this until I yelled this fact to him.  He turned around and pedaled to that sharp right turn, where the cue card lay in the road.  He dismounted and picked up his card.  At precisely this point, two more cyclists flew into the turn and were surprised to see the shockingly-stationary Sloan in their paths.  Both riders swerved, narrowly missing Sloan and threw a few choice words his way for their trouble.

Rest Stop #3 - Salem FD

Sloan was remarkably unperturbed by these events and we were quickly back on our way.  In a few miles, we had arrived at Rest Stop #3, the Salem Fire Department.  By now I had the drill down pretty well: dismount, take off the gloves/helmet/sunglasses, text the wife, wolf down some snacks, drink some sports drink, and stretch.  As I went through this routine, I overheard some local riders learn that the route would take us over Drogheda Mountain.  There were groans and much consternation at the prospect of this.  They were no doubt referring to the large climb I had noticed during my highly scientific and detailed terrain analysis earlier in the week.  I informed Sloan of this and we both agreed this was not a good sign.

Speaking of terrain analyses, it seems that almost nobody does this sort of thing.  Almost none of the riders (including Jimmy, Sloan, and the people all around me) had any sense of where they were going.  Most folks were perfectly happy to hop on their bikes and go.  No doubt that’s because this was just one ride out of many for these people, but it still struck me as very odd.  I guess it’s just the Army officer in me:  I don’t go anywhere without a map and if I’m in an unfamiliar area, I will definitely take the time to orient myself using said map.  This probably makes me an uptight anal-retentive cyclist, but there it is.

Sloan congratulating me at Mile 57

After five miles of mostly downhill riding, we came upon Drogheda Mountain Road.  Any road named after a mountain couldn’t possibly be a good thing, in my opinion, and I was right.  We did a little over a mile at a 13% grade, which will definitely take the starch out of your shorts.   Again, I was pleased with my ability to climb the hill relative to the riders around me.  Sloan faded back.  I wasn’t about to leave my new-found friend on the side of a mountain, so I waited for him at the top.  He closed up quickly and we set off to Brandy Station.  On the way, we hit Mile 57, a spot of significance only to me as it marked the furthest I had ever cycled.  I pulled out my camera and took a pic to commemorate the moment.

AJ's Deli and Rest Stop #4

The final rest stop was at Mile 60, in the town of Brandy Station.  In June 1863, the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil occurred here.  I didn’t see any remnant of that battle.  All I saw was AJ’s Deli and Rest Stop #4.  It seemed odd to have a rest stop only five miles from the finish, but Sloan and I decided to partake anyway.  Upon our departure, I told Sloan that I wanted to see how much I had left in the proverbial tank and I would therefore be leaving him behind.  We agreed we’d meet up again at the finish.

So off I went, once again on my own.  I had a lot of energy left and was ready to see how fast I could go the remaining five miles.  I rode very hard, keeping my speed around 23 mph on the flats.  I overtook about five riders, but I was quickly running out of steam.  Still, I felt I would be in good shape at Mile 65.

Imagine my frustration when I hit Mile 65 and I still hadn’t reached Culpeper!

It seems the race organizers were just a tad off in their ride planning.  As it turned out, the final length was 68 miles.  No worries.  I was able to gather myself for the final push.  This was actually a positive event as the extra three miles put me over the 1,500 mile mark for the season.  It was nice to be setting a single day ride while also breaking a signficant mileage mark at the same time.

The Bike Stop

The ride back to the Bike Stop was uneventful.  People were slowly coming in all the time, so there were pockets of riders chatting in the parking lots and putting away their gear.  I pulled up to my truck and set about putting my stuff away.  The first order of business was changing my cycling shoes for some comfortable sneakers.  After a few minutes, Sloan pedaled in.  It turns out he parked only four spaces from me!  He had pulled into the parking lot immediately behind me and remembered his bemusement at my New York Yankees and Buffalo Bills car magnets.  We walked into the Bike Stop to let them know we had safely returned.  We chatted a bit about our upcoming rides (mine is a 65-miler in Warrenton in two weeks and Sloan’s is the Sea Gull Century next weekend).  I told Sloan I greatly enjoyed his company and then we shook hands and went our separate ways.

And that was that.  I’ll write more about my impressions of the ride later, but suffice it to say it was a very nice day and it was all I could have hoped for.  I had a nice ride, finished in good shape, learned a bit about group riding, and met some very nice folks along the way.  I even have a couple good stories to add to my collection!

I’m Pretty Sure I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

It’s two days until “The Big Day.”  Tomorrow I’ll be packing and thinking about what I am forgetting to do, so this will be the last blog until my ride report.  I’ve done plenty of reading, have talked to a few folks, and have racked up a fair amount of time alone on my bike.  I have learned just enough to know that I know almost nothing – and that’s part of the fun of Saturday’s ride!

I’ve never ridden in a group or in a paceline.  I’ve never had to show up on time with all my gear, ready to ride.  I’ve never stepped up to a registration area and “checked in”  (when do I get my T-Shirt?).  I’ve never been to a rest stop and sampled the wares.  I’ve never used cue cards.  I’ve never attempted to take directions from a race marshal. I’ve never drafted someone or allowed someone to “get on my wheel.”  I’ve never ridden in cold weather (forecasted start temp is 50 degrees with a high of 66).  I’ve never ridden this far.  There are probably many other cycling things I’ve never done and I don’t even know they exist yet.  I can only imagine the offenses I will cause and the predicaments I will find myself in.

Good stuff.  Can’t wait to sample it all.  I’m guaranteed a few good stories!