Saturday, July 14, 2012

1975: Second DALMAC, the pre-tour

I rolled out of our drive way and down the short gravel road to M-124, my first time on a loaded bike, headed for my second DALMAC (the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw bike tour). It was the end of my last high school summer. It had been a rocky year of changes since my first DALMAC the year before. I had finished high school, but would not be joining my friends in going off to college. Other than my restaurant job and some college classes later in the winter semester, I was really without a plan. My anchor through it all had been my ever expanding bicycling. And I had found a big way to make it even more so.

Tour ready, 1975
Chuck Harris mirror, Denim "helmet"
The plan had started when I learned my grandparent’s, who lived in Toledo, Ohio, would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary the weekend I would be on DALMAC. So with my mom’s permission, I would miss the anniversary party, but would visit them the week before. And then some friends from Jackson, also riding DALMAC, decided that they would be riding back from St. Ignace after the ride. So instead of a 4 day trip and a bus ride home, my second DALMAC would have 7 additional days of biking, and I would be riding with my gear on the extra days.

I had a mix of touring gear that while not state of art, was fairly representative of what you could find in midwest bike shops on a teen’s budget. My rear rack was a simple Pletscher alloy rack, with a single pair of skinny stays, and a steel spring “rat-trap” clip for holding items on top. My nylon panniers were a one-piece arrangement of side bags and top compartment that draped over the rear rack, with my sleeping bag and pad then strapped on top. I had added a home-made bike flag holder to back of the rack for the required DALMAC flag.

With almost everything on the rear rack, any time I stood up to accelerate or climb, the load would sway and wobble with the 6 foot flag pole swaying in a ridiculous arc. I soon learned to ride at an even steady pace. Aside from my few pairs of cycling shorts, I was still carrying a heavy assortment of jeans and shorts, a sweat shirt, multiple t-shirts and underwear. Even without a “kitchen” and tent (I was sharing a tent with one of the Jackson riders), I was probably carrying 30 pounds of gear.

My biggest frustration was my handlebar-camera bag. I was riding with a 35mm SLR, and shooting color slide film. Over the past year, I had started with a square Bellweather bag that strapped directly to the handle bars, but it sagged and interfered with my hand on the tops. Then I found a steel bag support that slipped over the handle bars, and moved the bag away from my hands, but the bag still sagged. So I had added some sheets of plastic from a high school shop project to support the bag. It held my camera, maps and wallet, but it was a kludge solution.

My first days ride was 50 miles to Toledo and my grandparents. They were very excited to have me for the overnight, and treated me to a great dinner of home made pasta and bread. For good luck, they gave me a 1924 Liberty silver dollar (that I still have). And they also told me about my mom’s 3-day bicycle trip from Toledo to a youth hostel in southern Michigan while she was in college, something I had only heard vaguely about from Mom.

I left that morning for the ride back to Brooklyn, under cloudy skies, and after an hour or so, it started to rain. And rain, and rain. I was riding through the flat, tree-less farm land of southeastern Michigan, with few opportunities for shelter. I was rolling through long puddles of standing water when I realized I had passed a car that stopped because they couldn’t see in the driving rain. At that point, I pulled off the side of the road and just stood their until the the rain let up some, and then rode on. I arrived home with everything on my bike soaking wet, the water streaming from packs has I leaned my bike against the garage. I had to unpack and dry everything, and then began bagging everything in small plastic bags before re-packing - my first real touring lesson.

The next day my final pre-tour destination was Lansing, almost 70 miles from home, meeting my friends from Jackson almost half way. Two of our group were leaving after work, so after lunch at home, I set out to meet them about 5 PM. The four of us stopped for dinner at this brand new fast food place called Wendy’s, the first one to open in Jackson.

We left Jackson headed straight north, and were soon on the service roads along US-27. It was my first group riding with panniers, and we were all all comparing notes on how our bikes handled. It was good practice on the mild rolling hills between Leslie and Mason. Even here, we had to be especially careful on downhills, since with all that gear over the rear wheel, our bikes would have a tendency for the handlebars to start shimmy if we picked up to too much speed on a downhill.
Leaving Toledo, Ohio,
DALMAC bound.

We ended up finishing the last few miles into East Lansing by street lights, riding to a friend-of-friend’s house. We had thought about tenting in their backyard, but with the wet overnight forecast and early start, we all settled for sleeping bags on their living room floor. This was good decision, since it rained all that night.

(I hope you will like The Ride So Far on Facebook.  Look for more tips and comments there soon.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

2012: Advice for the long rides

RAIN Finishers Medal
In a few weeks I will be riding RAIN for the second time. RAIN is the Ride Across INdiana (in one day), a bicycle ride from Terra Haute, Indiana (on the Illinois-Indiana border), to Richmond (on the Ohio-Indiana border). It follows the old National Road, US-40, the precursor to today’s I-70. Roughly 1,500 riders will attempt the ride, and you must finish by 9 PM - a 14-hour time limit.

RAIN’s 160-ish miles is kind of an odd distance, falling outside the more traditional half-century, metric century, century, double century. I little bit of me wouldn’t mind if it was a full double century - 200 miles, but that is just me, and most seem satisfied with just 160 or so miles.

(On the other hand, RAIN very close to the distance of a typical full Tour de France stage. That is something for you ponder as you arrive at the finish in Richmond; repeating the ride you just finished 10 to 15 times over 3 weeks, including 3-5 days with 10,000 feet of climbing in the mountains.)

With friends from 2007 RAIN training group.  I am second
from R, with my tandem stoker, Steve Lieby
Over the years, I have done three 200 mile days and one prior RAIN, and half dozen rides over 120 miles, and well over a hundered centuries. And based on that experience and observations, I offer the following advice I hope you find helpful.

After 90 miles, it’s all in your head. Endurance rides, are very much about mental attitude. If you have the ability to ride 75 to 90 miles comfortable and pain free, at a steady pace, while managing your nutrition and hydration, riding the additional miles just requires mental confidence.

Speed work helps your endurance. While there is value in building your mileage base, a training regimen based on just piling on more miles prior to an endurance event can leave you run down and at risk for injury. Once you have the base confidence to know you can complete 100 or more miles, start to include shorter workouts, at a faster tempo. This improves your base level of fitness with a much shorter recovery time. Short, fast workouts also let you compress your work out time, especially when you are time crunched. This is especially true when other events in your life make multiple 3-4 hour workouts per week a challenge.

(I used to hang out and ride with some of Indiana’s Ultra-Marathon cycling community. When one of the riders commented that I had the makings of good ultra-event rider, I replied without thinking “I have a life”. The riders reply? “Yeah, you do.”)

Improve your speed to reduce your event saddle time. When you improve your average speed, you reduce your time on the saddle - literally. Just going from a 14 mph average pace to a 16.5 MPH - from 8 hours to 6 hours for 100 miles, will cut your saddle time by 25%. A faster riding style will also tend to have you off the saddle more frequently - another win in the endurance-comfort challenge.

Minimize your off-the-bike time. Work on keeping your off-the-bike down to a minimum. Stop to pick-up water, energy drink and snacks, but move back to the bike and get back to your pace again. You want to avoid cooling down and then warming up again multiple times. Long breaks will also start to work on you mentally, as you watch the elapsed time increase, and you try to ride a faster pace. Snacking constantly, rather than a sag stop pig-out will also do a better job of keeping you fueled. (Set your bike computer to auto start stop, and watch your on the bike average speed - not your total average speed.)
It's all about the jersey.

Ride your ride, at your pace. Big event excitement makes if very tempting to start out fast, falling in with groups or pacelines riding faster than you have trained for. The simple test for this is the talk test. If you can’t speak a complete sentence without gasping, you may be riding at a pace you can’t sustain for the full event. (Sometimes conditions may dictate otherwise; i.e. balancing the effort to hang with slightly faster group to avoid fighting a headwind alone.)

Keep it fun. That is the final word. Savor the camaraderie, the scenery, the sense of accomplishment. A positive mental outlook can keep you going no matter what you are facing. Every ride is a unique experience of terrain, weather your physical condition, and even your age. Every time you push past that 100, 125, or more, you have accomplished something few ever consider trying. Enjoy it.