Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Burning Stubborness As Fuel: An Interview with Gary Shaffer

Okay, folks, as promised, it’s now Gary’s turn to talk about his randonneuring season. We were delighted to have him on the series with us this year, and he says he'll be back.

Gary is vice-president of the North Carolina Bicycle Club, which has had a hand in the local randonneuring scene for more than two decades. Gary and the other NCBC leaders have been promoting our sport at the monthly meetings and in the newsletter. Our own Jerry, Dean & Lin were recent speakers. We're grateful for the club's support, and we want to return the favor. So consider this a membership drive: If you don't belong to NCBC, please join today. Here are the membership forms.

Gary got the same questions as Sara, whose interview was posted this weekend. Thanks to both for helping out.

There is some great stuff in Gary’s interview: “I came to appreciate the non-competitive randonneuring mindset.”

And: “If muscles could utilize stubbornness as fuel, I would have completed the 600K without a problem.”

And: his description of his first 200K, where he carried no “less than a dozen pb&j sandwiches.”

But enough. Read on to find all the good stuff yourself.

RTP: Tell us about your cycling background.

I started riding when I was about 5 years old. I was given the 40-year-old, hand-me-down 16-inch wheel bike, more paint than steel, and was pointed at the front lawn to teach myself how to ride. Never rode longer than 10 miles until I was in my mid 20’s (1992). First metric in 1993. First century in 1994. First back-to-back century weekend in 1995. Did a solo tour from NC to MD in 1996 (531 miles in 7 days). Self-supported two-day ride from Erwin to Wilmington in record heat July 4 weekend of 1997. Then a dark period in the late 90’s which resulted in 30 pounds of flab, but a rebirth in 2000 triggered by Cycle North Carolina and Bike Virginia.

RTP: Before this year, what was the longest ride you’d done?

The 2007 edition of the Morrisville 300K, which was my longest at the time and still stands as tied for my third longest (with the 2008 300K). I also did the 200K in 2005 and 2007, so really not many rides above the century mark, even to this day.

RTP: What got you interested in randonneuring?

I had been aware of the brevet series, but it was not real. People did not really ride 600K in under 40 hours. But having done lots of CNC’s and Bike VA’s and Peanut Tours in the 2000 - 2004 time frame, and having dabbled in a brief (and slow) racing career (2003), I came to appreciate the non-competitive randonneuring mindset. And then BAM! In 2005, it just hit me that I should ride the 200K. But just the 200K. Anything farther than that is just nuts.

RTP: Did you need any special equipment for those rides?

For my first 200K, I thought I needed a heee-uge rear rack&bag and a large handlebar bag. So I got one of those clamp-on seatpost rear racks. I already had the trunk bag and the handlebar bag. I loaded both bags up with all sorts of stuff I would not need. I believe I carried no less than a dozen pb&j sandwiches. This was a carbon racing bike with 23mm tires. Went fine, no mechanicals. Used the same bike (minus the trunk rack&bag) in 2007, adding reflectors and a single LED 4-AA battery headlight for the 300K. For this year, I built a new bikezilla complete with fenders, disc brakes, Brooks saddle, and generator hub. The generator powered light is awesome. Sara is so jealous. (I better get her one...)

RTP: What adjustments did you have to make, if any, to your bikes?

My new bike had 50 miles on it before the 200K. I would have liked to have gotten more short rides in before the 200K, but I decided to damn the torpedoes and ride the new bike anyway. No real issues except for my shoulders, which were sort of unhappy after the 200K and downright angry after the 300K. I realized that I needed to move the seat back and the handlebars out and up. No idea what I had been smoking when I had set the bike up before the 200 and 300. Much better now.

RTP: Do you think you had the right kind of bike for those long rides?

This is my first Brooks saddle. After ~1500K, I’m not sure if it’s “broken in” or not. Still hard as a rock. But I am amazed at how non-uncomfortable it is. It is starting to get little dents in it from my sit bones. I have been brutalized much worse by saddles that have holes in the middle. I really like the “wing” handlebar with double thick tape. I had absolutely zero hand numbness issues over the entire brevet series. I used the same pedals and shoes that I use on my other road bikes. I have some tweaking or replacing to do there, because big-toe numbness afflicted me on all but the 200K, I think.

RTP: Did you like/dislike night riding? Why?

Over the years, I’ve done lots of short (commute) rides after dark, but riding on rural roads in the wee hours was a new thing for me. I loved it. Cool temps, hearing nothing but the wind and a few birds and animals, riding toward the moon. Very few cars. Almost got taken out by a herd of deer on the 300 -- the disc brakes work! But I have to wonder, do dogs ever sleep?

RTP: Did your ability to ride those long distances surprise you?

It is pretty wild to look at the map and realize that you just traveled a significant portion of the state in a relatively short amount of time and completely self propelled. As Sara will attest, I am a very stubborn person. If muscles could utilize stubbornness as fuel, I would have completed the 600K without a problem. What I did find surprising was that I could complete 200, 300, 400K’s with less solid food intake than I expected, but lots of gels. Not quickly though. In hindsight, I was hurting toward the end of the 400K, and like the 600K, I probably did not eat nearly enough. Even though I came up about 66K short on the 600K, I am amazed that my body cooperated as much as it did (36 hours with zero sleep and not enough food). Just a hint of cramps in the middle of the 400K. The shoulders were a problem on the 300 especially, but I seem to have maybe got that figured out on the 600. My knees never complained. I had only a brief unhappy stomach about halfway through the 300K.

RTP: What was the biggest personal challenge about riding that distance?

Resisting my friend Paul, the Devil, when the day before the 600K he noted that I was welcome to sit and drink cold beer at his house all weekend instead of frying out on the road with no beer. He had a very good point. OK, seriously, given the extreme temperatures, the personal challenge was to use good judgment when determining how hard to push myself. Short-term pain/discomfort I am OK with. Doing permanent damage to myself I am not OK with. So I had to constantly gauge where I was with respect to that line between discomfort and damage. I could have pushed myself harder, but then I could have collapsed while riding. I was maybe a little more conservative than I needed to be, hard to say.

RTP: Your most pleasant experience during those rides?

On many rides, I experience moments of Zen. I’d have to say the night riding out of Wilmington and the fog just after dawn on Sunday on the 600K are the most pleasant memories.

RTP: Any revelatory moments (as opposed to hallucinations) after spending 24 hours on the bike?

After 24 hours: “Bah, sleep is overrated.” After 36 hours: “Food, not overrated.”

RTP: Any rookie mistakes that others should avoid?

My biggest rookie mistake was relying too much on gels. I gotta eat more than gels. Maybe that’s easier said than done. Solid food is really not very appealing to me during long rides. I will probably look into the liquid fueling methods. Also, maybe I should have become more comfortable riding 400K before attempting 600K, but nah, screw that, I had to take the shot at the Super Randonneur medal...

RTP: You rode nearly 400 miles of the 600K. That’s quite an accomplishment. What will you do differently next time to help you complete the ride?

For the record, I crapped out at ~536K. Next time I will take in more nutrients, one way or another. Intravenously if necessary.

RTP: Complete this sentence: Randonneurs are ______________.

... wackos. I mean come on, who would (by choice) ride a bike for hundreds of miles in a day? Obviously randonneurs have no common sense and should probably be locked up for their own good. Actually, randonneurs have uncommon sense, and know how to enjoy a ride. They are a really nice bunch of wackos -- and I now count myself amongst them.

RTP: Will you be back next season? If so, any goals?

I will be back next season, with a vengeance. I intend to beat the 600K ride like a rented mule. As he was driving me to the finish of the 600K, Al suggested that I’m already 2 months into a possible R12 medal. But it looks like June is going to slip by without a 200K for me. All that pedaling in April, May, and June for NUTHIN! OK, well, I guess I have 3 medals coming...


bullcitybiker said...

Good stuff, Gary- you'll kick that 600's behind next time around.

Tell us more about that bike you ride!

Jerry Phelps said...

Great interview Gary and Mike. Like Branson, I'd like to know more about your bike. I'm just beginning to gather info for my next randonneuring bike.

It's good to have another couple of wackos in the club.


dean furbish said...

Nice interview, Gary. We can pass along recipes for powdered food and gel. You could modify it, cook some up, and call it "Stubborness." A sure winner!