Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jan 17 2009 Gainesville 200K: Sweet Ride from Frozen Concentrate

Scene of Lochloosa River along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail within a few miles of the final control.

RBA, Jim Wilson (left), and ride volunteer at the final control at Boulware Springs Park in front of the Pump House on the National Registry of Historic Places.

NC Randonneur Lin O here doesn't even look like he's broken a sweat at the final control. But now he will with some of Meegan's hot soup.

Lin and I knew we’d be trading the unseasonably frigid air mass swallowing the Triangle over the weekend for the unseasonable cold of Florida. But it was our problem, and we’d deal with it best we could. So pointing the car south, we rode the cold wave all the way to “the swamp” with bikes draped off the back.

Not that we were such great weather prognosticators. We simply saw a three-day weekend on the calendar and thought, “Road trip!”

This was yet another chapter in the southerly migration of riders in early January. What is the Gainesville allure? Perhaps there are those who want to rush brevet season. In areas of the country where ice and snow rule, Gainesville promises escape from cabin fever, or an R-12 ride opportunity. During PBP years, it offers early qualifying, early training. Stealing a warm weekend in the dead of winter offers the illusion of control of the laws of physics and time travel. Whatever the itch, Gainesville is the cure.

It seemed like a PBP year with 53 eager riders converging on the swamp. At least one rider arrived from as far away as Massachusetts. Then there was the perennial group from Ohio. Lin met a couple of Shenandoah riders at the Friday night check-in and learned that a handful might be riding. And then there were the Floridians. Who were the hardiest of all? It was no contest. Believe it or not, a couple of Floridians showed up bare-legged with start temperatures hovering at or slightly below the freezing mark. Someone said that it wasn’t surprising, since randonneurs are crazy to begin with.

I prefer arriving early at events, allowing sufficient time for last-minute bike prep and clothing details, not to mention meeting and greeting friends. Consequently, we’d already located the starting point. All we had to do was awake on time; grab a quick biscuit; get to the park; make some last-minute adjustments, don a helmet, get a brevet card stamped.

But somebody had misplaced the MickeyD’s that I’d sighted on the way into town. Wandering the predawn streets of Gainesville in search of some morning performance enhancers, time slipped away. We finally spotted a BK and quickly pulled in. Ah, coffee!

We arrived at the park and quickly unloaded our bikes. Just in time to miss roll call, last-minute instructions, and official start. Meegan, who would serve a post-ride meal that included hot soup, quickly affixed our brevet cards in the appropriate spot with the official frog stamp.

Finally, we were off. Not with the main pack that had already left, but with a couple of other stragglers. For all the pre-ride drama, if not comedy, neither Lin nor I would garner the distinction of lantern rouge, even though we’d worked hard up to this point on a down payment. But there lay 125 miles ahead of us, time aplenty for exciting turns of event.

Lin wasted no time getting back on track, once we exited the park. Apparently, he’d been studying the cue sheet. His movements were deliberate and as clear and crisp as the cold morning air. I could tell his steel Trek wanted to run. At mile three we approached a slight, yet perceptible, incline and Lin looked back at me with a grin and said, “A hill. It’s not too late to turn back!”

Lin pulled the first 11.7 miles heading out of Gainesville. After a right turn off the main road, I moved to the front until a tandem recumbent, which had been dogging us from the start, made its move, passed us, and ramped up the pace. I decided to settle in and enjoy the scenery, being pulled along by the two-wheeled tour bus. Hey, I’m on vacation! The lead changed hands with each slight incline all the way to the first control at mile 21, where we caught an orderly horde of riders.

The busy though efficient clerk stamped and time-marked my brevet card, and I paid him for a bottle of water. I hit the restroom. Lin and I left the control together. Soon we caught a couple of riders whom we joined along with a brightly-clad group of riders, representing a cycling club out of Atlanta. We quickly formed a paceline. A disciplined bunch, the cycling club shouted out road hazards and pointed out turns. Lin jumped into the driver’s seat, controlling the pace. I followed. When I peeled off the front, I assumed that I’d be joining Lin at the back. But apparently a space had developed near the front into which Lin had slipped. But there was no space for me, so I drifted all the way to the back. After a few miles, a gap developed, forcing me to scramble to catch the lead group. Eventually, the unit slowed to regroup, at which time, Lin and I took leave off the front.

A few miles down the road, Lin dropped a chain on one of the few hills on the route. We pulled over. Lin discovered his derailleur is bent. While he wrenched it back into position, the red and yellow paceline passed, but not without a courteous offer of assistance. We waved them on. Chain back on, we’re on the road again.

We caught the red and yellow jerseys again. This time, however, Lin is reluctant to rejoin the paceline due to his shifting mechanism. He didn’t want to create a potential hazard for the string of riders. Lin informed the group and we took our leave. And we reached the second control at mile 53 ahead of the pack.

It began to warm. I didn’t miss my shoe booties still in the car as much as I did my camera while riders mingled and parked bikes stood alone. I spotted the sweet Surly single speed Tom M rides. Tom gets the Polar Bear Award dressed in sandals, two pairs of socks and lycra cycling shorts. No one could fathom why his feet were cold.

After a quick break, Lin and I pushed on to the next control. A lone rider who was tailing us easily passed. We saw him a few miles later alongside the ride. We asked if he needed help. He informed us that he was just letting some air out of his tires. But that didn’t prevent him from getting back on and passing us again. Later, we are joined by a Massachusetts recumbent rider, who was happy to have left the icicles back home and whose training of late had been solely on a stationary bike.

By now the temperature approached sixty. We enjoyed the afternoon sun. The rested paceline came into focus in my mirror. Eventually, they caught and passed us. We would see them for the last time at mile 93 as they left the penultimate control and we approached. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the sun as we meandered past several large lakes dotting the landscape. We spent a little more time at this control than usual before getting back on our bikes and tackling the last leg of the ride.

At mile 109, we turned off US 301 into the small town of Hawthorne, where we hooked up with the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park, which we followed all the way to the final control. We could relax. Not only was the brevet in the bag, all the vehicular traffic was gone. Time for nature along the 16-mile paved bicycle path stretching through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area.

Earlier in the day near Gainesville, I’d seen a group of Sandhill cranes, who, like us, had migrated south. We’d also seen fine-looking longhorn cattle up close, looking as inquisitively at us as we were at them. Lin spotted a white heron. Everywhere were Spanish-moss-laden trees. Yellow mustard blossoms lined highways, while yuccas, palms, and pecan trees framed pastures. Now, at the end of the ride, a deer stood just a few feet from the trail. We slowed.

We’d seen plenty of dogs. They chased us from behind fences, barking as we passed. But not a single pooch’s paw pressed pavement. This led me to believe that there must be local canine ordinances with teeth.

Alan D from Massachusetts here was on a long chain this weekend, literally. The chain on his recumbent bike drapes in a figure-8 and is 2.5 times the length of a regular road bike. Recumbents really like the flat Florida terrain and show up in large numbers.

In truth, most bikes book in this part of the world. Andrea Tosolini, a local celebrity (who was only the second person ever to complete BMB in less than 50 hours), blistered the 200K last year in six hours flat. I, too, set a personal flat record here last year with four. I hope he broke his record this year. I’m glad I didn’t break mine!

Time now for a post-ride bowl of hot soup and sandwich served up by Meegan.

Meegan graciously prepares sandwiches to each rider’s specifications.
Thanks Jim, Meegan, and volunteers for the experience! We hope to return to the swamp.


bullcitybiker said...

Great ride report, Dean. So two brevets already in January.. what are you getting ready for? :)


AHands said...

Great work, getting in a brevet & coming home to snow!

One of the delights of Gainesville is the feeling being with randonneurs gathering from all over for the event.

Anonymous said...

Lin, Dean - I'm the Alan D from Massachusetts. Really enjoyed riding with you and your offer to help me fix my flat - true southern hospitality. Enjoyed the 200K, looking forward to the 300K this weekend

Alan D