Sunday, February 22, 2009

Frigid Air / Feb 21 300K

Call the HVAC man. The heat ain't working.

There wasn't a bank thermometer within eyesight at the start of yesterday's 300K in Harrisburg, NC. Had there been, we might have loaded the bikes, climbed back in the car, cranked the heat and headed home to a warm bed and a hot breakfast. We knew it was cold, but we couldn't put an exact figure on it. When we passed the first bank, about 10 miles in, the big display showed 17, a fine prime number and a fair blackjack hand, but a frigid biking temperature that burned my face when we picked up speed on the downhills. This was my coldest start ever -- and I've been keeping meticulous tabs since 1936, so I'm fairly certain about this. My toes hurt. My lungs hurt. But I had legs all day, and that's what counts on the bike.

Eight of us rolled out of the parking lot at 6:05 a.m. -- me, Jerry, Branson, Joel, Glenn, James, Gary and newcomer Paul, out for his first 300K. Others had signed up for the start, but they are smarter than us, smart enough to be a no-show. Chuck got Saturday's MENSA award. He showed up for the start but forgot his shoes and could not ride. Pure genius. We'll give him partial credit.

Branson chose to ride fixed gear; he and Gary would ride as a duo, with James not far behind. Jerry, Joel, Glenn, Paul and I rode together for the majority of the trip.

The temperature climbed rapidly in the morning if the banks are to be believed -- but their credibility has been sharply eroded in recent weeks. From the low of 17, we saw, in rapid succession, 25 then 36 then 49. Is the stimulus package already taking hold? But I knew what this really meant. Warm air was pushing in from the south southeast. So guess which direction we were heading? We had headwind or a strong crosswind most of the way out. We all knew once we made the turnaround on this out-and-back course, we could let out the jib sails for the journey home.

This course suited my riding style. I'd call it a flat to rolling course, with smooth pavement on most roads and long stretches that allowed the day's rhythms and themes to develop. When we wound things up a few times, I felt the harmonic vibration of the chain: the song of the machine. I'd put the front Berthoud bag on my Coho and loaded it down with a light rain jacket, a camera, gels, glasses, a toothbrush, tools and tubes. I had not ridden with the front bag for a while, and I fretted that I would feel the extra weight in the hills. In fact, the Coho has never felt better beneath me. It was one more simple joy of a very pleasurable day on the bikes.

Highway 73, which Joel affectionately called our Alpine stage, was an early season test of the legs and lungs, a 12-mile stretch between Mt. Gilead and Ellerbe that crossed a series of ridges. Drop down to a river or a creek or a swamp, then settle in for a short climb. The crest of each hill provided a glimpse of the next ridge. There it was: your goal, in sharp geographic relief. All of life's goals should be so clear on the horizon. On the return trip, Glenn and I rode off the front of our small peloton, turned up the heat, put our machines through the paces in one of those perfect cycling moments of synchronization and sweat. Glenn was on his new Franklin frame, painted very much like the old silver/blue Raleigh Pros. The Franklin had just been built up and still had that new bike smell. "But I about wore it off on that road," he said.

From Feb-21-09-300k

The route took us past the Rockingham Speedway. I suspected an event was going on; a motor home passed us as we neared the track. From the sound of things the 1/4 mile drag strip was being used. That was confirmed when the wind blew the smell of rubber and alcohol fuel across our path. In years past, Saturday's route would have been dicey; NASCAR's second race of the season was typically held here on this weekend, and the roads we were on would have been clogged with thousands of cars and beer-fueled race fans. But NASCAR's premier circuit doesn't come here any more; the races have moved to modern tracks in Florida and Texas, and that's a shame.

Our little crew gave randonneuring a good name, soft pedaling when someone stopped for a nature break, regrouping at each control, all taking a fair share of pulls at the front, although we graciously let Glenn lead the way whenever he felt the urge, which was often. At the turnaround in Laurinburg, we stopped for the breakfast I'd missed that morning. The restaurant: "Breakfast Anytime!" That is, anytime before 3 p.m., when they close.

Here are a few shots I snapped.

Glenn is a natural on a bike, focused and workmanlike, and his machines are always one final polish away from the Handmade Bike Show -- hey, when you're showing up to do battle, a shiny tank works its own shock and awe.

Joel was just back from Sebring, where he'd reeled off 355 miles in 24 hours. He called this 190-mile ride his recovery day. You can count on Joel for entertainment during the ride. He thought he spotted Scarlet Johansson along the route. Actually it proved to be her lesser known cousin, Ruby Johansson.

Paul was on his first 300K, and he occasionally lost contact with us. We encouraged him to stay off the front to save his legs. Apparently that worked. At the end of the day, he took off like a horse feeling the whip, dropping a few of us on the long climb into Locust. His secret fuel: the Java from Breakfast Anytime.

Here's my good riding buddy Jerry, who provided the weekend's music, Mazda and camaraderie. Thank you, sir. A picture taking a picture.

We rolled into the finish right around 9 p.m. Too cold to swap stories, we loaded up, cranked the heat and headed out. Another fun day on the bikes. Thanks to Tony for a great event.

Postscript. Branson captured these pictures of the train coming back from Laurenburg. That's Joel on the front. Notice two of us are running our edeluxs. With no fear of burning out the bulb, we just leave em on all the time. BTW: Branson has designed a fantastic new jersey for the N.C. Rando crew. You need one.

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Anonymous said...

Awesomely cool cyclists. Congratulations to all! Keep riding, writing, Mike.

Arleigh said...

You were so close to my house, I wish I would of known!