Saturday, November 26, 2016

Coffeeneuring 2016

I actually did ride a bike some last year but I just haven't been writing... New baby in the house keeps you busy! Well, it's Coffeeneuring Challenge time again so I've got to blog about my adventures. This year I decided my Theme Within A Theme would be Coffeeneuring with Friends- seven coffeeshops, seven weekends, seven friends. Sounds easy, right? Well, technically I succeeded at the Coffeeneuring Challenge, but I failed at my theme since I had to do three solo trips to qualify. Why is it hard to convince folks to come out and meet me for coffee? You might well arsk.

#1- Geof at Lucky Tree, 10/9/16, 24 miles

First Coffeeneuring weekend was right after Hurricane Matthew. I rode from home to meet Geof at Lucky Tree coffee, using a couple of greenways along the way. Trees down everywhere. Most I could climb over or under, but a couple blocked my route entirely. Once at the coffeeshop I had a brownie and a drip coffee. Geof was riding some dirt through Umstead and headed over to meet me. He and I have known each other since I first moved to Raleigh 18 years ago and he worked with my wife at a photo lab. Eventually we started riding bikes together and then working together at Peace Camera. I didn't have to twist his arm at all to get him to meet me for coffee on a bike.

#2- Kristy at Cafe de los Muertos, 10/15/16, 8 miles

My second Coffeenuring with friends was meeting up with Kristy at Cafe de los Muertos in downtown Raleigh on a Saturday morning before work. We met a few years back through her bicycle advocacy with Oaks and Spokes and on Benelux rides. I drank a cafe mocha while we chatted about her recent trip to Alaska, my trip to Paris, the addition to my family, etc. It was really cool to use coffeeneuring as an excuse to just sit and chat with a friend and catch up on life. Just before I had to leave to head to work, Dave Zell from Oak City Cycling rode up and we chatted with him as well. I was late for work.

#3- Solo to Deja Brew, 10/16/16, 30 miles

Unable to find anyone willing to meet me for coffee on a gorgeous Sunday I decided to ride a solo safety coffeeneuring run. Good thing I did, as it would soon prove harder than I thought to convince folks to meet me for coffee. Since Peace Camera is being forced to move to a new location, my work commute is getting longer. I managed to plan a route to the new store, and there's a great little coffeeshop in the same shopping center with us. With no one to join me, I decided I might as well test out the new commute. It turns out to be not a bad route. I had an iced coffee, checked out a park nearby for photo possibilities, and then headed home.

#4- Solo to Aversboro Coffee, 10/29/16, 4 miles

Again I was unable to find anyone to join me. I figured it was probably smart to ride another safety trip just in case, so I headed to my favorite coffeeshop near my house for a frozen mocha. 

#5- Ken at Jubala Coffee, 11/5/16, 18 miles

Back on track with friends, I rode from home to meet Ken at Jubala Coffee for a cappuccino. We met a couple of years back at Cranksgiving, schlepping canned goods and turkeys by bike to help feed the homeless. Since then we've ridden together on a few organized rides, a chance meeting on the road, and lately a bit of randonneuring. This was the first time we've had a chance to just hang out & drink coffee. Afterward we rode over to City Market so I could scout locations for my shoot the following day at the Tweed Ride.

#6- Simon at Boulted Bread, 11/13/16, 12 miles

Another great opportunity to use coffeeneuring to catch up with a longtime friend! Simon answered the call and agreed to meet me on a crisp Sunday morning. We talked about his recent trip to Europe and Ireland and my start on the journey of fatherhood. I've known Simon about 15 years, and we've worked together on quite a few photo shoots. It was great to get the chance to catch up, and I had a drip coffee and a coffeecake. I also tucked a ciabatta and a couple of other pastries in my pannier to take home. I can't resist Boulted Bread!

#7- Solo at Starbucks, 11/20/16, 4.5 miles

The realization that I was going to fail at my theme within a theme had already set in, and I had resolved to use my safety rides to complete the challenge. But life kept getting in the way and now I was down to the wire and in danger of missing it by one ride. I was scheduled to work a full day loading and moving the camera store on the last day of the challenge, so my only option was to get up early and ride to the closest Starbucks for a technical finish. It wasn't pretty, but it counts. On an interesting note, in five consecutive years of successful Coffeeneuring Challenges this is my first Starbucks! I had a grande Pike and a bacon gouda sandwich. Pretty sure they sprinkle crack on those things, they're addictive. 

Alright, that's it. Another one down. Can't wait for next year- my son will be old enough to ride in the iBert and come along on some of my journeys- at least the ones that Mommy approves the safety of the route!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015

It's that time of year again- The mornings are crisp and cool, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it's time for the Coffeeneuring Challenge write-up! This is my fourth consecutive year, and the rules have remained very much the same- 7 different weekend bike rides to 7 different coffee shops, etc. "Coffee shops without walls" count for those of us who like to make coffee in the wild, and this year they added a "Theme Within a Theme" category! I have always imposed the rule of no corporate chain coffee shops on myself (with mixed success) and I've always tried to visit 7 shops I haven't coffeeneured to before (with no success.) I decided that my Theme Within a Theme would be 7 different bikes! My problem was that at the start of the challenge I only owned 6 bikes that were rideable, but since I had a couple of frames and way too many spare parts in storage I figured I could cobble something together… Imagine my surprise when I visited one of my favorite shops, Oak City Cycling Project and they had a beautiful used chrome Bianchi Pista in my size just hanging on the wall and begging me to take her home. So I slept in the doghouse for a week, but I had my 7 different bikes… My "weekend" days are Sundays and Tuesdays thanks to a retail job, so here we go!

Coffeeneuring #1 Sunday Oct. 4th, Boulted Bread in Raleigh, NC

I rode from home in Garner to downtown Raleigh, about 17 miles round trip to visit Boulted Bread and meet up with my friend Geof who was out & about on his Sunday ride. My bike choice was my 1973 Nishiki International, I've owned this frame since I was 13 and bought the bike with $50 I'd saved up from mowing lawns. It spent a long time rusting away in my Mom's basement until 5 or 6 years ago I brought it back to life and converted it to a single speed commuter. Geof and I enjoyed coffee and apple turnovers, then I headed back home since it was looking like rain.

Coffeeneuring #2 Tuesday Oct. 6th, Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham, NC

I've been telling the guys at OCCP about coffeeneuring- it's right up their alley! Plus their shop is closed on Tuesdays, so they're some of the only folks I know with the same days off I have. Anyway, I managed to convince David and Brandon to join me for a coffeeneuring jaunt. Of course, their idea of a quick coffee run was to ride from the shop in Raleigh 50ish miles to a great little coffeeshop in Durham and back! Sure, it's 100 miles round trip, but only 50 miles for coffee (the other 50 is riding home…) They had a route planned, and knowing that they love mixed terrain I brought my Soma Doublecross. This is my "Swiss Army bike." I can do anything with it- randonneuring, gravel, commuting, cyclocross, etc. Sure enough, we were on roads, flooded greenways, American Tobacco Trail, and the gravel roads of Umstead State Park. I enjoyed a drip coffee and a chocolate croissant- nowhere near as good as the pain au chocolate I enjoyed so much in France, but quite edible. By the time we got back to Raleigh I was worn out, but it was a great ride!

Coffeeneuring #3 Sunday Oct. 11th Velo Coffee Roasters in Chattanooga, TN

We were visiting my sister-in-law and her new baby in Hixson, TN and I was bringing a bike to go ride a mountainous 200K on Monday, so Sunday I got up early and rode about 15 miles into Chattanooga to visit Velo Coffee. I rode my Scott CR1 Team, what I call my "plastic bike." It's basically an off-the-rack mid-level components carbon road bike- black, white, and red like they all are these days, but it's great for climbing mountains! I had an iced coffee, then explored downtown Chattanooga for awhile before meeting up with the family for lunch.

Coffeeneuring #4 Tuesday Oct. 20th Cup-a-Joe on Hillsborough in Raleigh. NC

Another Tuesday outing, I again convinced David and Brandon to join me. They were going out to ride gravel at Umstead, but I just rode the 9 miles from home through the NC State Campus on my new fixed gear, the Bianchi Pista I just bought from their shop. Mainly I wanted to show them the changes and upgrades I'd already done to it… We enjoyed coffee at Cup-a-Joe where I forgot to take a picture and then we rode over to the Roast Grill- a Raleigh landmark and home of the famous Roast Grill hot wieners. It was David's first time, and I'm betting he'll be back!

Coffeeneuring #5 Sunday Oct. 25th Aversboro Coffee in Garner, NC

We had lots of rain in central NC in October. This Sunday I got up early and there was a short break in the rain, so I got out the old steel Nishiki Manitoba mountain bike and rode 2 miles over to Aversboro Coffee, my favorite local shop. Had a medium coffee and some blueberry mini-muffins, then rode the bike over to check out the local trails. Of course they were too wet, and it's good to stay off the trails when wet so we don't destroy them. I got back home and my wife and I headed into downtown Garner for a food truck rodeo. Mmmm...

Coffeeneuring #6 Sunday Nov. 1st "Coffeeshop Without Walls" in Garner, NC

After a solid week of rain I decided to just take a quick trip over to Lake Benson Park, about 2 miles from my house in Garner and make some coffee outside. I rode my Douglas Titanium S&S coupled travel bike- this is the bike I rode at Paris-Brest-Paris back in August. I brought along my camp stove and all the fix ins to make a pour over dark roast. Got some really strange looks from a few of the hearty runners who were out despite the drizzle- the park is popular for joggers. I half expected to have to start fixing coffee for everybody, but I guess they didn't want to approach the weirdo making coffee on a rainy day at the park shelter, so nobody asked!

Coffeeneuring #7 Tuesday, Nov. 10th- 5th Avenue Coffee in Garner, NC

I may have saved my favorite bike for last. This is my early 80's Ciocc San Cristobal that I carefully restored a few years ago. I waited till it warmed up a bit in the afternoon, then rode from home about 14 miles down to The Coffee Mill in Clayton, but they were already closed. So I headed back to Garner and stopped in at 5th Avenue- not my favorite shop but it got the job done. Just had coffee and an apple danish. The Ciocc is a dream to ride and just a beautiful, elegant bike so it's always fun even if the coffee is sub-par. I got nearly 30 miles in and finished just as the Sun was going down- a fitting end to this year's Coffeeneuring Challenge for me!

I learned something with my 7 bike Theme Within a Theme... my mountain bike sucks. Other than that one I really love all my bikes. Each has a specific purpose, or fills a niche, or just has sentimental value. But I'm going to have to think about a mountain bike. Truly, the optimum number of bikes is N+1!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

North Carolina's own Strade Bianche

Last weekend I rode the Wilkes County Gravel Grind, a 200k RUSA Permanent route that starts in Clemmons, NC. It's a perm that I've had on my list for a couple of years because of three things: #1 It's tough, 126 miles with 7,500 feet of climbing... #2 It's unique- it includes about 18 miles of gravel roads, with one of those sections being the big climb of the day... And #3 It starts just about 20minutes from my Mom's house!

No one answered my invitation to join in the fun, so I rode solo all day. I chose to ride my Soma Doublecross with 700x32 Pasela TG tires. I had a nice conversation with Jimmy Williams, the perm owner at the start and heeded his advice on tire pressures. The first gravel section was just a taste- an easy 1.4 miles, but I could tell I was set up well. The bike had a nice floaty feel on the gravel and my legs were feeling good. I pushed a bit to see how fast I could go on the dirt roads...

The scenery aint too shabby

Paved roads for awhile and then the cue sheet tells me I'm approaching the 2nd gravel section, but it never comes... The state has been busy and they went and paved the road! Fresh asphalt took over about a 1.5 mile section of what looked like it was good fun dirt road. Oh well, it's on to the first control at a convenience store- but it's Memorial Day weekend and the store is closed. I lurked around the buildings a bit looking for a spigot to fill my bottles, but to no avail. I was down to about half a bottle of water and the next section included the big gravel climb up Brushy Mountain.

During our conversation in the early morning, Jimmy told me lots of stuff about the route- more than I could possibly recall, but when I saw a sign for Love Valley I remembered him suggesting I could go past a turn half a mile to visit the town. "Real old west" feel to it he said, horse country with hitching posts outside the general store and whatnot. I'd pretty much figured I couldn't take the extra time, but now I needed to go look for water. What I found was a real watering hole! The owner was quite a character, and when I told him I was heading up the gravel roads to climb Brushy Mountain he gave me another bottle of water for my jersey pocket. Full up with H2O and a dash of good rando luck I headed up the mountain, passing friendly folks on horses and enjoying some beautiful weather.

 Gravel climbing

Turns out I climb on gravel just about as slow as I do on paved roads. This is a serious climb, too with a few steep turns that had me losing traction and sliding out sideways. I walked a couple or 3 times.  Each time I was able to get going again once the steepness wore off. Finally I got to the top and back on paved roads. My reward for the climb was a really fun descent with fast switchbacks on asphalt. I'm glad I didn't have to go back down the gravel road!!

I stopped... to take a picture...

The control in North Wilkesboro is the Coffee House, and by this time it was after 1PM and I was hungry. I sat down for a ham & cheese sandwich and fries. Refilled the bottles and got back on the road in just about half an hour. There aren't any more controls for the last 50 miles or so back to Clemmons. The cue sheet does mention one store, but I missed it and after awhile I began to worry about water again. The day had gotten hot and I was riding in some of those areas you just know it's a long way to a store. Twice the road was closed due to a bridge out. the first one was a scramble down rocks and hop a creek, but the second was a river crossing. The bridge workers had stretched a couple of I-beams across the river to go back & forth.

Extreme rando cyclocross! 

Did a couple more easy gravel sections and then stopped at an old gas station that was closed but had a spigot out front. I was down to less than half a bottle. The water was rust-colored at first, but then became slightly less rust-colored so I filled my empty bottle and carried it in case I ran out before finding a store. A little while later I passed a school with a ball field and went on the hunt again, finding a much better spigot. I dumped the rust water, rinsed and filled up for the last 20 miles.

Nice paved roads, too

The last gravel section came at 11 miles to go, and I was happy to be well ahead of time limits- now it looked like I'd finish in under 12 hours so once I got back to asphalt I texted Jimmy and let him know my ETA. Rolled up to the Starbucks finish at 11 hours, 46 minutes! I had a great time, and this was a beautiful & challenging route. Afterwards I've looked at the RUSA results for this route and I am just the 6th person to finish it. Jimmy is the only one who had done it twice, and no one had ridden it since 2012! There really are some great gravel roads still in Wilkes County, but watch out- the state is out there paving them...

Yep, still in NC

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's time.

It is 2015… a  Paris-Brest-Paris year. The last time it was held was 2011, and I couldn't afford to go. Instead I rode the Taste of Carolina 1200K that year and both the ToC1200 and the Shenandoah 1200K in 2012. Since then I've done tons more Randonneuring but I scaled back my goals (and slacked off on my blogging.)

In both 2013 and 2014 I abstained from 1200K's but completed 1000K rides. My 2014 Super Randonneur series (200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K) and bonus 1000K put me in great position for PBP pre-registration. It's currently midway through January and I've already completed my 2015 200K and 300K, my 400K is coming up in 2 weeks and the 600K is at the end of February…

This year I'm going to France. I've been saving my pennies. My bike is ready, my body however needs a bit of a tune-up. It's time for me to get back to serious training. My goal is NOT to set any record time- I just want to be fit enough to enjoy the ride. On the long randonees, the faster you can ride the more you get to sleep. I want to enjoy the experience of PBP- I want to meet locals, volunteers, and fellow Randonneurs.  I want to stop for coffee and a pastry often. I want to take pictures. And yes, I want to sleep in a French ditch. To ride it this way I need to be able to make up some time on the road.

I'm going for a ride.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

This was my third consecutive year doing the Coffeeneuring Challenge. I've had a blast each year, enjoying the casual rides with no particular route or time schedule, and of course finding great new coffee shops! Once again this year I used Sundays and Tuesdays, my guaranteed days off from work. I also get every other Saturday off, but the coffee shop rides I did on those days just didn't count!

Coffeeneuring #1: Benelux Coffee -Tuesday, Oct. 7th 2014 - 17.8miles
In both previous years I have visited Benelux Coffee at City Market in downtown Raleigh, but shortly before this year's challenge they moved to new digs at Cameron Village. I decided to use the first ride to go check out the new location. It's a bit further for me to get to the new shop from home, and Cameron Village is not one of my favorite places to ride. It was hot out, so I had a mocha frap and waited to see if anyone would show up for the usual Tuesday night ride, but no one did. The shop had only just opened the day before, so folks probably didn't know. Got back on the bike and rode home, suitably caffeinated.

Coffeeneuring #2- Lorraine's Coffee House and Music - Sunday Oct. 12th, 2014 - 4.7miles
Lorraine's is a new coffee shop on Timber drive in Garner, quite close to my house. I've been meaning to check it out, and since I had a speed light class to teach in the afternoon I needed a quick ride in the morning. I went to Lorraine's first and fueled up with a cafe mocha and a blueberry scone. It's a huge shop, and includes a stage for live bands. I'll have to see what kind of music they book, perhaps Garner nightlife is looking up? Once I finished my coffee and breakfast I rode a quick loop around Garner and went home to clean up and make myself presentable for class.

My Garmin wasn't charged up, so I logged my ride with the MapMyRide app on the phone.

Coffeeneuring #3- Aversboro Coffee - Tuesday Oct. 14th 2014 - 7.3miles
Another shop I've visited during both the previous years is Aversboro Coffee, my favorite local shop here in Garner, NC. I had a full day planned for my day off, so I went out for a quick morning lap around town with a stop near the end for a medium coffee and a pumpkin spice muffin. Mmmm…

I still hadn't charged up the Garmin… Here is the MapMyRide link.

Coffeeneuring #4- Harris Lake County Park (coffeeshop without walls) - Sunday, Oct.19th - 18.6miles
I decided to ride the 72 mile route at the NC Bicycle Club's Fall Rally, but I really wanted to get a coffeeneuring run in. I did this last year and rode over to a shop in Holly Springs, but discovered that the powers that be had turned Hwy 55 into a "super street," effectively splitting Holly Springs in two for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. If you're not familiar with these asphalt abominations then click the link, and imagine trying to navigate them. Then if your local transportation folks propose one you'll know to fight it tooth and nail! Anyway, I didn't want to fight that again, so I brought my stove and pour over kit so I could ride to Harris Lake- I'd been wanting to do a "coffeeshop without walls." 

(charged up the Garmin!)

Coffeeneuring #5 - CafĂ© de los Muertos - Sunday Oct. 26th 2014 - 15.88miles
This is a popular new coffee shop in downtown Raleigh that I've been wanting to try, so I rode to Raleigh from Garner and had a cold brew and a muffin. While I was there I ran into 5 different friends- like I said, this place has become popular! When I left to head home I was joined by a couple of friends from the Benelux/Hepcat Race/Oaks And Spokes crowd. We rode casually through downtown and talked about the coffeeneuring challenge… Perhaps a couple of new riders next year! We parted ways on the east side of downtown and I turned south to head back to Garner.

I really suck at charging the Garmin. Here is the route.

Coffeeneuring #6 - The Coffee Mill - Tuesday Oct 28th 2014 - 25.4miles
There's a great little shop in Clayton, NC that I've visited both of the previous years as well. I had to meet a contractor at the house in the morning, so once that was done I grabbed my charged-up Garmin, jumped on the carbon bike and headed to The Coffee Mill for a pre-lunch snack- a cheese danish and a cafe mocha. It's a straight shot, out-and-back on a road that's lightly traveled this time of day. A nice relaxing ride!

Coffeeneuring #7 - Lake Benson Park (coffeeshop without walls) - Sunday Nov.2nd - 8.1miles
I enjoyed the coffeeshop without walls experience so much I wanted to do another for my final ride. I gathered my stove and pour over kit, jumped on the bike and headed for Lake Benson. It was a chilly, windy morning and there was no real shelter from the wind on the lakeshore. I stopped at a picnic shelter and did my best to block the wind from my little stove. It did a great job, and soon I was sipping some nice hot coffee… but I forgot to pack any snacks! Downing the rest of my pour over brew I got back on the bike and rode a big loop around Garner back home to grab some food.

Bonus Coffeeneuring (#8) - 5th Avenue Coffee - Tuesday Nov. 4th 2014 - 10miles
I hadn't planned to get coffee. It was my day off, and I threw the 'cross wheels on the Soma to go play around on some of the local trails. I was a bit lazy though, and I didn't take off the fenders! I got lots of twigs and leaves up in there, and had to stop to clear some major blockages a few times. Still, I was out on the bike and having fun when a strange thing happened… I started craving coffee! I decide to get back to the asphalt and head to 5th Avenue Coffee in Garner- I hadn't been back there since a bad experience with the former management. Well, I gave them another shot but this was a sad excuse for a cafe mocha. I drank about half of it, dumped the rest and headed home to make a real cup.

Well, that's it. 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge in the books! As I rode home from work today I found myself inexplicably drawn to stop for a cup at Morning Times… As if I wasn't enough of a caffeine addict, now I must drink coffee every time I ride. Oh who am I kidding, I was doing that anyway.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013 Coffeeneuring Challenge

Some of you may remember my post about last year's Coffeeneuring Challenge... well, I did it again this year!  You can read all about the history and rules of the Third Annual Coffeeneuring Challenge over at Chasing Mailboxes DC.

Last year I had a blast, all my rides were as they should be- casual jaunts to explore and find new roads, new coffee shops, and new reasons to throw a leg over the bike and go get caffeinated!  This year I ran into scheduling issues... My work schedule is decidedly not traditional- part time retail has me working most Saturdays, and my usual days off of Sun, Mon, and Tues can frequently get booked up with photography jobs.  This is a good thing for my ability to afford bikes & coffee, but gets in the way when I just want to ride a bike to a coffee shop.  I managed to work it out, but I will say this- though I technically completed the challenge this year, last year's was way more satisfying.  Next year I'll have to try something different like all "coffee shops without walls..."

I decided that Sunday and Monday should be my "weekend" for the challenge.  I wanted to try for 7 shops other than the 7 that I visited last year, and of course no Starbucks or other chain stores.  I only got 4 new stores, the other 3 were repeats from last year.

Coffeeneuring #1- Benelux Cafe, Monday October 7th. 17.5 miles.
    Benelux Cafe is one of my favorite coffee shops of all time.  I visited it for last year's challenge, but I was craving a mocha and one of their brownies so I started this year's challenge with Benelux.  Oh well, there went the idea of no repeats from last year.  Good to get it out of the way...  I rode the new Soma Doublecross- this bike is perfect for coffeeneuring, randonneuring, commuting, and with a quick wheel change- playing in the dirt, too!

Coffeeneuring #2- Common Grounds Coffee, Sunday Oct. 20th. 14 miles.
    After week #1 I wasn't able to do a coffeeneuring run on week#2.  Instead I rode the Bicycle For Life 1000K.  I thought about a short coffee run the day after the ride, but that would've meant making a Tuesday exception and also I simply could not bear to sit on a bike saddle again, so I passed! The next weekend I rode a fantastic 50 miler at the North Carolina Bicycle Club Fall Rally and planned a short coffee run for after the ride.  I rode my classic Ciocc San Cristobal and had no bike computer, so for the coffeeneuring run I used my iPhone.  The Rally ended at CBC in Holly Springs, so I thought it would be a nice easy ride over to Apex to check out a new-to-me coffee house called Common Grounds.  Little did I know that NC HWY 55 Bypass had been turned into a "Superstreet." If you're unfamiliar with this concept, you should check it out- these monstrosities are nearly impossible to navigate on a bicycle and totally impossible for pedestrians.  This one cuts the town of Holly Springs in half and there's no way to cross it safely.  On the bright side, Common Grounds is an excellent little shop- almost worth risking my life to get there.  Almost...  I had their mocha, perhaps if I'd added one of the tempting baked goods it would've been totally worth it.

View the map on MapMyRide

Coffeeneuring #3- Electric Beanz Coffee Bar, Monday October 21st. 12 miles.
    The day after the Fall Rally I had a real day off from work and/or Randonneuring.  Electric Beanz is a new-to-me coffee shop not too far from home, though heading a direction I usually don't ride and on some busy roads to boot.  Still, the website looked enticing so I rode over and was suitably impressed.  I had a pour over brew of their dark "Cowboy Roast" and a blueberry bar.  I'm actually drooling just a bit as I type this.  Perhaps I'll drop by there tomorrow...  Rode the Soma again, I'm really liking this smooth ride!  This was coffeeneuring at it's best.  I found a great little shop and had a nice, relaxing recovery ride.

Coffeeneuring #4- Cafe Helios, Sunday October 27th, 2.6 miles!
    The next Sunday I went to the Oak City Cycling Project's Frankenbike Bike Swap.  I set up a table and laid out a bunch of stuff I had just hanging around in boxes.  Didn't sell much, but I bought a few things.  I think I left about $30 in the hole... Oh well!  Afterward Geof and I rode over to Helios and I had a medium coffee.  Another ride on the Soma, but this one was so short... I just didn't want to miss the bike swap and this technically met the coffeneuring rules.

Coffeeneuring #5- Morning Times Cafe, Sunday November 3rd, 8.9 miles
    Monday the 28th I had a photo shoot so no coffee ride. The following Sunday I did a 200K permanent with some friends that finished in downtown Raleigh. I had another shoot that Monday the 4th of Nov. so I knew I needed to get a coffeneuring run in after the permanent.  I decided to bike home from the finish and stop for coffee along the way at Morning Times Cafe in downtown Raleigh.  This is a shop I visited during last year's challenge, and also one I frequent since it's right near the end of my bike commute to work.  I just had a quick cup of coffee and took a snapshot.  Now that the time's changed a 200K tends to finish up at or after sunset... Coffeeneuring at night!

Coffeeneuring #6- Aversboro Coffee, Monday November 4th, 3.9 miles
    It turned out that my photo shoot on Monday didn't start until 11am, so to keep up with the challenge I got up early and rode a lap around Garner, stopping at my favorite local shop along the way.  I visited Aversboro Coffee during last year's challenge as well, so once again here I was technically within the rules, but not exploring and finding new coffee shops.  I had my usual medium coffee and started the photo shoot well caffeinated.

Coffeeneuring #7- Cup A Joe Mission Valley, November 11th, 20.2 miles
    The following Sunday I had a shoot and one was also scheduled for Monday the 11th, so it was looking like I would be right down to the wire this year but my Monday job got rescheduled.  I decided to explore some of Raleigh's greenway system and head over to Mission Valley to Cup A Joe.  I visited the Cup A Joe over on Hillsborough St. last year, but this one counts as a new coffee shop.  I had a mocha and a huge cookie, and the GoPro timelapse makes me look really fast.  Wish I could get through controls on brevets this quick!


The greenways were ok, but my problem is that they just don't seem to go anywhere.  They were obviously designed as workout trails and not as transportation routes.  Occasionally they will just end at a street with no signage telling you where to go to pick up the trail again.  Along Western Blvd (the busiest road on my route) the greenway would conflict with intersections so it just meanders away from the road, intersects with a side street and ends.  According to the map it was supposed to run all the way up Western, but no such luck.  I finally gave up and rode the big paved trail with the double yellow lines and the clear signage.  Even with the disappointing greenway system I enjoyed this ride, because I was exploring on my bike and getting coffee at a new shop.

So that's it!  Another Coffeeneuring Challenge in the books.  Like I said in the beginning, I had a lot more fun with it last year.  I'm very happy to be complaining about being busy with too much work, so that offsets any disappointment I had with my coffeeneuring this year.

Next year I'd like to do something fun.  Maybe a Coffeeneuring Team?!?  All coffee shops without walls?!?  Hmmm... I've got some time to think it over.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ROMA Seneca Rocks 400K

I've been relatively slack with Rando rides this year. Not quite as slack as I've been with blogging about them, but still... Early in the year I got my 200K and 300K brevets out of the way, but life got in the way of doing the 400K and 600K for the series. I rode a Fleché and I've kept up the R-12 series, but that's about it. So I started looking at the ride calendar recently to see if I could still get in a 400 and a 600 for a full SR series, while also keeping in mind I want to ride the BFL 1000K in October to get a RUSA Cup... It's an ambitious schedule, but I figured I can get it done by riding Matt Settle's Seneca Rocks 400K up in Va & WV, then the Audux Atlanta Dublin 600K down in Ga. So my current fitness level notwithstanding I signed up for Matt's sufferfest and drove up to Front Royal, Va for a 4am Saturday start.

I've ridden up here before, in 2012 I did a 400k, a 600k, and the Shenandoah 1200K so I was familiar with the climbing. Matt's description of the ride talks about the "rollers" out of Front Royal leading to the first climb... Translated into Raleigh flatlander that's "continuous steep hills roughly the size of Lystra leading up to the first mountain that's similar to Pilot Mtn." I decided that I'd just go and tackle each challenge as it came- if I looked at the whole ride I might just realize how crazy it was!

After a beautiful drive up Hwy 15 I arrived at the hotel in Front Royal just in time to meet a Randonneur named Gardner from Baltimore who was taking a carbon Trek off the roof of his car. We talked briefly, he was here with a couple of others, they all ride with the DC Randonneurs, and they were planning to ride most of the course together. I asked if they'd had dinner yet, and since they hadn't he invited me along. This was the best decision I've made in quite some time. It took longer than I would've liked and ate up some sleep time, but we had a very nice dinner and I made three new friends- Gardner, Theresa, and Jack who. This would come in quite handy about 24 hours later...

I had a reasonably good sleep and got up at 3am to get ready for the start. Saw Matt briefly and gave him the Shenandoah stickers I had made, then it was time to roll. It was cold out! I've been used to riding in 90 degree weather, now all of a sudden it's in the 50's and we're starting in the dark. I was in wool jersey, arm warmers, knee warmers, and vest for the first time in a long time. My only mistake here was that I forgot to start the Garmin. The first time I turned on the light to look at it I noticed it was still at zero, I started it, and Gardner told me we were at exactly 6 miles in. Simple addition is good, helps keep you awake. We rode up Fort Valley Rd. through The George Washington Natl. Forest and made good time to the first climb up Edinburg Gap.

There were 6 of us- Hamid, Chris, me, and my 3 new DC friends. Hamid was the first to take off, gapping the rest of us before the climb began. We wouldn't see him again until he passed us on the return trip. We all had different climbing speeds, so there was separation on the climb but their plan was to regroup at each summit and stick together till the next major climb. Jack had lots of data programmed into his GPS and could always tell you how far till the summit, what the current gradient was, etc. This is when I really found out what we had in store. They described to me the 4 gaps that we had to climb and descend in the first 80 miles, then we'd have 85 miles or so of these "rollers" (remember to translate that into flatlander,) then since it's an out-and-back route we get to climb and descend the same 4 gaps from the opposite direction! Yep, that's 8 major climbs. So I settled in and spun my way to the summit of Edinburg Gap where the 5 of us regrouped before the descent. Down in the town of Edinburg we were at about 28 miles in and they had planned a non-controle c-store stop. Chris didn't want to stop, so he rode on. We wouldn't see him again until the return trip either. And then there were 4... The sun came up, so I got the iPhone out to shoot a quick video.


The next climb was up Wolf Gap, at the summit was the West Virginia Line. This one was much harder and steeper, and I would come to realize that each one of these gaps is harder and steeper up one side or the other! We once again regrouped at the summit, descended together and rode to the next climb up Mill Gap. The day had turned mostly overcast, so the Sun hadn't warmed things up for us. The climbing warms you up, you get sweaty under the vest and then on the descent the wind will just freeze you. At the summit of Mill Gap they were waiting for me again, and once we were all 4 there we  dropped down to the 65 mile control and breakfast at the Lost River Grill.

Back on the bikes we had a very short ride to the start of our 4th major climb through Lost River State Park. I never found out if this was a named gap or not, but it was hard. Hardest climb so far. We regrouped again before the summit- there was a false summit with a nice view so I snapped a picture. Then it was on to the real summit. When we started to descend I couldn't believe what I'd gotten myself into. The road was incredibly steep with constant switchbacks. I was hard on the brakes the whole time. My hands hurt from gripping the brake levers and I could smell my brake pads burning. This was the most hair-raising butt-clenching descent I've ever done and it would've been a hell of a lot of fun if I wasn't constantly thinking about having to turn around and climb back up it!

We all survived the descent and regrouped for a nice 40 mile ride out to Seneca Rocks and our turnaround controle. The weather had warmed up a bit, so I removed the knee warmers. The Sun had come out and the scenery was gorgeous, so I shot another video. Along the way we passed Hamid on his return trip, he was at least a couple hours ahead of us. I'd been keeping up fairly well all day so far, but during this section I started to have more trouble. They'd gap me off on the "rollers" and then I'd bridge up a bit on the downhills. Soon the gaps got big, then eventually they were out of sight. About 6 miles from the Seneca Rocks controle I saw Chris on his return leg, about an hour ahead of us.


I rolled into the controle a few minutes after the others and we all had a nice sit-down meal. It was a burger and chips for me, as well as a piece of pound cake for dessert! I applied a little embro to my knees to help keep the chill off and also in the hopes that it would help ease the pain of the day's climbing so far. We got back on the road, now halfway done and heading back to the worst climb of the day. We stopped at a Sheetz to resupply just before the climb up Lost River State Park Rd. and put on reflective gear since we figured it might be getting dark before we made the summit. Then we bravely headed up the road.

The first part of the climb was hard, but do-able. The 150 miles I already had in my legs was taking it's toll, so the others pulled away as I eased off and tried to spin my way through it. I remembered the screaming descent and knew the worst was yet to come. This is about a 10 mile climb with roughly 2100ft. of elevation gain, but the steepest sections come in the last few miles. I'd been on the climb for about an hour when it really started to get dark. I rounded a curve in slow motion to see Jack up the road walking his bike. It was incredibly steep but I decided to try to ride up to him so I could walk with him. I never made it- it got so steep that I was in my lowest gear, standing in the pedals, and simply couldn't keep the bike moving forward. I had to clip out to keep from falling over. I turned on my lights and started walking.

Turns out I can't walk uphill as fast as the others either! Jack pulled away from me in no time as I attempted to walk my bike up these incredibly steep gradients wearing road shoes. This was stretching my Achilles tendons painfully, so as soon as the gradient let up a bit I got back on the bike and started pedaling again.  Soon it got too steep once again and I had to dismount and walk some more. I could now see and hear Jack and Theresa a couple of switchbacks up walking their bikes and talking. I didn't have enough breath to talk, so it was just as well that I was alone. Around another switchback and the road gradient settled down again. I remounted and started back up the mountain. In the next switchback there was a house, and the guy was out on his porch and called out to me "you're gonna catch 'em, they're all walkin'!" Sure enough, a couple turns later I slowly caught and passed Jack and Theresa, then shortly after I caught and passed Gardner too. Try to imagine how slow this happens. I'm standing in the pedals, cranking my lowest gear and moving forward at maybe 4mph. They're walking their bikes at probably 2.5mph. It's a strange feeling when you're on a bike and having trouble catching someone who's walking! Soon Theresa passed me, she'd remounted also. The gradient eased dramatically and I stopped for a drink and a snack and was passed by Gardner and Jack, also back on their bikes. We all regrouped at the summit to put on more warm clothes and make the descent in the dark.

After the descent we stopped at the store in Lost River to replenish supplies and I needed to work on my front light a bit. I was running a new handlebar bag on this ride, and while it had enough clearance over the light when I installed it as the bag got fuller and the roads got bumpier it had settled down onto my light. The constant pounding from the West Virginia tarmac had put a hurting on my little light. I adjusted it as best I could, and tried to tie the bag a bit higher to keep it off the light. I told my 3 companions at this stop that the last climb had really wrecked me and I would probably not be able to keep up. They said they were willing to wait, but I assured them that I'm used to being by myself. It was now 10pm and the little store was closing, so we got kicked out into the cold.

We left as a group, but everyone was shivering in the 40-something degree temperature. The others started to crank it up to get warm and soon I was gapped off pretty far. Then it happened- my front light swiveled straight down and pointed at my tire. I had a light on my helmet as well, so that wasn't the end of the world. Then the front light broke off and dangled down by it's wiring, tinkling along the spokes of my front wheel. I had to stop. The plastic mount had just broken in half from the pounding it got during the day, and no matter what I tried I couldn't figure a way to rig it. I removed the light, unplugged it from the dynamo hub, and stashed it in my bag. I began to wonder if my battery headlamp would last the rest of the night. I had one spare battery, and it takes a proprietary rechargeable...

I climbed slowly up Mill Gap and found that it was a bit harder up this side than it had been earlier in the morning. Or maybe it was my legs... At the summit I found that my friends had taken me at my word and hadn't waited for me. I got the impression that perhaps they waited as long as they could, but as cold as it was they weren't doing themselves any favors cooling down before a big descent.  Next was Wolf Gap, which was much easier from this direction! At the summit I entered back into Virginia and dropped down to the next controle. There I found my friends waiting for me, which made me unbelievably happy! I'd changed the helmet light battery already to the spare, so if that one went I would be screwed. They were nice enough to let me recover for a bit and they didn't push me to get back on the bike right away. I have no idea how long they'd waited for me, but to have a group of randos wait like that and then be patient with you sitting still is pretty special!

Back on the road I started pushing myself harder to keep up. Not only did I not want to slow them down much more, but I figured I might lose my light and need their help soon. We had one major climb left- Edinburg Gap. I'd done it on the Shenandoah but couldn't remember from which direction. I remembered it being hard, but then again everything on that ride was hard! Sure enough, when we got on the climb it turned out to be much harder from this direction. They waited for me at the top, and we all descended together for the last 30ish mile ride up Fort Valley to Front Royal.

With about 20 miles to go my battery started dying. First Jack stayed with me to help light the way, then Gardner took over. Jack was getting a bit swervy from sleep deprivation, and I was having to push through Achilles pain on every little uphill. I could tell that I was slowing them down, but no one complained. At one point we stopped so Theresa could change batteries and I had a chance to try an idea I'd had while riding. I got the dynamo light back out and ran the cord down through a loop on my front bag, wrapped it around the fork and plugged it in. It wasn't mounted so it would stay put and shine where I wanted, but I could use my right hand to hold it on fast downhills and get through that way. It was a struggle to finish, but we all stayed together to the hotel in Front Royal for a finish time of 25hours 35min.

Jack went straight to his hotel but I went to the McDonalds with Gardner and Theresa to get a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. That was probably the toughest 400K I've done. It's hard to compare it to the ROMA 400K in 2012- I was in much better shape! That one had lots of climbing too (everything up there does!) but this one was 8 major climbs. It's funny how seemingly inconsequential decisions can determine your path on these rides. Had I arrived in Front Royal 30 minutes earlier or later I might not have met Gardner in the parking lot. Had I turned down the dinner invite they might not have waited for me at all those summits. This was truly a great ride, and it all came down to good scenery, a good route, and great friends to share it with.  Thanks Gardner, Theresa, and Jack- and I'll see you in NC in October!