Friday, June 29, 2012

24 Hours of Summer Solstice: LOGJAMMED

While Tall Tree’s ‘gentlemen’ were micturating in public, several of us raced the 24 Hours of Summer Solstice at Albion Hills, on 23-24 June.  We fielded two teams in different categories and one loco solo rider.  Andy, Noah, Sneaky Pete and I comprised the four-person team, Tall Tree Cycles Presents: LOGJAMMIN’.  What follows is my best recollection of what actually happened.  Given the state of burn out that I was in before, during and after the race, this may not be accurate.

After losing a team member and dropping into the 4 person class, we all had low expectations.  One less rider meant that we all had to work a little harder.  I was worried: the combination of my natural aversion to work, my dubious form and my notoriously poor eating/drinking habits meant that this race had the makings of a disaster. At our team drinking session meeting on Friday night, we discussed how we were hoping to put in a hard effort and enjoy some quality time with The Burning Sensations, our five person entry.  If I could do this and refrain from looking down the in the Port-A-Potty, I felt that I would be alright. That all changed once the race started.

Andy’s opening lap put us near the top of the category and we were able to climb up to second place by the fifth lap.  It became apparent that if we were willing to do the work, we could compete.  We tried to focus on keeping our lap times below 1 hour and eating and resting properly. Andy was strong; especially on his first few laps. Despite hitting a tree with his face and doing one of these, Noah put up consistently great lap times.  Sneaky Pete’s riding was particularly impressive: he rode his Specialized Stumpjumper 29er demo as though it was stolen and he was being chased.  I did my best to be a shining beacon of mediocrity in a sea of excellence. Although the gap between us and the third place team was reduced to about a minute during the night, we managed to hold second place.  We were able to restore a comfortable lead in the morning, but by then, the first place team (Team Purple, from Ottawa—Congratulations!) was well ahead.  We were pleased to take second place. Here’s the evidence:

Congratulations to Tall Tree’s Mike Abraham (4th place, solo- 17 laps!), and Tanya Hanham, who rode with Bicycles for Humanity and finished 3rd in the 6-10 Person Mixed Team.   

Thanks to Chris Geren and family for use of their portable shower.  It was like being born again, only cleaner.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Rapha North East Gentlemen's Race: This Post is/not Epic

Rapha is a somewhat polarizing brand. On the one hand, they invented epicness, which is worth a lot of street cred. On the other hand, they invented epicness. Moaning about what constitutes 'cool' aside, six Tall Tree Cycles riders committed to trying to get into this year's Rapha North East Gentlemen's race. We - Todd, Rodd, Alex, Dave (not Jamie, he doesn't respond to emails) - collaborated to create what had to be the most clever, insightful, and impressive race entry application ever. A week or so after overnighting handwritten prose to Oregon, we were in. 28 teams, a whole lot of awesome was about to go down in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The Norwich Inn
The Norwich Inn. Enchanting.
We prepped our bikes with (mostly) fat tires and (mostly) low gears. A 'just in time' delivery had me rocking a 34x34 climbing gear, sure to put the fear of GOD into our competition. Alex ran a 36x36; bigger numbers for bigger quads. Dave and Todd were to be on 34x28 and 34x27 tooth cogs respectively;  we'd see how that went. Todd was on 'tubulars,' some sort of 'high performance' tires that promise to be more puncture resistant than clinchers, exude in-crowd cachet, and roll like butter down a hot skillet. Hmmm, ok.

Loaded up in a rental pervert van, we were on the road bright and early, 10:30am, headed south. Things got real when we got busted peeing on the side of the road stateside. Lets just say 'public lewdness' is not tolerated around Massena, so guys, keep your twigs concealed. "There's a Stewarts down the road, their restrooms are really nice." We got off with a (severe) warning, after about an hour of 'sweating it'...and trying not to laugh. Wow.

Then we were there, partying with the organizers (who are lovely people, BTW), and a bunch of bike folks at an historic inn while a swank wedding party went down out front. It was majestic. It seemed we'd won a 15minute last-team-drinking-time-bonus until we realized the women's Rapha Ambassadors team was still hitting the beer as we walked away. Whatever, it was almost 11, that's late.

Early up, bedazzled by waffle batter provisioning technology, fuelled, locked and loaded, it was off in the PV to the start, which none of us could locate on a map. Hanover, New Hampshire.....the school.... No matter, we intuited it, (aka we followed a car with bikes on it) and arrived in time for the team captain meeting, distribution of Garmin 800s, cues sheets, espresso, and clever jokes. The crowd was big, and eclectic, 27 teams strong (one pre-dropped out). The air was electric with good vibes, and interesting facial hair was in ample supply. Teams ranged from dudes who looked like they'd hurt us, but clearly had tires that were too small, to a rocking team of tandems 'manned' by hip vet riders like Todd Holland, of D2R2 fame. We occupied the 'all over this shit, we're dialled with our high volume tires and low gears' part of the spectrum. Except Todd.
le group, shortly before we rolled off and turned left.  supposed to turn right. lost 30 sec right there!
Todd, Alex, Rodd, Jamie, Matt, Dave, about to roll.
We were nestled between Rapha Racing and Mad Alchemy down near the bottom of the handicapped start list. I lied to Gerben, the organizer, saying we were soooo fast, we'd likely average somewhere around 26-27kph. Pride cometh before a fall or something like that.  Departing around 8:35 am, we rode off, immediately going the wrong way. Left instead of right. Tip:  hit 'go' on the Garmin 800 when you want to navigate.

Fast forward through gorgeous paved road, melding into gorgeous dirt road, the buff stuff, over gorgeous terrain. Lather rinse repeat. Get the idea? Passing, being passed, catching the Strava team; riding with the tandems, sun, blue skies.  Life was good, we were loving it. The camera moto pulls in front of us, Dave orders us to rotate over a dirt road with many embedded rocks, Todd flats. His 'tubular.' the un pinch-flattable tubular.  We attempt to seal it with the shittiest cycling product I've ever seen, Vittoria Pit Stop. The camera crew captures us, the gravel road 'specialists', with it spraying white foam all over my face. Ok, fine, I'll accept that, if it seals. It seals. We ride. It unseals. We try the next canister. No luck. Ok, spare tire on. Wha'?  No valve core?  I harvest one from the one tube we have with a removable core using an improvised skewer/frame 'wrench.' Rodd airs it, the tube disintegrates. WTF? That's it, Todd's screwed. We're out.  We roll down a long dirt descent and into a town, refuel, and leave Todd with Gerben and his van. Now 5, we can't place, but we can rock out with our....wait, no, bad idea.
mad alchemy slowly pulling away early
Mad Alchemy passing us. I didn't smell any embrocation on them....hmmmm.
Todd, before the 'incident.'
Alex, loving the low gears, and low brim.
before the deluge
Jamie lets the Canaries do their thing.
saw this often
What, I didn't sign up for this!
We ride on, meditate on our mis/fortune, nurse Jamie's not-getting-worse-cramp, jibber jabber, and swear about the storm we're about to ride under. Then it got real: raining cats and dogs, lightening, thunder, mud in every orifice, two wheel slide on slick dirt, and cold. Real cold. A long descent delivered us to a convenience store, where Rodd jumped into action, attaining garbage bags for us to wear as ponchos, merino socks for Alex's arms (cut open on Rodd's big ring), and a hunting toque for Dave. Coffee, yes, that too. Dave's hand was shaking so bad I thought he was going to spray coffee all over himself. Teams trickled in, zombified, and followed suit with the bags.
about 60 miles in, 60 miles to go.
Why doesn't Jamie look cold? He's a freak, that's why.
matt is much better with a garbage bag on his chest and a coffee
Hot, no? I grew to love this garbage bag.
After about 40 minutes of shivering, yawning (WTF?), and climbing (YES, a climb, thank Gary Fisher!), we were human again, warm enough to get back to lovin' it. We just couldn't go wrong; climbing was great because it helped us stay warm, and descents were great because they were so incredibly fun. Jamie's cramp subsided, Dave, Alex and I attacked the Strava climb (ouch!!!), we ate peanuts and stuff (not Rodd, apparently he's 'allergic'), caught and passed the Rapha Continentals (too skinny tires), and generally had a lovely time. 
The second 'wing' of the butterfly shaped course from mile 90 to the end had some of the loveliest terrain on it.  We were constantly passing places like this (for sale! under 5 million!)

 Clear skies greeted us through our approach to the finish, just under 200k for the day, and lots of good sensations. Todd, still feeling guilty for totally screwing us, played soigneur brilliantly, and even had vegan delights on hand for me, as the BBQ fare was not suitable, or available.

Was it epic? I know you are want to know. It was. Not because the course was hard, though it was; over 3000m climbing in 200k of paved and lots of dirt roads. It was epic because Todd's tire catastrophe could have seen him sitting on the side of the road for 6 hours. We could have suffered hypothermia. We could have been struck by lightening (I am sad to report a young local woman was struck and killed near the route as we rode), we could have eaten it on a blazing dirt descent in driving rain. None of that happened, but we were exposed, and there were points where we weren't really sure whether we'd be ok. We pushed on, got through it, and I think we're all stronger for it. That's epic.

Kichesippi kicked in a growlers for us to put in for the winning team, and I'm sure they are tickled to have gone home with such a treat; many thanks to Kichesippi for the support!

Thank you Thom and Will for hooking us up with the pervert van for the weekend. The rolling sausage party was nothing short of entertaining.

Thank you Rapha for putting on one of the best run and most fun events I've been to. We'd have loved to hang with all the riders and organizers apres ride, drink, eat, tell war stories, so we encourage Rapha to try to make that possible next time around. Assuming we are accepted to race again. Please accept us....flawed as we are.

A final thank you to the team, Rodd, Todd, Alex, Jamie, and Dave for committing to this event, following through, and being great team mates. Respect to Dave for the second fastest time of the day on the Strava climb, a 4k dirt-nasty. He got me by 5 long seconds. I have no idea how we'd make up the two minutes required to take the KOM. By adding a motor, perhaps.

Dave the Sinister
Alex, chuffed
Rodd, deep.

Jamie, sad kitten.
Todd, ashamed.
Camera Roll-9

Here's the day's data:

Movie here

For all you RGRacers reading this, check out our posts on the gent's race we hold every May, and consider coming North to check out what we ride. Our 150k route isn't as gnarly as the RGR or D2R2, but its May, so that's ok. The scenery is beautiful, and the crowd is fun. Plus, we finish with a BBQ and beer! Teams of 5, its the Ride of the Damned.

I'll end with the best quoted from the weekend, in chronological order (f-word alert):

"So, who's your weakest rider?"

"This isn't Canada, you can't just take a piss wherever you want."

"Are you guys carrying anything that you should not be carrying? Marijuana? Oxycotin?"

"Old enough to know better."

"Do these look like 'fire-roasted olives' to you?"

"Chocolate Honey Stinger Waffles....fuck yeah!"

"She says: 'That bitch, I can't believe she'd crash like that, she's from around here!'"

"Our guy Matt finished D2R2 under 8hrs, and finished first at the New York Gran Fondo; yeah we ride gravel a lot."

"Those ladies are still drinking, they're gonna get the 15-minute bonus."

"Man, this is the first time I've ridden 25s; they feel really bulky!"

"Rodd, which way is it?"

"This is awesome."

"Don't look at the amazing remote controlled helicopter camera. It ruins the shot. And we won't make the final cut."

"So, is being 'helicopter-worthy' similar, or better than being 'sponge-worthy?'"

"Kodak Courage, eh?"

"Get into a paceline."


"Where's the fucking valve core?!"



"Looks like we're gonna get it."

"Jamie's cramping."

"Merino socks; Alex, get these. Dave, you want this? I think you should."

"Dave, gimme your coffee and do some jumping-jacks."

"Gaaaaarbage bag, fuck yeah!"

"I hope there's a big fucking climb coming."


"I bet its going to be sunny at the finish."

"Go Matt, get the KOM!"

"Good god that sucked."

"We just dropped the Rapha Continentals; their tires are too narrow."

"I am having so much fun."

"Check that out."

"10k to go!"

"They're out of food."

"You guys are good."

"He said, 'You guys are good.'"

"Hope we get another shot."

As a word cloud:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tall Tree at the 24 hours of Summer Solstice: the aftermath.

30 minutes after my last lap. It's 8 am. No, that isn't a recovery drink. Well, actually, it kinda is...
Does a picture say a thousand words? Nah, I call bollocks on that; words are capable of far more technical and direct communications than a picture. What pictures can do, however, is evoke an world for those thousand words to inhabit. Or maybe express what words cannot. This pictures says:  "I am hella tired of being in cycling gear, tired of being up since, forever, and tired of camping alongside 2000 plus noisy-ass people, never mind the eight I am sharing a shambolic campsite with; gimme a f------ beer!"

It is hard to explain a 24-hour mountain bike race to someone who hasn't done one. Yes, it is hard. No, it is not so hard that lots of people couldn't try it; judging from the wildly divergent array of bikes, people and abilities I passed (and was often passed by) on the course, I'd say anyone with a sense of adventure and a willingness to push themselves can give the format a go. No, you don't have to race the whole 24 hours. Yes, you will likely be up the whole damn time, due to either nerves about having to do a lap, being too wired to fall asleep after doing a lap, or having to prepare/recover for you next lap.

What's it like to do one? Imagine a night drinking in reverse. First is the hangover; which is the time spent racing. After the first lap you feel like crap, you want to puke from giving it too hard, too soon, for too long(binge-drinking anyone?). As you lie on the ground (be it grass or bathroom tiles), trying to hold down the water you just drank, you ask yourself the same question you do after a night drinking so hard you forgot your name, in that time between waking up and the advil kicking in:

"Why didn't I stay the hell home last night? because this, right now, right here, sucks. And not in a good naked way either."

It's just after the race that you start to feel a warm glow. It can be from heat stroke, or from the lack of sleep, or both, but there is no denying that you feel awfully good. It seems like everyone is smiling, and everyone seems a lot friendlier. Of course, that could just be the booze or the exhaustion, but nonetheless, that's how it feels, man.

Like a epic night out, It's the adventures that occur during that time that keep you coming back to a 24 hour. It's the stories told by people you know, people you don't know, and people you hope to know better. It is the experiences that occur, some strange; some funny, and some full of pathos. It is being able to come home and tell tall tales to family, friends and co workers that make it so fun to go to these. Especially when it is coupled with great riding, great teammates, and really crappy music that makes you want to kill the organizers; Everyone needs a focus.

 For those who care, Tall Tree sent 2 teams ( a five and four person) and a solo rider to represent at Albion Hills on June 23rd and 24th. Four man was Andy, Marty, Noah and Pete. Five man was  Craig, Mark, Steve Grant and Chris. Mike A. rode solo. We placed 2nd, 13th, and 5th, respectively. No bath salts were used in the achieving of these results, nor were any unicorns or snow flurries spotted.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Albion Hills - OCUP edition

Dampness from last week.  The rest of the spectators are oogling the new Subaru BRZ off to the left of the frame.
The finest concrete descent in the greater Barrie area.  
...and finally, a photo from somewhere other than Hardwood Hills!  (Pretend it's from Albion Hills)
The conditions found on the mostly moist, and routinely rooty cross country course at Hardwood Hills were not to be seen the following week at Albion Hills.  Instead there were repeated short, punchy climbs, along with dusty and/or buffed singletrack.  There was also great potential for raising vitamin D levels courtesy of that giant ball of burning gas in the sky.  (And it was hot...)

It was warm enough that most riders are self-splashing in the feedzone and taking advantage of the organizer-operated hose on the last corner.

Drawing a big goose egg from the OCUP points basket last week (helped partially by a spectacular over-ze-bars three car pile-up in the feedzone - I'm almost certain the guy pulling out of the tech zone didn't signal...) dashed any hopes of a front row call up.  Starting on the back row was a blessing in disguise as it would help keep me honest when trying to take it easy for the first half lap or so.

I may have been a bit too relaxed as I cruised into the first singletrack with no one in tow.  Got my act together and picked up a few spots a lap over the first three laps.

Some concern slipped into the thought process when I started to feel half drunk and 5/14ths asleep, with traces of crampiness with two laps to go.  Noticing what might be referred to as 'goose bumps on the arms' was not confidence inspiring either.  Did we switch to the imperial unit system when I wasn't looking?  Usually 30 degrees is associated with...  ...not goose bumps.

Lukewarm attempts at shaking off a certain J. Slaughter have failed since the start of lap four (of five), but I'm still willing to give it the ol' college try on the last incline with less than 1000m to go.  I swing out to pass and my assertive *stomp* *stomp* *stomp* quickly transitions into *cramp* *cramp* *cramp*.

I crest the hill and assume the dead sailor / robaxacet man pose while waiting for my legs to start cooperating again.   The small gap I've created should be enough to hold my spot to the line, but that's assuming that I'm moving my legs. Instead, I'm coasting to the last hairpin letting the gap close and confusing any spectators.

I decide this is a good spot to resume pedaling, despite the protesting muscles, as continued lollygagging would result in me tipping over and being sprayed indefinitely by Chico's Hose of Refreshment (TM).  I pedal enough to make the sprint difficult for the timing staff, and then proceed to drink as much chocolate milk as possible.  This turns out to be one carton - it's so hot...  Insert relevant Will Ferrell quote here.

Next stop: Another race.  Possibly XC nationals.

Several kudos to Andy for trekking over to the GTA, for without him there would be no post-race team fist bumping.  The solo fist bumping is not nearly as satisfying.

Monday, June 11, 2012

All-road, Baby!

With a beautiful Sunday about to unfold the question was simple: what shall we ride: tarmac? dirt? both? On hot days its generally nice to get out of the sun, and trails on 'road' bikes is always a pleasure. Dirt. But where? Easy: to Wakefield. If you'd like to do a nice long ride off-road, on whatever bike, this route is a treat. 

As navigator for the day, I opted to take Rodd, Jamie and myself off-road as much as possible heading to Wakefield, knowing we might have to return by road, since these rides always take longer than one might think. About 105k round trip from central Ottawa, this route covers about 60km of trails, ranging from rocky to buff dirt/gravel. All climbs are rideable, though low gearing helps. I was on a 34-28, Rodd had a 36-34. Rodd and Jamie were on 35mm Panaracer Paselas, while I used a Clement PDX (35mm) on the front, and a Continental CX Speed (35mm) on the back, Conti butyl tubes all around. 35mm and up are the best bet to reduce flats and damaged rims. Smaller are doable, and we've all ridden 'em, but its riskier, and less fun. As always, our stop at Pipolika (one of our generous Ride of the Damned Sponsors ) was a delight, not least because we ran into a few fellow cyclist friends and enjoyed their company while sipping lassies, coffee, and snacks (yes, you can sip snacks). 

If you are thinking about getting out there, on whatever bike, and have questions about the what and where, fire away in the comments section below. Its a beautiful time of year to be in the woods!

Serious business at Meech Lake.

We started out at the Gate, the entrance to the park at Gamelin. From there, its a short stint on the Parkway before heading onto dirt, a bit of bike path, then up onto trail #15. From there, its almost all dirt to Wakefield. One can loop back on trails, but in order to make out 8AM to 2PM window work, we opted to head back along River Road. However, Jamie and I still had time to hit the tails from Notch Road for some of the best double track around for a CX bike. Mind the hikers and other riders climbing up as you descend the #15, its a popular trail.

Here you continue straight to ride to and around Lac Phillipe.
This is the sign-post at the above intersection.

THE ROCK, Lac Phillipe. This used to be rideable, down. Not anymoe.
Rodd ascends THE ROCK

Cross Loop + Highway Additions

Rodd's All-roader

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gran Fondo New York: BIG Ride.

Sunrise from the George Washington Bridge, about 5:30 AM.  Surprisingly, it got colder on the bridge as we approached the 7 AM start.
Warning: this post might be considered EPIC.

Gran Fondos are gaining steam fast in North America. The format seems to strike the perfect balance for a heck of a lot of riders, both competitive and recreational. The foundation, as I understand it, being a Gran Fondo neophyte, is the route. Having traditionally functioned as big rides designed to showcase a given region, revolving around a bicycle themed festival in a central town or village, Gran Fondos are by definition 'place based.' Actually, from my perspective, virtually all cycling disciplines are very much place-based. I think this is the single most important aspect of the sport/practice for myself and many others alike.
A jump-shot of the organizers and the front corral of 5000 riders. 
But what am I talking about? I mean the location of cycling is not incidental, but essential. That is, the experience of cycling hinges on where it happens. A computrainer ride might be good training, but it is not a substitute for authentic cycling experience. In contrast, squash, for example, is not place-based. It just doesn't matter where a squash match occurs; courts are standardized. One could have a memorable match at the YMCA, just as well as one might have such a match on an Olympic court. The experience is contingent on one's opponent's play in relation to one's own.
The flip-side reads "Welcome to New Jersey," where we'd both start and finish.
In contrast, a memorable experience on the bike does not require opponents; one can have the finest of rides independent of others. Cycling is a rich experience, one that can open the mind to creative thought, and at times, even epiphanies. For this reason, from a intellectual or spiritual perspective, one can have special, even life altering experience while out for a ride just about anywhere. But when we focus on experiences that constitute 'great days on bikes,' we are usually talking about things that happened in great places. Unique settings serve as the rider's playground...or perhaps just as often, torture chambers.
Front row, a nice place to be.
What makes cycling so compelling is the fact that one can feel the terrain one travels in a very personal way, filling in an embodied understanding of a route that might enrich one's perspective on the battles that unfold under the PRO's wheels. But routes don't have to be raced to be meaningful, far from it. Roads and trails take us 'out there,' into areas and climes foreign to us, enhancing our comprehension of the space and places we might otherwise only ever pass our eyes across on a map...if that. Even track and criterium racing is place-based: tracks have there unique geometries, character, and histories. Some criterium courses have been raced year after year, and are imbued with corporeal and psychic traces. No two courses are alike. So even the least grand of cycling's settings are about place, locality, specificity.
The boys in blue. 
Gran Fondos are by design intended to focus on the place-based aspect of the cycling experience by presenting scenic and challenging routes to their riders. If riders come away wanting for more, the route is not right. ATMO.

The thing is, it can be daunting for the average weekend warrior to strike out alone on a Sunday morning and tackle an untried 175km route. What if I flat...thrice? Will I be able to fill up on water? Is this enough food? Will I get lost? It seems a lot of riders are up for big challenges, but find the warm embrace of the Gran Fondo the secret ingredient that gets them out there. What else could explain the 5000-plus riders out for the 2012 Gran Fondo New York?

By virtue of this event being billed a GF, not to mention the positive review of the inaugural GFNY by Ottawa legend, John Large, I was confident the route would impress. Lots of climbing, including a big one: Bear Mountain. But where would we find all this stuff? North, New Jersey and beyond, in fact. We'd start on the George Washington Bridge, just shy of the New Jersey border, roll across and right down onto what could only be described as a fast, narrow, hole-riddled, and boulder-lined road along the Hudson River. Since I'd arrived onto the bridge to line up on my assigned corral - the front one, reserved for Cat1/2 and celebrity riders - bright and early (5:15am!), I got a taste of the PRO experience, photographers a flutter, rubbing shoulders with honch Italians, former PROs, and Tim Johnson, cyclocross demi-god. Plenty of time to chat. My neighbor on the line since 5:15 rides for an Italian team out of Modena that only races Gran Fondos and chronos. 30 guys., including ex-pros. Whoa. And by 'Race,' he meant race. So did he expect this one to be less of a race? "No, its a gonna be a race." "Ok, cool."
About 2/3 of the way through the gauntlet, the first road we hit after the bridge, narrow, hole-riddled, and lined with boulders.
So these guys and I are screaming through this narrow road lined with boulders. If a rider freaks out and dodges a hole, another could take a header into a 2-tonne hunk of metamorphic rock. I'm not the nervous type, but I was apprehensive. I actually slow down. Really. Once through, things opened up, and the route continued to undulate, up, down, and side to side, as it would for almost every kilometer of the ride. That's the stuff that makes for a memorable ride.
One of the many sights along the way.
About 30k in, the lead pack was soft pedaling. This was a race, right? Well, there's a caveat. The official competition was the King and Queen of the mountain. We'd hit 4 timed climbs, and cumulative times would determine the champs. Many reading will know I am not feared as a 'climber.' Sure, when I'm fit I can get up stuff ok, but I'm not good at it. Still, that was the game, and I would play.
The question was: could some of us rouleurs get the climbers to suck some wind before the climbs and slow them down a bit? This question came to mind as I pulled the pack along the river, doing my best to first bring up the pace, then trying to get others to take up the task. Nada. Eventually a couple guys went up the road, followed minutes later by two others. After no response from the pack, I opted to bridge, none followed. Ok, we'll see whether anyone cared about 5 guys riding off. Into rollers now, we became 5, working together. But the others started to fade, and after a descent I found myself solo off the front. Far from being an OHB (original head banger) like Jackie Durand (Rodd will elaborate if you ask), I knew I hadn't a chance of riding solo for another 130k, not did I want to. But this was an opportunity to feel out a solo break and work on smooth power in the phantom aerobars. After a while the organizer, on a Moto, remarked: 'I don't know what you're doing, but you're strong.' It must have appeared as though I was trying to escape from a group that was not really chasing. "Nah, just having some fun." The plan was still to push on the climbs and try to hang with the lead group to the end. Once enveloped by the pack, it was time to relax and recover for the first KOM climb.
What beats Mavic Neutral Support? The moto crew saved my skin.
But plans are just that. The game changed at km 55, when my wheel choice gamble backfired just as I exited one of the most fun turns I've ridden on a road bike: a massive off ramp, closed to traffic, taken at speed. Talk about exciting! Rolling into a small town, my front tubular was deflating. Off to the side, arm up, the Mavic neutral wheel support Moto was only 50 meters back, following our lead pack. Ok, good, this couldn't really be a better scenario. Wheel swapped, I was in chase mode. Alone, I would not have much chance of taking the climbs fast enough. With the pack I could conserve; but I'd have I draw down my reserves to get there. It took about 5k to close the minute or so gap to the pack, taken at 40k tt pace. Settle back in, recover. KOM coming up in 5k...shit.

Steep, not too long, but long enough to scatter the pack. TIm Johnson and a bunch of little Italians attacked with fury. Off the back by the top, I knew my chase had cost me and there was no hope of contesting the KOM. Plan B: hold onto the guys who were dishing out the pain! Chase.
Ascending Bear Mountain after chasing back on post-puncture. The fast guys are up the road.
Climb l was followed by a technical descent that claimed at least one rider with a hairpin runout. Squeaking through, and working hard to get back, a smaller peloton coalesced on the approach to Bear Mountain. Over 2 hours into the ride, water was already being tapped. The food and water stop at the virtual base of the climb was clearly out of question for the guys barging up the hill; we'd have to wait until the next one. Away they went, lashing out against L'Ourson, whose 7.5k ascent averaged 7.5% in grade, with ramps above 12%. I kept it cool, still recovering, happy to get up at a decent pace and keep riding strong. Once I saw riders descending on the opposite lane I realized we'd swing around up top; would riders pause at the rest stop? Nope. The descent was long enough for me to regain contact with Tim Johnson and company by the bottom, and only one or two pulled over. The next stop had better not be tooooo far...
....and back down after a 180 up top. The descent allowed me to regain contact.
The pack was much smaller now, perhaps 30. Only a small group of us were pulling through, indicating riders were ailing. On the third climb a couple Italian comrades were out of water and suffering. Down to a couple sips left, things were approaching desperate for me too. Johnson, who I'd only dreamed of hanging onto, was off. Only a few guys remained ahead of us since our descent off the Bear's back, or so it seemed. We pulled into a feed stop, regrouped with the guys who seemed to be leading the KOM, and rolled out as Johnson rolled in, offering a word of encouragement. Nice.
Steep ascent up the final times climb through a neighborhood of new mansions....
...complete with cheerleaders.
Working together, a small handful of us reeled in a group of riders who'd skipped the stop. Further up the road, riders fell off as others were caught. the fourth KOM was a steep neighborhood that went on for considerably longer than any of us thought it would, so it seemed. Again, I was dropped, but my tempered pace allowed my to catch back on with the guys who were not gassed to continue on through the final 60k. Just before the final food stop we regained contact with my Italian friend, and rolled out together to ride the final leg. Four would persevere, catching a solo rider working with a renegade on a CX bike and fat tires. It was unclear whether they were buddies, or strangers. Our fellow, an Irishman in green, had tonnes of pep left, charging the hills while the rest of us kept the pace up but steady. The relentless climbing eventual dispatched our interloper, and we were down to 5. At this point, it was clear that everyone wanted to finish strong, but nobody was shirking work. But with about 30k to go, we retraced our tracks onto the boulder lined road we'd headed out on. Beginning with a descent, riders were everywhere: medio fondo riders, recreational riders, and cars too. I let the wheels run and made it through the gauntlet virtually unscathed, but it was gnarly. Looking back, my companions were gone, so I opted to once again pretend I was racing for real, and kept the pressure on with about 28k to go. Long, but worth putting in a good effort. To my surprise, a rider appeared on my wheel with about 25k to go, one whom I had not seen since the first KOM climb. Having though I was alone, I could only surmise that he had to be a helluva climber for a big guy. I figured we might wind up together until the end. However, the final stretch of the route traveled a busy urban road through New Jersey, where the big guy dropped back. So it was, I rolled into the finish area along the river, perhaps the first 177k finisher, perhaps not. Regardless, I loved the route and was totally content with my ride, the first day all season that I actually felt good and able to work hard all day. Such days are truly beautiful, and it's these that motivate us to struggle through the winter and spring, of only to experience a ride where everything comes together. That satisfaction does not require everything transpire perfectly; rather, it is a feeling that comes from a sense of rightness about how we handle challenges along the way. Some might call such a ride 'epic'....
Always a welcome sight. Late in the ride the terrain was twisty and rolly, a real pleasure to ride...
...with these guys. The gent in white shorts was a great climber, probably still is.
The big apple backdrops the finish.
From both angles!
Beyond the astounding organization of the GF, the great route, and the scores of police officers and volunteers that made the event possible, the other thing that really stood out was the glut of friendly, interesting people in attendance. 60 nations were represented. 60! Over 5000 people rode! Of these, I met and spoke with a fraction, but all were a treat to chat with. Italians seemed to abound at the head of the race. Germans were everywhere at the finish. Medio Fondo riders were the most inspiring, though. Over then final stretches of climbs these riders took on, I saw numerous riders walking their bikes. Perhaps many were in over their heads, but they were plodding on. They didn't stay home because they weren't sure they could do it. They came out, tried, and persevered. Talk about spirit.

The gorgeous weather and good (enough) sensations I experienced translated into a great day on the bike. Epic? No, not for me. But surely it was an epic day for many out on the roads; the necessary conditions were all in place. Next time I ride the event I'd love to share the experience with my friends and team-mates. I'm sure nobody will be left wanting for more.