Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May-11: Mud Pit + Possum 400-km Brevet

First, a link to the RWGPS map:
[Maybe I'll soon figure out how to EMBED the map, 
but I'm not going to worry about it.] 


I have only been doing this randonneuring thing for three years, and
The basic advice I give to anyone foolish enough to ask is:
  • Relax.  Regardless how fast you're going, regardless how steep the climb, regardless how steep and fast the descent, regardless of what is happening near you, or about to happen to you:  keep your feet and legs relaxed, keep your hands and arms relaxed, keep your entire body relaxed.  [That is also one piece of advice I have given to help stave off cramps -- it seems to help.]
  • Stay calm.  Regardless of what is happening around you or to you or about to happen to you, stay calm.  That will help you react more appropriately and may help you think more correctly. 

On this brevet, I had plenty of opportunity to practice "Relax."  You may think that I refer to the fact that 400-kms (250-miles) is a long way.  While that is true, that is not what I mean.

Instead, I refer to how I had to approach shifting and pedaling because my cassette was not entirely happy to meet the new chain that had been installed the previous afternoon.  I failed to test the cassette with the new chain after installation, so ... in the future, I won't fail to test.  The cassette only had 3248-miles on it; all had been with the same chain.  I didn't think I was all that far over the recommended distance to change the chain, but apparently the 3248-miles was enough for at least partial consummation of a marriage.

I could shift among the various cogs without a problem, but I could not suddenly apply extra pressure.  I could not accelerate quickly from a stop or change pace quickly; I could not stand and pedal.  In the last couple years, I've gotten so that I'll sometimes get out of the saddle and stand to pedal on flat sections:  that gives my bottom a rest and gives the leg muscles an opportunity to work slightly differently.  Before I did the north-to-south tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I would almost never stand for any climbing; after that tour, during which I did almost no standing to pedal, I started standing on some climbs or parts of climbs (often without realizing that I had gotten out of the saddle).  That gives an extra "cadence" or two, and gives my bottom a break, and the leg muscles get used differently.  Because I couldn't risk standing to pedal, ..., well, I couldn't stand-up and pedal, period!  Unfortunately, this was a course where one would like to sometimes stand for some climbing, and other times sit-down-and-gear-down.  My only choice on the day was to sit-down-and-gear-down.

EXCEPT that since the cassette and its original chain-partner had been installed 3248-miles earlier, the front derailleur had not been quite right.  During those miles, I had to be EXTREMELY careful whenever I would shift from the middle chain-ring (39T) to the big chain-ring (50T).  If I wasn't careful enough, the chain would end up on my foot or wrapping around the crank.  On the positive side, at least when that happened, I could use the chain-guide trick and get the chain back onto the middle ring without stopping, etc..

When the new chain was installed the afternoon prior to the brevet, my mechanic made an adjustment to the front derailleur intended to eliminate the over-shifting in the direction of the 50T.  I didn't test the effect of that adjustment just after installation, either.  I discovered both problems, chain/cassette slipping past each other, and the front derailleur over-shifting when trying to go to the small chain-ring (30T) when I rode a few circles in the parking lot prior to the start.  The chain got caught between the frame and the small chain-ring once in the parking lot; I had to manually unstick the chain and put it back on the chain-rings.  I had to manually unstick and replace the chain twice (I think it was twice) during the ride.

From previous rides on this course, I knew that most of the time / distance outbound I could use the 39T chain-ring; however, given the steep climbs between the 150 and 250 km points, I wanted to take it easy and use the 30T in a couple places.  Basically, I couldn't.  I am thankful that somehow, miraculously, the chain moved perfectly onto the 30T for the climb up into Seagrove (the 150-km control and high elevation of the route).  Glad to be in the 30, the mile-long climb into Seagrove was effortless; upon nearing the top of the steep, I was shocked to find that I had done the climb in the 30/19 -- the pedaling had been so effortless that I thought I was surely in the 30/23, or at least the 30/21.  Finding that I'd been in the 30/19 filled me joy and gave hope that the remaining 250-kms would be fun (and only fun).

Outbound, just after Seagrove, riding with Robert + Byron + Geof, I decided to shift to the 30T, again.  No go!  Chain got trapped between the frame and chain-rings.  I said good-bye to the other three and got off to deal with my chain and derailleur.  Chain back on -- maybe 50 yards later, I decided that I needed to truly test the front derailleur to find out if I would have a 30T when needed -- NOPE -- chain trapped, again.  Off again; manually coerce the chain from its trap, and then continue.  A few yards later, I found myself thinking, "why did you think you needed the 30T here?  This is not a steep slope."  At least I knew I could not depend on getting to the 30T.

Do you know what I needed to do to climb after that?  Stay in the 39T (because of the front derailleur), and apply not-much-pressure to the pedals (because of the cassette/chain slipping past each other).  Look at the profile (see RWGPS map-link at the top of this blog post) between 150-kms and 250-kms (93 to 155-miles); that is not a place where soft-pedaling would be one's preferred approach.  Several places, I had to exert enough pressure that my right groin muscles complained vigorously, begging for an easier gear.  The right groin never cramped during the ride (nor after, as it sometimes does), but I still had a noticeable limp 60 hours after I stopped riding.

Relax and soft-pedal because I can't put any pressure on the pedals and can't get to the 30T.
Relax to fight off cramps.
Sometimes pedal virtually one-legged, even up-hill, to give the right groin a chance to calm down.
Of course, on a couple occasions, parts of the left leg wanted to cramp.
I managed to also stave those off.

I also had a couple chances to practice "Stay calm."  The first opportunity came when inbound on Flint Hill Rd..  For the non-locals, some people will put special chain-rings and / or cassettes on their steeds just to get up the two steep parts of inbound Flint Hill Rd..  Some make sure to have a cog with more teeth than their small chain-ring.  I use my same setup, regardless.  50/39/30 up front.  11-25 on the cassette.

Outbound, the climbing on Flint Hill Rd is not so bad / steep (Ophir -- pronounced, at least by some, as "Oh-Fear" -- I wish Maria had not deleted her blog -- anyway, Ophir Rd is worse outbound than is Flint Hill Rd -- and although I got up the first outbound Ophir climb in the 39/25, I may have tried to shift to the 30T on the second -- I'm not sure, actually -- I can't recall if I toughed it out, damaging the right groin muscle or if I shifted, and if I shifted, I can't recall whether the chain ended up on the 30T or trapped between the frame and chain-ring).  Anyway, the "interesting section" outbound on Flint Hill Rd ends with three bridges.  The third bridge was officially closed and being replaced.  However, all but the finish road surface has been completed.  Well ... there was also that 50 or 100 yards of exposed hard-packed-orange-clay on each end of the bridge.  And, unlike the supposed hard-packed dirt detour on the 300 brevet three weeks earlier (that detour was available as an option on this 400, btw, but most, maybe all, chose to walk our bikes across the unfinished bridge on Coleridge Rd -- those with fat-enough tyres or enough hutzpa rode across that unfinished bridge), the hard-packed-surface was definitely hard-packed; it was pretty good riding.  This was not a reason to invoke "stay calm."

Ophir Rd inbound is not bad climbing -- the 39T was fine -- although I had to repeatedly convince my right groin of that.  Flint Hill Rd inbound is not bad climbing -- until after crossing the three bridges.  There was no "stay calm" required until just before the "third bridge" (that's the outbound count -- it would be "first bridge" counting inbound).

Anyway, you'll recall the hard-packed-orange-clay from above.  Between crossing the bridges outbound and crossing them inbound, a squall had blown through and dumped enough rain on that hard-packed-clay to turn it into an orange-mud-slurry-quagmire.

Approaching the mud-pit, I saw several prior bicycle tracks and figured riding through wouldn't be that bad, after all, others had obviously ridden through.  WRONG and wrong thinking -- lemming thinking.  I don't know how I kept the bike upright to the bridge, but did manage to stay calm enough to consider whether coasting through the mess or applying just a little power to the rear wheel would be a better idea -- I chose applying just a little power.  I was glad that no one was riding near me.  I managed to stop on the bridge, where I thought about walking the second half of the mud-pit, but I noticed that the left edge seem fairly firm and I figured "why get my shoes muddy and my cleats filled with this mess."  After all, the bike couldn't get any worse. 

So ... I walked the bike backward a few yards on the bridge's solid surface in order to give a better "launch," cajoled the the chain onto the small chain-ring [remember:  the front derailleur had worked properly only once previously all day to get into the small, 30T chain-ring -- every other time the chain had become trapped between frame and the the 30T], and rode with some dignity along the edge of the second half of the mud-pit.

Then, with the added excuse of the mud rubbing on the tyres, I walked with dignity up the two steep parts of Flint Hill Rd [while thinking to myself, "ya' know, you rode up this in 2010 with both legs having just cramped and likely to do so again" -- I told myself, "shut up, brain"].

The second opportunity to "Stay calm" happened somewhere between Seagrove and Erect (that's the name of the cross-roads community -- you can look it up on the map -- maybe you can look it up on the map).  Mick was riding to my left, perhaps slightly off my rear-quarter; Phil and BobB were just behind as we were in a loose 2-by-2 formation.  Suddenly, from my right came a'waddling a possum.  If you've never encountered a possum while driving or cycling, they do NOT react like squirrels nor any other animal of which I'm aware.

Squirrels will dart back-and-forth, unable to decide what to do, and that often leads to their demise.  I've never been hit by a squirrel when on a bicycle, but I've had one or two dart BETWEEN my wheels -- that is EYE-OPENING (as in "I would be really scared right now if I had noticed that squirrel earlier").

Deer will react differently depending on what they were doing when they notice you.  If standing still, deer might remain standing, or they may be startled and suddenly rush in (what I presume they determine) is the shortest way to safety.  That might be to turn away from the road; that might be to run parallel to the road; that might be to suddenly dart in front of you, or between you and another cyclist; or - and this is worst of all - suddenly dart smash right into you.  That last is a sure-fire way to come up with a useless thing that was previously a bicycle, and quite likely an ambulance ride for the cyclist.  If the deer were already running when they noticed you, they will usually run even faster, continuing in the same direction.  But sometimes, they'll change direction.  Come to think of it, Robert + Byron + I experienced two LARGE deer run across the road while outbound on this 400; I think it was between Snow Camp and Siler City.  If either of those two large deer had run into any of the three of us -- I don't want to think about it.  I do know one cyclist that was smashed into by a deer a number of years ago:  he lived to tell the tale.

Dawgs and dogs.  Every cyclist knows there are many and varied reactions from dogs.

On this 400, inbound, just after getting passing through Coleridge (village), I was a bit ahead of Mick, Phil and BobB.  As a result, I got an up-close view of what a fox did when spooked by the combination of me and a passing car.  He ran parallel to the road, apparently on a path I couldn't see (btw, it was dark) and then darted into a slight opening in the weeds and into a field or woods.  The entire time the fox was paralleling the road, just ahead of me, I was thinking, "please don't veer onto the road; and if you do, please don't have rabies."

Anyway, back to possums.  What will a possum do?  I've never seen a possum change its direction when it detects coming auto traffic.  I have seen one or two speed up just enough to come out the short-end in a meeting with a car / truck.  So, the possum mentioned above, suddenly appeared on my right -- I don't know that I made any speed or course change, maybe I slid a little to the left -- the possum was headed for my front wheel -- I expected to go down in a heap as it tried to run through my spokes -- I think the possum altered his track ever so slightly, and my front wheel met his mid-section, perhaps I turned the wheel ever-so-slightly before contact and perhaps that minimized the impact and also turned him a bit more so that he was now parallel with me -- I felt the rear wheel go over something, but I wasn't sure how big the something was -- I asked Mick if the possum was dead -- Mick said, "no, he walked away."  Phil was impressed, and said something -- I don't recall what -- maybe he'll read this and make a comment -- he likely had a better angle to see what actually happened; maybe Phil will comment on that.  Bob also would have had a better view -- maybe he will comment.

I had stayed calm.  Do you know why?  Because there hadn't been time for me to get scared -- that's why!

This is the second time I've had a near miss with a possum on this 400k brevet course.  The first time was in 2010 (also was the first 400 I ever did):  I came screaming down Abner Rd (inbound) after having survived Flint Hill Rd without cramping or crashing or walking; suddenly, there was a possum standing, just standing, in the middle of my lane of the new, modern bridge; I recall thinking, "great, I've survived the tough part of this course, and now I'm going to get killed because I'm going to hit a possum; at least hitting a deer would have some panache."  In the next moment, I went to the right while the possum ambled a bit to my left.

These are the only times I've ever had a close encounter with a possum while cycling.


Okay, I make the maps for Alan (our Raleigh RBA).  How that came about is a story in itself, so I'll spare you having to read through a poorly typed version of that.  But, as a result, I knew this course very well by the second time I did it in 2011.  Actually, Alan's 400 is the same as his 300, but with another 100k added on; and the 300 is the same as the 200, but with another 100k added on.  I learned the 200 navigating the inbound solo the first time I did the course in 2010.  I learned the 300 navigating the entire route solo the first time I did the 300, that was also in 2010.  And, for the trifecta, I learned the 400 navigating, perhaps entirely solo, until rando-angels SaraH and GarSchaf caught me after about 240-kms and led me home.  Making the maps has just helped keep the course fresh in my mind.  [Regarding the maps:  sometimes, Alan even manages to post the link to the new map on his website -- sorry, Alan -- I hope you laugh if you read this.]

I teamed up with BobB, Phil and Mick in Seagrove at the 250k control.  From Seagrove, the route has a lot of downslope for quite awhile, and since I usually descend faster than any of the other three, I made sure to get in the lead, and stay there.  At approximately the 164-mile mark, the course makes a 90-degree right-hand turn to stay on Fork Creek Mill Rd..  That's when the guys started cracking me up:
  • Bob and Phil apparently thought we had turned onto Coleridge when we made the 90-degree turn to stay on Fork Creek Mill Rd.  Each was concerned about the routing we would take given the bridge that was out and neither wanted to negotiate the gravel on either side of the bridge in the dark (and probably each was also concerned the gravel/dirt section might be another mud-pit).  Coleridge Rd starts at about the 173.3-mile mark; I didn't know either of the "exact" mileages referred to above, put I shouted back, "Coleridge isn't for another 10 to 15 miles." 
  • Then Mick thought that Riverside Rd (which is west and south of Coleridge) was Coleridge Rd (which is east and north of Coleridge).  I chuckled to myself and said, "we have another mile or so on this road to a stop sign, there we turn right and go about 7-tenths of a mile into the middle of Coleridge to another stop-sign, turn left and go about 7-tenths of a mile and turn right, climb a hill, and about 7-tenths of a mile after the turn make a slight left onto Coleridge."  (I know I used "7-tenths" for each mileage estimate -- they are all within 3-tenths of a mile of being correct, but I'm not going to consult the map or cue sheet to verify.)  Mick's inquiry did drive home something I knew, but sometimes forget:  it is a lot easier to do a long ride when one KNOWS where one is and what is coming.
  • Finally, I'm confident that Phil was glad that I was just behind him at the Lindley Mill / Old Switchboard corner as, until I called out to him, he was intent on missing that turn.
The difficulty of navigation when mentally and /or physically tired made for some banter.  I didn't let the guys know until Monday, a full 36-hours or so after all had gotten off their respective steeds for the last time, that despite all the confident stuff just above, I missed the outbound turn off Ether Rd onto Bandy Rd.  When that happened, I did think, almost immediately, that the road and vista did not seem quite correct (esp. the FLAT didn't seem familiar); so, when I got to Okeeweme Rd (what an interesting name), I used the "phone a friend" option.  Alan answered and told me that I had missed the turn; neither of us were not looking at a map, but we each guessed that I'd gone about an extra mile (it turned out I'd only gone an extra 1-km).  "Phone-a-friend" is one of the approved navigation aids, yes?

I could type about the four of us getting sleepy and wobbling about on the road as we rode into the wee hours, getting closer to the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), but this post is already way past being too long, so I'll cut the rest short.

Mick had battled cramps since the first of the ride.  I had battled cramps between Seagrove outbound and Seagrove inbound , but that problem had abated.  Phil just seemed to be getting stronger as the miles churned away.  I don't know what issues Bob had faced on the day or what he was facing late in the ride -- probably his usual late-in-the-400-near-bonk issues.  As indicated above, we were all sleepy and wobbling about.  Luckily, no one wobbled into anyone else.  (No bull.)

Before reaching the Seagrove 250k control, I had started having intestinal distress.  Kind of funny thinking about that now -- LeeAnne was unexpectedly at the Seagrove control, and explained that her DNF on the pre-ride had been because of intestinal distress.  I did not admit that I was having a similar problem. Cleaning the bike after the mud-pit, putting my rear blinkie back on (thank-you to Jacob for finding it on the mud-pit bridge and returning it to me), and dealing with my wanting-to-cramp right groin were more than enough issues to deal with / mention. 

After reaching Castle Rock Farm Rd inbound, the distress was worse than the sleepiness.  As we approached Frosty's (30-miles to go), I told the other three to go on without me as I needed a nap, which was true.  More true than I realized because my head-on-arm-sitting-at-a-picnic-table nap lasted an hour.  (I wish I had thought to check around the side of Frosty's for a possible port-a-john -- I note that I wish I had thought to do that because THERE IS a port-a-john around the side -- sigh.)

I got back on the bike thinking I'd feel quite refreshed.  However, intestinal distress being intestinal distress ... all I'm going to indicate here is that I now have a third piece of advice:  don't come over ill during the ride.

There are a myriad other things I wanted to type about -- you know I claim not to write (which would include editing) these things.  However, the chain and derailleur and mud-pit and possum took over this post, so this is the end of this story, except for this:
  • thanks to Alan and Dorothy for organizing the ride and for getting the results up so quickly (on the RUSA database less than 9-hours after the last finisher of the brevet-proper -- and I know exactly when the lantern rouge completed his 400-kms); 
  • thanks to PeterN for volunteering at the turn-around; 
  • thanks to LeeAnne and Scott for coming out to Seagrove; 
  • thanks to MikeD, hand still in a cast and all, for volunteering at Siler City; and 
  • thanks to MaryF for volunteering at Snow Camp.  

NCBC Morrisville 400-km Brevet; 250.0 m.; 18h51 in-motion; 13.3 mph; elapsed time:  24h18.
Q-1 tot: _11 rides; __940.3 m; _64h42; 14.5 mph; _1275 RUSA kms. 
Apr tot: __5 rides; __651.5 m; _45h02; 14.5 mph; __911 RUSA kms. 

May tot: __2 rides; __378.2 m; _27h34; 13.7 mph; __601 RUSA kms
YTD tot: _18 rides; _1970.0 m; 137h19; 14.3 mph; _2787 RUSA kms

Place-holding in case I want to add anything later, such as, I wonder if I should get some of the Facebook photos, esp. of the bikes of those that did not find the garden hose at the control in Seagrove to wash off their steeds (and shoes).

Reading the story, I see lots of typos and missing words and grammar errors.  I am not going to correct them so many, so bad, I went back and fixed a lot of things -- I'm confident that there are still errors and incongruities. 


  1. Sorry I couldn't make it for this ride this year. Or, maybe not sorry. Between the mechanical issues, the mud, and the route itself, AND the physical ails, WOW. congratulations on getting through it.

    1. Well, Doctor, you know how it is -- things might be embellished a little for literary effect -- or, the above might be absolutely factual with no embellishment.