Sunday, December 23, 2007

Story - How Not to Prepare for the State TT

When I was a lot younger than I am now, I felt I was totally invulnerable. Sure, I got some road rash now and then, but my overall perspective is that, well, I was invulnerable. I watched racers stack it up on descents, and when I gleefully described such incidents to non-cycling friends, I compared it to driving along a highway at 55 mph, opening your car door, and stepping out onto the pavement. Oh, with just lycra stuff on, and no long sleeve anything.

And I wonder why my friends didn't take up bike racing.

Along these lines, I also felt that I was a master driver. Long before I could drive I'd "practiced" shifting the car while it was parked in the garage, so much so that I flooded the engine and it wouldn't start for a while. After that incident I practiced without actually pushing down the gas pedal. And when I started taking Driver's Ed courses, I thought it perfectly appropriate to have the tires screech through the turns.

The instructor, as you might expect, was not as keen.

When my brother, in school in Chicago, asked me to pick him up the day before the CT State Time Trial, I felt it was perfectly reasonable. I mean, we lived in Connecticut, it wasn't like he was asking me to pick him up in California. I'd drive there, drive back (he'd be tired and I was sure I'd be fine for the drive back), and then, after a short spin, I'd turn in for the night. I'd drive the 2+ hours to the TT the next morning for my 9 or 10 AM start.

No problem.

I realized pretty early on that, well, perhaps I need to leave on Friday, not Saturday. I felt it was a bit tight to drive the whole round trip in one day (plus a couple hours). Because of work (in a bike shop), I couldn't leave until Friday evening. So, being the invulnerable, always awake, master driver person I am, I figured that was fine. I'd drive through the night, pick up my brother, and we'd manage to drive back okay.

And instead of doing the whole round trip in one day, my brilliance earned us an extra 12 hours of driving or so. No problem.

I went through what I learned was a bad patch I have each night, about an hour of pure drowsiness. I slogged on and started feeling a lot better. I flew through New York, made the long trek through Pennsylvania, and got through a lot of Ohio. I checked the time, checked the map.


I was going to make it in something like 12 hours, a couple hours ahead of my budgeted time (I wanted to get to Chicago around 7 or 8 AM, and it was something like 4 or 5 AM). I anxiously awaited the "Welcome to Chicago" sign. Or was it "Welcome to Illinois". Or perhaps Chicago was in Indiana, because the next state line I saw was the one welcoming me to Indiana.

My sleep deprived brain muddled over this one. Chicago, IN? Or is it Chicago, IL? I couldn't focus enough and looking at the map while driving clearly wasn't helping so I pulled over.

There was a state called Indiana between Ohio and Illinois.

Suddenly overwhelmingly exhausted, I lay my seat back and took a nap. I used these "power naps" to study in school and I got really good at sleeping intensely for 15 or 20 minutes, or up to 90 minutes, waking up, and continue studying a textbook for a class I skipped all semester to go ride my bike. I actually timed different sleep lengths after I woke up in the middle of REM sleep and couldn't focus for the next few hours. I learned that if I ever did this (usually sleeping about 2 hours, maybe up to 2:20), I should go back to sleep for 15 minutes and I'd be fine when I woke up again.

If this was truly a nightmare drive, I'd have woken up 12 hours later, but I woke up about an hour and a half later, refreshed and ready to go. I pulled back onto the highway and kept going through this geographically warped state that didn't belong here.

I arrived at the city limits of Chicago at about 6:30 AM and found my brother's dorm by about 7. He had a bunch of errands to do so we walked around and did them. We burned through some of those 12 extra hours but it couldn't be helped. We closed a bank account, we ate breakfast in some church looking place on benches (I felt I was in seminary school), and, finally, after some insane amount of time, we packed the car and started back.

I can't remember if I drove first or not, but I think my brother had told me his finals had been a bit rough and he hadn't slept for about 36 hours. My invulnerability feelings didn't make me quite that reckless so I must have been driving first.

At some point, I'm not sure where, I started hallucinating (if I was sure I was hallucinating, then it really wouldn't be a hallucination right?). Whatever. I was probably driving pretty slow since my body knows me better than I do and it tries to preserve itself from me.

Whatever. Suddenly some enormous yellow and white Bic disposable razor blades started bouncing up and down to the right of the highway. I'm talking 20 or 30 foot high razors, dancing together, perhaps singing.

I looked forward. I know about tired bike racers and hallucinations - I watched the RAAM stuff on TV.

The highway looked normal in front of me, albeit a bit darker, and I figured that my brain had cleared up. No dancing razor blades in front or to the left, just highway, cars, and a lot of green field stuff on the left. So I looked right again.

Dancing razor blades.

The kicker was I actually used these things on my legs sometimes so I knew about these blades. But no other blade I tried, including the really nice one that came with the college freshman "welcome pack" was dancing around. Just these yellow and white disposables.

I quickly repeated my look forward and left bit, looked right. The blades were still there. I started getting a bit worried.

Then, in the hazy image my eyes presented me, I saw cars at the feet of the blades. A few of them, all at parking meters. The gears started churning in my head, the car slowed even more, and I realized what I was seeing.

A drive-in movie screen.

And they were playing the BIC ad before the feature film started.

I felt relieved but very perturbed by my lack of reality perception. If it had been Smokey And The Bandit and I'd seen a car coming at me, well, who knows what I would have done. I shook my brother awake and told him I couldn't drive anymore. We pulled over somewhere and swapped seats.

I promptly passed out.

I woke up suddenly, instantly alert. I looked up and saw a jersey barrier coming straight at us at a rapid clip. I looked left and saw my brother standing on the brake and cranking the wheel to the right. Apparently he'd dozed off and almost slammed into the barriers herding the cars around one of those ubiquitous sections of highway under construction.

I asked if he wanted me to drive, and when he got the panicked look off his face, he agreed. I think this time we pulled off onto an exit ramp and swapped seats. He told me that he'd missed some highway turn and we were heading southeast to Washington DC, not northeast to home sweet home.


I took out a map and found the navigational boo boo. Instead of following I-80, at some point in Ohio he ended up bearing right onto I-76. I recalled that there was an unexpected "exit" to stay on I-80 heading west so the same probably held true for the eastbound side too.

I looked at where we were and noted, of course, that we'd be driving by Trexlertown. I wondered briefly if the track was open, then realized it was quite late on Saturday night and I had a time trial tomorrow. We did drive by the brewery on the highway near T-Town but that's all I saw of it.

I remember nothing of getting home, less of driving to the TT course (luckily I knew where it was). I do remember feeling unquestionably tired when getting ready to warm up, and I briefly fell asleep while leaning against the bike which was against the car.

Nevertheless, I expected to miraculously wake up once my heart started pounding. I headed to the start line, lethargic but somehow still optimistic. I'd done a 1:03 the prior year on this hilly course, but the guy that won beat me by 11 minutes. He passed me, his six minute man, with less than 6 miles to go, and then beating me to the line by an actual 5 minutes over the mainly uphill finishing bit. I was climbing in a 45T chainring sometimes so I really bogged down. My goal this year was to climb those hills in the big ring and, ideally, get a 1:00, but more realistically get a 1:01:30. Since I'd done a TT where I'd ridden at about 28 mph for about 7 miles, I felt a 24 mph hour TT was possible, and a 25 mph would be on the outerlimits of my ability.

I started off on my very tricked out bike - wheel cover in the back with a then-extreme 140 psi 17 mm tire, cow horns, aero bars, 24" front wheel shod with a matching 140 psi 17mm tire, radically fast position. In TTT drills with the UCONN Cycling Team I could easily maintain 31-32 mph on my pulls, but I had to recover after 30 to 45 seconds. I knew this bike was fast.

Of course, it helps if you stay on the road. A couple miles into the time trial, I sort of dozed off or something, my mind wandering a bit, and suddenly I felt this big jolt, followed by a lot of gravelly noises. I'd ridden right off the road and onto some gravel placed beside it. With the tiny tires I slowed quickly and had to unclip, waddle the bike to the road, and get back onto the pedals.

Luckily no one saw this embarrassment and I continued on. Problem with time trials is that you need to focus on maintaining a very high hurt level, so high that a car passing 15 feet away from you feels like you're suddenly drafting a Mack truck. But I couldn't do that, not in my state of mind. I tried to focus on holding a straight line, not riding off the road, not riding into the cars passing me, and not crashing into other racers (also passing me).

Instead of using the big ring up all the climbs, I popped it into the 45T right away, and then cursed myself for mounting a 21T in the back. I wove back and forth up the hills, finally crossing the line in some insanely slow time, a 1:20 or 1:25 or something terrible.

I kept riding to the car, the one that just made it to Chicago and back, and actually accidentally crashed the bike into the car - the Aero Gran Compes don't stop too well. A slow speed bump but a fitting end to such a dismal day.

I crawled into the car and fell asleep. When I woke up there were only a few cars parked on the road. Everyone had left.

Of course, since virtually no one saw me, everyone figured I had a flat or something, because, heck, even with a flat, someone could do the 25 miles in that time.

I learned a few things over those 72 hours spanning the Friday through the Sunday.

First, it's possible to drive to Chicago without stopping, even after a long day of work. You just have to know that Indiana somehow inserted itself between Ohio and Illinois. As a bonus though, Indiana is a short state, not like the longer Ohio and the unending (and speeding ticket happy) Pennsylvania. So it's only an hour or two of driving.

Second, if you're falling asleep before a race, you probably shouldn't race. It took me two races to figure this one out, and this was the first one. I had to give it one more shot before I realized the futility of the gesture.

Third, if you fall asleep during a race, you really ought to pull out. Best to do on a loop race like a criterium, not an out and back race like a time trial. In my case I should have simply turned around and ridden back to the car, but I'd insisted on seeing if my legs would come around and my brain would wake up.

Fourth, if you see gigantic dancing razor blades, check to see if you've somehow gotten a look at a drive-in movie screen. Cars with parking meter things at the foot of such giant dancing razor blades would be a good hint.

If there are no cars, you really, really need to get some sleep.

*Note* It is important to note that fatigue causes the most car accidents out there. I now know that if I'm tired, I simply cannot keep driving. Even a 5 or 10 minute nap will recharge me a bit, and pulling off at a rest stop or an exit (not the shoulder) and taking such a nap is well worth the lost time. My stupidity doesn't mean you need to verify that such stupidity can happen.

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