Saturday, October 01, 2011

Pedal For Paws - 2012

For myself and the Missus, Pedal for Paws, a ride to benefit the Forgotten Felines cat shelter in CT, is not quite the undertaking it is for the folks that really run it, SOC and Mrs SOC. Nonetheless it's still something.

It started some time after the Bethel Spring Series, when Carpe Diem Racing took out a permit for a charity ride. With that done the ride became official, at least on paper.

Then it was up to Mr and Mrs SOC to get together the majority of stuff, getting permission from towns, setting up rest stops (and getting permission from landowners there), and refining the 2010 route just a bit.

(Let me pause here because this is basically a 6 month job, getting everything set up, so kudos to them.)

For me, except for some odds and ends, it became more real when we headed down to Bethel a week ago to pick up generators, tables, cones, cables, and some other stuff we needed for the event.

Thursday we gathered some more stuff from inside the house, the laptop for registration, printer, cables for both, some giveaways, the MiFi wireless card, papers, stuff like that. We packed virtually all of it away in the car, along with the stuff we picked up in Bethel.

I also packed my bike, spare wheels, a lot of Expo kit (in case someone needed to borrow jerseys, rain jacket, vest, etc), and clothing for a couple days, including, for the first time, a change of work clothes (I'd drive back to work after the ride). The Missus packed clothing and such too, but no bike for her on this trip.

Friday the Missus left work early to head down to the shore to deal with pre-reg, forms, and to help with all the last minute things the ride needed. I would head down separately, after work; I needed to take the second car because I had to leave right after I finished the ride so I could get back to work by 1 PM.

It helped too that not everything would fit in one car.

Friday night the four of us (the two SOCs, the Missus, and me) had dinner then checked out the course (dropping the two Missus's off when we went by Chez SOC).

I have this theory on charity and other self-guided rides. I don't worry much about finishing a ride - it's just a matter of "keep pedaling". I do get worried about getting lost or missing a turn. I can't think of a worse thing than riding aimlessly in some area you don't know, not knowing where you'll end up, how long it'll be before you see your car, wondering if you'll bonk, hoping you don't get a flat, etc etc etc.

It's horrible.

Of course the "I'm lost" worry builds up. You don't just suddenly freak out and panic, thinking you just got lost. First you have doubts, little creeping doubts.

"Was that road back there the turn?"
"I hope I'm not climbing this hill for nothing."
"I hope I don't have to climb back up this descent."

The doubts grow in strength, multiplying.

"I haven't seen a route arrow in a while."
"The cue sheet said left on East Street from North Street, but I don't even know if I'm on North Street!"
"I haven't seen any other riders for a while now."
"Heck, I haven't even seen a tire track in the sand on the shoulder."

Finally I think I'm totally lost. I stop. I check the cue sheet for clues on where I went wrong. I pull out a map (if I have one).

When I think of things like this I think of this book about Paris-Dakar, about an ad exec and his girlfriend who tries the world's most well known difficult rally ever.

(They're sponsored by Perdue which means "lost" in French, their vehicle - a Mercedes Gendelwagen - had "Fresh Young Chicken" on the sides of it, and the girlfriend was a model/photographer who everyone looked at right after they read "Fresh Young Chicken"... the whole thing didn't seem destined for success.)

Anyway, Paris-Dakar gives route info without maps. Part of the route included going through some wadi in the desert. A wadi typically brings to mind a little chasm in the rock, place where the SAS would hide during the day while running around behind the lines in the Desert War.

The ad exec/rally-racer looked in vain for a particular wadi noted on the route notes, driving back and forth along a vast flatland, an hour or two each way, trying to figure out where this chasm lay.

Well, a wadi is technically a gorge of some kind.

And in this case the chasm was a few hundred kilometers wide.

The ad exec and his girlfriend, in their Perdue/Lost Mercedes, drove back and forth within the wadi.

They didn't make the time cut that evening and they were out of the race.

See? Their Stress-O-Meter was on high for a while, they didn't have any signs, and they ended up lost.

Back in the self-guided ride thing, a lot of times I'll have stopped to check my bearings while still on the route - like the wadi thing, I just didn't know I was supposed to be on this road for 45 minutes of riding.

So SOC came up with this idea of an SDC-Stress-O-Meter, one that starts beeping as the route becomes less sure, hills pop up, and a lot of intersections go by with no reassuring "yep, you're going the right way" signs.

I guess there are a few spots where my Stress-O-Meter starts to register:
1. Any major intersection where I may miss a turn
2. After any turn, in case I turned incorrectly
3. As I start a long-looking descent or ascent, because I don't want to turn around
4. Any time I've been riding for a while, say more than 5 minutes, with no signs

Based on my Stress-O-Meter, along with a reality-check limit of signs (because each one takes time and energy to make, and each one takes time and energy to put up), the SOCs and another guy (Clark) marked the route.

I was coming in, that evening, as the Stress Test.

To make it even more of a test, I'd drive the course, with SOC as my wingman.

The twists and turns that make the ride so fun also made driving fun too, with a worried sounding Mrs SOC (I was driving her car, for the first time in my life), caution me on some of the pending bumps and such. It kind of reminded me of US style rally racing, where the driver isn't supposed to know the route before the race.

Suffice it to say that we never had any "events", and my Stress-O-Meter only protested loudly twice, both times fixed with signs. We found a couple crooked signs, a few missing ones, but otherwise we were good to go.

Saturday morning we got up early enough that it was dark out (how quickly the seasons change!). The Missus had made 4 servings of steel cut oat meal the day before (instead of making 40 servings like last year before we realized in our bleary eyed state that we were reading the cooking chart sideways). With that, some coffee, and a final packing of the car, we headed out.

A few of the Forgotten Felines folks beat us to the start and we quickly unpacked and set up. Quickly because rain would fall in spurts, fizzling out after a few minutes, then starting again.

I set up the generator, computer, and printer, remembering to turn the vent to "On", the choke to "Run", and the eco-throttle to "On". The backup generator stayed in the car, but the gas can (a real easy to use and No-Spill CARB version) hung out nearby.

With registration up and running (and the Missus at the keyboard), I kitted up, met up with the hardy band of raiders for the day (SOC, Rob from Expo, Dennis from Expo, and a local rider Bill).

The ride itself was almost anticlimactic after all the worries and stresses going into making it happen. The weather featured light rain at the start, tapering off into just "gray", and then, miraculously, turning into blue skies with sun. As soon as that happened it went to gray again, but still, it was nice to see the rays finally break through.

SOC in front of me, with Dennis in front of him.
We're on the Causeway so we have to go fast.

We went by a few police cars marshaling a different charity event, a walk. The kind officer at the intersection was pointing one way for the walkers, the other way for the "Paws" people.

Pink... princesses? A different charity event, a walkathon.
In fact there was a third event in the area on the same day.

Dennis's very polite bike - it didn't spit water at you like everyone else's.
Bill in the background.

(Note: fenders help others on wet days.)

I wasn't riding very well, suffering at best, getting shelled at worst. I didn't even contest the early town line sprints (there are probably a dozen on the 50 mile loop), knowing that any efforts now would make me pay later.

I thought of the World Championships, recently won by a certain sprinter. He sat in the whole time, let his teammates do the work, and came through at the end. Any showboating would have just hurt his chances so he did what sprinters should do, hide from the wind until 200 meters to go.

It doesn't mean it was easy, it doesn't mean he just loafed along. I know that I've been under incredible strain in some of my races, just trying to sit in, while my teammates are hammering at the front, keeping things together, chasing things down.

So in my little Walter Mitty world I thought of this ride as something like the Worlds. Okay, like the Worlds but without a field sprint at the end - my goal was to be semi-coherent towards the end of the ride, instead of a zombie like last year.

In fact, somehow, I managed to take all of maybe 30 seconds of pulls in the first 25 miles. Every time I was second in line, steeling myself for a short pull, we'd make a turn, a rider or two would flow by me, and suddenly I'd be at the back again.

At first the sprints were pretty short, just a few pedal strokes as a green town line sign appeared out of the grayness. Later, as the weather got better, the sprints got a bit more heated.

I had the additional handicap of having some idea of the course, i.e. where we'd be climbing, where we'd be stopping at the rest stops. This let me give up a bit easier, knowing the others would have a good reason to stop.

Rest stop #1. Rest stop girl demonstrating Angry Birds to Dennis.
Rob to the left, SOC to the right.

I got shelled once, really hard, on a climbing bit leading to the second stop. Then I got shelled again on a short bridge climb, then finally at the end when I simply gave up.

I did give a couple sprints a go at the end, losing one to SOC, taking a hotly contested one (four jumped for that instead of the usual two). And, I have to admit, the boys let me take two in a row near the beginning, during one of my two pulls.

I thought I heard "sandbagger" when I took one, but you never know :) Seriously, though, I realized that, okay, I'm a Cat 2, at least on paper, and I ought to ride with a little more "oomph", but right now, no, I'm a barely-Cat3 in terms of fitness, more like a Cat 4 or 5.

Towards the end of the ride I pretty much sat up, spent, tired from the ride, the late night, the early morning, and the idea that I still had to drive an hour plus back to work. SOC refused to let me finish the ride alone so he sat up too, shepherding me the final mile or so to the end.

The Missus was there, still at the registration table. Things had gone smoothly, with a day of practice (from last year) and a lighter load of registrants.

Ultimately things went well. I think we had a couple lost riders (their Stress-O-Meters must be a be more finely honed than mine, or maybe they didn't register at all), a decent turn out, and no falls.

And better yet we raised a few thousand dollars for Forgotten Felines. That's what this was all about, so that's what we wanted. In the end, that's what we got.


Anonymous said...

Just want to confirm what you had suspected -- yes, we were quite loudly suggesting that you were a sand bagger after you made the rest of us look like cat 5s when you gobbled up the town line sprint after the last rest area. Either you should have won an Oscar for your performance as a dead person during the day's last break, or someone slipped some EPO into your water bottle while you weren't looking, brining you back to life for that sprint!

Aki said...

I cracked up at that sandbagger comment.

I should have eaten at the first rest stop but I was being stupid and didn't. I started feeling woozy before the second stop (and my 2-3-4 minute tardiness showed it) and ate two sets of bars there.

I was still chewing the last bit of the granola bar at that one sprint, even a few minutes after it, finally spitting the last bit out (I politely went to the back of the group first, not that I wasn't there already).

Then I really hit the wall coming into town. I think I need a Coke or something at the second rest stop, or in my bottle. Something.