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Archive for October, 2007

Hilly Hundred 2007, Part II

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

This post covers Sunday’s ride in the 2007 Hilly Hundred. I wrote about Saturday’s ride in this post.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty tired. It was hard forcing myself to wake up — I really wanted to sleep in. Nonetheless, I managed to get moving and got to the start point a little earlier than I had on Saturday. I was still a bit groggy when I arrived at the start point. Two short, steep climbs and a couple of good descents within the first few miles helped wake me up, along with some more beautiful scenery. We passed a cool limestone bridge off to the side and rode on some curvy roads for a while. Large, flat open fields surrounded by hills gave us a great view of the hills around us.

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Riding through open fields. You can see more cyclists in the distance traveling from left to right

The ride to the first SAG stop was fairly easy, with only two short steep hills. The SAG stops were spaced better on Sunday, with the first at the 10 mile mark, lunch at 28 miles and the third stop at around the 39 mile mark.

Even though the first leg of the trip wasn’t very hard, I was ready for the first SAG stop. I was still tired and needed to refuel. Some police officers were directing traffic and stopped cars to let us cross State Road 37. I was thankful that we had people directing traffic because while you can always find a gap to cross 37, with 5,000 riders it’d become a bottleneck.

I was hoping for more donuts at the first SAG stop, but I had no such luck. I ate some muffins and a banana instead. I met a guy at this stop wearing a Bianchi jersey who was also taking some photos and we discussed our techniques for shooting while riding. We lamented the fact that the sections that would make for the best photos are also the ones where we don’t feel like stopping.

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A rider leaves from the first SAG stop
Not long after the first stop, the route became familiar for a while, heading down Old 37 briefly and then turning onto Anderson Road. I have ridden this road many times before, but it looked different today with the leaves changing and the large number of other bicycles on the road.

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A barn on Anderson Road

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Another great barn

We turned onto Beanblossom Road, which has a big climb and takes you into Morgan-Monroe State Forest. I had ridden this road before, but only downhill, so I knew it was a long hill, but I had never climbed it before. There was a sign saying the hill is 2.0 miles with a maximum grade of 17.2%. It actually lets up a couple of times and lets you go downhill slightly on the way up, but it’s almost 2 solid miles of climbing and it starts with a very steep section. There was a lot of congestion during this climb and you could hear people huffing and puffing. Everyone I saw was really struggling with this climb. I saw a guy riding a fantastic Rivendell Romulus on the way up and would have struck up a conversation about his bike but we were both too focused on climbing.

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Approaching the Beanblossom Road climb

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Still approaching the climb. I didn’t get any shots during the climb.

A lot of people, including myself, stopped at the top of this hill to catch our breath. It was possibly the hardest climb of the whole weekend for me. Fortunately, I’m good at hills like this which are for the most part not too steep and you just have to keep spinning until you reach the top. Still, it was pretty difficult. I need to climb this hill more often as a training exercise.

Next we spent a few miles riding through Morgan-Monroe State Forest. It’s an easy ride, flat and gently curving for a few miles. A car got stuck behind the big long line of bikes and didn’t know how to pass us. I waved it past me when it was safe, but then it stayed behind a group of cyclists up ahead for a few minutes, one of them riding a fully loaded touring bike attempting several times to wave the car past. During this time things got a little congested as it wasn’t safe to pass the car and it was holding everyone up. It was funny that the only time I really got held back was when there was a car up ahead. Eventually the guy on the touring bike convinced the car to pass him and it ended up far ahead, no longer holding us back.

I sped up and struck up a conversation with the guy on the loaded touring bike. He had a GPS on his handlebars and was traveling with a friend of his. I complimented him on getting that car to pass and we talked a bit about the ride. I sped up a few minutes later to go at a bit of a faster pace.

The route departed from the roads that are familiar to me and turned north on Old 37. I had never ridden on this part of Old 37 before, but it was fantastic. All that climbing really paid off and we were treated to an incredible descent, gradual at first and then getting steeper and faster, out of the State Forest and toward State Road 37.

Another police officer was directing traffic when we reached 37. We had to wait for a few minutes and then he stopped traffic to let us pass.

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Waiting to cross State Road 37

Once we crossed the highway we had some climbing to do. It wasn’t a huge climb but the miles were starting to add up and people were tired. I sluggishly climbed up the hill, passing many who opted instead to walk it. It wasn’t a huge climb though and once we reached the top we had fantastic views of the surrounding valleys and big hills in the distance.

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View from Turkey Track Road

It was flat for a few minutes and then we had a great descent into a valley. It was steep at first and I picked up a lot of speed and went flying into a twisty part of the road, getting into a good rhythm of leaning into the turns and throwing my weight into them. It was an exhilarating section with all these turns. A few miles later we reached lunch, and I sure was ready for it.

I ate way too much, eating more fried chicken this time but also lots of fruit and vegetables and a few cookies. I knew I was eating too much, probably, and that I’d be sluggish after lunch, but I didn’t care. I was hungry and needed to refuel. I was really amused at the hats worn by the people serving the food and beverages. There was no apple cider at this stop, and I was a little disappointed about that.

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Tons of bananas and apples

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More live music

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Great hats!

I’m pretty sure that the people serving the food, in the chicken hats, were high school students. Whoever came up with theĀ  idea to put a bunch of awkward teenagers in embarrassing chicken hats, my hat is off to them. They were nice but obviously not amused by their hats. I was plenty amused.

After eating way too much, I hit the road again and almost immediately came to a big climb. I could really feel that fried chicken slowing me down now. But I made it to the top and that half-mile climb more than paid for itself, with the next 8 miles or so being mostly downhill.

A rider from Indianapolis struck up a conversation with me as he noticed that our bicycles are almost identical. Mine is a little newer and actually one model up from his, but they are very similar. He said when he first got his the first thing he did was ride into the back of a parked car. Fortunately, the bike shop was able to replace his frame almost for free even though things like running into parked cars aren’t covered under the warranty. He also said he’s a mountain biker and I told him about the Brown County Breakdown and that he should do it the next year. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, but he ended up passing a bunch of people while I stayed back and I didn’t catch up with him later on.

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A rough road

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More power lines

There were small ups and downs that were a lot of fun for a few miles, and then the steepest climb of the entire weekend: Mount Tabor Hill. This is a notorious hill and while it’s only 0.2 miles long, it reaches a 20% grade and then turns and gets steeper, reaching a 23% grade during the turn. I was a bit worried about this hill as it had been described to me as being not quite as steep as Boltinghouse, but longer. I found that not to be true, I think this was both less steep and shorter than Boltinghouse and it was difficult but much more doable than Boltinghouse. Once again other riders became obstacles and everyone had a hard time with this climb. One guy said “to hell with it!” and put a foot down right before the turn. The poor guy didn’t know (and neither did I until a few seconds later) that once you make the turn and go up that very short 23% grade, you’re at the top of the hill.

Finally we enjoyed a blistering descent toward Stinesville. This was particularly fun since the road curves back and forth very sharply during part of it and it’s a good test of your bike-handling skills and your traction. I had a lot of fun with it. The final SAG stop was in Stinesville at the Victor Oolitic Park.

There was another band, and I enjoyed this one the most, I think. One song they played reminded me a bit of T Bone Burnett, whose music I really enjoy. Looking at the information now I think the band was called Blackberry Jam.

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The band at the final SAG stop

Everyone was looking pretty tired at this point, almost 90 miles into the two-day ride and just having climbed a really steep hill. I had another banana and some apple cider and tied my jacket to the rack on my bike since it was getting warm. I didn’t stop for too long, though, as I knew if I did it’d be hard to get rolling again.

Almost immediately after the SAG stop, there was a long hill to climb and I was really feeling sluggish. I spun up it very slowly and then the course turned, taking us straight into a tough headwind for the last 10 miles of the ride. Some riders ahead of me formed a tight paceline and I joined it to help beat the headwind. But the guy in front of me was riding erratically and ultimately I had to drop off the back because of the way he was riding. A few minutes later, I caught up with the paceline, but that took a lot of effort because of that wind and the fact that they were keeping a pretty good pace.

I was relieved when I did catch the paceline because things got a bit easier for a few miles. Things were fairly flat for a bit and while that made the headwind more of a problem, my legs didn’t need a bunch of huge climbs at this point. Finally, around 48 miles into the ride, we hit another big climb, and it was the Watertower Climb from the day before. Frankly I could have done without making this climb twice but of course we had to get back to the start point. It was harder today than it was before, but after that there were only a few much easier hills left.

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We were almost done at this point

I rolled back to the high school around 1:30 pm. I was tired but felt surprisingly good given all the riding I had done — 100 miles in two days, with over 6,000 feet of climbing. It was a fantastic experience and while I normally ride alone, it was great to ride with thousands of other cyclists. The Hilly Hundred was great and I can’t wait to do it again.

Hilly Hundred 2007, Part I

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

The Hilly Hundred was this weekend and I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about it. “The Hilly,” as it’s often called, is a two-day, 100-mile bicycle ride that starts and ends in Ellettsville, Indiana. It’s billed as a touring ride, not a race. This was the first one I’ve done, and I’m overwhelmed by all the things I saw, the hills I climbed (and rode down!) and all the different people I met there. Even though I’m familiar with some of the roads, I saw so much — and at such a faster pace than at the Brown County Breakdown — that I’m having trouble fitting it all back together.

Friday Night – Registration

I had preregistered for The Hilly online, but I still had to register in person once I got there. I figured this would be as simple as giving them my confirmation number and walking away with a map and some other information, but what I didn’t realize was that there’s also a mandatory safety session. This took a lot longer than I expected, and I’m glad that Sarah talked me into doing it Friday night instead of waiting until Saturday morning. We also stopped by the tent where several vendors were selling biking clothes, parts, and even complete bicycles. I got a headband/ear cover thing, a hat, and a Descente Element jacket, all at 50% off retail prices. I almost didn’t buy the jacket, but Sarah talked me into it. It turned out to be awesome, so I’m glad she did.

Saturday – 48 Miles

I was a little unsure what time to arrive on Saturday. The information I was given said that the start time was staggered and went from 8-10:00 am. I needed sleep pretty badly, so I decided to shoot for a 9:00 arrival. I got there a little later than I expected, but it was no problem. I was astounded by how many people were there. I knew that this event had over 5,000 riders registered, but it hadn’t yet occurred to me exactly how huge this thing was. People were directing cars through several lots to one that wasn’t full. There were cars and bikes everywhere, but things were being run very smoothly. I was led right to an available parking spot, all the way there gaping at how many cyclists there were, and all the different kinds of bikes. Mountain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, recumbents, tandems … all present. Expensive bikes, cheap bikes, etc.

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A few people riding by, with others gathered at the start in the distance

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Tons of parked cars

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My bike, all ready to go

I got my bike off the roof rack on my car and got everything ready. One thing that was in the packet of information I got when I registered was a name tag that had my name and hometown on it. I hung this from my saddle so if I took my jacket off it’d still be visible.

Once I was ready, I rode to the start point and rode right through, realizing that the people gathered in the photo above were simply the ones waiting for part of their group. I rode right through and realized immediately that there was a line of bicycle stretching literally as far as the eye could see.

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Riders behind me

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And some ahead of me

It was a beautiful morning and chilly, somewhere around 42 degrees. I was dressed appropriately and pretty comfortable. It was clear that some people were not as well prepared and they were suffering for it. In all fairness, it was tough to plan what to wear because the low was in the low 40s and the high was predicted to be in the upper 60s.

The air was crisp and the leaves were finally starting to change and this made for a great fall morning. The air felt great on my face and while I hadn’t slept well, I quickly felt alert and glad to be outdoors. The sun was still casting long shadows and bathing the landscape in a warm glow. We passed many quaint farms and fields dotted with cattle.

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Beautiful farm scene

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Obligatory corn shot

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A barn in the hills

I learned a lot when we reached the first hill in the course. “Heartbreak Hill” wasn’t terribly steep (11.7% max), or terribly long (0.6 miles), but it was enough of a climb to get my heart pumping a bit. As soon as the climb started, many riders dismounted their bicycles to walk the hill. Many others struggled valiantly against a hill that quite simply kicked their ass. Some barely made it and there were a few who had little trouble with it at all. Others made it, but stopped as soon as they got to the top to catch their breath.

Myself, I had little trouble with this hill other than trying to get around the congestion that occurs when hundreds of riders in various states of fitness try to climb a hill at the same time. I learned from this experience and moved to the left before climbing most of the other hills so that I could pass those slower than me, while still leaving room to my left for faster riders to pass me. On most of the climbs, the faster riders would end up in the left (“wrong”) lane passing slower ones on the right with those stopped or walking all the way to the right. People didn’t always get over when they should have, but for the most part, they did.

The first ten miles were surprisingly flat, with only two more notable hills. Similar congestion occurred at these hills but my tactics worked well. I made sure to give people plenty of room, and to give myself enough room to get around them. We passed by the towns of Whitehall and Hendricksville before reaching the first SAG stop at about the 12 mile mark.

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Arriving at SAG Stop #1

I didn’t really feel I needed to stop yet, but I did anyway. I was glad I did as I was greeted with some fun music that sounded like some kind of German folk music. It was highly entertaining and some children were dancing in front of the band. There were a lot of refreshments including apples, bananas, water, apple cider, donuts, muffins, and probably other things. I ate a banana and against my better judgment, a donut. I was worried it might slow me down, but I didn’t have any trouble with that. I had to wait a few minutes to use a Port-O-Let but it was worth it.

After a few minutes, I started riding again and I really felt I was riding well. The first ten miles were good, but I felt refreshed after the SAG stop, had a lot more energy than I expected and rode very well. There was a little bit of a headwind but it didn’t even bother me, and I felt surprisingly strong when climbing. The air was electric as everyone was having such a great time and I’m sure that contributed to my own state of mind.

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Another great barn

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Climbing one of the easier hills

I got some interesting comments as people saw me shooting while climbing this hill. It wasn’t one of the harder hills, but it was tricky riding and shooting at the same time. I wouldn’t have done it if I felt it was unsafe. During one of the less steep parts, I just put my bike in a low gear and continued spinning up the hill while taking a couple of photos.

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Some riders climbing behind me

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Bikes behind me stretching as far as the eye can see

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Hilly, windy road past a power plant

We rode along the top of a ridge for a while, enjoying some gorgeous views of the scenery below us and in the distance.

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Great view from the road

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Power lines near a barn and a pond

Somewhere along the way was the Three Sisters Hill which was more like three hills to climb, with 1.5 miles of climbing and a maximum grade of 14.2%. This was one of Saturday’s tougher hills and while I did a good job, it took a lot out of me. I heard a lot of cursing during this section; many people walked their bikes, and those who were moving weren’t moving quickly at all, myself included. But we persevered and people encouraged each other on the way up. It was great to see people cheering their fellow riders on and encouraging each other to conquer these hills. We passed through Solsberry and Newark.

It wasn’t long (only about 12 miles or so from the first SAG stop) before I found myself at lunch. This was about the halfway point of Saturday’s ride, which was going by surprisingly quickly. There was more live music, this time it was Craig and the Crawdads, with one guy (presumably Craig) proclaiming, “To boogie or not to boogie, that is the question!” The food was good; I had some pasta salad, fried chicken, vegetables, cookies, fruit, and even an ice cream sandwich. More delicious apple cider was provided, and I drank copious amounts of it. I found the fried chicken a little heavy and hard to eat, but there were plenty of other great options. There was also a repairs tent, which I fortunately didn’t need.

Curiously missing from all the SAG stops was Gatorade. They had water, apple cider and pink lemonade but I had sort of assumed they’d have Gatorade. I had some in my second water bottle but I was counting on refilling it there. I made it last all day though and supplemented it with some gels I had brought. I don’t really care for them but I needed to replace some electrolytes and they are great for that purpose.

I ate too much at lunch and felt pretty full, but I was glad I took my time, and I found I really enjoyed stopping frequently to eat along the ride. The SAG stops seemed to me to be a little closer together than necessary, but it made for a nice easy ride and I could always skip one if I felt like it. I never felt the need to skip one altogether, but I spent more time at some stops than others.

So, I got back on my bike feeling a little full and a little sluggish because of it, but refreshed from the stop. But the lunch stop was at the top of a climb and that meant I started my post-lunch riding with a fantastic descent. I had to watch my speed a little more carefully than usual due to all the other riders but still had a good time with it, passing many and dodging potholes on the rough road actually became a lot of fun.

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Trying to get moving again after lunch

At some point along the way I met another guy with the same name as me, and we cracked some jokes about the post office switching our mail. He was riding his 15th Hilly Hundred or something like that and was riding with his daughter. They seemed to be having a great time and I talked to him for a few minutes before excusing myself to pick up the pace a bit. I also met a guy from Evanston, IL and talked to him since I went to Northwestern, which is in Evanston. He said he’s an executive recruiter there. Our conversation didn’t last long because he’s not used to hills and was really struggling to catch his breath. I wished him a good ride and continued on my way.

We passed through New Hope, and I reached the third SAG stop pretty quickly as it was only at about the 32 mile mark. I didn’t spend much time there, thinking there’d be another stop at about the 40 mile mark. As it turned out, that was the last stop of the day. I didn’t really need anything anyway though and just drank some more cider and ate another banana and took a few photos before moving on.

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SAG Stop #3

There were two notable hills after the third SAG stop. The first was Cemetery Hill which was comparable to Heartbreak Hill near the beginning, but it was a lot more difficult because the pavement had been scored during some construction but never repaired, and the road also curved as it climbed. The second was Water Tower Hill, which was steep and curved for the first half mile or so and the grade lessened and the road straightened out, but it continued climbing for about another mile. This was especially tough because we had already ridden over 40 miles at this point. The climb paid off with a fun downhill run and the course was mostly flat back to the start point after that.

I really felt pretty good after the first day. I definitely could have ridden more — although I knew I’d be tired on Sunday. We really lucked out with some great weather and a great group of people riding. The forecast looked great for Sunday, too, and I was really looking forward to Sunday’s ride.

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Approaching Watertower Hill (I think)

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Another great barn

Mist

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

I woke up this morning to find that it was raining. I had seen rain in the forecast the night before and prepared my old mountain bike for commuting, so I rode to work despite the conditions — or perhaps in part because of them.

By the time I started riding, the rain had subsided. I rode through the dark hazy morning, a constant cool mist falling gently on my face, and on the streets still shiny and wet from the earlier rain. It would have been easy to drive to work today because of the weather, but I was glad I rode instead. I especially needed this ride to clear my mind a bit after a stressful day yesterday.

The leaves are really changing now and there were quite a few of them on the bike path. They looked particularly colorful soaked in rain. The mood was one of quiet elegance, the subdued beauty in sharp contrast with the brighter summery colors we were seeing even just last week. I had a great ride in to work and got some strange looks as I walked in, clearly questioning my sanity for riding in conditions such as these. I questioned the saneness of riding to work too, when I would have much preferred to ride home, get Sarah and her bike and ride to a lake, staring out at the fog hovering over the water and letting the refreshing mist fall on our faces while we contemplate what might be on the other side.

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