Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Trip Summary

Elite Tour 2013 Summary

Rob Welsh

It has been a week since I completed the 2013 PACTour Elite Tour.  After we arrived in Tybee Island on Tuesday, I drove a rental car up to High Point, North Carolina to visit my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter for a few days.  This was absolutely the best way to unwind after an event like this – spending time with an adoring 3 year old who loves to talk and have you play with her.  She seemed to sense my mood too, laying out pillows and suggested nap times for the two of us a couple of times.  Here we are at the zoo:

 My next stop was to see Aunt Minnie, who is 92 and was tracking my Elite Tour blog with the help of her physical therapist at a facility in Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio.   I posted a note to her on this blog letting her know I would be visiting.  This is Aunt Minnie, wearing my bike helmet.

I made a few more stops on the way back to Minnesota to see a biking friend I hadn’t seen for more than 30 years, cousins and an uncle, all great to visit with and talk to and gradually help me to reintegrate into normal life.

This year’s trip was very satisfying and enjoyable and had more of a rhythm to it than the 2010 Elite Tour.  Steve Reed and I talked about how different a second transcontinental ride felt from the first.  Steve did the PACTour Northern Transcon last year.  We agreed that you aren’t as stressed about whether you can make it, you know what the routine is and, generally you are pretty good at keeping yourself in the right place each day as far as food, water and mental attitude is concerned.  While we kept up a good pace most of the time, it wasn’t forced or draining.  We knew what we had to do and took pleasure in spinning through the days.

This didn’t prevent both of us and Clay Griffin, my roommate, from each having a rough day early on.  Crossing the Sonoran desert was very hot, with temps peaking at 109.  On a ‘rest day’ heading into Springerville, AZ,  I didn’t pay attention to my nutrition and hit a low spot pretty hard after a long stretch into the wind.  Fortunately Clay and Steve were there to drag me in through the last couple of rest stops.  Each of them had their own issues earlier that we worked through together so we built a bond of mutual support early on that helped us meld more closely later on.

Will Oberton really got me going in the right direction when he held back from the faster group to ride with me leaving Roswell, NM on Day 8.  I knew I was getting fitter but I still dogged along for most of the day, even with a tail wind.  He had a hard time riding at my slower pace but had a lot of patience.  The last 20 miles into Hereford, TX, though we picked up Jacki and Rick at the ice cream rest stop and Will stepped up the pace to 30 mph.  It was a great way for all of us to finish and helped me realize I was actually getting into better shape.

The next day Clay and Steve joined us, along with Brian for a while and we started to cruise along pretty well, aided by a nice tailwind and a flat, not-much-to-see-out-there route.  Our average was 22 mph for the day as we cruised through Texas and into Oklahoma.

While we were building a comfortable pace group and generally increasing our overall pace, the rest of the tour was going through some changes too.  Nearly all of the fast riders of the first week were slowing down, some of them drastically, as the days, heat, hills, miles and pace wore them out.  On the back end, some of the slower riders were having similar problems and were getting shuttled up to keep up with the overall group. 

A few, including Joe Avoiles, just kept rolling along, completing each day, usually near the back of the group, but still smiling. 

When we got to Oklahoma, our group of five stuck together through the wind and some long flat days.  We worked well together and it was particularly helpful on the long stormy day across Oklahoma, where we had plenty of quartering headwind.  We did a lot of echeloning and that made battling the wind a lot easier and kept our attention too, as the scenery wasn’t special except for the rain clouds and thunderstorms that kept us company that day.

The Talimena Scenic Parkway in eastern Oklahoma was a break from the pace line way of riding, after we had ridden 120 miles that day to get to the start of it.  I have never averaged 10 mph for 5 hours before, nor had I spent so much time in my lowest granny gear, grunting up the long, double digit grades.  It was a beautiful ride, with lots of wonderful vistas, but no one was happier than me to roar down the last hill into Mena, Arkansas and to the hotel.  Will said ‘one and done’ for the Parkway and that was enough for all of us that day.

The next day our group of five came back together for a 180 mile recovery day across Arkansas.  We were pretty mellow (beat up) from the Parkway, but good weather and flatter roads (after 30 miles of Ozark leftover hills) kept at a good pace throughout the day.   The next day, heading into Mississippi, Tom and Jeremiah joined our group and we were now seven riders strong all working together to roll through the delta and across the deep southern states. 

A couple of days later, in Alabama, Lon suggested for safety reasons that we break into two groups.  This worked out really well as Steve, Clay and I (and Brian for part of this) found that we had a similar mentality – keep up a good pace, work together and help each other out.  The other group, with Will, Tom and Jeremiah also did well. They usually rode in front but we were almost always within a few minutes of them at each stop and the hotel. 

There was a cadre of strong solo riders that continued to slog along on their own every day, including Brad Haslam, Wayne Riley, Little John Downham (from the UK), Big John Newton (from Pennsylvania), Nicco Frias and Bruce Boehm, our amazing recumbent rider who got faster and faster as the roads flattened out and was usually waiting for us at the hotel. 

My personal perspective, as you can undoubtedly tell, is that these kinds of rides are a lot easier and more fun in a faster pace line group, if you can do it, but I was surprised at the number of riders that spent a lot of time on their own each day.  This takes a different style of riding, with a lot of personal determination and focus to keep turning the miles, especially when the weather wasn’t the best (i.e. winds).  Overall we were pretty fortunate with favorable winds but had a few long stretches with brisk winds in our faces. 

Clay, Steve and I, with some help from Brian, rolled across Alabama and Georgia together.  Steve Marshall joined us for a few legs in the last day or so.  The roads generally got smoother and flatter so we cruised along at a pretty good pace.

While we didn’t get to meet many local people along the way, Mayor Billy T. of Metter, Georgia took the time to talk to us in the City Park and tell us about his beautiful town.  The local press showed up quickly (I checked and Mayor Billy has been re-elected three times) so pictures were taken and probably showed up in the Metter newspaper later in the week.  I asked Billy if he would pose by my bike and pretend he had been riding it across the country.

The end of the ride seemed to come quickly.  On the last day we were knocking off 20-30 mile legs then we were already at lunch, near Savannah.  We stopped for ice cream at Leonard’s before rolling out to the gathering place just outside of Tybee Island.  It was nice to take a little time before we hit the beach to talk to and congratulate each other before joining in a parade group into town, with lots of cheering and waving, down to the beach for photos and wading in the Atlantic Ocean.  Joe Avoiles made it – good for him. 
Rick Robinson rode with Jacki on many days and on his own – he made every mile too.  
Brett Ellet cramped on day 1, was in an accident a few days later but kept up a good pace every day and completed every mile.  Brett also has the neatest paint job, with inscriptions, on his bike that I have seen. 

Several other riders didn’t ride every mile, but they did well, gaining strength and experience.  Jacki couldn’t ride the last day due to knee problems, except for the last few miles, and she was disappointed about this, but she impressed everyone with her strong riding and undeniable spirit.

Alan had to miss a few days after being clipped by a car, but he was there too. 

Clay’s parents met us at the lunch stop.  They were thrilled to see Clay complete the ride - they have been active cyclists for a long time and are heading to Europe for some barge bicycle touring in a couple of weeks. 

So, the adventure is over again.  It was a great way to get focused and work myself into good shape - watch out if you see me rolling down the road after you this summer!   The PACTour experience was wonderful, as usual – Lon and Susan know how to do this well and they had a great crew.  The best part was riding well and finishing with friends, knowing we had enjoyed many good miles together. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Day 17 - Tybee Island - DONE!

Will, Steve, Clay, Rob at Tybee Island
Today's report is abbreviated as we had a big banquet and are dead tired.  More info and a summary in the next day or so.
What a great ride!  Today we cruised through 143 miles of flat to gentle rolling Georgia roads to reach the Atlantic Ocean on the Tybee Island beach. 
Here are a few pix of the final day.
Alan at the beach - he was clipped by a car a week ago

Clay's parents met us 30 miles from the finish then joined us at lunch

Clay and Rob at the beach

Jacki at the Tybee Sign

Mayor Billy T. in Metter, Georgia

Steve Reed's Family

Ice Cream at Leonard's - great milk shakes

Will at the beach

Monday, May 27, 2013

Special post for Aunt Minnie

Aunt Minnie,

Nancy said you are following this blog and asked me to post a special note to let you know I will be coming by to see you in Ohio in a few days.  I'll call the facility you are staying at to confirm the best time to visit you.

Thanks for following along, I look forward to seeing you soon.


Day 16 - Marching Across Georgia

Another good day!  The first 30 miles were filled with long rollers (grunt!) but after that it was a pretty fast and flat roll to Dublin, Georgia.  The three of us (Clay, Steve, Rob) worked together and were just behind the first group of three riders (Will, Tom, Jeremiah) all day.  At the last rest stop we decided to ride in together (our same group from a few days ago) and had a fast run into town, arriving around 4:40p.  We averaged 19.1 for the day, without pushing too hard (after the hills). 
Everyone else made it in successfully!  There were a number of riders that have been straggling a bit, but they all got in by 7:30p, in time for the ice cream and cake social.  Logistics for tomorrow were reviewed and confirmed.  Tomorrow is Lon and Susan's 30th Anniversary!
All of us are thinking about what life after ET will be like.  Some of us are savoring the last days, knowing it will be great to finish the ride, but will want to get back on and ride some more, after a few days break.  Others may need a few weeks to really appreciate their accomplishment.  This was a tough ride!  The heat and hills in California and Arizona, more hills in New Mexico, thunderstorms and headwinds in Oklahoma, not to mention the Talimena Parkway, and the long days across Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.  It is hard to believe all that went on in the past 16 days - but it will be a special memory for all of us for a long time.

Everyone is tired.  Many riders have sore tushes (big surprise), numb hands, sore shoulders, achy knees, etc., etc..  Several of us have sunburned lips from not getting enough SPF lip balm on in time.  This is bearable until you eat any spicy food or salty chips.

Overall I am doing very well.  I have lost some weight, but it will take several days before the extra fluids wash away.  I am still a ways from what should be my ideal weight, but hopefully I can maintain a reasonable diet and take advantage of the fitness I now have.  Watch out Minnesota Randonneurs and TCBC riding friends, I will be ready to kick butt in a couple of weeks.

When my Brooks saddle broke over a week ago, I was concerned that a replacement saddle wouldn't work as well, but the Selle Ana-tomica that Lon loaned me has been great.  I have had no problems and am actually more comfortable than with the Brooks. 
Everyone is a little brain dead and fatigued by now, but spirits are good.  Tomorrow's ride is 143 miles of pretty flat riding to the coast.  If we get ahead of the time a little bit, we may spend a little time in Savannah before convening at the collection point, a few miles from the finish in Tybee Island to ride in together, jump in the Atlantic Ocean and take a bunch of pictures. 

Thanks to all of you that have been following and commenting on the blog - the notes are appreciated and enjoyed.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Day 15 - Sweet Alabama

Clay, Steve, Rob at the hotel in Eufaula, Alabama
What a nice day!  For the first time in well over a week we had a day with less than 160 miles.  The route today was fairly rolling, with 6,500' of climbing but we still made it in just after 4:00p, our earliest time ever. 
At the pre-ride talk, Lon suggested that it would be a good idea for larger groups (i.e. us) to break up for safety and less congestion on the highway.  Yesterday our large group passed a slower group, but they hung on to the back of our group making it difficult for passing vehicles to get by us. 
Right after the start, Will and I talked and Will, Tom and Jeremiah formed a group and went on ahead.  Steve, Clay, Brian and I made up a second group.  With the kind of terrain today (hilly rollers) smaller groups were much easier to work with and our group did a great job of moving along nicely.  Brian dropped back after a while due to some of the longer hills so the three of us carried on for the rest of the day, with a short stint with Steve Marshall. 
After lunch we stopped at the next rest stop and one of the other (formerly pretty fast) riders waved and went by, skipping the rest stop.  We didn't think too much of it until a few miles later we saw him off in the distance ahead of us.  We didn't say anything to each other, but the three of us all had the same idea - our pace quickened, we hit the hills a little harder and rotated through our pace line quickly.  Within a couple of miles we caught up to him and, of course had to blow by with a wave.  We kept up our vigorous pace to the next rest stop and were amazed at how well we were able to shake off 2,400 miles of riding and really push our pace.  We were able to keep up a decent pace all the way in from there, feeling pretty good, in a semi-intense, doesn't matter to anyone else kind of way.

Pace line thinking.  With our smaller pace line today (three riders for most of the day), we really had a good day and were able to keep the speed and level of effort the way we wanted it pretty well all day.  The larger group worked really well on the longer days, particularly when the wind was in our face. 

The sign of the day - thanks to Steve Marshal for sharing:
So, what happened to the old waitress and cook? 

Jacki, our lone woman rider recovered well enough from her bout with edema to ride today.  She completed the ride and was smiling at the finish so it was a good day:
Jacki at the finish

Our support crew has done a fabulous job looking after us across the country.  They are up before we are, feed us and take care of us during the day as we cycle along, then spend several hours in the evening cleaning up and preparing for the next day.  Here are two of our favorite crew members - thanks, ladies!

Tracey and Deb

Dave Jordan, another crew member, rode with us for a while today (and set a tough pace!).  Later on, Dave had other duties - i.e. cleaning the lunch truck.

Tomorrow is another shorter day (162 miles), with some good sized rollers in the first 70 miles then settling down to some smaller bumps as the day goes on, finishing in Dublin, Georgia, our last state. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 14 - Southern Hills - Mississippi/Alabama

The miles rolled by again today as we continue our trek across the southern states.  Our seven person pace line completed the 195 miles in just under 12 hours, including lunch, several rest stops and a couple of flats.  We passed through many small towns and went up and down for 7,500' of climbing, mostly in little hills, but there were a number of tough grinders.  The weather was excellent - mid 80s, hazy most of the day and only a small breeze.  I am embarrassed to publish our weather as Nancy is reporting from Minnesota that it has been rainy and cold for a week.  The Twin Cities Bicycling Club (TCBC) had their Memorial Day Weekend club ride today but a number of riders cut their routes shorter because of cold weather and wind. 

We got in just before 6p.  The last riders finished up around 8:30p.  The later finishers usually are riding on their own, a lot tougher way to do this tour.  Alan, the rider from Arizona that was clipped by a car a few days ago finished up at dark, as did Joe from North Carolina.

Jacki, our woman rider with edema is hoping to get back on her bike again tomorrow.   Everyone else is healthy, but getting pretty worn out.  The good news is we have completed the last of the super long days.  Tomorrow is a mere 154 miles, although it will be a little hillier, as we stay in Alabama for one more day.

Pace lines are a pretty effective way to cross the country.  We have done really well with our group/pace line.  Starting with Will and I nearly 10 days ago, we added Clay, Steve and Brian.  For the last two days, we have been joined by Tom and Jeremiah.  We all have very different cycling backgrounds but have been able to work together to maintain a good pace every day.  All of the faster riders early in the tour are noticeably slower now.  Our group has a couple of pretty strong riders, but we have been able to keep it fun and consistent.  There is another pace line group, that has finished 1/2 hour behind us for each of the last couple of days.  They are doing well too, but for whatever reason, we are able to maintain a faster overall pace.
Pace lines are not for everyone.  It takes a good amount of focus to pay attention to the rider(s) ahead of you, watch the road and maintain your position in the group.  Going up hills in particular is a good test of group cooperation as we need to find a pace that everyone can handle.  This takes a certain amount of  awareness and patience, but we are getting pretty good at finding the right spin or standing speed to keep the group moving along.  The other thing about pace lines is that you don't get to see a lot of scenery along the way, although we are mostly riding through farm country and small towns so there hasn't been too many natural beauty spots.

There are a number of solo riders that are doing a great job, including Bruce, on his recumbent, John from the UK who is 25 and bombs along at a good clip on his own every day.  Wayne, John Newton and Brad all have managed the whole route so far and are riding well. 

Tomorrow we travel from Camden to Eufaula,  staying in Alabama. We are starting to think about life after Elite Tour.  Our re-entry back into the rest of the world will be a bit of a shock, at least for a day or two.  So far I don't think we have missed anything too critical as far as world events are concerned, but I am sure all of us have families, and some have jobs that are waiting for us to be part of again.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 13 - Mississippi Crossing

Today our regular group of five (Will, Clay, Steve, Brian and myself) started as the first group, joined by Tom and Jerimiah as we rolled through the rest of Arkansas, across the Mississippi River and well into the state of Mississippi for 184 miles of Mississippi delta, some rolling hills and a variety of roads surfaces from glassy smooth to very rough.

Pace lines were the best way to get through this day.  The roads were relatively flat until the last 40 miles.  The seven of us worked really well together, especially over some long stretches when we faced a brisk quartering head wind.  We practiced different echelon techniques, including 2 lateral echelons and a 2 line rotating pattern, both of which helped to take the edge off the wind and let us keep up a decent pace.  We finished at 5:40p well ahead of the next group of riders, averaging close to 18 for the day.

Crossing the Mississippi was cool, over a new bridge. 

Tom heading over the new Mississippi Bridge
In other news, Alan Johnson, who was clipped by a car a few days ago, was able to ride in the parking lot last night and rode part of the route today.  Alan has been one of the slower riders, but has shown a lot of persistence.
Jacki, our lone woman rider, has been cruising along nicely - she is a tough rider and has done really well.  She had to go to the ER room today suffering from edema, swelling of the legs, possibly due to too many salty beverages or endurolytes.  Hopefully she will rejoin us soon.
Most of the riders are still on track to RAAM qualify by riding every mile.  Pretty well everyone is in the groove and we have our bodies and minds trained to the Elite Tour schedule.  We get up 1/2 before breakfast, get everything ready, eat, head out, ride 25-40 miles between rest stops until we are done, then clean up, find a restaurant, get ready for the next day, do a blog or other email catch up and hit the sack.  Four more days and we'll need to figure out how to manage our own lives again. 
Many of the fast riders from the first 10 days are now settling into a much slower, manageable pace.  It is very difficult to ride hard every day, given the difficulty of the course and some of the really hot weather we had in the first week. 
This tour has been very different than the 2010 Elite Tour.  The basics are still the same - finding friends to ride with makes all the difference to enjoying the long hours in the saddle.  Being part of a pace line is definitely a much easier way to get through the flatter or even rolling countryside, especially when the winds are not in our favor.  Overall we have had pretty good luck with the weather (other than the hot weather in the desert and the Oklahoma thunderstorms and potential tornados), so some headwinds on a few days are to be expected.  There are a number of riders that typically ride alone every day, this makes for a long day for them and some tough slogging at times. 
Tomorrow we have our last long day, 195 miles to Camden, Alabama, with more hills again, 6,500' worth.  After that we cruise in to Tybee Island with three shorter days of 140-160 miles.