Preparing for RAAM - Weekend Training Ride 2

The weekend of April 21st, my team supported me cycling 515 miles in 60 hours ascending 40,000 feet in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That is the equivalent of 7.5 miles of uphill climbing. Imagine climbing the stairs of the newly constructed World Trade Center – 22 times.  The purpose of the 3 day weekend ride was simple: stress my body to the limit, with very little rest between each of the days.  I got the sensation of what it feels like riding back to back with minimal sleep.  I have to put this stress on my body and mind to have the confidence for the start of RAAM on June 13th.  Living in the Northern Virginia area I have a huge home court advantage, once I pedaled the 70 miles to Emmitsburg, MD I was on the actual RAAM race course. On Day 1 I cycled to McHenry MD passing through Rouzerville, Hancock and Cumberland MD, the most dreaded portion of RAAM.  We cycled it in reverse on day 1 and in the same direction as the race on day 3.   In 2012 we crushed the Appalachian Mountains. Hills are my strong point, and we succeeded in passing several younger competitors in RAAM 2012 in the mountains maintaining the same speed as the first day of the race!

Our crew of 3 veteran team members supporting me this weekend - Steve Gurney, Joe Knill, Brian Daum and our newest team member, Matt Hersh.  Matt is joining our official RAAM team in June, supporting us with his massage therapy skills. Through out the ride this weekend, Earth Networks was providing my crew and I, with real time weather data, as well we brought a GPS Locator called ‘Spot Connect’ that provided my location.

On Friday April 21st, at 4:30 am I left my home in Reston, VA heading to Deep Creek MD., leaving with just enough fuel to make it to Hancock MD, with one water stop in Frederick, MD. At lunchtime my team met me in Hancock, and my friend and crew mate Steve Gurney joined me for a 60 mile portion of the ride. The first day we covered 220 miles without any rest stops and climbed 17,000 vertical feet - my 3rd most challenging uphill day on a bike, EVER!  I did take an unplanned break as one of my bikes - the battery that operates that digital shifters broke. Thankfully a stop into the bike shop Cumberland Trail Connection in Cumberland, MD and a repair, we were back on our way as the sun set at 7:00 pm.  We dodged raindrops and surrounding storms all day feeling very fortunate with the weather on Friday.  Our team arrived in Deep Creek, MD around 12 am, and shuttled us over to Brian Daum’s family vacation home abutting the lake for the evening, where we ate some lasagna and a cold beer. Matt gave me an hour long massage at 1:00 am.  I slept through most of it.  I woke up at 3:30 am sleeping about 2 1/2 hours, got dressed, and jumped on my bike, which was carefully cleaned, batteries charged, tires inflated and thoroughly set up by my crew before they went to sleep around 2:30 am.

Saturday April 22nd, was a short day, pedaling only 90 miles - 7,000 ft vertical. The day started around 4 am, at that time there was only a light drizzle amongst the rolling hills. About 12 miles in, the rain started to pour, along with the huge descents - 3,000 ft drop to West Virginia and switchback hills. A lot of up and down climbing 3,000 feet up and then back down. The temperature was around 40 degrees but with the rain it felt like the 30s.  By 8 am I was completely soaked and at 10:00 am I arrived at a laundromat in Grafton VA to dry my gear. I understand how homeless people get their laundry done….in shifts.  First to enter the commercial dryer were the soaking wet rain pants, jacket, socks and gloves.  Once dry I changed clothes and dried my bike shorts and jersey, wearing my outer rain gear. My crew met up with me around 11 am. Handing over about 10 pounds of extra gear (batteries, lights, spare tubes, extra fuel & water needed to cycle solo) that I was carrying with me in the morning. I started back on Route 50 in West Virginia.  The rain increased in intensity and there was a lot of debris on the shoulder that I needed to dodge through rain soaked glasses. With the heavy rain and falling temperatures and foggy glasses, it was simply not worth the risk of continuing.  Since this was a “training ride” and not the race, the math is really simple:  Don’t risk a crash, or pneumonia in less than optimal conditions.  Besides, tomorrow (Sunday) was a long journey with the most challenging part of the ride yet to come.  The rain forced me to take a longer break than I wanted or needed, calling it quits at 2:00 pm.  We arrived home at 4:30pm and after a quick shower and some massage work by Matt on my quads and neck, we headed to an early dinner at the Mountain State Brewing Company adjacent to the WISP ski resort 15 minutes away. After dinner and a 3 hour nap I awoke at 11:00 pm and got dressed.

Most people’s version of a good time on a Saturday night in McHenry MD involved cold beer, country music and talks about fishing, trucks and sports.  My Saturday night fun started at 11:30 pm back on the road heading to Frostburg, then Cumberland, MD.  During training I rarely ride before 3:30 am avoiding the risks of encountering drivers heading home from the bars. Rural Maryland was very quiet, the skies were clear and filled with stars and I arrived in Cumberland around 5:30 am, where I stocked up with water at a Sheetz gas station before departing for Hancock where my crew would meet me at 9:00 am. I blew a tire at 6 am in Cumberland, which I quickly changed under a street light. That flat was the only mechanical issue for the day. The weather became increasingly pleasant once the sun rose. I cycled about 9 1/2 hours on the bike without support from my crew, as I wanted to ensure that my crew got some needed rest.  The good news is the crew got their rest, the bad news is that without a crew following me, I had to haul an additional 10 pounds on my bike - extra batteries, water bottles etc., as I need to be self sufficient.  For the first 100 miles I was traveling about 10-20% slower because of the extra weight.  This proves how important having a crew nearby is to support a cyclist. They “speed you up” since they minimize the weight you carry.   Having 10 lbs. of weight off your bike really makes a difference. When I left in the morning it was only 27 chilly degrees at Deep Creek Lake but the weather turned beautiful heating up to well over 75 degrees by late afternoon.  I wore these white arm bands that reflect the sun from a Boulder, CO based company called RecoFit.  Sunday’s ride became fun once I arrived in Emmitsburg, MD in mid afternoon.  The terrain was mostly flat or rolling hills, a welcome relief from the past 2 days, biking uphill or downhill from 8% to 16% grade. We called it quits at 5:00 pm at White’s Ferry, MD.  After catching the 5 min ferry across the Potomac river we packed up, quickly changed clothes and stopped in Leesburg for some cold beers and potato chips.  I discovered that my bike helmet, when properly lined with a thick layer of paper towels serves as a fine basket for chips on the 30 minute drive home.

A big thanks to my crew over the weekend (Steve, Joe, Brian and Matt), and to Brandon Snow for making enough feed zone rice cakes to last me 5 RAAM races, and to Earth Networks for providing weather data every few hours.  On May 18th I will start my last weekend practice ride in the Colorado Mountains, before the start of RAAM on June 13th.