Hill-Like Objects

Or HLO’s. A term I’m coining right now based on the phrase ‘bike-like object’ used to describe those things with wheels and pedals that you buy in Wal-Mart or Target. HLO’s are what EVERYTHING in Baltimore looks like to me, and that is the gift I received for all my work Saturday at the Civil War Century.

I’ll get the worst out of the way early by saying I bailed when I had the chance at the 65 mile mark and I’m glad I did. I ride these events to push myself farther than I’ve ever gone in a controlled environment. By that litmus test, I got my money’s worth with a nickel change. Anything beyond what I rode yesterday would have been a death march. I’m disappointed that I missed Gettysburg, but I’ll be back next year. Stronger, leaner, better prepared…

The first hill won the prize for being the largest, but its size was diluted by 6.5 miles, so most of its grade was only a few percent with some 10 and 11% steeps thrown in here and there. I would equate this part of the course to 3 or 4 ‘Bellemores’ strung together. Of course, there was the benefit of just starting the ride, and still having my breakfast energy to work from. About 2/3 of the way up the there was a kid on his bmx bike from the neighborhood who was picking a rider and playing ‘pace car’ for the half mile around his house. He reminded me of a very young me, and I had flashbacks to a very similar hill in my own neighborhood that I used to ride. It was around here that I saw some guys on fixies too. I can’t say for sure what the gearing was – probably 40ish by 18 – like it’d matter. If the ascents didn’t get me, the descents would.

Right after the first climb was when my only frustration of the day manifested itself. There were many riders who would drag on the descents (not fixie riders btw), hit the next rolling hill, take 3o seconds to find a gear they liked and then take off. Sometimes I couldn’t pass because they were smack in the middle of the road, and other times I didn’t out of courtesy because I knew they’d be passing me again on the incline. You can get away with that if you and your bike weigh a combined 200 pounds. 260, not so easily. I lost a ton of momentum (p=Mv) on most if not all the hills I came down where I normally would be able to go straight from my big to middle ring and not miss a beat until I was half way up the next incline. They call them rolling hills for a reason.

I made one etiquette mistake. I came to this single-lane bridge and just as I approached a pickup truck with duallies rounded a corner and crested a hill coming the other way. Riding in the city all the time, I squeezed through myself fine, but I so busy reacting that I didn’t yell ‘car up’ and I could hear the jumble of yells 10 car lengths behind me. Half way up the next hill the leader of a pace line yelled CAR UP at the top of his lungs right as he was passing just to scare the bujeezus out of me. Hindsight is 20/20 assmunch.


rest stop 1 (bigger)


Antietam National Cemetary (I think) (bigger)

That was it for photos. Riding sort of owned me on Saturday.

I made one and only one riding mistake. At the first rest stop I ate practically nothing. By the second stop I was really dragging. I pulled in and headed straight for the food and drink. I had to take my time, stretch and walk off the food. Once back on the bike, I realized I cooled down enough to feel the chill and the dampness of the day for 20 minutes until my heart rate was back up to cruising speed again. I didn’t cramp up or anything, but the whole ordeal took too much time and put me behind schedule for the day.

It didn’t take me long to get back in my prime by the beginning of the 4th and what I feel was the toughest climb of the day. It started along a large road with a wide median and went along for a mile (not sure). After a bit it broke off onto a small side road flanked by trees on both sides and just got steeper. 2 miles in and it started to level off a little bit, but the damage was already done as I started to chuckle to myself every time I’d come up on a bend in the road that looked like the crest of the hill only to have the corner reveal another 700-1000 feet of pavement to climb. Every half mile or so I shifted into my middle ring and took a ’standing break’. There’s one image I’ll have in my mind for the rest of my life seeing a line of yellow jerseys dotting the road through the mist on a long stretch of climb ahead of me. I would have taken a picture, but nothing was getting me off the bike half way up that hill short of a heart attack.

On the subject of equipment choices, quite a few people commented on my doing a century in Keen sandals and Grip Kings early on as if it was crazy, but compared to the people I saw struggling with double rings and a 12/27 cassette, I was happy as a clam spinning 80-90rpm in my granny gear. I read an article on pedaling from the arch of the foot rather than the ball (I saw on Riv’s website, surprise surprise…) and have been experimenting all summer long with using the flexibility of the GK’s to pedal from the arch as my staple position and the ball of the foot as an alternate. My legs feel fresher the next day after long rides, but saddle height becomes an issue as I’m effectively changing the length of my pedal stroke when I move my foot back and forth. I’m not finished with clipless, but I’ll be experimenting at adjusting the cleat position on my shoes this winter in the controlled environment of the trainer. The only real setup change I’d like to make on the bike at this point is possibly a set of Nitto Randonneur or Noodle bars. The width feels about right for the stock bar, but I’ve become really fond of holding the bars in the drops when I climb out of the saddle. With my current setup, I’m always hitting the bends at my wrist. It’s a minor inconvenience at worst, but something it would be nice to change. Tire pressure was hi-60’s back, low-60’s front and was a good compromise of comfort and speed. Wool still rules, and the threat of rain helped me choose Smartwool over Smartwool layers again. Like last week, it kept me insulated as long as my heart rate was high enough to generate a little heat.

Between climb 4 and the bailout point was when I had my only Rivendell sighting of the day. An older gentleman on a Rambouillet complimented MY bike as he passed. A real class act, and I returned the compliment. Amazingly enough, I only saw one other Surly all day too. There was a group of kids by the side of the road around mile 60 waving to the riders and holding up kittens. They looked like they were trying to give them away, but I didn’t have anyplace good to stow one for 20 miles. I don’t think they would have liked being stuffed in my Topeak wedge between the spare tubes and multi-tool. When I got to the fork in the road, I was only about 15 minutes past my self-imposed cutoff time, and the decision to bail was a difficult one. On one hand I’d have the glory of finishing and I knew I wasn’t going to be out on the course all alone because I was passing and being passed all day long by riders averaging similar speeds. The 5th and final climb was supposed to be steeper than the 4th, but shorter. In the end I decided that I didn’t want to be rolling into Thurmont after 5:30 when the organizers were rolling up the tents and going home. I wanted my free sandwich, ice cream and 40 minutes to relax before I left.

The only real pain I felt all day was when I was half way home and my left leg started cramping up in the car. It was inevitable that after pedaling for 6.5 hours my body was going to protest the idea of sitting perfectly still for 1.5 hours, but I didn’t want to get a hotel so I just sucked it up. A little massage while driving cleared it up well enough to continue without stopping. I felt pretty good the day after, but given my heart rate average for the day, there are probably a few muscles I could have used more. I held back in pedaling hard to keep from blowing out a knee. My left lower back and triceps were weak links on the top half of my body. Monday morning, and I was ready to get back on the bike for my commute so I feel like I recovered pretty well.

Next year will be here before I know it and I’ll have the chance to try again. My plan includes…

  1. Work on nutrition. In order to more aggressively attack the longer rides, I can’t wait until I start to slow down to get some calories in my system. I had the same problem to a lesser extent last year at the Seagull. This goes against everything I do on a normal day, where I train myself to not eat until I NEED it so I can lose weight. I really hate Gatorade, but I tolerate it because it does help.
  2. Weight loss, hopefully 25 pounds worth.
  3. To help a little more with weight I’m going to try to pack more reasonably. Having 3 bottles (63oz) of water on a ride with rest stops evenly placed 25 miles apart is total overkill. I used the 3rd bottle, but could have just as easily filled up at the first station. I carried padded gloves (which I didn’t use) 2 tubes and a patch kit AND a padlock with a mini cable to lock up if I had to (totally absurd, especially considering that the rest stops were littered with $3000-7000 bikes). I can lose another 5 pounds there pretty easily.
  4. All over strength training. Nothing crazy, but I was doing simple exercises using body weight as resistance last summer and fall. It helps my efficiency when my upper body isn’t flexing all over the place.
  5. Pick up the pace. My on-bike time for the day was an average of 12.4m/h. To ride and finish it the way I want to (stops, photos and conversations all without killing myself while in the saddle) I need to get that average up to at least 13.5m/h. In relation, that means for in-town sub-30 mile rides I should probably be averaging 15-16m/h. I’d like to qualify for the 15-17m/h group rides anyway…
  6. Once I get the weight under control I’ll be able to push the envelope on component selection too. For general road riding, it would help my pace to roll on 30 or 32 tires pumped up a little harder.

That’s about it. Next up, SEAGULL!


2 thoughts on “Hill-Like Objects

  1. It was! Difficult, challenging, enough so at some points to make me wonder why I have hobbies that get me out of bed at quarter to 5 in the morning so I can put myself through 7 hours of athletic abuse… but I can’t describe how much I’m looking forward to trying it again next year! I would have registered already, but they don’t open registration until June or July 🙂

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