Sunday, September 13, 2009

Highlander 2009 Ride Report

Tenth Anniversary of the Highlander Cycle Tour, and my 5th year, running. Two big changes this year from the past four. First, a new route, second, I was joined by three riders from the Early Birds group who also made the journey to the Finger Lakes to check out the ride. Thanks to Percy, John, and Marco for making the trip up.

Here's a short summary of the road trip:

Friday, 9/11/2009
3:30 PM - Marco arrives at my house and we load up the minivan for the drive up to Corning, our "base of operations" for the weekend. We head off into the rush hour traffic under gray skies and intermittent rain.

9:10 PM - Long ride up to Corning, lots of traffic until we got to Rt. 17, then some heavy rain, on and off. In Corning, we met up with Percy and John to sort out the plans for Saturday morning. Group decided to start a bit later than the 7:00 AM suggested start time. Thinking more like 7:30 AM.

Saturday, 9/12/2009
5:00 AM - Alarm sounds and we get up and get our gear together for the ride. Checking the weather report, it looks like 60% change of rain and cool, mid 60's. So, base layers, long sleeves, shoe covers are pulled on. We meet in the Days Inn lobby at 6:00 AM for complimentary breakfast. Finally on the way by 6:30 AM or so.

8:20 AM - Finally getting started on the ride! Cloudy, misty, and wet, we roll out of the Bristol Mountain lot. Later start than planned, just seemed to take a little longer to get bikes together and additional prep for the wet weather. After a few miles of gradual uphill, we hit long, steep Gannet Hill. We all got warmed up in a hurry on that one!

9:20 AM ??? - Just about an hour in, first flat of the day, Percy's rear wheel. He's running the new tubeless rims and tires and starts the repair by filling the tire with sealant. The foam starts leaking out and we start to think the gash in his tire might be too big for the sealant to be effective. I eventually holds and we proceed. It seems the likely culprit for the flat is some new chipseal put down just about a week before the ride. Its nasty stuff to ride in, and a bit dangerous on the downhill sections. Despite the difficulty, I think we're all appreciating the EXTREMELY challenging course and the rural setting (at least as much as we can see of it through the heavy mist).

10:20 AM - We haven't seen Marco for a while as he was up the road while we were working on Percy's flat. Caught up with him at a rest stop, which, unfortunately, was nearly out of food. Luckily there were some bananas and fig newtons left! Only 30 miles covered in the first two hours, but we attributed it to the long steep climbs and the flat. Finally, the repair seems to be holding.

11:00 AM ??? - More fresh chipseal and the 2nd flat of the day, Marco's front tire. A good size cut in the rubber, but the casing is still in good shape, so a new quick change of the tube and we're off again. We're now in a good rhythm of tackling the steady diet of climbing and descending. Taking the decents a bit easy on the damp roads, we're still hitting 40+ MPH in many cases.

12:20 PM - Rolling down a steep descent into the rest stop at mile 50, I can't believe my eyes that its taken 4 hours so far! Wondering it we'll finish by 5:00 PM in time for the post ride meal.

2:00 PM - A good section from mile 50 to 73, we pull in to the next rest stop. We've ticked off the miles at a little better pace and getting some confidence back. You know the group is working well together when there is minimal communication needed to keep things rolling smoothly. Only 32 miles to go, should be done around 4:00 PM or so. Some favorable winds, actually a few miles of pacelines. We seem to be riding mostly as two pairs, Percy and Marco up ahead, John and I a little behind, Catching up after long climbs and rest stops.

2:10 PM - A mile or so out of the rest stop, its my turn. Just starting climb, I stand on the pedals and feel my front tire go squirrely. John and Marco continue on to the top and Percy gives me a hand with the repair. I find a sharp stone that I have to push out from the inside of the tire. New tube, a blast of CO2, and I'm good to go. The three guys have started off and I need to struggle a bit to catch on. Just getting up to John and my chain starts ghost shifting in the rear. I need to stop and twist the barrel adjuster. John waits for me but now we've lost contact with Percy and Marco.

2:40 PM ??? - John's turn for a flat, again in the middle of a long, steep climb. We're noticing people repairing flats every couple of miles now. The wet roads are just eating up tubes! We get it repaired and grind up the climb. Between the four of us, we've no doubt spent at least one hour fixing flats today.

3:30 PM - John and I meet up with Percy and Marco who have waited for us at the last rest stop, about 15 miles to go. Overhearing others at the rest stop, it seems like half the riders have had a flat today. Our group is batting 1000! Now we're just hoping to make it in by 5:00 PM, and I know from prior rides, we will be facing a HUGE test at mile 100: Bopple Hill. Supposedly 23% grade at some point (Percy's GPS measured 19%, close enough).

4:45 PM - A long steep ascent of Miller Hill Rd., Percy and Marco gradually pull a little ahead of John and I. Mist has finally cleared and we get a nice view of Canandaigua Lake as we ride along its shore. The odometer just ticks over 100 miles, we turn right, and face a wall, Bopple. I drop to my lowest granny gear, 30x26 and start grinding. John doesn't have the low gearing and drops back a bit. As I get to the steepest part, I get up on the pedals and the few remaining bystanders clap and give shouts of encouragement, "Allez!", "Good Job!", "You can do it!" Below my tires are the names of all the Highlander registrants painted on the road (I see two Mitchell's, wonder which one was me). I pass one guy who is forced to walk his bike up, still gettin encouragement from the few people left at the side of the road. Finally cranking up past the cemetary at the top of the hill (too late for the bagpipes this year), Percy and Marco are waiting, Percy taking a few photos. I join them and John follows a minute or two later.

5:00 PM - Mostly downhill the rest of the way back to Bristol Mountain, we've done the full 105-mile route, 10,000 ft. of climbing. Elapsed time 8 1/2 hours! No idea of the actual ride time. A long, exhausting, wet day, but an incredible feeling to have done it! I ride all the way up to the lodge, park by bike and pickup my "goody" bag containing a bottle of wine, ride t-shirt, etc. They are still serving food so the four of us sit outside replacing calories and reliving the ride in all its dramatic glory. I get a grape pie to take home and wet slowly start packing up for the drive back to Corning. It takes a while, we're cold, wet, and tired.

9:00 PM - Having a beer and dinner at the Gaffer on Market street in Corning. The dining room is full so we're eating in the bar. Its crowded and the music is loud, so we're sort of a quiet bunch. We inhale our dinners but still have some room for coffee and dessert at the Soulful Cup coffee shop across the street. There is an acoustic guitar player there and just us and another small group in the place. We discuss plans for a short ride tomorrow morning before heading back to Long Island, then walk back to the motel, taking in a picturesque view of the Chemung River at night from the bridge.


Sunday, 9/13/2009
7:30 AM - Quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, then out to put the bikes together for a quick blast to the top of Harris Hill. We need to be back before 10:00 AM to get showered and checked out by 11:00 AM.

8:00 AM - On the road! I lead most of the way through the town of Corning out to Harris Hill since I'm the one who knows the way. Great weather today! A little morning mist has dissipated by the type we start climbing. Our legs aren't all the fresh but this is the only climb of the day. We regroup at the top and take a few photos, the bomb back down the other side of the hill and get a fast paceline going back to Corning. We make it in plenty of time.

PYZAHLS BLOG (with photos!)

11:00 AM - Stop at Wegmans for sanwiches for the ride home, top-off on fuel for our cars get on Rt. 17 for the long drive back.

Its been a memorable weekend and I'm glad Percy, John, and Marco made it up for the ride. I think the ride presented the challenge we had all hoped for. Flats and wet weather were part of the equation, but in retrospect just make the accomplishment sweeter. This kind of sums it up: we're already talking about NEXT time!

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