I've been experimenting with how to best fuel my rides. I've had bonks or near-bonks during almost every brevet I've ever attempted. They say it's too late to eat or drink if you are already hungry or thirsty, but I find myself in that state at some point in every ride.
The PA Randonneurs Philly-Pagoda-Poconos 600k is a challenging brevet with over 20k feet of climbing. Therefore, I knew time management was going to be essential for my completion of this event. I could be a stronger climber, but if consistent, I could finish a ride like this. I'd packed a bag full of Ensure powdered mix and stuffed my front bag with various bars and gels. Ensure was an excellent fuel for some randonneurs, and I had some success with it on the previous two brevets.
The ride south from the Flint Hill Farm to Philadelphia and north to Reading went fine, as it was the flattest part of the route, much of it spent on the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT). However, as I rode with a couple of fellow riders through Phoenixville, I felt the bonk coming on despite my efforts to eat and drink enough. Admittedly, I may have gotten distracted and forgot to eat and drink when I realized around mile 94 near Pottstown that I'd lost my credit card and only had a few dollars. In addition, the heat may have been a little worse than I thought, leading to some dehydration.
Regardless, as I approached the end of the first 200k while climbing Mt. Penn in Reading to the Pagoda on Duryea Drive, I could feel my legs were sluggish. During the next 30 miles, I struggled to drink or eat, fading quickly. I limped into a Sheets store, sat for 45 minutes in the air conditioning, and forced myself to eat a sandwich and drink a bottle of liquid while pondering whether or not to throw in the towel. Ultimately, I decided to call the RBA and declare my DNF, after which I did a 30-mile soft pedal back to the Flint Hill Farm and nursed my bruised ego.
It was the first time I DNF'd a brevet. In retrospect, it's good to know my limits and, frankly, to get that "first" out of the way. Live and learn. My parting thoughts were that the Ensure drink didn't work for me, and I needed to find another fuel source that was easier to drink (Ensure is more like a warm milkshake than a sports drink) and does a better job of replenishing electrolytes. Further, I was glad I could recognize when enough was enough and not put myself in a dangerous situation. Had I tried to push through this mega-bonk and ride into the night into the Poconos (where services were very sparse), I may have found myself in real trouble. In the end, I want this to be fun. An unstated goal of any ride is to avoid pushing myself to such an extreme that I put myself in a dangerous situation.
Niagara Falls 600k
The Finger Lakes Randonneurs reuses a few routes each year. One of them is a 400k rectangle that I think of as a 200k from Ontario, NY to Niagara Falls via the rolling farmland along the Erie Canal corridor, plus a 200k leg back along the shore of Lake Ontario. Another well-trod 200k is the Women's Rights Loop that (again) starts in Ontario along the lake and dips down to Seneca Falls and back.
I rode each of these routes last year. The Women's Rights Loop didn't strike me as remarkable in many ways, but it's a route the RBA created for riding during all seasons. That's saying something in NY since we can get a lot of snow. Riding in January and February in the ice and snow is NOT my bag, but some like it. My first ride of it was in early spring last year when the landscape was still brown and somewhat bleak.
I also rode the Niagara 400k (as a nighttime start) with some stronger riders from NJ last year. I found myself simultaneously bonking while trying to keep pace with the other riders, who were doing their best to keep their eye on the newbie during the first 200k. On the second 200k, the sun beat down, and I struggled in the high-temperature temperature and humidity. The Niagara 600k was a mix of these two routes, and my memories of them and my recent DNF in PA didn't leave me excited.
Instead of Ensure as my primary fuel, I decided to try a sports drink powder this time. I measured it into preportioned baggies and loaded the front bag with it. As usual, I was near the back of the small pack of riders that started the ride but felt strong during the first 200k. While a mild tailwind aided my average speed, my new sports drink was doing the trick too. I surprised myself by finishing the first third of the ride ahead of schedule.
I arrived at busy Goat Island at Niagara Falls mid-afternoon. The weather was perfect, and tourists crowded the walkways and paths. I spent my time picking my way through the busy paths through the park and at its Welcome Center before heading north along the Niagara River. I stopped for some pizza in Lewiston and then rode with another rider from Ohio for a few miles. Elly and I traded a few stories until a bit after the turn back towards the east near Fort Niagara.
The winds, heat, and humidity this year were not a factor. Fortunately, the bumpy Lake Ontario State Parkway didn't bother me much this year, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I rode solo through the sunset and into the night with more food than needed for this lonely stretch of road. In the dark, I missed the cued-up rest stop at the cemetery on Moscow Road (not a control) and kept pedaling back onto the Parkway. I groggily cycled through Irondequoit north of Rochester, around its bay, and back to Ontario for the end of my first day. I grabbed a quick shower and four hours of sleep before donning fresh shorts and heading back out for the Women's Rights Loop.
The day started with a challenging southern headwind and hotter temperatures than the previous day, which dragged me down until I turned east in Farmington. When I rode this 200k route last year, I rode with my friend Jim in the early spring, but this year, I was solo in the summer and found myself paying more attention to the landscape and enjoying the central NY landscape.
Turning the corner in Seneca Falls to head back north, I enjoyed the tailwind as I went through Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, the heat of the day and misadjusted saddle tension resulted in saddle discomfort early in the day. It wasn't getting any better as the day wore on, so I tried to switch to standing and pushing a bigger gear to give myself a little relief.
The ride ended with some welcome rain after the penultimate control in Wolcott as we headed back west. I had my first flat of the ride just minutes after the rain began, with less than 30 miles to go. The rain stopped as soon as the repair was complete. Elly and I leap-frogged our way back to the end, but I ended up with a second flat a few hundred yards from the end of the ride, so I just walked it in with a little less than 2 hours to spare.