Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Alpharetta Century


Saturday November 1st I participated in the first annual Alpharetta Century bike ride. The ride began and ended in downtown Alpharetta, GA. The route headed north through the back roads of Alpharetta, Cumming and Dawsonville. Many of the roads I traversed I did for the first time. When you venture off the highways you see a very different Georgia from what you usually see. Gone are the strip malls, and fast food restaurants. Instead you see farms, horses, rolling hills, and spectacular views. This was a charity event. All proceeds went to benefit the GA Transplant Foundation.

The signature portion of the ride occurred at mile 48. Here you began the 6 mile, 1400 foot climb up Burnt Mountain. After reaching the top and enjoying a well earned snack you follow the directions on the sign above and head back down the mountain.

Below is my GPS track file from the ride. Click on the "+" and "-" buttons to zoom in and out. Clicking on the "Hybrid" or "Satellite"buttons to overlay satellite photos of the terrain. Clicking and holding the left mouse button while the pointer is on the map, allows you to drag the map. Clicking on the title "2008 Alpharetta Century" takes you to the Bikely.com website where you can view this track on a full screen as well as get the cue sheet, elevation profile, and more features.


This was my first century ride without my riding partner and best friend Jim. This was also the lightest attended organized ride that I have done. The New York City Century in September had five to six thousand riders. The 2007 Seagull Century and the 2005 Tour of Hope also had thousands of cyclists. This ride only had about 400 riders, with half doing the full century and the other half doing rides of shorter distances. In heavier attendant rides, your usually are always in a group of cyclist. Not this day. The majority of century riders were fast, hard core, experienced cyclists. In the first 20 miles I got passed far more than I passed other people. I have read that a rider will exert 20% less energy riding in the peloton compared with riding alone without any drafting help. After my first rest stop where English century riders went one direction, and metric century riders went the other direction, I wouldn't do much drafting. There would be a lot of solo riding ahead of me.

The ride began promptly at 8 AM at the Milton Center in Alpharetta. It was a crisp fall morning, with temperatures in the high 30s. Temperatures would warm quickly after sunrise. Highs were forecast to be in the low 70s with a crystal clear blue sky.

I knew going in that this would be a long day. I wanted to ride as much in the cool morning temperatures as possible. Usually I stop at all of the organized rest stops. I intentionally passed on the first stop at mile 16. I road non-stop for 33 miles to the second rest stop. I pulled in at 10:40 AM to the sounds of gun fire! The ride organizers had set up shop in the parking lot of an outdoor shooting range. I ducked and dodged my way to the Porto-let just like a virtual soldier in "Call of Duty 4".

It was at this rest stop that I learned a neat trick that I'll use on future cycling events. I was wearing my favorite Pearl Izumi cycling jacket. It is light weight, warm, yet breathable, with a lot of really cool zippered pockets. It's also expensive. The problem was it was now too warm to wear a jacket, and I had no place to put it. My Trek 720 hybrid is equipped with a rear tire rack and cycling bag. When I ride that bike, I just take off my jacket and stuff it in the bag. But on this ride I wasn't riding my heavy, wide-tire hybrid bike. I was riding my light, skinny-tire Trek Pilot 5.0 road bike. There was no place to store my jacket. I had no choice but to tie it around my waste, and deal with it for the next 70 miles. I met a guy at the rest stop who was wearing a new $5 sweatshirt from Walmart. When he was ready to get back on the road, he just removed the sweatshirt and left it behind. Great idea!

It was high noon when I arrived at the base of Burnt Mountain. I could see the beginning of a very steep climb in front of me. I peddled past the Steve Tate Highway on my left. This was the road back to Alpharetta. The thought entered my mind to just skip the mountain and start heading back home. The organizers made it very easy to skip. The route has you climb the mountain, but you don't descend on the other side. Once you reach the top, you just turn around and head back down to the base the same way you came up. Never one to avoid a challenge, I pressed on.

This was the hardest climb I have ever done. Burnt Mountain would be an extremely challenging road on it's own, let alone prefacing it with 48 miles of foothills. I usually don't have too much trouble with hills. My usual mode of operation is to find the right gear for the slope, settle in the seat and get into a comfortable, methodical cadence. Rarely do I ever feel the need to get out of the saddle and stand on the pedals and pump. I did this day. My Trek Pilot 5.0 has 27 gear combinations. For most of the 6 miles I was in my lowest gear setting and it wasn't comfortable. There were multiple segments of the climb where I had to stand and pump. My legs were burning, my heart was at a very high rate, and I was breathing very hard. I am not embarrassed to say that I had to briefly stop twice to catch my breath. The road did take pity on us cyclists briefly. In two places it leveled off. Each time the reprieve was short lived. In a matter of minutes I was back in Crank #1, Rear Gear #1. I climbing the mountain with one eye on the road, and the other eye on my GPS display which was counting down the distance to the top.

It took me 40 minutes to ride the 6 miles up Burnt Mountain. It took me under 10 minutes to ride down. I captured the descent on my Oregon Scientific video camera which I had mounted to my handle bar. In order to meet the 10 minute, 100 mb restrictions of YouTube, I've broken the video into two parts. Below is Part 1,



and Part 2:



The return ride to Alpharetta was challenging. It was now warmer. The cumulative effect of the miles and the mountain were taking it's toll. The body began to develop aches and pains. Fatigue and dehydration were becoming factors. Even with constantly drinking sports beverages and eating carbohydrate rich food, you never can fully recapture all the nutrients that you burn. As the ride progressed, it became more of an effort to eat. I ate so many Cliff Bars on this ride I could careless if I ever had another.

I have seen first hand, as well as read on the Internet that a number of people got lost on the course. This ride was held solely on public roads that were also open to traffic. Everyone who checked in at the start received a cue sheet that provided step-by-step turn directions for the entire route. The organizers also painted arrows in the road along the course where there was a change of direction. At some intersections there also were signs posted. The organizers made it clear that it was each riders responsibility to stay on course. I agree, however with that said, the organizers could have made it easier. Given the high number of turns, it's highly likely that one will get missed. Once you are off course, the cue sheet becomes worthless. More signs would have helped.

The more tired I become, the easier it is for me to miss a turn marker. I did get lost briefly on the way back. Thanks to my GPS, I caught the mistake after just a 1/2 mile. Along with a street map, my GPS displays the route and the distance to the next waypoint. The information is updated continuously in real time. After I missed the turn, soon I noticed that the distance to the next waypoint was not decreasing, but increasing. I immediately stopped and investigated further. As I was coming to the conclusion that I made a mistake, another rider passed me. I yelled to him, "Hey, I think we missed a turn back there."

Slowing down ever so slightly, he responded, "No, I don't think so, there are other people right behind us." Before I could respond, he was around the corner, and I never saw him again. I doubled back the half mile, and was back on course.

With about 15 miles to go, I stumbled upon another rider who had lost his way. He told me that he set out to ride the metric century (62 miles), but he had already done 95 miles! He said that he was lost, had bad cramps, and was looking for the next rest stop so he could bail and get a ride back to his car. I gave him the bad news that there were no more rest stops. He didn't believe me. Nature was calling me rather loudly at this moment, so I pointed him in the correct direction, and headed for the nearby tree line. After a few minutes, I mounted my bike and headed out. In a couple of minutes I see a rider heading towards me. It's the guy I just put on course! He still wasn't sure I had put him on the correct road. I told him "Look, see this on my handle bar? This is a GPS. It's telling me to go this way. I suggest you follow me." The three letters "G", "P", and "S" were all the convincing he needed. He tucked in behind me. In 5 minutes we came across the next turn marker (as my GPS predicted), and he was sold on the benefits of GPS technology.

With less than 10 miles to go, I suffered a mechanical problem that nearly prematurely ended my ride. After climbing a hill, I went to change gears from the #1 to the #2 front crank. The chain feel off the gear, and got jammed between the gear and my frame. I wrestled with freeing it for 20 minutes, and it wouldn't budge. I couldn't believe with so little distance left, I wasn't going to finish the ride. It was at that moment, when my new friend, the once lost metric century rider, came up from behind and stopped to help me. Together we freed my chain in just a few minutes, and I was back on the bike. From that point forward I carefully changed gears. The chain was now making a lot of noise rubbing badly on the front derailleur. I didn't dare use the #1 crank for the remainder of the ride. This made climbing hills more difficult, but I managed.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Milton Center at 4:55 PM. Discounting my mechanical problems, I finished in about 8 1/2 hours. The parking lot was nearly empty. But I was glad to have finished, and participated in the first Alpharetta Century. Hopefully we'll get to do it again next year. I'm sure the organizers have learned much from this year, and the event will only be bigger and better.

1 comment:

tracikay said...

Tom that is amazing. I am so proud of you. You did great, and you were alone! It sounds like a tough ride. I am sure you enjoyed it being so close so you could relax in the comfort of your own home just a few minutes later. Maybe Jim will join you next year. hmmm I might have to look into one of those shorter rides. I could probably do one on my hybrid... it might make me start riding again!