Monday, August 25, 2008

the quest for pizza 2: cycling boogaloo

Sunday was the marshal training ride for the 2008 NYC Century. I've gone on the training ride three of the past four years, so I know what to expect:

don't make any other plans for ride day, or at least no plans before 8 PM
no matter what the mileage on the cue sheet says, expect to ride about 10%-20% further than that
expect the unexpected in terms of unanticipated delays

We met under the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 AM. There were about 20 cyclists, a few who looked familiar to me from rides past but most of them strangers. We got cue sheets from the organizer and at 8:45 we set off on the bulk of the 75-mile route. Pizza would be waiting for us at the end of the ride in Astoria Park, and we expected to get there by 3 PM.

By now I could do about half of the TA's route on auto-pilot -- they tend to use the same bike paths each year -- so I was trying to think of what the route would look like to a cyclist unfamiliar with Brooklyn and Queens streets. It wasn't easy. I've become such a graybeard cyclist that I hardly remember what it was like when I first started riding in the city. One of the biggest problems with the Century is always the road markings. TA volunteers do an outstanding job marking the route, to the point where some years I haven't had to use the cue sheet at all. But when you ride the route two weeks early, and not all the markings are there yet, you're going to run into problems. And that's what happened to us.

We were OK for roughly the first 25 miles, which took us to Canarsie Pier. Somewhere on the Shore Parkway bike path between Canarsie Pier and the turnoff to head north to Queens, the bike path was covered with sharp-edged broken sea shells. My tires had been fully inflated that morning but sometime in the afternoon when we were in Queens I noticed I'd developed a slow leak. I stopped a few times to pump up the tube but based on the holes in the tire I didn't think the air was helping much. The back tire continued to be a problem, and it was really impacting my ride.

Then we got lost in Alley Pond Park. We missed a turn somewhere and wound up near some ballfields asking passersby for directions. No one out there knew how to get back to numbered streets. My GPS wasn't any help either. It didn't work most of the time, and the few seconds when it did work it couldn't tell me anything more than that I was in Alley Pond Park. Thanks, Garmin! While one of our company patched a hole in his tube, the rest of the crew rode ahead to find the exit. They came back, minus one member, so we waited for him. He appeared about 15 minutes later, wondering where we were. He'd found the next turn out of the park and had been waiting there for us to arrive. Back on course, we were filled with confidence that we would soon be at Astoria Park and that our afternoon and evening plans were still safe. Alas, we were wrong.

We'd already had a two scheduled and two or three unscheduled rest stops. We had one more when my back tire gave out completely as we were crossing the Northern Boulevard Bridge. We pulled off onto "Unnamed Service Road" (that's what the cue sheet always calls it) and another rider and I took 15 minutes to change the tube in my tire. I'd seen this guy patch a tube already, and I guess I could have patched mine, but I just wanted to get back on the road so I opted to swap the tube and try patching the old one later on my own. I felt bad because I'd already thought about changing the tube, and I could have done it at one of the previous rest stops, but I'd decided to try to get home on the leaky tire and fix it on Monday. I won't make that mistake again.

By now it was late afternoon and we had about 10 miles to go to Astoria. To our credit, we only had to stop once more to help another of our company with his own tire issues. We arrived at Astoria Park about 5:30 PM. We did get some pizza, and even though it was cold, it was delicious. We shared our harrowing tales of woe and were comforted with the knowledge that our suggestions and corrections to the route would be taken into consideration over the next two weeks.

Then a few of us rode home through Long Island City, Williamsburg, and Fort Greene. I got back to Park Slope and my apartment at 7:15, almost 12 hours after I left. I rode 82 miles for the day, and my aching muscles feel it. But I also feel better prepared for the full 100 miles in two weeks. With a few more weekday laps in Prospect Park, I'll be in great shape.

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