Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Quest for Pizza III: The Pizzaning

If it's the Sunday two weeks prior to the TA Century, then you'll find me riding the bike route with my fellow marshals as a training mission. I met the group in Prospect Park at 8:30 AM to get the cue sheets and instructions from the ride coordinator. She asked us to ride the entire Brooklyn, Queens, and Bronx sections of the route and said she thought we should get to the end of the ride in Central Park by 2 PM. I didn't want to be the negative voice in the group, but I warned her that on pre-rides past, things have not gone as planned and that I would be shocked if we got to Central Park before 5 PM. We set off around 8:45 AM and followed the usual route to Coney Island and a slight variation out to the Rockaways. Our group was about 15 people, a mix of experienced marshals and people who were new to the ride and to marshaling.

The ride leaders kept changing. We stayed together as a group for most of the day, but there were many times when a large portion of the group would sprint ahead, leaving me and my cue sheet behind. Other times they would stop at every deli we passed, or stop for several minutes to argue about where to mark a particular turn on the road. More than once I sprinted ahead of them to make up for lost time, only to have them catch and pass me. The trouble with this group was that they relied too much on the road markings, which were faded or not always clear. I lost count of the times I saw them fly past a turn because they weren't looking. To be fair, some of the turns they missed were marked on the sidewalks instead of the street, and a few of the turns weren't marked at all. After I got past my initial frustration, I tried a different tactic. There was no way they were going to let me lead the group without passing me, so I tried to keep up with them and called out the turns from the cue sheet. The riders in front of me called out the turn to the riders ahead of them, and so on. This process worked most of the way through Queens to Astoria Park. We had a can of spray paint with us and we re-marked some faded markings as we made the turns. It helped that the route was mostly the same as in previous years, so when there was any question if the turn was correct, I could rely on my memory and confirm we were going the right way.

My cell phone rang just as we got to Astoria Park at 3 PM. I pulled over to answer it and watched the rest of the group fade in the distance. The ride organizer called to let us know we could skip the Bronx part of the route and just ride straight back to Central Park from the Triboro Bridge. That was welcome news. While the day had started out cloudy, gray, and cool, the sun had burst through the clouds when we reached the Rockaways. The temperature seemed to rise from 68 to 80 degrees in a matter of minutes. By the time I reached Astoria Park I was feeling the effects of the heat and looking forward to a few minutes' rest before taking on the Bronx.

Energized by the knowledge that my assigned ride was nearly over, I looked for my fellow cyclists but didn't see them. Two other riders from the 75-mile group had caught up to me, so we rode to the Triboro Bridge together. I dropped them on the bridge path when I caught sight of my group below me on the Randall's Island path. I flew down the bridge ramp in an effort to catch up with them and warn them not to turn for the Bronx. At the bottom of the ramp I saw that they must have received the message, as they'd taken the turn for Manhattan. I kept my speed up all the way back but didn't catch up to the group until I arrived at Central Park. They were all sitting on the grass enjoying hot, delicious pizza and comparing notes on the route. A few slices of pizza and some water did wonders for my tired muscles and I set out for Brooklyn at 4:30 PM. I got home about an hour later, exhausted but excited that the ride had gone as well as it had. We didn't get lost, we stayed together as a group, and I was able to maintain a positive outlook on the day whenever something unexpected happened. I just hope that the "bad rehearsal, good concert" saying doesn't apply to bike rides. We had a good pre-ride compared to the past couple of years, so I hope today's experience bodes well for the full century in two weeks.

My computer showed 90 miles for the day and 953 miles for this year. That's more mileage than usual for this time of year. I might crack 1200 miles before the weather gets cold.

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