I rode the Over to Dover 200K perm solo on Saturday. The first day of spring provided fantastic weather. It was in the low 40s at the start and hit a high in the low 70s by mid afternoon. Never a hint of clouds all day and light breeze from the SW. I even got touch of sunburn on my face and upper arms. I didn't think I needed the sun block yet this early and year and never thought of it until I saw myself in a restroom mirror.
The route is really beautiful. For such a long ride it is remarkably free of traffic. There are probably only 10 miles the whole way with any appreciable traffic. The rest consists of narrow paved rural routes that serve to connect all of the farms in the area. They are scenic, free of traffic and make for great riding. Only 1 mile of road on US 30 / Lincoln HWY was truly awful with heavy traffic and bad shoulders. But it was only a mile and the rest was great. Some day I'll get a camera suitable for riding resistant to water and shock and small enough for a jersey pocket. The camera in my blackberry sucks and is hard to use for a quick shot. Once I have this camera I hope do a better job capturing some shots on these long rides to back up my descriptions.
Another great thing about this route is that it is constantly changing and turning. There are few stretches more than 5 miles between turns and frequently they come every mile or more. Mr. Garmin was ready at every turn to remind me where I was going. Those who rely only on the cue sheet need to stay on their toes to keep up with the navigation.
The farm land and vistas across the hills were beautiful. Some of the farms raise livestock including at various points dairy farms, a hog farm, and poultry that I could identify along the way. The unique aroma reminds me that as that I grew up in urban America and I'm definitely not a farm boy. But it adds to the adventure and with a light breeze it didn't linger. Great fun.
Take a look at the elevation chart. (Click on the "View Details" link at the bottom of the map below). The two steep spikes either side of middle obviously represent the biggest climbs. They're perfectly symmetrical because the route retraces itself through that part. Before the first climb, the route descends in to a bit of a valley along Conwago Creek then crosses the creek and climbs out of the valley and down the back side of the hill to the mid point control stop. As you can see that is one steep hill climbing over 300 ft in less than a mile. 300 ft is NOT a big hill, though this one is a pretty steep grade. The Urbana brevet next week will offer participants a much higher climb. But it was the biggest challenge of the day for me. After the control point, you turn around and retrace the route. The ride description warned of this big hill as did others who have ridden it. I was nervous about it and desperately wanted to make it over this hill without walking. I did, but my legs never really recovered. The rest of the day, I found it much tougher to muster any power at all going up hill, even knowing the toughest one of day was behind me. I'll have to spend some training time specifically on hill climbing I think. Continuing my weight loss efforts will obviously help too.
Riding solo for such a long trek was a new experience for me. At most I'd done solo rides of about 50 miles prior to this. It was rewarding to finish and prove to myself that I could. I enjoyed the ride and will probably do it again on similar routes in the future. But riding with friends is still more fun. A partner lets you share duties leading in to the wind, which would have been nice yesterday, especially on the return leg when the SW breeze was a light headwind. A partner can also challenge me to push a little harder up the hills, and provide a bit of encouragement when your legs are burning. It was a nice day alone with my thoughts and the beautiful countryside, but a nice day with friends or family would be even better. A friend recently asked for suggestions as he's taking up regular biking for exercise. I suggested he find a good local bike shop to help fit the bike and find a bike club or group of friends to ride with. I still thank that's sound advice.
Stopping and Eating
One specific goal I had for this ride was to spend less time stopped at controls and at other stops along the way. My idea was to stop very briefly every hour to take in some fuel and keep moving. That would limit the controls to refilling water, restrooms and getting the card signed. On the Solomons ride last month our total time stopped was over two hours and I was sure I could do better. I didn't. My elapsed time was 10 hrs 38 min, which did knock more than 20 minutes off my time at Solomon's but my rolling time was only 8:42, so my total stopped time only dropped a few minutes. The fueling strategy to eat more frequently still felt better and I'll do it again next time, but I was surprised to see how quickly those short stops add up. The food I packed consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas, granola bars and peanut butter crackers. I also took 1 endurolite capsule from Hammer for every 16 oz water bottle I consumed. I probably drained and refilled about 8 sixteen oz bottles through the day plus a couple of servings of juice at the controls. Though I still felt dehydrated at the end and should have consumed more water. Finishing with 1.5 bottles of water in the cages makes no sense, I should have been drinking them even during the final push to the finish.
Finally, a note of thanks to my wife Tivy and to my friends in the SPP. At every stop I found a couple of emails and text messages with words of encouragement. It was a great day, and I'm glad I did it.