The Shore By Night 200K began in the foyer of a bike shop in New Jersey. Or, for me, by loading up the car and driving the Usual Route from Boston down to near-Philadelphia. Except that despite doing this a zillion times, I missed the turnoff for 684. I'd already started making navigational errors and I wasn't even on the bike yet! I got back on track, got down there in time to wander around Cranbury and find some dinner, and get everything set up before it got dark out. Most of the people knew each other, so I stood around feeling awkward and occasionally making conversation until it was 10PM -- time to fire up our lights and get out there.
As with the previous 200K, a batch of us slower riders were first to kick our bikes out onto the pavement and head down the road, alongside one not-slow rider in a shiny white velomobile that kept looking like a car out of the corner of my eye. There weren't any hills in the first bit, so we strung out only slowly, chatting in little clumps. When one of the only hills hit at mile 8, I cruised up it with everyone else; my hill work has been helping. Well, that and the really fast folks had already dropped the rest of us. I settled in with a small group, chatting, of all things, about how to get more women into engineering. [Edit, March 2014: There's a still a longer post I'd like to write about that convo, but I haven't yet.] They were going just slightly faster than I'd go on my own, but within my comfort zone for distance -- i.e. at the pace I can't quite force myself to do without anything for motivation, but I can hold for quite a while. Until I needed a snack, and then I fell off the back. On my first populaire, I failed that test -- I skipped food and hung on, and that wasn't the right thing to do. This time, I'd done that right, but I was now on my own, navigating in the dark rather than chasing taillights of people familiar with the route.
Which was, after all, part of the point of this ride -- learning to navigate and make sure I was comfortable alone at night on unfamiliar roads. And I genuinely like riding alone, even if I also like riding with people. A few miiles later came the first control, where the group I'd been dropped from was just finishing up. It was hot, and I'd gone through a bottle and a half in the dark, so I bought some gatorade and headed out. I was on-schedule and on-track; I wasn't sure really how long it was going to take, but I was aiming to drop 30+ minutes from my previous 200K, which had included a 40-min ferry wait/ride and significantly more hills, but had been in the daytime in cool weather. I'd covered 30 miles in just over 2 hours, which is fast for me.
The next section got a lot busier; we'd hit the shoreline. Which was pretty, but even at 2 am not deserted. Got called a bitch twice by passersby (one motorist, one pedestrian), and a few unnecessary honks, but no close encounters of the vehicular kind, and I gave the weaving-possibly-drunk cyclists on cruiser bikes a wide berth as I passed. There was a brutal headwind, and I played leapfrog for a bit with another rider until I decided that I wanted to put my head down and hammer through the open windy bit.
Then I made my only actual navigation error (as opposed to a few was-that-the-street-yes-it-was-turn-around overshoots) and went right past the road to the control. A train was going past, parallel to the road, and I was distracted. I realized my error fairly quickly, but thought I saw the street ahead -- nope, something else starting with a B and having about the right number of letters. Turned around, and the street was a) much better signed coming that way and b) the pack I'd been dropped from 40 miles back, who'd stopped to help with a tire change somewhere along the way, plus the guy I'd passed, reached the intersection almost simultaneously. Evidently they'd seen me overshoot, but couldn't shout that far. It only added a mile, and since it added exactly a mile by the odometer, cue sheet math wouldn't be too bad for the rest of the ride.
We pulled into the control as a big crowd, and everyone else went in and ensconced themselves catching up on stories. I filled up my bottles, had a snack, and was antsy to get going, while they seemed more and more comfortably motionless as time went on, so I headed out.
The next section had my only equipment snafu -- my helmet light, for reading the cue sheet, was not up to all-night running. It was fading, fast. At first, I could hold the paper up close and read it, then I could take it off and hold it by the cue sheet, but it wasn't going to make it that way, and I was having to stop at every turn and fuss with a light that wasn't going to last much longer. I'll figure out something better next time; for this one, I pulled out my backup headlight, hoped its waterproofness claims were true, and stuffed it down my cleavage. I still had to stop at turns to pull it out and read the cue, but it was a quick operation.
Dawn broke, slowly but steadily, not long after I'd gotten back into the swing of things after the lighting follies. I stopped to put away the spare light and have a snack, timing it precisely for the group to catch up to me and all look worried and ask if I was OK, off on the side of the road. Heh. I hopped on and caught up to them as they strung out -- they'd clearly stuck together in the dark, but now that it was light, were starting to split back up. Dawn had given me more energy, and I wasn't having any trouble keeping up as we headed to the final control. Back in the land of Wawas -- I'm not, actually, sure that I was ever in one while at Swat, but they were a fixture of the landscape. Evidently this is a common control, since the clerk said "you guys are in here every week" before looking a little askance when I said we were "almost done -- less than thirty miles to go". Yeah, my perspective, it has shifted.
Again, most people were lollygagging, and I saddled up, after getting a mild suggestion about increasing my cadence. For once, it was done in a friendly fashion, so I shrugged and reminded myself to spin more over the last 30 miles. I also switched off my headlight, which, at my power levels, did make a noticeable difference. I was flying, or at least it felt like it, through the last, slightly rolling, section. My goal of 10:30 had long been blown, though, but when I realized I'd be finishing just after 11 hours at my current pace, I kicked it up past cruising speed. Besides, I was curious to see if I could really do a faster pace after riding over a hundred miles.
I could. I was slowing down a lot for the tiny hills, not trying to power up them, but running ~18mph on the flats, fairly comfortably. The last two miles, I flat-out sprinted, pulling in at 8:58am, for a total of 10:58, and amusing the volunteers as I pulled up too out of breath to talk, just as I'd done on the Boston 107K. Most people don't sprint the finish on these. It's fun, though. I like proving that there's still gas in the tank, and ending with that little adrenaline high.
The less said about the drive back, the better; I did end up having to stop and get a hotel room for a nap somewhere in CT -- I'd forgotten how soporific driving is, but I wasn't tired enough to be able to sleep in a boiling-hot car, nor comfortable just finding some shady grass by a parking lot and passing out in public. So a hotel it was. Being able to shower was really nice, too. Next time, I'll know.
So -- lessons learned:
1. Need a different cue-reading light. Going to try the petzl e+light next, since it has a real on-off switch. Which would also make it good to take whenever a certain someone wants me to have a headlamp but I hate cycling through the blink-modes.
2. Don't half-ass the chamois cream application when it's that hot out -- got chafing somewhere that usually isn't an issue, although I'll leave it at that. [Edit, later: My saddle position slipped somewhere around this time, so it might have been less chamois and more positioning.]
4. Night riding at brevet pace is great fun and not difficult, even with a fairly twisty course.
Next stop: 300K. Which will be next year; I don't think I'm close to strong enough for the hills on the Petersburg 300K out in Western MA yet.
Ride stats: moving time was 9:55, average 12.8. That's faster than I thought when I saw the total; it's so easy to spend a huge amount of time stopped. Still 1mph slower than on the CRW spring century, which had 1.5x the climbing according to RWGPS but was also pretty flat.