Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. -Mike Tyson
During our travels to and from Florida, to attend the “12/24 Hours of Sebring” bicycle race, we were pummeled by adverse events. The cycling was the easiest aspect of our long weekend adventure! Despite many obstacles, we achieved our racing goals this weekend.
Our adventure started Wednesday night when Ann received an email saying that our flight out of Boston was cancelled. I immediately contemplated throwing all of our gear in the car and start driving to Florida that night. Ann knowing that she could still have school the next day, more sanely, found a flight out of Montreal. It was twice the drive to the airport and double the cost, but we were really ready to ride in warmer weather and also measure our cycling fitness.
Thursday morning we got up at 4 am to do our standard morning fat tire tandem ride. When we returned Ann was happy to learn that school was cancelled. That allowed us some cushion to catch our flight should the storm become worse than expected.
It was snowing hard when we left the house, but we weren’t concerned until we turned on to I-93 and found the traffic barely moving. Fortunately, the further north we went the lighter the snowfall.
At the airport things went well until we learned that our plane was having mechanical issues. We were told that there was a good chance we would not fly until sometime the next morning. Fortunately, the mechanics figured out the problem quickly and we were on our way again.
It has been our experience that it often takes longer for our oversized luggage to arrive at baggage claim. That’s why we thought things were looking up when we arrived in Orlando and found our bike bag was waiting there for us. Bad assumption!
As we, and our cumbersome luggage, made our way to our car rental we discovered that this car rental company was located offsite. After lengthy phone conversations with a car rental company employee reading off a script, we found the shuttle bus location. We arrived at the car rental agency at about 1 a.m. to huge lines and unhappy people leaving there saying things like “better be ready to open your wallets…this is a scam.” When we reached the desk about 45 minutes later, we were told that our pre-ordered minivan was not available. Our choices were an ancient 12 passenger tank of a van or a compact car. While we were in line, Ann decided to check the reviews on this rental car company. They were rated a 1.3 out of 5 with over a thousand ratings. She read one comment that said “the only reason this company rated that well was because the rating options don’t go below one.” We eventually squeezed the tandem box into our hatchback Hyundai. To accommodate the bike case, we pushed the front seats all the way up. When we finally begin the drive to Sebring, our faces were practically on the windshield and my knees were bouncing off of the glove compartment. We decided it would be wise to look for a hotel and get some sleep in order to be rested for our 24 hour race. We saw a hotel and pulled off the highway only to discover that all hotels within miles of the airport were full because of nor’easter Niko!
We continued our drive and decided to get gas because our rental vehicle had less than a quarter tank in it. At the gas station we figured we would also buy a bottle of wine to help us unwind. As Ann looked over the wine selection, the 7 Eleven employee tells her that they stopped selling alcohol at 2 am, it was now 2:30.
Traveling on down route 27, we saw a Quality Inn that had an adjoining restaurant/bar. It was now just before 3am. We were getting punchy and maybe having unrealistic expectations, but thought we might get a glass of wine before catching a few hours of sleep. BUT, bar closed and computers were down.
After registering for more than 30 minutes, the hotel employee gave us a room with two types of keys. The room was on the second floor and in a different building… hard to find at 3:40 am. We hauled our bags up to the hard to find room and discovered that neither key worked. After nearly breaking the door and my foot, we hauled our bags back down to our undersized car (me shouting expletives) and drove back to the office. The hotel employee said that the computers were still down. He then proceeded to run around the building(s) to see if he had another available room. Occasionally, he opened the door of rooms that already had guests, but he eventually found us a room. Later we discovered this room has a broken toilet and no blankets. It was 49 degrees outside, so we turned the heater on. Soon we found it hard to breath because the heater spewed dust. We turned it off. When I woke up after 2 or 3 hours of sleep, the Florida sun was shining through what looked like bullet holes in the curtain.
Our luck begins to change!
We arrive at “The Bike Shop” in Sebring just before noon. The bike shop owners, Matt and Mathew, were very helpful. To save time, we had them put the tandem together for us and also arranged for one of them to meet us at the finish of the race to repackage the tandem for the return trip home. Due to rescheduling our flight, we did not even have time to sleep before heading to the Airport in Orlando to begin our journey home, after a 24 hour bike race.
At the hotel, Chateau Elan, some of the first people we saw were ultra cycling friends John & Nancy Guth, Elizabeth Wicks, Wes Wilmer, RAAM owner/president Fred Boethling and his wife Gail. We had dinner with this wonderful group of individuals and then headed back to our room for final preparations and a good night sleep for a change. Anyway, five hours felt like it might be enough.
Our goals for the weekend were primarily to experiment with some new food, beverage options and napping for Race Across America and to try to better the tandem course records for the 12 and 24 hour events.
We knew the 12 hour record of 239 miles would be the harder of the two. That meant we would once again be racing hard for 12 hours while saving enough to survive the 24. Our computers said that we passed the 100 mile mark in 4 hours and 13 minutes (just a little under 24 mph!), which happened to equal my quickest century on a solo bike more than ten years ago. We were technically registered to race the drafting 24 hour event, but the race director said that we could officially get the 12 hour record while doing the 24 hour event. Officially, I am not sure what our mileage was after 12 hours, because only complete laps count, but our computers read 253 miles when our clocks were at 12 hours. That calculates to a little more than 21 mph. Considering we hadn’t done a speed workout since November, we were very happy with that average speed.
The second 12 hours takes place on a 3.7 mile loop within the Sebring car racing track. It is an interesting course, dark and full of turns with a few random potholes. I managed to find a pothole at about hour number 13 and had a front tire blowout. I fixed the flat as quick as I could, but it was dark and did not notice the tear on the sidewall of the tire until the tire was pumped up and the wheel was on the bike. We had a spare front wheel in the car, but our rental car had not been moved to the track area yet. We decided to ride on, a bit gingerly until our car arrived. We estimate that the flat and soft pedaling cost us roughly 10 miles.
Regarding napping, Ann is a bit more excited about it’s benefits than I am for a 24 hour event, but we both agreed that in Race Across America a 5 to 15 minute cat nap, when needed, could be very useful. We planned to try one or two of these to see if we were both able to fall asleep quickly and to see if it helped with our alertness and speed. We think because we had already been a little sleep deprived going into the race, we felt we needed three naps in the final six hours of the event. We took a 15, 10 and 5 minute nap. We discovered that we felt considerably better after each, but interestingly I felt like I received about the same benefit from 5 minutes as I did from 15 minutes.
This winter, Ann and I have trained outside everyday even in temperatures down to zero degrees. Despite this, I got chilled in the final hours of the event, I piled on clothes and discovered a concession with chicken soup. The soup was a great find. In these later hours, when not much tastes very good, our primary energy foods were chocolate milk, chicken soup, bananas and rice pudding. This event was Ann’s best at managing her comfort with significant swings in temperatures and she was very happy with her energy level throughout the race.
As the sun began to rise and the race ended at 6:30 a.m., we had tallied 426 miles for this 24 hour event. This total surpassed the previous tandem record, of 369 miles, by 57 miles.
With all of our race goals accomplished, it was now time to get organized and packed for our return trip home. While Ann did her best to clean an organize our rental vehicle. I biked the tandem, without Ann on it, back to the hotel where Matt from the bike shop was to meet me to pack the tandem. This was my first solo ride on this tandem bike and I found it hard to balance. I managed to make it the half mile back to the hotel, but my dismount was not very pretty. I always put my foot down on the left side, so I unclipped my left foot and proceeded to fall on my right side onto a curb in front of the hotel, where Matt and his 4 year-old daughter were able to witness my gracefulness. Fortunately, no serious injuries occurred to the Paketa Tandem or to me… just a bruised calf muscle and pride!
From there the race was to Orlando International was on…
– a quick shower and change was needed before making it back to the track for the awards ceremony. Apparently, our award was announced before we got there. Oh well, another award ceremony missed, but the medals and records are nice!
– breakfast and goodbyes with Elizabeth Wicks and John and Nancy Guth.
– Ann got back to the room before me to take a 20 minute nap. I ate more and missed my opportunity for a nap.
– finished packing and loaded the rental car.
– began the 2 hour drive back to the rental car facility. Worried that Disney World traffic might slow us down.
– got ice cream twice on the drive to Orlando.
– car rental place was packed. Fortunately, most were picking up cars. Had a much better experience checking out!
– Shuttle drive to airport was uneventful!
– Delta employee pleasant checking in our tandem!
– Flight departs on time. Yay!
We arrive in Detroit on time… Ann discovers that school is cancelled because of another major storm hitting the northeast, including Montreal. Canadians appear to be better at handling weather than Americans. No delays and our flight lands into major snow storm without any hesitation. We get our bags and take the shuttle to our car at the Park & Fly about midnight. Snow is deep, plows are everywhere.
Driving out of Montreal was nerve wracking and white knuckled for me…
– more cars on the road than I would have guessed at 1 a.m.
– driving conditions generally suck, defroster not working well, hard to see signs and exit ramps.
– we get out of the city and driving is easier, but still snowing heavily.
– Ann takes a nap.
– I find coffee and eventually find a hotel around 2:30 a.m.
– hotel atmosphere resembles The Shining!
– wake up at 7:30 a.m. no one at the desk, no breakfast or coffee out for what was supposed to be 7 a.m. breakfast.
– I peek in a covered cage to find two parrots, feeling sorry for them I uncover the cage. Cleaning lady pops up out of know where, makes us coffee and breakfast and back on the road we went.
We cross the border back in the states around 11 a.m., found a great cafe in Newport with fresh baked good and lattes, bought some groceries in Plymouth. Home in Holderness by 3 p.m. with time to get a fat tire ride in before dark… and not blow our streak of consecutive riding days!
Another cycling adventure done! Thank you to all of the folks that helped us get organized for this event, including Rhino Bike works, John and Nancy Guth, Elizabeth Wicks and Matt from The Bike Shop! And, thanks to the event organizers and volunteers for putting on such a great event…especially the police officer directing traffic for about 8 hours during the hottest part of the day. That man has endurance!