Sunday, February 15, 2009

NorEast February Escape

(AKA here is all the awesome stuff you guys missed because you have responsibilities.)

As you may have seen from Ryan Carney's forum post a few days ago, he and I headed to North Carolina this weekend for the Wolfpack Classic. We raced this last year, and it was a ton of fun (not to mention about fifty degrees warmer than New England) so we decided to go back down there.

What follows is quite long. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy our tales of warm weather and enjoying horrible food.

WE'RE REALLY DOING IT! The journey south.

Originally, the car was going to be filled by Carney, myself and Josh Austin. Unfortunately, Austin bailed on us at the last minute because he has a "job" and he enjoys being "employmed", so he wasn't able to make it. That left us with just one driver (as I am not able to drive stick) which isn't super fun for a 13 hour drive.

But Carney and I remained undeterred. We made arraignments to crash at a friend's place outside of DC on Thursday night before getting to Raleigh Friday afternoon. We departed Dover at around noon on Thursday, after picking up two variety packs of Smuttynose for our hosts.

What followed was roughly ten hours of me screaming at my Garmin for dispensing questionable directions, horrible odors coming from both of us, a visit to a UNH Cycling Historic Food Stop (the pizza place right before the Tappan Zee Bridge) and the discovery of many fantastic radio stations.

The radio station discovery was great - if you happen to be within radio coverage of Queens, check out 88.7, THE PULSE. It also helps if you enjoy the kind of dance music pumped out at the dance floor of sketchy clubs. It's also enjoyable when sitting in traffic.

We eventually made it to DC, watched some news and caught up with UNH Alum Arley Kemmererererer before Carney and I snuggled up on a double-sized inflatable mattress in her frigid ice-cave of a house.

Friday morning we headed out from her place at around seven a.m. in what was a successful attempt at beating beltway traffic. Carney and I were pretty psyched at this point, as we realized we were going to make it to Raleigh around noon - giving us plenty of time for a ride. On our trip last year, we dawdled quite a bit in the driving, but Carney and I (with traveling skills honed by years of collegiate cycling) were models of efficiency.

On the way to Raleigh, we realized that the kid we were staying with (An NC State student) wasn't going to be out of class until about 1:30, so we killed some time by completing one of the goals of the trip - a stop at Waffle House.

For those of you who have never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line, Waffle House is a southern institution. It is a chain of restaurants which are alarming in their consistency - that is to say they are consistently greasy, cheap and fast. Waffle House has earned a special place in my heart, as I love gross, cheap breakfasts, and due to the frequency with which the UNH team stopped at it on our way to and from Florida. So, in my mind, as soon as I see that giant sign shining like a beacon of trans-fats, I think "WARM WEATHER. RIDING IN SHORTS".

So Carney and I stopped at a casa de waffle in Rocky Mount, and treated ourselves to some fantastic training food. Carney had a bacon, egg and cheese along with hash browns covered in chili. I had two waffles and hash browns "all the way" - which means they fried bits of potato with mushrooms, jalapeƱos, ham, American Cheese Product, other items, and topped the entire mess off with chili. I also went ahead and followed the waitresses advice and threw a packet of ranch dressing on there.

I mean, I was doing a Pro/1/2 race the next day, so I needed the fuel.

We got back in the car, and before we knew it we were pulling up to our weekend home. Knowing our host wouldn't be home for a bit, we squeezed our Waffle House-filled butts into our teamkits and spun around the neighborhood for a bit. Brian, our host, got home about thirty minutes later, and then took us out for some "openers" (either we were riding hard, or our legs felt like garbage due to two days in the car and roughly 10,000 calories of grease) and a tour of downtown Raleigh and the NC State campus.

After some much needed showers, Carney and I joined Brian and his friends for a pizza dinner and a discussion of drag racing with 19 inch rims.

Saturday: Road race and accomplishing goal number two

Saturday morning brought something amazing - it was fifty degrees at eight a.m. Not three degrees. Not even thirty degrees (which, sadly, has become my definition of "good weather"). FIFTY degrees.

Our host had already left, as his school was hosting the race and he had to go prepare gauze for the eventual collegiate D crashes. Carney and I had some food which we purchased at Food Lion the previous night, and headed out the door listening to our new favorite Raleigh radio station - 88.1. Which plays Ratatat and Gorillaz remixes. Fantastic.

After some more Garmin issues (nothing like seeing your car icon floating in the ether of an nonexistent road), we got to registration and waited in line for quite a bit before getting our numbers. It was drizzling a tad before we raced, but, probably due to Carney and I screaming "JUST A RADAR BLIP", it soon cleared up. It remained overcast and around 60 for most of the day, but the sun eventually peeked out and my arm warmers were stashed in my jersey pockets.

My race was only 76 miles, and Carney's was only 54, so we really didn't have to worry about feeds too much. The most interesting thing about racing in North Carolina is how people dress when it's below seventy - there was one guy in my race with full tights and New England-certified booties, and many people in long sleeve jerseys. Carney and I were definitely the standouts, as we were giddy with the anticipation of racing on salt-free roads.

Another interesting thing about racing down here is that, obviously, the fields are totally different. No Fiordifrutta, no Met-Life, and very few familiar faces - although, Isaac Howe, NorEast alum turned pro, was in my race. Also present was Ben King, member of the Livestrong Developmental team and U23 road race champion. Other big guns included a MASSIVE Team Type 1 rider, a full DLP Racing squad, several Mountain Khaki riders (Isaac's team, formerly known as Time Pro Cyclnig) and a handful of the always strong Lees-McRae College riders.

From the gun the race was on - and I was pretty much tasting egg and cheese sandwich for the first half of it. The course was like a flatter version of Turtle Pond, with some gradual uphills that were only difficult due to the speed we were hitting them at. Riders were attacking, groups were forming, splits were happening - but nothing was sticking. I found myself (a few times) off the front in a group that I thought had promise, but was eventually pulled back. There wasn't a ton of organization in any of these moves, which always seemed to kill them.

I sorely missed having teammates in my race, as there was no one to joke with. As a result, I was just saying stuff out loud and everyone thought I had mental problems. Which may be true, but typically Austin and I will pass our time in the field making inappropriate jokes.

Ben King would frequently have a go off the front - but people seemed too terrifiedd to try following him, so he'd just languish off the front for a bit until someone attempted to bridge up to him or an organized chase would bring him back

So the race continued like that with nothing terribly exciting happening, aside from the taste of breakfast sandwich creeping out of my mouth and back into my stomach. The race was strung out, single file, probably 80% of the time. Which is always fun.

With a lap to go, a group of four got off the front. For the most part, the field seemed okay with letting them go, but they never got a huge gap. Because I didn't have any teammates with me, I was comfortable letting someone else (Like DLP or Mountain Khaki) do all the chasing.

But neither of those teams really seemed up to it. So with about 9 miles to go, the Team Type 1 rider and his giant quads got to the front and started up the pain train. He was riding like a mad man to bring that break back, and I stupidly found myself up there with him for a bit. He was very vocal, aggressively reminding me to pull through and keep going.

I eventually remembered that there were no NorEast riders behind me, so all this work was probably for the benefit of everyone else. After a few miles with my nose in the wind, I fell back into the strung-out line which formed behind the guys leading the chase.

The pace was still pretty high, and the break was in our sight. I realized that we were getting a few ks away from the finish, and started moving my butt up towards the front in the hopes of magically having a decent sprint (which would be shocking as I have never had a decent sprint).

Everyone started really moving a little before the 1k to go sign, so I started hopping on wheels. With 200 meters to go, we rocketed by the four men who had almost stayed off the front...and soon after that my fuel tank was empty. I tried to keep my position, but slid back a little more than I would have liked - eventually coming in 19th.

And the massive Team Type 1 rider managed to not only pull the break back, but sprint, open up a gap, and win handily. Which is why he gets the big bucks.

According to Carney, his race went in a similar fashion, with no moves staying away. He managed to pull out a 7th place finish.

After our race, we had some food and Coke before heading out to ride some more - as it was sunny and sixty, weather which we will probably not see in New Hampshire until March. We both got in close to 100 miles, between our race and spinning around.

We then changed and headed back to Raleigh, where we completed task number two: Eat at Cookout.

I'd be surprised if anyone other than Josh Austin was familiar with Cookout, as it is located only in the Carolinas and Georgia - and is deceptively tasty. For $4.25, you can choose one main item, two sides and a drink - an combo known as the Cookout tray. Carney and I eagerly raced to the Cookout off of Buck Jones Road (what kind of a name is that?) and consumed our fast food sitting on the curb next to his car.

We then headed back to our hosts house, realized he wouldn't be home for an hour, and killed time in a fantastic coffee shop. Our evening was spent watching the NBA Slam Dunk contest and the Tour of California prologue, both in HD. I stretched out on Brian's eight-foot long couch and passed out.

Sunday: Crits and getting in the van.

Once again, Brian headed out before us as he was racing at nineish. I wasn't going off until 2:15, and Carney wasn't going off until 3:30. Which meant:

1. We had lots of time to kill.
2. Our drive home was going to be quite un-fun.

But a long drive is the price to pay for racing in shorts.

After some breakfast, we suited up and rode to the crit course, which was about three miles away at NC State's Centennial Campus. Centennial Campus is essentially a massive office park, filled with university programs and various bio-tech and computer science companies. Which makes for a very simply-planned crit.

We watched a few laps, rode a few laps, and registered before we rode back to the house for lunch and getting ready to race. The morning ride did my legs some good, as they were hurting and stiff from the previous day's efforts. While we were checking out the earlier races, we got to talking to some Raleigh locals who were enjoying some interesting beverages at 10:30 in the morning. But they promised to cheer for us if they were functioning when we raced...four hours later.

After a spin back to the house, some lunch and loading up the car, we headed back to the course. I was going off first, so I got dressed far too early for my race. But this gave me time to ride around with my reflective sunglasses on, listen to my iPod and catch up with Isaac.

At one point I was waiting in line for the port-o-potty, and the previous day's winner (The Team Type 1 rider) was standing off to the side. I thought I saw some sort of flesh-colored rock behind him...but then I realized the protrusion I saw was just his MASSIVE QUAD MUSCLE. Which was terrifying and depressing.

I also saw another interesting fashion choice - a Master's rider racing a crit with a psudeo-scarf covering his MOUTH. Which makes zero sense. I can safely say that no NorEast members would make such an egregious fashion and racing mistake. People in North Carolina must like sucking oxygen through a polypropylene filter.

The Pro/1/2 field eventually lined up, and it was announced that our race was going to be cut to 45 minutes, instead of one hour. Which I was pretty bummed about. Both because I had traveled all this way to race, and missing a quarter of my crit was pretty lame. And also because the loss of time lowered my "dollars per minute of racing". With a 60 minute crit, I was paying 41.7 cents per minute of racing...with a 45 minute crit, I was paying 55.6 cents per minute of racing.

Despite the increased cost per minute of racing, we were off. The course was quite short and technical - it wasn't much longer than one kilometer. It had a long finish straight, followed by a short, small hill, and a downhill into a chicane and a left-hand turn back to the finish straight.

The group was together at the start, and then the attacks started coming. And, like the road race yesterday, nothing seemed to have any legs. Two or three guys would get a small gap, but it would quickly get shut down.

I (unsurprisingly) spent a good amount of time on the front, or trying to get off the front. I did try to be a little wiser than in the past, so once I realized all my work was futile, I'd get back in the group and hide from the wind.

With about three laps to go I was sitting third wheel, but let myself fall back a little bit as it was far too early to be that close to the front. I wasn't too worried about moving up, as I found I could do so easily by being aggressive on the hill. I made it back towards the front on this part of the course, and on the last lap I was up there jostling for position.

Like the previous day, I certainly had the speed required to be towards the front at the end - but I wasn't able to turn it up to 11 and discover my nonexistent sprint. Which is certainly something to work on. I did end up 14th, though, which I was happy with.

Carney's race was next, and after a short spin and changing, I got down to the course and loudly reminded him to go faster. His race definitely shed a lot of people, and some moves did manage to stick. With a few laps to go, there was one guy off the front - but no one in the field was taking the necessary initiative to close the gap. As soon as the gap would become small and bridgeable, no one would finish him off, the group would ease up, and his gap would open up a bit more.

It made sense for Carney to wait for someone else to do the chasing - like me, he was racing sans teammates, and it made no sense for him to chase this guy back just so his cooked legs could get slaughtered in the sprint. So he sat in, and got what appeared to be a top ten finish.

I say "what appeared to be" as we hurried out of there before his results were posted.

We packed our bikes in the car (maximizing our mpgs), headed back to Brian's to say farewell, wolf down some food and grab showers so we wouldn't add horrible B.O. to the embedded smells of dirty chamois and bananas of Carney's car.

so now we're sitting in the car, and I'm uploading this to the forum using my work phone, the internet, gigs and ram.

I highly recommend that other NorEaster's join us next year...perhaps we'll give more than a day's notice!

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