Saturday, June 30, 2007

Delta Airlines is a nightmare

Two days ago I was scheduled to fly from BWI to Boston on Delta Airlines. I was due there for work. See my boarding pass above.

A total nightmare ensued from the customer service point of view.

I am not looking forward to flying Delta again. Even if I have to pay more, I will avoid them in the future.

Unfortunately, I still have flights on Delta to come this summer.

Anyway, here is the story:
  1. Flight DL 5414 to Boston is delayed from 6:50pm to 7:25pm.
  2. It's not exactly a long delay. We all get on board. Ready for take-off.
  3. Announcement comes over the PA. Hang on says the flight attendant. The flight might be illegal.
  4. Everyone has to get off. Flight is canceled because the FAA has rules about the maximum number of hours a day.
  5. People are not pleased. Shaking their heads in disbelief. But they have no idea what is going to happen next.
  6. Back in the terminal building. Bad news. There is no room for us on the remaining flight out tonight.
  7. They are flying a reduced schedule on Saturday. That's tomorrow. More bad news. No room for us on Saturday either.
  8. Long line, all the people from the plane. Two customer service representatives only, so a long wait.
  9. When I get to the front of the line. Sunday is offered. Two nights stranded at BWI waiting on a flight to Boston! 2 nights! Unreal.
  10. No compensation is offered. No other airlines are offered. I don't want to spend two nights stranded at BWI.
  11. I asked for a refund. They can't do it for me on the computer at the gate. Told me to go back out through security to the check-in area and line up there.
  12. Go outside. Line up again. Line #2. Very slow. Only two people working.
  13. Nearly to the front. Customer service representative asks me why am I lining up? I need to call Delta Direct to get my ticket portion refunded. I said I was told to line up!
  14. Go over to courtesy phone. All representatives are busy... About half an hour on the phone. Eventually, I'm told my problem is fixed.
  15. Go downstairs. Pick up my two checked bags. Wait for shuttle bus service to rental car center.
  16. It's 9:30pm now. Rented a car from Budget. $126 + gas + tolls.
  17. 410 mile drive. An all-nighter. From BWI up I-95 to Boston. Heavy traffic in parts.
  18. Dawn arrives. 6:30am next morning. I arrive at my hotel in Cambridge MA pretty exhausted.
Delta Airlines? I'd still be stuck in BWI. And Delta never brought out any more customer service representatives to help out. I've never been treated so poorly.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Pleasure of Cycling

Yesterday, I went for a simple 35 mile with my friend Jim Montgomery in Maryland (adjoining Delaware).

We did 14 miles to the town of North East in Maryland. Billiard-board smooth roads.

Had lunch at Woody's Crab House. Famous for blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay.

Then rode 21 miles back. Jim got lost in his own neck of the woods a couple of times.

Average speed under 15mph. Maybe 1000 kcal. Jim wanted the ride stats, but I really didn't care.

Back to the fundamentals. The pleasure of pedaling a responsive, custom-fit race machine. Enjoying the beautiful back country roads on a sunny day with a good friend. Moving along effortlessly, this is the way cycling is meant to be.

Perhaps I am mellowing, but if I had just one ride left and had to choose: the Elite Southern Transcontinental (I just completed), or one lazy summer's day with friends, Lazy wins out every time.

Fortunately, I don't have to choose :-)

Similar thoughts hit me during the last two weeks
I was toying with several hypothetical situations during some of the more boring miles of the Transcontinental. One of them goes something like this.
If someone said to me: "Sandiway, you can quit your job. All you have to do is ride 100 miles before lunch every day. You can do whatever you want (in addition) after lunch but you have to put in those 100 miles first," would I do it?
The answer is emphatically NO. I love cycling but I guess I'm just not RAAM material.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Epilogue

The view from the day after.

Overall, it was 2800 miles and 80,000ft of climbing. But summary statistics don't necessarily give a good view of the day-to-day battle. So, I decided to do a little calculating.

Chris Block told me Lon has a simple formula for computing the overall difficulty of each day.

It's the mileage + (amount of climbing)/100. So, for example, if you ride 150 miles and do 5000ft of climbing, that's basically equivalent to a flat 200 miler.

Applying the formula to the 17 days, you get the following graph:

Of course, this doesn't take in account other environmental factors: e.g. an all-day headwind or a 100F+ day. But you can see which days are the most critical ones.

Here's another graph showing my day-to-day average speed on the bike each day, the number of hours spent in total (including water stops), and the amount of work (kJ) I did pushing the pedals:

  1. Average on-the-bike speed overall was 17.3mph.
  2. Total time spent out there, i.e. from motel to motel, was 184 hours or 7 days and 16 hours.
  3. I should explain the kJ figures a bit as well.

    This is actual effort (in kJ) as recorded by the strain gauges in the SRM powermeter crank. Now, kJ can be basically converted into Calories assuming standard body efficiency ratings. Roughly speaking, a 4000kJ day would mean I spent 4000 kcal or 4000 Calories just pushing the pedals.

    Energy consumption-wise, add 1500-2000 Calories to that daily figure to factor in for the basic metabolic rate.
Enough about the stats. The awards banquet last night was nice. Susan had good words to say about everyone. Out of 50, 39 riders showed up on the last day. 11 riders went home for a variety of reasons: mostly medical.

A couple of pictures. First, the 19 RAAM-qualified finishers (you had to not sag or be forced to sag due to the time cuts, and you had to be a member of the UMCA - and I believe you have be a little bit crazy):

[From left to right. Back row: Jeff Linder, Scott Luikart, George Metzler, Richard Waugh, Wayne Riley, Vernon Smith, Charles Breer, Andrew Puddy, Byron Rieper, Mark Pattinson, Rieks Koning, and Scott McIntosh.
Front row: Jeff Weible, Ed Pabst, Dan Fuoco, Sandiway Fong, Eric Hallam, Chris Block, and Peter Beeson.]
Then the 11 crew + Lon and Susan:

Some last words?
Well, I can say the Elite Southern Transcontinental is not recommended if:
  1. you can't recover from an effective 200+ miile day in 99F heat in under 12 hours.
  2. you can't get up at 5:30am 17 days in a row.
  3. you have any nagging injuries, latent or on-going.
  4. you could do with the extra training miles
  5. you want a nice, scenic route.
  6. you want to see America.
But it is for you if:
  1. you thrive on the challenge.
  2. you can out-stubborn an all-day headwind,
  3. you can beat the desert heat.
  4. you can beat the southern heat and humidity.
  5. your feet and hands can handle the beating of the roughest chip seal and horribly broken tarmac.
  6. you want your perspective on what a 170 miler means to be completely changed forever.
  7. you're looking to accomplish what must be a true highlight for any cyclist: a transcontinental in style. To cross any faster, you'd have to do RAAM.

  • I bought a copy of the Savannah Morning News before I left this morning.

    It had almost a page dedicated to pictures and an article on the Elite Southern Transcontinental.

    There's even a picture of Charlie Combs in conversation with two bikini-clad girls.

    The last remark comes from Andrew Puddy (Australia):
    When asked why he had undertaken the ride, Puddy smiled broadly.
    "Because," he said, "I liked the T-shirt."

    {See electronic edition of the article here. Don't know how long it'll be up.]

  • Finally, a rather personal note: As for the secret I mentioned on Day 6 between me and the Purple Pig?

    Well, simply I only managed 6 rides before embarking on the Elite Southern Transcontinental. My father passed away early in the year and I had almost no time to ride my bike. (He was someone who thought bicycle riding was something for kids, something you grow out of. Bet he regretted buying me that first bike. I guess I am still a kid at heart.)

    In fact, I had an embarassingly pitiful 600 miles for the year, which I tried to keep a secret. (I tried to maintain some fitness when I was traveling, a bit of running or swimming here and there, but it doesn't quite translate into Elite Tour readiness.)

    More importantly, I didn't dare mention this to Susan or Lon beforehand, because I was afraid they'd take my slot away and give it to a more deserving rider. After all, there was a big waiting list.

    As a result, I really suffered in the first week before getting it together. I was rather borderline. Miracles do happen, and I rode myself into shape by the end. But this was certainly not the best nor easiest way to do it. I feel very lucky.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 17

Day 17: Dublin GA to Tybee Island GA
Mileage/Ride Time: 142 miles 7:35 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/3:25pm
Climbing: 2000ft Avg Speed/Work: 18.7mph/3589 kJ

And you ride,
and you ride
to catch up with the sun,
but it's sinking
Racing around
to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way,
but you're older
Shorter of breath
and one day closer to death
{Adapted from the lyrics to Time. Dark Side of the Moon. Pink Floyd.]

We've been chasing the sun around for 17 days now, and it's finally over.

Today was the last day. I started out with the early, fast group and hung in all the way to the regrouping at the lunch stop (mile 116) for the processional section to the beach at Tybee Island. Came in with Don Magie, Chris Block, Scott McIntosh, Scott Luikart, Charles Breer, Peter Beeson, Mark Pattinson (who comes in first - alone or with a group - every day) and Vernon Smith.

My blog is usually from the back of the pack, but today I can bring you the SRM power numbers (for a 150lb rider) from the front.

[This is not the raw data but with 1% smoothing applied to flatten the jumps in wattage.]

I nearly didn't make it though. Took a pee break at the first water stop. Had to chase like a dog for nearly 5 miles to catch back on. You can see it in the power data.

I think the only reason I could hang was that the course profile was fairly flat:

Couple of photos at the beach near 3pm:

Group photo time:

Next picture courtesy of Jim Montgomery:

Today's course (MapSource and Google Earth):

For the record, here is the entire route (2800 miles):

I can't believe I made it... Epilogue tomorrow

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 16

Day 16: Eufaula AL to Dublin GA
Mileage/Ride Time: 160 miles 9:07 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/5:21pm (+1 Eastern Time)
Climbing: 4500ft Avg Speed/Work: 17.4mph/4203 kJ

Today we crossed over into Georgia.

160 miles. 99F and 89% humidity.

If that wasn't enough to keep you from stopping just long enough to fill your bottles with ice at the water stops, there was also the incessant buzzing of flies.

Big rollers in the (comparatively cool) morning, relatively flat in the sweltering afternoon. Profile:

My legs are always heavy in the first two hours of riding. I tend to do better later on as the day progresses.

Course (MapSource and Google Earth):

  • On this penultimate day of riding, I was praying for no more mechanicals (busted cables or tires).

    But you can never be absolutely sure. Take nothing for granted.

    For example, this morning I saw Eric Hallam run (on foot) into a water stop. His FSA left crank had cracked all the way through on his Cervelo.

    One of the crew lent him his bike.
  • We're finally crossed over into Eastern time. This means we lose another hour's worth of sleep tonight.

    However, tomorrow is the last day of the Elite Southern Transcontinental. One more day of getting up at 5:40am.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 15

Day 15: Camden AL to Eufaula AL
Mileage/Ride Time: 152 miles 8:38 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/4:10pm
Climbing: 4800ft Avg Speed/Work: 17.5mph/4031 kJ

The scene at 6am. Days Inn. Camden AL:

Another hot day, 95F. 152 miles to the eastern edge of Alabama.

More rollings hills. Profile:

Course (MapSource and Google Earth):

  • My rear derailleur cable snapped shortly before the lunch stop.

    With only 3 days to go, not only is the Elite Tour taking a toll on me, it's also cracking my bike.

    Luckily, I arrived before Lon's silver trailer reached the stop, otherwise I'd have been faced with the prospect of tackling the remaining hills with just two gears.

    Lon replaced the cable in just 5 minutes. He said he'd been replacing derailleur cables every other day. And that on a normal PacTour, he carries 25 cables.

  • Today, I finished with Kevin Kaiser of Georgia and Charles Combs of California.

    Because of the cable problem, I'd ridden from lunch alone until I joined up with these two near the finish.

    I've been admiring the riding style of both of these riders for separate reasons:
    • Charles for his smooth climbing. He uses his SRM powermeter. Ignores what's in front of him. And sets a contant pace that is much less painful. And yet arrives at the same time as everyone else.
    • Kevin for his smooth aerobar style. Narrow. No wobbles. Excellent wheel to follow.
  • Finally, I ate at a Chinese buffet tonight. My fortune cookie had this pithy remark: "Even the longest of days will come to an end."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 14

Day 14: Forest MS to Camden AL
Mileage/Ride Time: 172 miles 9:27 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/5:08pm
Climbing: 3700ft Avg Speed/Work: 18.2mph/4203 kJ

It was hot in Alabama today.

Today was a real scorcher. 99F in the shade at the last water stop:

[From left to right: Don Magie, Jeff Weible and Chris Block.]

Add to that rolling hills all day long for 3700ft of climbing over 172 miles and subjectively, it felt harder than the previous couple of 170 miler days. (See the Epilogue blog entry for a formula on how days can be compared.) See profile:

Course (MapSource and Google Earth):

  • My legs were a little heavy from the last two days, so I started out in the middle group hoping for a little less intensity.

    But because some people in the first group missed a right turn, I ended up riding much of the day with first-groupers Don Magie, George Metzler and Chris Block.

    But once you start riding with these guys, you want to hang with them for as long as possible, Oh well!

  • My front tire (Vittoria Open Corsa CX) delaminated today.

    The layers of rubber had separated.

    As I changed the tire, I also found the inner tube "glued" to the tire. It literally had to be peeled off:

    I'm a bit superstitious when it comes to bicycle tires. I haven't had any tire trouble since Day 2 with 4 flats. I've been carrying 4 tubes and 4 CO2 cartridges in my Moots trunk pack for insurance since that day.

    I ended up tossing both the Vittoria and the sticky tube. I hope I will not have tire trouble tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 13

Day 13: Batesville MS to Forest MS
Mileage/Ride Time: 175 miles 9:27 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/5:11pm
Climbing: 3200ft Avg Speed/Work: 18.5mph/4549 kJ

Today's route was a bit dispiriting.

We ride 175 miles in temperatures up to the mid-90s. Spend nearly 11 hours out there. And guess what? We essentially made no forward progress.

See course (MapSource and Google Earth):

We've gone south (not east). Basically, we paralleled the Mississippi River today.

Apart from that, I had a decent ride.

Each morning, after Brad Haslam's accident, there are three (self-selected) groups that go out one minute apart.

Today, I went out with the fast group (normally I go with the middle group) because Tom and Terri Schwartz were on the tandem. I reckoned it was worth trying to hang with the fast group on the rollers until the first water stop. This I accomplished.

I skipped the stop. I rode by myself until I was caught by a 2nd group. Tom and Terri had swapped their tandem for single bikes. Chris Block from Massachusetts and Eric Hallam from Colorado were also in this group. We swapped pulls over the rollers until mile 107 to the lunch stop. Average speed was around 19 mph. I felt happy I was able to hang in, given that I needed 275W-300W to stay in contact on each roller. Profile:

After lunch, Chris and I rode the remaining 70 miles together. More precisely, I was dying a slow death trying to follow his wheel.
I believe Chris is riding very strongly: an observation confirmed by the fact Chris finished with the leaders yesterday . Fortunately, after the last water stop, he led the remaining 20 miles or so at an easy pace.


  • Lon fashioned a chain watcher for me out of a hose clamp and a u-shaped piece of metal.

    Ingenuity at the PacTour trailer.

    Plus as he put it: it's only a dollar's worth of parts:
  • Every night I have to recharge multiple devices, otherwise no juice in the morning.

    Here, we have the SRM powermeter, batteries for the Garmin GPS receiver, and the white cord for the Macbook.

    Some nights it gets even more complicated. I also have to charge my cellphone and the Olympus 720SW digital camera as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 12

Day 12: Pine Bluff AR to Batesville MS
Mileage/Ride Time: 158 miles 8:42 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/4:13pm
Climbing: 2000ft Avg Speed/Work: 18.1mph/4346 kJ

Today we crossed the MIssissippi River:

[You may be able to spot the two riders on the bridge.]

Today was the easiest day so far with respect to terrain - basically flat, and distance - only 158 miles.

It was hot (90F) but I think I rode well because of the lack of difficulty. At any rate, my legs felt better today than any of the previous days. And my postride SRM powermeter download confirmed it.

I rode with Dan Fuoco of Florida and Brad Reid of Illinios.
The three of us traded 1 mile pulls all day.
And the miles seem to fly by for once.

  • Basically I had a nearly perfect day except I got a real bollocking from Susan Notorangelo for riding in the middle of the road. Quite rightly so.

    She said she could've DQ'ed me right there for that.

    I'm told only one cyclist has died in PacTour. It wouldn't be good to be the second.
  • I'm told only 19 people have ridden all the miles (so far).
  • We have done over 2000 miles


Course (MapSource and Google Earth):

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 11

Day 11: Mena AR to Pine Bluff AR
Mileage/Ride Time: 175 miles 10:25 Time Lv/Arr: 6:30am/6:00pm
Climbing: 4500ft Avg Speed/Work: 16.8mph/4269 kJ

Today reminded me of Beethoven's 6 Symphony "The Pastoral" Part V.
I wish I had my iPod Nano playing.

In other words, after the grey malevolance and deluge of the storm (yesterday), it's good to see the nice side of Arkansas.

In my opinion, we went through some of the best cycling roads so far in the Elite Southern Transcontinental.
Simply a world away from the shoulders of interstates and harsh desert frontage roads.
I took these two pictures while riding today:

For the first 2.5 hours, I had dead legs from yesterday's big climbs.

Every rise, every honk out of the saddle to stay in the paceline brought out the tiredness and heaviness in my legs. Not only can I feel it, but I can also watch the heart rate increase lagging a bit more and staying high longer after I've sat down again.

After 2.5 hours, my legs loosened up some, though the heaviness would stay with me for the whole day.

At around mile 60, I got swallowed up by a small train of riders led by Australia's Andrew Puddy. The Puddy Train, let's call it that, ran steady and strong for the next 115 miles with Andrew sitting on the front nearly the whole way. Needless to say, I got on that train. It made for the easiest day so far. 175 miles. I needed that.

Course (Mapsource and Google Earth):


  • Physically, my biggest worry is that both my palms are bruised and starting to blister from the pounding after 11 days. I put on extra bar tape after the ride. Hope this will help tomorrow.
  • Tom Rosenbauer from Pennsylvania withdrew this morning. When I came up to him on a steep section of the Talimena Highway yesterday, he told me: he didn't have his climbing legs. He didn't take the start today.
  • I heard tonight David Solomon of Australia is also withdrawing. Exhaustion?
  • One of the crew told me they go through about 600-700lbs of ice a day.
    They do a wonderful job of keeping the riders going.
    In the hot and humid Arkansas countryside, ice in waterbottles is an essential.
Tomorrow is another 170 miles. Gotta get up by 5:30am.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 10

Day 10: Ada OK to Mena AR
Mileage/Ride Time: 173 miles 11:20 Time Lv/Arr: 7:00am/7:44pm
Climbing: 10,100ft Avg Speed/Work: 15.26mph/5214 kJ

Less than 12 hours after the longest day (206 miles with the headwind) was completed, we do the 2nd big climb day.

This is a day with a big sting in its tail. 10,100ft of climbing total, but almost all of that comes at the end, after a 113 mile ride to lunch, on the gorgeous Talimena Scenic Drive from Talihena OK to Mena AK. I rode fairly easily to lunch, arriving at 2pm (before the cutoff time).

The ride really begins here. Picture of the entrance:

I waited for the cyclists in the picture to form a line.

It's steep in quite a few places. Some walked.

It was very hot and humid. My jersey was wide open but heavy from the sweat pouring off my body.

Lon said it'd be memorable. I'm sure he was thinking of the steep climbing (some of it 3.5 miles long).

For me, it was the thunder and lightning moving in close. Scary close. Sudden temperature drop accompanied by strong winds. Then pouring rain and even some hail. Everyone made it down safe.

I had a rain jacket stashed in my Moots trunk bag. Lon gave out plastic bags in the pouring rain.

Course (MapSource and Google Earth):

This climbing day was an important test. It could have easily gone bad if I hadn't recovered from the previous day's late finish.

However, I take nothing for granted. I've got another 180 miles to do in a few hours.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pactour Elite Southern Transcontinental: Day 9

Day 9: Sayre OK to Ada OK
Mileage/Ride Time: 206 miles 11:39 Time Lv/Arr: 6:15am/7:15pm
Climbing: 3500ft Avg Speed/Work: 17.6mph/5665 kJ

I'm cooked after this day. With the hardest climbs to come tomorrow (Lon mentioned the last 50 miles could take 5 hours), I'm not sure whether I have what it takes to make it.

  1. Today was the longest day of the Elite Southern Transcontinental.
    206 miles with the omnipresent roar of the wind in my ears.
  2. The wind was blowing hard all day (from the south/south east). They even think it;s a good idea to install windmill farms out here (you might be able to make out the propeller blades in the hills in the distance):
  3. There were also numerous rollers to climb. See the jaggies in the profile:
This combo made for a really hard day for many riders.

I spent the first hour in the big pack. Fast and bumpy at times, my big water bottle got ejected at mile 23. I suspect perhaps my water bottle took it upon itself to throw itself out of the cage, throw in the towel as it were, because its owner was not smart enough to disengage from the leaders. Anyway, I lost all water/drink mix and rode fairly slowly to the first water stop at mile 37.

I rode the rest of the ride with Rieks Koning and Jeff Weible. Into the sometimes fierce headwind, these two very experienced PacTour guys knew how to get the job done. I tried to do my little bit, but according to my SRM powermeter, I was probably slowing them down. I started becoming quite tired near the lunch stop (mile 113) but there was more than 90 miles to go.

After lunch, I could only follow the wheels of Rieks and Jeff. I estimate they were 2mph faster than what I could do. They did an excellent job of keeping things going to the penultimate water stop (mile 188). From there, the tandem team of Tom and Terri Schwartz (a really great couple from San Diego who are working the Elite Tour) blasted its way over the remaining rollers to the finish (mile 206) at the Quality Inn in Ada.

  • Day 9: Mileage-wise, we are over the halfway point to Savannah GA.
  • The roads in Oklahoma today were smooth and in excellent shape generally.
  • There was a bad crash early on. I didn't see it. But I was told Brad Haslam of New Mexico broke his kneecap. Another rider got painful road rash.
  • Fred Matheny went home. Another rider, Alan Stokes, had an asthma problem and also dropped out.
  • Early in the morning (after mile 23), the group I was riding in was stopped briefly by Susan Notorangelo and lectured for not noticing cars from the back (and moving over to make room) soon enough.
  • There is so much dense air here. Every time I took a deep breath, I noticed the difference from Arizona.
  • The humidity felt very high. Although it was only 82F, I felt quite sticky.
  • Nearer the end, someone parked on the side of the road shouted my name. I thought either I heard wrong or perhaps I was hallucinating. I don't know anyone in Oklahoma. Turns out it was a friend of a cyclist. His name is Reid McNeely:

    [Picture taken at the finish.]
I'm very tired indeed. I wonder if it's possible to recover properly from the 13 hours spent out there today.

Course (MapSource and Google Earth):