Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughts on 2011 venues.....

So - every time I see any of you guys - @ Van Andel, on New Year's Eve, in the saddle, etc....the same question comes up: "Where we gonna ride this year?"

A big question - that. (For some of us)

So - in the interest of helping you decide (maybe) and since I'm the only person we know that attended and rode in all 5 Rides last year I thought I'd give you the scoop-as-I-know-it on the 2011 Ride Venues, a few pros and cons and see if that clears anything up for anyone.

(I apologize in advance - this is gonna take more than a few words!)

Burlington VT 7/28-31: I really enjoyed this Ride. It was exactly the "Killington antidote" that the Program needed. Cool little college town w/ a vibrant, arty downtown. The hotel was fine - and they seemed excited to have us. A bit isolated and to far from town to walk. The route was good.....the road surfaces were fine, it ran along the coast of Lake Champlain, through a buncha farmland, etc. There was a short stretch of busy almost-highway and a slightly contrived feeling little loop to make a century but overall it was nice. The hills got a little "Vermont-y" towards the 3rd breakpoint but they were mostly of the short-and-steep variety. There were a couple grinders on the return leg but nothing like Asheville or Jubilee Pass. There was a sweet covered bridge, some good views of the water, etc. In general I'd rate the course as "good" - mostly low traffic, good roads, moderately hilly. The weather was perfect. (One caveat - due to my role as sweeper I never got out to the end of the course, but I didn't hear any horror stories of the route past BP #3.)

LaCrosse Wi 8/11-14: My least favorite course of the season. And least favorite venue overall. Nonetheless - we had a great Ride and the 180-some riders there had a blast! LaCrosse is a little blue-collar town on the Mississippi River. (that's the only time I'm gonna spell that out). We were scattered over 4 hotels downtown 'cuz the Ride HQ hotel wasn't big enough. The hotel is across a park form the river - that was cool - and we had the start and finish-line-party in that park. The hotel was fine, at least mine was. (I heard some grumbling from some crewfolk about the "roach motel" they were stayin' at). The food was fine. The route was okay - you rode through downtown, across a big bridge into Minn and bade farewell to Wis for the rest of the ride. Yep - the "Wis Ride" is 95% in Minn and Iowa! 2nd flattest route we have (after Tucson) and mostly decent 2 lane through rural country. Kinda cool anytime you are within sight of the Miss River, pretty anonymous otherwise. It goes through a few little towns and the only climbing a'tall is on the little loop @ the end of the course before you turn back. If you are not going for 100 miles it's gonna be the flattest JDRF Ride ever. The party back @ the finish right there on the river was cool. LaCrosse feels like it could be any of 100 midwest towns - lotsa bars, a little grimy but honest, y'know. No "shopping" or art scene to speak of in other words but plenty of places to eat and buy a cheesehead. Town is within easy walking distance from the hotels. Weather-wise it rained hard on Friday but the rest of the time it was nice - a little muggy.
My main impression upon leaving LaCrosse was that if we could have a successful Ride there we could have one pretty much anywhere. Not a dis on the town per se........just what I was thinkin' as we pulled out.

Lake Tahoe 9/9-12: The first "piggy back Ride" of 2011. It's gonna be hard for me to seperate my impressions of the area and route from the fact that I hated the lousy casino we stayed in with a passion but I'll try. (Sorry about that - but we were there for a full week, y'know?). There is no way we'll use it again anyway (I hope!) so it's a moot point, right? Tahoe is a gorgous area - the town (on the CA side) is way cool in a trendy-ski-resort- kinda way w/ lotsa shops and pubs and such. (Don't get me started on the low-rent Reno-wannabe crap on the Nevada side o' the line! It makes Pahrump look cosmopolitan!) The lake itself is stunning. As a piggy-back ride there are some realities that you might not be used to - start logistics are awkward w/out the big emotional lift of our usual National-Anthem-ride-under-the-arch-and-into-battle vibe and you are sharing all this w/ 2000+ non JDRFers. The route options are different as well - there are only 2: the full 72 mile loop or the 36 mile option (which involves taking a ferry across the lake to the halfway point on the loop. You start off in town - there's 5-6 miles of busy 4 lane before you turn north and head into the forest roads. After that the road gets quite narrow as it starts up the first big climb. (There are basically 2) There's plenty of traffic all day - I was surprised @ how much - 'cuz it's a very popular drive. (Shucks - Berger, Did & I did it before we left). The first climb is significant - 2-3 switchbacks up to an exposed road w/ bluffs falling away to either side. Steep. Out of the saddle once in awhile steep. Use your granny gear if you have one steep. Not too long, but have I mentioned sort of steep? After that there's a great descent and then you are along the shoreline winding through lotsa funky-cool little CA towns. You are almost always within sight of the lake. After the 1/2 point and a cool breakpoint @ an awesome park on the water you start back along the east side of the lake. Significant Climb #2 is lurking here. It's more of a grinder.......not Jubilee, not Starr Meadow but long enough that you'll get plenty tired of it! After that you basically are descending back into town, but you're on a busy highway-esque road w/ a good shoulder. Overall I'd say this is the 2nd hardest Ride physically - after DV - but the fact is that a strong rider will be done before noon, which might be sort of anticlimatic. (Or great!)
Ride support was good - not up to normal JDRF-only standards but I've never seen a ride that was. Sufficient amount of stops - good enough food, etc.
Gotta say that the organizers of the Tour de Tahoe bent over backwards to make us feel welcome! Custom water bottles, JDRF logo on the rider numbers, special JDRF-specific colored numbers for our riders, etc. Awesome!
Weather was great - although it was 43 degress as we rolled out @ 7am!!!!

Death Valley 10/13-16: The grandaddy of JDRF Rides, our Team fav and my favorite so bear that in mind if I get carried away here, okay? It's hard to explain if you've not been there but the isolation, the exotic/ borderline ominous terrain and....yes.....the weather combine to make this the Ride of Rides. Lodging is fine in a college dorm sorta way. The ranch is isolated but there's a great pool, a golf course, a saloon, 2 restaurants and a gift shop on the premises and lots to do if you have (or rent) a car or jeep. The food's okay - all dinners are outside which is awesome.
The route is easy to follow - there are literally 5 turns in 105 miles! Road surface is good to okay, traffic is usually low but what there is tends to be Euro-tourists in rental cars who seem to think that they're home on the autobahn so single-file is the order of the day! It's slightly downhill overall on the outbound leg until you get past BP #2, then there's some steady ups as you approach BP#3. Waiting for you after #3 is the infamous Jubilee Pass - an honest-to-Gawd 7 mile climb. Not steep - but pretty unrelenting when you add in the heat and the sun. This climb has caused many a rider to re-assess his/her goals for the day!
Okay - the weather. It's hot. Real hot. Frickin' too hot! No matter what "they" say, no matter what the stats are - we've been there 6 times now and it's been 100+ every damn time! Sometimes way more than that! Sure - it's a "dry heat" but 100+ is 100+ and combined w/ the glaring sunshine and likelihood of headwinds on the return leg....well.....it's a tough ride! I've attended 20-some JDRF rides and there will be more riders in the med tent @ 1 Death Valley Ride than all the other non DV rides put together.

Let's face it folks- they don't call the place Death Valley for nuthin'!

Now - having said that - over the years we've sent nearly 200 riders to DV and I'd estimate that well over half of them rode the whole thing, another goodly chunk made their goal (whatever it was) and we've had less than a dozen visits to the med tent. (or worse). Jus' sayin'.

Tucson 11/17-20: "Piggy back Ride" #2! El Tour de Tucson is a huge ride - 9000+ riders! It's a race as well - you wear a timing chip, there are wave starts, lotsa pro and pro wannabes, teams etc.
The lodging is far and away the best JDRF venue ever. We use a JW Marriot 5 star place high in the hills above Tucson, about 25 minutes from town. Now - you guys know that Mrs Clark's favorite son is a spread-the-bedroll-whereever kinda hombre but This. Place. Is. Awesome! Lux but not fancy - great food (best of the year) dinners on the patio under the full moon and desert stars...dang!
I repeat - dang!
Of course - being a 25 minute drive away from anything complicates the logistical picture a bit but Tucson's nothing special as a city anyway.
The ride is an institution - you hafta take the bus down to the Expo Center on Friday to get your packet, check in, walk the mini bike show, etc. The support they get from the city and the residents is amazing too. Folks stand @ the end of their driveways w/ a hose all day!
The route is okay - lotsa winding through neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Decent roads for the most part and not a ton of traffic once you get outta town. There are 2 "hike-a-bike" sections - with seems kinda weird but are a tradition I guess. The 1st one is only about 12 miles in so there's still a huge crowd. It's a short hike across an arroyo (dry riverbed) and @ the end there was a mariachi band 11 members strong right there in the desert playin' and singin' their respective butts off! It was awesome! The 2nd one is @ maybe 40 miles and is at least 1/2 mile long and sandy. (You Speedplay folks will want cleat covers!) That one leads to the 1 big climb - which isn't much. Short and semi-steep. The route gets boring towards the end as it's on the frontage road alongside the highway back into town. Overall I'd say this is the 2nd easiest route (after LaCrosse) as olng as you are okay w/ late November desert weather. (It was perfect - cool @ night, clear as a bell, 50 in the am and 85-90 in the afternoon. It got kinda windy for a bit. It also gets dark early and they pull you offa the course @ 5:30 if you don't have lights!
The size of the ride, the multiple starting points and times and the fact that we stay so far from the start/finish changes the vibe. No place to really hang around @ the end to cheer folks, no big start, etc. Ut then again - the fact that there are 9000+ riders, the huge bike expo, the big party downtown @ the finish etc is kinda cool and we do have a pretty intimate vibe back up at @ hotel.

So - I hope this helps if you are undecided about which Ride(s) to do this season. Word is that registration won't be open 'til at least 3/1 so you have some time to think about it but I wanted to get the conversation started, y'know?

Feel free to contact me if you stil have questions - start recruiting (if you haven't) start fund raising (ditto!) and I hope to see you soon @ Van Andel, the Ultimate Cycle Challenge or on a ride!

Keep on rockin' you rock stars!

Coach MC


Katie said...

I will be in the Valley in October. :-)

Thanks for the descriptions - I'm sure they'll help people decide.

did said...

DV is never the wrong answer! Of course, there are other right answers...

Tom and Mary Scheidel said...

Death Valley for Team Scheidel, despite what Mary says.

MC said...

How long you guys been married Tom?
Have you learned nothing?

Steve said...

I will be in the Valley in October. :-)

(See Mike - I learn)

jassigal said...

Thinking for my first ride, I got to do the Valley. Looking forward to it already! :)