Thursday, September 26, 2013

2013 Seacoast Century: Tragedy on the Bridge

On Saturday, I participated in the Seacoast Century. Things did not go according to plan all day after a tragic fatal accident on the course changed the complexion of the day and event.

Leading up the doing the century (100 mile ride) I had one goal: to break seven hours on my ElliptiGO. According to the ElliptiGO site the fastest three centuries (that are official times- I am sure guys have gone faster in training or other centuries) are 5:50, 6:36, and 6:57. I am still not sure what makes a time official, but I wanted to get under 7:00 and break that third fastest time on the list. 

Thursday night I had my fastest ElliptiGO ride yet. I did my 30 mile rail trail course and just felt like my ElliptiGO was leaving the ground and flying at times. I realized how fast I was going, but kept pushing it as I was having so much fun exploding on down the trail. I decided to try to break 1 hour 45 minutes for 30 miles, which is probably about 10 minutes faster than my best time. I was doing great until I took a sharp corner to get off the rail trail and back on the main road to head home with 3 miles to go. All of sudden my Go felt sluggish. It just wasn't the hills, but it felt like my brakes were rubbing or something. With one mile to go, a heard a loud "whoosh" and my rear tire immediately deflated. I had averaged 17.2 mph for 29 miles which I hit in 1:40:45. I had to call home for a ride and missed reaching that 1:45 goal. My legs though felt great and full of snap like I was hitting a peak for the century.

My tires had nearly 2000 miles on them and were ready for a change, but now I had to teach school on Friday and somehow and somewhere find a new 20 inch tire as well as figure out how to remove the wheel on the ElliptiGO that night so that I could do the century on Saturday.

Eventually I found a tire at a bike shop in Milford, NH, but they didn't have the proper tubes. I had to drive to Manchester, NH to get them and arrived just as they were about to close the store for the evening. I was able to change the tire (not easy on an ElliptiGO) with the help of online videos, but was not able to test out my tire in the dark.

I got up real early on Saturday and drove out to Hampton Beach hoping to be ready to start at the first chance: 7:00 am. Unfortunately when I arrived, I noticed that if I rotated my rear wheel, I would get a slight rubbing of the brakes. I tried every adjustment I could to fix it and nothing worked. After about 1/2 hour of frustration, I got a mechanic to look at it and he adjusted a tiny screw to loosen up the brakes and I was good to go.

I decided early in the morning to bring a flipcam to document my times. I have my old running GPS, but can't find the cable to hook it up to my computer. In the rush of fixing the rear tire, I forgot to find a replacement water bottle cage holder for my handlebars. Mine broke last month. I did get a new Camelbak on Thursday, but hadn't tried it out yet. I had it filled to capacity with 50 ounces or water. I threw two 16 oz. bottles of Gatorade in the space between my rails to drink along the way. I also had a handlebar bag where I opened up about 5 packages of Clif Bloks and placed them in a resealable bag so that I might be able to eat a bit while riding. I figured I would make quick stops at the rest stops to refill like I did at the Tour of the Litchfield Hills Century back in August.

I started later than I would have liked but eventually headed south to complete an 18 mile loop to Massachusetts before heading north to Maine for the main loop of the century, I was feeling good and feisty. I would look down at my GPS and see speeds much faster than I usually roll. I was passing cyclists all along the route and was thoroughly enjoying the morning.

As I was nearing the bridge near the MA/NH border, I heard lots of sirens and had all sorts of emergency vehicles go screaming past. A couple minutes later I was stopped by a policeman about 100 yards before the bridge. About 20 other cyclists were already stopped and more were coming behind us. At first you get a bit angry at the inconvenience, but then you realize that something bad had happened on the bridge and you start wondering and worrying. I recorded my time at 15.88 miles in 53:15. An online calculator says this is 17.9 mph(faster than my pace on Thursday) . When I won the 5 mile ElliptiGO race last month, my average speed was 18.4 mph. I still had 85 miles to go and I was speeding. While we were waiting I drank one whole bottle of Gatorade (I was thirstier than I realized) and a handful of  Clif Shot Bloks. The accident seemed bad. The rumor was that 5 cyclists had been hit by 2 cars. The nearest way around the accident was about 9 miles through some heavy dangerous traffic. Everyone just milled around waiting. Finally someone said the police had said that it might be a couple of hours before they reopened the bridge. We had already been stopped for about 15 minutes. I found the first group of cyclists headed out for the detour and joined them. It was slow going as they stopped at times to check the GPS and we had to wait at intersections when we hit traffic lights. Because of how fast I had ridden the first 15 miles, I felt that I could still get under 7 hours, but I was going to have to work a bit harder. Nine miles later we got back on the course, but with heavy feelings about what happened on the bridge. I kept thinking about the violence of a car hitting cyclists and with the sounds of such a long delay at the bridge, I was nervous about possible fatalities. 

Despite the worry, my legs felt fantastic and speedy. It was a misty/cloudy cool morning with little wind: perfect conditions. I was keeping up with most cyclists, although pacing on an ElliptiGO is somewhat different than on a bike, so I would be passed and then later find myself repassing cyclists. We had to stop at some intersections and walk our bikes the length of one bridge. I can get off my ElliptiGO and easily walk in my running shoes. Stuck behind cyclists in their cleats on the bridge, it was slow going. Not only was I still going fast enough to be under 7 hours, I was also on pace to break 6:10 (despite losing about 20 minutes to not riding- I was keeping an elapsed time on my GPS). We hit York Beach in Maine and I felt great. Whenever we went on back roads with hills, I would challenge the cyclists around me, who picked up their pace not to be passed by me. It was fun to be killing the hills at 50 miles in which I hit  in 3:09:52. Take off the 20 minutes of delay and I was riding at a pace rivaling the world record for 100 miles on the ElliptiGO. I decided not to stop at the rest stop and kept going. I hit the turn around at Nubble Lighthouse right at 60 miles with a time of 3:45. 

I knew I was bound to get tired soon as I was riding way over my head, but decided to soldier on to see what I could do. Unfortunately,  when we hit the long straightaway at York Beach there was a very severe headwind and the sun came out from behind the clouds. My speed started slowing a lot. You can't go aero on an ElliptiGO and I took the full force of the wind. I also can't seem to draft cyclists, but many cyclists thought I made a great wind break so I led a small parade down along the shore as I pushed as hard as I could even when it felt like I was running in loose sand.

I realized I was tiring, even at the times we were riding away from the coast and the heavy winds. I tried sipping what I could out of the Camelbak and hoped there was enough in there to keep me watered. At 75 miles I blew right past the rest station. I figured I could survive 25 more miles to get to 100 miles and then I would look for a store or something and stop and get something to eat or drink. I went down a hill to an intersection about 100 yards beyond that aid-station and had to stop to check directions. I bent down and drank the last few ounces of Gatorade in my second bottle and started up again and started feeling a bit light-headed for awhile. Oops, not wanting to turn back, I thought to myself that this might be a good chance to see how hard I can go while depleted and tired.

At 81 miles, I went for a sip of water from the Camelbak and it was empty. I just thought to myself that 19 more miles was not that far. I knew my time was slowing and I might not break seven hours, so I just kept going instead of doing something smart like buying a Coke or Gatorade somewhere. When we hit Portsmouth, the ride got very dangerous. We were routed through some winding roads through an old section of town and traffic was backed up. Cyclists were getting off their bikes or riding 1-2 mph behind slowed cars. I got off and walked a bit on a sidewalk, but it was busy with people. When I stepped back on to my ElliptiGO, my calf started cramping up. When I got back on the road, cars tried to pass and a couple cars moved in cut me off and press me into the curbing. I had to yell a couple of times at some drivers. This was really not safe! Soon the traffic ended and I was back on the course. I felt very depleted like I was hitting the wall in a marathon.

Then we hit the New Hampshire coastline and more headwind. I was having a hard time putting energy into my stride. Muscle memory kept me moving, but it was not with power. Eventually we hit a loop off the ocean road and got to some back roads again. I would crawl up the hills and even found myself wanting to coast on slight downhills before even getting some speed going. I was counting miles and was getting close to 100 where I promised myself to stop.

Finally I hit 99 miles and I started recorded times. I got to 99.88 and in the woods the GPS was lost. Finally it kicked back on at 100.3 miles. I did it in 6 hours and 47 minutes beating my goal time easily despite all the stops. As I was recording my time, the memory on my Flipcam was filled and I missed the exact seconds. It was just that kind of day.

I found a stone wall and sat down. I emptied some memory and started recording my thoughts. I got a bit emotional as all day I had been thinking about that accident. I was very concerned about what had happened and knew I would soon find out. I didn't stop long as I had to find water. I ate some more of the Clif Shot Bloks, which I hadn't touched in 40 miles or so. Hey, they weren't bad and I could eat them without water. Maybe I should have been eating these over those last miles!

I got back on the the ocean route and the headwinds and at mile 104 found my first bathroom since the morning and a water fountain. I filled up my empty Gatorade bottle twice and swigged down the water before heading for the parking lot at Hampton Beach. I finished 109 miles (the last 9 miles were casual) in 7:37:03.

It was there that I heard that two cyclists had been killed on the bridge and two more were injured by a car that drifted over the center of the road and hit them head on.

As the days unwind since the event, we have learned that the 19 year old driver, who may have been texting, had been stopped by the police for speeding (59 mph when the limit was 30 mph) just eight hours earlier on the very same bridge! She does not even have a driver's license. The police waited until someone else drove the car home. That was all they could do besides giving her a court date. She was a druggy/party girl. I saw her Facebook page on Sunday before she took it down. A police eyewitness to the crash said she was speeding so fast over the bridge that he thought she was being pursued by a police car. Now it turns out that the lady who picked her up that night (it was her car) was a major heroin dealer and sold her drugs and gave her the keys to the car to drive home that morning knowing she did not have a license. Such a tragic accident from such a self-absorbed girl. The story is still unfolding, but that won't bring back the lives of the two wonderful sounding ladies who died on the bridge that morning.

This event is not really a pleasant memory. The deaths hit too close to home. When you are that close to an accident, it changes your thinking. I did enjoy riding very hard for 60 miles. I learned that I need to be more careful about feeding and drinking on a long ride, but I think as the day wore on, that it became more of a chance to test some boundaries. I knew in the end that I would just feel some discomfort and I didn't mind a bit of personal discomfort as I thought about the possibility that other people who trained and got pumped up to complete the Seacoast Century on such a beautiful fall day just as much as I had, may have lost their lives that morning just for being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. That is what happened, all because of some self-centered girl who had no concern for the law and for others.

Here is a short compilation of the few videos I took on the FlipCam throughout the day. I am holding a cheap camera and was not filming for anything but record keeping purposes. My son is a professional videographer, my video is as bad as they come. It does document short slices of the day, including the bridge and and various mile points. It also records me hitting 100 miles and talking to myself at that point when I was very tired and a bit emotional about the accident knowing that I was to soon find out what had happened after thinking about it all day. I can't say you'll enjoy my video skills, but it does provide some documentary evidence of this ride and day. A couple of other times on the course I recorded by hitting the pause button when I meant to record and record when I thought it was paused, so I missed some more discussion at the bridge.

ElliptiGO miles September 16-22
Monday: 0 miles
Tuesday: 8 miles
Wednesday: 0 miles
Thursday: 29 miles
Friday: 0 miles
Saturday: 109 miles
Sunday: 0 miles
total miles: 146 miles
accumulated miles: 1959 miles (13 weeks)


Greg said...

Truly a sad event. Congrats on your accomplishment. Be safe out there.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks, Greg!