By Jeff Magnuson
Heat + Humidity + Head Winds + Horrific Downpours + Hills (oh god, the hills, ranging from merely hard to a "real ass biter") = One Hell of a Fun Ride! This is Quadzilla 2006 in a nutshell.
First of all, kudos goes to Mark Frank, the ride organizer, and his dedicated crew of volunteers. Without their help, no one would be able to complete this ride - be it providing words of encouragement at the checkpoints (not to mention tons of food), manning a secret control in the middle of the night, or cooking everyone breakfast at the hotel stop in the morning. It was the people involved that made the ride so enjoyable.
My goal for Quadzilla was to finish all 400 miles within the 40-hour time limit. I had heard the stories and looked at the elevation profile, so I knew the route would be excessively hilly. Even though I had done plenty of hilly rides on the DC Randonneur brevet series and on the Chuck and Crista weekend rides, 28,000 ft. of climbing still seemed daunting. I did my best to put any delusions of grandeur about completing the ride with a fast time out of my mind and focused on just getting to the finish. To that end, I made sure that I would be prepared for anything and everything that could go wrong during the ride. There would be no showstoppers. I decided I would go with my steel Bianchi touring bike since I could attach a seat post rack to it and have a bag to carry every "contingency plan" I might need. Plus, it has a triple. Little did I know how glad I would be to have those extra gears towards the end of the ride. To give an idea of what I was facing, here is a link to the elevation profile –
I drove up to Ithaca on Friday and arrived in town just before 5pm. Mark was there outside the hotel for the bike inspection and to hand out our goodie bags. Chris Mento and Matt Settle were already there having arrived the day before to do some scouting of the route. They reported that, yes, it was hilly. After getting settled, we went downtown to find a good pasta dinner. After dinner and a quick stop at Wegman’s for last minute supplies, we headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. As it turned out, it would be the last real sleep any of us got for some time.
The ride started from the Wegman’s parking lot across the street from the hotel at 5am on Saturday morning. I had gotten up a bit before 4am to have a light breakfast and check out of the hotel before walking over to the ride start. Just before the ride start, Mark gave us some last minute instructions. I know we were in for a grueling ride with the real possibility of a complete mental breakdown when the last instruction was "under no circumstances is a rider to take a swing at the ride organizer." Then, at 5 am, we were off.
The first few miles out of Ithaca were relatively flat, so all 23 riders more or less stayed together, but it didn't last. At the 3-mile mark, the climbing began. At first, my legs felt heavy pedaling up the climb causing doubt and worry to creep in. Is this a bad sign of things to come? Did I eat enough before the ride? Did I peak too early and burn myself out in training? I finally chalked it up to the fact that I was carrying several pounds of extra weight with the seat post rack and bag and was soon able to get into a rhythm up the climb.
For the first 50 or so miles, I leapfrogged with various riders, catching up to some, being passed by others. At mile 30, we were treated to our first of many panoramic views of the Finger Lakes. I had been fumbling with my cue sheet and trying to open an energy bar when I glanced to my right and was blown away by the view. We were high above Senaca Lake and it seems like it stretched as far north and south as one could see. We also rode through several wineries on our way into Watkins Glen. We hit the first secret control at about mile 60, which was well stocked with water, Gatorade, bananas and food to fix sandwiches. I only spent about 10 minutes at the control, but now the riders were fairly spread out and I would see large groups only at the various control stops.
Just outside the town of Hammondsport at about mile 85, we hit the first major steep climb. Up until now, the climbs had been long, but relatively gradual - similar to what you would find west of Frederick or in western Virginia. But this, called Bully Hill, was a doozy. I now knew the stories of Quadzilla were true. The payoff though was another spectacular view from the top of the hill. More climbing and some rolling hills finally brought the route to the first official control checkpoint at mile 111 in Naples. I arrived at around 1pm, which was right when I had anticipated getting there, so that was a good sign. Not only did the control have the usual food supplies, but had hot food as well - hamburgers and spaghetti. Here was also a fine example of how well the volunteers took care of the riders. When I asked if there was any Gatorade, there was only a small amount left. So, one of the volunteers immediately got into her car and ran off to the store to buy more. I was also able to access my drop bag here and grabbed my extra lights and batteries and restocked myself with energy bars and Gu packs. Even though the weather had been perfect up to this point, one of the riders called his wife who reported to him that the forecast was now calling for a 40 percent chance of severe thunderstorms and damaging winds. 40 percent? That's still less than a 50/50 chance. Not a problem.
Even though the next section to the control in Springwater was only 37 miles, the route kept getting harder and my average speed was dropping. This section included some major climbing and the temperatures were now into the 90s with high humidity. A strong wind was picking up, too. Some of these climbs were brutal. There were times when I was crawling up the hills at less than 4 mph. When the hills are a mile long or more, it means staring at the same stretch of asphalt for a long time. I was finally able to limp into the control in Springwater at mile 147 at almost 4:30 pm.
I spent about 30 minutes at the control stop before setting off again. Immediately leaving the control, there was another major climb. About a third of the way up, there was an option to take a short cut that would cut fifty miles off the route. I never even considered taking this option. Apparently, no one else who finished the route did either. I passed through Dansville and was now up on a ridge heading directly west. Looking off to my right to the north, I saw