I had last visited Providence/Rhode Island back in October of 2004 for "work." Every year the land trusts in the country gather in a new location for an event called "Rally." That year Erin (happy birthday!), Dave, Sharon, and myself flew up (in a convoluted style, driving to Greensboro, flying through Atlanta to Providence) for about four days. The highlight for me was a boat ride down Narragansett Bay, which included stops on several of the islands, then a clambake, followed by a tour of Newport and all the gaudy mansions that apparently define it.
I also took two runs on the Thursday and Saturday, going about 3.5 miles at a leisurely 9 minute mile pace. What I do remember about the runs was the nasty nasty hill that Brown University was situated upon. Having looked over the run route for this Half Ironman, it looked reasonably certain some "sadistic #$@&" (as commented by Kevin in his race report) had decided to torture 1000+ people with these hills.
Looking at the logistics right off the bat I had a strong desire to drive, as Baltimore would be a logical place to stop en route both ways. Not only does one of my best friends live there, but I had recently reconnected with an old classmate from University of Washington who apparently was in the area. There was a small group from Charlotte talking about making the journey. Leading the charge was Kevin, a coach for Team in Training, along with John, who I met last year when we both covered the Vineman Ironman in August.
Since I got procured a new bicycle rack, I offered up to transport two additional bikes, and those two answered the call. At least it would help some with the staggering costs of gas. The reality though was that flying into Providence was expensive, at least $400 and then you had to rent a car and ship your bike, which was being offered for $300. And since Julie was coming along, in addition to Winston, that made even more sense.
The actual odyssey began early Thursday morning. After loading the three bikes for the first time, which was a real pain, I put Winston into the car and went to pick up Julie around 6:30. Our first real stop, after getting gas in Haw River ($3.87), was in Durham so I could show Julie around my old stomping grounds! It was like a distant vague memory, mostly good thank goodness! She especially liked the Duke Chapel and I even drove by the home where all the magic began.
We then continued north on I-85 through the section I call "the tunnel of trees" (Virginia border to Petersburg). After fueling up again ($3.93) and fighting off a pack of rabid dental hygienists to get some sandwiches, Julie took over. We really hit the first traffic jam as we patiently waited to cross the Woodrow Wilson bridge. The little man inside me told me to avoid 295 and take the beltway all the way around to the Washington Baltimore Parkway. That was a good call. We took a bunch of random exits on the parkway in search of a bathroom stop, but all we found was a USDA quarantine area. As with last time, my Google directions once in downtown Baltimore became totally useless, but thankfully my Baltimore-dar was situated enough to work my way to Johns Hopkins. At that point it looked like I knew what I was doing! From there it was easy for me to find Steve's red brick row house.
Shortly after our arrival we took a nice walk in the neighborhood to discuss shoes and other hot topics of the day. We then left Winston behind and went to pick up Margaret from the lab - from there an executive decision was made to do tapas for dinner. The place we ended up downtown was very charming given its adjacent situation - the weather that evening was quite pleasant versus what we had all been accustomed to, so we sat outside and enjoyed a delightful meal, thanks to Hamid Karzai's brother. That night we had talked about watching a movie, but instead saw photos from their recent Italy trip. I was feeling abnormally tired at that point - it was especially bad after the walk, which was quite easy.
Steve, Margaret, Scott, and Winston. Note the absence of Gene Simmons.
In case you were wondering what I was referring to (Halloween 2007)
In case you were wondering what I was referring to (Halloween 2007)
That morning I shuffled out with Winston and urged him to see the bunny on Steve and Margaret's lawn, but sometimes he just doesn't spot that well. I thought the matter was closed. A little later, after a delightful breakfast, I was outside packing with Steve when Winston caught scent of the bunny in the bushes. As a reader of this blog, you will know that Winston loves to chase bunnies (see June 4th post). Once out of the bushes, the bunny turned up the hill of Dewey Avenue and we watched a spectacular hill chase! Wow! Of course, Winston didn't even get all that close. Also at their local park we had to take in the view of a classically abandoned stray shopping cart!
As we left Baltimore I continued to feel weak, but obviously driving an air conditioned car couldn't be all that taxing - right? Oh, what joy to be back on the New Jersey Turnpike. As I versed Julie about the strange relationship between Duke University and New Jersey, we slowly made our way north. At the last service area we were forced to buy some high priced sandwiches then wait in line FOREVER to get gas. New Jersey is one of a few states that believes the average driver is incapable of pumping gas. I am familiar with this because of growing up near Oregon, which has this horrible fear that unemployment would skyrocket if gas pumpers were to be stricken from their jobs. What a joke! And thankfully New Jersey has some of the cheapest gas in the nation ($3.99) because of the turnpike. Thankfully during this time I finally connected with the Camp Parsons friend in Newport that I was desperately hoping to see!
This was the first time Julie had seen or been in New York City, so she was snapping photos as we ran alongside nearing our showdown with the George Washington Bridge. I was last up this way in November of 2001. Winston was with me and I remember scanning the skyline, which had recently been relieved of the World Trade Center towers. This was my first time, so I couldn't reference the horror of not seeing the towers, but still it was a pungent memory. Not nearly as pungent though as when I was waiting to cross the bridge. I vividly recall seeing a woman panhandling. She was extremely emaciated and had a sign saying she was dying of AIDS. I also remember she had some animals with her, I believe cats. Now normally I never give money to panhandlers, but this was just too much for me. I think I was in a center lane, so I couldn't actually, but I also remember a man giving her $10. That was worse than the traffic, which I recall was horrendous. This time was no different. After losing another $8 of the $37 total I would spend in tolls, crossing the bridge and the next eight miles was just nasty nasty nasty! As we inched over the bridge we caught glimpses of a man walking way faster than we were driving. Even though the traffic continued after touching down in Manhatten, I did feel a beautiful presence nearby. It then thinned out, but once in Connecticut there was a 25 mile stretch of quite possibly the worst lengthy traffic delay I've ever suffered through! I also had a few memories of New Haven as I visited my friend Andy there in 1997(?). I remember I flew into Boston and was staying with my cousin Amy. I proceeded to lose her husband's transit pass, then I got kicked out of the Harvard Library for attempting to locate a copy of Philip Dru: Administrator. Since I knew someone on the inside at Yale, Andy got me a copy which I read then mailed back. Later I would find my own copy. I had taken the bus there, and continued on to DC to visit Steve, who was living there at the time. It wasn't until after New Haven that we really were free of the traffic.
After "jumping in" to Rhode Island all of us were very ecstatic to finally make it to Warwick. Since Kevin and John had already arrived, we met them at a local Italian restaurant, that wanted itself billed as an Applebees, for dinner. We somehow managed to score some free bread - I'm not sure how it happened, but that was all a nice finish. For our first night we had to settle for the Motel 6, but it really wasn't all that bad. Anything was better than that traffic!
Friday morning I was feeling abnormally weak once again. We ate breakfast (the two of us that is) at the adjoining local diner, which was stocked with the stock, gruff New England types. We both enjoyed listening in on their conversations, although I was having problems keeping my head up. Upon finishing I went back to lay down while Julie took Winston for a walk. Apparently she made a startling discovery in the parking and just had to show me. Right in the middle of the parking lot there was a black plastic bag overflowing with porn movies! That must have accidentally fallen out of someone's car? What other explanation would you have?!?
We then took the quick trip into Providence. I hopped out of the car at the convention center to register. At the top I found the line to be extremely long (and slow, go figure). Thankfully Kevin, John, and Tricia were right there so I sheepishly cut into line. Still, it took quite some time. You had to even sit down for an interview. Interestingly enough, I put 181 pounds down as my weight and then they actually weighed me - came in at 180.8 pounds! The lady said I was the most honest person yet! Hmm, am I? Once done I was out of there quick! Before leaving we caught another cart, this one being pushed around. They're everywhere!!
From there we chose to go down the east side of Narragansett Bay, through Bristol, to Newport. The drive was quite pleasant and even better I found a free parking space in downtown Newport - triple score! We then went down to Washington Square where I met Dan Linquist - an old friend from Camp Parsons who I had not seen in 16-18 years!!! How fun was this? I met his wife and newborn daughter, along with his parents who were visiting from Costa Rica. Since Winston was with us (and boy was he pulling - probably looking for some rich bitch...) we had to settle for a simpler outdoor type of lunch but that was no big deal. Dan recently moved here with his family to attend the Naval War College. He is more my brother's age, and was Assistant Hikemaster a few years before I held the position (1993 and 1994). Dan's brother Jonathan "Action!" Linquist was also on staff, so it was great to hear what he was up to as well! Even better, there was another Parsons staffer in Newport - Mike Perkow is also attending the college so Dan was quite surprised to run into him. Unfortunately he was gone for the weekend.
After our lunch, the three of us went our own way just wandering a bit up and down the streets of the biggest tourist mecca since Wall Drug. But not as nice as Wall Drug. And then of course what Newport visit would be complete without a spin on Bellevue and Ocean Drives, home to some of the most ridiculously large summer homes on the planet! We also drove around Fort Adams, which is where we had those delicious lobsters and clams four years ago! Unfortunately we were running short on time, so we headed west across the bridge then down along 1A towards the town of Narragansett. Our destination was Roger Wheeler Beach State Park where I had to drop off Holman for the night. Naturally the whole place was a zoo, but getting in wasn't all that bad. I certainly started to feel a little less maladjusted about the race once in this sort of environment. As usual, Winston was the star of the show!
Upon leaving I realized I had until 6PM to drop off my run gear in the second transition area (yes, this was a nightmare point-to-point race) and there was only an hour to get there. There just happened to be loads of cars trying to get back in town, so I was really sweating this thing out! We did make it under the wire, but I'm sure they had to keep things open for much longer. We then went up Atwells Avenue into the Federal Hill district, where one can find lots of Italian food. A group of us had gone to eat there in 2004.
Our destination this time around was Constantino's. Since we were so hurried Winston had to hang out on the side street and while Julie was (always) stylishly dressed, I was not. We were the first to arrive, and I didn't know the name of Tricia's friends who had made the reservation. The guy up front was a pretentious jackass to me, so that basically ruined the evening for me. We then waited for John and Kevin, and shortly Tricia arrived with her husband, along with the CT locals Steve, Wendy, and young Alex Wooters. Apparently we were totally hooked up here, through Steve we got the private dining room upstairs and later learned there was a side tab so we could get some expensive bottles of wine. Score. I wanted to go down and rub that in the maitre d's face. But I didn't. Another Charlottean Brad was supposed to join us but never did make it to the hotel. We were there about three hours, but thankfully the company was great and the food good enough to even things out. I turned out to be the only participant opting for some of the wine. I started drinking a glass of red wine the night before the race at the Chicago Marathon. Boy, did I run well that day! But as we know, the wine wasn't the only reason!
I was extremely looking forward to (mainly) getting Winston out of the car and getting us into a nicer pad - one that had higher quality porn left in the parking lot! The Holiday Inn Express in Warwick was that place, although Winston freaked out major each time he went into the elevator! After conferring we set the alarm for 3:30AM and went to bed.
Come to think of it, for all my big races I have opted to use my reliable mobile as an alarm clock. For some odd reason, I did not. Rest assured our hotel-provided alarm clock went off at 3:30. However, instead of the usual audible noise this model opted to flash a little white light - stellar! Thankfully I woke up at 4:10 - those were some pretty hectic 15 minutes that followed! Thankfully our commute to the swim start was swift and uneventful. With the bikes already in place I just had to place my black bag besides the bike and then work my way towards the start of what would hopefully be my seventh Half Ironman.
Water temperature of the Atlantic Ocean at this particular locale was 69 degrees, perfect for the wetsuit. There is nothing more I detest than the close-fitting nature of the suit, but as a below average swimmer the gains I reap are quite noticeable. The professionals left at 6:00AM, the next twenty minutes passed quickly before I left with the red caps, which were half of the males 30-34.
The only major X-factor in this triathlon was the fact I had never swam a race in the ocean before. The water area was protected, but for the first 15 minutes I struggled mightily with the surf and breakers, not to mention the salt water. It was some time before I was able to calm myself down enough. It sure felt like a long way out to the turn, and then it was a huge fight for me with the low sun to sight my way back to the beach. It was then I started to notice the slight trickle of my age groupers from the next wave catching me. Thought it would actually be earlier! Still I pushed on, putting most of my mental energy into not getting worked up over this part of the triathlon. I swam until the last possible point of my hands hitting the sand. As I hoisted myself up I checked the watch and crossed at 38:25. Considering the initial frustration, I was counting this as decent. With my seven attempts, my average time to complete 1.2 miles of swimming is 44:05 - my best time is 35:38 out in Washington and the worst (my first) at Duke with 57:34.
At these bigger races they have "strippers" - volunteers that help swimmers take off their wetsuits in an expedient manner. When I laid down to "get stripped" I unfortunately got an intense (but thankfully short) cramp. I certainly felt like I took my time switching over to my bike gear, that came in at 4:36.
The first five to ten miles of the bike course was absolutely spectacular! It was mainly flat hugging the bay as I flew through the town of Narragansett and headed north. Without much effort I was pushing 25mph and loving the triathlon life!
One of my major obstacles to improvement is having enough left for the run. Last year at my training Half Ironman I had my bike PR (2:54) but suffered on the run. On the ride today I was hoping to be somewhat close, but hopefully positively trade up for a better run. The goal was 3 hours flat, so I had to average 18.8 miles per hour. Very rarely do I ever come close to averaging that on my own during training rides. It has to be with a group - or a race - for that kind of speed. Early on then I was banking in some major time. When the course started to head west on Route 102 I was quickly in hurting mode. Due to the stressful day yesterday I was unable to scout out the course, the exception being the stretch of 1A we came down from Newport on. I had talked with Julie about her trying to get this intersection to see me, but when I saw the backups I realized this might have been a bad idea (it was). Interestingly enough, without even knowing the mileage I nailed my estimate of when I would be there! It was a long hill, and then became the nastier rollers of the course. I think it was somewhere along Route 3 that I received my most pleasant surprise - I came around the bend and there cheering me on was my childhood friend Eric and his girlfriend Katie! I obviously knew they were in town but thought I would only see them in downtown.
I was still languishing, but keeping the push on and forcing myself into the aerobars as much as possible. I don't own a triathlon bike, or one with shifters on the bars. For me getting down on the bars for long periods is hard on my graft. I know I lose time whenever I'm up, but it's just so hard. The absolute worst hill was around Mile 45 after passing a Providence Water Treatment plant. Whoa! Almost glad I didn't scope it out. I stuck on the lighter gear and made it through. There were some absolutely gorgeous rural stretches of Rhode Island that really made this course. And of course several picturesque small towns. There was one nasty stretch of a poorer area of Providence with some nasty roads though - I don't think I used my bars at all during that stretch, mainly for concern for my safety. And then like that, we popped out above the state house. I crossed the mat for 56 miles at 2:56:24, just minutes off my PR. That put my average around 19 miles an hour. Unreal. My average for the seven attempts is 3:03:32 - my slowest performance of 3:15:40 coming out fighting the high plains above Grand Coulee Dam.
As excited as I was to get off the bike, I knew the real struggle lay ahead. It would be a long 13.1 miles... I switch over to my Garmin watch. I was wearing it with the hopes to keep me at a pace (9:09) to come in at two hours (which is my most elusive Half Ironman goal). This turned out to be a joke, so I just had the damn thing beep at me virtually the whole time. It wasn't long before I hit Angell Street, definitely the steepest leg of a run course I've seen on a Half Ironman. I would like to have reported I gunned up these hills, but I didn't. I walked both times.
For the amount of effort expended, this may have been a wise move. I did pride myself on refusing to walk any other part of the course. From there it was a long gun east until some meandering onto Blackstone Blvd. This was a divided road with a gentle incline all the way to the turnaround around mile 3.275. The weather was sunny and very warm, but really not too bad - there were also some definitive cool breezes.
One guy that stuck out when I saw him had what looked like road rash on his face. Later I would learn his name was Richie Cunningham and he was hit by a car on the run (!), smashed the windshield, stumbled off, then continued running. Perhaps the most amazing part was that he finished second, clocking a 6:02 minute mile pace for the half marathon! You can read this on Projo.com. This naturally reminded me of my Iron hero, Cheryl Osborn. When I did the Duke Half Ironman in 2005 she was run off the road by a truck during the bike and had nasty road rash all up one side of her body. She finished the bike and then completed a tough run course. Like all the rest, it was just survival to the next aid station.
Eric was then there to cheer me on to my second lap. I also saw a woman with a dog that looked astonishingly like Winston! The second lap was more of the same nightmare, but really not that bad. My right foot was wet from all the drink I had carelessly spilled everywhere and the left was slightly swollen from my Ultimate endeavors. Coming down Blackstone I did pass Kevin - I don't know why it took so long for him to respond. Maybe he was tired... I did get a nasty sideache, but it did go away as I dreamt my way up the Angell rollers to that heavenly major descent. One last hill to the finish... Eric was there to run alongside for part of the way. I made it up the hill with reasonable gusto then in a very trademark move started running at absolutely breakneck speeds. I whizzed past the finish line at 6:06:10. This was a median finishing time for me, three faster finishes and three slower ones. My first attempt in 2004 was the slowest at 6:37 and the best time came during my second attempt at the flat White Lake with 5:48. My average finishing time is 6:09:37.
I then started to wander around aimlessly gulping whatever I could drink. Eventually I found Eric and as we wandered down we found the Tricia McCord cheering section. Shortly after that I spotted Julie with (the real) Winston. We did go over and talk to the father who was holding the Winston look-alike, but he didn't seem to care. It was funny though that the dog cared and knocked him off his seat in attempt to get a good smell of Winston! I eventually got something to eat and we milled around some more.
After collecting my bike, we then made our way down to the water to the Wooter Party RV! This was a great way to just relax after the race and just chill out.
It was a bit before the last picture was taken, as it took Kevin a little longer to make his way down. After some time we really started to worry about John. We made some trips up to the finish area and eventually found out he had been in the medical tent, but it wasn't until he showed up that we got the whole story. It sounded like he just got some major dehydration and spent several hours in the medical tent. So he didn't finish but John was obviously a great sport about it. Winston had several moments of zen during our trip. One was definitely when Alex started to scratch his belly.
Eventually the party RV had to pack up and make its way back to Connecticut. The rest of us found spots for the bikes and made our way back to Warwick. After a few showers, the two of us joined Eric and we drove (up, whoops!) and over to Katie's hometown in Seekonk, MA. After picking her up we took a very scenic route to Warren, RI where we had dinner at a local restaurant. The top item to savor was the stuffed quahog appetizer, affectionately called a "stuffie." Except it wasn't exactly an appetizer - it was HUGE! I could have eaten that alone. It was so amazing, along with the clam chowder. When it came time for the fish and chips, I hardly could eat any of it!! I was especially interested to learn that legendary Ironman Jon Blais was from the same town as Katie and she knew his brother. It was sad our visit was so short, but at the same time I only had moments of consciousness left in what had been a long day!
Monday morning, following breakfast with the McCords at the Holiday Inn Express, we began our long journey back to Charlotte. Our main goal that day was to avoid the traffic nastiness. We did encounter a little bit of traffic after New Haven, but once through there our traffic woes for the day were done! We had received several tips to take Highway 287, which crossed the Hudson on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Julie was upset she missed the "Life is worth living" sign, but hey, you can't see everything out there! I didn't realize how long of a swing it was before hitting the turnpike again, but that was TOTALLY worth it. And of course, no tolls westbound!
During the long hours in the car, my third generation iPod served up most of the great tunes. There were a lot of serious discussions, serious questions, and silly discussions, and of course silly questions (the eponymous one being one of them). One interesting question we discussed between ourselves and asked others - would you rather be a toll booth collector or gas pumper on the New Jersey Turnpike?
Our destination was once again Baltimore and some more red brick row homes, but not with Steve and Margaret. Instead I was very excited about meeting up with a friend from college when I was still living in Washington. I last saw her in early 2001 when we met for a hike at Great Falls. She had just moved into a new place with her two dogs, cat, and very young son. One of the dogs apparently would not have been a good match with Winston, but the other was - Winston had the TIME OF HIS LIFE!
Julie and I went to pick up some pizza for dinner. We did get to see a local parade in action, which caused our first pick for dinner to be unavailable, but everything turned out great. That night my friend regaled us with a most horrific story of what she had endured as a result of her last job. It was an amazing story and for me it started to make a lot of sense why I stopped hearing from her a number of years ago. If you heard this story you would stop complaining about all the petty crap that goes on at your job.
Once again, it was sad to leave after such a short visit but I think I could speak for my companions in that we were looking forward to returning to Charlotte. After a convoluted route back to the Interstate, we came down to the Beltway on I-95 and then down along 295. Unfortunately we hit some hard construction traffic after my usual DC exit (Franconia-Springfield). Thankfully it wasn't all that long-lived. We then stopped in the "Center of the Universe" (Ashland, VA for those of you living in Mos Eisley) for lunch at the Cracker Barrel #248. These restaurants are so ridiculously fake - all the "old time" pieces on the wall are the exact same at each restaurant. Still though, it's a slight step up from McDonald's in that you can get some real food. And yes, we were tired of Subway!
From there we cruised all the way back to Haw River for our last gas fill-up. The price had gone up to $3.93, which was still a "great deal" (have I lost my mind?!?). From there it was cruise control time as we powered in Charlotte. The journey in the car had lasted 1,846 miles. Believe it or not, fuel costs were just around $360, and I averaged 24.4 miles per gallon. Normally it would be in the high 20s, but with the bikes and full car it obviously suffered a bit.
Ironically, shortly after arriving home the neighborhood lost power. After all that money I spent on a new A/C system, and now it was useless! Ha! That did not detract from the fact we had an amazing and quite memorable trip!
Toll Booth Collector Pay Scales