Monday, September 27, 2010
It has taken me a couple of days to pack for this ride and even longer to prepare for it. I am unsure of the wisdom of riding as I am recovering from a summer cold that has gone through my office like the plague. I am better, but I remain listless and weak. I have had no desire to ride my bike for days. My husband urges me to cancel my plans for this ride as he worries that I will end up seriously ill. It is not the best way to leave home for a ride, and I know he is really worried or he would be laughing at my fears, calling me a candy ass, and hurrying me out the door.
I debate driving myself or riding down with Dave King and Steve Rice. They have asked me to ride with them, but I fear I will make them wait at the end. I despise being a bother to anyone, and I fear running up a debt that may require a payment I cannot afford, but slowly I have come to trust these men. Nobody really wants to wait around after such a long ride, but I decide to chance being able to keep up. After all, I have been riding strongly this summer and have adapted well to the heat. We meet at Dave's house on Wednesday morning and head for Tennessee in the "man van." It is strange to drive these roads and it not be cold outside, myself tingling with anticipation of Hell Week and seeing people I don't often get to see. I enjoy Steve and Dave's company, but I continue to question if I should have driven down myself, perhaps because not having my own car commits me. No turning around at this point.
We decide to visit Gran Fondo, the bike shop where I bought my Lynskey, on the way to the motel. I never dreamed I would own such a bike, though I have struggled with finding a comfortable saddle for it. I have not been in the shop since it was flooded earlier this year. The shop owners are hosting a dinner tonight, and while a part of me would like to go, the stress of meeting new people combined with our hope to be in bed and sleeping by the time the banquet ends means we decline. I am surprised to find that Lynn remembers me. His wife is at the shop and shows us a video of the start of the Trace as we will be passing that part of the road in the dark. It was kind of her and I enjoy the beauty of the scenery in the video. Following a bout of lusting after different bicycles that I would love to own and picking up a few odds and ends, we head to the motel.
At the motel, I feel a ghost of myself giggling inside at the look of the desk clerk when I tell him I want a 1:30 a.m. wake up call. I finally fall asleep about two hours before the wake up time. The ride starts at four and bike check in is even earlier, so following a wake up call I reluctantly drag myself out of bed wondering what in the hell I am doing here. I have mixed feelings about this ride: excitement and dread. The Lord works in mysterious ways because with the lack of sleep and the heat prediction, I probably would have rolled over and tried to go back to bed if I had a car to escape in. Instead I roll my lazy rear out of bed and get dressed.
We head over to the ride start and the excitement in the air is almost tangible. Grins light faces. The guys tease me about the other women looking fitter, prettier, and faster. They know that despite my best intentions I am competitive, at least at times. I know it is not a race, but to me everyone here looks more capable of completing this course than I do, particularly the other woman. Normally this type of teasing doesn't bother me: the wall of good things my husband and others helped me build to shut out the worst of my insecurities is fairly strong, but today it does. Sometimes I trot them out, one by one, examine them, then wrap them carefully and put them away for the next time, these good things people have said that justify my right to exist comfortably in this world as do other people. On this ride, I will find at least one thing to add to them.
We roll off into the moonlit night in our reflective gear, a sea of white and red lights and orange vests and straps. The full moon is beautiful and will watch over us each evening, sometimes orange and sometimes ivory white. Soon we hit the Natchez Trace. I have been excited about seeing the Trace since it was mentioned in a couple of novels by one of my favorite authors: Greg Iles. The route was described as gently rolling, and I am surprised to find myself struggling on climbs. Normally it is the steep climbs where I have trouble keeping up with people, not the long, gradual climbs. I blame it on my illness. I blame it on weakness. The group has not yet split much into smaller groups as it will. I follow red tail lights, some steady and some blinking. At times I see one of the riders I know, at times I ride by myself. I finally decide that with 267 miles to cover today, I need to decrease my effort and drop back.
I ride by myself for most of this day. I don't see Steve after the first few miles. I see Bill once or twice. Dave being Dave and one of the best people I know pulls me for a bit, but I just can't keep up on the hills. I am glad to see him finally ride off. The sun comes out and the heat intensifies. At one point, I find myself crying as one of my greatest fears is no longer being able to keep up with the people I ride with regularly and it appears it has come to pass. Thoughts of no longer going to Hell Week and having their friendly companionship haunt me. I ask myself if it is the added weight of a filled carradice as I always tend to over pack that is slowing me down or am I just giving in to age and weight. Finally I tell myself to suck it up and I pull myself together. I think of Greg S. saying riding is supposed to be fun. I think of Greg Z. telling me about when he quit ultra distance riding and decide that this might be my Swan Song. From what I remember is he was part way into the ride, knew he could finish, but found he didn't want to as he was no longer having fun. I know I can and will finish this ride barring a mechanical or anything unforeseen, and if they have to wait they have to wait, but I doubt I will ever do a ride of this length again.
Goosebumps begin to cover my arms, my reaction to overheating. I decide to pull over and try to find a patch of shade and eat something from my handlebar bag as there is little to eat on this ride. It is hard to make myself drink because the water is hot and nasty tasting, but I continue to force myself. The Trace offers only the occasional warm water to drink and bathroom. There is no food, vending machine, or ice. Suddenly a truck pulls over and offers me a cold soft drink. I have a Sprite and I feel my core temperature lower as I drink. I hit the road again revived, at least for awhile. In my mind I thank Packman for his hint on the use of Sprite to settle a weary stomach and assuage thirst. I think of my brother, Chris, the dentist, and how he will hate the cavities that are probably eating up my teeth right this very moment. Despite the head wind, there is not a dry stitch of clothing on my body. At times the sweat escapes my headband and drips into my eyes burning. At some point before Tupelo, I run into Chris who has started suffering from leg cramps. We stop together for a short time, but my company is not good for him. I can't seem to pull myself out of the mental slump I have ridden myself into. I begin to think of getting a motel at Tupelo and renting a car and driving home. Normally I am encouraging to others even when I feel badly, but not today. Today I am a wet blanket.
Chris takes off and I head down the road. In not too long, I find him once again off the bike, cramping badly. I debate stopping, but I decide there is nothing I can do to help him physically and in my current mental state, I can barely help myself. I do ask and he assures me I can be of no assistance. I ride on toward Tupelo wondering if a hot meal will change my perspective. I am sick of gels and the stuff in my handlebar bag. I want food, real food. I pass one of the women who pulled me up to Chris and Dave one time earlier in the day. She is at a rest area looking tired and defeated. Her head is bowed. I call and ask if she is okay and she answers that she is. I ride onward hoping to make Tupelo before dark as I don't like busy roads in the day time and I like them even less at night.
On the way I do notice beautiful scenery. I don't believe I have ever seen cotton growing before. At first I think it is white flowers of some type. I cross the Tennessee River and photograph some Native American Mounds. But I am glad to reach Tupelo. The song "Tupelo Honey" runs through my mind as I pull into KFC to get a meal. Someone had suggested Pizza Hut, but I don't see it and I am not riding any farther to find it. Inside are two small children who are quite impressed with my arriving via bicycle. They are cute as buttons, and I find myself smiling in spite of my mood. As I eat, their father begins questioning me about my journey and tells me that what I am doing isn't very safe. He is obviously amazed at the challenge and somewhat unsure of my sanity. The children tell me another cyclist has arrived and I am happy to see it is my friend, Steve Royse. I think of the irony. Steve pulled my sorry rear during the last few miles of PBP and here he is again, my hero. He is always so positive and such a steady rider. We decide to ride the rest of the way in together.
When we leave KFC, Steve pulls me awhile blocking the head wind. I feel rather guilty sitting behind him and not taking a turn, but he says he doesn't mind. I think how he is one of the kindest and gentlest men that I know. Dusk is upon us when we head out, and soon the wind dies. The road, however, becomes increasingly rough and my behind begins to protest at each crack in the road. We talk for awhile which helps to pass the down, but I am longing for a shower and bed. Still it is nice to ride through the night with someone you like. Somewhere near the end of the days ride, my GPS bonks. We get a tad lost when we make our last turn, but we finally find our way into the overnight control at French Camp. Inside there are turkey and cheese sandwiches and drinks awaiting. We briefly refill our bellies, and head toward the showers and bed. Steve says he is leaving before breakfast. I know this would be a big mistake for me. I leave a note for Dave, Bill, and Steve Rice telling them not to wait. I figure I will sleep and decide if I will continue or head back to Tupelo and make my way home.
In the shower cabin, I meet some of the other women. Luckily, there are so few of us that we can all shower at the same time and nobody has to take a top bunk. Before I know it, I am asleep.
I awake to the sound of someone else's alarm and the sound of cleats on a wooden floor. I had meant to sleep a bit longer, but I decide to go on and get up. I still am congested from my cold and I hope I did not keep everyone up all night. Sleepily, I dress then head over to the main cabin to get some breakfast before taking off. After some coffee, bacon, egg casserole, and a biscuit, I am ready to head out. As I get ready to leave, I decide to look one more time for the scraping noise that I kept hearing the prior day. I had checked my front brakes and my rear brakes. I notice that my carradice has sagged between the bars of my carradice holder that keeps it off my rear wheel and has been dragging on my wheel. No wonder I felt so weak the prior day: I was riding with the bag rubbing my rear wheel. Luckily I have gorilla tape and there is enough to put tape over the holder to hold the bag up.
I have a definite and immediate mood improvement after this discovery. As I head toward the turn around at Red Dog Road, I find I am smiling again. Not too far down the road, I am passed by a group and I grab their rear wheel. I will end up riding with these two men for the first part of the day and find they are both named Tom. While both are much stronger cyclists than I am, they are tired from a quick pace the previous day. We stop at the first available store on the way back and eat sandwiches. The woman in the store gives me some duct tape to ensure that my carradice does not drag. I tell them to go ahead while I make this repair, but they are kind enough to wait. We stay together until we once again reach French Camp where one of the Toms decides to stop. We had already discussed our intentions to ride at our own paces today, so I head onward. The other Tom also continues, but he is riding faster than I am. About six miles out from the water stop, however, he decides to rest in the shade. It is tempting, but I want to move on while I am feeling half way decent. I head onward to the water stop there encountering Steve Rice. I tell him I intend to stop and get a sandwich at Subway. He says that is where Bill went and maybe he should change his mind and eat as well. We head to Subway and meet Bill and Joe. At least I think Joe was there. Maybe it was Tim Carrol. I find I tend to become confused during long rides and everything begins to blur together.
During this time I begin to worry about Chris. I know he came in last night and I saw him getting ready to head out this morning, but I did not pass him on my return trip to French Camp. Bill and Steve say Dave is behind as well. There is nothing I can do for either of them, but I hope they are okay. I know it bothers Steve as well, but there just is no way to check on everyone. We ride together picking up the pace about 20 miles outside of Tupelo. By the time we reach there, my lungs are burning and I am about to throw in the towel and ride by myself. I question whether hanging on was a wise decision on my part.
While we are in Tupelo, we pick up LeRoy. We again eat at KFC. LeRoy, Steve, and I will finish out this day together while the others surge ahead, though we do meet again at a water stop. If I remember correctly, this is where Tim Carrol joined the group. At one point, Steve is feeling very badly from the heat and we pull over to rest. A ranger sees our lights and pulls over to check on us. He is truly interested and concerned and talks about how visible the riders are due to their lights and reflective gear. He will follow us through the rest of the evening pulling over cars that are driving dangerously or too fast. It is refreshing to find a law enforcement person who believes we have a right to be on the road and who wants to be sure we are safe.
At one point, it begins to rain gently. I notice how you can smell the rain mixed with the road, and I point out to Steve the steam that is swirling about one to two feet off the ground. We enjoy the rain as it cools us, and it is too brief, almost like a dream. It is so warm that there is no concern about rain gear.
Finally we reach the last control. The ride through the state park takes what seems like forever. It is dark and at one point I check to make sure my light isn't broken, but it is just the moon hiding behind clouds. After quickly grabbing a ham and cheese sandwich, I am taken to a cabin. I am the first woman in (other than the two that were riding straight through), so I make up my bed on the bottom of a corner bunk, shower, and hit the sack. I can smell the mold in the air and before long I can't breath through my nose, but I do go to sleep. In what seems like a few minutes, I awaken to the sound of a male voice. I wonder but decide it must be one of the other women's boyfriends seeing her to bed. Then I hear lots of men's voices, even in the bathroom.
This leaves me wondering what to do. Obviously there has been a mistake. I don't want to get up and move. I was here first and it was supposed to be a woman's cabin. I don't really want to make them move because they are tired as well. I debate just going back to sleep and not saying anything, but I decide that might not turn out so well either. Finally I announce that I am there and they can stay if they want but please remain covered in the common area. I giggle inside as I hear the shock in one man's voice in the bathroom when someone says, "There's a chick in here." Long time since this old woman has been called a chick;-) Eventually I fall back to sleep, but in what seems like moments I awaken to the sound of a hard rain. I hurry to the bathroom before the guys get up, get dressed, and head through the rain to breakfast.
The next day is spent mostly with Bill, Dave, Steve, Joe, LeRoy, and Tim. We ride with a few others on and off, but mostly stayed together. Joe and Dave take off near the end. Tim drops back and then catches us. I am able to keep up on the climbs, though at one point I do get very tired and wonder if I need to drop back. This is the day I see wildlife: turkeys and deer. It is the short day, but I still am glad to climb off my bike at the end. The volunteers at the end are warm and welcoming, but I want to get to the hotel and shower. Steve and Dave are kind enough to agree to let me go ahead with Bill and check in and say they will load my bike. Dave later teases me about being my "bike boy." We all go out to eat at a steak house afterward. I could sleep, but it is probably good for me to eat though my stomach is sour. It is so nice to be clean and smell like a girl, to rub lotion on my skin, to sleep in a real bed that doesn't smell of must and mold.
The next morning we are off to the Loveless Cafe for a wonderful dining experience. I don't think I have ever had fried chicken for breakfast before. I am glad we stayed for this experience. But I am glad to hit the road for home, and even gladder to get home.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
he Merango Mangler: Day 1 of the Challenge Series.
Off to the ride start with a smile on my face, unsure what or whom to expect today with so many conflicting rides on the schedule. Life is about choices, and most people don't love distance as I do. As usual, just the fact that I have five days to ride and not have to work makes me happy. I feel as if I were a child let out from school for summer vacation, long ago when summer vacation seemed like a lifetime, only now I know how quickly time goes by and the only certainties are death and taxes. I don't know why, but I love being on my bike the majority of the time and I know today will be no exception. The weather is good, the course, while difficult, is gorgeous; yes, life is good.
Upon arrival, the one face I was expecting, Steve Rices, was not there. (Sorry, it appears my apostrophe/quotation marks key has quit working). Roger Bradford, three time challenge series rider participant, is there as is Bill Pustow, but no Steve. As the time draws near, Steve pulls into the parking lot, but he is not wearing his happy face. In fact, he looks decidedly unhappy. He has that look on his face that made me afraid of him when I first met him, before I came to know what a fine person he is. I later find the face is because he had driven to the wrong ride start and added miles to his already long journey. This century is already one of the most difficult centuries with Bartles Knob and some of the other tough climbs, but for the brevet I tweaked it starting it from Scottsburg and adding Pixley Knob and Liberty Knob to the mix. Steve has driven to Scottsburg as he did on brevet day and has had to turn back around and drive to Memphis, the rides normal starting place. Still, having ridden both courses, I am sure he would rather do that than ride the brutal brevet route.
For those of you who are wondering why I was so sure Steve Rice would be at the ride, he is attempting to break my current record for riding the most club centuries in a year. If, and I say if because as I will explain later, he continues to have problems that impede his progress, all goes well for him he should break the record in October. But time will tell. As they say, it ain't over until its over.
This morning is a morning made for riding with a coolness in the air that tells of falls incipient arrival. The sky is bluer than blue. Of the four of us who show, all of us rode a century on Saturday and Bill and Steve also rode yesterday. I grin a wicked grin thinking of my fresh legs. Sometimes it is nice to put the hurt on the boys the way they put it on me sometimes in the winter, fall, and spring. Fresh legs and hot temperatures for the afternoon will empower me to be cruel if I so decide though I know I will not pick this option. Sometimes it is just nice to be reassured that I am not always the weakest link, to know that I could if I had to or wanted to. I know all three of these men well and I know what strong riders they are.
I grin as I see Rogers new Rain Storm jersey and hear of his adventure. I regret not having brought my camera as I meant to do as it is a really cool jersey and I would have liked to have gotten a picture of him. For those that don't know, Rain Storm is a series of five century rides in Indiana that culminate on day six in doing RAIN, thus Roger has ridden 660 miles in six days. Way to go Roger! I ask if the Challenge Series was part of what gave him the courage to attempt this difficult ride. Of course, he tells me yes, but Roger is such a nice guy he could be saying that to be nice. It is, however, one reason for the Challenge Series, to build confidence. I remember my first back to back and it was only Mark Astro Medleys promise not to leave me that gave me the courage to ride.
After the normal struggle with what to wear as it is cool in the morning but will be hot by afternoon, I decide on a light wind vest. We take off into the morning toward Palmyra, the first store stop. As always, the view at the top of Bartles Knob almost takes my breath away. Views like this are one of the things that make me feel sorry for those that only ride flat courses because the hilly rides tend to have the prettiest scenery, or maybe it is just oxygen deprivation that makes it seem so. The air is clear and you can see for miles. We all stop for a couple of us to take our wind vests off. I know this group will stay together today and that is a nice feeling.
We reach Palmyra with no mishaps and following a couple of major climbs. For some reason, I find I am climbing well this year. I am a few pounds heavier than normal so it makes no sense other than the early, hilly brevet courses this spring. Or perhaps it is the relaxed pace. For whatever reason, I don't really struggle with any of the climbs today. I chuckle at the difference in the dogs. During this hot summer, they either were too hot to chase or would come out and half halfheartedly chase the front rider, but this morning they are all piss and vinegar and ready to have us all for breakfast. Passing a yard with a fence, we think we are safe when a jack terrier type dog decides to take us on. He climbs on the back of the larger dog, then struggles over the top of the fence. I am laughing and trying to ride hard at the same time, not a good combination, and I am glad he is not serious about breakfast. In fact, everyone is laughing at this little dog and his creativity in escaping captivity.
It is not long after this that Steve finds his saddle has slipped. While he is fixing it, either Roger or Bill notice that he has what may be a crack in one of this tubes on his bike. This is the same bike that failed before. Without sanding, we cant really tell if it is a crack or a paint problem, and he decides to continue. It is not good news if it is a crack because he has a 1000K planned in a few weeks and that means riding a different bike. Trying to find some humor, I ask Bill if he thinks perhaps God wants my record to stand as Steve has had such bad luck with bike failures and rides being canceled this year. Of course, I am asking the man destined to return as an amoeba and I fear I have just doomed myself to the same fate through my sacrilege.
We reach the new lunch stop after the climb up Depot Hill. I love the way you see the hill loom before you on the descent, snaking upwards as far as you can see. It makes me think of Grasshopper the first time we rode this route and thinking to myself, Oh shit, what have I done. One of my favorite pictures from last year is Roger climbing this hill. Tinas is closed today because of the holiday, so we try Vans Country Table. The parking lot is full which looks promising. All of us decide to try to the cheeseburger, though the hot brown special tempted me. It was good. I try to decide if it is as good as Tinas and I think it is. It is hard to tell when you are not really hungry, and for some reason appetite evades me today. This moves Willisburg down even another place in my estimation. By the time lunch is over, it is getting hot out and I am glad most of the major climbs are over. Williams Knob and Shorts Corner are the only really significant hills left to climb.
There is not much talking on this last part of the ride, and I enjoy just being able to watch the scenery roll past, trying to soak it up to warm me during the coming cold when every ride is a battle with wind and weather. The trees are starting to turn and even lose leaves in places and I try to fool myself that it is the drought and not the fall, but I know it is a mind game. I will ride in the winter, but spring and fall are my favorites. And with fall there is a certain melancholy that haunts my rides. Everyone finishes strongly. Who will show tomorrow? Who will challenge themselves?
Challenge Ride Day 2: Hardinsburg
You never know what kind of weather you will face during Challenge Week. The first year we were blessed with sun and little wind most days. Last year it rained and rained and I shamed myself canceling the last day of the Challenge due to flooding as I was worried the waters might rise around us. I have determined that this will not happen again. Weather conditions would have to be immediately physically dangerous before I would cancel again. Live and learn they say, and I have learned.
Today's weather does not cause much concern. The forecast is for partly cloudy skies and wind, lots of wind. I don't fear the wind, but bicycling has caused me to respect the wind. As I drink my coffee and study the forecast, I wonder who will show up today. The first to arrive is Steve Rice. I keep telling him he really doesn't have to show up, that it will not hurt my feelings, but he is kind of like the proverbial bad penny: always there when there is a century ride this year;-) He is followed by three others: Perry Finley, David King, and Steve Maurer. I wonder where Roger is and get my answer when I go back to the house and find the answering machine flashing. Ironically, he has gone to the wrong starting place and is on his way. I tell him to drive cautiously as we can wait. Those that might finish the entire challenge are now down to three when Bill decides not to ride.
Three new riders today, and while the three rode the time trial yesterday, they faced nowhere near the climbing that Roger, Steve, and I had faced the previous day. I no longer feel frisky and confident; today may be one of those days when I am the weak link. Roger arrives and we head out toward the first climb: Leota Hill. It is not cool like yesterday morning. I wonder if this group will stay together or ride separately. You just never know how a group will blend, and as we approach the hill I think how each year of the Challenge has been so different.
After the climb up Leota, the course flattens out for awhile and we are off in a pace line. I take my turn pulling, but I can feel it and know that I cannot maintain this pace once we hit Shorts Corner Road. I am betting that most of the others cannot either, however, and hold on. That is one thing that I have noticed, that normally just a few moments after you think you can no longer hold the pace the others are holding, they seem to slow down as well. Maybe this is because I am fairly well matched with those that I ride with pace wise, though I know there are times they buffer their speed for me.
At this point, the wind is still the caressing kind that gently brushes your skin and does not overly impede progress. It is the kind of wind that teases you into thinking it will be gentle and kind, but this is not the case: once she gets you within her grasp she will be merciless. By the time we hit Shorts Corner, one of those annoying roads with climbs that are not really significant but wear you down because they are constant, the wind is becoming an issue. I am glad that the pace lining is over for most of the day. Yes, it is efficient, but your concentration is taken by watching those in front of you so as not to touch wheels or by those behind you. You cannot really absorb the scenery or listen to jokes, and when I ride with Dave I expect to laugh, and laugh hard, at least once during a ride. I think how I like it when I hear laughter mixed with the sound of the wind as we ride. It is the same feeling that you get when you have fixed your family a good meal, everyone has a full belly, and the house is warm with love and you realize you are content to the depths of your soul for this moment in time.
I don't really know Steve Maurer, so it was interesting to chat with him for a bit and hear his goal. As I had hoped might happen, he is using the Challenge Series to meet a personal goal. He tells me that he has made a mileage game of the Tour de France, the Tour de Spain, and the Giro trying to ride half the mileage that the pros ride in these events. I am glad to hear he plans on riding at least one more day to get his mileage, and it is lovely to talk for a bit with someone new.
It is intriguing to me how my body responds to the demands that I put upon it, and I know I am not alone. Roger and I spend some time discussing how you have strong and weak moments during a ride. These moments usually pass quickly and somehow you go on when you feel you cannot only to find that you suddenly feel hale and robust. Between bouts of conversation with different people, I realize how much I love Hardinsburg Road despite the climb. It is strange how you forget certain roads that are beautiful and you wonder where your mind was at the last time your were there. Trees line the road and the sunlight filters through dappling the road.
We decide to eat at the Mennonite/Amish Restaurant, The Dutch Barn, in Livonia rather than Little Twirl. (www.dutch-barn.com). I love this quaint little restaurant that has such delicious sandwiches and is crammed with charming, handmade furniture and all sorts of odd foods and other items. If you haven't taken a ride there or even a drive there, I assure you it is worth the trip. If you do go for a see there is a bathroom available, but you need to ask as it is in the kitchen area. But before we get there, the wind has become a violent crosswind. Roger and I both wonder if we are going to get blown sideways off the wind when we pass two large trucks parked near each other for the corn harvest. The gap between the trucks seems to have channeled the wind giving it extra strength. The wind has reached the point where it is hard to hold any type of conversation as she is roaring in your ear rather than gently whispering as earlier in the day. While we eat, I tease them that a good ride captain would arrange a tail wind on the way home, and we do have some tail wind part of the time. When we leave the restaurant, it is pulling my hair out of my rubber band and whipping it across my eyes and face: very annoying. As soon as we turn onto North Street off of State Road 56, you can tell the difference. Roger laughs and says what wind. (Sorry, still no working quotation mark key).
Now we are on to the major climb of the day, the climb that made Great Scott Jammer Dog, Scott K., say NOW THAT WAS A HILL. I rarely ride with Scott anymore, but in the past I would judge hills by watching him climb. If he stood up, I knew it was a hill to be reckoned with. We have had hills on and off all day other than the flat of Blue River, but nothing like this hill. I giggle when Steve stops to lighten his load, fix hydraulic problems, or take a leak, however you want to phrase it, saying he doesn't want any more weight going up that hill than necessary. I understand. My legs are beginning to protest that I am asking too much of them, but they serve me well never cramping. I am getting mighty thirsty by the time we reach the Red Barn Bait Shop to see Amos and get something to drink and I realize I have not been hydrating the way I should have been. I glare for a moment at the fresh leg people;-)
At the Red Barn, Amos is nice enough to tell me he had gotten the raincoats we all fell in love with during the last Challenge Series in 2009. He had gotten another type that I did not like nearly as well. The ones he stocks are jersey pocket size, have elastic at the ends of the sleeves, are long enough to sit on and keep your bottom dry, and only cost $1.65. They are great for those days when you don't know if it will rain, you want to be prepared, but you don't want to carry a jacket you might not use around all day. I thank him and several of us buy one.
The last part of this ride is my favorite, past Delaney Park and on Eden Road. There is rarely any traffic and it is scenic. Most of the road is decent. More importantly, there are no major climbs though there are some rollers that have enough umph to make my thighs burn. We finish with a tail wind until the last turn when the wind slaps us in the face. Legs are tired. Roger is heading to the bike shop with concern about a bearing. As I finish out the century, I wonder who will come out to play tomorrow. Challenge yourself.
Challenge Ride Day 3: Tour of Tall Shelby
Today is the only day of the Challenge that starts in Louisville, so I get up extra early to make sure that I get to the start on time even if I get caught in traffic crossing the bridge. This is also the only ride in the series that was put together by someone else, in this case David Runge. I am familiar with some of the roads, but not so much with others. The ride is my concession to those that travel to Indiana to do the series, but it is much harder to be a good ride captain in uncertain territory. I normally have no trouble reading a cue sheet if I am by myself, but when I get distracted I tend to miss turns. Getting in the car, I notice there are stars shining in places so I know the sky is not solid clouds. While I got my Mad Dog name, Puddle, due to my love of riding in the rain, I also love riding in the sun when the sky is as blue as blue can be. I smile thinking about yesterday when Roger admitted that last year during the Challenge he came to find that he actually enjoys riding in the rain at times. Most, though not all, experiences have their charms if we take the time to find them.
When I get to Floyd s Fork Park, the sun has risen and it is apparent that it is going to be yet another glorious day, this time without the wind that battered us yesterday. Ten people show up at the ride start. Steve Rice, Roger, and I have ridden all days thus far. Steve Maurer is riding for the second day. Bill Pustow is back. And then there are the fresh legs, and what legs they are: Chris Quirey, Dave Combs, Jim Whaley, David Runge, and John Larson. Everyone is in a good mood and happy to be have a midweek century treat.
The ride starts with a pace line that I soon realize will split the group. Normally we ride together during the series, but today that was not to be. My legs will not mind a more relaxed pace and it is an honor to ride with David Runge, the course designer, who contributed so many delightful routes to the club repertoire. During the ride, I asked David about when he designed the route. While he could not remember the year for sure, he said it was either the last or next to last club route that he put together. And what a job he did. The roads lace together nicely with a mix of rural and not so rural, leaning heavily toward the rural, little traveled roads lined with rolling fields or trees.
By the time we hit Figgs Store Road, my group consists of Dave Runge, Roger Bradford, Dave Combs, and John Larson. I giggle a bit later as Dave Combs rides right past the road we missed on the Salvisa Century only five days before. How easy it is to miss a turn when you are talking with people and enjoying being on the road. Before we reach the first store stop, we find Bill waiting for us. He asks me about Steve Rice as he thought Steve was behind him. Of course, being a compulsive worrier, I begin to imagine what could have happened to Steve. We did not pass him on the route. Did he take the short cut to the store? Did something happen and we rode by while he was in a ditch unnoticed? I know he is not lost in this area. I leave that to Dave Combs and myself.
When we reach the first store stop, the others have gone. It is now called the Silver Dollar Cafe. Normally it is not a bad place for a cyclist to stop. They supply us with free ice during the summer and are friendly. But today the smoke is so thick that my lungs feel clogged and I wonder how I ever smoked. It just smells so terrible now. All of us step outside quickly after getting something to drink. Bill and Roger decide to take off. We follow shortly and my cell phone rings. By the time I get to it, it has stopped. I see it is Steve Rice that has called. I try to call him back, to no avail. Now I really begin to worry in earnest as my imagination goes to work, but there is nothing to do but to ride on. Half of my mind is on the conversation people are trying to hold with me and the other half is busy creating possible scenarios, none of them good. When I finally reach Steve, we have reached the lunch stop. I realize it is not the store we stopped at the previous year, but everyone seems ready for a stop and Dave Runge assures me they have wonderful sandwiches. Anyway, he had been calling to tell me the other group was eating at the other store, the store that last year had such wonderful apple pie, or so I heard though I denied myself. Yes, it is all about the food;-)
Now I can just sit back and enjoy the sunshine, the company, and the scenery. And David was right, the sandwiches were delicious and there were outside tables where we were able to eat al fresco.
By the time we reach Shelbyville, everyone is beginning to tire. Legs are complaining. Conversation has run short. The joking is less frequent. On a busy stretch, a young lady passes in her car telling us to get the f... off the road, using the f... word repeatedly in most descriptive ways. She is forced to stop at a light and we roll up next to her. The music is blaring from her car and she purposefully flips her cigarette over toward David Runge. She turns the music down and turns to complain to us when David, who evidently was familiar with the music, tells her there is a little bit of magic in her. She looks confused asks him to repeat what he said and he again tells her that like the music, she has a bit of magic in her. And this works like magic: the girl who was cussing us and angry gets a big smile on her face and her day is transformed. She drives off a happy woman. I tease David about his flirting and ask if it comes naturally or was cultivated. I spend some time thinking about how he possibly transformed a cyclist hater to someone a bit more tolerant rather than re-enforcing the negative image as I have occasionally seen others do.
By the time we get to Floyd s Fork, most of the other riders are gone. The parking lot looks empty. Only Jim Whaley is waiting as he came to the ride with Dave Runge. John Larson treats me to cold chocolate milk that he has in a cooler. It is good to be back, but there is a note on my car from Roger telling me that he had a run in with a large, brown dog. I cannot tell from the note if he went down or not: it just says he is not sure if he will ride tomorrow. So who will show for the challenge tomorrow, a trip to Bethlehem? Come out and play!
Challenge Series Day 4: Bethlehem
A tired woman drives to the Clark Forestry for the fourth day of the challenge. My occasional bouts of insomnia have decided to visit me this week, and I have not had a full night of sleep in what seems like weeks. Maybe with age I just do not need the sleep that I used to because I still seem to be able to ride at my normal level, but oh how I miss it, that feeling of waking up in my nest of blankets and being rested. Still I am looking forward to seeing who decides to show up for Bethlehem, and I am delighted by the weather. The original predication for cloudy weather has been superseded by a prediction for sunshine with little wind. I am surprised because this is the Bethlehem Century, a century route traditionally cursed by torrents of rain and wind out of the west that challenges the strongest of riders.
Roger e-mailed and let me know he was okay, but he did not mention whether or not he would ride. At the forestry I find two riders: Chris Quirey and Steve Rice. I expected Chris because Bethlehem is one of his favorite centuries. Roger has decided not to show. Why not Steve? Why could not Steve stay home? I think of the time I tried to take a green sign in Texas for the Apple Store by starting to hammer a few miles out rather than right before the sign. I dropped Dave. I dropped Bill. I dropped Royse. But there was Steve, dogging my tail the entire way and whipping by me at the end to nab the sign. And so he is dogging my club record. Oh, fame is fleeting;-) Of course, he shows. I tease him telling him it is okay because I am older and I will get to retire first and then I can take the record back. Assuming we both finish today and tomorrow, we will be the only two challenge finishers this year.
The forestry is always a nice place to meet for a ride. It is peaceful and I feel relaxed. Maybe it is because the ghosts of young brownies and daisy scouts that I took picnicking and hiking there still haunt my memory, their giggles and watch mes ringing through the air. Maybe it is the memory of running there with my running partner, Carol Dunn, on Saturday mornings long ago. Maybe it is the memory of meeting there for other rides and sharing chatter and smiles. For whatever reasons, I am fond of this place. A man sits on the small dock in the morning chill with his fishing pole. Another arrives to walk his dog. A young woman jogs by, the sound of her breath and footsteps music in the air.
The three of us chat for a moment prior to taking off and I wonder how the day will pan out. For those of you who do not know Chris, he is a quiet man, quite intelligent, with a wonderful sense of humor that sometimes catches me off guard. He is also quite a talented cyclist and I know that unless he decides to slow down, there is no way I will be staying with him. I am glad when Steve and he decide to slow their pace a bit to stay with me during the ride. I do enjoy solitary rambles on the bike, but today I feel like company.
The descent into Bethlehem is one of my favorites. It is quite technical, with twists and turns. It is hard to know where to brake as braking in a curve makes my bike what to straighten rather than flow around the turn and there is little space before you are into yet another turn. A lapse in attention could spell disaster, but it is fun to dance down the hill. The smell of fall is not yet in the air, but the air has the feel of fall and it will not be long. As we descend, I feel the goosebumps on my arms. We wind down to the river and Chris stops to take a picture prior to the long climb. During the climb, I think I spot the road on the GPS that I have been longing to find, but it turns out to be the state line. I tell them I will be returning when I have more tubes and supplies and am stronger to explore. So may roads, but so little time.
The lunch stop is at Subway in Hanover. I miss the woman who has been there the majority of my visits since I put the route down on paper. She has mopped up after us, given us sandwich bags for our feet and plastic gloves for our hands and all with a smile on her face. I wonder if she has the day off or no longer works there. I think how arriving via bicycle rather than a car causes people to remember you, or maybe it was the swimming pool I created inside the front door.
After we depart, I am delighted to find that Deputy Pike is newly paved and is smooth as glass. I am even more delighted and totally surprised to find that we have a slight tail wind. I have never ridden this road with a tail wind: always the wind has been in my face. In my mind that is fair; the original trip to Bethlehem was not an easy one I am sure. Perhaps it behooves me to remember that when I feel sorry for myself or feel despair.
On the way to the store stop, Steve has a flat tire. We stop and I get off the bike, take off my helmet, and sit in the grass in front of a small, rather dilapidated mobile home. A man comes out of the house and engages us in conversation, wanting to know how far we were riding, where we were from, and so forth. He tells us about his pool table and dart board and offers everyone a beer or something else to drink. Steve asks if he has a piece of duct tape to use as a boot. He does not have duct tape, but he does have another type of tape that Steve is able to use. Duke, his dog, and another adopted dog, loll in the grass until we leave when they halfheartedly give chase.
At the last store stop, we sit on the curb outside of the store and talk for a long time. I like the feeling of companionship. I like both of these men. Finally, however, we decide to finish it out and head toward Bloomington Trail, one of my favorite roads. We pass through the covered bridge. Flowers of some type, yellow and quite beautiful, line the road. Leaves are beginning to yellow and fall in places. Chris takes off. When Steve and I crest the hill, we see him already about ½ mile ahead behind a school bus. I joke and say the school bus must have held him up. Steve jokes and says Chris probably had a flat and has fixed it and rebuilt his wheel while waiting for us. When we do catch up, Steve facetiously accuses him of taunting us. We end the ride together and there is a feeling of camaraderie. One more day of the challenge, and I fear the weather will not be as perfect as it has been most of the week, but then that is what a challenge is all about. Who will take the challenge and show for Packmans Hint: A Journey to Orleans? Come out to play.
Challenge Series Day 5: Packman s Hint: A Journey to Orleans
With the rain prediction, I expect a small crowd today and I am right: Perry Finley and (of course) Steve Rice are the only riders to show. The skies are dark and oppressive and there is a distinct chill in the air. It is not the chill of a fall morning that you know will soon burn off leaving you toting arm warmers and jackets and vests, but one that promises to hang on the entire day. If it were early spring, we would be talking about how warm it is, but not today after the unseasonable heat. Perry points out a beautiful rainbow arching over the ride start, and I point out that it is leading to Orleans. My heart warms at the beauty and I know it is going to be a magnificent riding day, different than the others with the sun and blue skies, but just as special. I momentarily feel sorry for those who have not yet learned or will never learn the charms of riding when rain threatens or when rain actually falls.
A few minutes before we leave, I decide to switch bicycles. Because of having some saddle problems, a friend from Wisconsin, Greg Smith, has been kind enough to mail me three of his saddles to try. The one on my Lynskey appears to be THE ONE, but I do not want to abuse our friendship by getting it wet despite his saying that he would not mind, so I switch to the Cannondale which has the saddle that used to work for me but is no longer produced.
Orleans is one of my favorite centuries, inspired by a good friend: David Packman Ryan. For those of you who do not know, Packman maintains the club website and is VP of Communications. Prior to becoming paralyzed, he was also one of the top distance riders in the area and legends about him are still occasionally replayed on rides and on the list serve. Ask an older club member about David chasing riders up Pottershop in the past, pitchfork in hand, riding the hill everyone dreads over and over, then riding back to Louisville rather than staying all night in Bardstown. Packman is also a good friend of mine, and a mentor in my quest to conquer distance on a bicycle. I love him, and I respect the wisdom he has shared with me. I can not physically take him with me on rides, but I often carry him with me in my mind, particularly on this century which came about because of a suggestion he made. I will always be thankful for his suggestion, and so I honor him in the only way I know how in naming the ride after him.
Perry, Steve, and I head off towards the first store stop in Medora at a reasonable pace. Despite the fact that this part of the ride is flat and easy, I worry that I will slow everyone down. It is not that I feel badly, but I have no desire to hammer today. Luckily we all feel the same, and nobody presses the pace the entire day. This day will make a tad over 600 miles in 7 days for me and 100 more for Steve. Steve also intends to ride tomorrow. While I would love to join him, I have other family commitments.
All of us donned arm warmers prior to the ride. We banter back and forth as friends do, and I think about how glad I am to have friends like these two, as comfortable as a favored old pair of jeans. As we near Medora and cross the river, we see men working on the arches on the sides of the Medora covered bridge as we pass. The bridge looks so vulnerable, not at all like the battered grand dame she was prior to the start of the reconstruction. I look forward to seeing her as she must have been in her youth, and I wonder how long the work will take.
As we ride along, I notice that the green that I love so is slowly yielding to drought and to season. The Tulip Poplar trees are losing their leaves, and those that remain are more yellow and brown than green. The soy beans are changing from green to yellow and brown. The corn is bent and brown, ready to be harvested. In fact, in places it has been harvested, red corn cobs littering the sides of the road. We pass a melon field that was never harvested and the smell of vinegar is pungent in the morning air. I think of the two melons sitting in my kitchen, a gift from my husband who knows they are one of my favorite summer breakfast foods. Later in the ride, Perry tells me about a gift he has given his wife, a class he is taking with her, and I think about how we enhance our own happiness when me make others happy. As much as I love presents and nice surprises, there is a certain joy in giving and making someone else happy that can not be duplicated in receiving.
Not long after the first store stop, it begins to drizzle. We stop to put jackets on. Both Steve and Perry have rain jackets, but I have only my emergency poncho. My goretex jacket is just too hot for these temperatures, and the new, lighter jacket I have ordered is still sitting in Indianapolis per the tracking number. The plastic rustles in the wind, but it serves its purpose keeping me dry and warm. I love riding in a light drizzle like this. It is as if the earth perks up, colors and odors intensifying. I am looking forward to lunch. When I first designed the ride, the lunch was at Quizno s Subs, one of my favorite sub restaurants, but it closed and forced me to look around and we found this jewel: Maple Street Restaurant. When one door closes, another opens.
By the time we leave the restaurant following a most delicious meal, the rain has stopped but the wind has picked up. Perry pulls us most of the way until we turn away from the face of the wind. We pass a rather vicious looking dog that begins to run out, but he barks and turns back into his yard, or he turned back UNTIL his little friend, obviously the boss dog despite being one eighth of the size of the big guy, asks him what he is doing. They both give chase, but by that time we are safely down the road. At one point in the ride, we see a wagon wheel in a front yard and Perry tells me that some settlers picked where to homestead by where their wheel broke. He says he does not know if this is true or not, but if not it is a lovely legend and I ponder how we humans search for a place to call home.
All too soon, we are at the third store stop in Salem. I have mixed feelings about finishing the series. I will be glad to rest, but I will miss the freedom of being able to ride all day and Monday will mean the end of vacation and going back to work. On our way down Old 56, we see several Amish buggies, one filled with only young girls and no adults. We sweep down the two mile hill, up the rollers, and into the fire station. The Challenge is over for another year, this time with two finishers: Steve Rice and myself. Now I must rest until the 1000K brevet is complete. This series has prepared me as best I know how. Hopefully the Challenge will be repeated next year. Are you up for it? Come out and play.