The Kentucky 300K Brevet
It is the night before the brevet. All week I have been anxiously watching the weather forecast with a growing sense of doom as the probability of rain skyrockets from fifty percent to one hundred percent and the wind speed predictions increase in intensity with one source predicting a possible 20 mph wind. My heart sinks further when the weather man predicts that during the afternoon the temperature will begin to drop rapidly. My only consolation is that there is only a slight prediction for thunder storms. Don't get me wrong: I love a ride in a soft spring or summer rain when the world seems somehow cleaned, freshened, and transformed and every smell is intensified. I am called Puddle for a reason. But I know the difficulties that rain can cause on a long ride, particularly when combined with high winds, darkness, and cold. And while riding through a lightening storm can be exhilarating, it can also be quite scary when it is right overhead and striking all around you making you wonder if you said all your prayers the way you should and if the people who are important to you know that you love them. Perhaps I grow softer with age.
I receive an e-mail from Dave saying he is thinking of skipping tomorrow and just riding the 300K in Texas. I point out to him that there is no guarantee that the weather will be any better and it could be worse. I have seen winds in Texas, however infrequently, that almost took my bike from beneath me. Then to goad him and to emphasize my point, I call him a “wuss” and another not so nice word that actually is quite derogatory toward the female of the species now that I think about it. I grin thinking of how many things I did as a child that I should not have done just because someone dared me or called me “chicken.” Perhaps it was a legitimate way for my three older brothers to try to do away with me, the pest. I always will wonder if they “really” forgot to tell me about bikes having brakes when they put me on my sister's bike, wood on the pedals so I could reach them, and sent me on a first bike ride down a hill on a dead end street where the hill continued with trees and no road after the turn around;-) But back to my story. I have thrown down the gauntlet to Dave(easy for a female to do), but it also solidifies my own commitment to the ride. Meanwhile, Steve Rice and I e-mail back and forth with ideas on how best to dress for the weather. Normally this time of year you start a ride with clothing that you will discard during the day as the temperature rises, but nothing about the weather this year has been normal and tomorrow is no exception. I haven't heard from Bill so I have no idea if he intends to ride or to try to get his 300K somewhere else.
Soon it is time to prepare my bike. The first thing is to put on the clip-on fender that my husband was kind enough to go pick up from Bob down at Clarksville Schwinn. He tells me Bob put it up for me after my call yesterday as they only had one and I send Bob a mental thank you. Of course, I am not allowed to put it on myself, so I find myself directing the installation despite having absolutely no idea how the thing works. Meanwhile, I am praying that we should be doing this as I have learned that it is never wise to try something new on a 190 mile ride. Finally the fender is on, seems secure, and we find a way to fasten my seat bag. The only bad thing about the fender is that it will prevent my using my carradice, a large bag that allows me to carry an assortment of items. This means I must limit what I take and I make the decision to leave the folding tire I almost always carry on rides to be able to carry a spare pair of gloves and socks encased in plastic. I will also take an extra wool top. Some of this I will carry in my handlebar bag and some in the pockets of my jersey. I giggle thinking of the times I have left with my pockets stuffed and my husband telling me it does nothing to enhance the appearance of my derriere, like a hamster only I store myself in the behind region rather than in my jaws. While I have loaned my folding tire to others more than I have used it myself, I worry about leaving it behind, but there just is not any room. I think how hard it is having to ride such a small bike. I also think about how heavy my bike is when loaded, particularly when everything, including my clothing, is wet.
Through my rain rides, I have found that the Planet Bike tail lights are rather undependable when wet so I wrap mine in plastic baggies sealed with electrical tape. I decide that since it will not only be dark but wet, I will bring out the big gun in lights: my hub generator. One thing that my husband has urged me not to skimp on are good lights as he worries about me when I ride, and I have heeded his advice except for these darned tail lights. As it turns out, even with the plastic bag, only one of the lights will be dependable. But that comes later in the tale. For those of you who have these tail lights, following the ride it was suggested on the randon list that they work best if installed upside down as this offers more water protection.
I roll out of bed at 3:45 to drive to the ride start. It rains all the way to Shelbyville and I think how much harder it is to start a ride in the rain rather than starting a ride and then getting rained upon later. I ask what is wrong with me that I am not luxuriating in a warm bed, half asleep, listening to the rain singing on the roof. As usual, I don't have an answer to this question. It is warmer than I expected, however, and not so windy, so maybe it will all work out. When I arrive, the motel room where you sign in is full of people. I am surprised when I find that 22 of the 30 who registered are there. I am even more surprised to find that there are three other women, all on tandems. Jody and Steve are back for more and the two other tandems are from out of town. I think that Jody has a lot of guts. I know she is a strong rider. This is not a good “first” 300 K.
Despite my early start, I get there just in time to sign in and get everything ready. There is a hesitancy in the air while people wonder what they are doing and if they should be doing it. In our heart of hearts, many of us are hoping against hope that Steve will cancel the ride; but that does not happen in brevet riding unless there is significant danger. I know I am not the only one second guessing my sanity heading out into this weather for this distance, particularly since I don't feel 100 per cent committed to PBP. I do, however, decide to keep the door to that ride open. I think of a letter a newer but already cherished friend, Greg Smith, e-mailed to me talking about the meaning of fun on rides. He knows that I am struggling with my decision as far as whether to commit to PBP, and he e-mailed his thoughts on the matter. He worried that I would take offense at his advise, but I treasure it. I can accept advice when it is given with the right intention. It is a cherished e-mail, one of those that you save knowing you will re-read it throughout the years. His point is that there are different types of “fun” from rides. At one point, while listing the types of fun found in rides, he says: “The fun of making it through a tough day. I believe Yvonne Choinard (the founder of Patagonia) said "it's not an adventure until something goes wrong". For better or worse, these are the rides that stick in our memories - where the wind is howling, it's cold, we don't feel good but we manage to keep going. I don't know about you but I remember these a lot longer than I remember the first kind and can usually rattle them off right off the top of my head.” (Greg, I certainly hope you don't mind that I shared some of the wisdom you shared with me. It helped me make the final decision to commit to the ride today if not to PBP.) For Greg is right: some of the rides I remember most vividly are those that were the greatest struggle to complete. There is a satisfaction in overcoming adversity to obtain a goal. I hug this thought to me as Steve gives his ride speech.
The bikes glide into the wet Stygian darkness and over the rolling terrain of Zaring Mill. I know from experience that this road will seem to last an eternity upon the return trip. The rollers will seem like mountains blocking my path home. Steve has cautioned us about the slickness of the metal bridges we will encounter on Oregon Road, but I am just as cautious on the railroad tracks on Zaring Mill having gone down on tracks twice before. I console myself with the thought that it is a light drizzle and not a hard, driving rain, the kind that makes you feel like needles are piercing your skin and severely limits your ability to see and be seen. I am not sure who, if anyone, I will ride with today. I am not sure of anything.
The first control seems to come rather quickly. By that time I am riding with Steve, Dave, and Bill. As usual, we gulp down a drink and some food and get on our way without lollygagging, all that is except Dave who does not do anything in a rush. This haste through controls will become more important throughout the day as we become sodden with rain and stopping means chilling. Funny how rain makes you appreciate a good hill.
By mile 82, I believe I have made my decision. I will finish the ride today barring something unforeseen, but I will not go back to Paris. The wind has battered me and my spirits are low. I know I have not been drinking properly and am dehydrated. I have a hard time drinking on rides when it is not hot, and I have an even harder time when my bottles are covered with grit and road debris. “So what,” I think as I force myself to take a swig; there is already grit in my mouth from the water being thrown from the road. Still I will finish the ride having drank less than ¼ of my bottle. I think that I need to work on this as I am sure it impacts my strength. I begin thinking of food and hoping that perhaps it will help to revive my morale. Alas, when we get to the turn around control, the lady working the control informs us that the woman who fixes the food had decided nobody was going to show and left. The only thing hot I can find is a “ham and cheese” puff. This turned out to be melted American Cheese and ham inside fried dough. “Only in America,” I think as I force myself to down this mess. While it does not satisfy, it does give me strength and I feel better as we depart. Once again Dave does not leave with us and I wonder if he gets tired of chasing, but chilling convinces me that I have to keep moving if I am going to complete this ride. He never really stays with us the rest of the ride, catching us just as we are leaving controls.
For a short while there is a tail wind and the course is relatively easy. All of us delight in this change. Steve counts the riders as they head toward the turn around. He has already gotten a call that a tandem had brake problems and DNF'd. Despite the continuing rain, I see some grins and hear an occasional laugh. I think that despite the rain, this 300K is not as difficult as that of 2007. By the end, I will not be sure if I still feel this way. I begin to rethink my decision about PBP this year arguing with myself that it may be the last time I am physically capable of completing the course and that many of my friends are going. I think of how lucky I am to have a husband who not only tolerates this unusual activity, but supports and encourages me. At one point, the rain ceases for a half hour to one hour, the only time the entire day without consistent rain. I remark to the others that my clothing is beginning to dry. As if to taunt me, the rain resumes and the temperature begins to plummet. My core is warm so long as I keep moving. Indeed, I have a dry shirt I could add; then I remember what I forgot to bring: dry clothing for the end.
At the next to last control, Bill, Steve, and I remain together. When we arrive Tim Carroll is there having waited for company in the dark. Despite the fact he is riding a fixed gear, I know there is no way I can keep up with Tim, but he is welcome to ride with us. He makes a comment about being able to complete the 36 miles left in two hours and I manage a laugh. In good weather in the light perhaps, but in this weather with a wind that has kicked up and is right in my face there is not a chance. We leave the control before Dave arrives. I worry as at the last control he said that he had a mechanical that prevented him from getting into his big wheel, but I am chilling and can't wait. At times rides become about survival. I am beginning to be cold even on the bike, particularly my hands. A few miles out from the control, Steve says he is going to stop and put on another pair of gloves. At this point it strikes me that I have a nice, dry pair of gloves. Manna from heaven. When we stop, I get them out of their plastic cover looking forward to being dry. I almost cry when I find that I am having trouble getting the last one on. The glove I have on is preventing me from pulling on the glove that needs to go on. Steve pulls with me and it finally slips on. I spend the next fifteen minutes thinking how nice it is to have warm hands. I also remember having to help Larry “Gizmo” put on gloves one time when like me he tried an expensive but useless brand.
The wind continues to strengthen and slap us around at times taking my breath away. I begin praying that I don't have a flat tire as I worry that I will not be able to fix it. As I age and my hands lose strength, I find that I am having more and more trouble with changing a flats even in the best of conditions. I have no trouble getting the tire off and changing the tube, but putting the tire back on the rim is increasingly demanding. I know that with hands that once again are chilled, I will not be successful. I have learned not to lie to God telling him that if he just gets me back to the damned motel room safely I will never do this again because I know and he knows I am lying. So I just ride on and ask him to please protect me from flats. I begin to use all the mental tricks I know to pass the time repeating to myself over and over, “courage.” I think of Buddha's quote, “Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”
Tim has left us, but we catch up with him on the long climb to Southville. I hate this climb even in the best of times, and tonight I am whipped. My thighs protest at these continuing demands and threaten to fail me, but I know mental fatigue is as or more dangerous than physical fatigue. By this time, I am the only one other than Tim who has a consistently working tail light and I am grateful I took the time to wrap it in plastic. Prior to this, Steve gave Bill one of his lights and I pulled, but now I get relegated to the back of the line. When Bill and Steve get a bit ahead of me they are not discernible from behind. With the wind, I am not sorry to know I will have the draft the rest of the way home and I worry if I will be able to hold them on the climbs.
After an eternity the lights of Shelbyville cause the sky to change colors from black to gray, and we once again cross the railroad tracks that always signal to me the end of the brevet. Tim has dropped us and it is just Bill, Steve, and me. I have never been so glad to see a rather shabby hotel room and Susan's welcoming smile. Tim makes a comment about my snot icycle hanging from my nose. I had long ago given up wiping my nose as there was not a dry stitch on me with which to wipe. I smile knowing that I need to get warm quickly now that I have stopped moving or I will chill. While still there, Scott Howes came in saying that a group had gotten a taxi and decided to DNF. He had been nice enough to stop and help. I later find that of the 22 that started the ride, 9 did not finish.
While I had forgotten warm, dry clothes to change into following the ride, I do have my wool top I did not use during the ride and I always keep a sweat shirt in the car. I also have a pair of dry socks I took on the ride and did not use. If someone had offered me a hundred dollars for these clothing articles, I would have declined. I decide to change in the car as there are others needing to use the motel room. I change and bundle my lower half in the blanket that I keep in the car greatly bemoaning my thoughtlessness in not bringing a pair of sweat pants.
On the way home, despite having the heater on high, I periodically have a bout of shivering. I also am dreadfully tired and force myself to stop and walk around twice during the hour long drive to make sure I don't fall asleep in the wheel. Like a siren, the thought of lolling in a tub full of hot scented water, a warm hug from my husband, and a soft bed lures me onward. I wonder if most people really appreciate these things in the way a randonneur does?