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Monday, July 9, 2012

Marengo Mangler

This is what I posted on line prior to the century ride on July 4th, 2012:

July 4th Century: The Mangler

01 Jul 2012 6:22 PM | Melissa Hall
Like Kirk, I am not canceling my Wednesday ride, the Mangler, unless there is active lightening.  Unlike Kirk's ride, however, the Mangler is "a hard ass club ride." This ride has more climbing than the Crestwood Killer and most of it is during the first 1/2 of the ride.   I rode 104.8 miles today on a relatively easy course, so this is how it is going to be on Wednesday:

1.  If you normally ride a 7-8 hour century including stops, I suggest you plan on 9.5 to 10.5 hours on Wednesday or riding ahead of the ride captain. I am fine if you drop me.  Since I designed this route, I can find my way home.  If you haven't been completing a regular club century in 7-8 hours including stop time, you have no business showing up at the ride.  Come out another day when it is cooler and you have picked up your speed a bit.

2.  I reserve the right to call the ride at the first store stop turning it into a 50 miler if people are feeling badly.  That being said, I will ask if anyone wants to take over as ride captain before calling the ride and turning around.  I expect to hear no whining that you drove all the way to Memphis to the start if I turn people around and you don't volunteer to take over.  You have been warned.  Besides that, I excel at whining and I doubt you can outdo me in this area.
3.  What I found today was that I stopped at every store that was open and hydrated.  They weren't long stops, just long enough to down a drink.  I intend to ride that way Wednesday. That being said, I can only think of a couple of additional places where stores MAY be available on Wednesday.
4.  I occasionally walked a tough hill that I would normally climb and I also stopped and rested at the top of a couple of climbs. Yet again, I intend to do this Wednesday if I feel like it. Lolling in the grass can be extremely pleasant.  Getting back on the bike can be extremely tough.
5.  You can ride ahead if you would like, but I am riding at a reasonable pace where my tongue is not hanging out of the side of my mouth and my breathing does not sound like that of a obscene phone caller.
6.  Two water bottles will not be enough. Bring more or a camel back.  Remember the need for salt.
7.  Consider bringing a tube sock to make an ice sock for your neck.
8.  I will ask any rider who appears to be not prepared not to ride.  You should have been acclimating by riding shorter, hilly rides in the heat.  I have never told a rider they could not ride before on a club ride, but it the right of a ride captain to do it.  This includes cutting you lose if necessary or asking you to turn around if you start and appear unable to complete the ride safely.
9.  There is no sag service.  If you have any doubts as to your ability to finish, and you are wise if you do, have a back up plan for someone to sag you in.

When I scheduled the Marengo Mangler for July 4th I expected it to be hot, but I certainly didn't expect predicted temperatures to exceed 100 degrees.  When we did this century the prior year, there were five of us and I was asked to schedule it again on the same day due to our enjoyment of the 4th of July celebration in Pekin as we passed through, but the heat keeps everyone in that group away other than Steve "Meat" Dog Meredith. And there you have it, the ride is on the schedule and it is supposed to be around 100 degrees with a feel like temperature of 105 degrees combined with poor air quality.   I am concerned about who might show up and even my own ability to deal with this extreme heat.  I question whether I should cancel. Instead I am very blunt in my posts about the ride in an attempt to deter the unprepared.  I rode a century in this heat three days prior by myself to evaluate and to equip myself to advise, but it is different when the decision is only for oneself. Most of the climbing in this ride happens in the first fifty miles, but it is so very hot and it is a LOT of climbing. The evening before the ride I read up on heat exhaustion and how to treat it.

Three other people show up for the ride and I decide to continue to the first store stop and see how everyone is doing before making the decision whether or not to continue or turn around. I know two of them through the LBC, Steve Meredith and Ford Barr, and the other I remember completing this ride as a 200K (Dave Fleming), and today's course, while challenging, does not come near to the difficulty of the 200K course. I have to trust that each knows their abilities and their response to the heat.  I have seen strong riders wither and become broken, sick, and weakened by heat, unable to continue or complete a course that they normally would have no trouble with completing.  I, myself, have been broken by heat and humidity before, left wondering if I would ever reach the ride end alive and undamaged.  Bonking is a pretty miserable feeling no matter what causes it.  It just takes all of the starch out of the spine.

I have brought a map in case one person makes the decision to turn around early and is comfortable doing so alone.  I ask everyone please to let me know if they are feeling like they need to rest or walk a hill or stop,  not to "suck it up" and go on.  I think men have more of a tendency to do this period and more so when a woman is captaining a ride, but perhaps that is a sexist perception on my part. There are times to fight against feeling poorly and times not to fight against it but give in and evaluate your options.   If it is mental fatigue, it is safe to resist the temptation to give in.  If it is physical, it becomes much more complicated.  Will pushing yourself result in injury or physical improvement?  Are you able to tell the difference between the pain signals your body is giving to you?  Are you blunting those perceptions with Ibuprofen or other pain maskers?  And while I believe in personal responsibility and decision making, something that seems to have disappeared in this country where law suits run rampant and have become like winning the lottery, I know I will feel responsible if one of these riders suffers a heat related illness despite the fact they are adults making the decision to ride in difficult conditions on an exacting course.

I decide to break LBC tradition and start the ride at 8:10 a.m. as I don't believe anyone else will show.  For those of you who don't ride with the club, the club has this silly tradition of starting a ride fifteen minutes after the scheduled start.  Yes, I know:  stupid but true. It is just one of those things you put up with due to tradition. Frankly, I was not sure anyone would show and I can't say with any certainty that I would have ridden the entire course today by myself if nobody had shown.  It is an odd things how much easier rides can be when one has company. And I say this despite my penchant for solo rides that leave me time to reflect.   I leave a cue sheet with a cell phone number and a written note to call me and I will wait up the road.  I do not receive a call and cue sheet remains on my car when I return later that afternoon.

The first climb is Bartle's Knob.  I have already decided to ride easily, and I slide down into my triple.  I remain glad that I insisted on a triple when I ordered this bike.  Yes, I have made the climb in the past with no problem with a double and will do so again, but not today.  Today will be stressful enough and is about survival.  When I bought my bike, Lynn tried to convince me to get a compact double.  I have repeatedly been glad that I did not give in to this suggestion.  Despite the fact I rarely use it, it is nice to have it there at the end of a long brevet or on a day such as today when I am trying to get a ride in without undue stress on my body. A hill is much different at four or five hundred miles than it is at ten or a hundred miles. I think for a bit of Steve Sexton and his secret of the triple:  "not to use it."  And then I think of Greg Smith who says why have it if you don't use it and that using it could extend riding life of the knees.  I pick the middle ground.  I try not to use the triple enough to significantly weaken me, but I also try to use it when it is prudent to do so.  I also think how I miss seeing both of these friends.

 Near the top of the climb I begin to see the storm damage from the tornado that devastated Henryville a few months ago. The Knobstone Trailhead is closed at the north entrance on the climb.  Large trees, mercilessly uprooted, are on their sides with roots exposed in a way that makes these giants seem feeble and exposed, ripped out the ground by the wind as weeds are when I weed the garden.   In my heart I mourn their passing, these fallen sentinels, and thank them for the beauty they have given me in the past. Despite the months that have passed, throughout the ride we will pass isolated areas of devastation:  houses without roofs, wind wrecked automobiles, debris.  Still there are the unaffected areas of beauty, and despite the tornado damage and the drought this is a beautiful ride.  Queen Anne's Lace lines the roads along with the occasional patch of Black Eyed Susans.  At the top of Bartle's Knob, there is a clearing where you can look out for miles.  I point it out to the others.  I worry about Steve's patience as I know he is capable of a much faster pace, particularly on climbs, but he says he is going to stay with the group and he is patient and graces us with his company all day.

Before I realize it, we are at the first store stop in Palmyra.  I remember coming here a few years for some 5K runs.  I still have the tee shirts, memories carefully folded in dresser drawers.  Steve's daughter works in the store.  The four of us sit and decide to continue onward rather than turn around.   Once again I ask them to promise me that they will not wait until they are in trouble with the heat before asking for a rest stop. 

I think of the many people who have experienced this ride with me.  Grasshopper was the first one  I shared this route with, and I remember looking at Depot Hill and asking myself what I had done.  I remember being with a group when I had a flat and a cat climbed me like a tree.  And I remember Larry's comment that he didn't think I would hear about the cat smelling pussy.  I remember lolling in the grass underneath a shade tree while Dave King fixed a flat tire.  I remember Perry Finley looking out on the hills to ride on Poplar Avenue and saying, "Holy Shit." I remember the look on Bill Pustow's face when we stopped for lunch at Tina's and he looked at his GPS and saw the amount of climbing we had done in only fifty miles and I teased him that we were now getting to the hard part of the ride. And I could go on.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy repeating courses at least yearly, these precious recollections of times spent with friends. Some of them remain close friends, some of them are friends but without the closeness we once shared, and others no longer ride at all and are lost to me except in my memories. Life changes despite our best efforts to resist. 

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Before we get to Depot Hill, we make an extra store stop.  Riding brevets has left me with little patience for long store stops, but I reign in my impatience knowing it is best not to press if I  want to get everyone in safely.  I think of the Alabama song, "All I really got to do is live and die, but I'm in a hurry and don't know why."  I have nothing crucial to me causing me to need to finish particularly early.  And I am glad that everyone appears to be happy staying in a group.  Most of my favorite rides are those with small groups where everyone pretty much stays together and shares the day and the roads.  It is starting to warm up and Steve reveals that the temperature has gone up 10 degrees in the 10 miles since we left Palmyra.  It is only about ten miles until lunch, no longer at the delicious Tina's, but now at Van's Country Table.

I am surprised to find that while Depot Hill has deteriorated on the downhill into mostly gravel, the uphill has been paved. This doesn't seem like a road that would merit repaving through high usage. It is just there. Steve teases me about my saying it is paved and looks like gravel and he is right, there is now more gravel than pavement on the descent, the first part of the road.  Nobody complains.  I think of Roger Bradford during the Challenge Series and how he appreciated the photo I took of the climb.  I think of Steve Rice hitting the dog on the head with his pump when it came out after us half way up the climb.  And with these memories, I once again smile knowing that I am making new memories today to bring on future rides.  Yes, in the picture the tiny dots are people, people on bicycles;-)

After lunch we head toward Pekin and the third store stop.  After not too many miles, however, Ford begins to have some trouble with the heat and asks to stop.  I am grateful that he listened to me earlier and hopeful we can stem the problem before it becomes debilitating causing a DNF. Steve is very familiar with this area and tells me there is a store that may be open in four miles.  Ford says he can make it that far, and so we continue to ride.  I am glad Steve knew where the store was because I would never have guessed there would be a store there.  It is off the main road, and then off on another side road.  The only thing that has  probably salvaged it at all is the connecting bar, but neither the bar nor the store are open at this time of day on the fourth.  There are, however, soda pop machines.  I put money in the pop machine and greedily begin to drink the ice cold soda not realizing until I am half done that this was the last pop in any of the machines.  I give what is left to Ford.  Steve says his sister lives near here and we head that way to use her hose.  When we get there, I suggest not only soaking heads and filling water bottles, but wetting the arm pits since what I read the previous evening about heat diseases said to cool those areas first.  I follow my own suggestion and I am amazed at the difference a wet jersey can make.  Later we pass over a bridge and I think of stopping and swimming, but I don't know these men as well as I know my normal companions, so I ride onward.

We stop again immediately before and after Shorts Corner Road, an annoying road that has no flat areas.  There are no major climbs on the road, but it is one roller after another and none of them are the fun kind where you have enough momentum to push you all or most of the way up the other side.  In Pekin signs of the fourth celebration are everywhere:  cars that have been decorated for the parade, bicycles that have been decorated for the parade....the town bleeds red, white, and blue today and boasts of having the longest lasting fourth of July celebration in the country.

After the last store stop, the ride finally flattens out giving relief until William's Knob, at least as the route is currently designed.  Steve rides ahead a bit and I wait at the top of the hill.  Steve becomes worried and turns around running over some debris that ruins a new sixty dollar tire on his new bicycle.  Dave is flabbergasted when I pull out my folding tire not being able to believe I carry a tire with me.  I tell him it is the sensible thing to do being a female and riding so much alone, but that I have rescued many a rider with a tire.  Steve agrees to borrow it until the ride start so that I don't have to worry about him flatting on the rather technical descent down Bartle's Knob. He fixes the flat and we zoom down the hill, dancing daringly around the curves and switchbacks.

And we end as we began, in a group.  Everyone has survived a brutal course in brutal temperatures. Smiles are on our faces as we realize our accomplishment.  I don't know, but I suspect it is the hottest club century that has ever been completed.  While I enjoyed the company and I enjoyed the day and all ended well, I find that I don't enjoy the responsibility of having others out in such conditions. Will I remember that when captaining in the future?  Who knows? We say our good-byes and head homewards.  Once there I pull out my bike and ride the extra 2.4 miles to make it a century.  Ah, the freedom of a bicycle.  How appropriate on July 4th, a date that celebrates a much more enduring and important freedom. Yes, I think I will schedule this ride next year on July 4, 2013.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hardinsburg Century

 “There there is nothing like a wilderness journey for rekindling the fires of life. Simplicity is part of it. Cutting the cackle. Transportation reduced to leg – or arm – power, eating irons to one spoon. Such simplicity, together with sweat and silence, amplify the rhythms of any long journey, especially through unknown, untattered territory. And in the end such a journey can restore an understanding of how insignificant you are --- and thereby set you free.”
-   Colin Fletcher, The River

One nice thing about solo century plans are that you don't need to plan around others.  You can decide if you want to ride or not ride at the last minute,  you can decide what time to start based on when you wake up and feel like riding, you can decide how fast to travel and whether to stop to take  a photograph, and you can decide whether to stick with a planned route or go wherever fancy takes you.  You can sing, fart, cry, or laugh and there is nobody to look askance at you or to whom you have to explain.  Often I enjoy having company on rides, but sometimes it is nice to have the freedom a solo ride brings.  And while it is not wilderness that I will be traveling through, it inevitably rekindles my "fires of life" and "cuts the cackle." Out here I can breath and think and sing.  It is Memorial Day, and I decide to finally correct the original cue sheet for Hardinsburg using the GPS.  It is due to be hot and I am not sure what stores will be open due to the holiday, so I plan ahead taking a few snacks and some extra water. 

I have been reluctant to correct this route.  Hardinsburg was put together during my side walk chalk days and it seems somehow wrong to redo it.  The club did not have so many century options back then.  I would head out on my own without a map using side walk chalk at turns so that I could find my way back.  I had no map, no GPS, and was dependent on road signs, often missing, for road names.  Normally I would head out 50 miles and turn around retracing my steps.  Eventually,  however, I began to get a feel for the roads and would delight in seeing how they intersect and cross, forming a pattern.  The cue sheets were designed using a mileage computer that was inevitably set by the bike store for 700C wheels, and at the time I designed this route I rode 650s.  It was not unusual to be off a mile or more after a century ride, and Hardinsburg was no exception. Yes, I suppose it is time to make the changes so that when I put the ride on faster riders don't get lost.  No, most of the riders have been kind enough not to chastise me, but it is time. And no, I won't lose the memories.

When I leave home, the air is already oppressive, heavy and thick.  I know this will only worsen throughout the day.  But the first part of this journey is fairly easy other than Leota Hill.  I enjoy the feel of my muscles working and the sounds that lace the early morning air, bird cackles and songs, insects, rustling leaves from scampering squirrels and other unseen varmints.  The greenness of the countryside and the indescribable beauty found along certain roads makes me ache inside with an odd longing...perhaps to be able to hold onto that beauty so I can take it out whenever it is cold and dreary or perhaps with thankfulness that I am here right now at this minute in this place?  There are still patches of wild flowers and orange day lilies and daisies and I think how incredibly lucky I am to be alive and healthy and able to ride a bike through the midst of this countryside, unconcerned about anything but enjoying the holiday.  I think of the loved ones that have passed on and of the soldiers that died to give me this freedom, and I am thankful and respectful of their bravery and sacrifice.  I think of my friend, Jason, who once told me on a ride that when he first read some of my articles, he wondered what in the world I was talking about.  "Now I get it," he said.  "Now I completely get it."  And I am glad he sees the wonder and beauty of a ride through the countryside on a bicycle, and the camaraderie that results when friends are along for the journey.

By lunch time, I am a mile off of the original cue sheet.  Briefly I wonder how anyone has found their way with this sheet, but I know that somehow we did.  I arrive at the Dutch Barn only to find it is closed, so I make my way up to the original store stop for this route:  Little Twirl.  Every time I come here I grin thinking of Jeff White assuming the stance of a ballerina, finger on top of head, spinning in circles.  It is open and I treat myself to a chocolate milk shake and fries for lunch.  For the first time I notice a copy of a magazine or newspaper article on the wall about a man, now deceased, named Davie Burns.  Mr. Burns, a Lavonia native, evidently was quite the eccentric, and part of his eccentricity was riding his bicycle for long distances.  I giggle to myself reading about him hauling  a bale of hay on the front of his bike as it reminds me of something that Packman would have done had he ever needed a bale of hay.  I think how strange it is that of all the times I have stopped at this shop and all the cyclists I have brought with me, nobody has noticed this article previously.  Just one of life's little ironies, the ones I so treasure. How little we notice what becomes familiar to us.

Because the cue sheet has gotten so far off mileage wise,  I have been diligently stopping and making corrections.  It takes time to do this, but I am pushing myself hard when I ride, almost doing intervals, and it feels good to feel my lungs straining for air, my muscles aching as I ask them for just a bit more, reaching my maximum, easing off a bit, and then demanding more.  There are times when I can force myself to ride this way and enjoy it, while there are other times that this type of riding is torture and I can't make myself go there.  Never have I been able to find what makes the difference.  Soon I reach Campbellsburg.  Everywhere there are American flags lining the roads and I am reminded of Mayberry and small town America as it used to be or as I romanticized it to be. I descend the gigantic hill on Cox Ferry and remember my first descent down that hill when a doe and her fawn appeared, running effortlessly, gliding, immediately next to me for what seemed like forever before veering right and melting into the forest.

Before you know it I am climbing the hill on Highland to get to the Red Barn Bait Store. That hill is one of those hills that you think about before you ever make the final decision to ride a route, and you think about it as you approach it hoping it doesn't hurt too much, or worse yet, defeat you entirely.  While I often laugh and say that I have never met a hill I can't walk, I prefer it to be a decision I make and not one that is made for me by inability.  Despite the heat, the climb goes well and I am pleased that I don't wimp out and give into using the triple when I know I don't have to do so.  During the climb I think about the year I used this route for my Christmas Breakfast Century with Minner on his hybrid on a cold, rainy ride that ended a tad after dark.  I think how odd it is that we find each other, we distance cyclists that somehow have an appreciation for and a need for long miles in often inclement weather, united only by the bicycle, not even by our hometowns:  strange bedfellows in many ways.  The road is sticky with sap from trees.  I don't remember the roads ever having sap to where my tires were obviously sticking to the road making a sucking type of noise for long distances after rolling over the syrupy residue.  I actually feel it pulling on the bicycle. And it can't be avoided.  The sap crosses the entire road in places. Like a nightmare, the trees are bleeding sap.  At times it hints of the smell of the Maple Syrup Festival when the sap is being boiled, and I wonder at what weather condition caused the trees to weep so this year and whether it is a good, bad, or neutral thing.

At the Red Barn I exchange a few pleasantries with Amos and down a cold drink before heading onto Delaney and Mt. Eden, two of my favorite roads.  The climbing is light, the traffic little, and the scenery lovely.   Next week I will share this ride with whoever shows for a scheduled club century, and I hope they will find the beauty here that I have found on a solitary journey on a special day of remembrance.