08 May 2006

A fresh start!

Awesome Adventures
OK, well it's not like I haven't had any Awesome Adventures since February 2005. I just sort of, well, forgot that I had a blog at all. A blogging Luddite ...

No, don't worry, I won't catch up all the Awesome Adventures from the past 15 months. But to keep to the theme, a little background...

For my "significant birthday" (let's just say I am now on the back side of middle aged) Karen, my wife, bought me a slot in the 10-week, twice per week, cycling winter boot camp from Athletes by Design. The boot camp was held at the bike shop in our neighborhood, which by the way is an excellent shop in all respects (Prairie Path Cycles). Little did she know (or did she?) that this would not only improve my cycling skills, but increase my already appreciable appetite for road riding. I can't say that it has made me a racer, or even convinced me that I could/should race. But golly ...

So I hit the road with a newly-developed capacity, early in March. The boot camp ran mid-November to late January; I changed out my training tire for real tires ASAP and got in a couple of token rides in the neighborhood in January and February. By early March the circles were getting larger, and the routes longer. And I picked back up the Saturday morning ride out of Wheaton (more on that another time), and the occasional ABD ride (and on those, too).

Two of the distance riders from Saturday morning invited me along to my first ever RUSA "brevet." Someone help me, I may be hooked on extreme long distance riding! For information on what it means to be a Randonneur, go to http://www.rusa.org/ and see more than you're really interested in. The great folks at Great Lakes Randonneurs ran an excellent event, my first official 200K ride.

Yes, I've ridden farther in a day (and lived to tell about it; indeed, lived to regret it, but that's another Awesome Adventure). But not in an official ride. Math is not my forte, but I believe 200K would equal something like 125 miles. So our 127.9 miles on April 28 was above and beyond. I will say the following: (a) I never rode so far so early in the season, (b) I never rode so many hills in 128 miles (man, I hate Dane County, WI, on a bike), (c) I never rode so far with such stronger riders - thanks, Tav and John for pulling me in the last couple of hours! - and (d) I never got a medal for a ride before!

Tav and John picked me up at 6 AM in Tav's Ford 350 King Ranch pickup, complete with a 3-bike in-bed bike rack, and roomy back seat full of gear and a comfy seat for the 3rd passenger. The neighborhood Dunkin Donuts made a quick stop for a muffin and a cuppa (ah, only on a major ride day ...), then we tore up the roads to Delavan, WI, arriving barely/hardly just in the nick of time for the 8:00 start. OK, so we started at 8:05 - and just as we were rolling out of the Super 8 parking lot I realized my computer was not registering. Oh well, the route cue sheets have all the mileage information, and I could get the average speed at day's end from John or Tav. It wasn't long before we were passing some of the on-time starters; and Tav was coming across people he knows from earlier distance rides. He would linger and jaw, then rocket up to John and me and push our speed. Well, it made for an interesting start.

Brevets are a set course, with designated stops (controles) at which riders must have their brevet cards stamped by an official (in this case, the cashiers of mini-marts). Riders may get stamped and then charge ahead, but most take the controle as an opportunity to stretch, relieve and refuel. Our first leg took us through Milton to the controle at Edgerton. By then we were in Dane County. Man, I hate Dane County ... at least, I hate riding the hills of Dane County; there are plenty of them, at least as a flatlander it feels like there are many of them. The second controle was in Sun Prairie; it was also the turn-around point, at about 65 miles. At this mini-mart we took a bit longer, ate more food, but finally had to get back on the bikes for the return legs. Back through Dane County (I still need to look at a map to see how we managed to only ride through 3 towns in these 128 miles) -- and hey, how did those hills get longer, steeper, and nastier? By the time we hit our final controle (the same mini-mart in Edgerton), I was already clearly in need of the stronger riders I came with.

If you haven't experienced drafting on a bicylce, you've really missed a marvel of natural physics. Riding into the wind, or even cross-winds, you position yourself just so - behind, beside, or at some rear angle from the rider immediately in front of you - and when you get it right you not only experience a relief from the wind, but automatically pick up an ease and energy in your own riding. It is amazing. Now, the ideal is that when a group rides into the wind - and did we ever on those final 30 miles - everyone takes turns at the front, taking the brunt of the wind so others can save their strength; then you slip to the back and let others pull you along. Well, sadly, by the final control it was all too obvious that Chuck was not going to be much help at the head of our line of 3. Thanks, John and Tav, for pulling me along, and for moderating your speed to accommodate my weakness. There's a life lesson in that.

We passed individuals, giving them a chance at our rear wheel, and a couple of small groups. And we more or less plodded along to finish the ride in about 8 hours, 7 minutes total elapsed time. Our general tail-wind got us to the far point in just over 3 hours (yeah, averaged just above 20 MPH going out); not so impressive getting back, as some of those hills dragged us into the single digit MPH, and the strong winds (20 something MPH headwinds) kept us ... well, under 2o MPH on the return!

If it hadn't been for the distance, the hills, and the wind ... the rain would not have been so bad. Yes, we had rain for the final 2 hours. And seriously, at least it was not a soaking rain. Rolling in at the finish, checking in, getting into dry clothes: these were significant accomplishments! A quick trip to McDs (another ride-day anomaly) supplemented my post-ride feed-bag of a PB sandwich, trail mix, sport drink and water. A comfortable, warm and dry ride home delivered me in time to clean up and arrive at the end of the first buffet line at a special dinner. I was supposed to be witty and charming for this dinner ... but I think most talk turned out to be more about cycling!

Long before the end of the brevet, I had decided not to attempt the next rides in the series: 300K, 400K, 600K. And certainly not the 1000 or 1200K rides for which these qualify idiots like myself. But after a good night's sleep, and while reading some stories of those who have finished the classic Paris-Brest-Paris ride (http://www.rusa.org/pbp.html) I now find myself wondering ... could I?

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