09 July 2006

Don't Estimate, Calculate!

I was recently out for a solo day trip. Well, it was to have been a day trip - a solo century. But with one thing and another, the ride started later than I would have hoped, and I had something I had to be back for. And not just present, but pleasant, so my loop had to be shortened.

Now, here's the problem: I planned the route, but I did not calculate the miles. So when I shortened it, I had really no clear idea how many fewer miles it would be. Let's say ... 15? Sure, that sounds good. It will be an 85-mile ride on a beautiful quiet Saturday morning. At mile 80, when I was still well over 10 miles from home, I was losing steam and worried about the clock. Then a couple from ABD rolled up beside me on a tandem. They lifted my spirits with conversation, and they pulled me a bit, too, into the wind; so that the last 13 miles were among the most enjoyable of a long ride. A good ending to a poorly planned trip. "Don't estimate, calculate!"

Which puts me in mind of last summer's most awesome adventure.

Son Andrew was working in Champaign, IL, instead of being home for the summer. Well, it seemed to me the perfect opportunity - I would ride solo on a Friday, Karen would drive down after work, we would meet at about the same time and have dinner with Andrew, then drive back. Pick a date, check the weather, make a plan. Use Google maps to chart the course. Stock up on all that is needed for a long (but not overnight) trip. Then "casually" mention it to potentially interested others. Or work it into conversations: 'oh, sorry, can't ... I'll be cycling to Champaign that day.' 'Thanks, no, I'll be recovering from a ride to Champaign the day before.' That sort of thing. A common response, of course, was 'How far is that?' But some replied, 'That must be 130 miles!' To which I replied, 'Yeah, I think so. But I've done farther in a day.' (My farthest ride previously had been 135. But that's another Awesome Adventure.)

You know, Google maps is great. Great for navigating and planning. But for figuring out distances? I don't have time for that on-screen. Yeah, that looks like about 2 inches, so it must be about x miles. So I blythely set out for a pleasant, long, pleasantly long day trip from Winfield to Champaign, Illinois. It was an August Friday, during a very welcome break in that hot summer's weather: low 80s predicted in Winfield and in Champaign; light winds out of the northwest (in other words, practically blowing me to my destination). What could be finer?

Of course, the start time was relaxed to begin with, but I did leave later than I had hoped. This always happens. Some of that is trying to be a family man. Some of it is practical: do I really want to be on any street or road in the greater Chicagoland area while most people are driving to work? But hey, I had the whole day ahead of me, a pocket full of Google map snippets and route cues. I had a handlebar bag full of goodies, munchies, and liquids, a few bucks in my wallet, and a pleasant sunny day to ride.

First hitch: Google maps does not know that this one road does not in fact cross the Illinois River east of Morris. In fact, one must go either east to Minooka, or west to Morris, to get a bridge across (apparently equidistant options; and thank God that I also had an Illinois road map with me!), then ride back to pick up the route because of course one doesn't want to ride numbered highways any more than necessary.

Second hitch: Golly, the low 80s feels a lot warmer than you'd think after about 85 miles of riding without shade. But there is a shade tree, and lunch must be pretty close at hand. That was in Gardner, where the nice folks in the Casey's General Store were pretty gol darned amazed that someone would ride so far in a single day. If they only knew ...

Third hitch: Remember that I "estimated" the trip to be "about 130 miles?" Well at exactly 130 miles I was chased by a large, friendly, determined, did I say large German Shepherd farm dog. You can tell a dog's intentions and character. Earlier in the summer I had been chased (near Bloomington, IL) by a rather angry dog whom had he caught me I think might have ended my cycling for the summer or for life. But this good old boy (did I mention he was BIG?) was of a different sort. Still, I did not want to be caught, and he eventually gave up. That was mile 130 ... and I realized I had no idea how many more miles - nor how many more dogs - were to come. And if dogs, could I outrace them? Sure, I now had boat loads of adrenalin, but ...

I had my maps and my cue sheets, and they brought me into Champaign. I had my timing, and if the trip had been "only 130 miles" I would have come in early. When I finally saw a sign indicating miles to Champaign, I called Andrew to say when I thought I'd be there. And good news, Karen was not yet there, so I wasn't technically going to be late! [By the way, cell phones are the greatest new technology to accompany bicycling. GPS? OK, but unless it also has OnStar, what good will that do me?] And so I slogged my way into Champaign - 140 miles, 150 miles, 160 miles - until meeting Andrew and Karen at the Newman Foundation Center Housing. 161.5 miles. A new personal best, and I only felt like beef jerky.

Those last 30 miles had produced exactly one (1) place to replenish fuel: a vending machine with bottled water! (Only later did I realize it would have been not only OK, but clever, to drink a Coke, then the water, and not just water.) But I filled up my water bottle at Andrew's dorm room sink. I lingered in the dorm shower. I drank some more water. I dressed and we loaded the bike on the car and drove to the Olive Garden. I had been fantasizing about the Olive Garden during the last 40 or more miles, back when I thought it might be the last 10 or so miles. We had to wait, of course, and at our request they brought me a big tall glass of ice water. Mmm, that was good. Then another when we were seated, ordering, and waiting. While waiting, I excused myself to the washroom. When the salad came I poked at it. (I normally devour those things.) By the time the main dish came I was shaking so badly my chest hurt. Oh oh, something not quite right here. Even I could figure that out.

Andrew went to ask directions to an ER or urgent care center. [Humorous side note: the hostess was worried the food had made me sick. Hmmm ... ] They packaged up our meals - nice way to wreck dinner, Dad! - and found a place to take me in. Man, that ER blanket they wrapped me in was comfortable and warm. And everyone there was so nice. And no, I did not need medicine or any kind of physical treatment. I was dehydrated, but not severely so. The prescription: stop and buy a large bottle of Gatorade, then go home to bed. Oh, and by the way, spend the next 4 months dealing with ER insurance matters and this whole trip just cost about $200. And while you're at it, try to get Karen to feel real comfortable about me taking a long solo bike trip of any kind for the next 10 years.

So, the moral of the story is the title of the story: don't estimate, calculate! Of course if I had, I would not have even begun the daytrip. And I wouldn't have a great story to tell on myself. Now it goes something like this: 'My longest day trip? 160 miles. It ended in the emergency room.'

Tomorrow I hope to do a solo century ride on a vacation Monday. Thanks to Gmaps pedometer ( http://www.gmap-pedometer.com) I have mapped a loop that is supposed to be exactly 99 miles from and to my home. Given my track record, it shouldn't be more than ... oh, say, 116!

1 comment:

Christopher Charles Horatio Xavier King III, Esq. said...

Awesome! It's really nice that they wrapped up your food, too. Going to the emergency room stinks; losing out on that meal would have been a tragedy.

Since my rides are a real regular 7.5 miles ("or thereabouts") at a time, I haven't really run into this problem. But I have had some similar "d'oh!" moments in my walks and hikes. The two worst were the time I walked to the office on a Saturday (research to see if it was feasible to ride there. Answer: riding 7.5 miles at a time with 8 hours in between is much easier than walking 15 miles straight) and a particular hike I took that started near the peak of a mountain, went steeply downhill for over two hours, then turned around and walked alllll the way back up. In both cases I didn't feel ill or anything, but definitely enjoyed some cold water and a hearty lunch afterwards!