10 August 2006

The Longest Day

My original, solo, plan was to ride sunrise to sundown, with the wind at my back. Granted that is practically impossible because even here in the Midwest most roads have some variation to them. And what if the wind were, for example, SSE? Well, you get the idea. I would ride basically one direction and if I needed to change direction (say, for traffic or a T-intersection) I would let the wind determine my course. Anything to spend the entire day on a bike without riding into the wind. The day would end with a family member driving to collect me wherever I ended up.

For the past week I’ve been checking the weather for temperature, precipitation and Of Course wind direction. I’ve been looking at maps to get a general sense of route – it was looking like either generally west (ENE winds) or generally north (SSE).

That was the original, solo, plan for this Wednesday. And it is still a dandy plan. But I made the mistake of mentioning it to one of the Saturday morning ride guys. Who also thought it was a good idea and if he could work it out for Wednesday, could he come along? Well, I like to ride with others at least as much as riding alone, and he is a lot of fun to ride with … if a bit strong for my riding style. OK, we agreed, if he can work it out he’ll let me know Monday and we’ll confirm Tuesday afternoon and get started at sunrise Wednesday.

But Tuesday afternoon, the plan began to change: could we leave at 7 instead of sunrise? Wife’s gone and I gotta walk the dog. (No problem, I could still get in an hour or more before we start together.) And do we really want to bother to have someone pick us up? The wind isn’t supposed to be that strong, it won’t be that bad, and we can still be gone all day. Why don’t we ride up … you get the idea. And I caved. There is something about riding with others, and I ought to have just kept my idea to myself if I wanted to go solo.

Wednesday’s solo ride would have begun at 5:55am, headed west (ESE wind). Sometime mid-morning the wind shifted pretty much to the south, so I would have gone north, ending up somewhere in lower central Wisconsin. The day was beautiful, sunny, and in the low/mid 80s. Gotta get that ride in some day!

Wednesday’s ride turned out to be the longest ride of my life, and for sheer distance and time the highlight ride of my season. If you’ve read earlier posts, this was the success last year’s trip to Champaign could have been!

I was nearly ready to go at sunrise, but had failed the night before to re-set my cyclo-computer. Since we were going to ride the Prairie Path (etc.) I had changed out the narrow road tires for my touring tires, first rotating them as I do every 1,000 miles. So at 5:55 as I was rolling out the drive I remembered that and had to pull in and change the computer. Well, OK, so it was 6:00 when I began. I did some of my West Chicago loops, returned to the house after about 45 minutes to check air pressure and down a small sport drink. By 7:00 I was at “my” intersection on the Prairie Path waiting. And waiting. Cell phone in hand, I was also thinking that if I hadn’t agreed to this I would be west of Batavia already! And well on my way out of suburban traffic, into the central Illinois farmland. But before 7:15 there he was and we were on our way.

The rest is an odd mix of ho-hum been-there, and a blur of unfamiliar roads with no navigation landmarks. And of course no map. Prairie Path to Fox River Trail to McHenry County Trail (fuel stop in Algonquin) to Ringwood, IL. Then roads into Richmond, IL (fuel stop with pizza slices!). Riding west of Richmond on Broadway (the way I had last come into Illinois from Lake Geneva) we picked up the cues that would guide our meandering for the next several hours. Freshly painted “W”s with arrows marked next week’s rides of Lon Haldeman’s Wisconsin Cycling Camp (http://www.pactour.com/six.html). Tav is a long-time Haldeman friend and participant of many of his camps and rides, and we were now entering terra cognita for him. The route took us into Hebron, IL (stop for Green River phosphates, mmm).

The next part of our ride was both tantalizing and frustrating. With the exception of Fontana, WI, and its killer hill coming out, we kept seeing water towers, but not entering towns. We managed to avoid Lake Geneva and Delavan. Now, this is something my original, solo, plan would not have done … I had looked forward to riding through towns as much as possible. County roads continued to stretch out, one after another, all over the Wisconsin farmland, and I honestly cannot say where exactly we were. Tav is pretty sure we saw the (a) Beloit water tower; if so we were farther west than either of us anticipated. And at that point we determined to return to Illinois, to the McHenry Country Trail, and ultimately get home around dinner time. Not to mention that our fuel was running low, it was the height of the afternoon, and Of Course we found ourselves riding alternately Into the Wind, at with the wind at a pretty significant right angle. Not the day I had dreamed of. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves in Capron, IL, where we again refueled. (Whoa! I just looked that up on Google maps and realize we were not far east of Rockford at that point. Cool!) My mileage had just hit 110 … clearly this was going to be “my longest ride ever.”

Finally at one point we stopped and Tav got a sense from a young mom where we were and how far from the Trail. Now the bloodhounds were back on the scent, and about 10 miles later we were re-fueling in Crystal Lake, IL. At the height of rush hour. On U.S. 14. But to change the metaphor, we could smell the barn and would end the ride at about sunset. We refueled, and on top of my exercise-induced asthma I could not hardly stand to take another swig of Gatorade or eat a sweet item. So it was cold water and salty snacks, and a prayer for strength.

Fuel stops are awesome. Unless one is dehydrated or well on the way to dehydration, even a 5-minute stop to eat and drink (and, well … you know) re-energizes. Now, the longer you go on a ride, the shorter this effect lasts. But it is a beautiful thing. And with this last stop, as I say, we knew that once we got off U.S. 14 we would sail, just sail home along The Path.

Well, let me cut to the chase. We did just that, though our sailing home was with sails somewhat diminished from our ride out over the same terrain. I know Tav could have ridden all night (hey, he’s done it many times in extreme rides), and he had been holding back all day to accommodate my more relaxed speed and style. But hey, this was supposed to be “my ride,” and if I had to ride into the wind half the day I guess I didn’t care if he had to change his style. Plus, he’s so darned good natured. And as he says, “it’s not about the miles, it’s the time in the saddle.” And we got plenty. On the last stretch, coming out of South Elgin on the IPP, a young buck on a mountain bike passed us as we walked our bikes across soft sand. Well, that was too much for Tav’s pent-up competitiveness. It wasn’t long before he just had to turn on the magic weapon and catch this guy; and as they rode together quite a way the young man asked, “so how far have you guys ridden today?” To which Tav replied, “it’s not about the miles, it’s the time in the saddle. But we’ve been 200 miles today.” I’m pretty sure he said 200 … which is actually low for the kilometers we covered, but a bit high for the miles J I’m not sure he was believed, but we decided that we’d tell the Saturday morning boys that we covered 209 for the day. 210 seemed too tidy and unrealistic. They would all believe it of Tav; and maybe just maybe they’d believe I could draft along on such a ride.

Evening moved in, and finally we saw that little bit of light at the end of the tree tunnel leading to “my intersection” of the IPP in Winfield. Parting ways, I ended at home at 7:47pm, about 20 minutes shy of sunset. 175.9 miles for the day, my longest ever, and surely a distance not to be exceeded or matched again this year. But I’m telling people it was 176 miles… 175.9 seems a bit too fixated on distance, and after all I should get at least .1 mile credit from riding into the wind!

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