22 June 2009

First Century

Last Saturday our gang went out early, and most of us rode our first century of the season.

I have to stop and say, I think for all who went out from Winfield Saturday, it was our first century. But one of us, Jon B., was conspicuously absent. Jon has ridden randonneur brevets of 200k and 400k lengths this year. And at least on of his own solo centuries. Saturday he was absent - in Michigan with the annual "24-hour challenge" ... where he rode an astonishing 427 miles, unsupported, in 24 hours. I can hardly wait to hear the account. Good on ya, Jonny!

The rest of us slackers rolled out of the Prairie Trail Center at 6am. Reliable route master, Jim H., had staked out a route that took us out through Fermi Lab in Batavia, through Sugar Grove, then west and north into DeKalb - home of Northern Illinois University. We took a modified route back through Elburn and Batavia, then back to our starting block by way of Fermi.

It was the first Saturday morning that we could meet and leave in short sleeves. A few weeks ago I had made the rash statement that "our first ride we can do in short sleeves, I am buying bagels for everyone." There is an excellent bagel shop in this shopping strip, and it was no lame offer. Cold Saturdays continued way too long this spring.

But this was an excellent morning, nearly 70 degrees already at 6am. The wind was mild (that would change) out of the WNW (that would change, too). We rolled out, fell into our Fermi stretch, and were west of Randall Rd. in under an hour. Long before we got to Sugar Grove, we were truly quite warm, the wind was directly out of the west, we were under 2 hours, and hungry. The BP station along Rte. 47 is our Sugar Grove stop, just under 30 miles from Winfield.

Then things got ... well, challenging for me at least. As long as we were headed west, into the wind, the peleton worked. Most guys took turns, and we kept a decent pace. When we headed north, though, it was hard to find a drafting position more than 1 or 2 spots behind the lead. The wind was getting fairly strong, and the crosswind made the going tough because we could not spread out over the whole lane for a group of 7 riders to get some relief. (If there is a west wind, and you're headed north, you get a little relief - a little drafting - by riding behind and a little to the right of the rider in front of you. This works well on a moderately used country road, for 2 - 4 riders; they can spread across, say, half a lane, and close ranks as needed for car traffic. But 7 riders won't fit safely. At least, not the way we play it. Maybe the pros ride more tightly.) I took the first or second pull on this northerly road, and stayed up too long. I was bushed, and could not catch the draft enough to recover. This wasn't going to be good.

There was a convenient spot where it just seemed right to propose that I could take this road east and head home, solo, and not slow down the group. (Or, as I have, just whine about being left behind.) I might be able to continue until the next good east-bound road. Sure, I'll try that. Meanwhile, Jim got word up the line ... moderate the pace so the weakest link doesn't have to drop out. Well, of course he was kinder than that, and so was the group. I was humbled and thankful to be drawn in and rescued, and before we got to DeKalb I had recovered. I learn a lot from these guys.

The stop in DeKalb was at the nicest gas station/convenience store stop I've been to. I've never ridden to DeKalb, though this group goes out at least a couple of times each year. I've just never been able to ride those days. This stop has shade, and a grassy spot. Real nice. Most of us were sick of the sweeter fuels we get on shorter rides, so we got sandwiches and chips, and replenished our drinks. And savored the ride home, with the wind still directly out of the west, and the long pulls on east-bound roads.

And so it was. Our average speed out was just over 16.5mph. Our final average speed back home was closer to 18mph. We had a few break ups of the peleton - one person or another struggling on a hill or with digestion. For a change, it wasn't always me. I've learned from these guys ... the honor of holding back a bit, letting someone catch up, then helping pull them into the group. Riding is a gentleman's sport. At least, the way I'm learning it. We had one more stop, and surprisingly not back in Batavia (another regular stop for us) but an emergency stop at a public golf course club house. That was a bit annoying at first, until I realized that (a) of course it was very well timed for the rider struggling the most (for a change, not me) and (b) since my exercise asthma inhaler was about to expire - it's good for 6 hours - this stop allowed some time for it to kick in while at rest. Thank the Lord for little lovely providences.

The rest of the ride was a familiar route, and we got home pretty much intact. With a couple of exceptions, we did have bagels together to celebrate the warmth, our first century, and my wedding anniversary weekend married to a lovely lady who encourages my cycling. Thanks, Karen! Home by 1pm, 7 hours after the ride began, about 5:45 of those being actual pedaling time.

My first century, this year. Now I'm on to a 3-day trip, covering about 215 miles. Onward!

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