27 June 2009

Bike Trip, Interrupted

My friend Tom has had more adventure in his life than I will in mine, no matter how long I live. But he has never been bicycle camping. And this spring we hatched an idea to take a 3-day trip together. My job was to plan the route, and whenever we talked about the trip, I also shared little tips and ideas I've picked up along the way. I travel light (but not technically "ultra light"), love to eat (hey, I ride to eat), and really just take my time when I tour.

My Saturday morning guys probably think I just take my time whenever I'm out! But that's another issue altogether.

Tom was pretty excited about the trip, and as Wednesday approached this week, he had his bike out - with his Bob trailer fully loaded, then repacked, and out again. When we talked on the phone Tuesday night, he had re-packed twice already. After we hung up, he re-packed again. And we agreed he would be at my place at 5:30am Wednesday.

5:30 was important for a couple of reasons - get out of the west subs before traffic got bad, and also to get a drop on the forecast heat for the day. With an early start on a 65-mile trip, we could be in Lake Geneva before the heat of the day, set up camp, and either swim or sit in the shade. A great start to our 3-day adventure!

Naturally, I was "not quite ready" when Tom rolled up at the exact time he said he would. To be fair, I was pretty close and we left much closer to the announced start time than I ever do when taking a solo trip. Hey, I've missed my own private start time by as much as 3 hours! So, rolling out by 5:45 was good for me. And Tom, being Tom, was characteristically cheerful about it. After all, we had all day ahead of us!

Our first day's route was on path and trail until the last 12 or so miles. Illinois Prairie Path, Elgin Spur, to Fox River Trail north to McHenry County Trail, to Richmond - at the border of Wisconsin. A couple of roads would take us into Wisconsin and up a few miles to Big Foot Beach State Park. A simple start to a "local" trip that would continue on Thursday, entirely on road, through Walworth (a great breakfast spot I recall from a trip with my son 9 years ago), through Beloit, around Rockford, and down to Lowden State Park in Oregon, IL. Day 3 would bring us due east through Sycamore (with the obligatory stop at Elleson's Bakery), the Great Western Trail, and home by whatever route then took our fancy.

Food. A bike trip, in my view, is almost entirely about the food. I love to plan the route, and I do really enjoy camping. But it's the food - what do I carry? Where will I eat? How will I prepare an evening meal in a camp-site? We agreed that the simple way to start the day is to have a breakfast bar or something simple in camp, then stop for a real breakfast - diner or breakfast restaurant is ideal. Then, during the day, you're always eating anyway, and will probably finish the ride early- or mid-afternoon. Supper then becomes the big question of the day: to fix in camp, or to camp where you can ride into town for a meal, or can you carry-out supper on the way to the campground?

Our first stop, and first food, was a Panera in Crystal Lake. It is right off the trail, across the highway, and if it wasn't there we could have got a good cup and breakfast option at the Caribou across the street. We were pointed to Panera by a couple of moms who were out for their morning 20 miles - trying to get home before their pre-teens woke up on this warm summer morning. Tom is a racer, and it turns out that I am more competitive than I want to admit. These gals had stopped to ask about our tour, expressed their wish that they hope to be able to do the same some time, then moved on. It wasn't long before Tom asked me "well, are we ready to pick our pace back up?" I knew exactly what he meant. We had no intention of letting these women stay ahead of us! And they might have, too. Because at every traffic-congested trail crossing we had to wait for, they rolled up behind us. We would move on, and they would catch up. Well, we're glad they did as we got into Crystal Lake (where they were, mercifully, ending their ride) because they pointed us to breakfast at Panera!

Let me just say here that even though these women did catch up to us all along those 10 miles, (a) they weren't hauling an additional 25-30 pounds of gear; (b) they weren't rationing their resources for a full 65 miles in the hottest day of the year to date; and (c) if we'd wanted to we could have gone faster. I'm fairly certain we could have beat them in a fair race. Well ... Tom could have, for sure.

Coffee and what normally would have been a decadent morning pastry, at a patio table in the shade of the building - a chance to sit and enjoy the morning and anticipate the next leg of our trip. Soon we were back on the trail and within minutes making our way through the hilliest, prettiest, surprisingest couple of miles - Sterne's Woods Park. And that is the only hill worth noting on this leg of the trip.

We enjoyed the nice smooth McHenry County Trail all the way through McHenry. As we approached Ringwood [cue ominous chord] I told Tom [foreshadowing] "this next section is the least kept-up part of the entire path to Wisconsin." It didn't take long for Tom to see what I meant, and it didn't take long for me to see that this segment was in worse shape than usual.

The night before, on our final planning phone call, we were going through some last minute things each of us had thought of. As for the simple contents of a wallet on a tour, I said "and of course your insurance card." "Oh, really?" "Well, you know just in case." Said Tom, "I would not have thought of that." To which my all too knowing honest reply was "that's because you've never ended a day trip in the emergency room."

Now I have to say that, for a change, what happened next is not my fault. I have caused my own accidents, and I have caused the serious injury of a friend. But this time "it's not my fault!" Still ...
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
That dear repose for limbs with travel tired.
But then begins the jury in my head,
To work my guilt, when body's work's expired.

(apologies to Wm. Shakespeare!)

It was my route plan (never mind it is the most direct and hassle free - well, now I'd have to say specifically traffic-free).
I could have pushed a move on to the highway (but the shade seemed more important to us than a smooth surface).
I think I had an expectation of invincibility about this trip. Tom is a crack bike mechanic, so I'd never felt so confident about potential bike problems. And he is a retired firefighter/medic, so that made Karen feel more comfortable about me going out.

Well, the path from Ringwood north to Richmond is generally lousy. But now it has big patches of sand - not dirt, not crushed limestone - soft and velocity halting like beach sand. Not like the part of the beach that gets the tides, the other part that you can't run in. We hit the first few patches and had to walk our bikes through some. So we were carefully picking our way through this dry quagmire. Suddenly - but not, I really must point out, swiftly or speedily - Tom hit a patch that was also in shade. That is, difficult to see until he was in it. He went down, and went down hard. In my opinion, this agile rider was "thrown" as much by the weight of the trailer as the surprise instability and sudden unplanned stop. He hit hard, on his left side, and his bike slid to the right, wheels facing right across the path. We had been more or less side-by-side; I guess I must have been a bit behind because I saw him go down and I ended up hitting/going over his front tire, and going down with my bike in the grassy berm.

I'm no medic, but it was clear Tom was in trouble. Tom is a medic, and he knew just what kind of trouble he was in. He never lost consciousness, but his eyes were closed and before he opened them he said, "I broke the collarbone." That was trouble, but I saw blood on his legs and knee, and when the helmet was off we saw there was blood on the scalp, too.

Two years ago, Tom was battling throat cancer. Among the side effects of the cancer treatment, his blood is complicated to keep in proper balance, some where between "will he get a clot" and "will he be able to stop bleeding"? The next few minutes were given to self-assessment, bike-assessment, and situation-assessment. It took just a little while to get Tom's bike rolling again. He already knew what was going on with his injuries. The way out of the situation was arguable.

Now, the women who have heard this story seem to agree. If I ask "do you want me to call 911" and Tom says "no, not yet" - then, if I'm a woman I go ahead and call, and later if Tom is a woman she thanks me for it. But given the genders we've been dealt, I just naturally figure, hey, Tom's a medic and I'm just this dumb guy, and if he says we can walk out of this, then ... why not?

Our walk was somewhere between 1 and 1.5 miles. Ringwood is tiny, and sleepy, and so unlikely to have any services that I proposed we keep on toward Richmond. We managed the bikes -- I tried to push them both myself, and on a street, this would have worked. In the sand, no way. So we traded bikes - mine no less heavy, but his trailer made the pushing more cumbersome. We walked. There's a bench in the shade, would you like to stop? No, my legs will seize up. Is that a road sign up ahead? Sure looks like it. And so, it turns out, it was.

And who should be driving down the road as we came to the intersection? A County Conservation Officer (named Tom). And he, though burly, manly, and good natured, called 911 without permission! The next to arrive was a Conservation Police officer. Soon the county ambulance, followed by a couple of sheriff cars. These guys were impressed with Tom's presence of mind - self-diagnosis, sense of humor, the long walk to the road - and dealt with him very personally and professionally. It wasn't long before they had him into the ambulance; Officer Tom and I had his bike and trailer loaded in the county truck (to be taken to a locked warehouse for retrieval later); my story and information were taken down; and they were on their way.
There's so much to say about the rest of the day - I'll save that for another post. The important part is that Tom's clavicle was broken into 4 pieces. (As he says, "my collarbone wasn't broken, it was shattered.") He was treated at McHenry County Hospital, picked up by his wife Carol, collected the bike and trailer, and went directly to his own doctor to begin to sort out the situation with his blood. He was sent immediately to Elmhurst Hospital, admitted to the oncology ward, and then began treatment and monitoring of his blood.
Pardon this very personal observation, and take it only for what it says: Tom is a stud. To see him in a hospital bed in nothing but his running shorts, is to see a man ready to audition for a Tarzan movie! Scabs and scrapes all along the left side, from his temple to his calves, his is a fit form with nice muscle definition and ample evidence that here is a guy who has taken excellent care of himself. But the really truly special feature of Tom in a hospital bed is to see that indomitable spirit, tempered by an impish good humor, his care for those who are visiting him, and his trust in God. These things I knew about Tom ... I didn't need this accident to learn them. But it's great to see it, anyway.
And the aftermath? Well, there's some question (no, I won't call it a dispute) about how long the doctor has taken away Tom's cycling privileges. But he did say, "well, we'll just have to go again next year." And so, I have no doubt, we shall.

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!

15 June 2009

I am not a runner

I'm behind with a couple of cycling events/stories. But this weekend I had an "adventure" of a very different sort. "I am not a runner, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." (to paraphrase Dickens) And I would not naturally show up for a 5k event unless it was required of me, for some reason.

This Saturday, it was indeed "required" of me, to show up in support of an excellent event that raises money for camp scholarships for disabled people and their families. STARS is an extraordinary ministry of my church, and as a staff person, the 5k run and fitness walk each June is one of my command appearances. I don't have to run, but I have to show up.

Last year, for the first time, I went one step beyond "showing up." I registered and walked the 5k route. And man, did that make me feel old! This year I determined that I was going to run, or at least lope. Maybe even just show up and knock myself out. Why take time away from cycling to get ready for a run that I won't enjoy, won't do again for at least a year, and which in any case was sort of imposed on me. Such is the true measure of my ignominy.

I have run, for exercise, off an on, more off than on, and not at all recently. I simply won't run when I am above a certain weight - it's too hard on my knees. But when I dropped below that weight a couple of weeks ago (on yet another diet) it occured to me that I could at least prepare to run, since I was going to be there anyway. But no, I would not overdo it, and would not take it too seriously. I am not a runner.

Training Week = Race Week
Monday - .9 miles. This is the distance of the loop that is my suburban neighborhood. Roughly a square, with its highest point at the top of my block, a long slope south, and along flat west and north, then a short incline to the top again.
Tuesday - 1.8 miles. Two laps.
Wednesday - 2.7 miles. You do the math.
Thursday - 3 neighborhood laps plus the block I live on, which happens to be .5 miles round. A perfect 3.2 mile run, which is as close to 5k as I can make it.
Friday - rest day. With my daughter I walked the race route, to get a sense of its contour and to see what 5k looks like all spread out, not in laps.

By Friday I was sore in my thighs especially, and while walking was easy enough, a lot of other things made me feel it. That afternoon, tired of not being on the bike, I decided to do a light spin, using a familiar bike club route. Keep it in the middle chain ring, nice steady cadence, and not pushing it. That worked well until about mile 7.5, when this guy pulled out of his neighborhood on a beautiful Merlin bike, and fell in behind me. He looked serious, and my latent competitiveness kicked in. I went into my large chain ring, and my cadence picked up just a bit. "This is stupid," I told myself. I had nothing to prove to this guy, and I should stick to my purposes.

He followed me to our first turn. I pointed out road hazards, and he called out "car back." At the turn, he followed, then took the lead. We continued on the same course, with just a few words between us, alternating lead and draft quite naturally and seamlessly. It was, simply, natural and delightful. Twelve miles later, our route diverged, and I returned to my original pace and plan. "That was probably dumber than I wanted it to be." My casual ride turned out to be 27 miles, nearly half of them in the large chain ring and in fear of being bested by a stranger.

Back home, I cleaned up, then rode my touring bike to the church for the Friday night part of the weekend events. So my day off included about 35 miles on the bike ... not all of them as relaxed as I had planned. But as I went to bed Friday, I realized that all the soreness had left the legs, and I had a great sleep.

Saturday morning I woke to rain. I walked the dog in rain. I gave up the idea of riding to church as my warm-up, for the rain. I changed my running kit for the rain. And at about 7:55, I stepped into the crowd of runners, in the rain, and waited for the gun. (Was there a gun? Now I don't really know. I'll be disappointed to know there was not a starting gun. There were church bells pealing though, and that is also pretty cool.)

I managed the first quarter mile or more without tripping over children or causing better runners to stumble. I had gotten some pretty sound advice from seasoned runners, so I was more alert than would be natural for me, to the dangers of the starting mob. Also to try to remember my pace and to watch the time at the minute marker, to check myself. Thursday's run in the neighborhood was about an 8-minute mile pace, for a time of 26:04. That would be my goal on this run.

At the 1-mile mark, 7:34. Oops, try to moderate. At the two-mile mark, 15:10. OK, but that's not much better. Somewhere in there I began to wonder if I'd have to really slow down, or even walk a bit. Memories of Cycling Boot Camp kept me moving. The 3-mile mark did not have a clock, and by then the finish line was in view ... up the final little incline. When I finally saw the finish clock, it was in the final seconds of minute 23. Oh man! Could I have come in under 23 minutes? Well, at that point I had only what it took to keep that pace and finish. Not even enough to help remove tag from my bib number.

And then, I was done. My first organized run of any kind. I am still saying, "not again until next year." But there is that little part of me - it comes out about a day after each challenging cycling event - that says, well I could work a little running into my routine. If only to run with son Andrew when he's home. Such is the fitness sickness.

Time: 24:05
Pace: 7:46/m
Overall: 74/343
Age Category (50-54/male): 5/12