Tag Archives: Bicycling Events

The Iron “FURNACE” Challenge

Having lived in the deep south a couple of times the idea of a hundred mile ride in Alabama, in late June seemed a bit suspect, but the Iron Mountain Challenge fit nicely into my budget and calendar so I made the commitment for it to be my ride.  I mean it’s northern Alabama, in the “mountains” and surely they wouldn’t schedule such a challenge in overbearing summer conditions, would they?

Saturday morning dawned with bright sunshine, deep blue skies and absolutely no wind,  Not even enough of a breath to shake a blade of grass, and that’s as windy as it would get all day, so the 75 degrees and 80% humidity was already stifling as I made the short drive from hotel to starting point.  Uh, I guess they just might schedule this ride in overbearing summer conditions.  In yet another boneheaded blunder, which I seem to suffer far too often, when I got to the registration table to pick up my number and timing chip (small aside here; this is one of the few rides I’ve done which has had actual timing chips.  Classy) I discovered that both of my water bottles were still chilling, in the fridge,…in my %*&^#**& hotel room!!!!!  Somehow I was extremely lucky as a ride volunteer, I believe her name was Wendy, managed to provide me with two brand new bottles, saving my day.  THANK YOU so much!

The very start through Mclellan

The very start through Mclellan

Catastrophe averted, I donned chip and number, gathered myself and came to the start  to look around at the perhaps 60 or so riders assembled.  Yes, this would be a small ride indeed, especially since there was a 25, 50, 62 and 100 mile course.  I was later to find out that there were 20 riders registered for the 100 mile.  There were some lonely road miles ahead.

If you’ve looked at the ride profile you’ve probably concluded, correctly, that this is not the most difficult of courses.  With the exception of two significant climbs, Duggert Mtn and Bains Gap Rd, it’s all gently rolling, so I was cruising along nicely, knowing the real challenge would be later in the day with the two hills and the heat.  I was very conscious to keep my effort pretty low and take a swig from my water bottles every 10 minutes.  It was hot, but manageable, especially on the back roads which were nicely shaded with our 7:30 am start, so I was feeling pretty good as I got to mile 40 and rest stop #2.

Not a big crowd

Not a big crowd

It was after this that things took a turn.  A few hours in and the sun was much higher now, making shade much less abundant, even along the 20 miles of the Chief Ladiga Trail we rode.  This, by the way is a phenomenal multi-use rail trail stretching from Anniston all the way to Smyrna, GA just northwest of Atlanta.

As the heat rose, so went my heart rate, even though I was taking it easy, and I was really beginning to feel it once I came off the trail and headed back south with 40 miles to go.  Where we turned off the trail there was a quick water stop which I made, but stayed just long enough to fill up and dump some over my head,

The next few miles were a rapid and nauseating descent in to heat stress.  I’ve had some heat issues in the past and once you have, you become particularly sensitive to them again.  I was not expecting Duggert to be nearly as steep as it was and when it reached 11% grade I wasn’t sure which would happen first, my puking or my heart exploding, so for the second time in any of these state rides, I was forced off the bike to walk up the hill (the other was the 24% Lincoln Gap in Vermont).  I was in bad shape.  Light headed, nauseous, heart racing.  Ah, my Garmin was only reading 102 degrees.  At this point I was fairly certain my day was done.  Especially with all the doom and gloom talk of the “big” climb yet to come at Bains Gap.

Good thing the next two miles to rest stop #4 were pretty much downhill because I felt like CRAP having that well known internal self-argument between quitting and gutting it out.  I think the volunteers were a bit concerned with how I looked when I coasted in, dropped my bike and stumbled under the pop-up to a chair and some shade.  I spent a good 20-30 minutes there resting, drinking, holding ice to my head and neck and contemplating my next move.  As my heart rate came down and I rested and drank I felt better and better.  I’d driven 700 miles and ridden 69.  That’s a lot of effort to quit at that point and in truth, by the time I left that rest stop I felt pretty good.

Alabama fields of corn

Alabama fields of corn

I’d asked what was left ahead of me, knowing that Bains Gap was at mile 90 and a 3 mile climb, but after that, downhill into Anniston and a flat few miles to the finish.  They told me it was mostly flat the 21 miles to the next stop and then took their opportunity to profess their own horror about the big climb.  So I decided I would take my time and ease my way to the next rest stop and worry about the last bit once I was there.  My keep was to keep my heart rate under control as I’ve learned this is the genesis of, “feeling like CRAP.”   No matter what was ahead I was determined to keep it under 160 bpm.   It turned out not to be what I would call “flat” but I managed to stick to my plan for the next 21 miles, taking it extremely slow and easy on the climbs and thanking the universe for every cloud that drifted in front of the blazing sun.

When I go to the last rest stop at mile 90 I was fatigued, as you might expect after 90 miles on a bike, but certainly feeling MUCH better than when I arrived at the last stop.  I spent an extended time resting and drinking at this stop too and was quite glad I had not thrown it all in.  Between this stop and the last there were discussions between the volunteers, myself and the two other riders who were a bit behind me and catching up at each stop.  We learned that 20 riders had started the 100 miles, three had passed through the stops ahead of us and allegedly 12 had dropped out of the ride.  Tough conditions indeed.

I finally headed off on the final 11 miles, knowing I’d make it, even if I had to walk up this mountain in front of me.  All the doom and gloom was for naught, however.  The road climbed gently at first and steadily increased over the next couple of miles.  The big white puffies in the sky kept the sun hidden away and having just rested I was able to move along, a bit more slowly than normal, but at an acceptable effort.  The climb does suddenly ramp up to double digits and maxed out around 17%.  By this point my pedal cadence was down to 35-40 rpm, just barely enough forward motion to stay upright.  In fact on one stroke I popped a mini-wheelie and nearly fell over, so had to turn perpendicular to the hill to get started again, where I missed my clip-in and nearly fell over again.  Third times a charm and as I came around the bend I was rather shocked to find myself only a few dozen yards from the top.  In all, the really steep part was barely a half mile.  A steep half mile, but thankfully short!  Whew!

After a fab downhill it was apparent the clouds were all on the other side of the mountain and the last 7-8 miles were a weaving, blazing slog as I limped to the finish, never so happy but too drained to appear even slightly joyous to be at the end.  I’m told the weather was unusually hot and brutal and many thought they may move this back to the spring as it had been in the past.

I drove 700 miles and endured brutal temps to be damn sure I got my shirt and medal.

I drove 700 miles and endured brutal temps to be damn sure I got my shirt and medal.

I celebrated that night with an wonderful dinner at the best restaurant in Anniston, which included the most fantastic Fried Green Tomato salad and Shrimp and Grits I’ve ever had.  If you’re ever there, be sure to eat at Classic On Noble.

Fried Green Tomato Salad, uh, YUM!!!

Fried Green Tomato Salad, uh, YUM!!!

This is a good ride.  It’s well organized, the volunteers were absolutely fantastic, it’s got great support from the city, including police support at all the major road crossings and the start/finish is a great venue, complete with free showers.  A bit out of the way to get to, but if you find yourself in the Atlanta/Birmingham area, it’s a good one.

Hoosier Dams

Autumn is coming to Indiana and the first faint signs are starting to show.  Leaves are just beginning their explosion to color; breezes are blowing with a tendency towards crisp and afternoon warmth turns to evening cool and early morning chill.  The prefect time for a Century tour of Wabash County in the Dam 2 Dam Century Ride.

I so appreciate when the town is not only aware, but even participates in the event

I so appreciate when the town is not only aware, but even participates in the event

After most of the summer on my own personal adventure which is coming to a close, I was able to match my itinerary with this ride and complete state #10 in my quest to ride an event in all 50 states.  Convenience of scheduling, however, was not the only reason I chose this particular event.  I was much more influenced by the event’s web page, it’s route description, the fact it is, at the moment, a smaller and grassroots event, and finally, takes place in and around the hometown of a dear friend.

Wabash is the prototypical image of small town mid-America.   Tree-lined streets, blocks of victorian style homes, a church or

Wabash Judicial Center

Wabash Judicial Center

town-hall, I was never able to figure out which, whose bells ring out a most complex yet pleasing symphony each evening.  The surrounding county of endless farms, interrupted only by shady woodlands, the occasional swamp, and

Herrold On Hill B&B where I stayed.  FANTASTIC!

Herrold On Hill B&B where I stayed. FANTASTIC!

crossings over gently flowing rivers evokes a feeling of “hometown” no matter where you may hail from.  And I’m pretty sure the entire southern half of the county is designated state recreation area.  All this made riding the 104 miles nothing less than an extreme pleasure.

Beginning and ending in downtown Wabash, you are on your way no more than 2 miles before finding yourself traveling the wilds of rural county roads.  Over the next several hours you will pass through several small towns, over the Wabash and Eel Rivers, across Salamonie Dam…

Crossing Salamonie Dam

Crossing Salamonie Dam

past farms, and farms, and more farms.  There’s a lot of corn out there boys and girls.  And cows, some sheep, what I think is probably soy, a few Alpacas. Morning Farm Ok, so it’s farmland I think you get it, but I never tired of it.

The event includes a spaghetti dinner the evening before, lunch on the ride, seven rest stops (assuming you do the 104 mile course; but adequate stops no matter what distance you choose) stocked with food and drink, including free supplies of gatorade mix and all the 5-Hour Energy you can drink.  Did you

Stockdale Mill, where lunch was provided, along with near ride-ending chocolate chip cookies.  They were so good I almost didn't get back on my bike.

Stockdale Mill, where lunch was provided, along with near ride-ending chocolate chip cookies. They were so good I almost didn’t get back on my bike.

know that 5-Hour Energy is headquartered in Wabash?  I did not.  And post ride vittles as well.  Amazing support.   Here’s another tidbit of Wabash trivial.  According to a small plaque in the sidewalk, it was the first city in the world to be lit by electric streetlights.  Imagine that.

Before finishing you of course cross dam number two, the Mississinewa Dam creating the Mississinewa Lake.  I hear you struggling to pronounce that.  Don’t worry,  I was at it, out loud, over and over

First electrically lit city

First electrically lit city

Wait, didn't I already cross this dam?!?

Wait, didn’t I already cross this dam?!?

Lake Mississinewa, created by the dam.  Yep, it was still pretty chilly when I got here.

Lake Mississinewa, created by the dam. Yep, it was still pretty chilly when I got here.

again for the next 20 miles trying to figure it out.  Apparently what is not original in this county is dam architecture.  Hey, it’s the Army Corps of Engineers.  They don’t get hired for their creativity.

And what good would a rural ride be without a red barn AND a covered bridge?

The obligatory red barn...

The obligatory red barn…

...and covered bridge

…and covered bridge

Christine Flohr, Director of Tourism, and everyone involved in the planning and execution of Dam To Dam put on a first rate event.  Certainly one worth traveling to, even if i had not been on my way back through that part of the country.

This is an event I can

More beautiful Wabash County

More beautiful Wabash County

easily recommend you go out of your way to ride. Super friendly star and volunteers whose dedication to making your ride the best experience possible is evident in everything they do.  It is a young event with 2015 as the 6th Annual, and really only the second year of marketing and advertising but as such they have outclassed many of the larger events I’ve ridden.  Wabash itself was a pleasure just to visit.  My stay at Herrold On Hill B&B was truly exceptional.  Sandy and Alan are the consummate hosts, the house itself is a spectacular vision of history, built in 1885, and the Breakfast part of B&B was as unique as it was delicious.  On top of all that, it’s a mere 3 blocks from the YMCA, the HQ and starting place for the ride. There are a few great places to stay in town and this is definitely one of them.

Wabash and the Dam To Dam Century Ride.  Two Mid-West treasures!

A Few New Photos

A few late arrivals from the fine folks at Vermont Gran Fondo.  Still doesn’t do the ride justice.

Ascending Appalachian Gap  At this point things didn’t see too bad.  It’s the very top of Appalachian Gap.  Sure doesn’t look like 16% grade in this pic.

Here I’m really struggling at the top of Lincoln Gap.  I’d just gotten back on my bike after walking about 1/4 mile.  I don’t want to disparage, but notice the rider walking behind me.

Suffering up Lincoln Gap

Suffering up Lincoln Gap

And finally, turning in to the finish back at Middlebury College Snow Bowl.   I’m just as exhausted, but felt much more elated than I look.

Turn into the finish shoot

Turn into the finish shoot

#vermontgranfondo

Ocean State Tour De Cure

When first I conceived of this whole 50 Rides thing, one of my basic tenets was to avoid the larger, well known sponsored rides.  Not a hard and fast rule, but a plan from which to deviate, and not because I have anything against them, but because I figure that they have plenty of support.  However, when it came to Rhode Island, there is only ONE ride of sufficient length which remains entirely within the state borders, which is one of my hard and fast rules, so, the Ocean State Tour De Cure it was.  Makes the decision pretty easy.

The ride Start/Finish was on the campus of the University of Rhode Island in South Kingston.  Tucked out of the way and removed from the far more touristy areas of RI, it made for a perfect venue.  Easy to get to and plenty of parking.  I stayed at The Stagecoach House Inn, a cozy little inn about 15 minutes west, in the tiny town of Wyoming.  After arriving in the early afternoon and checking in, I headed over to the campus to check out the layout and logistics for the next morning.  There was no packet pick-up the day before; a planning factor I tend to dislike as that disrupts my pre-ride routine.  Then I took the rest of the afternoon and early evening to explore Newport, a fantastic and beautifully historic city.  If ever in this part of the country most definitely spend a day or two.  I had no idea that RI, and particularly Newport is one of the most affluent communities in the country.  Just drive around the southern portion of the city.  The mansions are spectacular.

But anyway, on to the ride.  I must say, summer weather in New England is so much more pleasant than the un-godly heat and humidity of northern Virginia.  Particularly for riding.  In fact, it was cold (for me) at the 0700 ride start, at 48 degrees.  Brrrrr.  It did warm up nicely throughout the day, topping out in the mid 70’s and with plenty of sunshine and very little wind, it was a perfect day for riding.I was somewhat surprised at the small crowd gather for the start.  I don’t think there were 200 of us there.  I expected under the TDC banner, there would be many hundreds more.

A Charming Home In Westerly

Overall, this was a nice ride.  While there was nothing awe inspiring, the roads, for the most part were nice.  Several miles are along major and heavily trafficked roads, though there were ample shoulders or bike lanes throughout these sections.  Three areas stood far above the rest in terms of scenery.  The first, the town of Westerly is a charming New England town.

A Charming Home In Westerly

Shortly after passing though you reach the coast and the town of Watch Hill,  riding along the shore through Misquamicut Beach.

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

This is the second of the really memorable sections of this ride, especially with the sun shining, the wind NOT blowing and the vivid blues of the sky and sea.

cropped-watch-hill-marine.jpg

Marina near Watch Hill

Heading north again off the water will take you back up through the “hilly” parts.  Now look, it’s Rhode Island, so “hilly” is certainly a relative term, but you will be surprised, by the end of this route, how hard you’ve worked your legs up and over 4300 ft of climb.  With pleasant, but not especially attention grabbing scenery I was not paying close enough attention to the road and ended up missing the course markers painted on the road as I descended into the town of Wakefield.  When the road came to a “T” with no marks on the road I was a bit perturbed.  How far was I going to need to backtrack to find my way?  Turns out, about 2.5 miles.  Well I was definitely going to get 100 miles in on this ride, despite the “course” being a bit less than triple digits.

Finding my way again, I’d merely missed a turn which took us off the main road, but still through town, you head back down south to the water, the third of the notable parts of this tour and the southernmost point at Point Judith Light.

Pt Judith Light

I took a few minutes here for a little rest and to enjoy the scenery.  And of course, a photo op.  Three quarters of the ride done I had one more rest stop, just ahead to eat my last snacks and take on water for the final push.

From Point Judith you head north through Narragansett before eventually turning off the water and back to the forests and farmland.  While in itself this is not an overly taxing course, I tended to make it a challenge by riding a bit harder than I typically do.  Not overspent by the end I was certainly glad to cross the finish.  No matter what the course is like, riding 100+ miles is never easy.   After just over 6 hours on the bike I, and certainly my posterior, we happy to be done.

Misery Is In The Legs Of The Beholder

I first heard of Mountains Of Misery about 8 years ago, when I was living in Virginia Beach, and my first thought was, “who in their right mind would want to do that to themselves???”  That, of course, was well before my cycling became my passion………..or some might say obsession.  Then, when this 50 Rides thing came about it only made sense to check off my home state with one of the more difficult rides east of the Rockies.  Right?

Sunday morning dawned with spectacular sunshine, zero wind and………..Holy CRAP!  It’s 50 degrees!!!  You would think, especially after my Texas debacle, I’d stop relying on weather reports to determine my ride attire requirements.  Sometimes I’m not nearly as smart as your average bear.  I came prepared for the forecast low of 67 degrees, with merely thin arm warmers to get me through to the warmth of the day.  Not adequate for the temps at the start, particularly when you add in moving at 15 mph, in the shade.  Yes, 15 mph.

Virginia backroads

Virginia backroads

I take quite some time for my legs to warm up and stop feeling like blocks of concrete oatmeal. You riders know what I mean.  It took a good 40 minutes for me to actually begin to feel comfortably warm, both leg-wise and body temperature.

My strength as a rider lies in my endurance and ability to spin.  If I can spin my pedals, vice stomping/mashing on them, I can maintain decent speeds and be comfortable all day long.  Once it comes to requiring shear power, which for me is typically REALLY high winds or grades over 8-10%, my performance drops significantly.  Knowing this ride ends with a 6 mile climb, the last 2-3 of which average 10+% of grade, my plan for the day was Conserve, Conserve, Conserve.  I was going to need all my available leg strength to get through those last miles so I would intentionally under exert through all the other climbs of the day and not push too hard where there was flat terrain.  All the work I’d done over the winter and earlier in the spring has me very confident in my nutrition and hydration regimen.  One less thing to focus on or worry about allowing me to really focus on my riding effort for the day.

I stopped at rest stops 1, 3, 5, and 7 as planned.  The first was just a quick water top-off and snack.  In this regard I learned my lesson from Texas.  DON’T PASS UP WATER.  By mile 35 I was starting to get rather hungry, so I snarfed down a fair bit of food (1.5 P,B&J sandwich, a few slices of cheese, a pickle, some Sport Legs and a gel) at rest stop #3 (mile 44).

I was a bit concerned all that might bother my tummy, especially since it was getting pretty warm, but I had no issues at all.  Rest stop 5 & 6 are the same spot, at the start and end of a 12 mile loop. John's Creek Mtn I grabbed another pickle (more for the taste than any fear of cramping), water and a gel at #5 and only stopped quickly as I came back by to slather on some more sunscreen. Another lesson learned from Texas.  You may be able to tell, this ride has been around a while and the support is excellent.  Well stocked rest stops with lots of variety and actually located where the course map says they will be.  THEY supplied the little extras that earn very high marks from riders like me, such as sunscreen, energy gel, electrolytes, etc.

This 12-mile loop through Clover Hollow may be the most scenic stretch I’ve experienced in any of these rides.  It starts following a narrow, shaded stream gully, just wide enough for the stream  Clover Hollow Bridgeand road, hills rising straight up on either side. After a few miles you come around a bend and it opens in to a most bucolic valley.  If you ever ride in the Blacksburg/Newport area be sure not to miss this gem.

Opening to Clover Hollow

Opening to Clover Hollow

93 miles and I wasn’t miserable yet.  In fact, I was feeling quite good.  Rest stop #7 was a quickie.  Just enough time to refill my water, suck down a gel, let my legs recover from the good climb of the last few miles and get psyched up for the final 8 miles.  Smiling at MOM  Now the test to see if my plan had worked.  From #7 it’s a nice little downhill for 2 miles and essentially all up from there, gently at first then steeper and steeper.  Through mile 98 I was encouraged, thinking to myself if the whole climb was like this there’s no problem.  Yep, that came to bite me.  No sooner had my Garmin clicked to 99.0 than the grade rose quickly to double digits……….and stayed there.

You would not think it possible to pedal less than 3 mph for 2.1 miles, up grades which reached at least 16%, without falling over but apparently it can be done.  As my legs strained harder my heart beat faster, and faster……..and faster.  It was finally my heart, pegged near 180 bpm, not my legs which brought me to stopping for a rest.  In fact, it brought me to stopping twice in those last two miles.  I’ll admit it, I was kinda miserable.  The second time fantastic volunteers, with my encouragement, doused my neck with ice water.  If it hadn’t been going at max rate my heart may have stopped right there, though after the initial shock it felt glorious.  No comparison however to the thrill and overwhelming relief a half mile later of crossing that finish line.

Lo and behold, I LOVE it when a plan comes together.  My legs got me through with flying colors and I suffer no disappointment in joining the many who needed a short break or two to conquer that climb up Doe Mountain/Bald Knob.  Mountains Of Misery should be on your biking bucket list.  It is 01.1 miles through beautiful farm country in southwestern Virginia.  With more than 10,000 ft of climbing it is truly a challenge; one worthy of your efforts.  Of course, that’s much easier to say now that I’ve crossed that finish line.

Two weeks to recover till I head off to Rhode Island.

Wild Flowers, Wildlife and Wind!

The wild flowers are in full bloom in central Texas this time of year, and quite the lovely sight.  A beautiful accompaniment for 100 miles of famous Lone Star State Hill Country in the Texas Gran Fondo.

Welcome Sign

Fredericksburg, TX was founded in the mid-1800’s by a community of Germans and that cultural background still strongly exists today.  The town is filled with Gast Haus’ and Biergarten’s, so where else would this fledgeling Gran Fondo commence and end but in the Markt Platz in the center of town.  It’s a quaint town and worth the hour drive from San Antonio or Austin, especially if you’re bringing your bike.  It’s also the birth place of one Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, our heroic leader of the War In The Pacific.   Nimitz copy

This was only the 2nd edition of the Texas Gran Fondo and as with most new events it has some maturing to do.  However, in terms of a fun and challenging course, this race is a winner.  Rolling  out of the start and for the first hour and a half, I was rather, “meh” about what little scenery I could see through the overcast and spritzzling that started shortly after we did.  That’s bike jargon for spritzing and drizzling.  Really, look it up.  It never actually rained, but there was precip for sure.  At this point I was just hoping I could get through this day without having to figure out how to survive softball-sized hail that the region had experienced the day before.  Ok, not too worried because the forecast was for mostly cloudy and some showers until later in the afternoon when they expected heavier thunderstorms.  This was important in my preparations as you will come to see.

Half the starting crowd for the 100 mile Gran Fondo.  The other half are in front of me.  It's a  small ride in its 2nd year.

Half the starting crowd for the 100 mile Gran Fondo. The other half are in front of me. It’s a small ride in its 2nd year.

Thankfully the temperature, near 65 degrees,  was warm enough that no additional layers were needed and my rain shell was stuffed comfortably into my pocket.  The only casualty of the elements was my ability to see through somewhat fogged and splattered glasses.  I DO NOT RIDE WITHOUT EYEWEAR.  I can see just fine.  It’s simply a safety issue and one on which I don’t believe any cyclist should compromise.  In all, though very humid, rather comfortable conditions to ride in.  It got down right gloomy for a bit and then the skies to the west, which we were directly headed, lightened.  Just a couple of miles before rest stop #1 and turning to the north, the spritzle had stopped.

I cleaned off my glasses, adjusted my saddle a bit, got some water and perhaps the tastiest rest stop snack I’ve had on any ride.  Even better than the tomato sandwiches in the Back Country Ride.  A sandwich thin with prosciuto and cheese.  I know, simple right?  But glory was that good.  It would be my choice at each stop.

I didn't know roosters were "exotic" but hey, I'm not from these parts.

I didn’t know roosters were “exotic” but hey, I”m not from these parts.

I was all stocked up, I could see again and we had turned off the highway we’d been on for 23 miles to more rural roads so I was happy and feeling good.  Now I suppose there’s no such thing as a windless day in Texas and there was wind on that first leg; a dead crosswind out of the south, but it wasn’t till we headed north that you could really tell how strong it was.  My average speed over the next 17 miles jumped up by 5 mph.  Unfortunately, what goes north must turn south at some point and when we did at mile 40 it was right in to 15-20 mph winds.  It is somewhat disheartening to suddenly go from easily maintaining speeds in the high 20’s to working your legs off to keep it over 11 mph.  Time to ease in to a rhythm and enjoy the scenery.  Much easier to do now that the sun had come out, we’d made our way to back country roads and the scenery slowly but surely worked it’s way in my beholder’s mind from “meh” to “beautiful” without really changing much at all.  It was right about here it struck me there’d been wild flowers along the roadside nearly all of the last 40 miles.  Nothing like proverbially stopping to smell the roses.

Wild Flowers copy

This southbound stint was a short one, but I knew there were longer bouts with the wind to come.  I was also starting to notice it was getting’ pretty steamy.  After 2 hours with it blazing down upon us I started thinking the rain shell which had yet to come out of my pocket would have been better replaced with some sunscreen.  Damn weather GUESSERS.  Remember how I said this was an event which needs some maturing?  Sunscreen at rest stops is one perk learned from experience.

TX Hill Country copy

At mile 50 came round two with the wind, and it made everything before seem trivial.  A four mile leg on Hwy 87, it runs through a valley, climbing nearly the entire way, and DEAD into the wind, which by now was easily gusting to 25-30 mph.  On any given day the climb, though lengthy is nothing major.  At most it topped out at 8% grade and that was only a very short piece.  It averaged around 3-4%, but in temps now reaching near 90 degrees and the unrelenting headwind, it was a long and BRUTAL 4 miles.  I was ecstatic to see the rest stop at the top.

Maturity lesson #2.  There are only a couple of “Unforgivable errors” in race support in my humble opinion and here was the grand poobah of them all.  NEVER run out of water at a rest stop.  For all you budding race organizers out there, have twice as much water as you think you need and then add 20%.  I luckily arrived while there was still some left and managed to fill both my bottles.  I also grabbed another of those amazing prosciuto sammies.  Not realizing they were that close to empty I drank half a bottle before getting back on my bike, only to find the jugs had run dry.  Off I went, mostly refreshed and not too concerned since, with another downwind leg ahead and figuring the next rest stop would be about 20 miles I didn’t foresee a big problem.  Much like the sunscreen, not much I could have done about it anyway.  I don’t recall passing a single convenience store or any sort of establishment to purchase refreshments along the entire 100 mile route, except in Fredericksburg itself.

At mile 74 we made our last turn south with essentially the remainder of the route home into the wind.  Worse yet, it clouded up for all of about 5 minutes with nary a drop of cooling rain, the temperature reaching 95 degrees by my Garmin.  Oh yeah, I’m gonna be lobsterfied after this one.  And no other rest stop yet.   Riding TX Backroads I had precious little water left and a few daunting hills on what ended up a most awesome, back in the middle of nowhere, beautiful, if I weren’t rather concerned about dehydration and overheating, never mind extremely perturbed with the race director for not having more rest stops or even the ones they advertised, road.  I passed a couple of zombified riders, all of whom were also out of water, as I was now, also pissed off and also unsure if there was a rest stop coming up anywhere in the last 20 miles.

Finally, in the tiny little hamlet of Crabapple, which is to say, an old barn and a church, at mile 84 was the final rest stop.  Only 29 miles from the last one.  Let me tell you there were some rather unhappy riders there when I got there and I knew a few more not too far behind me.  Here they were not in danger of running out of water, or food for that matter and I hope the volunteers took comfort from our coming in grumbling, and at least on my part, leaving much happier.  I made sure to thank them profusely for volunteering, once I got about 2 liters of water back in me.

This is still early in the season for me for a ride of this length and despite my training all winter and coming in to this in the best riding shape of my life, after 85 miles the wind, heat and humidity had taken their toll and I was about spent.  I’d eaten well and hydrated well, considering the aforementioned issues but there’s no acclimatizing to heat and humidity unless you train in heat and humidity, which is only now beginning here in DC.  So not having much push left in my legs made the last two climbs more significant than their profiles would indicate and there was much rejoicing in my head when I crested the last and had but a few miles of relative flat to spin to the finish.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot “W” #2, the wild life.  Critters encountered:

  • A few cows.  By-the-way, large expanses of this route take you through unfenced range where you come across signs reading, “Loose Livestock.”  Not that a cow is necessarily something to be wary of, but it is unusual for us easterners to come across them with no fence between us.  And if I never cross another cattle guard again it’ll be too soon.  There must have been at least 57 of them.
     Hello Cows!

    Hello Cows!

  • Goats.  In fact, more goats than cows.
  • 2 Longhorns.  Just 2.  I wish I’d stopped to take a photo but I figured surely, in the heart of Texas there would be plenty to take photos of.  Uh, Nope!
  • A porcupine, although he was mostly squished. 😦
  • Two large serpents; like 6 ft large.  One was definitely poisonous, the other I’m not sure about.
  • A lizard
  • One really cool small bird that I have no idea about, and…
  • A wild turkey

Now that I haven’t collapsed in a shriveled heap, this really was a fun race.  It’s got some growing pains to go through and I hope they learn the lessons that I know all the riders will pass along and continue to grow.  This could become a marquis ride, with a really great course and a fantastic destination to visit.  Good Luck Texas Gran Fondo……  Yee Haw!!!

Texas GF