The Winds of Change

The Year of the Century: Ride 4

Ride: The Salvation Century
Place: Riley’s Lock, MD
Date: January 20, 2013

During one of the many interminable hours driving back from the complete fiasco that constituted my first effort at randonneuring, I got a text from my partner letting me know that my friends Bob and Dana were planning on doing a 100 mile ride out of Riley’s Lock the next morning.  While I was supposed to be doing the brevet, they were also diligently upping their mileage for the 150 mile ride we have coming up in March.  Yet, given my recent experience, I was less than enthusiastic.

I got home about 8 in the evening.  I was physically tired, mentally exhausted, and pretty bummed out.  I unpacked, had a little light dinner (since I’d been car snacking the whole way) and then had to figure out what to do.  What I really wanted to do was go to bed.  And stay in bed the next morning wallowing in my misery and disappointment.  What I did was wearily pick myself up off the couch and begin to organize my gear for the next day: laying out my (barely used) cycling kit from that morning, getting my nutrition together, unpacking and repacking my emergency gear.  As for the bike?  Well, clearly the Cannondale was now hors de combat.  My tri bike, Mabel, also needed some major shifting adjustments (something that became evident a couple of time trials back; should I have done something about that before now?  Well, yes, of course).  So that left poor old Ginger, cracked bottom bracket and all.

The Friendly Fifty

I slept as well as could be expected and had to get up way too soon.  Dana and Bob were both more than a little shocked when I pulled into the parking lot.  They’d known that I’d had to abandon the ride and was coming home; they just didn’t expect me to turn around and come back out.  Bob looked at me quizzically as I pulled the bike out of the car: “Have you even been home, or did you just drive straight here from Georgia?”  I reassured him that I’d stopped in to give Mary a quick kiss before coming out.  Dana joked that I’d probably set some kind of record for the ratio of miles driven to miles biked, and I’ll be sure to use that when some of my team mates complain about having to drive out to one of our ride starts.

It was definitely on the crisp side when we set out, but at least the winds were light and the first part of the ride was gorgeous.  I never get sick of riding around the Poolesville area; it always amazes me that you can be so close to a large metropolitan area and not notice it; that instead your eye is drawn to beautiful views of rolling fields, the squat bulk of Sugarloaf nearing or receding as you wind your way through narrow, lightly trafficked roads.  Every time we do this ride I come across something that I’ve seen dozens of times before but still strikes me anew with its beauty.  This time it was a red barn with white windows on Martinsburg road, the wall facing us so brightly lit by the early morning sun that it seemed to be glowing against the clear blue sky.  Dana and Bob had wisely chosen a 50 mile loop that didn’t loop us out to the northwest, a route we often take with the team and which gets very exposed.  This would seem like an even better decision as the day wore on.

The Flatulent Fifty

After stocking up at the car we headed off on a second loop of the 50 mile course, this time armed with some fresh legs in the form of a team mate Scott, and Mark, a workmate and friend of Dana’s.  The second 50 was definitely not as much fun.  We’d felt the wind building steadily toward the end of the first loop and by the time we started the second loop it was blowing a steady 15-20 mph with stronger gusts.  There were some hard pulls into the wind (with Mark and I mis-timing our rotation so that we almost always seemed to be the people pulling the train at that point) and other moments where we rounded a corner to receive a blast of wind like a slap in the face.  Much of the time I was heartily wishing for a nice steel bike to replace this flimsy flighty modern carbon nonsense that seemed to want to spend its whole time jumping around the road.  But when God farts in your face the only thing you can do is grit your teeth and put your head down.  I’ve also learned from experience that the worst thing about riding in a strong wind is that somehow that tailwind, when you get it, is never quite as awesome as you expect and certainly not as strong as you feel you deserve.

The biggest challenge for me on the second 50 was that I started to experience some pretty uncomfortable back pain.  I definitely need to work on my core strength more, and am occasionally aware of a little discomfort in the last stages of a long ride, but this pain was almost to the point of spasming/cramping, and was kicking in around the 60 mile mark.  Clearly, 20 hours of driving had done me no favors.  So I had to take a couple of stops to stretch things out.  However, given the difficulty of fighting the wind, no one else seemed to mind taking a break, so I didn’t feel too bad about holding people back, and we were all able to take advantage of the tailwind to push it a bit more over the last ten miles and finish strong.

Re-Calibration.  Me, that is, not the bike

The combination of the failed 200K and this successful century gave me a lot to think about.  First there was the obvious irony that Ginger rode beautifully on the century.  In fact, with the play taken out of the rear wheel, the bottom bracket tightened a notch and the the Bike Lane’s Adam’s efforts at getting me fitted better to the bike, she rode better than ever.  I was careful, of course; no standing on the pedals and putting out the big power on a climb, but then I don’t tend to engage in those kind of amateur dramatics anyway.  Therefore, if I hadn’t erred on the side of caution there is a good chance I’d be writing you all an engagingly described and copiously illustrated report of my first brevet.  This is obviously not a productive line of thought; the universe is not a fair place, so there’s every chance that if I had taken Ginger I would have found myself 100K into the ride standing at the road side clutching two halves of a carbon bike and mewling pathetically.  It is, furthermore, all part of the learning curve.  I don’t have a lot of experience with carbon bikes, since I’ve ridden mostly steel and aluminum in my life.  The words “cracked frame” sound pretty dramatic, but clearly all cracks are not created equal and it never occurred to me that a cracked bike would still be comfortably rideworthy for 100 miles or more.  Still, the thought niggles and rankles.

The more serious line of thought concerned my overall plan this year of riding a century a month each in a different state.  It only took me the first couple of centuries to figure out that the real challenge in all of this was not going to be so much physical (although I certainly don’t want to downplay that aspect of it; Sunday’s ride still felt like a good day’s work) but logistical.  The logistical challenge then breaks down into two parts, which are really two sides of the same coin: finding rides, and trying to make those rides work with my life.  As I’ve said a couple of times, finding rides has been a challenge, particularly since I knocked off a couple of nearby states relatively early, which was unavoidable since I needed to be able to fit the rides into a busy work schedule in the fall.  So there’s finding the ride, registering, finding some place to stay, the packing, the travel, the unpacking.  Workwise, I’ve got a lot on my plate this year, and I would also like to be doing some things other than biking, writing, and teaching.  Like trying to remember what my partner looks like.  Plus, feeling like I’m constantly either organizing or traveling for a ride has started to feel stressful and tiring.  Lastly, it all costs money.  Not that Mary has begrudged me this endeavour at all.  But with other necessary expenses in our lives (new bike for Mary or at least a refit of the old one) those century expenses have all just started to seem a tad excessive and not a little selfish.

I had a great time riding on Sunday.  Between the back pain and the wind it wasn’t an easy ride, but it was an easy bunch of people to ride with: people who ride seriously, but without seriousness.  We ride safe, but we have fun.  Thinking about this afterwards, it made me realize something important: I was on the verge of not having a lot of fun with this whole century campaign thing.  If it is something that you aren’t required to do and you’re not having fun, that is a problem.  If it is something where there is no single overriding goal at the end of it all (because, let’s face it, at a lot of different points Ironman training is not fun) and you aren’t enjoying the various activities, then that is a problem.  After Sunday’s ride Bob commented that he was impressed that I’d gone out with them, given the long drive and my many frustrations with the failed brevet.  It wasn’t that impressive at all, however, because for me, biking has always been the thing that makes other areas of your life better, the activity that in fact helps put the rest of your life in perspective.

So it is in this case.  I started to think about why I started this campaign: the importance of having a plan to combat the post-Ironman let-down.  And I think I’ve pretty much been successful in that regard.  I’ve done no swimming in recent months and little running, but I’ve kept my workout focus and been racking up some serious miles on the bike.  I feel motivated to get out there even with one (now two) broken bikes.  I’m looking forward to some long (some very long) rides coming up during the rest of the year that I’ll be sharing with friends; training for these will in all likelihood mean that I’ll be putting in at least one century a month in any case, but many of these will probably me more local.  I’m also still keen to get involved in the randonneuring scene.  Despite my recent failure, this type of riding looks very much like the kind of thing I’ve been gravitating toward for a couple of years now.

Thanks to Dana and Bob, my century-in-a-different-state campaign is still technically alive (since I could count this as my Maryland ride, rather than the Garrett County Gran Fondo later in the year–although I still plan to do that ride if possible!).  But I think the campaign may be over.


One response to “The Winds of Change

  1. I had to look up brevet: Brevet (military), a temporary authorization for a person to hold a higher rank
    Brevet (cycling), a long-distance bicycle ride with check-point controls

    But this was a fun read. And other than the fact that I think you’re a little insane, and I don’t understand a lot of the terms here, I think this is awesome, and really really cool. You make me realize that I could stand to have a bike anatomy lesson.

    I’ll send you a note about blog writing and student writing in a bit, but I’m happy to know about this. Congrats on your century in Poolesville, and after my first big ride there, we’ll have to go to the house of pooleville. yes. that.

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