Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yelling Into the Wind

I rode my bike to Italy!  Okay... it was Italy, Texas, but it was still a heck of a ride.

I had a great theory.  In Texas the prevailing wind is typically from the south, but it usually doesn't get bad until the sun is starting to come up.  Faced with a 60 plus mile ride to the south, I decided to trek out at 3:30 in the morning to beat the wind.  I woke up at 3am, bags packed, 4 PB and honey on white sandwiches ready to rock.  For breakfast I had my usual of grits and brown sugar and this time a PB&H to start the day.  I downed a gatorade from the fridge, loaded my water and Cytomax, and rolled into my drive way.  A blast of heat hit me, the temp held  90 overnight until midnight before dropping all the way to 80 when I started out.

I checked my lights and threw my leg over the seat, turning south out of my neighborhood.  Unfortunately my theory was bunk, I was greeted by a steady breeze from the moment I started rolling.  There was a sustained 17mph wind in my face the whole time, with heavy gusts 25-32mph.

There was only one section of my ride I wasn't looking forward to on the edge of a rougher south Dallas neighborhood.  I figured at 4:30am most troublemakers would be passed out and there was little to worry about.  In fact, sketchiest part of the ride was just before then as I came up to the Mockingbird bridge over the Trinity.  It's mostly warehouse district there, save one all night adult establishment that seemed to have a lot of patrons and stood right before the bridge.  Combine that with some narrowed lanes due to construction and a long straight bridge that invites speeding, and it's really the only place I was nervous.

The Oak Cliff part of Dallas brought on some challenging rolling hills and mostly deserted, but well lit streets.  Desoto was the biggest surprise, Cockrell Hill turned into a nice winding lane through some awesome mansions.  It was a very nice ride all the way into Ovilla, which looks like a small country town.  Not the big big deserted main street that a Texas highway cuts through and forgets, but a little country lane that winds through a few shops.  It was a great place to notice the sun rising.

It was also about the time I contemplated giving up.

This was a tough ride.  I was about 30 miles in, and the wind was just painful.  I knew at that point there was no way I would make the start of the ride in Italy.  I sent Jason a text and told him to meet me in Waxahachie at 7 so I could ride with him to the start line.

Unfortunately, he was stuck at an emergency at work, so I pushed on to Italy.  It turns out the second cool part of the ride was just ahead on the Waxahachie Creek Trail.  It's about 5 miles of paved trail, similar to the White Rock Trail.  It's a little more twisty and curvy, so not really a high speed bike trail, but good for a gentle ride.  I took the historic Rogers Street Bridge across to Hwy 77 for the final 15 mile jaunt into Italy.

This was perhaps the hardest part of the trip, big hills running parallel to I-35 with the relentless headwind pushing me back.  I could only laugh as I crested one giant hill and started down the backside - the wind was blowing so hard I could only get up to 15mph while pedaling downhill!  At one point, thinking I had to only be a mile or two from Italy, I almost lost it when I came up on a sign that said 6 miles to go.

Somehow I pushed on, showing up about 8:30.  It was right at 60 miles on my computer and it showed my average speed as 12.5mph.  5 hours to go 60 miles.  Ridiculous.  Demoralizing.  I was planning on an easy pace of 15mph and contemplating pushing a little harder so I could rest a little longer before the final ride.  No such luck.

When I met up with Jason my energy lifted a little, it's always nice to have a companion on a long ride.  I refueled with a PB&H and filled my water bottles, then we struck out an the 40 mile course 45 minutes after the official 8am start time.  The first 6 miles weren't bad, heading generally east with the wind at our right side.  I had hopes that maybe the worst of it was over, that is until we turned south again on FM55.  That turn met us with another 20 miles of 20mph winds in our face.  Pushing your hardest to eke out 6mph up a hill really makes your efforts feel futile.  There were several times I almost lost it since the wind was coming at a bit of an angle trying its hardest to blow us over.  I needed a few stops on that side of the loop, I was going on 7 hours in and it was really catching up to me.

At 75 miles in (15 for Jason) we stopped at the top of a hill, I know I was really looking beat.  Jason turned to me and asked if I wanted to SAG it in.  As appealing as a long rest and and a ride back sounded, I just thought, "No way!  I'm 75 miles in, 75% done, quitting now would be ridiculous!"

It was a good thing to.  We hit the rest stop at mile 21 and then once we turned north again, at mile 24 on the course (84 for me!), we really started to cruise.  We easily held  20mph for most of that section.  It was really funny to me that Jason and I were by far the last people to start the course (well, us and one other guy from Fort Worth - though his accent was more Gomer Pyle), yet we consistently plowed past folks, even into the wind.  I was shocked to find people at the first rest stop and even more at the second.  We started 45 minutes late!  Once we turned north we just hauled, it was a great feeling.  We pushed right through the last rest stop at 31 miles (92 for me!), it was still swamped with people. I'm sure a lot of people were on the 50 and 63 mile loops so we were probably catching them, but the fact that I was on 90+ and passing them was amazing, especially after the ride I had.  I cooled off the last few miles and kept it around 15-18mph, a nice easy pace to roll in on.

Back at the finish line we had an icy cone and found the showers.  I didn't enjoy the irony of the beer we had in the parking lot until I noticed today that one of the main benefactors of the event was MADD.  Jason drove back and we stopped at The Mecca for a few plates of fried food.  Something about chicken fried steak, eggs and hash browns sounded terrific.  Somewhat surreal, zoning in and out a little from exhaustion and still feeling the thrum of the wind, it still hit the spot.  

After 85 miles of a 20mph headwind I came home and crashed on the couch while the kids watched reruns of The Muppet Show on DVD.  I'd stir occasionally when Animal would scream onto set.  

On the ride I was thinking it was probably my least favorite century so far.  It was certainly the most challenging mentally, and the first where I seriously considered throwing in the towel., and there were several reasonable places to do so where everyone would have said, "Yeah, I don't blame you."  I knew I could have pushed just a little harder and shortened my time, but it would have killed me in the end.  The hard part was knowing the wind was destroying my speed.  I resigned myself early in the ride to just living with it and not being pissed off.  In the end, there was nothing I could do about it.  I had two choices: give up and go home, or figure out how to deal with it.  While it was crazy hard, and consistently grueling, yelling into the wind does no good and it's pretty cool to say that I rode to Italy.

I just found this post that sums up my experience.  The guy destroys his bike in a fall on the Tour de France and tears himself up in the process, stitches and broken ribs, etc.  The SAG wagon pulls up and asks "Do you want to just get in?"  He says, "Oh no, I don't need YOU!" and then relates "But there I am with blood spurting out of my left elbow and no bike."  He eventually catches up to his team by riding a junior bike (awesome photo of him riding a tiny yellow bike in the post) and gets his own spare bike.  The best part is he relates it all to a story about Conan the Barbarian, surrounded in a village by an army of thousands and his reaction is "Oh man, it's going to take days to kill all these people!"

It's not a matter of "if" I can do it, it's a matter of "how".  This started as a journey that would be "hard as hell with an uncertain outcome".  A year ago I would not have thought I would be 700 miles into this adventure, and now I'm contemplating whether I should ride or drive to Waxahachie next weekend for the Cow Creek Country Classic.  That will be 3 centuries in a row with a 4th planned the week after.  Hoping I'll be recovered enough to push through!

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