Monday, August 24, 2009

the first century


Not the date, the length of bicycle ride. I did my first one today and ended up going fairly well beyond an imperial century to nearly a metric double century. Feeling not very well-prepared for next weekend's Hotter Than Hell 100 ride in TX (I've had a cavalcade of out-of-town guests and a busy work schedule conspiring to keep me off of the bike), I spotted the posting for the Bike Psychos Century ride on the chainlink yesterday and quickly recruited my friend Zac to come along and do it with me.

I arose at 4:30 am this morning, not terribly well rested. I did go to bed at the pretty civil time of 10:45 PM but was pretty amped up about it and kind of had a tossing/turning/went-to-bed-too-early-to-sleep-well sort of a night. Probably got circa 4.5 hours of decent sleep maybe. I did have the presence of mind to pack and prepare about everything I'd need for the morning including pre-loading the coffee maker and prepping a nice eggy breakfast last night, so the getting up and being ready part was pretty easy.

We left Chicago at about 5:35 for Coal City, IL, a small town just southwest of Joliet. The pre-dawn light in Chicago was quite nice and I had a crazy vision driving east on Belmont upon seeing this TREMENDOUS bank of clouds over Lake Michigan. It literally looked like mountains and weirdly made Chicago look like a flattish street in California or Colorado. It was eerie, but quite beautiful. Once on the Kennedy, the whole lake was like a cloud mountain. Construction crews found a way to make traffic at 6am on a Sunday, namely but blocking the freeway down to one lane, but we were soon on our way out past the deep burbs.

We arrived at the Coal City Early Childhood Center and registered up in minutes, borrowed some sunscreen from a nice fellow rider parked next to us and were on our way. It was a beautiful route of mostly cornfields and some other crops, a lot of farmhouses and just some nice woodlands as well as quite a bit of the Illinois River. Almost completely car-free roads greeted us for quite some time in the morning and even throughout the day, cars were a very minimal sight. What a welcome change from Chicago where you are watching out for your life every few minutes throughout the day!

After taking our second ride-lengthening detour of the day through this old park that dead ended at an Army Corp of Engineers facility (there was an little unmarked dogleg in the road that we chose the wrong way on), we (perhaps foolishly) skipped the first rest stop at 25 miles and kept on plugging away. We started hitting the first few hills shortly after that. I was finally glad to have a compact double crank on my bike! Not that these were Pyrenean by any means (I don't even think they would change the route description from "flat" on a grand tour), but pros we ain't!

At one of the steeper hills a young-ish guy on a carbon Orbea fairly blasted by us and Zac decided he wanted to catch this guy, so we pounded away back on the flat up above and caught him, forming a little three man pace line for about 10-ish miles, eventually the three of us came upon another guy we had passed earlier in the day. This guy was on a new-ish carbon Lemond and was clearly a bit older from his grey crew cut and mustache. We were feeling the strain of our approximately 20-22mph pace by now, Lemond and Orbea were in front of us just chatting away, like they were riding to the farmer's market from brunch or something. We heard Orbea say he was from Colorado, so he must have literally been drowning in oxygen on this clear 60 to 70 degree day in sunny Illinois. Eventually, we found it wiser to simply get back to a more sane personal pace and dropped off the back of these two. About 5 miles later we came to a much needed 50 mile rest stop.

After eating some very "al dente" slightly seasoned dry pasta and some much nicer fresh fruit, we re-embarked just a little behind old Lemond. He was cruising along in his report 2005 jersey just riding his ride. We both decided he was our new hero with his easy cadence, looking like he could do a double century and mow the yard after. I told Zac I'd feel good if we simply kept him in sight for a while, but after warming back up, we somehow bridged up to him from a few hundred meters back. I jumped on his wheel and asked if he minded some hangers on. He told us it was fine and eventually we got to chatting after he remarked that he remembered a certain hill we rode up to. I asked him how many time he'd done this ride and he said "Oh, 5 or 6 times." After a bit more chatting with me mentioning how he seemed a bit older than us and we were really impressed with his riding, he told us he was SIXTY!!! Holy crap, this guy's calf muscles looked like a current pro tour rider! He said this was his 11th or 12th century ride of the year. I must say that I found that pretty inspiring as a newly minted 40 year old. The idea that I could ride 100 miles in a day for a couple more decades plus makes getting older seem pretty alright, especially the way this guy obviously could have simply notched it up and left us in the dust at any moment. I shamelessly sucked this guy's wheel for most of the next 20 miles and he just didn't think a thing about it. Didn't catch his name, but on the off chance that he's a crazed internet scourer, thank you kindly sir! That was a fun leg. We all made it to the 75 mile rest stop and there we parted ways as we took off a bit sooner than him.

At this point, the ride was starting to seem a bit long. My previous longest ride was the 81.5 miles to Milwaukee, so we'd hit that by this rest stop. We still managed to plug along at a decent rate, maybe circa 17.5 average, but we hit 100 before the last 87.5 mile rest stop. We finished up the last couple of miles with a nice woman on a really fancy Guru carbon bike with a PowerTap hub, aero bars, the whole nine yards. She had dropped her husband a few miles earlier after we passed them all and she gave us a much needed steady pace into this rest stop. She turned out to be a social studies teacher at Decatur High School, where Zac went to school for a year. They chatted about who was retired and who was still there. Always a small world. It was pretty hard to leave this final oasis. I ate a PB&J and more fruit. Hydration and eating went pretty well over the day. I was always remembering the mantra "eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty," and it did not let me down. My knees were feeling pretty weird by this point, not really in pain, but just a feeling of unfamiliar worn-outness. (Later that evening, they would feel genuinely achy, but I think I'll survive.) We just rather grimly pushed on through the last 13.5 miles. Still kept a nice pace up. It was at this point that we went through a pretty great wind farm area. I'd never been so close to these goliath turbines. We were practically riding right underneath them. I find them quite beautiful in their minimalist splendor. They must be about 15 stories tall, just silently cranking away in the sky. This was also one of the most hilly sections (damn you, route planners!). I never thought I'd be so happy to see a street called "Carbon Hill Rd" as we made our last turn and rode the final mile or so back to the start. We pulled up right at 114 miles and just rode straight to the car and plopped down in the hatchback for about 10 minutes of panting and staring before we packed up to head back to Chicago.

We fueled up on some McDonald's (?!?!..groan) french fries and a chocolate shake on the way out of town. This was they first time I've given McD's any of my money in as long as I can remember, but there wasn't much to choose from in Coal City on a Sunday afternoon. It was necessary to split the drive between us some we did not pass out and kill ourselves, but we made it back in one piece and now I feel like I sort of know what I'm in for in Wichita Falls next week.

Here are our final stats:
Miles ridden: 114
Total time (including stops): 7 hours 8 minutes
Average speed including stops: 16.05 mph
Actual riding time: 6 hours 26 minutes
Average riding speed (excluding stops): 17.74 mph!
Max speed: 38.6 mph (there were some pretty good downhills!)

Sadly, I did not take a single picture. For some strange reason, I left my phone in the car. Much good scenery was missed.

1 comment:

buscemi said...

wow. sounds challenging yet rewarding. nice job pal. on a side note i was talking with my daughters step-grandpa about cycling and he told me in the late 60's he rode from delaware to oregon. i asked him if he took any days off and he said "not until idaho", they took one day off to visit a friend. coast to coast dude. go for it.