Sunday, March 28, 2010

My first 200 kilometer brevet

In the predawn hours, riders start to gather for today's ride. Today we'll ride from Edwardsville to near Greenville; down to Breese then Okawville before turning north to ride back to Edwardsville through St. Jacob and Marine. It's 38 degrees and already windy. Rain is forecast to begin after 3 p.m. I hope to be back not much after that.

Final instructions before leaving Edwardsville. I've been standing around for over an hour and I've begun to shiver uncontrollably. I'm dressed for riding in 38 degree weather, but not for standing around in it. I'm ready to roll, but the Regional Brevet Administrator is keeping us until EXACTLY 7:00, since that's the official start time. BRRR!

This rider has chosen to bring his "fixie" today. That means he only has one gear, and it's directly connected to his pedals, no coasting - none. If the wheel is turning he has to keep pedaling and there's no extra gears to help with any hills or headwinds.

All the riders have come with a sense of anticipation. Today starts the brevet season.

Shortly after leaving Edwardsville, 7 of us formed a paceline to cycle more efficiently. King Louie became our self-appointed leader. Keeping the line tight and directing the pace and flow of a pace-line is not for everyone. Only someone born to leadership is qualified. He was the only one. At first it was amusing to me and I obeyed the commands like the rag doll compliant riders around me. However, after about 30 miles, it became a little annoying. (I don't have a middle name, but if I did, it wouldn't be compliant.)

After a rider dropped, unable to keep up the pace, King Louie's remark was, "Well, there'll be some sorting out in this wind." I wondered if they were taking bets on how long it would be until I was "sorted out" and dropped as well. When a rider suggested that it would be more efficient to slow the pace a little and keep all the riders intact, King Louie would have none of it.

I dropped back and two riders dropped with me. King Louie's kingdom fell from 7 to 3 pretty quickly. Hail to the King.

This is the flattest place I've ever been. And the wind is brutal. It is so flat here that they have to put the water towers up on jack stands just to get a little water pressure at the taps. This picture is typical. I could take ten pictures like this the rest of the day.

The big guy is Cory. The wind must be more brutal for him than for smaller riders. The rider in blue is Louie.

The first control is Breese. A quick stop for water and a signature on the brevet card and it's time to roll again. This is a welcome stop. We've just spent the last 13 miles riding directly into the wind on extremely flat farmland. There hasn't been so much as a stick to block the wind. The 13 miles were on the Jamestown Road. In fact, I think that when I get done, I'll write a Gordon Lightfoot type ballad with that title "13 Miles On The Jamestown Road". Maybe it'll be a hit.

As I rode by and decided to snap the pictures of these cows, I yelled out, "Say Cheese!" and they all nodded approvingly. It occurred to me later that this was a dairy farm and they thought I was being encouraging.

Approaching Okawville the houses along the river are all built up like this. I don't know about you, but if I lived anywhere that I might have to swim to my front door after work, I'd move.

This is not the same picture as before. I told you it all looks the same around here. I was nearly out of my mind with boredom. I was ready to scream and start babbling like an idiot. Then I realized that I was babbling like an idiot. I'd been talking to myself for hours, using every trick I knew to keep from going insane with boredom. I'd told myself every story I could remember and kept pretending to be interested and surprised at the ending. I'd told myself every joke I'd ever heard and laughed politely at the punch lines. I had even sang every campfire song I remembered from youth camp and had sang most of the verses to 100 bottles of Diet Pepsi with no caffeine on the wall. Dear God, save me from this monotony!

This is probably the last rider. I passed him as I was riding back from the turn-around point. He was about an hour or so behind me. That might put him more near two hours behind me at the finish. I felt sorry for him. That's a long time to fight this wind. The only good thing about riding a little more quickly is getting off the bike and out of the wind more quickly.

The only hill I've seen today. I wanted you to see it, too.

Besides being a patriotic image, this picture will give you an idea of the wind we've dealt with all day. It has been brutal. This is near St. Jacob. Almost done. Yea.

Meet George. I don't know where he's from (the short answer is St. Louis). He speaks with a heavy European accent. He's done many brevets before. He knows about the equipment required. And I don't have the right stuff. I found out in the last few miles with him that I have the wrong saddle, and it's adjusted wrong. I have the wrong shorts. I even use the wrong chamois creme. He was polite not to criticize my wheels, just commented that they must have "come with the bike", you know, are cheap wheels. He seems like a very nice guy, so I can assume that he is being helpful to a "newbie". Perhaps he's right. After all, I've never had the right stuff before. Why should this be any different?

My first 200 Kilometer Brevet is in the books. 8 hours and 37 minutes. And I'm disappointed. Not in my performance, but in my chosen sport. It all seems a little anti-climatic. No brass bands, no handshakes all around. Nothing but filling out a brevet card and leaving it in the plastic bin at the Police Station and changing out of wet riding clothes in the car without being seen. Then a 2 1/2 hour drive home. Maybe I'm just a little tired. Maybe I need to eat more next time. I don't know.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

There won't be any credit for this ride today, it's not yet certified. But I've been wanting to ride to Cape Girardeau for a couple of years. I've planned out what I think will be a good route - there is over 3900 feet of climbing in the next 127 miles on mostly rural roads. I've driven it out already, but there's nothing like riding it to make sure it will be perfect for me and others to ride as a permanent route. Here' goes...

The sign says 13 feet 4 inches. If you're over 12 feet tall, don't stand up to pedal when you're inside the tunnel. Let's hope it's built well, that's Interstate 57 on the top of it.

It's 26 degrees out here and that clear sky is the reason. No clouds to hold in the warmth over night. The last time I saw that much blue was when I looked at my own eyes in the mirror.

I dressed for the 50 degrees we're supposed to have later today. I hope this day warms up quickly.

C'mon Mr. Sun and do your thing. My fingers and toes are tired of being cold. Start radiating that heat you're famous for.

My friend Rob Landes calls this sign "truck on cheese". If you're driving a truck it means, "down shift and engage the 'Jake Brake'". If you're riding a bike it means, "prepare for takeoff".

My guess is that after a heavy rain, you'll have to unclip and put your feet on the handlebars to keep your shoes dry. There are two of these "water crossings" on this route.

I've been wanting this picture for a couple of years now. My only hope now is that the border guards won't require a picture ID. I forgot to bring my Illinois passport.

Good sign to see. At least I didn't get lost and am headed back in the right direction. Dongola is the next control.

Remember that "truck on cheese" sign? This is how that same hill looks coming home. It's important not to go "wheeee" when you fly down a hill that you'll have to climb back up. The cycling gods are capricious and vindictive and they might remember the fun you had going down the hill. They might choose to hold on to the back of your jersey when you ride back up just to see if you'll cuss on this side of the hill.

I'm hoping that this is a sign from God. I could use the help about now.

My wife called to check on me. I told her that I was about 100 miles in and still had about 2 hours to go...and I was pretty pooped. She replied, "Well, pace yourself."

If that sounds like nothing more than good cycling advice, then you don't understand "wife-speak". Let me translate. It means, "It doesn't matter how late you get back, but I have plenty to do and don't have time to come and get you. So go as slow as you need to so that you can make it back on your own."

This house is at the 100 mile mark. The owner is a friend of mine. In fact, Mike taught me how to drive a gas tanker when we both worked for Veach Oil Company. All the century riders can rest here while they wait for their mom to come pick them up. Randonneurs still have 27 more miles to go.

Another promise to myself kept. This will be a great permanent route, and one I hope others will want to come to Illinois to ride with us. Now to just safely make it back to the house. After 127 miles the most dangerous part will be riding across town.