After living almost 2 years in "America’s Heartland" the score was Marathons – 0, 10K’s – 0, Group Rides – 0, Organized Rides – 0 … you get the picture. It isn’t that the flesh is weak (it’s decidedly softer and there’s more of it, but its still not that weak) but that the spirit has not been willing enough.
So when the resident roadie in our Church Choir (he rides a Waterford no less) suggested I join him and one of his Doctor buddies on a ride, I leapt at the opportunity. "BTW", he said, "it will be about 50 miles and there should be a few others along. I’ll give you a call Friday night."
Friday’s call revealed we would be starting in a town called Cold Springs – which is about 1/3rd of the way between Minneapolis and Fargo, N.D. (yes, that Fargo.) We were to hook-up out-side the school at about 7:00 AM. Saturday night I packed the car, set the alarm for 5:00 AM and hit the sack. After waking at 4:00, 4:15, 4:32 and 4:47, I turned the alarm off, had some breakfast and hit the road – remembering to make a pot of coffee and take a thermos along to handle the Tim-less 90 minutes on I-94.
I made better time than expected, revelling in the absence of cars on the road at 5:30 AM and hit Cold Springs around 6:45. Having the cruise control set to 80 probably helped as well. Pulling into the school I saw the parking lot was full already. Turns out we were being joined by something in the order of 1997 other riders. After a quick trip inside to register for the "Tour de Saints" (that was the name – honest!) and liberate the coffee (at least what was left of it) it was back to the car to put the bike together and by 6:55 I was waiting outside for the others to show.
There were a lot of people around – all of them on some form of bike. There were tandems (Cannondale, Burley and Santana) hybrids, road bikes, (Carbon Fibre, ancient Schwinns, Raleighs, Merciers, Peugots. Sekines, LeMonds, Bianchis) and mountain bikes. Far and away the most common bikes were Treks – which is hardly surprising given the factory is just across the St. Croix in Wisconsin. Many of the older road bikes looked as if they been in a basement or garage for the last 20 years.
A lot of the people looked as if they’d been in storage as well. In addition to the expected young, lean and fit looking folk, there were a surprising number of older people who were carrying more wrinkles and pounds (including me;-) than would be the case at events like this back home. At road races in Nova Scotia, the norm tends to be the fitter folk run and the not as fit watch – although there are always exceptions. What was happening here was consistent with what I remember seeing at marathons in Honolulu and New York - every-one participates. The fact that you may not have done any exercise in the last millenium is not an obstacle. One guy did stand out somewhat – he was wearing matching cycling shorts and jersey with the (bright) colours of one of the European cycling teams. Along with this very fashionable and fast looking outfit – he was wearing high-cut basketball sneakers. Go figure.
Neil (the roadie from church) is super organized, so when I didn’t see him by 7:05, I started to worry. 7:15 came and went and no Neil, so at 7:25 I decided to take a quick look around for his bike – find it and he can’t be far. At 7:27 I find his bike. He and his friend Matt have been inside waiting for me since 6:54.
I hadn’t seen Neil in shorts before, so was surprised by the size of his calves. Matt was wearing a "Mississippi Headwaters Double Century" t-shirt. He walks over to his bike - another Waterford. Both his and Neil’s rear clusters are 12-21 7 speeds and look like corn-cobs. Cassettes like that send a message – and the message is "be afraid, be very, very afraid." The last time I saw a cluster that tight was watching ESPN’s Tour de France coverage last year. "WARNING, WARNING; DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!"
We mounted up and started riding. The forecast had been calling for thunderstorms, but so far it was sunny and no wind – ideal conditions. Matt tucked in behind Neil and I as we accelerated along the flat and we started talking. The road ahead was full of riders, sometimes 3 and 4 abreast, which kept forcing us out to the yellow line as we went by them. We seemed to be going by them awfully quickly so I snuck a peak at my speedo – 22mph -oops. The first rest stop was a mere 17 miles away.
Up the road loomed the first of what turned out to be a very regular set of rollers. While there were flat stretches in the ride, for the most part you were either going up a hill, or coming down one. They did vary – long gradual grades being interspersed with shorter, steeper ones – but it was a rare half-mile that didn’t have some kind of hill in it.
That first hill and the lead-up to it also set a pattern that was to remain consistent for the rest of the morning. As we steamed by groups of riders (including our friend in the matching team colours), some of the more ambitious in the group would latch on to the back of our "train" (including our friend in the matching colours) - taking advantage of our slipstream to get pulled along faster. This would last until the next hill, when the slower speed and higher effort would cause them to get spit out the back (including our friend in the matching colours;-)
Most hills I too was one of the "spitees", I just didn’t get spit out as hard or as quickly as the latcher-ons tended to and after a short individual time trial was back up with Neil and Matt. Occasionally I would tow one of the spitees back up to them and the group of us would continue to charge along until the next hill, when we would shed even the most persistent. I suspect the Waterford Duo didn’t want the responsibility or risk of a large pace-line, as they did appear to deliberately crank it up a couple of hills. Given what I’ve been reading about Bernie and Norm and Wayne’s adventures, I’m sure you can appreciate that.
It did make my life rather challenging though. Not having ridden that distance for some time and wanting to spare my legs for the miles ahead, I was trying to spin up most of the hills rather than power up them. Indeed, at times the sound of my constantly shifting gears must have been almost deafening to those around me (ok, the bike does shift very quietly but somehow the "almost inaudible tic, tic, tic of rear cluster" doesn’t conjure up the same image.) When Neil and Matt did choose to crank it up a hill I felt a moral obligation to turn it up as well, otherwise we’d end up with too many people on the train. As many of you know, there’s a big difference between spinning an easy gear and muscling a hard one, especially during a climb. This difference is magnified when you’re less fit and carrying more weight than normal. Needless to say the timetrial to get caught back up was a lot slower after one of those.
The first rest stop at 17 miles had cold water and DOUGHNUTS. Yum, Yum. At this point it became very obvious that despite the extra effort of trying to hang with Neil and Matt, this ride would uphold the proud GONZO tradition of rides being positive calorie days. Ten minutes later we were back on the road again.
The rest of the ride, including the rest stops at 29 and 41 miles, was pretty consistent with the first 17. The food varied (fruit, cookies, Milky Way bars), and the water was supplemented with All-sport, Ocean Spray and pop (that’s right, not soda – pop.) Traffic was light except for the last mile or so, which coincidentally was the only stretch that was not on a farm country back road of some sort. The last 12 miles were into a headwind (can you say wheel suck) and if anything somewhat hillier.
There was a moderately long (about a mile) hill at about mile 43 that Neil had been trying to psyche me out about for almost the entire ride. Just to make things even more interesting, some guy on a blue Trek had hooked onto us just after the last rest-stop and had hung in there since. As we approached the hill, Neil and Matt started turning up the wick and quickly started pulling away.
The hill went up (duh), then had a brief level/down section before going up again. Beyond the 2nd up I had been told there was another hill that the current summit was masking. As Neil and Matt left us, my friend on the Blue Trek started cranking it up. It was pretty clear he wasn’t chasing Neil and Matt and equally clear he was planning to bury me - he quickly got a gap.
The sign at the base of the hill said one mile, so I applied a lesson I learned in the White Mountains on one of our GONZO trips, dropped into a gear I felt I could keep the revs up in all the way to the top and started spinning. Less than ¼ mile later my buddy in blue, who looked like he was turning about 60 RPM’s and using a big gear, started to come back. I caught him just before the first little down and decided it was pay-back time, so I went to the big ring and pushed it for 50 pedal strokes. I then dropped back into the 39x23 as the climb started again and concentrated on pedaling circles and keeping the revs up from there to the top. Neil and Matt had just stopped at the top to wait for me when I blasted by them. Buddy on the Trek was nowhere to be seen. Good thing I’m not competitive;-)
Other than the odd drop of rain, the last few miles were un-eventful. We nipped inside for the traditional watermelon and lemonade, as well as to pick up our t-shirts. It was then off to Hardee’s for some greasy food and to ensure our calorie level remains high – another one of their traditions (these guys are almost GONZOs already.) The trip home was enlivened by listening to a replay of Garrison Keillor’s annual joke show (your momma is so fat she has other fat people in orbit around her.) Thanks to the Waterford Duo allowing me to draft them most of the ride, we averaged 18mph (that’s 29.962 KPH for the imperially impaired), which I was very pleased with. There is no way I would have averaged that speed on my own. It’s obvious I still have a way to go condition wise, but equally obvious it ain’t as bad as I thought.
As Garrison says "That’s all the news from Lake Woebegon, where the women are strong, the men good-looking and all the children are above average."