NOTE: I apologize profusely for the rambling length of this entry… I just got carried away with describing my experience!
I think I got to experience the best and worst of TOSRV weather this past weekend, though I’m sure there’s been worse weather than Sunday’s on/off rain showers. Saturday was absolutely the best biking weather you could ask for–sunny and warm, but not too hot. Rain greeted us right away on Sunday morning and pretty much teased us with relief and then more rain just when we thought it was going to turn into a decent day. Still, I completed my first TOSRV and I feel really good, albeit, I’m a bit chafed on the bum. (If only I had heeded Michael’s advice and used the chamois cream he gave me for my birthday…) Overall, I had a great ride and really enjoyed myself. TOSRV is just challenging enough that it is not an easy 100 miles (like Toledo), but it isn’t a completely muscle-depleting ride (like Roscoe Ramble or Eddy’s Sweet Corn Challenge).
It was chillier on Saturday morning than I would have liked, but I braved it out in my shorts because I knew that it was supposed to get to the sixties. I’ve found that as long as my core is warm, I’m good to go, and so I had heavier shirt on for the first half of the ride. Being the biggest freeze baby, I tend to wear my warm clothes until I start to sweat through them. Otherwise, I might have been able to shed my heavier shirt earlier in the day. By the time I removed the heavier shirt, Michael had already removed his arm warmers; I didn’t remove my arm warmers until the last leg of the route.
My favorite part of the ride–both days–was the stretch between Chillicothe and Waverly. It is rolling with some nice hills that gave my muscles a nice, pleasant burn. The infamous Schoolhouse Hill was nothing like what I expected it to be: it was a gradual climb, perhaps longer than the rest of the rollers, which, I suppose, is why less experienced riders dismount and walk up it. But with all the chatter about this hill, I thought for sure it had some significant grade to it–even if for just a few feet–that made some people nervous. It was really like a much shorter version of the kind of grade I like when doing long climbs up mountain passes.
My ABC friends were right in suggesting that if I could climb any hill out of the Cuyahoga Valley, then I would be prepared for any hill on TOSRV. Schoolhouse Hill was certainly no Stucky Road from Roscoe Ramble. Hell, it wasn’t even the first part of Quick Road. I even had enough breath available to remark loudly several times to Michael as I climbed it, “This isn’t hard!” Which I am sure just peeved those riders walking their bikes up the hill, and probably made me look somewhat like a braggart. I’m always putting my foot in my mouth. But sometimes my pride just gets the better of me. Maybe as a younger, less experienced cyclist (ie, before my days in Colorado), I would have been intimidated by that hill. Not these days…
In addition to containing those hills I love to strain my legs upon, the stretch between Chillicothe and Waverly was the most scenic and least trafficked. There were some farms with cows for me to shout “moo” at–it’s always my goal to get a cow or two to look up at me with their unimpressed stare. And goats for me to giggle at–the dejected “bleh” sound goats make brings me to tears with laughter. It’s the simple things in life, folks!
I enjoyed riding on OH-335 (Three Locks Road) along the railroad tracks and underneath the railroad bridge where the road takes a sharp, dangerous turn (on Sunday, Michael filmed me going beneath this bridge). It was a shady, quiet road that dipped and climbed, twisting along lonely landscape.
I rode Saturday pretty strong. I felt good all the way to the end of the ride. We were welcomed in Portsmouth by the new TOSRV mural which is positioned right where you cross the bridge over the Scioto River into town on the route. In the old days, I’m told, this bridge was a suspension bridge, like many of the bridges that cross the Ohio River. Michael is lucky enough to have experienced the atmosphere of this now-nostalgic crossing when fellow riders and associates of the tour would applaud you as you came into town. The old bridge is depicted on the mural shrouded in fog, which is what Michael says is how he remembers his Sunday morning crossings of the bridge. I guess fog is common for the area, though our Sunday ride was fogless.
You can feel the love of TOSRVs past and present participants oozing from the mural. The faces are realistic (and some of them, I’m told, are depictions of actual “famous” riders of the tour). An homage to TOSRV, and to the sport of cycling, the mural really stirred an impressed feeling of awe in me. I felt connected to a community and a tradition that had started before me and, hopefully, will exceed me into the future as cycling (hopefully) regains popularity.
Portsmouth has many murals depicting various pieces of connected town history and now this cycling event started by a father and his son in the 1960s is now a part of the town’s collective identity. I don’t know if the people of Portsmouth appreciate or dread it (for I’ve read blogs where some locals from other towns along TOSRV’s route have complained), but for me, the mural marks a journey to the mecca of Ohio cycling.
Once we were done admiring the new mural, Michael and I made our way down to the flood wall to admire all the murals there as we rode towards the park. We stopped at the Ramada Inn to see if we could get a room and, amazingly enough, they did have one to sell us! Then, we made it to the park to have a celebratory beer and contemplate the feat of our 105 mile trek.
After a half hour or so of rest, we took off down the main street towards the bridge into Kentucky. We were so close, after all, and I agreed that since my bike had never set wheel in another state, it only made sense to amble across the bridge to touch Kentucky dirt. There’s not much to do in the section of Kentucky that bridge crosses into–no city, just a stop light and road going east/west. Still, crossing the Ohio River, to me, is always a marvel. I’m hopelessly attracted to bodies of water and Ohio is certainly the state for grand bodies of water with Lake Erie on the north and the Ohio River on the south. (Next month on the Marietta River Rendezvous, I get to enjoy a 1.5 hour cruise on the Ohio and I’m really excited about that!)
On our way back across the river, we stopped to film a barge making its way east. The sun was glaring brightly in my camcorder’s viewer and I reflected sadly that the next day was not going to be as pristine as this day had been. I tried to soak in the last bit of sun before we headed to the old high school to pick up our luggage, and then back to the hotel for showers and dinner and a prompt passing out. I never realize how exhausted these kind of rides make me until I’ve showered; only after I’ve washed the dried salt from my body do I understand fully how taxing an activity cycling for hours–in this case, six–really is. I had trouble staying awake through dinner.
Of course, Sunday we woke to rain showers, which still surprised me despite weather.com’s warnings all week, because I’d gone to bed to clear skies. I donned my bike gear grudgingly and, in my haste to get moving, I made my fatal mistake of the day: I decided not to apply the chamois butter to my shorts.
Motivating myself to start riding in the rain is always the hardest part of a rainy ride. I am more willing to deal with rain that begins while I’m already out; when I have to deal with it right off the bat, I’m more likely to talk myself into bailing. That’s why it was good to be there with a friend. I knew that if I bailed, Michael wouldn’t so I had to go if I wanted to ever live it down. I wasn’t really going to bail–this was my first TOSRV and I wanted to earn the right to wear the jersey I bought–but I won’t lie that I entertained the thought as we rolled back across the bridge into the silent gray morning.
It made me nervous that I didn’t see as many cyclists as I had the day before. Saturday, the roads filled with so many groups of bikes that you were never alone. Sunday, however, it seemed we could go several miles before catching up to slower moving cyclists and then passing them. Compounding my nervousness about starting too late (I had stopped to get some ibrophin from a drugstore before leaving Portsmouth) was the fact that the roads on TOSRV are not really marked. Major turns are manned by HAM radio operators and volunteers standing by TOSRV-marked cars; however, some parts of the route you just had to navigate by memory (or the memory of the person I was riding with who had been on multiple TOSRVs). We were given a map with our registration packets, but it didn’t include turn-by-turn instructions, which would have been helpful when we were navigating through some of the busy streets of the few small towns we passed through. I guess, though, if we had a map, it would have been wet at this point. The only thing I didn’t like about TOSRV was this lack of clear route indicators. I like to be secure that I’m going the right direction at all times.
As I do whenever faced with the difficult challenge of completing a ride in less than desirable conditions (whether physical pain, lack of interest, or bad weather), I just turned off my thoughts to focus on my riding. I set the small goals of reaching each rest stop, which, when looked at by themselves were relatively short, doable distances even when I’m not in the mood. The 20-30 miles to the next rest stop is merely an evening ride after work.
The rain let up on that first leg between Portsmouth and the Waverly stop at Lake White and I mistakenly thought for awhile that the day would turn out all right despite the predictions of doom from the weathermen. About ten minutes after we reached Waverly, however, the skies really let go and rain fell hard. Some thunderstorms began to pass through the area and we waited them out, which probably put us behind for the rest of the day.
As Michael has aptly pointed out to me in our numerous discussions since the ride, the Waverly stop was probably my weakest point. I’m deathly afraid of thunderstorms and as soon as I saw lightening, my heart stopped. My knees always get weak when I see lightening and then hear the crash of thunder. I have this paranoid fear that God (or Zeus) is having target practice with me. I’ve spent my whole life avoiding this fate of being struck by lightening, which frankly sounds absolutely terrifying (because, yes, I’ve watched all the specials on the Discovery channel about survivors of lightening strikes). I began counting the time between the flash of lightening and the sound of thunder. It never got closer than five-one-thousand. Forget that a park ranger once told me that if you could see lightening, it’s already too close.
I sat on the bench underneath the rest stop pavilion, concentrating hard on the mantra: I gotta finish this ride, I gotta finish this ride. Meanwhile, the safe mountain climber in me was reminding myself that sometimes it’s too dangerous to reach that destination peak. I fretfully told Michael that I was not going to quit because I knew he wouldn’t; I think that’s how he understood what was going on in my mind. I was trying to make myself believe my own words.
The temperature had also dropped. I had to put my heavier shirt back on (I’d taken it off during the climb to Waverly). Before I could back myself out of the ride, I followed Michael to my bike and climbed on. As we rode out of the park at Lake White, another round of heavy rain began to fall. My memory of that part of the ride is like a surrealistic dream. I rode through the town of Waverly on very busy streets. My vision of the world was blurred through the smearing of raindrops smashed the clear lenses of my goggles. I focused on the only thing I could see clearly: the flashing tail-light on Michael’s bike light. Car lights zoomed by all around me. The sky was dark like early morning.
We had just turned onto the less busy Route 104 right next to a shopping plaza when a Dodge Prowler pulled up next to me. An old man in the passenger seat asked if I was on “the ride” and when I said yes, he began to frantically tell me that a rider had been killed by a motorist on Route 23. He wanted me to inform someone, but though I had a cell phone, I definitely had no speed dial to Charlie Pace (TOSRV’s organizer). I thanked the man and he drove off. I shakily told the story to Michael. Thoughts of a killed cyclist haunted me a little for the rest of the ride. I think part of the reason it really struck me at that moment was because I was dealing with my own fears as I rode at the tail-end of a thunderstorm in a downpour through a busy town on streets through which I could barely make out the traffic in my rain-streaked goggles. At that moment, my own fears were getting the best of me. Hearing such news at that particular moment left an unmovable bookmark of that place and time in my head.
I kept thinking about the dangers of cycling. We cyclists–as most human beings are wont to do–forget our mortality on the roads and how easy it is for a motor vehicle to take us out. This man (who I now know is William Crowley, surgeon, age 57, from Northfield, Michigan) was just like the rest of us–he’d completed one day’s ride, he’d probably celebrated his victory somewhere in Portsmouth with a hearty dinner and maybe some conversation with friends, and he took off that morning headed for Columbus. If he is anything like me, this ride was a relaxing vacation away from home, enjoying an event I spent all winter dreaming about. I couldn’t help wondering who he’d spoken to the night before, who the last person he talked to was, what his thoughts were as he left Portsmouth that morning. Certainly, he didn’t know that within an hour, he would be dead. I know that’s morbid, but I couldn’t help but think how it could have been me or Michael or any of the other cyclists with whom I’d interacted over the last 24 hours. This incident just brought me back to pondering mortality, which is not something I’d been thinking about in the last few months. Perhaps my own experience with death sometimes makes me oversensitive to it.
Anyway, sometime later, the rain let up again and it warmed up a bit. The sun actually came out while we cycled along Three Locks Road beside the railroad tracks in the hilly valley I loved so much on this tour. At one point, I felt the heat of the sun beating on my black rain jacket and thought, for just an instant, that I’d eventually be able to strip down to my short-sleeved jersey.
No luck, of course. This day was just doomed to tease. While eating lunch in Chillicothe, it began to downpour again. No thunderstorms this time, though. Since the rain had relented during the prior leg, my spirits had lifted, not to be retired again. Despite the pounding sound of rain on the tent where we ate, I knew I was in this ride for the long haul. After all, I was half way there now. No turning back for me at this point. By the time we got on our bikes, the rain had reduced to a drizzle again and we were off.
At this point, my butt had started to burn with what I knew could only be chafing from the edges of the thick padding on my bike shorts. This is where I realized the error of my lazy ways that morning. The tingling burn of the chafing marks was yet another battle with discomfort I had to fight for the rest of the ride. Next to the struggle with the rain, however, it was just another thing to contend with. It was only during the very last ten miles into Columbus, when it again began to rain hard, and my bike pants got wet for the final time, that I realized just how much pain I was going to be in for the next few days. Yikes!
After thirty miles of taking turns leading each other through the last leg of Columbus, Michael and I rode into Capital Square in downtown Columbus side-by-side. I felt really good at that moment, and not just because I was finally done riding my bike (for at least a few days). No, I’d done something I’d never done before: ride back-to-back 100 mile rides. I’d arrived at a new pinnacle in my cycling “career.” And, surprisingly, my legs were not as sore as they could have been. Amazingly, I realized later, I had not puffed on my albuterol inhaler at all during the ride and, for once, my lungs didn’t feel weighted and heavy as they normally do at the end of a strenuous work out. (Perhaps the fact that I have not smoked a cigarette in several months contributed to this.)
I just can’t get over how much I continually surprise myself by doing things I just don’t anticipate I have the ability to do. It’s nothing special, of course. A lot of people–some of them in less physical shape than myself, unprepared for the weather, or with cheaper bicycles–complete TOSRV every year. I am only patting myself on the back for myself because somewhere within the hidden depths of my mind, I’d doubted my ability to complete this ride because of the mileage. Once again, I proved myself wrong. I thrive on the challenge of proving myself wrong. That is, of course, one of the reasons why I ride.
I would have to say that I really did enjoy TOSRV–both days, now that I’m out of the rain and have only the memory of the journey to reflect upon! It really was as epic as people say it is in the sense of its deep tradition. When the weather is great (or because it’s the first day), you’ll never see more cyclists on the road at any event in Ohio. At least, in my limited experience. Though, I’ve never been on a ride that had as many people as I saw on that first day. It was like a worship service of Ohio cyclists and I certainly felt a part of that excited energy. I would most definitely do this ride again, despite all the early season training you have to complete to work up to it. The early season suffering was well worth it. Though, I’m not sure any TOSRV will be as holy and close to my heart as my first TOSRV…
On a side note, I’d like to mention that Michael and I noticed quite a few people on Giants throughout this ride–new and vintage. As we passed each one, Michael would ask, “How do you like your Giant?” To which he received many enthusiastic responses that just increased our Giant snobbery to new, insurmountable levels. We even talked to a guy at the park in Portsmouth who was sporting a TSR. Oooo… *drool* how we would love to just ride a TSR. Equipped, of course, with a granny ring (TSRs don’t come with them stock). I ain’t goin’ anywhere without a granny ring. Still… TSRs fulfill our carbon-fiber dreams… Although, I’m thinking these new OCR-Composites have a pretty sweet aerodynamic look to them. Someday, when I make my millions from my illustrious romance novel writing career, I will own a whole fleet of Giant bicycles–one for each day of the week!
Oh, and lastly, yes, the chafing on my butt still hurts. I’m working on the long healing process. But it’s not going to stop me from going on the club ride tonight. Some people never learn, eh? Well, I can’t spend too much time out of the saddle or I’ll lose my conditioning!