Saturday morning, 5:15am. My alarm goes off. It’s still dark. I had expected to hear the sound of rain upon waking since the weather forecast for Saturday was supposed to be pretty dire. However, all I heard outside my open bedroom window was the normal outside noise–the steady drone of crickets and the chirps of birds. I grudgingly got up. (No matter what I’ve got planned for a day, I hate getting up in the morning.)
I stumbled over to my computer and through eyes not quite adjusted to the light, I squinted at the forecast for Fredericksburg on weather.com. The hour-by-hour forecast revealed cloudy skies throughout the morning turning to rain by 10am. Well, I thought, that would put me two hours–halfway–through the ride. Surely I can take some rain for just two more hours.
That’s the secret with me; I have to start the ride dry. But once I’m out there–committed mentally to do the miles I signed up for–I am fully willing to deal with the rain. I may not like it, but I’m not quitting over a little thing like disagreeable weather.
I checked the radar. Speeding through the morning hours of 8 and 9am–no green blob of rain. 10:15 am the green blob shows up and stays for the afternoon hours. Hmm. A risk, but I was willing to take it. So I ate breakfast, got dressed, and loaded my bike into the car. I called Michael on the way down to let him know that I’d decided to ride. It was for a good cause, anyway–the funds generated from this ride support the local Fredericksburg library. Who could turn down supporting such a great cause? Besides, Michael had gone on and on about these Amish fry pies you get at the end of the ride. So now I was curious.
I could tell right away what kind of ride this was going to be as I approached the outskirts of Fredericksburg. Lots of hills. I flashed back to the Millersport to Loudonville leg of XOBA. In the gray cloudy backdrop of this morning, it looked about the same too. Later, as I was riding, I was again reminded of that stretch of XOBA as I reached the summit of a lonely hill in the rain and saw the wispy white clouds hovering over–almost obscuring the tops of–the distant hills. Oh, how I wish I could view the majestic rolling scenery of Holmes County in the yellow glow of the sun. It would actually have made me linger to snap pictures with my camera phone. Alas, this was not to be the case.
When I arrived in Fredericksburg along its main street, a huge wall of a road loomed ahead of me before I turned off to the parking lot of the park where the ride began. I hoped to hell we weren’t going to climb that, especially with the traffic. Fortunately, the ride started on the flat terrain of a bicycle path for four miles. A good warm up for what was ahead. As we turned off of it onto actual road, Michael said, “Well, here we go, Mars Girl. The hills.”
And we sure did have hills. The first 30 miles of the route were relentlessly challenging with some steep hills and not a lot of pay-off. It seems like we did more climbing than sailing down. As we took a wildly swerving ride down some road that looked like it could be someone’s driveway, I remember thinking, believing myself to be clever, For every down hill there’s an equal and opposite uphill. I was not proven wrong.
A misty wetness–not quite rain–began to hit us somewhere within the first 15 miles. I had worn the clear lenses in my goggles, but they were getting so misted up that I couldn’t see through them so I just put them in my back pocket. I don’t know how other riders put up with this, but generally in the rain, I’m ready to sacrifice my eyes to road dust and bugs because I can’t stand not quite seeing through my goggles.
This sharply rolling route took us through Berlin and Charm with the destination of Millersburg. I somehow found the gusto to get myself up every one of these hills. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to get off the bike, no matter how painful. I did have to stop twice in the middle of climb–once for a near mechanical failure where my chain was getting ready to drop off the middle ring when I shifted too hastily to granny and once because I was breathing faster than I could get air in my lungs (the bane of an asthmatic). Both times, however, I started riding again. It doesn’t count as walking or cheating if you actually don’t walk your bike anywhere. I had to rest several times mid-hill on the Fall-N-Leaf ride last year. Those aren’t what I can’t live with; it’s the hills I’ve walked up–did not get back on–that irk me for the rest of the year.
Somewhere along a slight downhill after Charm, Michael took a spill on some slippery mud that caked the one side of the road. It was kind of scary because his wheels just slid out from under him and he went careening, bike and all, across the road and into a patch of high weedy grass. I experienced a moment of deja vu as just about a month ago, I’d had a dream in which Michael and I were riding together and I’d looked back only to find him sprawled in the middle of a road, having fallen. I’m not trying to suggest I’m psychic or anything… It’s just ironic that I had a dream about him falling not to long ago and there he was, falling.
In the real life version of his fall, Michael got up almost instantly. As I slowed to see if he was okay, my wheels slid and when I put my feet down to steady myself, my shoes slid too. “Woah, it’s really slippery over here,” I stated rather stupidly. Just call me Mars Obvious Girl. I believe Michael responded with a “No shit.”
He seemed a little shaken up, but mostly all right. Later, we learned the total damage was a seriously red raspberry on his upper leg, about 2 inches in diameter, and a scrape on his arm and ankle. Small rips to his rain coat, an arm warmer, and his lycra pants. Suppose that’s better than his skin, but still, cycling clothes are pricey.
After getting himself together and making sure his bike was okay, we started off again, a little more wary of the conditions than perhaps we were to begin with. (Well, not me, because, you know, I am the queen of the brakes. But I did have to be more careful about how I applied my brakes and in what ground conditions, that’s for sure.)
A few times, it started to actually rain. The roads were pretty much wet throughout the ride, even during the slight reprieves we had in which it wasn’t raining at all. I actually would not count this ride as entirely rainy so much as wet. It certainly was not the constant, steady pouring of rain we endured on the Loudonville leg of XOBA. That was misery. The conditions on this ride were not by any means enjoyable, but they weren’t miserable. Most of the mental challenge for me on this ride was getting up the hills, whereas on XOBA it was getting up the hills AND enduring many uncomfortable hours of relentless rain.
Unfortunately for Michael, the only substantial food offered for lunch was PB&J sandwiches. This was probably the only negative thing about this ride. Though I love peanut butter, I generally don’t go for PB&J sandwiches, or even just peanut butter sandwiches. I don’t know why, but I’m just not a fan. But I can eat them in a crunch such as this one when my stomach was feeling the need for refueling. I will say, however, that the homemade bread used for the PB&J sandwich was OUTSTANDING. Probably the best bread I’ve had in a long, long time. Seriously, bread makers just can’t replace the taste of good homemade bread made the old-fashioned way. I’m wondering if the bread maker in this case was Amish… which may mean it was especially good due to the purer ingredients I’m guessing the Amish use…?
I felt bad for Michael (and thought also of how my friend Sue would react if she were on this ride). He managed, though, chowing on some cookies (the kind that are made of a trail mix and supposed to be good for you), a few pieces of the wonderful homemade bread, bananas, and an apple.
By the time we’d sat around for a bit and taken a rest room break, Bob W (aka “TDB”) rolled into the stop. We chatted with him for a bit and decided we’d hang around and ride generally with him for the rest of the ride. (You didn’t mind so much, did you, Bob?)
The second half of the ride–going through Shreve back to Fredericksburg–was not as intense as the first. It seemed on the first 30 miles, we were constantly climbing steep hills, one after another, like some horrible military punishment march. The hills on the second 30 miles tended to be more long than steep and slightly less frequent, separated by a little bit of straight away before being forced to tackle the next. I’m much better on long, slow ascents than I am on quick, steep ones. I am better able to do what I do best, which is regulate my breathing and my pain level and just fall into a steady, relaxed pace all the way to the top. I excelled at this kind of climbing in Colorado. When I get in a situation where I have to climb a steep hill, I generally don’t know how to deal with it because I have no gear small enough to ride the hill comfortably and it’s nearly impossible to find a comfortable rhythm. I totally suck at standing on my pedals. I do it, but I’m not usually able to maintain it for very long so if I’m going to stand, I have wait until the last bit of the hill before even trying it. I guess to survive these steep hills, I just need to get more muscles on my legs or something… and be suddenly, miraculously cured of my asthma which also suddenly bestows me with a higher lung capacity than I’ve got… (can someone improve their lung capacity?)
There were a few steep climbs towards the end of the ride but my legs were so numb by that point, I just kind of pushed my way through them without thinking about it. I’d gotten myself thus far without walking and I wasn’t about to do it now. There may be some hope for me on Fall-N-Leaf this year after all!
We finished the ride with only 60.5 miles, so Michael and I went back onto the bike path to get our last 1.5 miles for 62. I ended with a 13.3 average and Michael, of course, beat me at 13.7 (his climbing skills are not to be understated… he just pumps away with much better speed than I can hope to attain). Our really low averages are a testament to how hilly this ride was. It was really challenging, but I did really like the route and I enjoyed myself despite the weather. Though, you know, it’d be nice to do this ride on nice fall day…
Anyway, we got our Amish fry pies and ice cream to go along with it. Yum! I think they were every bit as good as I imagined. Michael and I both got the peaches and cream flavored ones. They also had lemon (which I’d toiled over in trying to decide which to take), strawberry and cream, and raspberry (yuck, not a raspberry fan). What a delicious treat to end the hard ride with. I hardly think it really did any damage to my workout, for I’ve read that you burn some 5,000 calories per hour of climbing. Our ride time was four and a half hours. That’s 20,000 calories; I think I’m okay. I’ll even grant that the Italian dinner I ate afterwords was okay, too. I probably pushed it with three glasses of wine, though. Eh, who’s counting?
Despite all the rain I’ve ridden in, I don’t think any roads are dirtier than those in Holmes County. And I don’t recall my bike every getting as caked with mud and grime as it did on this ride, even though I’ve ridden in total downpours. Just look at the photographic evidence.
We road cyclists are rather anal about our bikes. When our bikes look like this, we end up cleaning them before riding again. Bikes perform better when they are treated like a sensitive piece of mechanical equipment. I ended up also cleaning my chain, crankset, and rear cassette with degreaser and then re-greasing them as well. The kind of conditions we rode in also makes the chain real scummy. We want our bikes shifting seamlessly when we ride!
I spent about two hours completely cleaning BB today. But now she sparkles like new again, ready for her next adventure that will push my mileage to 4,000 for this year. Only 12 more miles to go. A walk in the park!
So. The real question is: am I ready for Fall-N-Leaf? And, if so, can I better my ride from last year? Can I do it with no walking and less mid-hill stops? And will the weather actually be nice enough that I want to do the ride? Because I’m not doing it if it’s raining. I mean it this time.
I’m not joking.
Why doesn’t anyone ever believe me?