I was a bit apprehensive about TOSRV this year. All week, the weather forecast for Saturday was not looking very good: temperatures in the mid to upper 50s with a huge “Windy” label as a description of the conditions for the day. For most of the week, the wind forecast was W-NW at 20-25mph with gusts up to 40mph. Now, having done TOSRV for two years, I knew that such a forecast was a bit optimistic. There’s no way that the Gods of Cycling would give us tailwinds like that. I spent most of the week denying the forecast and praying that it was all wrong. Weathermen are wrong sometimes, right? Of course, by the end of the week, the wind direction was forcasted for W-SW, still with 20-25mph and 40+ mph gusts, and the ominous “Windy” label remained over stamped over the overview forecast for the day.
Friday evening was a beautiful 75 degrees, making it even harder to believe that everything was going to change. I drove down to Columbus from work under sunny skies which only fostered my hope that the forecast was horribly wrong. I went to registration, picked up my packet, and then headed to my friend Joanna’s apartment which—so awesome!—is only two miles from Capital Square where the ride starts. My plan was to ride to the ride start line so I’d packed all my clothes—including a sleeping bag and a small air-mattress—into my backpacking backpack (this backpack has never officially been used for backpacking, though it was bought for such; my husband and never had the chance to use it properly before he died). I really wanted to bring my cushy air mattress–the one I’d bought last year for XOBA–but it made the pack a little too heavy and I was nervous about riding even two miles wearing one as it was.
I arrived at Joanna’s apartment around 7:45 and we then headed for a nice carbo-loaded dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse. Another Hiram College alumni and fellow Martian visitor to Earth (yes, she also claims Martian citizenship), Shannon, joined us there. We had a great time catching up with each other (we all three last saw each other in January at the Haiku Death Match) and enjoying good food. I never have a problem finding people to carbo-load with me the night before a ride!
When we left the restaurant, the wind was picking up. But it was still delightfully warm out. I even bemoaned out loud my general disdain for the coming change in the weather, hoping desperately my words would somehow hold back my impending fate. I was riding by myself and I knew it would be a struggle for me to push myself. I started to worry that this would be a TOSRV I could not complete. My thoughts reared to stories of a few friends who had before been pushed off their bikes by a bad wind and I was, I must admit, a bit frightened. I felt a little like I’ve felt before a really hilly ride like Fredericksburg Library Roll—a little unsure that I had it in me to complete ride. It’s a little like worrying about an exam in school the night before, even though you’ve studied and paid attention all quarter; likewise, I knew I was prepared for the ride, having about 870 miles for the year with three rides 60 miles or longer.
Back at Joanna’s apartment, I headed for bed while Joanna and Shannon went to meet up with a third college alumni friend—whose book has been published and she was appearing at a book fair the following day (I’m so jealous!)—for drinks somewhere. I couldn’t fall asleep as I listened apprehensively to the wind whipping various loud, clashing, unidentifiable objects outside the bedroom window. I woke up multiple times throughout the night, noting each time how much the temperature had dropped, and fretting more and more. This is not a reflection on Joanna’s sleeping arrangements, by the way; she has a great guest room—very comfortable and private. It was my fault that nervous worry kept me from a good night’s sleep.
I woke up around 6:20am–before my 6:30am alarm–and putzed around browsing the internet and Facebook on my phone. The wind was still furious outside the window and I wondered vaguely if I should bail on the ride. But I was signed up, I had the 2010 TOSRV t-shirt, I had to go. Before I could talk myself out of anything, I grudgingly dressed for the ride, packed my things, and quietly left the apartment around 7:20am.
The ride to Capital Square started off a little confusing. Joanna’s instructions initially had me turning the wrong way down a one way street, so I at first doubted the direction I was supposed to go as indicated on the instructions, went down the street in its direction, came to Broad—a busy road that I knew wasn’t the right way—and turned around back towards the apartment (going the wrong way, of course), and then went further down the original cross street to the street going the appropriate direction. After that, I had no problems and made it to Capital Square where I gladly unloaded my backpack onto the proper truck. Wearing the heavy backpack had warmed me up and I felt better about the temperature. I was preparing to take off when Sue R from ABC passed by in front of me. I greeted her and decided there—on the spot—I’d take her up on the offer to ride with her group from TAB (Toledo Area Bicyclists) since I was feeling so nervous about handling the wind.
After photographs and waiting on several other people to join the group, we took off down High Street at about 8:20am. A little later than I usually depart, but there were still plenty of people trickling out yet, so it wasn’t too late by TOSRV standards. We stayed together as a group for about the first ten miles, then everyone began to spread out. Though the wind was rough, it was a cross wind and I found that it wasn’t as hard to pedal into as I’d thought it would be, so I just went off at my normal pace, eventually dropping some people and, later, others dropped me. Once I knew I was in this alone, I just focused on the goal of getting to each rest stop. There were a few turns along the way where I was headed directly into the wind and those were the worst slogs. You could be going along at a nice 16-17mph clip, and then a burst of wind would hit, and you’d suddenly be struggling to maintain 10mph. These wind bursts required quick drops into lower gears because the wind had the same effect coming down a really fast hill to roll into a suddenly very steep hill. What would have knocked me off my bike in most cases would have been a sudden stop on my bike because I was in too high a gear to pedal. I also learned that in the cross winded areas if you leaned yourself and the bike a little into the wind, it lessened your resistance against the wind and seemed to make it less likely that you would be blown off the road by the wind.
I made good time between Centerville (the first stop) and Chillicothe (the second stop), arriving there around noon for lunch. The sun was poking out from behind the clouds; if you sat in the sun to eat, you were warmed a bit. I ate and rested there for about 45 minutes. Usually, Chillicothe is the halfway point of the ride; however, this year there was an 8 mile detour off Higby Road due to a bridge being out, so I knew I was less than halfway through the ride at this point which was somewhat less motivating. Additionally, the leg between Chillicothe and Waverly (the last stop) is the rolling section–hilly when compared to the flat first two legs but not especially hard for people live in places by the Cuyahoga Valley. I knew the detour included a hill I could actually qualify as a hill (whereas the infamous School House Hill that everyone normally fears is barely a hill to us “hill people) with 100 foot of a climb in about a quarter of a mile. This would make the hill about half of the steepness of Martin (in the Cuyahoga Valley) in my estimation because I knew that one to be a 200 foot climb in about a quarter of a mile. I wasn’t especially worried about any of this and, anyway, this section has always been my favorite because it is generally more scenic and less trafficked. The detour, making the route longer, was undoubtedly going to make the ride feel longer.
As I suspected, the wind was less of a factor through this section because it was sheltered by the hills. There was still a steady headwind when facing west and a cross wind to the south, but we seemed generally protected from the huge, crippling bursts that attacked from time to time. I had fun rolling up and down the hills and was really surprised–and proud–that I didn’t need to go to my granny gear for most of the route. Until I got to the 100 foot climb described above. It was definitely a harder hill than School House Hill–nothing that I need fear for there are plenty of climbs in the Valley much harder–but I did need to use granny on it. Of course, before you even got to the hill, all the flatlanders and otherwise less-experienced hill-climbers were piled up in the parking lot of a little market at the bottom of the hill. I only paused there because I thought there might be a bathroom, but on finding there wasn’t, I took off up. No problem! And, the nice thing about this hill is that it did offer some pay-off that I think is where I hit my high-speed of the day of 33mph (I didn’t brake or clip out so it wasn’t that steep).
The detour itself was really very pretty. I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t stop to take some pictures, for it is doubtful I’ll ever be along those roads again. Twice we crossed the Scioto River and it was, admittedly, the first time I actually noticed the river despite the fact that the normal route general ambles along side the river. The scenery is normally obscured by trees and the many houses that line it. I never realized quite how wide and significant the Scioto is at that part. Even though it was just 8 miles, the detour seemed to make the trek to Waverly take forever. I was glad when we finally hit town and even more relieved when we reached Lake White where the last stop was.
From Waverly, the trek to Portsmouth is a long 30-mile haul that trends generally down along Route 104. A 30-mile ride is inevitably stretched to boredom when it’s the last leg of what was to be a 113 mile ride and along the same road without any turns. I resolved to push as quickly through it as possible. I left Waverly at 3:30 and knew that I probably wouldn’t get into Portsmouth until 5:30 even at top speed. I knew that Bad Dog from the infamous Polka Dots was down there and that he’d picked up my favorite beer, but he’d only done the 50-mile route, so I worried that he and the Dots would be long gone by the time I got there. I’d hoped to get to Portsmouth at 3:30-4, but my late start and the hard wind pushes had made that impossible. Fortunately, the last leg, also being in a valley, is generally protected from the wind so it made the going a lot faster. Motivated by the prospect of beer and friendship awaiting at Tracy Park, I was actually able to push 19-20mph for most of the ride into Portsmouth, which I’m sure is why my ending average was 15.1.
I was never as glad to see Portsmouth as I was on Saturday. This was probably the hardest first day of TOSRV I’ve ever experienced, with the wind and extra miles, and I was really kind of hanging on at last 10 miles, stuck in a mode of zoning out so that I could keep going. I wasn’t in pain per se; I was just tired, probably from lack of good sleep and from the restless push all day. When I reached Tracy Park, I was overwhelmingly happy to get off my bike. The first thing I did was seek out the Polka Dots and they weren’t too hard to find at all! I was relieved they were still there and was even more relieved when John (aka bAD dOG) handed me a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold! He even gave me a bottle cozy to keep my beer cold. Now that’s living large!
Some of my TAB friends showed up (and bAD dOG also offered them beer–it’s always good to know the people with the beer, I always say!). It was getting cold fast as the sun was setting and clouds came in. About an hour and two beers later, I departed the park with Sue and another TABer for our place of refuge for the night… After two TOSRVs, I was living the quintessential TOSRV experience: I was checking into the Life Center where I was to “camp” the night on the gym floor and I was going to go for spaghetti dinner at one of the local churches after my shower and clean up.
We got transported via shuttle to the church where our all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner awaited for $10. “All-you-can-eat” for me equated to one plate of spaghetti, some salad, a piece of banana cake, and lemonade. I gorged food down as if I’d never had any before and I was pretty stuffed at the end of it. We returned to the gym afterwords and I pretty much crashed at 9pm…. to awake again at 6 to do it. All. Over. Again. In reverse.
But, first, to complete my quintessential TOSRV experience, I was going to have breakfast at the famous Cripsy Creme doughnut shop, located on the same street as the Life Center. I was already salivating over thoughts of doughnuts–which I rarely allow myself to have–when we arrived to an empty parking lot and a sign from the TOSRV activities coordinator in Portsmouth that apologized profusely and explained that the shop was under new ownership and that said owners had failed to arrive to open the shop. Cripsy Creme doughnuts: denied! We ended up leaving Portsmouth, dejected, and headed for a gas station on the outskirts of town along the route where I bought an imitation bacon, egg and cheese McMuffin. It was “eh.” Good enough to fuel me to Waverly…
Having actually achieved a full night of sleep, once I was awake, I was amazingly spry. The first leg from Portsmouth is never enjoyable. You spend the whole time in a perpetual slow climb, contemplating why you would volunteer yourself for such unbearable torture each year. By the time you’ve accepted your fate, you reach the Waverly stop at Lake White where it suddenly seems possible to tackle the rest of the day. I spent much of my climb trying to find a comfortable way to sit on my bike seat, for my bike seat had all the comfort of sitting on a jagged rock as far as my butt was concerned. My butt callous must have finally formed because I didn’t feel that sort of discomfort much after that first leg. I felt much better on the second leg. It’s prettier, it contains hills–I found my energy and actually got into a comfortably numb rhythm.
I was pushing along toward the end of the leg–about five miles outside of Chillicothe–and I was keeping a pretty brisk pace, passing riders with a sudden gusto of energy when I found myself behind–and about to pass–Michael. Yes, he ex-boyfriend. Yes, the person I had been relentlessly angry at for months. By all counts, I should have had that panicked “deer in headlights” feeling I had when we encountered each other at the ABC Think Spring ride. But a strange thing happened. Instead, I felt… relief! Like I’d just stumbled across the someone I’d not seen in years but had been desperately searching for. Before I could even think about it, I smiled and, as I passed him, I said playfully, “I can’t believe I’m passing you.”
He was in the concentration of the moment and hadn’t seemed to notice who was about to pass him. But he looked up, recognized me, and kind of chuckled back. Feeling awkward–for I hadn’t spoken nicely to him in months–I continued at my pace and was several riders ahead of him before I started to kick myself for not hanging near him and starting a conversation. He appeared to be riding alone. The sudden irony of the situation suddenly occurred to me: Here we were, both on TOSRV, two riders of equal caliber. We were both on TOSRV again–he, the one who introduced me to this ride–and we were both riding it alone. I was riding it alone because I’d refused to talk to him for about five months. It seemed kind of silly now, in retrospect. The one thing I was trying so hard to do–to do all the rides alone that we used to do together–only really, in the end, brought us back together even though I was choosing to pretend he wasn’t there. It seemed kind of silly all of the sudden. Very junior high. And, I realized, too, that I wasn’t really mad at him anymore. I don’t know what changed, but over the last few weeks, I’d started to feel less and less angry at him… Suddenly, at that moment, all traces of the anger were gone.
So I resolved to wait for him once I got to Chillicothe. I didn’t know what was going to happen then, but it was probably my turn to extend the olive branch and really mean it this time. It’s a good thing I did. We ate lunch together at Chillicothe and caught up like two friends who had been separated for months. It was kind of nice.
I ended up riding the last 50 miles more or less with Michael (I was in unusually good form that day so I may have gotten ahead of him a few times.) It was a different experience to have someone near enough to talk to occasionally and with whom to spend the rest stops. As much as I enjoy riding alone because there’s no pressure to keep up or slow down for anyone, I have to admit that I forgot how the camaraderie of friends can actually pass the long hours of the ride.
The wind was a little fiercer along the treeless roads and open fields of the Chillicothe to Circleville and Circleville to Columbus legs. I knew this was going to be the case. Fortunately, the wind seemed to be more of a cross wind, like Saturday, and it was mostly manageable except when a gust would occur. Like Saturday, the gusts were a bit strong. A few times when I was going along at 16-17mph in a high gear, a strong gust would almost throw me into a stand-still because I suddenly couldn’t pedal in that high gear. I saved myself from the embarrassing sideways fall a few times by a quick shift into my middle ring. I did actually unclip in one such case because I was sure I was going to be thrown sideways. While the wind was generally much slower than Saturday, the occasional gusts were about the same.
The best part of the ride was riding back to the finish with Michael. It seemed kind of serendipitous: We had done two TOSRVs together and rode back into town together both times. I’d started my journey alone this year, but along the ride, I’d somehow found peace with a good friend. Now, we rode to the finish together, a third time. It just seemed right.
The third time must be the charm, too, because I’ve never felt as good at the end of a TOSRV as I felt this time. My legs were tired, but I didn’t feel as though all my energy was shot. I told Michael–and just about everyone else–that I felt as though I could have plugged along for another 60 miles. I certainly hadn’t felt that way on Saturday. If you’d asked me at the beginning of the Sunday ride, I would have told you that I just wanted to get the second day over with. It was somewhere in that Wavery-Chillicothe leg that I gained some magical store of energy while rolling through the hills and it pretty much sustained me through the rest of the ride. Some days you just have it; other days you just don’t. I hope if I ever do RAIN–the Ride Across INdiana, 160 miles in one day–I’m having an on day!
For the third time in my cycling life, I picked up my gold-sealed TOSRV certificate, certifying completion of 210 (which was actually 226 this year) miles of riding. I’m still a newbie (there are people who have done this ride over 20 times!) but each time you complete a TOSRV, I’m learning, it’s a separate experience. Each TOSRV has its own battles to right and you have your own personal struggles to overcome. It’s always a learning experience as to just how much you can handle. I’m glad I’ve managed to pass the test every time so far.
Am I going to do TOSRV in 2011? If you’d asked me on Saturday morning before I started the ride, I would have grumbled that I was going to do same-day registration next year because I can’t stand the unpredictability of the Ohio spring weather. However, I’m afraid that if I did do the same-day registration, I wouldn’t be motivated to train as hard in the spring, which would result in being unprepared for the ride. So, I don’t know… come January, I just might find myself pre-registering yet again. I set a goal a few year back that I was going to ride until the 50th anniversary of the ride–which is next year–so I’m probably in it. I told myself that after that, I can take a year or two off from torturing myself.
In a way, I think I sign up for this year each, hoping that somehow I’ll get lucky and end up in a TOSRV with perfect weather–tailwinds and 70 degrees. I think in the long history of TOSRV, this kind of weather has rarely occurred. But one can hope. Maybe that’s what we’re all hoping for when we sign up for the ride on those cold, dark January nights–that elusive, perfect TOSRV–and we’re afraid not to register because the year we don’t will be the year everyone gets to enjoy the best conditions about which we’ve only dreamed. Of course, could we really call that TOSRV? And where’s the fun if not the challenge? (Yes, the mind of an endurance athlete is a sick, sick thing…)