RAIN: Ride Across INdiana

If there were an award for completing an insane number of miles without any training, I would win it. I always intend to train. Honestly, I do. But it’s been a rough couple of years for my cycling and all my intentions have dissolved in a mix of bad weather and crazy back-to-back vacation planning. Every time that I have participated in Calvin’s Challenge, I have not trained. This past May, I managed to nearly break my previous record (154 miles) at Calvin’s with 147 miles… Not quite the 163 miles for RAIN, but I figured I would have plenty of time, with RAIN being in July, to train…

Ha. Not the case.

Oh well.

So I came into RAIN with the attitude that I would do as many miles as I could manage, and then quit if I felt I just couldn’t complete it. I prepared myself for failure by assuming that I would not finish. But, seriously, who am I kidding? Do I honestly know when to quit a ride? I am the girl who rode 75 miles from Norton to Youngstown on XOBA when my knee was screaming in agony. I am the girl who rode Calvin’s Challenge while battling the end stages of a stomach flu in 2013. Pain does not seem to be a factor in my quitting anything. Or lack of training.

And that is how it came to be that I completed RAIN on July 11, 2015 with my husband, Crow. A mountain biker primarily, Crow becomes easily bored by the long, monotonous miles of a century. I had figured he would end up quitting before me and I would have to make the decision on whether or not I should continue on alone. I completely expected that, in fact. But he too stuck it out until the bitter end, commenting to me that having someone to ride with staves off the boredom.

RAIN follows US-40 from the beautiful campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute to the tucked-away campus of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Through Indianapolis, however, the route swings through busy suburban neighborhoods to avoid what I assume is heavy downtown traffic along US-40. The grade is generally flat to rolling with no real significant hills… but they feel more significant as the miles go on! As expected from a US highway, the route is mostly filled with traffic and does not offer much by way of scenery. Some would say, “Well, it is Indiana.” But I truly believe every state has beautiful sights to offer somewhere; even the flat Northwest Ohio has beautiful places to see. You don’t get them on this ride, however, because the point is getting from one side of the state to another in one day and so the most direct route is what you ride.

Crow and Mars Girl at the ride start. With miles left to travel.

Crow and Mars Girl at the ride start. With miles left to travel.

We embarked on this ride with my friend Sue. Her son, Andrew, and his wife, Lauren, kindly took the time out of their busy lives to drive SAG for us, which meant taking two cars, as Crow and I planned to depart from the finish line while Sue wanted to return to Terre Haute. We were so grateful for their help because that meant we did not have to lug all of our things, like my prescription-strength ibuprofen, sunblock for reapplication, and additional snacks/energy goo. Plus, we had a cooler stocked with cold, fizzy beverages for our enjoyment at the 94 mile lunch stop.

On the way out to the ride, I admit that I took the ibuprofen. Since the spring, and during Calvin’s Challenge, I’ve been battling with an issue in my tailbone. I would feel intense pain any time I stood on my pedals to sprint and when getting on and off my bike. It was so bad that it was nearly tear-inducing. I saw my doctor in May and she did some alignment thing with my spine. It seems like hokey chiropractic voodoo, but she is an actual physician so I trust that whatever she thought my spine needed and did, it was the correct procedure because I’ve felt progressively better since. I’m still dealing with the tailbone when sitting for long periods of time, but I can now get through a long bike ride without issue when previously I’d be in enormous pain after just 10 miles. Still, since this was going to be my longest ride of the year, I wanted to make sure that unnatural pain was the least of my worries so I, as one of my friends joked, “doped up.”

The first 40 miles are the hardest psychologically because that is the longest stretch of the route without rest stops. However, on fresh legs, it hardly makes a difference; I can easily ride 40 miles without a break. The only problem that I had only had a granola bar and yogurt for breakfast so by the time I hit that first rest stop, I was a bit famished. I quickly fixed that problem by gorging on a PopTart, trail mix, and two PBJ sandwiches.

By the 65 mile stop, I was starting to feel some burn. I still wasn’t sure that I would complete the ride. It’s awfully daunting to realize that after 65 miles–which in my better biking days was a casual weekend day ride–I still had 100 miles left to go. I pushed on after the stop because I figured I had nothing better to do and I tried to keep my thoughts on just riding and not necessarily how far I’d ridden. For that reason, I put my bike’s computer on cadence mode so that I would not stare at the mileage ticking slowly away.

I still wasn’t feeling confident at the 94 mile stop but thoughts of quitting did not even enter my mind as I silently chewed my veggie wrap, chips, and some cookies at lunch. All that riding and still having not reached 100 miles was a little demoralizing. However, the next stop was at 115 miles. I knew that once I reached that stop, I would feel a sense of accomplishment which would make the end goal feel more attainable.

Once I reached the 115 mile stop, it was even easier to convince myself to continue on to the next and last stop at 133–just 18 miles. That’s basically the distance of a Tuesday night ride with my bike club. By the time you reach the last stop at 133 miles, it’s even more ridiculous to consider quitting. Sure, 30 miles is a longer ride (on fresh legs, that would normally take me a little over two hours), but it’s a lot shorter than what I’d already done.

Yeah, so I play these psychological games with myself. During that final stretch, my internal mantra was, “I never have to do this bleeping ride again if I finish it today.” It was definitely a lot easier to have a companion on the ride and I was surprised at how both Crow and I managed to keep our spirits up between each other, even though I quietly went through a few periods of grouchiness.

That final stretch certainly seemed the longest as the ride passed through towns that we kept hoping were Richmond, but instead turned out to be false-Richmonds. I could see we were getting closer to civilization. I switched my computer back into mileage mode and, of course, kept noting our distance from the supposed end of the ride at 163 miles. Every time we reached a new false-Richmond, I knew it wasn’t the real Richmond because we still had x miles to go.

We finished at 8:46pm according to the official records maintained by RAIN, ahead of the 9pm cut-off time. My bike computer recorded an actual ride time of about 11 hours and 30 minutes. Of course, with all the breaks we took, the total time was about 13 hours and 46 minutes. A new mileage record for me and Crow! I’m also proud to say that we finished with a 14.6 mph average which is fantastic in my books considering we did not use a pace line. (I hate pace lines.)

We were coming in so fast, you can only see our blurs!

We were coming in so fast, you can only see our blurs!

We were really lucky weather-wise. It was only about 85 degrees and the sun was behind a thin sheet of clouds the entire day with only occasional periods of sun. With all the exposure on the US-40 parts of the route, it could have been a lot hotter (the first year Sue did this ride, it was 100 degrees!). There was virtually no wind all day as well so we did not have to contend with a headwind. Thankfully because I have no patience with freaking headwind. Give me a nice hill any day over wind, I say!

I feel that this ride is well-run. All along the route, people cheer you on and tell you that you’re doing a great job, which is a huge help. At the finish line, I received a keychain medal that identifies me as a RAIN “finisher.” Photographers were there to capture the victorious moment. I’m glad I tried the ride. I probably won’t do it again.


RAIN Finisher Medal

RAIN 2015 Finisher! Yay!


Here are some links to the professional photos that got taken while we rode.

Somewhere near the 40 mile mark:


My “I’m done and never have to do this again” face:


Crow at finish line:


The three amigos:


You and I Are Rock-And-Roll: Chicago (Part 1)

How Crazy Defeats Frugal

When U2 tickets went on sale way back in December, I ended up purchasing tickets for Chicago 3 and 4 on June 28 and 29th. I couldn’t attend the first two shows on June 24 and June 25 because I was already scheduled to attend a conference for my professional organization from June 21-24.

Or so I thought.

After Vancouver, of course, I started to think about other U2 shows I might attend. Yeah, even though I already had two more lined up in Chicago. For about 4 days, I had tickets to Toronto that a friend had to give up. But I decided that I couldn’t take them after all because between Chicago and Toronto, which are only a week apart, I would need to get some bike rides in because I’m also participating in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) on July 11th which is 165 miles in one day. We’ve had a rainy start to the summer and I’ve not gotten as much bike riding in as I’d have hoped. In fact, I’m only at about 450 miles at the moment. Ugh.

Anyway, having almost had tickets to two more shows, I had experienced the giddiness of MORE. So I was not about to let it go. I thought about Boston or NYC. I began checking Ticketmaster for ticket drops to those shows. And then it occurred to me… My friend Dave was already going out to Chicago for the first two shows as well as the two I already had tickets to. I was already going to be in Chicago for 3 and 4. Perhaps I could make it up to Chicago for the second show?

As the Chicago shows got closer, I began to check Ticketmaster regularly for ticket drops to the second show. I watched the fan site on FB that advertised tickets that other fans needed to sell. By Tuesday morning, I was very seriously considering a pair of tickets in the 200-level area of the United Center for $375 total. This would be the most money I’d ever spent on U2 tickets, and the first time since 2001 that I was in seats, but I have long decided it’s better to be at the U2 show, in any seat, than not there at all.

Tuesday night I went out to dinner with my friends Kristy and Shawn since I was in town. Upon returning to my hotel room after our visit, I received a text from Kristy, whom I’d just left, stating that another friend was reporting that tickets were dropping for Chicago 2 at that very moment. I immediately tried to pull some tickets on my Ticketmaster app, but only resale tickets were returning in my search results. So I opened my laptop and went to the Ticketmaster site. Sure enough, GA tickets were showing up in the light blue color to indicate that tickets were available from the venue!

I grabbed two tickets, put them in my cart, and then went to check out. When I got to the payment screen, I received an error message that stated that the tickets in my cart were no longer available! I tried again, was able to grab two tickets in my cart, but again, I received the same message at the payment screen. Undaunted, I went back to main screen, but this time I drew one ticket. I figured I could go back and get the second ticket after I’d secured the first. This time I was able to purchase the ticket. I felt a rush of relief mixed with fear and regret as I watched the payment go through. Now I was definitely going to the U2 concert two days away and I was going to need to ask for a second day off from work!

I immediately went back into Ticketmaster to try to draw another ticket for Crow… But, alas, the GA area was now displaying as gray, indicating that there were no tickets available. I spent another half hour trying to search for GA tickets doing a general search for tickets, but I kept getting nosebleeds on the resale site.

Well, I thought, it’s easy to find one ticket at the venue from someone. Half the battle is getting to the venue. I felt confident that I would be able to secure a ticket for Crow.

Too Much is Not Enough: Chicago 2 (June 25, 2015)

I returned from the conference, unpacked my conference clothes, and immediately repacked my bag for Chicago. Meanwhile, Crow went on a bike ride with our bike club. I was too jittery to ride. According to the mapping app on my phone, it would take about 6 hours to get to where we were staying in Chicago. Knowing the mapping app is much more conservative than my driving, I figured it would actually take about 5 hours so long as I didn’t hit Chicago traffic (I mean, c’mon, the speed limit on the turnpike is 70 all the way through Ohio and Indiana!).

I planned to leave for Chicago at 7am. So, of course, we ended up leaving at 9am. I figured we’d arrive in Chicago around 3pm which was enough time to get settled in at the hotel, grab dinner, and get to the venue without feeling rushed. Dave, meanwhile, was working on a trade for a ticket for Crow. Our friends, Kristy and Shawn, had originally bought tickets to several of the Chicago shows and then were unable to attend. They gave Dave their tickets to try to use so they would not go to waste. Therefore, Dave had a spare GA ticket for Chicago 3 that he could trade with someone who had one for Chicago 2.

The entire drive to Chicago, I fretted about not making it to Chicago in time or hitting traffic. We stopped at rest areas twice and I made the stops as brief as possible. This behavior is typical for me during travel to a U2 show; I’m always afraid that some unforeseen problem will occur to prevent me from getting to the show. I have nightmares about this, too. I never feel 100% secure until I’m in the venue waiting for the show to start. As I drove to Chicago, I was determined that I only had to get to the city and everything would be okay.

I was also very nervous about driving in Chicago because Crow had indicated that it could be as bad as New York City. I never, ever want to drive in New York City. I was imagining all kinds of terribly nerve-wrecking scenarios once we got into Chicago. Fortunately, at around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, the highways were really not that bad at all–not much busier than Cleveland on a weekday–so I felt more confident as we got closer. The hotel was easy to find and located just off the Magnificent Mile, so within walking distance of great food, shopping, and parks.

We met up with Dave, our roommate for the next five days, and he assured us that he was pretty sure he’d secured a ticket for Crow. Yay! We found food at this great little pub not far from the hotel called Rudy’s. I relaxed some over beer.

Since Dave had been to Chicago 1 the night before, he’d already worked out how we would get to the venue using the “L”–Chicago’s part subway, part elevated train system–and we arrived, stress-free, at the venue around 6pm. We had to wait around on the grounds for the guy with whom we were trading tickets as the venue let in the entire GA line. He was taking his own sweet time meeting up with us and I started to get nervous because if the guy didn’t show, Crow would have no ticket. This is where the fan in me conflicts with the love of my husband–Do I just go in without him? Or do I sacrifice my own ticket to make sure Crow isn’t by himself in Chicago? I’m sure if worse came to worse, Crow would just have told me to go into the show without him, and I would have, but I would have felt really bad about leaving him behind.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make “Sophie’s choice” (I’m being funny there), and the guy arrived. Dave wished us well as he was headed to the entrance for people with tickets in seats. We calmly walked through security, submitted to the scans by medal detector, and we were admitted. I always hold my breath during the credit card scan, fearing it won’t work, but everything went smoothly. We picked the South side of the floor since we could choose and I’d not been to that side of the show. (In Vancouver, your ticket dictated which side you were on and I got North both times.)

I had originally planned to just hang back on the edge of the floor so that Crow could see the screens. People were already lined up by the Red Zone rail. The Red Zone at a U2 show is a secured ticket area for people who have bought high-priced GA tickets–a portion of the money goes to (RED)–and for this show they are on the far end of the main stage on each side. I started standing in the second row from the Red Zone rail, but when I returned from a quick restroom break, Crow had already  moved a little more center of floor between the Red Zone and the catwalk. Ultimately, we ended up about five rows back from the main stage and about 2-3 rows from the start of the catwalk. This ended up being my favorite place to stand of all the places I stood on this tour.

So once in place, I really felt that relief I get right before a show starts. I’d made it to one extra show! I was so excited. I also was excited for Crow to see my favorite band and hoped it would help him to understand why I have such a great love for U2 that I follow them to multiple shows on a tour.

Outside the United Center in Chicago before the show.

The tour has changed slightly since I saw the band in Vancouver. Nothing huge, but some great subtle changes that have served to make the show tighter and more cohesive. I’m a little depressed that the special remix of The Ramones’ “Beat On the Brat” has been replaced as the song that plays before the band arrives on stage. It set that early 1980s vibe for me before the show and when U2 came on, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” just kind of flowed into it. Now the song that U2 comes out to is Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power”–a great song, and one I love, but it just doesn’t seem to fit as well at that point in the show.

Mars Girl and Crow at the U2 show. I’m decked out in my u2start.com Everything I Lost shirt and my homemade U2 earrings. You can’t see it, but my shirt reads: “Everything I ever lost, now has been returned in the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” (Lyrics to “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” by U2)

One of the best changes, though, is that now Bono starts the show from the e-stage while the rest of the band starts playing at the main stage. I am not even sure how the band entered in Vancouver, as both nights I was far from the main stage, but it seemed rather abrupt and without ceremony. Now, however, Bono walks onto the e-stage and starts riling up the crowd by encouraging them to chant the opening oooh-ohh-ohh’s to the song. He swaggers and struts and flails his arms in encouragement and the crowd really seems to respond. (Also noted: Chicago crowds are way louder and more active than the Vancouver crowds were.)

The first four songs of the night are always a vicious flurry of upbeat rock-n-roll tunes. Chicago 2 opened with “The Miracle,” “Out of Control,” “Vertigo,” and “I Will Follow” and the songs just kind of caught me up and took me along with them. Sometime during this powerful beginning set, I was baptized by Bono as he flung the water from his water bottle upon the audience. A few droplets landed on me and I was totally thrilled. It’s funny because, as another U2 friend of mine pointed out, if some guy in the crowd had sprayed me with water, I’d have been totally pissed; however, Bono flinging water on me is perfectly okay.

A not-so-clear shot of Bono on the catwalk.

U2 on the main stage during the first set.

Mr. Adam Clayton–the suave, photogenic member of U2.

We had lots of time with Mr. Clayton. Be thankful I excluded the gratuitous butt shot from this blog entry.

The Edge! We were on his side of the main stage.

The first half of the show was not much different from what I’d seen in Vancouver, but I still felt as though I were hearing it the first time. I’d kept my listening to bootlegs and live shows on Periscope to a minimum between Vancouver and Chicago to ensure I wouldn’t have the show memorized when I saw it again. Regardless, nothing beats the feeling of being in the arena, hearing U2 play the songs live.

The big surprise of the night was during the e-stage set. Bono said, “After the grief comes the anger…” And as soon as he said that, I thought, Shit! They are going to play “Volcano!” Sure enough, that familiar bass line kicked in, and I went crazy. “Volcano” is my favorite song on Songs of Innocence; in fact, “Volcano” climbed to the number 1 slot in my iTunes’ 25 Most Played Songs playlist just two months after the album was released in September. The song currently has over 300 plays and defeats The Twilight Singers’ “Dynamite Steps,” which is the theme song I use for my novel (so it has had a ton of play itself). This was only the third time “Volcano” was played on the tour and it was the one song I walked away from Vancouver wishing they had played.

Bono with Adam in the background and the cool effect of viewing the same scene through other people’s cell phones.

Bono reportedly was recovering from a case of bronchitis, but his voice seemed to be top notch all night. I only noticed that he had a cold when he was speaking–his voice sounded a little hoarse and stuffed. I honestly don’t know how he could still sing if he was sick, but he did not miss a note all night. I held my breath nervously in every song that had high notes and/or parts where he holds a note for long, and–to my relief–he managed to get through everything without a mistake.

Another highlight of night was “Bad,” which I also got to hear the second night in Vancouver. It seems this song is making a semi-regular appearance on this tour and, as I always tell people, any concert in which “Bad” is performed is a great night. It was definitely the icing on the cake for me as I love everything on The Unforgettable Fire.

Bono inviting the audience to sing. (I know these are not the clearest shots in the world.)

Great in-the-moment shot of The Edge.

Adam in the encore.

More blurry Bono.

Bono yet again.

For the very last song, Bono led everyone in a singalong of “One.” Usually I get annoyed when the band doesn’t actually sing one of our songs, but this night, it just seemed to fit in with the whole experience of being there. I kind of wondered if Bono’s voice was finally tired after a night of pushing it. He seemed pleased to hear the crowd singing the verses to his song at him. He would join us for a line or two, urging us to continue, and the audience responded without missing a beat.

This was definitely a night I didn’t want the concert to end. I felt a bit bummed when the band exited for their final time and the lights came up in the arena. But, alas, I knew I would be attending two more shows in two days’ time.

Adventure to be continued in the next blog entry…