Trials and TOSRV-ations

This year’s TOSRV was truly one of those times where I marvel at how I managed to push myself through to the end of the ride.

First, this spring left very few good days for training. I was less prepared for the ride than I’d ever been since I started doing TOSRV every year since 2008. I only did two long rides in April–a 68 mile ride from my house to Burton, Ohio, after which I felt like crap, and the amazing 152 mile feat of Calvin’s Challenge. In a normal year, I use one day every weekend in April to do a long ride, starting at 50 miles and working up to about 80 miles in the last week. Due to some awful rainy and cold weather in April, I missed the first three weekends of training and only managed to get those two long rides in the last two weekends. Ugh. I came into TOSRV with a pathetic 439 miles under my belt; last year, I had 870.

Second, I made the tragic mistake of going out for drinks with my coworkers on Thursday night. When I hadn’t even packed yet. To be fair, I did not think we would be out that long. We all left work at 4pm. Consequently, I closed down the gathering with the remaining two people–one of whom is my team lead–at approximately 9pm. Five hours of drinking, no food. And I was not in the proper state to pack when I arrived home at 9:30pm. I went to right to bed. And “woke up” (does a person wake up after passing out?) at 5am to puke. I was a sick dog.

I tried to get up for work and pack at about 6:30am. But I couldn’t get my butt out of bed long enough to do anything other than throw a bunch of my stuff–backpack included–in the middle of my bedroom floor. I felt sick to my stomach laying down; when I stood, it was worse. I then logged into my work email and guiltily called (knowing I’d have to eat crow about this on Monday). I went back to bed. I woke again at 11am feeling as though I’d sweat off the hangover. I was finally interested in eating some cereal and drinking vast quantities of water which all (thankfully) stayed down.

But I was still kind of sluggish about getting to that packing. I watched TV, then surfed the internet (mainly the U2 forum), and then I spent an hour logged into my desktop at work to finish a test. In between all of these activities, and taking a shower, I slowly gathered stuff into a pile in the center of the living room floor (so I could watch TV)  in an attempt to pack. But I was frankly kind of distracted. I really need to focus when I pack or I miss things. And I had that tired feeling one has after a hangover so my enthusiasm level was down.

The end result? I forgot to pack the following:

1) A towel. I realized it in enough time to borrow one from my friend Joanna (at whose apartment I spent Friday night).

2) Money. I always carry a credit card when cycling, but I like to have cash. On my way out of town, I forgot to stop at the ATM. Fortunately, since I intended to get cash, I’d placed my ATM card in the wallet I use for cycling (it normally contains my ID, medical card, and one credit card plus any cash if I remember to put some in there) so I was able to stop at an ATM on the way out of Columbus on Saturday.

And–most tragically–3) WATER BOTTLES. Um. Yeah. How scatter-brained is THAT? I didn’t even realize that I’d forgotten them until Saturday morning after I’d placed my luggage in the van going to Portsmouth. As I pulled my bike towards the starting area of the ride, I realized I was missing something very vital. I’ve never forgotten water bottles. Ever. I’ve come close, sure, but I’d never actually done it. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

So I ended up going back into the Hyatt where, fortunately, there was a small Starbucks stand. I bought two bottles of water and put them in the back pockets of my jersey since they were too small to stay in place in the water bottle cages on my bike. The leg from Columbus to Circleville is roughly 30 miles. I spent the entire time during that leg fretting about running out of water so I was not drinking as liberally as I normally would, fearful I would run out in that vast wilderness of fields between the two cities. Consequently, I also took it a little easy and did not push a hard pace in fear that I would sweat too much and become thirsty. Along some of the legs, there are gas stations where one can buy more water, but I couldn’t recall many between Columbus and Circleville.

Fortunately, when I got to Circleville, one of the bike shops that run support vehicles for the ride–Baer Wheels–had water bottles to sell me for a mere $6! It’s a good thing I stopped for that cash on the way out of Columbus. Needless to say, once the water crisis was averted, I was rolling confidently through the remaining miles of the ride and pushing myself as vigorously as usual.

I didn’t spend too much time at the rest stops on the first day. The weather reports had threatened rain (and occasionally the skies looked it too) so I wanted to beat any potential storms to Portsmouth. I arrived in Portsmouth shortly after 3pm (I left Columbus at 7am) which was such an improvement over last year’s 5pm. Thankfully, unlike last year, the headwind was not very significant. It was there, but a steady 5-10mph headwind is much more tolerable than the 25mph wind gusts that brutalized my body last year. Sadly, I was better prepared/conditioned for the ride last year. I was significantly less prepared for the ride this year; however, the weather was much better. I guess, though, I shouldn’t complain since if I had come with this year’s conditioning into last year’s ride, I would not have made it. TOSRV was ultimately forgiving to my–as well as that of my fellow riders’–general lack of training this year. Still, I cannot help but think that had I had this year’s weather with last year’s miles and training, I would have really rocked TOSRV.

Somewhere between Waverly and Portsmouth, Saturday May 7, 2011

Regardless, I made it into town feeling good–not particularly beaten–and I was able to enjoy some time at the park with my friend, Bad Dog, and his crazy group of partying cyclists, the Polka-Dots. Yes, I partook of some beers, as the memories of  Thursday’s over-indulgence was long, long gone (somewhere among those 108 miles of road). The rain continued to hold off throughout the remainder of the party in Tracy Park and only started around 6pm when the festivities were wrapping up.

Bad Dog & Mars Girl enjoy beers at Tracy Park in Portsmouth, Saturday May 7, 2011.

My overnight in the Southern Ohio Medical Center gym was a little rough despite the fact that I packed my big air mattress this year. I had been battling a cold of some kind that was attacking my lungs specifically, causing great coughing fits whenever I wasn’t cycling and especially when I laid down to sleep. Once I fell asleep, I usually didn’t wake up to cough. The problem was, the gym was excessively noisy this year with the air conditioner knocking on every hour or so with a loud bang. Not to mention the thunderstorm that came through at some ungodly hour, its rain so hard I could actually hear it pounding on the roof despite the white noise of the running air conditioner. I even caught a few muffled rumbles of thunder (which were apparently loud to all those sleeping in tents elsewhere in Portsmouth).

Needless to say, I was up with every noise. And every time I was up, my lungs, tight with pain, convulsed as if to reject the air they held. With every breath of air I took in, I coughed. Ugh. I was really self-conscious that I was keeping other people up, so I tried to repress each cough. Which, of course, only made the coughing worse. Fortunately, I had brought cough drops and that seemed to help. Still, on the ride back to Columbus the next day, my ear was constantly tuned into the conversations of people around me, fearing I’d hear that one person complaining about the coughing all night in the SOMC center. Thank God, I didn’t hear any complaints of this type–just similar complaints about the air conditioning. At least I wasn’t louder than that. But if anyone out there reading this was indeed kept awake by my coughing, I heartily apologize! Though I really hope that if you’ve decided to overnight in the public venue of the many gyms in Portsmouth, you expect to be disturbed by some noise or another. At least I wasn’t snoring. At least I hope I wasn’t (that problem was supposed to be fixed with the septoplasty and removal of my tonsils).

Sunday morning yielded the characteristic fog so ingrained in my memory of departures from Portsmouth. It was damp from the rain and a bit chilly. My muscles protested in the work of the climb out of the valley. I had brief moments of 16-17mph, but for the most part, I was a steady, slow 15mph. I could tell it would be a long day. The legs just didn’t want to participate in this event. Again, I might have been in better shape with last year’s training… Ah, well.

A foggy departure from Portsmouth.

It was pretty chilly all the way through to Chilicothe. As I got back on my bike after lunch, I actually felt cold. The sun was fighting to come out and did not in fact show itself until towards the end of my trek to Circleville. Things warmed up pretty quickly after that and I was able to finally shed my arm warmers and windproof vest. I even had to put on some sun block. Not that it helped, I still got a cold sore on my face a few days later. Ack.

I spent a lot of time at the Circleville stop. I admit that I felt a little defeated. It was one of those times where I had to talk myself back onto the bike. I wasn’t going to quit, mind you; I just needed to rest longer than I knew I should. All told, I spent about 45 minutes at that last stop. I pet a greyhound dog owned by one of the people supporting a TOSRV rider. I talked to Brad–a friend from both my church and the ABC who was taking pictures during the ride. I drank a lot of gatorade and water. I reminded myself inwardly that I’d performed the magnificent feat of completing this ride three times before. And then I reluctantly remounted my bike and set off.

I spent a lot of time in my middle gear ring. I’ve learned that I mentally prefer to spin a lot than push a hard gear when I’m exhausted. It turns out that I end up going the same speed either way, but when I spin a lot, I’m in much less pain. I’m not sure it works this way for other people. But when I’m spinning, I feel like I’m accomplishing something. If I’m in a high gear with a lower cadence, though I’m going the same speed, I feel like I’m not moving.

Mars Girl in Circleville, Sunday May 8, 2011. Photo courtesy of Brad Bolton.

I saw Brad along one of the long roads outside of Columbus and he later said I looked strong. Which is funny because I totally didn’t feel that. It was admittedly the hardest return to Columbus I’d done. It’s so strange how this ride changes so drastically from year to year. It all comes down to weather and your level of conditioning. Last year, I felt like I could have done an additional 60 miles after the ride; this year, 107 was almost too much. Also, since I wasn’t with any friends at all this year, I had no one to pull me. But that’s okay. I also was the most relaxed on a TOSRV I’ve ever been because I wasn’t stressing about staying with someone else. Still, it might have been nice to have someone to pull me a few miles. Oh well. I probably would have resisted anyone’s efforts to help anyway.

I got into Columbus at 4pm which really wasn’t that bad. All told, I had a 15.0 mph average the first day and a 14.9 mph average the second. That’s about average for me. So despite how I felt emotionally and physically, I didn’t do too bad.

I think this is my last TOSRV for a year or two. I need a break. This year’s horrible start to spring taught me that you can’t always get the kind of training in during the spring that you expect. And I’m not sure I always want to. It’d be nice to spend the spring only cycling when I want to cycle, as opposed to doing it because I know I have to. Perhaps if next year’s spring is more fortuitous, and I get a lot of miles in, I”ll consider registering late. But I’m definitely not jumping on the boat in January. It’s nice to remind myself that I don’t have to do something.

Yeah, I”d like to do Calvin’s Challenge again. But that’s a one-day event. I think it’s much easier (and less painful) to do a lot of miles in one day than to do 100+ miles one day, and then get up and do 100+ miles the next day once your muscles have stiffened. I think I’ll play Calvin’s Challenge by ear too. A little spontaneity never hurt anyone.

So as I write this, it’s a rainy evening at the start of what promises to be a rainy week. I’ve yet to ride my bike to work. So what does the summer hold for Northeast Ohio? Will it ever stop raining? I think soon I’m going to just give in and ride to work in the rain… It’s time to grow some balls. Someone remind me again why I moved back to this godforsaken state…

Once more into the breach: TOSRV 2010

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.

Self-portrait in Chillicothe

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!

Mars Girl & bAD dOG share a beer (or two) at Tracy Park in Portsmouth.

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…)

Mars Girl with her completion certificate.

Bring it on: Signed up for TOSRV again

If you aren’t one of my Facebook friends or you weren’t with me all weekend as I obsessively checked the TOSRV website for online registration to open, I am writing to announce that I once again signed up for my annual lesson in suffering and torture. I’m rider #104, meaning that I was the fourth to register just 18 minutes after the registration went online yesterday morning, for TOSRV.

Those of you unfamiliar with this ride, TOSRV is a legend in the Ohio cycling community. It was started in 1961 by a father and his (two?) son(s?) who would ride from Capitol Square in Columbus, Ohio to Portmouth, Ohio (on the river) each year at Mother’s Day to, I think, visit his mother. I guess they started recruiting a few other crazy friends… and each year more and more people joined them… until it became this crazy organized ride of mass proportions. In the 1990s, I’m told the number of riders was close to 6000 and that the ride actually closed out. As it is, today, TOSRV is about 2,000 riders and it feels like you’re never alone. And it’s not just nutty riders like me–people who ride 4,000 miles/per year–it’s everyone, from casual riders who only ride this one ride each year to people who ride tons more miles than I ever could. It’s pretty amazing.

The thing about the ride that makes it torture, however, is the challenge of the weather. It’s always held over Mother’s Day weekend; early May could bring about any sort of weather in Ohio. My first year, it was sunny and in the 60s on Saturday and rainy all day on Sunday. Yeah, 105 miles in the rain is really a test of will. Last year, the weather was warmish in the 60s and 70s both days; however, there was a nasty headwind both days. I love how Mother Nature turns the wind in the direction you’re doomed to travel each day…

Anyway, in this history of TOSRV, there’s been all sorts of “interesting” weather. Snow flurries included. The route itself is fairly easy with one section of small rollers that I find easy but which makes all the flatlanders bulk. The real challenge is getting enough riding miles in during March and April (they recommend you come into the ride with about 400) when the weather is equally as variable so that you can do 100 miles that early in the season. It’s a big push to get ready for the ride. If the ride were later in the year, it would be much less challenging. Though, I would point out that any time you do 100 miles and then follow it up with another 100 miles the next day, it’s a challenge. At least for me.

I don’t know what it is about the ride that makes me want to do it every year. I think it seems “fun” in the chill of January when I haven’t touched either bike in two months. I have to admit that one can cheat–a 50 mile/day option, the “half TOSRV” which starts at the midway point in Chillicothe. I’ve never had a desire to do it. (If you complete the half  TOSRV, you only get a red sticker on your completion certificate; real completers get gold.) 50 miles would definitely be much easier at that point of the year… But I think the torture, pain, and suffering I endure on the ride is part of the challenge that makes the ride fun.

I suppose this year I will spend a great deal of riding alone. I don’t paceline and the people from ABC who are going are in the hammerhead contingent. I always persevere. If the headwind is really bad, I’ll be in trouble. But I think I can do it just fine. I don’t want to be forced to wait on anyone or slow anyone down. I hate all the pressure of riding with other people. The person I used to ride with consistently was the same pace as me so there was none such pressure.

The registration for the MS 150 also went up this week. I haven’t registered yet. I’m trying to decide if I’m going to do it or not. Probably. It’s just so hard to beg people for donations–every year I get less and less money. Pretty soon I’m just going to have to pay the $250 minimum donation myself. I want to keep doing the ride because I support the cause with all my heart… there’s a very spiritual aspect to this ride that compels me to do it every year. So I’ll probably sign up despite all the donation-gathering woes.

Next up is registration for STP (Seattle-to-Portland ride) which opens to the public February 1st. I’m looking forward to this summer’s trip to try a ride over on the west coast where the real hills are. I know I can handle this ride because I kind of know what to expect. And, in a lot of ways, I may be expecting more than what this ride is. To west coasters, it’s a comparatively easy ride. I’m going to rent a bike. In fact, I was happy to be referred (by Matt from the Cycling in Seattle blog I read) to a bike shop that rents road bikes and it turns out they have some Giants. I plan to bring my own saddle and pedals so that I’m not too uncomfortable on a foreign bike.

Anyway, after the ride, I plan to go to some of the wineries in the Williamette Valley. I’m thinking of taking the train back from Portland to Seattle. And visit with Sarah and Alison if possible. It’s been several years since I visited Seattle and even longer since I was in Oregon, so I’m looking forward to the adventure. I expect to spend a lot of time on my own again, but I’m okay with that. Maybe it will inspire some haiku and memoir writing. I’m usually most poetic when I’m out exploring the world.

So, here’s to the dreams of a fun (more solitary, probably) summer of cycling…

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The wind is not my friend: TOSRV 2009

I know it’s a great source of natural energy and, as a liberal, it is my duty to praise it for its promise of green energy. I’ve even contemplated buying wind energy as part of my electric mix. However, I wish the wind would blow in lands I’m not destined to pedal amongst. Like Siberia. Or Antartica. Contrary to certain proclamation I made in college, the wind is NOT my friend. We have parted ways. I no longer have any desire to show my love for the wind.

Yeah. Well, at least it didn’t rain. There’s always that. Saturday’s clouds threatened to deluge us with rain, but nothing ever happened, thankfully. You know why it didn’t rain? I brough a rain coat, that’s why. Though, maybe I would have traded some wind for a windless rain.

I’ve now experienced a windy TOSRV (this year) and a rainy TOSRV (last year). I guess I can claim my TOSRV balls now. I’ve now ridden 420 miles in less than desirable conditions. Yay.

Really, it wasn’t all as bad as it sounds. I still managed to have a fun time. Unfortunately, I was forced to draft, which I hate doing, to survive the wall of wind on Saturday–25-30mph SSW winds that were pretty relentless all the way to Portsmouth. We got some relief for a period of time after Chillicothe to the infamous School House hill where, once we reached the top, we were again attacked by wind gusts all the way to Waverly/Lake White (the last stop before Portsmouth). Fortunately, the downhill trending ride to Portsmouth was mostly protected by the Scioto River valley, except in a few exposed areas. Thank goodness for this or we would have really suffered long.

The sun also broke through the last leg of our Saturday journey and really made the trek into Portsmouth, as well as the party at Tracy Park, very welcoming. We relaxed for about an hour at Tracy Park, talking with fellow ABCers, and enjoyed a beer and a hot dog. I met one of the people who has commented on my blog–bAD dOG–who, I learned, is a member of the famous partying group known as the Polka Dots. He handed me a Bud Lite–free beer makes you an instant friend of mine–and told me to buy the Surly I’ve been drooling over. Don’t tell the guys at CC, but the best way to get me to buy anything is ply me with a few beers. My judicious frugality goes out the window when I’m intoxicated. This has resulted in a few late night purchases via the internet. Dangerous!

Fortunately, Michael and I–unlike many of our fellow riders–had a coveted room at the Ramada Inn. So we did not have to sleep on the gym floor. Unfortunately, we weren’t aware that the co-ed gym we signed up for as our back up plan was located at the Life Center at the top of a steep hill which we had to climb to get to our luggage. Which was no fun to climb after a beer and an hour of rest. Further unfortunately, I stupidly put my clothes in a gym bag instead of a back pack. So had to loop the handles around my shoulders (fortunately it fit) to make it a backpack. The ride from the Life Center to the Ramada was unbalanced, making me nervous. I chastised myself for my stupidity the whole way.

Once checked in, our first activity was a visit to the hot tub located by the pool. Aaaahhh… refreshing to painfully sore muscles. We met a few other riders in the tub, one woman whom Michael had met last year in the hot tub while I simpered in the hotel room because I’d forgotten my swim suit. We chatted about the ride, traded stories, and reveled in the fact that we had hotel rooms instead of sleeping on the gym floor with the rest of the suckas. Ironically, the name of the woman at the Ramada who is in charge of finding rooms for TOSRV riders is named Angel. We all generally agreed that she was our personal angel of mercy.

After the hot tub, we showered and headed for dinner at Damon’s, which is mercifully attached to the hotel. I know there are lots of all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinners for just $10 to enjoy at the local churches in town, but it’s so much easier to just go to the restaurant attached to the hotel. And I wasn’t too interested in spaghetti being that we’d had Italian on Friday night at an Olive Garden in Columbus. My goal was not to gain weight on this ride. Instead, at Damon’s, I enjoyed a salmon skillet and, of course, a glass of wine–Pinot Grigio since I was in the mood for cold drinks. I also downed an entire glass of water in about five minutes.

Just like last year, I pretty much crashed halfway through dinner and could barely finish my glass of wine. We went back up to the hotel room where I conked out within a half hour of brushing my teeth. The last time I remember is 9:30. I had the dreamless sleep of the dead and woke up at what seemed like just a moment later at 5:30am. So much for a Saturday night, eh?

The second day is always harder than the first. It’s hard to motivate yourself to get up and ride another 100+ miles, especially when you’re aware of the fact that the damned winds changed direction–of course, north, the direction in which we were headed (God has a sick sense of humor). It was a chilly morning of about 47 degrees so I had to don the arm warmers and tights. I was also glad I’d brought a fleece jacket even though I knew it would be a pain to crunch up and stuff in my rack pack (fleece does not compact well).

We cheated by dropping our luggage off at the Portsmouth High School instead of dragging it back up the hill to the Life Center, figuring all the luggage was going to the same place (the Hilton in Columbus). Then, we set off into the foggy morning around 7am.

I immediately felt strong climbing back out of Portsmouth. Again, we were shielded mostly from any wind in this valley and perhaps, also, the wind hadn’t really started for the day. We were flying along the first 30 miles to Waverly/Lake White and I felt pretty good. By Waverly, I was able to remove my jacket. I left the arm warmers on all the way to Circleville where my freeze-baby nature finally warmed enough despite the chilly air.

Waverly to Chillicothe was windy. The weather claimed the wind speed was 5-10mph. Michael and I believe it was more like 10-15mph. It was pretty tough and we didn’t seem to have much protection from it during any stretch of this leg. It seemed like there was a lot of uphill climbing in the wind.

Nothing was as bad, however, as the stretch of State Route 104 between Chillicothe and Circleville. This is a pretty exposed area and probably the most trafficked segment of TOSRV. It was rough and my legs were starting to really feel the strain of the ride. Michael had to pull me mostly on this leg, which I guess makes up for me pulling the last several miles into Waverly earlier, but I still felt guilty like I was somehow cheating. Somewhere along this stretch I started wishing I were done. Which made the rest of the ride a bit torturous. But then, pushing myself through this kind of thing is why I like the challenge of riding. So I guess I really can’t complain too much. If it were easy, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. If that makes any sense. (I think that’s why I love hills.)

Of course, nothing is as bad as the last 30 miles back to Columbus from Circleville. I started checking my mileage about every five minutes, which was totally demoralizing. I know I’m tired of riding when my eyes keep drifting downwards to the computer. It seemed like getting from 62 miles–when I first started checking–to 90 took forever. At 95 miles, we rested at small pit stop along one of the last country roads. It sucked to know that we really had about 10 miles left. The second day, as I said, is always the worst.

During the last few miles into Columbus, I had one near accident on a side street where a bunch of kids were playing basketball. Yes, in the street. Of course, since I was merely an nonthreatening bicyclist, they continued playing (which they wouldn’t do in front of a car, most likely), and, of course, the ball bounced out of control, across the street, missing Michael who was ahead of me, but crossing directly into my path. Had I not been the nervous cyclist I am–always prepared for disaster in my post-traumatic stress from the infamous Dog Incident–I might have hit the ball, or one of the kids who came running after it, or both, and gone down. I’ve really improved my reflexes for, in one fluid movement, I unclipped my left (favored) foot from the pedal and pulled the brakes hard to stop right in front of the kid who grabbed my handlebars. We were that close.

“Sorry, sorry, my brother is stupid,” the kid sneered, half-sincerely. I wanted to slap his little snotty face around. I said nothing to him, didn’t even grunt, looked straight ahead and pushed on. I felt like crying for a moment because at about 100 miles, I was in no mood for near-accidents or stupid kids with no respect for the cyclists that were surely going down their street pretty regularly. I wonder if any other cyclists had to make a quick dismount due to this particular obstacle. I swear, I’m never reproducing and this is just further proof of why I shouldn’t.

Anyway, I cooled down when we turned down the next street and found ourselves facing the tall buildings of downtown Columbus looming ahead. Almost to the Promised Land, nothing could bring me down now. Not even the idiot cyclists who decided to run the last several red lights. Evolution will weed them out eventually, I figure. I tried not to think anymore about how their blatant defiance of traffic laws reflect badly on all of us (I saw lots of entitled abuse of traffic laws throughout the ride, so at this point nothing was surprising me anymore).

When Michael and I rolled past the corner near the statehouse, we congratulated ourselves for another successful TOSRV. It was a proud moment for me to complete my second TOSRV; this was Michael’s sixth successful completion as well. But I think both of us were just happy to get off our bikes. Michael bragged he could still have ridden 20 miles. I admitted that I could if I had to. But I had no such desire. In fact, I decided, I was done with my bike for at least a couple of days. (Although, I think I am ready to ride again tonight.)

I took yesterday off work and did absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing. Michael and I went out to see the new Star Trek. I won’t even go there. I’m a bit disgruntled about the movie, though I did find the new Dr. McCoy very scrumptious. The guy playing him was pretty dead-on with his impersonation of DeForest Kelley’s McCoy so I loved him all the more. However, the plot… eh. Maybe I’ll bitch about it in a later entry. It’s hardly worth it though. I vented on Facebook and I think I’m done. Just as I’m done with bitching about TOSRV’s wind. I still completed it so I must be unstoppable. Or stupid.

No, no, don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of fun. I’ll probably do the ride again next year. There’s an excitement on this ride, a feeling of tradition, that you just help but throw yourself into. And, anyway, when registration opens in January and I haven’t ridden in months, TOSRV sounds exceptionally fun, despite whatever weather you think you’re going to encounter. It is a fun ride. The volunteers are top-notch and cheery. It’s a well run ride. Sometimes the smile or the wave of a volunteer is enough to pull you through the next several miles.

I think, though, after riding 100 miles on Saturday and realizing how much it knocks me out, I won’t be taking the 100 mile option on any of the days it’s offered on XOBA. I’ll never make it through the week if I do…

TOSRV Training: Pre-Easter Ride to Hiram

The route (roughly):

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NOTE: We took the Portage Country trail from Judson to the Franklin Connector, and then the Stow Bikeway to get back to my house at the end, but this stupid mapping program does not include bike trails and I can’t accurately show that when mapping the ride.


Min: 988 ft
Max: 1286 ft
Ascent: 1286 ft
Descent: -1270 ft

I decided to dedicate the last four Saturdays leading up to TOSRV for training. I purposely kept my schedule empty for the next several weeks for this specific purpose, leaving Sundays open for going to church if I feel like attending since I know I’ll be missing more services in the summers due to two-day rides and that’s really all right with me, I don’t think God or the Divine Spirit or Whatever cares whether or not I attend church, I just know that going makes me feel better throughout the week and my mental sanity is really important to me right now when everything else seems up in the air. So, anyway, I’m focused on TOSRV and training for it.

This Saturday’s ride I had planned two weeks ago–rain or shine, but probably would have called off due to snow–and invited Michael. Initially, I thought of making it a club ride, but then I decided I didn’t want all the hassle of having to organize people and a lunch stop and worrying about people getting dropped. No hassle if I just invited Michael and we did it ourselves, which actually turned out quite nicely. The route is roughly 60 miles, it turns out; I thought it was 55, oh well. Anyway, it basically involved going through Aurora and using Eggleston Road to catch Parker and my favorite Portage County scenic back road, Winchell Road.

Winchell stretches about eight miles and goes through some pretty farm land and residential areas, eventually ending up in this little tiny nowhere municipality called Hiram Rapids. From there you can catch Route 700 into Hiram and climb one nasty, but short, hill right into the campus. I always take the tour of campus by turning on Hinsdale and riding through Dean and Hayden to 82. A good place to stop and rest is the new convenience store which was a useless abandoned gas station when I was a student–how we could have used a place to get coffee, junk food, and beer that didn’t involve needing to own a car to get to! They get all the cool stuff when you leave, like the new building for an entirely new writing department that includes a new major in writing that wasn’t available when I was there. Damn them!

I’m not going to pretend it was an easy ride yesterday. It happened to be very windy with a nice brisk NNW facing wind that nearly killed us both on the first leg of the ride which included a several mile ride up Stow Road directly in the wind. We did a little bit of drafting, but I have to admit that I backed off in spots because I really can’t stand riding that close to anyone’s bike, even Michael’s bike, because it just gives me a headache to have to watch someone’s wheel while also trying to propel myself. I am just not built for working on teams. It makes me especially nervous to draft behind someone on a hill because I need to go my own pace in those situations and I can’t be worrying about what the guy in front of me is doing. Needless to say, Michael took the wind head-on for the entire course up Stow Road practically. I wanted to take a turn so that I didn’t have to stare at his wheel the whole time, but he never backed off. Probably I would have driven him nuts with how much slower I am going up hills than he is.

I guess I didn’t really realize that my route was that hilly. The last time I’d done it was July 4th last year when I lead the ride for ABC. It hadn’t seemed quite as difficult then. It’s hard to make a real comparison of the difficulty of a ride early season if the last time you did it was in the middle of the cycling season. Regardless, I thought the route was great, but it was a lot of slower climbing. What can I say? We Hiramites didn’t call it Hiram Hill for nothing!

I’m proud to say that I actually was dressed appropriately for the weather (I usually over dress or under dress at this time of the year). I wore my warmer leggings and three layers of shirts–one thermal undershirt, a wicking underlayer, and a breathable warm shirt that I often use for skiing. I did not get too hot, nor too cold except when riding down Route 305 after enjoying a toffee coffee and a Clif bar at the convenience store in Hiram (I brought the Clif bar; they did not sell them at the store). But 305 is a big, fast hill, so on a day that topped off at 48 degrees, it was understandably a chilly descent.

From Hiram, we rode into Garrettsville and took my favorite route back towards home, using Hankee Road and then Asbury to 303. I was really amazed by how little traffic goes in this direction. It was very peaceful and pretty on this sunny day. The roads, of course, weren’t of the greatest conditions, but that’s basically what you get in Portage County (which someone from my bike club once referred to as “Poortage County”).

All travel southward was great. You couldn’t feel any wind hardly whatsoever. Even better, I actually started to feel hot. Travel east or west had a difficult cross-wind. It was slow going at parts, especially on the long stretch of Lake Rockwell Road to the outskirts of Kent, but I really felt pretty comfortable. Michael, on the other hand, was having a down day, which is a sad condition which afflicts all of us from time to time. I had one last Thursday when I failed to climb Columbia Road in the valley on a club ride. I beat myself up for the rest of the ride, through the evening, and even the next day at work. That’s how serious we road cyclists take our riding. I’m especially hard on myself because I like to claim that I can play with the “big boys.”

We didn’t break any speed records (our average was 13.5) but we did the entire route as planned. When we rolled into my driveway, we were about a mile short of 60 miles. So, naturally, we got back on our bikes and circled my neighborhood along this route I discovered that is a little over a mile from my house and back. I’ve used this route a few times to top off a ride where I came close to an even “five.”

At the end of the ride, I felt I could have done another 20 miles, despite the wind, so I’m getting more confident about my shape for TOSRV which is really less hilly than the ride out to Hiram. Still, I’m aiming to fill my next few Saturdays with progressively longer rides, with the exception of next week’s Think Spring ride with my club. I think I am going to do the 33 mile route, but then ride to the start location at the Ledges Shelter in CVNP, which should give me about 16 extra miles round trip from my house. If I have to, I’ll make an extra circuit somewhere to tack on enough miles to get myself to 50. The week after Think Spring, Michael and I are tentatively planning the route we did in Lake County last year which, I believe, was something like 62-65 miles. We had a nice stop at this restaurant in Madison where we both enjoyed really good chocolate shakes–that’s definitely an attraction I’m looking forward to this year! The Saturday before TOSRV may be a 70-80 mile ride in Wayne County (unless we come up with something better). Either way, the weekend before TOSRV must include a longer ride to ensure that we are ready for the two days of 105 mile riding.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my first 60 mile ride of the season. My legs feel a little tight from work, which is good. I woke up this morning feeling really great and pleased with myself. I enjoyed the scenery and the sunlight–it was such a welcome change even though it was still colder than I would have preferred. I would probably have had more trouble motivating myself to such a ride in the past. I have to admit having Michael there to do it with me also pushed me to go. It’s easier to bail on yourself than someone else.

Of course, we partook in the usual post-ride binging, trying a new restaurant in Kent called The Bistro on Main in Kent. A little pricey, but I had the best swordfish I think I’ve ever eaten (perhaps only eating breakfast and a carb bar all day influenced my thoughts, but I don’t think so). As an added bonus, Michael Stanley was eating dinner with some people (wife? mother-in-law?) a few tables away. I, of course, would never have known what Michael Stanley looks like, but Michael is a big fan. A local celebrity, if you will, dining in the same restaurant. Also, Michael Stanley Gee is supposedly a Hiram College graduate, so Michael and I kept joking that I should stop by his table and ask him why he snubs alumni events and does not have an account on “HiramSpace”–our online social networking community for alums.

I didn’t bother Michael Stanley, but I did notice Michael’s eyes glancing over in that direction every once in awhile. I admire his constraint for if that had been Bono sitting casually at a table just a few feet away, I don’t think I could have contained myself… Let’s just say that it wouldn’t have been pretty. But then, I remember the time Diane ran into Greg Dulli on the street outside of the Grogg Shop in Coventry, and though I also love Mr. Dulli, I hung back while Diane bravely walked up and shook his hand. So maybe I would have just admired Bono enviously from a distance…

Anyway, I was at a church dinner this afternoon for Easter, so any benefit I got from riding yesterday has been officially blown away. Especially once they brought out the hot apple pie and ice cream… (can you see my salivating??) I’m starting to think we cyclists have some kind of eating disorder… exercise and binge, exercise and binge…

TOSRV Terrors

What a cyclist dreams (has nightmares about): getting up too late and being one of the last riders to leave the starting point, forgetting to pack proper cycling clothes, bike mechanics laughing at her. Oh, yeah, and the good part of the dream: I bought a chain tool for measuring chain wear from a Century Cycles mechanic while on TOSRV.

I had these dreams on and off all last summer, even when I wasn’t riding TOSRV. Maybe it’s not always TOSRV, but some other nameless long ride where I have to start at a certain time in the morning or else I will run late all day. You laugh, but running late on a long ride could mean that you arrive at all the rest stops when they’ve closed down (thus no food, no water refills, no rest) and, the less scary but more ego-crushing, you’re one of the last people to amble, like an amateur, across the ending line.

It’s not a race, but in your mind, you don’t want to be last. No one wants to be last except those whose only goal is just completing it–no matter how late. I prefer to arrive at the end of any ride in the middle somewhere. I’m not the fastest and I’m okay with that; I don’t want to be the slowest. On a ride like TOSRV, though, it would be impossible for a rider of my level to be last. There are people on TOSRV who don’t, for reasons that defy logic to me, use road bikes. I know personally that it would be extremely hard to do 100 miles on anything but a road bike given the kind of natural speed it gives you. Without work, on a flat road, I can easily ride at 15mph. On my hybrid the same amount of effort on the same type of road yields an easy 12mph. That’s a huge difference over a long ride. But I could still complete 105 miles in a reasonable amount of time on my hybrid.

Even crazier are those people who ride TOSRV on mountain or trail bikes. I haven’t ridden a trail bike in awhile, but I’m pretty sure the same effort exerted in the example above would be lower than the 12mph obtained on my hybrid. Now we’re talking about a ride going from 6-8 hours to something like 10-12. No way!!

There are some people on TOSRV who ride really old bikes and carry everything but the kitchen sink with them. I kept seeing this older woman on a bike that looked too small for her riding in jeans and a few layers of sweatshirt. She had a basket on the front of the bike which contained a lot of stuff in plastic shopping bags, and in the back she was trailing two gallon jugs of water. Like the kind of plastic jugs used for milk. To each his (or her) own, I suppose. Far be it from me to be a bike snob. I suspect some of these people only do one ride a year and it’s TOSRV, so more power to them! I just would prefer not to ride something that couldn’t get me there in 8 or 9 hours. (Thus my love of rode bike!)

Anyway, in my waking hours, I realize how ridiculous my night terrors about TOSRV are. First of all, I would never forget to pack cycling clothes for a cycling event. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that; last year on the MS 150, I forget to pack a pair of bike shorts for the second day and had to wear the ones from the previous day. Yuck. Still, I doubt I would ever forget to pack any cycling clothes! Secondly, on rides of this nature, excitement drives me to get up at the right time. Okay, except for the second day of TOSRV when I had trouble motivating myself to face a day of rain. Still, though we left a little later than the main group, we were definitely not the last. I have to admit, though, that as I was running around in a grocery store looking for aspirin (to numb my legs) the morning of TOSV, I did panic a little about being the last ones out, kind of like in my dream.

So. The TOSRV freak-out is beginning, here in the last days of January when the ride is still 3 months away. I’m not even sure why it’s so important to me that I freak out. It’s just a ride, for godsakes. I’m going skiing tomorrow at Seven Springs. I don’t even need to worry about training for TOSRV just yet…

Glimpses of TOSRV

Last night, Michael and I looked at the still pictures he took at TOSRV as well as viewed–for the first time!–our video footage of the tour, which mostly consisted of us reporting our status at each rest stop and reading our stats. It’s kind of funny to watch because you can see how unhappy I was the morning of the second day, and you can see my shaken defeat at Waverly. I wish we’d had time to take more footage.

While I was doing the ride, I thought it would be really cool to put together a video documentary of TOSRV. I’d done a little documentary type of writing in a nonfiction class in college and actually find it quite fun. I remember a paper our professor had us write about a subculture. Back then, I was not really a part of any interesting subcultures; since then, I’ve found myself in quite a few that would have been worthy of a great paper (cycling, amateur astronomy, sky-diving). I really have an interest in perhaps writing a piece or doing a documentary on this sort of thing. If I did it for TOSRV, though, I’d probably have to forgo riding one year and just kind of wander around taking footage of the route and the riders. It sure would be a great piece, though. I can see it all in my head. If I did it, it would probably sell for many of the TOSRV participants. Maybe I should aim for the 50th anniversary in two years…? Hmmm…

Anyway, getting beyond my dreams of creative avarice, the real reason I opened this blog entry was to share with you some of the pictures from our ride. So, here they are in chronological order.

Along a canal–or what looked one–between Columbus and Circleville on the first day.

Downtown Chillicothe, First Day
(As Michael keeps reminding me, our state’s first capital city.)

Overview of the mural that now welcomes TOSRV riders to Portsmouth. (Really, you have to see this in person. This photo barely does it justice! The mural is a marvel to study, for some real people are depicted–inside jokes and cultural knowledge only longtime TOSRV riders can fully grasp.)

Heidi and Michael stand together like Siamese twins in park after the first day.

Two drowned rats stand together with their TOSRV certificates at the end of the ride. The gold seal signifies a completion both days of TOSRV. (Half TOSRVs are designated in, I think, silver?)

My first TOSRV: 210 miles and the chafing to prove it!

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’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!

Tragedy for a cyclist on TOSRV

I’m going to write an entry about my experience on TOSRV, but first I wanted to relate this bit of tragic news I learned mid-ride while leaving Waverly (the first stop) on Sunday morning in the rain. A car driven by what I assumed to be people from the town slowed as I was pedaling and told me that a cyclist had been killed on Route 23. This was probably at about 10:30am as Michael and I had stayed at the Waverly stop to wait out the light thunderstorm that was rumbling through the area. The accident occurred at approximately 7:45am, so the news was a bit delayed and it was weird to me, in retrospect, that the driver of the vehicle was so frantic about me getting ahold of someone from TOSRV to let them know what had happened.

Having no way to inform anyone and figuring out that someone on the tour had contacted the correct authorities, I just continued on my way. However, I was a bit shaken by this news. This kind of incident reminds me that cycling can be dangerous. Throughout my ride on TOSRV, I could not help but notice there are three kinds of drivers: those who give cyclist ample berth, those who give cyclists way more berth than necessary, and those who don’t give cyclists any berth. There seems to be an on-going war in all communities between cyclists and those people who feel we have no right to be on the road. What has this society come to when every one is in such a damn hurry to get places that they can’t take a few seconds to move around a person on a bicycle?

Anyway, this event is still under investigation. The driver of the car who hit the cyclist (who was, I should mention, not on the proper TOSRV route) did a hit-skip, leaving the scene of the accident and, according to the article in Columbus Dispatch, returned a half hour later, claiming that she thought she hit a sign (!!). Whether it turns out the cyclist was in the wrong (it was not illegal to be on Route 23) and not “properly” dressed in bright gear (I was wearing a black rain coat, so I was not in proper bright attire myself), I will always contend that hit-skipping is the worst crime ever. No matter how scared you are for something you’ve done wrong, you should never just leave the scene of an accident like that. I know I would never do such a thing, ever. I would be too overwhelmed with guilt to just leave someone like that. Admit your guilt–whether accident or fault–and accept your punishment like an adult.

I’m seriously thinking of doing the Ride of Silence in Cleveland. Not for this guy necessarily, but to remind myself that what happened on TOSRV could happen to anyone, no matter how properly equipped you are on a bike. We all go into moments of tired concentration while trying to keep ourselves pedaling; I know I’ve made my share of mistakes while riding (forgetting to look before crossing an intersection, which I admittedly did once on TOSRV while following another rider). I know there have been times while driving where I’ve zoned out, worrying about work or a fight I had with someone or talking on my cell phone. Sometimes one bad decision you make can cost your life or the life of others. I would hope this somber message serves as a reminder to everyone that we should be more aware of the world around us when we’re on the road in any of our vehicles–whether they are motorized or not. And especially if they are not motorized because there is a lot of motorist rage out there against cyclists. (I was enlightened just outside of Columbus while crossing an intersection on green by a stopped motorist’s unsolicited rage against cyclists, which he shouted out his window with lots of explatives.)

The roads are for all types of vehicles. When driving, remember to share the road. If cyclists were forced to stay on bike paths, cycling would be a very boring occupation for those of us who enjoy challenging routes, long rides, and the ability to venture to alternate locations. I can’t tell you how exhilerating it is to see the world by bicycle (see previous blog entries). We tend to try to create our routes on the least trafficky roads possible, as we prefer to not mingle amongst busy motorist traffic, but sometimes you just can’t avoid a nasty stretch of busy road. We have a right to be there, so please respect our space.

400+ miles and feeling good!

Yesterday, as a final act of training for TOSRV, Michael and I joined Medina County Bicycle Club’s annual freebie ride called KLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ! (this name is supposed to correspond with their New Year’s Day Ride, which they have called ABCDEFGHIJ!). Unofficially coined as a TOSRV training ride, which the ride’s leader and inventor told us started as his last-minute training ride one year, this trek took us in an 85-mile loop around Erie and Lorain Counties. We drifted through little Ohio towns I’d never heard of before–Steuben, New London, Monroeville, Fitchville–and ambling along peaceful country roads with scenery that harkened reflection of my rides through Germany and Italy.

It always amazes me how I don’t even recognize my home state as I ride through it. I was city raised, though not according to some people’s estimation, for I grew up in what a lot of people called, and still call, “the sticks” despite the sprawl of Cleveland which is quickly taking over to make it a real suburb. I guess when you grow up close enough to a big city in the Midwest, you can easily forget or overlook the fact that the state you live in is more rural than urban. Riding around in new counties around my home state gives me a great appreciation for the land I was born into and, I daresay, it’s hard for me to hate the place on sunny spring days as I cycle through these little towns and observe a world so utterly foreign from my own. It takes me out of myself and gives me the chance to smell the manure, as you would imagine, which, sometimes doesn’t really smell as horrible as its reputation suggests. I’m a Hiram girl, after all; when you attend a college surrounded by farms, you get used to the annual spring smell of freshly laid manure blowing in on the wind.

I must be getting old because yesterday it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be too bad to live in some little nowhere town. My thought is that I could jump on my bike at any time, like Michael can do because he lives near Wayne County, without worrying much about traffic to just safely enjoy the intrepid beauty in the untouched world around me. I’d still have to live near enough to a city so that I can enjoy my theatre and baseball games and a nice gourmet meal once in awhile. But, suddenly, to me, there’s something romantic about retreating after work to a nice quiet place in my dream A-frame house with a dog (Schnauzer or Lab) and my cats, and low trafficked roads to bounce my Giant’s wheels upon (bounce being the operative word here as chip-and-seal unfortunately seems to be a cheap selection for road surfacing in the country). A husband might be nice, too, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

I guess, though, I haven’t changed all that much. In my twenties, my husband and I too dreamed of living in Colorado in some community in the mountains just outside of Denver (like Evergreen or Confer) or Boulder (like Nederland) because we could have the best of both worlds–the small town feel with access to the things we love about the city. Part of me just loves being surrounded by woods, the smell of fresh soil and plant life, and with the open road around me. I’m sure there’s a downside to living in a small community (gossip and nosiness, which I always detest) but there’s something comforting about having easier access to my better hobbies–cycling, astronomy, hiking.

It was such a nice day yesterday despite the constant chill in the air and headwinds from the west. The sun was shining and it took away any complaints I could have had about it being just a tad too cold for my liking. I was properly dressed and I was sweating, so it all worked itself out on the ride. I felt really good, even at 85 miles, and my positive energy is revived for TOSRV. I now feel confident that I can make it. I was on and I think I could have completed another 20 miles without too much additional pain. This morning my legs only seem to ache too much when I’m climbing upstairs, but otherwise, I’m fine. Of course, on TOSRV, I’d have to get right back on the bike this morning. Though, sick person that I am, I feel like I could ride tonight (the weather is nice and supposed to be crappy the rest of the week), but I noticed my lawn is a little shaggy so I might have to mow instead this evening…

KLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ! was really fun. The other riders were really welcoming and friendly. I had a good time chatting with the ride’s leader/inventor, even though I razzed him that he’s been doing TOSRV more years than I’ve been alive (this will be his 37th year!). I only say this because I admire people who have maintained an insane cycling habit as long as he has. I have to say, though: that guy and his group were fast! Michael and I pretty much rode the ride alone at our 14.8 average pace. I don’t know how fast these guys were going, but I think it was pace that kept them at a steady half hour ahead of us!

I’m getting very excited about TOSRV. Even if the weather is crappy, this ride just sounds epic in scale because of its long history and the excitement it raises among a lot of cyclists I’ve been talking to. For some reason, despite the crappiest of conditions, these people really enjoy doing this ride. I want to know why! I always love the thrill of starting a fairly large registered ride–there’s an excitement in the air as you ready yourself and head out across the starting line. I always liked that about the MS 150, which is one of the reasons I go every year. There’s so much ceremony in the MS 150–the mass start and people cheering you at the finish lines. Though there’s no longer a mass start at TOSRV, I am betting that kind of energy of the first morning of the big ride is there. And I’ve heard that people cheer you at the finish line. I just love the camaraderie of it all.

I remember the one year I volunteered for the MS 150. It was in Colorado and I wanted to stake out what the course would be like before I registered for it the following year. I helped at the starting line and served as a road marshall at two spots along the ride. I was so jealous of all the people riding because I wanted so badly to be among them. It was incredibly hard to just watch other people doing what I loved so much and not being able to mount a bicycle myself. It’s hard to be on the sidelines of the excitement. I’ll probably never work as a volunteer on a ride day again because, as much as my volunteering heart loves to help, I just cant be on the sidelines, no matter how many hours I put in during the days leading up to the ride. I want to be one of the riders too badly.

I have never trained as diligently as for a ride as I have for TOSRV. Usually, I just start doing regular rides of 20-30 miles and figure that I’ll be all right when the day comes to do the big 75-100 miles, with the MS 150 usually being my first big ride of the year. But my fear of doing back-to-back centuries, and it being so early in the season, pushed me to do some early training rides on days with less-than-desireable conditions (last Saturday in Lake County) just so that I could have some mileage and long rides completed. As I stated earlier, it’s paid off because I am now going into TOSRV with a confidence that the only thing that may wear me down is bad weather. And, since I’ve completed some rides in bad weather already, I’m not even sure that will deter me. (I hope not!) Well, the secret to doing a ride with someone is that they will guilt you out of bailing; that’s why Michael and I are doing it together. And he’s TOSRV veteran so he knows he can get through it.

TOSRV just sounds like one of those rides you have to experience when you’re a cyclist in Ohio. And I’m thrilled to be riding in it, even if the weather ends up sucking. The challenge of overcoming is always the sweetest part. Which is probably why I ride.

If I make it through TOSRV, I might aim my sights for Seattle-to-Portland (STP) like Sarah keeps hinting around for me to do. Wouldn’t that be way cool? Maybe next year if I haven’t found other ways to use up all my vacation time…