Ride Report: RAGBRAI Tune-Up – Riding 100 miles by Happenstance
“And when I got to another ocean, I figured since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back and keep right on going. When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go…you know… I went.” – Forrest Gump
I had planned to do a long ride this morning, 75 miles out to Andice and back, just to see how I was feeling before heading up to Iowa on Thursday. Next week I’ll be riding 500-ish miles in the 40th annual RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) ride. That ride is a week long, with daily distances ranging from 40 miles to 80 miles, going across Iowa from the Missouri river in the west to the Mississippi river in the east. I’m riding with a group of riders who’ve been doing this ride together for several years. They’re all super-excited about it and I’m looking forward to seeing what it is all about. We’ll be riding all day, partying all evening, then camping at night for the whole week.
The distances we’ll be covering are ones that I’m comfortable riding, and since we can take as long as we want, and stop whenever we need to, the riding part won’t be too much of an endurance challenge. That will come from the “partying” and “camping” parts of the trip. I did the best I could to simulate the RAGBRAI experience by staying up really late last night and then waking up at 5 to be out the door as soon as it was light enough to see the road. If I had planned better I would also have been hungover, but as it turns out that level of simulation would have been extremely problematic as the day progressed.
It was warm and humid when I hit the road, extremely humid since we had a big rainstorm overnight (Yay!). As is my wont, I started out much faster than I should – enjoying the fact that it wasn’t 100 degrees out (yet). I made excellent time on the empty roads and was feeling really good for the first 20-30 miles, dodging the occasional puddle and heading north out of town on Parmer lane. Parmer is a divided highway with a really wide shoulder that is popular with tri-cyclists and Austin’s less hardcore cyclists. It has pretty gentle rolling hills, instead of the harder climbs on most of the routes west of town, and you can go a long, long way without having to spend a lot of effort gaining elevation. You ride out towards Cedar Park and after riding though the exurbs for a while you end up in some of the last unincorporated ranch/farm/undeveloped land in the Austin area. I don’t ride it very often, but I enjoy it when I do.
After riding for about 30 miles, the last 10 of which has nary a gas station or convenience store, you run out of nicely paved highway and get on to a chip-seal ranch road, with a decent shoulder, for the last 8 or so miles to Andice. That…town, if that’s the right word for 25 houses and a general store, sits at the intersection of two ranch roads that are popular with motorcyclists (and cyclists) who want to get out of Austin and into the country. The general store is pretty nice and does pretty good business on the weekends from both types of riders, with a shaded seating area for taking a break before hitting the road again.
This morning, however, they were closed when I got there.
Since I left shortly after 6, and rode with enthusiasm (channeling my inner Jens Voigt), I got there much earlier than I ever had before. I had never noticed the sign that showed they don’t open until 10AM on the weekends. I was very nearly out of water and food, and it was a really, really long way back the way I’d come to get to a store to get some more. I was kind of stuck, so I took some pictures of the store and the closed sign and tried to think of what to do next. Since we were pretty deep into rural Texas my phone couldn’t get a data connection to show me a map of the area so I could see what may be near enough to ride to without having to turn around and death march it back. I noticed a car sitting in the parking lot that was occupied so I walked over to ask the driver what may be close. He said 1) the store used to open at 8AM and he was as surprised as me that it was closed and 2) I’d have to ride another 7 miles down the road to Florence to “maybe” find something open. So that’s what I did.
The road to Florince from Andice was a narrow two-lane with absolutely no shoulder and a very rough surface. It is the kind of road that is only used by ranchers in big, heavy-duty pickups traveling at high speeds and old ladies driving full-size American sedans. It was a scary seven miles as I wondered whether or not I would hear the car that would inevitably be running me over. Fortunately, I made it to the end of the road without incident, but when I did I was at an intersection with nothing of use to me in sight and no signs suggesting which way I might want to go to find supplies. I rode around slowly, watching the passing traffic for hints, and picked the direction that the most cars were coming from. Lucky. There was a gas station a mile up the road and there I got what I needed so I could get to my next stop. I also got a double-shot can of Starbucks espresso (Dan, my riding buddy and budding gourmet coffee maven, if you’re reading this please understand that this choice was forced by my dire circumstances out in the boonies) for a little extra pick-me-up. A double-shot of espresso, “And Cream”.
This was a really stupid mistake, that I will not make again, because shortly after heading back down the road the cream did what it does when you’re working out hard in the heat and turned my stomach against me. I made a slow ride back to Andice and sat in the seating area next to the store, which was now open even though it wasn’t yet 10, and listened to the other cyclists who’d gathered there talk about the things that riders talk about at a place like that. I sipped my drinks and ate some of my food and waited for my stomach to settle. I also noted the fact that the breeze had begun to blow a bit and that it would be working against me on the way back.
As I was getting ready to leave Florence, and before the Starbucks hit me, I saw that I ridden 45 miles. Since the route was an out-and-back, that meant I’d be getting back home after riding 90 miles. Now, 90 miles, if you hadn’t explicitly planned to ride 90 miles, is a terrible distance to finish a ride on. I mean, another 10 miles and you’d be at 100, a Century – a monument of cycling accomplishment. Better to finish at 60, 70, or even 85 miles than 90. So I left Florence thinking I’d get back to town, see how I was feeling, and then figure out how to get another 10 miles to hit the big 100 and finish my very first Century. So, predictably, I get an upset stomach from the Starbucks. Then there’s gonna be a headwind. And, since it is July in Texas, it is starting to get pretty hot as the day transitions from warm and muggy to hot and dry.
After sitting at the Andice general store for a bit I felt better and started back down the road with something of a second wind. That second wind didn’t last very long. I’d made it out to Florence averaging close to 19mph, but heading back I was going noticeably slower and the rolling climbs were harder than I thought they should have been. So I’d find a comfortable gear, not look at my computer, and do what I could do to get back to town. I made it back to the smooth pavement on the bigger highway and was rewarded with another 3mph just from the better road conditions. The wind was against me, but it was more annoying than a significant barrier to forward progress.
If I had somebody to ride with we’d have been able to paceline it, spliting time in the wind, without any trouble. But I was by myself and I just had to deal. I rode for a few more miles, did the math, then pulled over to make the first of what would become several calls home to say I was gonna be just a little bit later than I’d planned on and, might, need to be picked up at some point. I rode on, drank as much water and Gatorade as I could, ate what little my stomach would tolerate, and tried to keep my average speed up as high as I could and make the best time that I could. I kept hoping I’d catch someone I could ride with but, other one couple who let me hide behind them for a mile or so, I had to do the whole thing all by myself.
By mile 70 the heat and my too-fast start were taking a toll. I was managing to keep up pretty well with my eating and drinking, but I was slowing and thinking more and more that going for 100 miles may not be a great idea. At least nothing hurt, much, and I was drinking enough that cramps stayed at bay. It was getting hot – my bike computer, which is about as accurate as the one you see at a bank, was showing 100 degrees. If I made it to 100 miles I was going to declare the ride a DOUBLE century!
At mile 73 I was almost back into civilization and stopped at a used car lot that, mercy of mercies, keeps four large igloo coolers filled with ice water just outside their gate for cyclists. Austin really is awesome. I dumped a few bottles full over my head and then headed up a short climb to a nearby gas station. There I got a thowback Pepsi (real sugar!), Gatorade, and some pretzels to get some salt back in me. I sat in the shade and hoped this would be enough to get me back home and another 25 miles (almost, as it turns out, but not quite). Another phone call home, “Honey, I’m going slower than I thought and I think I’m gonna make it, but it is going to be a little while longer…” and I was off on the next leg. And I was now determined to make to 100 miles.
When I got to the end of Parmer I had a decision to make. The way I’d come had hills on it that I didn’t want to mess with, and I had a vague recollection of a route that someone had drawn up that would take me another way that was both easier and a little longer. So instead of riding straight home and then figuring out how to add another 10 miles, I took a detour and hoped that it would work out. As luck would have it the path I choose pretty quickly deposited me on roads I was familiar with (Jollyville to the Arboreatum) and I was able to make pretty good time by riding hard until I was close to spent, spinning an easy gear for a rolling recovery, and then doing that again. I got to enjoy a long downhill on Steck and then was at Shoal Creek with 91 miles showing on the computer. My plan was to ride the flattest route I could think of towards downtown, into the wind, until I got to 96 miles, and then turn around and head back to the house to get my 100. If I needed to I would ride around the block a few times until the magic number came up.
Slowly the miles ticked over, each little rise in the road requiring a girding of the loins and a quick “shut up legs!” At mile 96 I was pretty much spent and wondering if I wasn’t really sweating because I was getting close to heat exhaustion or because it was just dry and windy. I saw a Burger King and decided to get another round of water and rest for just a minute before getting the last four miles done. I called home, again, “I promise I’m almost there, just four more miles, and I’m going to make it. Oh, and I’ve also ended up riding 100 miles. It’s a funny story. You’ll laugh.”
I started sweating with a vengeance in the Burger King, but the water and rest were just what I needed. I was going to be headed back home with the wind at my back and as I hopped on the bike a passing cloud started to sprinkle rain. It wasn’t much, but it felt pretty nice, and I was glad for it even though the building clouds did deprive me of the picture I was hoping to get of my computer showing 100 miles and 100 degrees. 96 just isn’t the same.
As I rode home, doing the math in my head to figure out how close I was going to get to 100 by the time I got to my driveway, I felt happy and relieved that I was going to actually pull this unplanned Century off. I watched the computer and threw my hands up and gave a shout as it rolled over to 100.0. People out in their yards must of thought I was a little nuts because it wasn’t like I was going all that fast. I got to 100 miles in just shy of 6 hours – literally, it was 5:59:40. By the time I got home I was at 101.4 miles and 6:03:49 for riding time. I was away from home for around 7.5 hours, all told.
A little lie down on the tiles of the kitchen floor when I got in the door (the dogs know what their doing when it comes to saying cool), quick shower then a soak in a cold tub and, as it turns out, I feel pretty good. But not good enough to try it again tomorrow.
101.4 miles in 6:06:49 at 16.7mph
100 miles in 5:59:40 at 16.7mph
No problems with the bike
No problems with the body that rest and Advil won’t fix
Hands a little beat up and my fingertips are a little numb (which has made typing this something of a challenge)
You write so well that I rode with you through the 100 miles. Very, very cool. Keep at the writing.
Good morning from Washington Mr. Burns. Here’s a few thoughts I had as I was reading this:1) stay away from coffee. There’s several resources on the internet that share conclusive and inconclusive evidence of what coffee does to the digestive system. Another way to put it is our engineers all get coffee first thing in the morning, and an hour later every toilet stall in the building is occupied.2) Consider riding with either a cooling or hydration pack. I would opt for the hydration pack and/or a cooling vest on shorter rides (it will be less effective on multi-hour rides). If the heat you’re riding in is anything like the heat in Perth (113F, dry) then passive cooling works very well – wicking shirts, spraying yourself with water, etc.3) When estimating time, I use 80% of my cruising speed, 70% on hot days and that’s when I tell my gf I’ll be home. If you ride quick, you get home sooner and your wife will be happy. If you ride slow, you get home when you say you were getting home, and your wife will be happy. Anything outside of that is more than likely a cause for concern. It’s also good for figuring out if you need lights/food/water/etc.4) I don’t know what kind of phone you have, but I have my phone set up to email every 5 minutes. So even if I don’t have cell service, I set an email up with my location, time of day, and when I expect to be home. When we hit the next data coverage cell for my phone, it sends the email. That way even if I can’t get a message out to my gf right that moment, it will send it at the next opportunity it can. (Thanks to Kent Peterson for suggesting this idea!)5) I also have a GPS tracker, specifically a Garmin GTU10. It works ok, but more importantly, for dear dear gf, she knows where I am, and if I’m in trouble. You can also set it up with location alerts, so it will text dear wife that you’re on your way home. I have mine set up to text my gf 30 min before I get home, so dinner is always on the table when I get home. My life is hard.6) I know this is more of a hindsight thing, but I usually take the time to call ahead to various places along the route the day before I ride. In backcountry Oregon, this saved my bacon on my motorcycle, because 3 of the gas stations we were planning to hit had closed but were marked online as open. I was lucky I wasn’t on a crotch rocket because it ended up being 200 mi to the closest gas station (along the route we were using). Rule 3: Never believe what you’re told, double check.Best of luck with the coming RAGBRAI ride. I’m looking forward to reading that one; it’s on my short list of rides to do along with Cycle Oregon. I’ve included a link at the bottom of this post that has my "generic long distance riding suggestions for Cycle Oregon" from a buddy of mine. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to you too.Regards, Kris RhodesSeattle, WAhttp://rhodeskc.tumblr.com/post/1064395952/how-to-survive-cycle-oregon-and-other-group-multi-day