Or, “How Saturday’s ride was long and hard with lots of sweating and moaning”
The wind, I could deal with.
Sure, it literally stopped my bike in its tracks a couple times. Sure, it threatened to blow me off the road once or twice. I’ve ridden in that before, though. It’s not fun, but I can put my head down and grind.
The heat was the killer.
It was a woozy, head-throbbing heat. An “I can’t decide if I’m going to puke, pass out, or just keep riding” heat. A few times I had clammy fingers of the cold sweats climbing up my back from the heat.
And there were more than 50 miles of it.
I want to give a big thanks to all the organizers and volunteers who put the Superior Vistas Bike Tour together each year! They do an awesome job, and are super-friendly folks.
The people at every aid station greeted us with smiles, occasional jokes, commiseration, and most importantly, lots of home-made baked goodies! You guys rock!
Also, thanks to the business sponsors who help make this event possible! I love it, and so do the hundreds of other folks who come up to ride it each year.
I signed up for the 2014 Superior Vistas Bike Tour with the idea that this local bike ride would be a great way to ride my first-ever century. It has a beautiful, rolling course. It’s fully supported. It’s in my back yard, and I’ve ridden all those roads plenty of times before.
What could go wrong?
In the beginning…
I didn’t sleep very well the night before the ride. My brain was on fire with excitement: It’s my first century! I wonder what it’ll be like? I hope I remembered to pack everything. Should I add more Gu? Do I need different socks?
I was up and down more times that night than a six-year-old with a tiny bladder on Christmas eve.
Finally, at 04:30, I called it quits with the bed, did my pre-event routine (tea, oatmeal, run in tiny frantic circles hoping I have everything, and walking out the door to “leave” three or four times before I finally say “screw it” and go), loaded the bike and headed to Thompson’s West End Park in Washburn.
Not surprisingly, I was the first rider to the park, so I spent some quality time hanging out with a friend who was helping organize the event. I think I did a pretty good job of putting on a calm face and chatting about bikes while quietly bouncing off the walls and generally freaking out inside my head.
I officially registered (Why do it in March when I can do it day of, right?), my ride buddy, Tim, showed up, we said good luck to a few mutual friends and set off on our
epic suffer-fest ride.
The first 20 miles of the day were awesome.
They were downwind, on perfect new pavement, on cool, damp (but not generally wet) roads, with fresh legs, and a rising sun warming our backs.
We made the first checkpoint in Cornucopia in an hour and eight minutes at an average speed of 17.8 mph. That’s a tie for my fastest 20 miles ever!
And I was feeling great at that point, too: happy to be riding, ready to go get the next section of the course. The weather was perfect: cool, clear, a little breezy.
Tim and I refilled our drink bottles, grabbed a couple bites from the checkpoint table, and pushed off for the next aid station.
Payback, that windy bitch
The road from Corny back to 236 is mostly uphill. It’s a long, mostly low-grade grind that is a constant reminder of how big the world is, and how much gravity doesn’t care.
And then there was the wind.
“Light and variable,” Tim said. “That means we’ll have a headwind from every direction.”
Truer words were never spoke.
Every corner we rounded, we bulled our way into the wind. Every foot we climbed, we battled our blustery foe.
At one point, I had dragon flies, one after the other, slip up and keep pace with me for a moment, checking me out with their ten-thousand-faceted eyes, then get bored and zoom off ahead looking for something faster and more interesting.
There’s a pretty good, steep climb (for northern Wisconsin!) in the middle of Cty C. Most of us grind up it in our smallest gear; some walk it. I made it to the top after a grueling contest of wills with the wind.
Pedal-pedal-coast. Do not stop. Pedal-pedal-coast. Do not stop. Pedal-pedal-coast.
Finally, gasping, with sweat stinging my eyes, I came over the crest of the hill, ready to savor the long downhill run to the next aid station. The wind, however, had a different idea.
The strongest gust so far of the morning hit me, and stopped me in my tracks. I went from 10 mph to nothing.
The calm before the storm
After regrouping, refueling, and taking care of a hot spot on my left foot, Tim and I set off down FR 236.
This glorious 20-mile ribbon of rolling asphalt winds its way through some of the most beautiful woodland scenery in the upper Midwest. There’s deep pine forest, jack pine scrub, and the Moquah Barrens, a sandy expanse of wild-blueberry-covered hills topped with the occasional Jack Pine.
The pavement is smooth, the road curvaceous, and the wind was, with a couple exceptions, almost entirely buffered by the forest.
Tim and I had a nice conversation while keeping up a comfortable brisk pace in the growing warmth of the day. We were back to bicycling nirvana.
For a bit.
Where are we?
Twenty mile-per-hour headwinds gusting to 30. Temps climbing through the 80s. Expansion joints. Yup; this section of the ride had it all.
After saying goodbye to the forest, we entered farm country, and for the next 15 miles, we rode old roads that have seen better days. The first six miles were pretty much straight into the teeth of the gusting wind, and completely exposed to the sun.
I was not prepared.
Oh sure, I had sunscreen on, and I had been drinking pretty well all along the way, but DEAR GOD WHAT IS THIS HELL I’M RIDING THROUGH?
This part of the ride was pretty much all put-my-head-down-try-to-stay-out-of-my-lowest-gear-and-just-turn-the-pedals riding.
The wind made conversation all but impossible. The heat fried our brains a little. The blast-furnace combination sucked water from our bodies almost faster than we could replace it.
Once we got into the woods by Delta, life got a little less intense for a few miles. Also: hallelujah for the Delta Diner!
That was our turn-around point for this course, even though it was a little over half-way distance-wise. We stopped to fill our bottles (thanks, Diner folks!), and so I could say “hi” to my friend Krista. She even let give her a hug, which showed a remarkable lapse in judgement on her part. Man, did my jersey stink by that point. 🙂
After a quick turn-around, it was back to where? Ino! At least this time, we went mostly downwind.
County G rolls through farmland around Moquah, Wisconsin. The route is beautiful, the road generally quiet, and the views are occasionally spectacular.
Especially when those views are of the sky clouding up and turning grey.
Tim and I were getting a little giddy with the idea of riding through a rain shower. We were both hot and hurting by that time. We had 70-ish miles under our wheels already, many of them hard-fought.
Fortunately, G wasn’t a demanding ride. We were riding across the wind which, well not always comfortable, isn’t sapping. The road is gently rolling with really only one climb that’s worth shifting off the big ring.
Terwilliger, a little mile-long connector road at the end of G, is another story. Oh, it’s flat as a pancake and downwind. It’s pavement, however, looks like the leftovers from a 1950s atomic test. There were yawning potholes, gaping chasms, spidering cracks, and loose gravel all jumbled together. It was more like a cyclocross course than part of a 100-mile bike event.
That was just a warm-up for the main event of suckitude, though.
At the aid station at the 80-mile mark, a well-meaning guy pulled up in his car, rolled down his window, and said, “Hey guys, my car says it’s 95 out here!”
He may have said more; I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was hot and tired and sore. I was a little woozy from the heat. I was contemplating crushing the guy’s car so he couldn’t give us any more “good news.”
The last chunk of the ride before the home stretch on the 100-mile version of the Superior Vista is a long, slow grind up Cherryville Road.
The climb isn’t steep, but it doesn’t. ever. let. up. It’s just enough to keep a rider from building momentum, so it’s a low-level battle all the way up.
And there are trees all the way along it, too.
These aren’t glorious shade-giving trees. Oh no. These are tightly-packed wind-blocking trees. Remember that hell-fire wind I was complaining about earlier? I would have gladly given either testicle to have a breath of that wind on me while climbing Cherryville.
Instead, we had a two-plus mile uphill grind in 95+ heat (my bike computer registered at 98 in the middle of the climb) with no shade and no wind.
Both Tim and I were done.
And we kept riding.
We finally came around the corner and got a little relief in the forms of both a downhill coast and a tailwind.
Thank you, baby Jesus!
The last few miles of the official Superior Vista course climbs up another long, shallow grade before stiffening up to go over a ridge and back down to Washburn. The bulk of the riding is on an old road that’s worse for the wear with no shoulders and fairly high-speed country traffic.
Tim and I decided to detour around the crummy road and long climb. We opted for a smooth, flat deserted road instead. Man, what a good choice!
For those of you thinking about riding the course, look hard at taking Nolander Road over to 13 instead of Nevers Road. Yeah, you miss Tetzner’s Dairy, but you get such a better ride. Plus, after about a mile on 13, you can take Lakeshore Drive to Washburn which is a tiny, beautiful, shady access road between the highway and Lake Superior.
We rolled back into Thompson’s West End Park six hours and 38 minutes of riding time after starting. Add another hour or so for stopping, and we’re talking about a little less than 8 hours for my first century ride. That’s not bad, especially considering the conditions.
After the ride, I did the normal stuff: drove home, took a long shower, kept eating and drinking like crazy.
Several hours later, while I was sitting on the couch reading, I made a serious tactical error: I tried to rest my right leg on the coffee table.
I had the Most Amazing Leg Cramp Ever.
I know memories of pain get dulled over time and it’s hard to compare, say that time in high school when a dog tore the side of my knee open. Or say, that time in elementary school when I fell on my new ten-speed and the sharp platform pedals cut open my thigh (lots of stitches there, plus an awesome scar).
Suffice it to say that during this cramp, I could not move my leg. Not a little bit. Not in any direction. Not for all the tea in China.
I could barely breath.
Even now, four days later, the memory of that cramp still brings anus-puckering phantom pain into my leg.
Finally, I managed to gasp out a request to my concerned wife: pickle juice!
I remembered reading someone else’s blog about pickle juice being the magic cure-all for cramps. I took a couple great, choking gulps straight from the bottle.
Miracle of miracles, within a minute, I had my leg back, though somewhat worse for wear.
I don’t know if it was just coincidence that the cramp ended about the same time as the pickle juice started, or if there’s something more to it. I do know that I’m going to try to keep a couple slugs of pickle juice around for my next long ride.
Also, I’ll try to do a better job with salt and mineral replacement. 🙂
That was a long, hot, hard ride. And I would absolutely do it again.
There are a few things I learned about riding long distances in hot weather. I would change a couple things I did. Mostly, though, I’d like to try it again.
My next long ride is on July 19: The 38th annual Split Rock Tour. Who’s in? 🙂