Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Plan for Failure

As most of you in the southeastern United States know, it's been a really cold Fall. Normally, the average high in Tennessee in November is 60 -- this past November, we started in the 70s, and then only hit 60 five times after November 7.

This past weekend was the first weekend in December, and I'm going for another R-12. If you don't know what that is, it's an award that Randonneurs USA offers to members who ride 12 consecutive months of brevets. I did an R-12 in 2007, and will win another if I can ride at least one brevet a month thru April of 2009.

The key to the R-12 is to try and get your monthly brevet in as soon as possible. Basically, if it ain't snowing really hard and/or the roads are covered in black ice, do it the first weekend of the month, because it will probably be worse weather every remaining weekend.

So, Sunday we did Alan Gosart's Natchez Trace Northern Terminus 200K Permanent. It is one of the simplest permanents around, since you basically just take the Trace down to Hohenwald and back. It's also pretty and has fairly little traffic, since that part of the Trace is way out in the country.

The "we" above is the Tennessee randonneurs with whom I typically ride: Jeff Sammons (the middle Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator), Jeff Bauer (no relation), and Peter Lee (no relation). Alan (the permanent owner mentioned above -- also no relation) was going to ride with us, but a family obligation (relation) cropped up. He still drove all the way over to Belle Meade from his home in Murfreesboro at 6:30 am to give us cards, which is more than anyone should expect from a permanent owner.

It was 21 degrees and breezy when we started. The wind was out of the north, so it was pushing us south once we got on the Trace, but I couldn't stop thinking about how we would be fighting that headwind for 65 miles on the way back. I also couldn't stop thinking about how cold I was, and how dreadful the clouds skudding across the sky looked, and how there wasn't any green left on the trees.

I was not a cheerful guy.

This is usually the time that I start thinking bad things. The "D" word starts bouncing around my head. No, not that D word -- I mean "DNF."

The problem with the D word was this: How could I bail out and still maintain any semblance of dignity?

This is not easy, particularly riding with the crowd that I was in. Jeff Sammons (no relation) has done a 200K every weekend for the past nine weeks! Remember I mentioned above what a crappy Fall it had been? Well, Jeff has nontheless come out and ridden at least 125 miles on either Saturday or Sunday on each of those weekends.

Jeff Bauer (no relation) and Peter Lee (no relation) are just behind him. Each of them has done 200Ks eight out of those nine weekends. Jeff Bauer (no relation) was still coughing from the cold that kept him from doing the Turkey Trot the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Peter (no relation) only missed a ride because he was in California.

Thus, nothing short of disembowelment would have been sufficient cause for DNFing Sunday. And I couldn't think of a way of disemboweling myself that would have 1) not hurt, 2) not ruined my Assos winter riding gear, and 3) still made it possible for me to go to the party that night with the Randowife. Because the Randowife would have made the pain of disembowelment seem trivial had a I tried to bail on a holiday party with her.

So, I'm pedaling along trying to consider non-invasive and easily repairable methods of disembowelment. The skies start to clear, and I finally start to warm up, and then I get into a fascinating conversation about Cascading Style Sheets and AJAX with Jeff Bauer (no relation), and next thing I know we're making the turn for Hohenwald.

And I'm realizing that if I disembowel myself now, I'll have to get the Randowife or the Randodaughter to drive all the way down to Hohenwald and get me, my bike, and my entrails. Neither of them is going to want to mess up her car toting my greasy bike and greasier entrails, so all disembowelment plans are discarded. Which is too bad, since I just about had the details worked out.

In Hohenwald we stop at the control and grab a quick lunch. Speaking of which, the McRibb sandwich is back. Alert the media.

We are then quickly back on the bikes and heading for the Trace, and I'm bracing for that nasty headwind. But when we start north, there is no headwind. Somehow, the Powers That Be (as opposed to the Powers That Booth ... no relation) have seen fit to quell the malignant mistral. We cruise north as easily as we had come south, and the sun remains bright, the birds are singing, and a copse of cedars near Highway 50 brings a swath of emerald to the otherwise bleak landscape. We finish in just under nine hours, with minimal pain, rolling into Starbuck's for a hot chocolate long before sunset.

It was a really nice ride, and as I sipped my exorbitantly priced reward, I was really glad that I stuck it out.

We've all had rides that we started with grave misgivings. Almost always, at the finish, you're glad that you went ahead and did the ride. Sunday, a full 40 miles from the end, I was glad that I didn't wimp out. I was happy to be riding with a great bunch of guys (even if they aren't related), on a day that turned out to be better than expected, on my favorite bicycle on a really nice road.

And my internal organs were still internal. Does it get any better than that?

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