On any ride longer than 200K, there is always this moment where I ask myself the tough question: What the heck am I doing out here?
It isn't just me. I've talked to a lot of randonneurs, and most of them agree that things start to hurt after 100 miles. If you're riding fast, it's probably your legs. If you're riding slow, it's probably your butt. If you're riding at just the perfect level for you -- a speed that you can handle without building up any toxins in your muscles, moving at a pace that lets you get out of the saddle and stretch and rest things when you need to -- then you're probably riding by yourself.
I've ridden by myself. A lot. I don't mind it, but if you're working into a 15 mph headwind, it's not the best way to go.
Saturday, I rode the first 300K on the middle Tennessee series, going from Brentwood to Sewanee and back. That's a pretty direct southern track. The wind was out of the south, at 10-15 mph.
Not a day for riding alone.
It was also one of those days with a wide temperature swing. It was freezing when we started. I had just the right clothing, and was comfortable everywhere but my hands. By the time we passed through College Grove at mile 20, however, it had warmed up enough that my fingers again felt fine.
Since we had limited daylight this early in the year, we were trying to move quickly through the controls. We stopped long enough to get drinks and something quick to eat at the first control in Bell Buckle, also pulling off the top layer of clothes. Half a dozen of us had ridden more or less together to this point, but the pace came up a bit as we headed out, and I fell off the lead group. Jeff Bauer, who was riding his fixed gear bike, stayed with me.
The wind was dead in our teeth between Normandy and the second control in Tullahoma, and then cross-wise to us as we shifted our track slightly east. We still made good time, though, and were soon climbing Roark's Cove Road.
Since Jeff didn't have any gears, I was able to get to the top first. I had stripped off most of the warm clothing from earlier in the day, but still had on knee warmers and a long-sleeve wool jersey. I could have done without either of those on the steep parts of this cruel but lovely road.
At the top, I caught most of the group that had been ahead of us in line for sandwiches at Shenanigans. I ordered a burger for me and a turkey with cheese for Jeff, who arrived soon afterwards. We quickly ate and topped off our fluids, and then started back down the mountain. We were joined by Bob Hess.
For the first 97 miles, we had comforted ourselves with the hope that we would have a 15 mph tailwind on the return. Of course, those never quite pan out. The wind was mostly on our quarter, or cross-wise to us, and sometimes even back in our faces as he rolled through the mostly flat farmland. We finally found the true tailwind on the long road ending at Tullahoma, and Bob set a blistering pace there.
We quickly cleared the control there. I sat down on the sidewalk in front of the store to eat a candy bar and drink a Diet Coke, and then we mounted back up for the next leg. The following wind here stayed true, and we made it to Wartrace before we had to turn on our taillights.
In Bell Buckle we caught up with Steve Godbey and Steve Phillips, who decided to finish up with us. We all topped off our bottles, put most of our cold-weather clothes back on, and then donned reflective gear before rolling out.
The sky still had a touch of pink as we headed down the quiet roads towards Fosterville. I had only brought one headlight -- a Busch & Muller IXON that has never given me trouble before. Saturday night, however, it started acting up, and would turn off when I hit a bump. The Fosterville-Bell Buckle Road is pretty bumpy, so this happened a lot. Fortunately, the bright lights of the four riders with me lit everything up just fine, and the IXON eventually sorted itself out. At least, for a few miles.
We moved much more slowly in the dark, and my legs were happy for the break. The temperatures quickly plummeted, though, forcing one quick stop at the College Grove store to stick chemical warmers on my chilled toes. Everyone stopped with me, and we were soon rolling again ... me with happy feet.
Just outside of College Grove, we came across a hillside that was on fire.
As we stopped to take a picture, a firetruck showed up. "How the heck am I going to get in there?" the driver asked us, but we had no answers. We rolled on as another firetruck arrived.
A couple of miles later was the last descent of the route, and my light turned off halfway down this. There was no moon, but I was able to follow my friends' lights and stay on the road. Once at the bottom again, I got things working properly again. I may have to retire that light, though.
It was 9:30 when we finally returned to our cars at the Brentwood YMCA. I was sore and shaky, feeling the tremendous caloric deficit that I had been operating on. I signed my card and loaded up my bike, feeling the cold seep in as my energy level quickly bled off. I sensed that some of the riders were going to hang around for a while talking, but knew that this would not be good for me. I thanked everyone for their help, congratulated them on a good ride, wished them a great evening, and climbed into the Wattzwagen.
I immediately called Jet's Pizza to order a large deep-dish with sausage, onion, and pineapple, for pick-up. Half an hour later, after a hot shower and two slices of pizza, sitting at the breakfast table telling RandoGirl about the ride, I felt almost human again.
What the heck had I been doing out there? Earning that pizza, I guess.