A long time ago, I began the tradition of riding my age on my birthday. A couple of years later, it became riding twice my age on my birthday. Now, it is riding a 200K on my birthday ... which should be good until I turn 63, at which point I plan to change over to Olympic-style front-porch rocking.
(Just kidding. I'll probably start doing 300Ks on my birthday then. Sometimes I really hate myself.)
Anyway, I turned 54 the day after the 200K, and I wanted to use this ride to test my fitness. Having done at least one day of 100 miles or more most weekends this winter, I knew that the miles were in my legs, but not whether they had any speed or power. To find out, I wanted to ride this 200K as hard as I could.
I had driven to Memphis the evening before with Jeff Sammons, the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) who had organized this ride. We got to the start location early enough to check everybody in, and update folks regarding a couple of minor changes to the route. The sun was up when we rolled out at 7 am, although most of us ran our lights for the next hour so.
It was near freezing, with a forecast high in the mid-50s. I had layered up fairly well, so that only my fingers felt frosty as I rolled along. To stay warmer, I breathed on my hands and stuck them in my armpits (thanks heavens for being able to ride nicely paved and level roads hands-free), but mostly just kept the pace up to keep my inner furnace burning hot enough.
Nine riders had started, but I soon found myself off the front with a faster group of six. We were averaging over 17 mph, and by the time we got to the first control I was thinking that maybe a sub-eight-hour ride was possible.
I quickly topped off my bottle and scarfed a candy bar, then went back outside ready to roll out. The others in the group were moving less briskly, however, and as I began to cool down I decided to roll out and soft-pedal until they could catch up.
But they never really caught up.
Part of that was because the route soon entered a park, where I saw this sign:
You probably can't read it, but it says "Steep Grade." Really? Steep Grade? This is Memphis, I said. There are no hills here.
A couple of minutes later, I was cranking my way up a 12% grade in the middle ring, wishing that I had shifted further down. It wasn't a long hill, but it was painful.
Fortunately, it was also very pretty. After a few miles of harsh ups and downs and regular rollers, there was a long downhill that took me to the Mississippi River.
Off in the distance, there were barges slowly making their way to distant ports. People were out jogging, fishing, and watching the birds. It was still a chilly overcast day, but everyone was doing their best to enjoy it.
The road led to an information control, which asked you to describe the barrel at the top of the boat ramp. As I was doing this, some of the morning mist lifted, so I got to ride back up the road with blue skies.
I kept thinking that the group of five would be along soon as I retraced my route up the river road, but instead I saw Jeff Sammons. Apparently, my group had missed a turn and was getting some bonus miles in. Sighing, I plugged my one-ear headphone into my iPod and cranked up some tunes, resigned to the fact that I was stuck working my way into the stiffening headwind for at least a few more hours.
There were a few more climbs heading away from the river, but then I was back on quiet, gently rolling roads. Looking regularly at my watch, I rode as hard as I could against the wind to maintain at least a 16-mph average, but soon realized that finishing 210 kilometers in less than eight hours over this terrain in this weather was not going to happen.
Much of the route, there was road hickeys for club rides. There were also these signs:
The MRT is for "Mississippi River Trail," and it seems to hobble together the most scenic and quiet roads in the region. Where I took this picture, the route was less than a mile from the river, but turned before you could really get a good look. As usual, moving away from the river meant a steep hill.
From the next bluff, you could get a better glimpse of the river. I stopped to take a picture of this historical marker, and the fellow who lived next door hollered a friendly "hey," wishing me a good ride. Generally, everyone in the area was nice, and cars passed me with plenty of room.
It was almost noon when I got to the Gilt Edge Cafe control at mile 71. With 60 miles to go, sub-eight was out of the question, and sub-nine would be tough. I was hungry, cold, and tired, so I sat down and had a big lunch.
Four of the five guys from earlier this morning came in just as I was paying for my lunch. Again, I considered hanging around for them to eat, but my teeth were already chattering from an internal cold that I sensed would only go away when I was riding. With a sad wave, I headed off northeast again, into the wind.
Finally, about 80 miles in, the route turned a little south and I enjoyed a crosswind. At mile 95, the revised route made a decided southerly turn, and I found myself rolling along at 20 and barely working as I zipped down to the Mason control. The tailwind continued on down to Arlington, a cute suburb of Memphis whose artistic vibe reminded me of Leiper's Fork near Nashville.
Wending my way westward, I crossed over I-40 and back, rolling past stately gentleman farms (which is, apparently, where they breed and raise gentlemen), and passing through planned golf-course communities in the suburbs of Memphis. I got back to the final control around 4:30 pm -- not exactly a blisteringly fast ride, but one that left meel feeling properly tested.
After changing out of my bike clothes, I grabbed a hot calzone at the pizza place near the start. As I tried to replace some burned calories and stop shivering, I considered what I had learned today:
- Multiple thin layers rule for cold-weather riding. By peeling things off as the day warmed up (although I don't think it ever got over 50), I was able to keep my temperature fairly well regulated.
- You've got to ride your ride. It would have been nice to fall back and ride with the pack, but they ended up finishing almost an hour and a half after me. Part of that was due to some wrong turns, and maybe they wouldn't have made those wrong turns had I been with them. But maybe I would have made those turns, too, and it would just have been frustrating for all of us. While I almost always prefer to ride with friends of similar riding abilities, ultimately you have to go at the pace at which you are comfortable.
- Although I'm another year older, the parts still seem to be holding up. With any luck, I am good for another 12 months or so.