When I first started riding brevets eight years ago, someone recommended that riding at least one century every other weekend through the winter. And that doesn’t mean doing 50 miles on Saturday and another 50 on Sunday, either -- you’ve got to have at least six hours of saddle time on one day of the week, riding as hard as your body and the road conditions will allow.
I like to follow that advice for three reasons: One, it keeps my body conditioned for the longer rides of the spring, so that my legs have the strength they’ll need and my contact points have the calluses that they’ll need. Two, it gives me a chance to tweak my equipment choices, so that I carry what I need without getting weighed down by what I can’t use. And third ... um, wait a second, I’ll remember it ... Oh, yeah. Third is because I like to ride my bike.
That last one was hard to remember because -- and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has noticed this -- the weather this winter has sucked. We’ve been vexed by Polar Vortex after Polar Vortex, so that you fear every dark patch on the road is just more black ice. On the rare day that the temperatures go above freezing, there’s a howling wind that -- no matter which way you turn -- is always in your face.
Nonetheless, I’ve got an ambitious bunch of rides planned for this year, and have thus somehow managed to ride a 200K almost every other weekend. My legs are fairly toned, my butt mildly callused, and my equipment seems right ... with maybe just a few more changes.
This past Sunday, five of us rode the Natchez Trace Northern Terminus 200K. It was a good opportunity to test everything out, plus see whether the harsh winter had done any damage to the Trace.
One of the “everythings” that I was testing was a new fit to my randonneuring bike. Lynn Greer (a.k.a., the King of Fit) at Gran Fondo Bicycles (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) had run me through a complete Specialized fitting the week before, discovering that I have a “leg-length discrepancy” -- meaning that one leg is longer than the other -- and high arches. Oddly enough, both of these are things for which you can compensate. Lynn put some new insoles with arch support in my shoes, moved my cleats around, and then shifted and raised my saddle a bit. This done, he walked around me while I rode on the trainer before declaring my stroke to be smooth and straight, rather than cattywonkus like it usually is.
This is good because Lynn is not the first person to declare my stroke cattywonkus. I've been told that my right knee goes all hibbledy-gobbledy, and that my foot collapses at the bottom. Neither of those things seem to be going on post-fit, so I think that I am cured.
I also had a new light to try out, and had replaced the rack-mounted bag on the back with one that strapped under the saddle. This allowed me to again ride “hands-free,” which makes it easier to eat on the bike.
My new, lighter configuration and increased power-to-the-pedals fit felt good as we headed south down the Trace into a light headwind. Although the winter has taken a mild toll on some of the trees along the Trace, the road was still smooth and empty as usual. We covered the first 60+ miles in about four hours, and were soon eating lunch at the Subway in Hohenwald.
The wind was at our backs on the way back out to the Trace at Meriwether Lewis Park, but then it following the standard (lately) winter pattern of shifting in the worst way as we continued northeast towards home. I foolishly stopped to try to get a picture of the view of the waterfall halfway up the long climb out of the Swan Valley -- here's the picture:
Yeah. Not really worth it.
Pausing for a couple of minutes to get this crappy picture also meant that I lost the group.
They stayed away for the next 10 miles. I fought the headwind as best I could, but by the time I caught up I was more than a little worn out.
Fortunately, we took a breather at the Gordon House rest area near Hwy 50, and I was able to eat something and take off a few more clothes. The temperature had risen to above 50, but the north wind made it feel cooler. We were happy to have an almost temperate day, even if the day’s high was exactly the average high for the date.
As we continued on, the hills broke our group up some and I soon found myself riding the last 15 miles alone. My legs were tired, but that’s to be expected on a windy 200K with about 6,000 feet of climbing. I’m not sure if I was putting more power into the pedals or not, but I managed to finish before 4 pm. And, although that meant that I never really needed to use my new light, the bag change managed to contain the few clothes that I had to shed during the ride.
Since I even had a bit of fun, it qualified as a successful winter 200K.