Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but it’ll do.
Day 2 of the Young’s Bike Tour dawned early, and I honestly had a little trouble getting my wits about me to go to breakfast. I was drained enough from the previous day’s effort that, despite having a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I was having a hard time making simple decisions, for the first few minutes anyway.
After finally succeeding in dressing myself, I strolled off to breakfast, a little bit early, and with substantial complaint from my legs and hips. When I got to the dining hall, the doors were not yet open, and I wasn’t at all interested in standing in line any longer than I had to, so I parked myself in a chair nearby and waited for the doors to open. Meanwhile, the line kept growing, so that by the time the doors opened, I still wasn’t interested in standing that long.
So I ate breakfast, such as it was, a little later than I should have, again owing to poor decision making skills from my depleted brain. And I didn’t get any smarter once I got back to the room and started trying to get ready. It must’ve taken me a half hour to get dressed, get packed, load everything and get downstairs. By the time I finally did, it was well after the 8am start, and even the volunteers were packing up to leave.
I got a quick shot of air in my tires from the K&G support van and hit the road, figuring my more aggressive pace would allow me to catch and pass a fair amount of riders, despite the late start. But even the stragglers were ahead of me by some distance, and it was 5 miles before I passed the first one. Despite the early hour, the sun already seemed high and strong, burning through an early fog born of the previous day’s rain. I was drenched in sweat before I even reached the first rest stop, which I skipped, as it was only 6 miles from the start, and I wanted to make up some time.
I got some weird looks when I whipped out my magic box to take this…
I’m not exactly sure how much good it did me to skip that stop, because I think everybody else did, too. It also meant that the first stint of the day was almost 24 miles, a helluva warm-up for my aching legs and already angry hindquarters. It felt strange to roll into Belle Center so early, as it had been the lunch stop the day before. I went through the now automatic routine of refilling my bottles and taking in a little nutrition, and set out on the road again, still aiming to make up for my lackluster start and catch some of the riders I had seen the day before.
I was satisfied with my pace thus far in the morning, tired legs and all. I was managing to average 16 mph or so, but my pace was nowhere near as consistent as the day before. I tried to use momentum as much as I could, but already I knew my legs simply didn’t have the power to charge the hills the way I was able to on day 1.
That point was underlined when I properly discovered Jill’s Hill, by riding up the series of climbs on the north side of it. I was passing other riders regularly now, and especially going uphill, but I was suffering as badly as they were. The thing about cycling in almost any discipline is that you work harder to go slow, so the best thing is to try to keep your momentum up whenever possible. But you never stop putting the same amount of effort through your legs, either. To quote the great Greg LeMond, “it never gets easier, you just go faster.”
When I reached the top, there was no mistaking it. This was clearly Jill’s Hill, and I had clearly not even noticed it when I was pushing through the rain the day before. I stopped at the top to take a picture, then charged down, hitting 40 mph before the bottom. It was a fairly decent little hill, but nothing like the reputation it seems to have garnered among the ride’s veterans. Certainly must be one of those stories that gets better with each telling.
The third stop (my second) at Bellefontaine was a welcome one. I was encouraged by the fact that we were nearly halfway done already, but the negotiations with my legs and butt were becoming a losing battle. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could keep going, only that I was having a harder and harder time staying comfortable, and focused, and keeping up any sort of pace.
Jill’s hill, from the top.
The next stretch seemed longer still, as I found myself mostly alone again, still not finding any of the groups or pace lines I had passed the day before. There was every chance that they had left substantially earlier than I did, as some riders chose to leave directly from breakfast, while I went back to the dorms. Still, it was somewhat disheartening not to catch them.
The upside was that the elevation gently descends from Bellefontaine to Urbana, losing 1000 feet through gently rolling hills and beautifully wooded farmland. I got as comfortable as I could on the bike and just focused on the good as much as I could, trying to take my mind away from the things that were bothering me. It’s an old trick, and only works for so long at a time, but it’s an effective way to speed up time during long rides and runs, and I use it often.
I looked at the weeds along the side of the road with their little flowers, at the grey-blue sky that seemed itself to be hungover from the hard partying of yesterday’s storm. I looked at the gorgeous old farm houses and newer yuppie houses and tried to guess what they’d cost. And mostly, I looked at the road. An amalgamation of rock and tar and asphalt, all full of lines and cracks and patterns. On a bicycle, the road is not the long, grey monolith you perceive from a car, but a patchwork, a mosaic of the work of hundreds of laborers and travelers. It tells useless snippets of a thousand stories, even as you write your own upon it.
I thought about what an amazing thing it was to be out there, on a warm, sunny Sunday morning, cruising silently along on my meticulously engineered machine of aluminum and carbon and rubber. I thought about how blessed I was to even be there, given what the vast majority of people in the world would be waking up to the same morning, in abject poverty, or in war, or in famine.
And I thought about the point of the ride, the charities I was sweating to benefit. Of the disadvantaged and disabled children helped by URS and South Community. Of the kids living with juvenile diabetes, who are helped and given hope by the efforts of the JDRF. I remembered my Grandmother, whose life was taken by Alzheimer’s long before her body expired, and of the work the Alzheimer’s Association does to help ease the pain of victims of the disease and their families.
It is true that relative pain does not ease pain. The old “starving people in China” routine never made me want to finish my dinner as a kid. As far as I was concerned, the kids in China could have it! But for awhile, thinking about what I was doing instead of how I was feeling helped me keep going, and hardened my motivation.
The next rest stop marked where the route home differed from the route to Ada, as we would swing east to Urbana, have lunch at the station there, and then follow the bike path along the Simon Kenton and Little Miami Scenic Trails through Springfield, and back to Young’s Dairy. This deviation on the return trip also meant that I could no longer count down the miles to the next stop, another strategy I use to help my mental endurance.
I had asked a few people before leaving how far it was to the lunch stop in Urbana, but had received only a few vague and varying answers. As far as I could tell, it was about 4-6 miles, so I ignored my rumbling stomach and pressed on, looking forward to a longer break and a real meal, instead of gels and fruit chews. But when I rolled through 4 miles and saw no sign of the stop, I started to get nervous. At 6 miles, we finally got into town, but had to ride a couple more miles and make several more turns, each more disheartening than the last because it did not reveal the stop, before finally pulling into Urbana Station.
Sweat and the road, and nothing else.
The converted old railroad station was chock full of riders, and this was the first time we mixed in with the one day riders, who had trekked up from Young’s for lunch, and would return after. I found a place among the throng to park my bike, piled up a plate and sat down to eat, lacking the urgency of the previous day’s lunch. The end seemed easily within reach now, a mere 20 or so miles up an easy bike path, mostly flat and smooth. I ate and joked with a couple of the one-day riders, their eyes getting big when I told them how many miles I’d covered so far.
Finally I felt like I had waited too long, so I stuffed the last couple bites of chicken wrap in my mouth and set out again, still chewing, to cover the final two legs home. I was told there would be a final rest stop along the path somewhere in Springfield, and then I’d be done. I spun up my legs as aggressively as I dared, and soon was humming along fairly well, doing my best to maintain 18-20 mph, trying to raise my overall average speed back to something respectable before the end.
For awhile I was successful in that endeavor, pushing harder than I’d normally need to maintain the pace, but at least my legs were still taking requests. I passed riders and runners and walkers with increasing frequency as I approached Springfield, including one pace line that contained one of the main organizers of the event. They were going along fairly well, and I considered easing off a touch to stay with them, but only managed to do so for a half mile before getting bored and surging ahead again.
The triumphant return!
We hit the last rest stop and I almost skipped it, with the end so near, but decided it was prudent to shake out my legs and empty my bladder one last time before the final sprint to the finish. It seemed so close now that I was practically there, and finishing the tour felt like a foregone conclusion. In stopping, though, I ran across my friend Earl, who had just been pulled out of the ride, suffering from cramps and dehydration, exacerbated by a lack of sleep. I commiserated with him for a moment, but the sight of another rider, particularly one I know to be strong and fit, sidelined as he was, didn’t have the sobering effect that perhaps it should have. I was almost there, now. Everything was going fine, everything would go fine. It felt automatic, like all I had to do was mount up one more time, blink, and it’d be over.
But it wasn’t over, not yet, which is a lesson I’d do well to remember next time. When you feel like you’re almost done, it is not the time to relax, lose focus, and get sloppy, because there is a lot of work left to do, and it may be harder than you think.
The bike path wound through north Springfield, dumping us out onto surface streets near downtown. I got stuck waiting on a traffic light for what seemed like forever, allowing the pace line I passed earlier to catch back up to me. I initially took this as a sign, and made no effort to drop them when we got moving again, but it just sort of happened anyway.
Downtown gave way to the south side of town, and I pushed the pace up a little again, as this was not the nicer side, and I, spandex-clad on an expensive new bicycle, was starting to get looks from the locals that made me less than comfortable. At one point, just as I was overtaking an older couple on a tandem, a kid walked out in the middle of the street and started lunging at the riders, trying to startle them into a mistake, for who knows what further purpose. My anger flashed when I saw him do it to the older couple, and I silently wished I was wearing my mountain bike gloves, the ones with the carbon fiber knuckles.
Probably better that I wasn’t, anyway. Just as we turned west to zigzag back to where the bike path proper started again, I hit a bump and krrt! My seat went abruptly nose-high. The stock seatpost on my bike uses a single bolt to both fasten the clamps to the saddle rails, and control the pitch of the saddle itself. Whether that bolt had gradually worked itself loose over the past couple hundred miles, or whether it’s just a crap design was irrelevant, as I now I had a barely rideable bike, in a part of town that didn’t encourage me to stop and make a trailside repair. Fortunately, I only had to struggle on, half sitting and half standing, for another half mile before turning back onto a section of bike path that was relatively more safe. I stopped and re-leveled my saddle, tightening the bolt as much as I dared without snapping the head off, and hopped on again, gingerly, lest I bust the seat loose again.
My delay had allowed the pace line I had now twice left to pass me once again, and I was starting to wonder if they were laughing at me. I couldn’t have blamed them, if they were, but they all seemed as friendly as the last time we had mingled. I got in the middle of them and stayed put, figuring that it was about time for me to get the message and just stroll along with them to the finish. After one more short stretch on the street, we were back on the bike path, at last approaching territory I recognized, and we could nearly smell the finish. And the smell was intoxicating, as the whole paceline seemed to simultaneously become excited and quiet, and the pace picked up considerably. I weaved my way to the front of the line, just behind the organizer guy, a big, tall, strong rider whose pedaling seemed entirely effortless. We steamed on in silence, I using the first real draft I’d had on either day to rest my legs. Finally I couldn’t take it any more, and my exuberance burst through, and I tried to make a break! I charged ahead, 20, 21, 22 mph, spinning for all I was worth, knowing that there was no reason to hold anything in reserve, and wanting so badly to finish this ride strong.
As it turns out, exuberance has a short fuse, and a short time later I was spent, heart rate dropping along with my pace, and my legs letting me know that 15 mph would be just fine, thanks. I was swallowed up by the pace line in short order, and dutifully tucked back in line, happy to just survive to the finish. But then the guy I was behind started throttling up, and in his sizable draft, I was able to do the same. Soon we were back up to 19 and doing it easy, and the rest of the riders were dropping off the back. I didn’t want to say anything. I was perfectly happy to let him tow me the rest of the way in, at this pace. But I figured, and rightly, that the group we were leaving were his friends, so I pulled beside him and told him we were dropping them. He acted genuinely surprised, and thanked me, saying one of them was his wife, so he’d better slow down.
The obligatory victory pose.
I didn’t, though. With my momentum up again, I was holding the pace well enough, and I surged ahead of the recurring pace line for the last time, jogging left and then right, onto U.S. 68, and back into the lot at Young’s. The finish was, true to form, an informal affair, as riders from each of the several day- and distance options were finishing sporadically, in various states of exhaustion and joy. I was greeted with applause from my wife, my older sister and her husband, which was more welcome and appreciated than I could have possibly conveyed at the time.
This year has been full of things that I am tempted to call “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” but I’ve done so many of them now that they’re hard to classify. Riding so far in two days was the hardest thing of its kind that I’ve ever done, but it was a much different kind of hard than the Death March, or Calvin’s Challenge, or my Half Marathon PR in June. I have yet to find my limits, and that’s part of what keeps me going, keeps me trying, and keeps me training. And thanks to excellent events like the Young’s Ice Cream Charity Bike Tour, I have a way to use all of that to help other people, and that makes it all even more worth it.