Friday, June 15, 2007

That's SUPER, Randonnuer (but don't let it go to your head)

I kind of forgot exactly which side of Union Station the Van Galder picks up, but I found it with 4 minutes to spare. I loaded my bike into the luggage area, partly for expedience sake and partly hoping not to be charged. It sort of worked, but it’s long story involving driver neglecting to fully close the baggage compartment door until we were outside of Rockford and waiving the $10 bike fee to avoid a paper trial of the blunder, I suspect.

The fare was $25—many times the Metra to Harvard, which zipped passed us as we slowly swam along the traffic of the Interstate. I’ve noticed modern bus lines tend to avoid the downtown areas of all but the biggest cities, stopping instead at odd malls and filling stations on the fringe of town, so I didn’t get to see much of Janesville.

I had stupidly left my Wisconsin Bike Fed map (as well as the CBF map) at home (Rule #1: you can never have too many maps.) I also left the mapquest directions to the motor-lodge on the printer. Regardless, I had plenty of time and it was a loverly day, so I blindly set out on a course parallel to U.S. 14. I decided to make a 5 mile detour to visit Carvers Rock County Park. I didn’t find the “Historic Gravesite” but ended up on some scenic hilly rural roads, where some smart-ass highway workers had worked out the equation pictured right.

After 34 leisurely miles I arrived at the Super-eight. A man stormed out of the office incensed over the high-season rates. Fight the power brother, but I had no alternative but the pay the near $100 per night. I left a note for the organizers at the front desk detailing some road closures, laid about my supercooled room and was asleep by 8pm.

Saturday June 9. Up at 4:45. Showered. Sunscreen and ointments. Registration. Breakfast. Chatted. Stretched. At 6am the 16 or so of us were off.

I paired up with Ken for awhile. “I wonder what the people in these towns do” he wondered aloud as we passed through suburban Edgerton. We speculated on their livelihoods and the local economy. This in mind, I procured some locally produced snack food items at the first checkpoint, Landjagers and strawberry licorice, both rather fresh and excellent.

We caught up with Mike and Dave in New Glarus just long enough to say hello.

In Sauk City I was famished and ate two “hoagies,” rather suspicious looking oval shaped hamburgers from under the heat lamp. This was a major mistake, I felt like puking all through the hills to Baraboo. Finally, I stopped to lie in the grass for a while, in a light sleep even, until Ken caught up.

I rolled into Lodi with the wind at a dead calm and met up with Mike, Dave, Johnny (from Turin,) and Bill. I departed with them dusk was soon upon us. We tripped 186 miles, the halfway point en route to Sun Prairie, where I was quite pleased with myself to have caught up with Jim, Thomas and another rider.

I reapplied the ointment… Ok. I have been less than forward with you until this point, but we must discuss the reality of the leather chamois. It is mandatory that the padding in my shorts be greased in some fashion, to prevent chaffing, so I apply petroleum jelly to them as well as my ‘sit bones’ and other sensitive parts. Hey, if slathering my ass with Vaseline makes me less of a red blooded hetero male, then… uh, well… well it just DOSEN’T ok?

A graduation kegger bonfire beckoned, so sweet the bare shoulder sirens I nearly missed a turn. I rode ahead a bit to trip 200 miles at the 18 hour mark. The same damn bumps jarring the same damn pains on the approach to Edgerton, where the need for warm food reduced us to the MacDonnald’s drive-thru.

Bill was wired on caffeine pills, talking a mile a minute. It was hard to hold it against him, as he had apologized in advance. Mike and Dave (and Ken, somewhere behind us) had all gotten less than 2 hours of sleep the night before, per usual. Myself, I was plodding along wearily, the wrapped haystacks looking like giant pillows. I’d nod off, snap to with a swerve and ride on the adrenaline for a few minutes. We hit the motel, 250 miles in 23.5 hours, an hour-fifteen improvement over the last brevet and another personal best.

The coming of the dawn had helped a bit with the sleepiness, but I decided to abandon my plan to ride straight through, opting for 1 ½ hours of blissful sleep on the conference room couch.

Sunday June 10. The nap made all the difference. I departed with Jim, Thomas and Johnny at 8 am sharp. I didn’t expect to keep up and didn’t, but the roads were pleasant, the weather beautiful and my spirits high.

The route for the last 126 miles traversed entirely new terrain, not far from Kettle Moraine. A few folks had warned me of some hills in the first leg, the largest of which was a steep valley of Sugar River, where I hit 42.7 mph on the descent. The roar of the Cicadas was incredible here, like police sirens, a drum corps and heavy machinery at once.

I ate an omelet sandwich outside the East Troy checkpoint and hit the road fast. Somewhere in the next leg I passed Bill heading back, about 30 miles ahead of me having forgone sleep. He appeared lucid.

At the Whitewater checkpoint, I came across a rider with a broken spoke, tire rubbing the frame. The wheel was a shop loaner and the deep V made the nipples inaccessible. He was a mere 45 miles from the finish, but not planning on going to Paris. “Now I get to go drink beer” he smiled viewing the bright side.

Closer to the halfway point were Johnny, Thomas and Jim on their return. It was all business at the half way mark, the checkpoint in Jefferson. 3 miles back out I encountered Mike and Dave, who had opted for an 8am wake-up call. Some time later I swapped shouts of encouragement with Tom and Alan.

Bluff Rd. was particularly a scenic 8 mile stretch of two lane blacktop, with picturesque farms and Georgian style brick homes. It was here that I broke my longstanding St. Louis to Chicago record of 334 miles in just over 35 hours, tripping a mile over in over an hour less: 335 in <34>

There are numerous variables to consider in comparing the rides. This ride was rather hilly, while that one was almost entirely flat. This was a loop and that was one way with a wind advantage. For this I have trained, for that I just jumped on the bike. Balmy June vs. freezing November. A cat nap vs. no sleep. 30 lb bike vs. 17 lb bike. 27 gears vs. 1 fixed.

Ultimately, I rate the St. Louis ride as vastly more difficult due to simple geometry. A touring bike aims to suspend you in the most comfortable position possible to coax the miles out of your body. Sitting on track bike is the like crouch of a cat pouncing ceaselessly. The fact that I could even attempt an additional 40 miles, was proof enough. The day after St. Louis, I hardly got out of bed. May it stand as my most difficult ride forever and all time.

Back through East Troy, I headed for the hills. I had been riding conservatively all day awaiting them, but they were not as fierce as I had remembered. When I climbed out of the Sugar River Valley I was high as a kite. A warm wind came up behind me, caressing my twitchy legs and adding miles to the speedometer.

My feet were screaming, but I didn’t care; I smelled blood. For the first time in all four brevets, I kicked it into the large chainring. I hung in the drops, head down, sweat steadily streaming from the tip of my nose. 16, 18, 20 mph. OK, OK, OK, was repeatedly spray painted along the shoulder as if the road was crying uncle. I did a 7 mile straightaway in 25 minutes.

7 miles. 4.5 miles. 3.5 miles. Approaching Delavan. I see the giant ocho, there, in the distance. Motherfucking stoplight. I coast into the parking lot and practically into the lobby for my last stamp. 376 miles. Final time: 37 hours and 47 minutes.

I am a Super Randonnuer. I am qualified for P-B-P. I am going to Paris.


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