Ride Report

Mueller-Lexington-Mueller 200K

I’ve been vaguely interested in randonneuring for a long time—after I completed my first Austin-Houston ride, I met a guy who was into it, who suggested I ought to check it out. More recently, I started lurking on the local randonneuring group’s mailing list. After my failed attempt at the TABR, I decided I needed more experience at long distances, so I finally joined RUSA. The first ride organized by the local group after that happened to be on the 100th anniversary of the first brevet organized by the sport’s governing body, Audax Club Parisien. That seemed like an auspicious beginning.

Most (all?) of the local brevets start and finish at a convenience store that’s barely a mile from my home, which is convenient for me. Yesterday’s ride had 16 people sign up, which I understand to be a good showing.

I had laid out my stuff the night before, aired up my tires, etc, so I’d have a minimum of things to do in the morning. Got up at 5:00, ate breakfast, got suited and booted, and was out the door by 5:20.

We were all at the start with time to spare. Jeff, the ride organizer, gave some preliminary instructions. It seemed as if everyone else knew each other—I was clearly the only first-timer, and there were quite a few PBP veterans. Jeff pointed out a couple of guys to me and told me they’re fast—that he knows I’m fast, but I shouldn’t feel like I need to hang with them. I told him I was planning on riding my own ride.

We were rolling on time 6:00 AM. We agreed to ride together for the first 20 or so miles, at which point we’d stop at a picturesquely decrepit old store for a group photo, and then ride at our own pace.

This and the neutralized start at TABR are the only times I’ve ridden in a group in many years; this was the first time I’ve ridden in the dark in a bunch perhaps ever. Our route out of town was mostly new to me—occasionally we were on streets that I’d ridden before, but for the most part we weren’t. The dark, the new streets, and the riding in a pack all made the first hour or so a new experience.

After the photo op in Cele, we got back onto the road in small clots of a few riders each. I was in the first group back on the road, and after just a mile or two, I wanted to get moving. Partly this was to warm up. Partly this was to make good time before the day got hot. Partly because I’m out of the habit of riding in a group and was ready to ride on my own. And partly this was because, although brevets are not races, I do know the riders pay attention to times, and as the new guy, I wanted to lay down a marker. So I shot off the front.

At this point, I was mostly on roads that I’ve ridden before. I hunkered down on my aerobars and jammed. Despite having had a cold for the past few days, I felt good.

At mile 40, one of the two guys Jeff had pointed out to me as being fast rolled past me like I was going backwards. We said “hey” to each other and he was gone. I forgot his name. Very tall, very thin, weird setup with bars set super-high using what I think is a Bike Friday stem. In any case, I didn’t see him again.

Made it to Taylor and kept going. The route after that was mostly roads that are new to me. I had my bone-conduction headset on, reading me directions and playing DJ sets that I’ve downloaded to my phone.

The country between Taylor and Lexington is pretty flat, agricultural, not a lot of trees, and a lot of the fields had been harvested recently, so were bare dirt. I was mostly just in the zone, focused on my riding.

Made it to Lexington, where the ride turns around, at about 9:30. I think there’s a restaurant in Lexington where I could have gotten solid food, but I didn’t look for one and the only one I knew of—Subway—was closed at that hour. Stopped for a big Snickers bar and a bottle of Gatorade (I’d eaten a couple of Clif bars up to that point). As I was rolling out of the parking lot, another one of the brevet riders—on a heavy-looking Soma with flared gravel bars—rolled in. We said “hey” and I kept on going.

There’s a spot just outside Lexington where the road is under construction and narrowed down to one lane; instead of flaggers, there are stoplights controlling traffic. When I rolled through this on the return leg, I saw most of the other riders were waiting to get through on the other side. And a bit further on down from them, I saw the one guy participating on a recumbent trike.

Made it back to Taylor, thought about stopping for tacos, didn’t. Kept going. Had an energy bar when I got just past town, in the shadow of a privately operated prison.

When I got back to that old store in Cele, I saw there was a couple of cyclists there hanging out. Initially I thought they might be part of our group, and was puzzled that they would have gotten past me. It turns out they weren’t, and we had a nice chat. It seems that the Cele store is only open weekends, and has good barbecue. Which was tempting, but I still had 20 miles to go and didn’t indulge. My legs had been threatening to cramp up a little before this, and stopping for a bit seemed to hit the reset switch on that, but I didn’t want to linger for too long.

Most of the remainder of the ride was on the new-to-me roads we had rolled out on, but now I could see them and place them in context. They avoided some unpleasant roads that I’ve ridden on many times just out of habit—I’ll need to add them to my repertoire. I made it back to the starting point without incident, and then back home.

Early in the ride, I thought that I might be able to hold my average moving speed at 18 mph for the ride. I have the RwGPS app report my stats every 15 minutes, and I had a few 15-minute periods where I was rolling at 19.9 mph, which is great, and was keeping my average at 18 mph for pretty much the first half, but it slipped slightly on the return, and over the last 10 miles, it slipped considerably. My rolling average wound up being 17.7 mph—I’m still quite content with that, and this was by far the fastest 200K that I have the receipts for. I didn’t eat enough (4 Clif bars, 1 Snickers bar) and maybe didn’t hydrate enough during the ride. Writing this the next day, after a big post-ride snack, a big dinner, and solid night’s sleep, I’m still a bit tired.

The weather wound up being perfect. A little on the cool side to start. The day did warm up, but wasn’t brutally hot. The wind was that rarest of things, still for the outbound leg and a slight tailwind on the return.

Ride report: John Day, OR

I had hoped to make it to Prairie City today, but the hotel there was full, so I stopped a little early.

Stopped in Prineville to visit the bike shop, in order to replace a missing bar plug. Seems like a minor problem, but their absence has caused some vicious injuries.

Today has its ups and downs, literally. There were two passes, closely spaced, flanking the town of Mitchell. The first climb was long and gradual. The descent was seven miles long and a screamer —it was nerve-racking, mostly due to the buffeting winds. At one point, the wake from a semi going the other way almost blew me off the road. I was slightly light-headed by the times I reached the bottom.

Mitchell is home to the Spoke’n Hostel, one of the most popular stops on the Trans Am. The folks there pretty much put themselves at the rider’s disposal. The feed me, we chatted, it was really nice. Glad I could be a part of that tradition. I left there feeling much more like a human. I was heartened to see that the two race leaders stopped in to sign the guest book.

The climb out of Mitchell was long, steady, and straight. It led to a descent that must have run at least 20 miles. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

These two passes seem like the dividing line between pine forests and high desert. The plant life and geology seem different on the two sides.

My ass is still a lava field, and my Achilles’ tendons are more swollen. If anything knocks me out prematurely, it’ll probably be that. My body’s ability to regulate its temperature seems to be all messed up. But today was the first day where I could enjoy the ride some.

Ride report: Corvallis, OR

My goal in the TABR is to average 210 miles per day. Today I managed 185, considerably short of this goal. But I did ride the longest distance I’ve ever ridden, under very poor conditions, in mountainous terrain (and let me just say: mountains are different than hills). So I feel ok about today’s performance.

I’m going to sleep until I’m done sleeping and then see if I can do it again.

Day 35: Palatka to St. Augustine

Started: Oct 26, 2010 7:30:26
Ride Time: 3:09:35
Stopped Time: 36:48
Distance: 46.52 miles
Average: 14.72 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 42.08 miles/h
Climb: 868 feet
Calories: 1803

I made it.

Once I reached Austin, there wasn’t much doubt in my mind that I could make it—the hard parts were all behind me. Still, there’s a difference between being sure that you can do a thing and actually doing it.

Today’s riding was short and uneventful, mostly on a country road that hugged the St. John River. Jenny Nazak had agreed to meet me in St. Augustine, and in fact she parked on one of the country roads I came in on, so we actually met about 5 miles before I reached the city. We then made our way down to the beach via our separate conveyances for the ocean-dip ritual, and then had some lunch. It was really good to have an old friend on hand for that moment.

The fact that I’m done hasn’t fully sunk in yet. What it all means isn’t entirely clear to me yet. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject soon.

One thing I do know that I want to say now is this: as much as an endeavor like this seems to be in individual effort, I received a lot of help and support in it, for which I am very grateful. My Warm Showers hosts, and the people I met on the road who spontaneously offered me a place to stay. Manako at my starting point. Carlos in Phoenix. Jenny here at my end point. And most of all Gwen, who supported me materially and emotionally the whole way, when my absence made her own life that much more difficult.

I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad I’m done with it.

Day 34: Gainesville to Palatka

Started: Oct 25, 2010 7:54:46
Ride Time: 4:53:49
Stopped Time: 58:32
Distance: 69.09 miles
Average: 14.11 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 89.46 miles/h
Climb: 1505 feet
Calories: 2879

The distance above is understated by 2 or so miles because I paused tracking and forgot to turn it back on for no good reason.

Today was an easy day, and a day for reflection. I managed to sleep later than usual this morning, which is good—many mornings, I’ve found myself awake at a ridiculously early hour and unable to get back to sleep. Today I didn’t wake until after 7:00. Had breakfast with my Warm Showers host Ann and got going. The riding through the city of Gainesville wasn’t bad, and at the edge of town, the route put me on a bike path that runs with minimal interruptions for 16 miles to the neighboring town of Hawthorne. Very pretty riding with lots of tree cover. I saw very few other cyclists on the path, and none at all after mile 10 or so.

As I’ve mentioned before, my route is broken into detailed maps that each cover 30-40 miles. My map holder can show three of these maps at once. So every 80 miles or so, I refold them to show what’s coming next. Today on that bike path, I refolded my maps for the last time. I had to let that sink in for a minute when I thought about it.

The rest of the riding was unexciting. I wound up missing a turn, which added 3-4 miles to my distance today. Made it into the town of Palatka on the early side, so after I got cleaned up, I went wandering around. The entire downtown is shut on Mondays though, so not much to see.

I’m not done yet, but tomorrow already feels sort of like a victory lap. Victory over what, I can’t say. In fact, the experience and the near-completion of it bring up feelings that I can’t quite get a handle on myself, much less describe. It’s good to have done it, and it will be good to be done with it and get back to my everyday life.

Day 33: Madison to Gainesville

Started: Oct 24, 2010 7:50:03
Ride Time: 6:39:42
Stopped Time: 2:00:46
Distance: 92.28 miles
Average: 13.85 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 140.53 miles/h
Climb: 14192 feet
Calories: 4112

I started my ride today a few miles off the ACA route, and when I looked at a map of the area realized that i could easily take a completely different route and get where I was going a little more directly. My original goal for today had been the town of High Springs, but by taking some of the bends out of the roads, I could easily make it to Gainesville, where I’d be able to find a Warm Showers host. So that’s what I did.

I started off at first light, and the morning was extremely foggy—visibility of maybe a quarter mile. I turned on my taillight. Not ideal riding conditions, but it was beautiful with the sun coming through the trees, filtered through the mist, and the temperature was just cool enough to justify my long-sleeved jersey without being cold enough to make me uncomfortable.

I rode through a lot of farm country before getting to High Springs, a cute touristy town, where I had lunch. At this point I was only about 20 miles from my host’s place, and would probably beat her home if I kept up the pace I had been going, so for the rest of the way I took it easy. I hadn’t been riding particularly hard up to that point—it’s more like the riding had mostly been very easy, so I could click off miles quickly.

I have to give Florida credit: the state may have ruined the 2000 presidential election, but almost every mile of road I have ridden so far here has been excellent. They generally have shoulders of adequate width, with smooth, clean pavement. I doubt Florida drivers are that much more fastidious than other drivers (and the amount of litter I see in the grass would corroborate this), so I must assume there are cleanup crews out there constantly. Road kill is also conspicuous by its relative absence, which is a welcome change from East Texas, where the frequency, variety, and pungency of dead animals made that smell a constant companion. This is one of the negative aspects of riding such a low-slung trike. I’m right there at eye and nose level.

Two days until I reach the Atlantic. Three days until I’m home. I am ready.

Day 32: Tallahassee to Madison

Started: Oct 23, 2010 10:43:02
Ride Time: 4:52:34
Stopped Time: 1:41:37
Distance: 69.43 miles
Average: 14.24 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 64.10 miles/h
Climb: 20438 feet
Calories: 2910

An easy and really pleasant day of riding today. My Warm Showers host Kevin had promised me one of my best days of riding, and he was good for his word.

He and his wife Susan are long-time cyclotourists and know the local roads of course. So they recommended a route that would take me to the nearby town of Monticello, where I could reconnect with the official ACA route. This would take me down canopy roads, heavily shaded by trees.

I didn’t set out until fairly late in the morning, after Susan had fed me an almost comically large bowl of oatmeal—on par with the bowl of pasta she fed me last night. Both of which I consumed gratefully, eagerly, and completely. I also got Susan, Kevin, and their son to take a spin on my trike. Kevin was a little reluctant, and wasn’t entirely sold on the experience. I really enjoyed staying with them and hearing about their own cycling experiences, and about Susan’s work on particle physics.

Once I finally did get rolling, I took it easy. I didn’t have a lot of miles to cover (by my standards) and was pretty sure my destination town of Madison was nothing I was in a hurry to arrive at (I was right). Despite that, I made good time. Arrived at the town of Monticello, which seems like a really nice place. It has something resembling the courthouse squares we have in Texas and seems pretty lively. I stopped in a bakery that apparently was the starting point for a local farms tour that was going on, so it was extremely busy. Had a sandwich and a sticky bun.

Got going on US90—that road again—toward my destination of Madison. A few miles along I came across four westbound Southern Tier riders, all college guys who have taken the semester off. They actually began their ride in Virginia, rode down to Florida, and just got on the Southern Tier route a few days ago. They were all riding pretty nice racing bikes that have been kind of jury-rigged to carry racks and panniers. I admit I was looking at their rigs with a bit of concern: those skinny tires don’t provide much shock absorption, and those low spoke-count wheels seem to be asking for trouble. And I didn’t even get a good look at their gearing, but I have to wonder how they’ll manage the five miles of 7% grade they’ll encounter out of Three Way AZ. Then again, they’ve made it this far already and they’re full of youthful vigor. I did not voice my concerns. We had a good chat and I told them a little about what they had ahead. They congratulated me on almost finishing, which in hindsight gives me kind of a funny feeling.

While we were chatting, another guy rode up on a hybrid bike. He said he’s planning on doing the Southern Tier next year and is getting in shape for it. I also think I overheard him saying he’s been riding 100 miles at a stretch and averaging 18 mph. I wanted to tell him to get a better bike, but I held my tongue.

The rest of my ride in to Madison was uneventful, as is Madison itself. Tomorrow will be a ~90 miler to High Springs.

Day 31: Bonifay to Tallahassee

Started: Oct 22, 2010 7:00:05
Ride Time: 7:15:19
Stopped Time: 2:07:49
Distance: 101.14 miles
Average: 13.94 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 35.09 miles/h
Climb: 2371 feet
Calories: 4339

Today was much like yesterday in terms of riding. Some time on US90, some on back roads to relieve the monotony. Riding conditions were very similar, though today felt a bit hillier—certainly hillier than I was expecting. I felt better on my ride today than I did yesterday, so that’s good. I have to admit that at this point, I’m mostly riding to get to the end, not to be in the moment.

Ending the day in Tallahassee has a couple of good points: one is that I found a bike shop where I could replace the rear-view mirror that mysteriously fell off my trike while I was riding yesterday. Recumbents really need them in a way that conventional bikes don’t because it’s almost impossible to do a head-check on a recumbent. The other is that I wound up with another set of Warm Showers hosts, Kevin and Susan, who are enthusiastic bike tourists, and have the first triple I’ve ever seen in person.

Tomorrow will be a short day, so I may bum around Tallahassee for a while before I get rolling. After that, two full-length days, and then a short ride to bring me in to St Augustine.

Day 30: Pensacola to Bonifay

Started: Oct 21, 2010 7:23:15
Ride Time: 8:00:49
Stopped Time: 1:51:32
Distance: 115.22 miles
Average: 14.38 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 32.45 miles/h
Climb: 2811 feet
Calories: 5496

Hello, my name is Adam, and I think I may be turning into a distance addict.

My plan when I started today was to finish in DeFuniak Springs, which would have been an 85-mile ride. A perfectly respectable distance. When I arrived, it wasn’t even 3:00 PM yet, and I felt like that was just too damned early to quit for the day. Plus the fact that for the first 70 or so miles of my ride, I just couldn’t get into a good groove. My legs felt heavy. This might be exhaustion, it might be that rotten fried-oyster po’boy from yesterday having an effect, I don’t know. Anyhow, when I got to DeFuniak, I took a break, changed maps (because it is the transition between Sections 6 and 7), and considered my options. The small,evocatively named town of Ponce De Leon was only 11 miles away—less than an hour—and Bonifay only about two hours. So I pressed on.

In fairness, DeFuniak looks like it might have been worth stopping at. The town is built around a small lake, with a ring road circumscribing it and some park land, ringed in turn by residences and some city buildings. Idyllic.

The day’s riding to that point wasn’t much to remark on. I could have stayed on US90 all the way from Pensacola; the ACA maps zigzag around on a bike trail and some country roads for a while, mostly to break the monotony, I suppose. US90 is actually quite good for riding, with a reasonably wide, smooth, and clean shoulder. But it’s a long straight line of nothing much. It also runs parallel to I-10 (my guess is that I-10 along here was laid along US90 intentionally), so the string of towns along the route still have interstate-exit traffic. I could often just see I-10 traffic through a row of pines.

At this point I have just under 400 miles to go. If everything goes according to plan (knock wood), I’ll be dipping my wheel in the Atlantic on Tuesday morning and be home the next day. I’ve been working out some of the tour-end logistics, and my old friend from high school, Forrest, will be coming up from his home in Miami to meet me at the end. Looking forward to it.

Only chased by one dog so far in Florida—in that respect it’s not so deep-south. But in another, it is: I’ve seen three instances of the stars and bars here so far, which is two more than I saw in either Alabama or Mississippi, and as many as I saw in Louisiana during the four-odd days I spent there.

Day 29: Bayou La Batre AL to Pensacola FL

Started: Oct 20, 2010 7:18:53
Ride Time: 5:12:50
Stopped Time: 2:55:29
Distance: 82.53 miles
Average: 15.83 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 75.99 miles/h
Climb: 3969 feet
Calories: 3973

A fast day. The mileage above is a little low because I paused recording for a couple miles before remembering to turn it back on.

I got rolling a few minutes later than intended, but I wasn’t worried about racing the sunset today, and the fact that the day was a little warmer when I got going didn’t hurt.

Made very quick progress as far as the Dauphin Island ferry, and then had a pretty long wait (Dauphin Island is “the birdiest small town in America”). The only vehicle ahead of me was a duallie covered in an Air Force graphics wrap. The two young airmen driving it were the support team for a memorial march by a few other airmen from Texas to Florida in memory of fallen comrades.

The ferry ride across Mobile Bay was about 30 minutes, and went past numerous oil rigs.

Once across, Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores were pretty much as I remembered. A lot of vacation homes up on stilts, painted in pastel colors, and a lot of condo towers, all lining the beach. More than a decade ago, I spent a couple of long weekends in one of those condos, owned by the parents of a friend. I’d had a tailwind as far as the ferry; now I was bucking a bit of a headwind but still making good time. But I was also feeling really hungry. I passed by a few fast-food chains that I wasn’t interested in, and came upon a clearly local seafood place.

Back in college, I took a trip to New Orleans and had a fried-oyster po’boy. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. This place had fried-oyster po’boys on the menu, and against my better judgment (deep-fried food just doesn’t make good fuel when I’m riding), I ordered it. It was awful. Complete waste. And now I’ve used up my cadmium and mercury allotment for the next decade. But getting some food in me—even bad food—re-energized me. I pushed on and made the Florida border, and then the edge of Pensacola in very good time. At one point I noticed that the ACA map seemed to be taking an unnecessary detour; i decided to try the obvious direct route. I quickly found out the reason for the detour: the direct route was a busy two-lane road with no shoulder. I turned around and got on the route like a good boy, chastened.

I had booked a hotel room for tonight through Priceline; unfortunately I didn’t research the location, and I’m in an anonymous interchange-land filled with chain businesses. Could be anywhere. The best I can say is that I’m well-positioned to continue with the route tomorrow, which will take me to DeFuniak Springs and the beginning of Section 7. Home stretch.

Day 28: Poplarville MS to Bayou La Batre AL

Started: Oct 19, 2010 7:14:43
Ride Time: 8:02:46
Stopped Time: 2:04:11
Distance: 118.79 miles
Average: 14.76 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 97.53 miles/h
Climb: 12669 feet
Calories: 5850

The distance above is overstated by 2-3 miles because of a brief GPS freakout around mile 63.

Regardless, today was my second-longest day, right on the heels of my longest day. I’m feeling surprisingly good. My idea of what constitutes a long ride has completely changed. Before this tour, I thought of 50 miles as kind of long. Lately, I’ve barely gotten warmed up by mile 50 on some days, and my average speed will be faster past mile 80 than before. I’m hardly riding at a racing pace at any point, of course, and part of the reason for the speed increase is just good pacing, but it’s still interesting. It’s interesting for me to find myself having ridden 80 or 90 miles already in a day, stopping to check my bearings, seeing that the next town is 30 miles away with two or so hours of daylight remaining, and thinking “I can make that.” Admittedly, I could overdraw on that fund of confidence—a flat that late in the day could leave me riding in the dark, which I’ve tried very hard to avoid. But I do have a new level of confidence in what I can do with my body.

Anyhow. I made an early start from the home of my Warm Showers hosts, Steve and Tanya. Steve had left for work before I was even up, and Tanya was sleeping in a little after a long day, so I almost missed saying goodbye to either of them—Tanya caught me as I was headed for the gate.

Around 13 miles in, I missed a turn and wound up off-route and a little lost. Fortunately I was right at one of the “one-stop” stores that dot the rural south, so I stopped in there. Despite the early hour, it was like a social club in there, with a few folks installed on chairs and hanging out. Before I said one word, one of these characters said “Let me guess, you’re lost.” They showed me where I was on my map—I hadn’t really lost any distance, and could get back on route easily while avoiding some hills. They also showed me a couple of alternate routes I could take, and in fact I did take one that cut off a few miles but also cut off the last opportunity I’d have to grab a bite for about 45 more miles. Since I hadn’t eaten anything yet today, and only had five fig newtons as ready snack food, that might not have been the smartest idea, but I managed fine.

Pushed on through the De Soto National Forest. More tall pines. Compared to most of the country I’ve been riding through lately, this part of the ride seemed very remote. A little farther along and I was in what seemed like prosperous farm country, with a fairly high density of new, square, brick houses, with steeply pitched roofs designed to shed snow that will never fall on them.

Then it was across the Escatawpa River and into Alabama, which greeted me with the shittiest road it could muster. It was like riding a paint shaker that someone was occasionally hitting with a sledgehammer. Fortunately I turned off that soon enough and found myself on a very nice road that was a weird mix of suburban and rural. I’m guessing the area is being transformed into a bedroom community for Mobile or something.

After that, it was a short, easy ride to Bayou La Batre, where I am now. Somehow I imagined this town would be more of a tourist destination, but apparently not.

Only chased by one dog today. Either Mississippi dogs are very well-trained, or there is a very successful invisible-fence dealer around here. Many times over the past couple days, I’ve seen a dog jump up and run a few paces toward me, only to stop or turn around and run the other way. I vividly recall a Great Dane and his Yorkie sidekick doing exactly that. When I saw the big dog take an interest in me, I thought it was all over: even though I’ve been successfully out-sprinting dogs, there’s no way I would have won a race against him. So it was lucky for me he backed off.

Day 27: near Jackson LA to Poplarville MS