Today was, without question, the hardest bike ride I have ever taken in my life. That says a lot, since I have recently completed some very challenging bike rides.
Apart from equipment failures, there are four factors that determine the relative difficulty of a bike ride—length, terrain, road surface, and weather. Today they all came together in a perfect storm.
The ride was 111 miles. The terrain was very challenging. (One hundred of the miles were quite hilly, and we climbed more than 3,500 feet.)
Here is an example of one of the approximately 30 hills we climbed.
We climbed at least 30 of these. Amazingly, we are not in the “Texas Hill Country” yet.
The road surface was almost exclusively chipseal, not easy to ride on in the best of conditions. But the thing that really made this ride difficult was the WIND. It was a combination of headwinds (20-30mph) with gusting head and cross winds (up t0 45 mph.). There were almost no breaks in the wind, and never did we have the slightest tailwind.
The morning was quite cold, but because the day was so long we huddled around the trailer to have breakfast in the dark. We left the minute it was light enough, and despite the cold and hills, I had a great ride for the first 20 miles. (One hour and 15 minutes.) The wind began to pick up right before the SAG stop, but it had warmed up, and we shed layers.
The next 20 miles were really hard. A headwind is equivalent to a grade change. Not only were we climbing, but even on the downhills you had to pedal hard to get any forward momentum. Sometimes I had to pedal hard just to keep from falling over. Peggy and I usually split up on hills, and so I rode by myself most of the day. There was a lot of time to ponder chipseal. You really couldn’t do anything but hunker down and try to keep the bike upright.
Chipseal is made by pressing stones into tar. As vehicles travel the road, the surface becomes smoother. Unfortunately, those vehicles don’t typically travel in the shoulder, so the shoulder is much rougher than the road.
I have to say that Texas roads have nice wide shoulders, and in general much less litter than Arizona and New Mexico. But there is occasional glass. One of the component stones of chipseal is mica, which glints quite a lot like glass. Mary Jo, who is from South Dakota and who is a die-hard optimist, says that the mica is “twinkling stars lighting your way.” But, of course, it might be glass. So I found myself threading my way up hills trying to avoid the mica/glass, and trying to make forward progress against the wind.
I thought the scenery was beautiful, but it was hard to even lift your head up to look.
Lots of folks gave up at the 40 mile mark. It was, frankly, not much fun. But I kept going. I am not sure why. It was really hard to just stay on the road. I decided that I’d break the ride into 20 mile increments, and make a decision about whether to stop or keep going each time.
At 60 miles we had our lunch stop.
Note the fully extended Texas flag.
I spent a half hour eating, stretching, and getting my gear organized, and by the end I was refreshed. I decided to ride at least to the next SAG stop, at 80 miles. The wind had gotten so strong my speed kept dropping until I was barely averaging 9 mph. I needed to hit 10mph to be able to complete the whole ride before dark. I never could do it.
I did my best to hydrate and occasionally stretch, but it took so much energy just to keep going. Twice I was literally knocked off of my bike. Once towards the shoulder, once towards the road.
I took this picture one of the times that I got knocked off.
At 70 miles the van passed me with lots of bikes on the roof. I gave the thumbs up sign, since I had decided to ride to 80 miles. We crossed the Pecos River at 78 miles.
The bridge was being repaired, and traffic was down to one shared lane. There was a light. I lined up behind two trucks, and when the light turned green, we went across. The trucks went a lot faster than I did, and I worried that they’d exit the bridge, trip the light, and the trucks waiting on the other side would begin to cross. I was very slow. The wind was even harder coming over the bridge. Luckily, I had a generous soul behind me. A truck pulled in behind me and never tried to pass. He kept the line of vehicles behind him, and let me get safely across before traffic started coming the other way.
After climbing a really steep hill just after the bridge, I decided that I had had enough, and started looking for the SAG, which had arranged to be at the 80 mile mark. It turned out that Ann didn’t realize that I was still riding, and so she moved up from the 80 mile mark to take care of a small group or riders that were about 4-5 miles ahead of me. I never would have caught up with them, or her, since I was riding about 7 mph at that point. At 86.81 miles, Michelle came with the van, and I gratefully accepted a ride the rest of the way.
Our hotel was the best in the area.
It had the first outdoor laundromat I’ve ever seen.
Eventually, 6 people actually finished the distance. We all cheered as they came in. They had been riding for 12 hours. Marci was crusted in salt from her own sweat. Jan cried, and immediately decided not to ride the next day. Sherry’s c0mment was “I don’t know why I did that.” The rest were pretty shell-shocked. I’m sorry that I couldn’t finish, but I do not regret sagging when I did. I “left nothing on the court.”