I’ve come up with a new writing project for the remainder of the year – something I’ve come close to touching on but haven’t quite hit the right tone. I’m going to put into words how good it feels, the doubt, exhilaration and the sense of accomplishment that goes with slogging it out with a group of good friends in the headwind, wanting to quit but taking your lumps at the front anyway, to make it to the tailwind and the homestretch as you struggle to keep your breathing calm… then glance at your computer to see it tick by 34-mph as you’re bridging a gap to get back to the lead group that dropped the tandem as they rocket for the City Limits sign… and make it.
It’s freakin’ awesome. Anyway…
Last night’s edition was a perfect example of exactly how gnarly it can get in the wind – and it’s been a while for us. Basically, we’re windy from March through June, then we get a break from July through much of September… but in October the wind, she blows again. Even the warm-up was a bit of a mess with the days dropping time faster than seems fair. We had a southwest wind – my favorite, if we have to have wind. One road in particular, sucks, but the back 40% of the ride is stellar (we chew up 10% with a crossing tailwind at the beginning of the ride).
We rolled out into the wind with, if the count was correct, eleven riders on ten bikes. I was up front with Dave for the first three-quarters of a mile and that was enough for both of us. We retreated to the back for a break. After the next three-quarters, we turned northward for a little help and the pace picked up in a hurry, from 21-mph to 27. With the Venge in the shop for a major problem that needs fixing (and is entirely above my paygrade), I was on the Trek, which is quite a bit more work at those speeds (though it is a shade better in a crosswind). That was followed by another mile-long slog into the wind, and Dave and I were back up front for that one. One last mile north before the pain started and, as we got to the back of the group Dave said, “Hey, why don’t we ever get one of these?” (referring to a pull with a tailwind). I was too gassed to respond. I just nodded till I caught my breath.
And right on cue, Shipman Road. Dead. Into. The. Wind. Our pace slipped from 26-mph to 20-21. Turns up front were mercifully short, but the rapid turnover meant only a 2-1/2 mile break before we were back up front again. My heart rate would jump from the 140s to the mid-170s in a matter of a minute trying to hammer through the wind. More than once I thought about throwing in the towel and heading back early. I didn’t, though. I put my head down, gritted my teeth, and gripped the drops just a little tighter, and hammered that $#!+ out. And I stayed with the group. A couple of miles south and we were back into a cross-headwind and the beginning of the hills. Those first three hills suck with no wind, but we were close now. I was only a mile from a crossing tailwind.
I was at the front up the last hill, just a molehill of a thing, and down into the final stretch before tailwind… and even downhill into that wind sucked. Knowing another hill was coming as soon as we turned, I flicked off a little early so I could recover my breathing for a minute before we headed up. And it worked.
We crested the first hill with the group intact. The pace, with the crosswind, stayed around 22-mph. In a bit of a dick move, I switched lines in the double pace-line so I could hide a little from the southerly part of the wind. The first half of the ride took a lot out of me and I was struggling hard.
19 miles in, we hit the real tailwind. Most of us went short, four chose the long route, and Chuck had us slow up the main hill till we crested and the pace went from 20-ish to 30.
Rolling into Vernon, we were lined up single-file and I had no intentions of challenging for the sign – besides, we were at almost 30-mph on flat ground… why? And here comes Chuck, right off the front and he says as he goes by, “New bike!” We busted up laughing as he pipped us for the sign by about three meters.
The next few miles heading north were fairly easy, if fast, but the homestretch was where it was at. We made the right turn and the pace stuck from 23 to 28-mph depending on whether or not we had a slight grade up or down. After an intersection we were able to cruise through, we had one last hill and the tandem was up (which was perfect so they could lead the pack at their pace) and I was second with the whole pack behind, single file. The tandem flicked off as they crested the hill and I went by, giving them 20-ish seconds to get on the back… and then I slowly ramped up the speed from 21 to 26, and I flicked off for a rest.
This is the magical part of the ride – everything we’ve worked for through the headwind, our hearts beating against our rib cage… our lungs burning half the time… sweat dripping all over the bike… and it comes down to that last two miles. I was in awesome shape after my turn up front. I flicked off the front with just enough juice left to latch on at the back, behind the tandem. The pace, at this point, was my fault. The group held together and the pace was fantastic. Diane, Mike’s wife on the back of the tandem, is a wonderful, but little woman… they’re a great draft, though, but when the pace picks up, the drops are necessary to stay in the groove. I was in the drops as we hurtled down the road for the finish line, the Lennon City Limits sign. With just under three-quarters of a mile to go, we were at 27-mph, but someone up front put the hammer down. The tandem had made a move to lead out, but Diane smacked Mike square in the ass and he dropped the pace a little bit, creating a gap. Two others behind me recognized the problem and came around me. The lead four were pulling away and I got on Clark and Dale’s wheels to catch them. The pace went from a decent 28 to crazy, and was still climbing when I glanced down and saw 34-mph (55-km/h). Folks, that kind of sustained speed on flat ground is simply awesome… it’s like all of your senses are woken up… we caught the lead group with about 50′ (maybe 15 meters) left, and literally less than a second later, at just shy of 35-mph, we shot across the line.
35-mph is 51 feet per second. It doesn’t seem like much in a car, but on 18 pounds of carbon fiber and aluminum alloy, it’s 50 feet per second of pure awesome.
Ride hard, my friends. If it doesn’t put you in the hospital, it’ll put a massive smile on your face.