Archive for May, 2010

Tour du Rouge Wrap-Up

OK, so it’s been nearly three weeks since the official end of the Tour du Rouge  and I still haven’t written my wrap-up.  I suppose a part of that is because I’ve been sick for over a week now and have no energy to sit at my computer, and a part of it is that I only got around to wrapping up the Day 6 recap five days ago (although a part of that was the illness too).  Anyway, as a side effect of waiting so long to pull all this together, I’ve forgotten much of what I wanted to say here.  More specifically, I’ve forgotten all of the fun, witty, interesting parts; or at least that’s how it feels to me.  Nonetheless the show must go on, and so I now humbly present to you, my Top 13 things to know about the Tour du Rouge.

#13: For a good time, wear purple and gold
A few of the folks I spent time riding with this year (Mike, Dave, and Tracy, to be exact) belong to the Northwest Cycling Club, and would occasionally wear their club jerseys, which have a purple and gold color scheme.  Well, it was somewhere around Morgan City when we noticed that on the days that one of them wore their club jersey, the drivers that we tended to run across seemed much more friendly and accommodating on the road.  Eventually, it dawned on us that it was likely because the purple and gold on their jerseys is quite similar to the LSU school colors, and we were deep in the heart of Tiger country.

Mike in said purple & gold (picture courtesy of Ross Oakley)

Mike in said purple & gold next to some handsome man (picture courtesy of Ross Oakley)

So if you’re looking to ride in the 2011 Tour, you may want to pick up a couple of these, while keeping any of these you may have tucked safely away at home.

#12: Vonnegut was right
Actually, it was Mary Schmich, who was right, but that name doesn’t ring any bells for most people, so I went with the false lead.

But for those not in the know, Mary Schmich, is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who back in June of 1997 wrote a column framed as a commencement speech she might give, were she invited to give on.  The speech opened with the following bit of rock solid advice: “Wear sunscreen.”

Shortly thereafter, this column/commencement speech was attributed, somewhat arbitrarily by the Internet, to Kurt Vonnegut who, it was claimed, gave this commencement speech to a graduating class at MIT.  And while Kurt Vonnegut rocks like few other authors in history have rocked, it’s a bit of a shame that most people these days still think he wrote it, as the “speech” really is a good bit of advice for the young (and the not so young), and Ms. Schmich deserves the recognition for writing it.

Feel the burn!

Feel the burn!

Back on point, being the dumbass that I am, I forgot to take Mary’s advice on the first day of the ride and got roasted medium well out there on the roads of Texas.  I did bring sunscreen, I simply forgot to apply it that first morning, and it never crossed my mind until about seventy-some miles into the day, and by that point it was far too late.  Fortunately, I rarely get any pain from sunburn, but I did have to deal with peeling skin for days afterward, in addition to adding another bit of damage to the long-term pile.  Sorry, Mary.

Finally, it should be noted that, in addition to the sunscreen bit, there’s more advice in that column that applies quite well to the Tour.  Other sage bits to listen to are the following:

  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
  • Stretch.

Perhaps we should invite Ms. Schmich to ride with us next year.

#11: Everything tastes great when you’re half dead
One of the upsides to riding a torturous 35 mile stretch into ugly winds, over ugly pavement, while being an ugly guy, is that when you finally arrive at the lunch stop, you are going to wolf down whatever they hand you and you will do it gladly.  Now, I don’t want to make this sound like the lunches we had were terrible — they weren’t steaming rats for us or anything.  In fact, a couple of the lunches were outstanding (the croissant sandwiches and lemon cookies in Franklin on day four, and the jambalaya on day six in New Orleans), while the rest were pretty much standard sandwichy fare supplied by the folks at Subway, Quizno’s and Jason’s Deli.

However, on day two, we had what a lot of people might consider to be a sort of down lunch day.  It was just volunteers making us sandwiches from regular ol’ lunchmeat, bread, and cheese, with a side of chips and pickles; it was a rather bare-bones operation.  However, I’m here to tell you that, for me, it was the most delicious sandwich we had that entire tour.  After that morning’s stretch along the Louisiana coast, I’m not sure I would have appreciated lobster thermidor more than I did that simple sandwich, made fresh for me by a volunteer.  Just thinking about it now makes me want to pick up some lunchmeat on the way home.

#10: Plans are for suckers (suckers who want to feel good)
As Robert Burns once told us, The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley.  It would seem those schemes include my nutrition plans for keeping my energy up for the ride.  In order to do this I made up a number of packs of protein/carb/electrolyte mix that I had planned to use in one of my bottles to drink from to keep a steady supply of mixed calories in my system and to keep me from getting all of my energy from the sugar in Gatorade and the bulky foods at the rest stops.  It’s a fine plan, and it works quite well… so long as you remember to a) stuff the protein mix in your pack each morning, and b) actually mix and sip on the protein during the ride.

Every leg that I did this for (and every subsequent leg as well), I felt good, fresh, and strong.  On the legs where I let my nutrition plan slack, well, I started losing energy something fierce.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have the ability to make up mini-paninis each night, like my friend, Jen, told me to (they’re so tasty that remembering to eat them would not have been the problem), so I went with the easier protein bottle solution and I still managed to screw that up.  I need to be much more on top of that next year.

I just wonder how the mouse managed to screw up his plans.

#9:  It’s the little things that make you crazy.
Ask anyone who rode with me for any length of time this year what’s the one thing they remember the most, and they’ll likely respond with something along the lines of “that goddamn pinging noise!”

I still have no idea when or where it happened, but some time on the first day of the Tour, my front rim was dented inwards, towards the center, so that it became (short of grinding a few millimeters off of a couple of the spokes) impossible to keep uniform tension on all of the spokes.  Bottom line is that I either had to ride with an untrue rim, or ride with a pair of spokes that would flex past each other every revolution of the wheel and make a slowly maddening double-ping noise.  Just imagine hearing pa-ping, pa-ping, pa-ping … ad infinitum for over 30 hours of riding.  It was like water torture for your ears.

Everyone will be pleased to know that I’ve got a new wheel being built up as I type this, so I should be a lot less annoying to ride with next year.  Well, my bike should be quieter, at least.

#8:  It’s the little things that keep you sane
Whoever was the evil genius that set out Blue Bell mini ice cream sandwiches and mini drumsticks (or whatever they call their generic version of them), I want to thank/slap them.  They were beyond refreshing after a hard day’s ride, and because they were small I could eat a hundred of them without feeling like the pig that I was.  After all, a quart of ice cream doesn’t count if you eat it in 100 tiny hunks, right?

Mmmm... Ice cream sammiches!

Mmmm... Ice cream sammiches!

#7:  You don’t have to lose weight on this ride

Grits.  A vehicle for butter and salt.

Grits. A vehicle for butter and salt.

As alluded to above, there are plenty of ways to keep from wasting away to a wee bitty skeleton on this ride, despite burning over 5000 Calories each day.  In addition to the frosty ice cream treats and beers that greeted us at the end of each day (we also had cheese platters and veggie trays … mmmm cauliflower and cherry tomatoes), we also had more than our share of consistently delicious dinners.  Rice and crawfish and beans and gumbo and pork chops and catfish and corn and beans and pasta and bread pudding and cake and shrimp… each day pretty much offering tastier fare than the previous one.  The crawfish mac and cheese we had in Gonzales was pretty much the king of everything we were offered if you ask me.  I should have just grabbed the hotel pan full of it and a fork and retired to my bedroom.  And that’s not even mentioning the breakfast we had at Caffe Maria’s in Abbeville.

I don’t know if there are a lot of reasons to ever stop in Abbeville, Louisiana, but Caffe Maria’s is certainly one of them.  Everything from the grits to the gravy to the biscuits and pancakes was so good I couldn’t have shoved more in my belly if I had tried.  And this with the full knowledge that I still had another 75+ miles of riding to do that day.  Thank you Maria’s… you may very well have saved me from becoming anorexic.

#6:  The roads (cyclocross time?)
While the revised route for 2010 did away with the most evil road of the inaugural ride, LA14, and was really quite smooth for the majority of the Tour, there were still a few roads that were rougher than the washboard that Dory and Victoria got to play in Morgan City.  So if you’re planning on riding, when you train, you may want to get a bit of practice time in riding on rougher roads so you can get used to the numb hands, feet, arms, and legs.  Either that, or you may want to consider putting on a cyclocross fork with a lockout suspension for a couple of stretches.

Or I suppose you could just not whine about it like some pansy with a website who… Hey!
#5:  It’s about more than just the storms
While the main image people have of the Red Cross down in the Gulf states is that of their response to the string of hurricanes that have hit the area over the past few years (Rita, Katrina, Ike, Gustav, etc.), it is important to remind everyone that the Red Cross is about so much more than hurricane relief.  And indeed, we were reminded of this nearly every day of the ride.  On two of the six days, there were fires in the area that the local Red Cross chapters responded to, providing aid and shelter to the affected.  When we rode into Morgan City we were reminded about the CPR training that the Red Cross offers, and about a little boy whose life was saved thanks to someone who had recently taken one of these courses and was able to keep the boy alive until the paramedics arrived.  And with the recent BP oil disaster happening offshore and threatening to hit the Louisiana cost at any moment, all of the local Red Cross chapters were planning and preparing in case an evacuation was necessary.

These are the things that the Red Cross is dealing with every day of the year.  These are the reasons why we ride.

#4:  Next year, a camera and iPad
One of the worst things for me about this years ride is how many pictures I didn’t get.  There were so many opportunities to capture shots of beautiful scenery, huge bridges, nifty small towns, gators, crawfish harvests, and some of the wonderful people that I was lucky enough to ride with (or get passed by), and I got so few of them because the only camera I had was my phone, which was stuck in my pack all day.  And just the thought of me trying to take a picture while riding my bike is enough to make me lose my balance and fall out of my chair.  So if I wanted to get any of these shots, it would have meant stopping so much I wouldn’t be able to ride with anybody.  So for next year, I plan on picking up a GoPro HD Hero  helmet camera and a buttload of SD cards and batteries so I can capture the entire ride and not miss an opportunity.  Also, I’d love to put together a time-lapse record of the ride so people can experience all 530 miles in a somewhat shorter timeperiod.

Additionally, I think that next year, I really need to either bring a laptop, or if I get one between now and then, an iPad or similar device.  One of the reasons that I fell so far behind on posting my daily ride reports (besides just being dog tired at the end of the day) was that while the WordPress app for the iPhone is quite nice for small entries, it was a bit trickier for me to write my long rambling screeds using it.  The larger screen of the iPad alone would have made nightly reports that much easier to put together.  So yes… technology to the rescue in 2011!

#3:  The volunteers are great
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, these were the best volunteers I have yet run across in any of the charity bike rides I’ve taken part in, bar none.  They were all so helpful and friendly it almost made the curmudgeon in me want to puke.  Seriously, there were a few stops where the volunteers pretty much told us to sit our behinds down and rest because they were going to bring us what we wanted.  I swear, had I asked for a foot-rub at some of these stops, I think I would have had a better than 50% chance at getting one.  That’s how awesome these volunteers were.

And it wasn’t just at the rest stops either.  Taffy and Larry made sure that when we arrived at the hotel, all of our bags would be waiting for us up in our rooms (well, the speed demons might have arrived before the rooms were available, but that’s what they get for being so damn fast).  All we had to do was plop down in a chair under the shade tents, grab a cold beer or some ice cream or even some Recoverite, and Taffy would find us and hand us our key.  About the only thing they could have done more for us would be to give us piggy-back rides up to our rooms and run our baths for us.

On top of that there were the people organizing the food (which I raved about above) and entertainment for us (which, being a tired old man, I didn’t see much of), there were the bike mechanics who kept our gear in top condition, the SAG drivers who saved our bacon from time to time, and the ERV drivers who had water and Gatorade waiting for us at selected tailgate stops along the route.  I’m sure there are other volunteers who I’m forgetting to mention specifically, but they were no less important that the others.

I’d like to thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart.  You kept us happy, and healthy, and well rested, and fed.  You entertained us, you found us when we were lost, you provided us with shade and water and beer and wine.  About the only bit of work we had to do the entire tour was to ride our bikes.  Before I left for the tour, I was joking with my girlfriend how the first vacation I had taken in two years was going to be spent working harder than I do at my job, but the crew really did make this feel like a vacation.  Thank you all, you make this ride special.

#2:  The ride is faboo

I just finished an awesome ride; see how happy I am?

I just finished an awesome ride; see how happy I am?

Ask any of my friends (go ahead, I’ll wait), they’ll all tell you that I am a bitter, old, misanthropic curmudgeon with anti-social tendencies who hates everyone and every thing.  And while I’m not quite that bad, there is a ring of truth in that.  I am grumpy, and I am old, and I am far from a social butterfly, and above all else, I am a master at noticing all of the things that are poorly done in any situation.  Even when my Cleveland Browns score an all-too-infrequent touchdown, instead of cheering about it, I’m the guy with the scowl on my face because I saw some wideout doing some lazy blocking upfield.  On top of that, I view complaining as a bit of an art form.  I like to think that I can complain effectively about any situation that you might place me in.  My philosophy of life is pretty much that if you’re not complaining about something, life will give you something to complain about; so I do my best to short-circuit life’s nefarious plans.

Still, with all of my talent in that department, there was very little I could find to complain about with the ride.  Sure, there’s the outlandish complaints, like the fact that there weren’t enough bikini models at the hotels to give us rubdowns (we did have massage therapists, but no bikini models), and not a single one of the rooms I stayed in was a Jacuzzi suite, complete with bikini models to join me for a soak, but in the realm of the realistic, about the only thing I could come up with was that one of the legs on day two was too long and needed a tailgate rest stop in the middle, and that I’d have preferred to see Accelerade or something similar at the rest stops, and not just Gatorade.  Also, that there was a distinct lack of bikini models serving the Gatorade at the rest stops.

In all seriousness, if that’s all the faults I can find with a ride, you know it’s a well run event.  This was a very well run event.

#1:  You too can (and should) do it
So, if I’ve done my job above, you’re thinking, “Damn!  Now that sounds like an awesome ride!  I’d love to take part in something so awesome.”  If so, great!  Keep an eye on the Tour website, and register later this year when they open it up again (probably in the early fall).  But if that thought is followed by the thought “But… that’s a *really* big ride.  I don’t think I can do a ride like that,” well let me tell you, you can (unless your doctor says no, of course).  Out of our group of 44 riders, nearly half had never even ridden a century ride before, and a similar number had never ridden in a multi-day event.  Ross, one of the riders in the group that I rode with didn’t even own a bicycle at the time he signed up for the ride.  He had three months to buy a bike and to train for the ride.  Three months!  Clearly the kid is insane, but if he can do it, so can you.

And with so much fun to look forward to, and with so much good the money you raise for the American Red Cross can do, there are so many reasons for you to join me next year in the 2011 Tour du Rouge.

Finally, before I close out this post, I really need to thank all of the people who donated to the Red Cross to help me take part in this goal of mine.  Thank you to all my friends and family.  Thank you to the D/FW area bicycling groups, Bike Friendly Richardson and Pedallas, you guys rock.  Thank you to Richardson Bike Mart.  And I’d love to give really special thanks to all of the sponsors who donated prizes to my Raffle Ride fundraiser, the Raffle Ride wound up being my biggest money-raising effort, and I might not have been able to ride in the Tour without it.  Not only are the following companies makers and sellers of quality bicycle and bicycle-related gear, but they are also good-hearted and caring.  By all means if you need any of the products they sell, throw them some love and some business — they deserve it.

Jittery Joe’s Coffee – Awesome coffee, awesome people

bikecoffee.net – Travel mugs that fit in your bottle cage

Walz Caps – Want to ride in style?  Pick up a couple of their swank cycling caps

Road ID – If you’re a cyclist, chances are you already know about Road ID.  Their identification products can speak for you if you’re unable to.

Urban Velo Magazine – Keep up with bike culture, trends, and the love of the sport

Rido Saddles – This is the saddle that I have on my bike and it got me through the Tour with a happy perineum and nary a saddle sore.  I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.  Incredible saddles at an astonishingly low price.

Chrome Bags – The makers of the best damn messenger bags on the planet and so much more.

Pedro’s Tools – For all of your bike maintenance needs, Pedro’s has a solution.

The Sufferfest – Wanna enjoy your suffering a bit more?  Pick up some of David’s awesome training videos and train like you’ve never trained before.

Adventure Cycling Association – Another sponsor who came up big, donating two memberships and a full set of their Southern Tier maps.

Knog- Sweet holy damn.  When I sent out my flood of emails asking for sponsors for the Raffle Ride, Knog was the first business to step up to the plate, and they stepped up big time.  Shortly after agreeing to my request, I got a package, lobbed lovingly in my direction from Australia, and filled with gobs of cool stickers, funky and fashionable lights, sweet blinkies, and t-shirts so cool they literally made my girlfriend squeal and exclaim, “I want one of those!  And one of those too!” Knog loves cycling, and I love Knog.  Now if I only knew how to pronounce their name …

And a super-huge, super-special thank you goes out to Lupine Lighting Systems.  When I contacted them, I was hoping for maybe some of their clothing to offer as a raffle prize, but these guys went above and beyond and set me a full Lupine Tesla 5 headlight system to offer as a prize.  When I opened the box, my jaw damn near hit the floor.  This light was small, and gorgeous, and way powerful, and will allow you to ride at night far easier, and far more visibly than most other lights on the market.  These guys went to bat for me and for the American Red Cross, and I urge you to send your business their way if you’re shopping for a lighting solution for your bicycle (or just looking for a sweet hoodie).  Lupine, you guys rock!

 

 

Some jerseys you buy, and some you earn.

Some jerseys you buy, and some you earn.

This one, I earned

This one, I earned

Final numbers: 535.95 miles; 31:52:21 elapsed time; 16.82 MPH average

Day 6: They Called Me Old Glory, They Were Half-Right

Somewhere around the third day of this ride, I learned that the best way to get ready each morning is to do most of the getting ready the night before.  By that, I mean pulling out all of the gear you’re going to be wearing, loading up the Camelbak/jersey with the protein/Gu/whatever you plan on consuming in ride, washing out your bottles and setting them out to dry, and packing away everything you can in your duffle bag.  This way you won’t need to wrestle with getting ready in the morning when your body is asking for another hour or two of sleep and you only have 15 minutes to get the bag out to the truck to be shipped to your destination for the day.  And so each night I would do all of the things listed above, including getting the day’s route map out, making sure my headband was set out to dry, and putting my gloves in my helmet for the morning before hitting the mattress and sleeping the sleep of the exhausted but excited.

So Friday morning rolls around, I get up, wash up, lube up, dress up, pack up what little I have left to pack, and run my bag down to the truck to be loaded and taken to New Orleans.  Before I drop it off, I grab my sunscreen out of it and coat myself with a few layers (I learned my lesson on Sunday) before returning it to the bag and heading off for breakfast.  A quick bit of fruit, eggs, and juice later, and it’s back to the room to grab my bike, fill the Camelbak with ice, and drag the bike down to the morning briefing area.  I set my bike up against a curb and grab my Gatorade bottle to fill up then head to the briefing.  While we’re waiting for Alan to start, one of the other riders, Annabella, spots my bare hands and asks me if I’ve got my gloves.  I let her know that they’re over in my helmet and that I’d be putting them on shortly.  So of course, after the briefing, I walked over to my bike, grabbed my helmet, and failed to see any gloves sitting inside of it.  Sigh…

Woldenberg Park, our ultimate destination

Woldenberg Park, our ultimate destination

A quick check up in the hotel room confirmed that I had, indeed, forgotten to take the gloves out of my bag and that I would be riding the day gloveless.  After a quick application of sunscreen to my naked hands, I was back on my bike staring at an empty parking lot, since everyone else rode away as I was heading up to check my room.  Thanks to this, the first third of my morning was spent riding solo, trying to catch up to the peloton, and eventually catching up with them just before the turn onto LA70.  From that point on, it was a nice leisurely ride into the first rest stop.  For much of that leg I chatted with Chad, one of the one-day riders, and a friend of Tracy’s, which helped pass the time to the stop.

A pretty pink bike, parked on the Riverwalk

A pretty pink bike, parked on the Riverwalk

At the first stop, I was reunited with my regular riding crew and hooked up with them for a while, but a few miles into the second leg. Ross and I made the executive decision that we were going to take it easy today.  We had a long lunch stop coming up at Audubon Park, getting ready for the mass ride into Woldenberg Park, so there was no need to arrive too early anyway.  And so, when Rick, Brad, and Mike started to push the pace along US61, Ross and I just dropped back.

At the next rest area in LaPlace, we reunited briefly again with Rick, Ross, and Brad and, after taking a brief rest, headed out again together, only to split yet again, as Ross and I lolligagged for a while.  This part of the ride was fairly interesting, crossing over the Bonnet Carré Spillway into St. Charles Parish.  It was here that Ross and I missed our turn into the third rest stop.  Somehow, as we hit the intersection and were jostling for position amongst the trucks and cars, neither of us saw the big red and white sign telling us to turn right there.  Ooops.

It started to dawn on me about two miles later, as we approached an on-ramp for Interstate 310, that we may have gone off course.  But according to my computer, we still had a little ways to go until we were supposed to see the rest area.  My fears were confirmed shortly after crossing the on-ramp, as the SAG Wagon roared up in front of us and told us to hold up.  A few minutes later, we were inside the van and being ferried back to the turn that we missed so we could make our way down to the next rest stop, our last chance to fill our bottles before getting on the levee bike path which would take us into our final lunch stop of the Tour at Audubon Park.

The levee was… well, the levee was long, and a little boring.  I guess I was hoping to see the river for the entire ride or something, but for the most part, it was just bike-path and trees, and me and Ross pedaling for about 22 miles.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still a nice ride, especially when we did get to see the river, but I was just tired and hungry by this point, and would have liked a somewhat more visually stimulating ride.  And so, as we made our final turn south, headed towards Audubon Park, I was relieved as the surroundings became a little livelier, with barges in the river to the right, and more vibrant city to the left, my energy lifted again and I cruised the last few miles into the Park.

Me, Rick, Brad, and Ross at Audubon Park (photo courtesy of Ross Oakley)

Me, Rick, Brad, and Ross at Audubon Park (photo courtesy of Ross Oakley)

At the park, I grabbed a big old bowl of jambalaya and a couple of sodas and enjoyed them in the shade.  After eating, I hooked back up with Rick and Brad, and found out that Rick had missed, along with a pair of one-day riders, the same turn that Ross and I had missed.  Only, with his head start and his strong legs, he got out past the SAG wagon did and nearly rode to the New Orleans airport before he figured out he missed the turn.  It’s a good thing he was familiar with the city, having lived there a few years back, so he knew how to get back to the levee and the park.

As we were resting up in the park, preparing for our mass ride to the finish, Alan came around asking for volunteers to lead the ride carrying one of our four flags: the Texas state flag, the Louisiana state flag, the Red Cross flag, and the flag of the United States.  I stepped forward along with three others, and was handed the big honor of carrying Old Glory into Woldenberg Park.  Oh boy.

So, I don’t know how many of you have ever carried a full sized flag, attached to a pole made of 1.5″ PVC tubing, while riding your bike for seven miles over a rather rough and choppy road, but as it turns out, it’s not as easy as it sounds.   The whole time, you’re struggling to keep a good grip simultaneously on the flagpole (which gets surprisingly heavy)  and your handlebars, all while  braking, turning, calling out (and avoiding) holes, and ensuring that you’re holding the flag high enough to keep it of your rear wheel.  For next year, one thing I’m going to have to work on is building some kind of brace which can be clamped onto the flag-bearers’ handlebars where the butt of the flagpoles can be set, to ease the ride into the city.  Even if I do make that brace, I’ll likely pass on the flag bearing honor, if offered, so I can get a better look at the city as we ride through it.  What little I saw of it looked very nifty.

The mass ride into Woldenberg Park.  That's me you can almost see carrying the US Flag

The mass ride into Woldenberg Park. That's me you can almost see carrying the US Flag

Still, it was a great honor, and I was proud to carry that flag along the length of New Orleans Landing into Woldenberg Park.  The whole way, as people would see me with Old Glory at the lead of the pack, they would get this odd surprised look on their face, and then slowly start clapping.  For much of the mass ride, and the entirety of the landing, I would hear the applause and cheers slowly start building as I passed by and the rest of the pack rode along behind.  It was a great end to a great ride that I can’t wait to do again next year.

Our Victory Arch

Our Victory Arch

Welcome to Mardis Gras World, how may I creep you out today?

Welcome to Mardis Gras World, how may I creep you out today?

After arriving in the park, we popped the corks on a few bottles of sparkling wine and heard a few congratulatory speeches from various Red Cross leaders, and then… the ride was over.  We loaded our bikes into the waiting truck to be shipped back to Houston the next day, and then walked back to the Hilton Riverside to rest and shower before our victory party and dinner.

The dinner that night was at a place called Mardis Gras World, a facility where they make and store floats for the Mardis Gras parade.  This facility was incredible, a huge warehouse full of parade floats, bigger than life, with a number of studios set up throughout, housing new floats in

A dragon under construction

A dragon under construction

various states of completion for upcoming parades.

I spent a good thirty minutes just wandering around, staring and taking pictures before heading outside for dinner.  And it was a lovely dinner, set up on a patio right alongside the east bank of the Mississippi River, with red beans and rice, crawfish etoufee, great salads and desserts, and pans of ice cold Abita.  We ate and talked and joked for a while, then watched a slideshow of pictures, followed by a victory speech and series of recognitions of the volunteers who made this all possible, and the riders who benefitted from their hard work.  Plaques and certificates were handed out in commemoration of the ride, and then we headed back to the hotel to drop everything off before heading out on the town.

For the first time all ride, I was able to take in a bit of nightlife knowing there was no early ride tomorrow.  Ross, I, Rick, Brad, and their wives took a cab up to Frenchman street to the Snug Harbor Jazz Club for some jazz, some drinks, and a good bit of merriment.  It was a wonderful night, and it was great to get out with some new friends made over 530 miles of riding.  A few hours later, it was a cab ride back to the hotel and some well earned sleep before my bus ride home in the morning.

King and Queen Kong

King and Queen Kong

IMG_0876

The Gator Leers...

Our dinner location

Our dinner location

 

Final numbers: 83.75 miles, 5:20:43 elapsed time, 15.67 MPH average

I did it.  I did it, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Day 5: Slow Falls and Big Bridges

It’s 7:15 a.m. at the Morgan City Holiday Inn, and I’ve just dropped off my bag to be trucked out to Gonzales and delivered to my next hotel room by the loving and dedicated hands of Larry and Taffy.  I’m pretty much out of energy already, simply from waking up, getting dressed, and filling and dropping off my bag.  It’s taking effort just for me to remember where the hotel lobby is, much less how to get to breakfast from there.  It’s then that I decide I’d better not eat a heavy breakfast, or I might just fall asleep on my bike halfway to the first rest-stop.   And so when I finally do reach the breakfast buffet, I load my plate up with nothing but fruit.  Well… fruit and one big scoop of a sort of Cajun-spiced hash browns with eggs and bacon mixed in, but potatoes and bacon sometimes count as fruit, so it was OK.

It’s now 7:30 a.m. I’ve just washed back my plate of melon, grapes, and bacon-fruit with a chug of chocolate milk, and I figure I may as well grab my bike and head out for the morning briefing before we roll out.  I head back to the hotel room, take one last, longing look at my bed and grab my Camelbak and bike.  On the way to the briefing, I pass by the hotel’s ice machine and fill the bladder on my Camelbak… mmm ice cold water for the next 40 miles.  From there it’s a quick walk and a tricky descent of some stairs in my cleats and I’m with the rest of the group.

I reapply sunscreen, fill my Gatorade bottle, and grab a few extra Gu packets, looking for the espresso flavored ones with extra caffeine (I feel like I’m going to need them today), and I try to pay attention as Alan gives the morning briefing.   Unfortunately, all I really hear is “mumble, mumble, shoulder, mumble, mumble, lunch, mumble joints, mumble.” Yeah, today’s shaping up like one of those days.  Before long, the briefing’s over and it’s time to get on the bikes.  We roll out as a group, slowly, and I’m thinking that even this slow pace feels a bit too plucky for me this morning — however am I going to survive the day?  As we roll to a stop at a red light, something finally breaks me out of my funk; it’s Brad on my left shouting “whoah!” as his cleat sticks to his pedal and he topples over in a classic clipless fall.  Lying on his side now, he still can’t get his cleat loose from the pedal.  And as we all begin to realize that he’s not hurt, we all start to laugh at his struggles, as a couple of others riders moved in to try to free him from his predicament.  After a minute or so, Brad was able to get himself vertical, and we were off once again down the road.

And once we got moving down the road, boy were we moving.  At some point, Rick worked his way up to the front, and as the big Clydesdale does when he gets up front, he started pulling that beer truck.  Before long our train was rolling at about 22 MPH, and we maintained that pace all the way into the first rest stop.  All of my early morning drag-ass feelings were long gone by that point, and I was ready to roll through the day.

At St. Joseph Plantation

At St. Joseph Plantation

And roll we did, not quite as hard as in the first leg, but we were still pushing a good pace up to our second rest-stop, a tailgate stop.  Shortly after passing a no bicycles road sign, we surprisingly rolled up on and nearly missed the stop, as it was set up a couple of miles short of where it was supposed to be.  It’s a good thing those Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles are hard to miss, so we were able to turn in at the last second to top off our bottles.  At least most of us were able to turn in.

Brad, who was pulling the group at the time shot past the turn and had to come back against traffic.  And Rick slipped on some of the gravel in the parking area as he turned in and went down in our second clipless fall of the day.  He was unhurt, though his right side and his shiny SRAM shifters were covered in a patina of white dust.  Bottles topped off, we left the tailgate stop and rode on up into Vacherie, where we caught up with Alan, Dana, and the HostGator guys, Chris and Chris.  Pairing up with this group we rode together on up to St. Joseph Plantation for lunch.  The road leading into the plantation was rough, but we handled it fine up until we reached the turnoff for the plantation.  Once again, the gravel road claimed one of our group as Rich hit a soft, sandy area and his front tire sunk in, sending him down for our third slow fall of the day.

Ross under a huge-ass tree

Ross under a huge-ass tree

If it weren’t for the previous day’s lunch in Franklin, this would have easily been the most gorgeous lunch spot of the entire tour.  The old buildings, the gorgeous landscape, the enormous trees on the property, it was all visually stunning.  Had it been right on the banks of the Mississippi, hiding just a few thousand feet away, it would have been ideal.  Still, it was beautiful enough that after lunch I wandered about a bit, sightseeing, before saddling up with the group and heading out to battle the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge in Lutcher to cross the Mississippi River.  And let me tell you , this is one heck of a bridge.  Well over a mile long, and nearly two miles from the start of the climb to the end of the descent this baby made the Pleasure Island bridge look like a platform for crossing a little creek (on the plus side, the extra length meant it wasn’t as steep as the Pleasure Island bridge).  In addition to the long climb associated with the bridge, we had the added discomfort of the expansion joints on the bridge, which look to be specially designed for swallowing road bike tires whole.  In order to traverse those babies safely, one needs to swing wide and cross them at an angle.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but we also had to do it with cars zooming by us at highway speeds in the next lane, cars who would invariably honk at you as you started to swing out to perform this maneuver.  No, kind drivers, we’re not weaving capriciously, we’re trying to keep from flatting our tires every few hundred feet so we can stay on the bridge even longer.  Sigh…

Some of the smaller buildings at St. Joseph Plantation

Some of the smaller buildings at St. Joseph Plantation

After the bridge, the riding grew less interesting for a while.  We had a tailgate rest-stop to fill up our bottles, and then a long stretch along LA3125 where yet again I started to gas out behind the group (I’ll need to work on my endurance at speed for next year, because I’m sure Rich isn’t going to get any slower).  I was able to keep the group in my sights and caught back up to them as we approached LA70, which would carry us to LA44 into Gonzales (it really is amazing how my second winds always seem to come when we turn and the wind is no longer in my face).  As we turned onto LA70, we all shared a brief moment of terror as it looked as if we would need to cross yet another huge bridge over the Mississippi.  Fortunately, as we approached it, we saw one of the magical red and white tour signs telling us to turn right and cross under the bridge to connect to 44.  Thank goodness, as I was pretty much gassed at this point and really looking for that next rest stop.

The main building at St. Joseph Plantation

The main building at St. Joseph Plantation

Finally, we reached the last rest stop of the day, and I gratefully sucked back a tube of Gu and a few cups of cold water while sitting in the shade.  After a few minutes, we all felt cool and rested enough to resume the journey and ride the last eight miles home, only there was a bit of a snag.  We were told that about a mile up the road, a train had stopped, blocking the road.  However, there were only a few cars in the way, and if we wanted to, we could walk our bikes around the back end of the train and continue riding into Gonzales.  Deciding that we wanted to get into the hotel before traffic started to pick up even more, we decided to try our luck with the train.  Sure enough, as we approached the tracks, there it was, blocking the road and holding up a string of cars.  Glad to not be one of them, we rode up to the front of the line and surveyed the situation.  Indeed, all we had to do was walk past five or six cars and we’d be golden.  So like a group of cyclocross racers, we shouldered our bikes and set out past the train.

Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to walk on train tracks in your cleats, but let me tell you this: Don’t do it.  Even on ther near side, where we had the luxury of railroad ties to step on, the going was quite precarious.  The ties were unevenly spaced, the lage hunks of rock were scattered everywhere, and good places to set your feet were at a minimum.  And things only got worse on the other side of the train, where all we had to walk across was a steep bank of crushed rock.  At least I wasn’t wearing Speedplay cleats, so I didn’t have to worry about rocks getting caught up inside them.  Making matters even worse, after I had made it past two of the cars, and the rest of our group had just gotten around the end of the train, we heard a light squeal, and the damn train started moving.  Had we just waited a few minutes, we wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this, but as it was, we now had to race the train across the road before the cars could start up again.  Mike and I made it, but we had to wait, as the rest of the group couldn’t get to the road in time.  All in all, I guess it’s best that we waited, as that was a long stream of cars full of angry drivers that got stacked up behind the train, and we didn’t have to deal with any of them passing us on our bikes.

With the extra bit of rest we got waiting for traffic to clear, we were fresh enough to turn the next six miles into a time trial, and sustained speeds in the 23-25 MPH zone until we turned onto LA30, a rather busy road that took us into the hotel in Gonzales.  Where the seats in the shade and the ice cold Abita were waiting for us.

The Baton Rouge Fox News anchor shows off her fashion "sense"

The Baton Rouge ABC News anchor shows off her "fashion sense"

Later that night we had what I thought was the best dinner of the night.  Crawfish etoufee, crawfish mac and cheese, tasty salad with a thick vinaigrette dressing, and a choice of bread pudding or brownie desserts.  To my great dismay, however, it was also the only meal where I was filled up after just one pass through the line.  Curse my stomach!  I wanted more of that mac and cheese, dammit!

Final numbers: 85.59 miles, 5:01:10 elapsed time, 17.05 MPH average

Day 4: Grits, Gravy and Recovery Rides


Caffe Maria's and her chef.

Caffe Maria's and her chef.

So we started the morning three days into the ride.  We had covered 290 miles, had to deal with big bridges, big distances, big winds, and big horseflies (whose bites on my legs still itch a bit over a week later); we were due for a nice recovery ride, and today was it.

The day actually started with an option for the riders: we could either sleep in and join the riders for a 9:00 a.m. ride-out, or we could get up early and head about a half-mile down the road from the Sunbelt Lodge to grab breakfast at Caffe Maria’s, a local restaurant that offered up a southern breakfast spread that was far and away the best breakfast we had the entire tour:  Creamy grits, southern-fried potatoes, light fluffy biscuits, sausage gravy, eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, and more.  The only problem with the day’s breakfast is that it was too damn good, and I ate way too much of it.  Good thing I was one of the first people there at Maria’s, so I would have extra time to digest it before we started riding for the day.

Our morning gospel

Our morning gospel

But before we rode out, we had two more special treats lined up for the morning.  The first was a rousing gospel number belted out by (and here’s where I hate my feeble memory) a fellow who I remember as the son of the owners of Caffe Maria’s.  You can have a listen to a clip I recorded on my phone (sorry about the iffy quality). I don’t know much about gospel, but I do know this, the dude could sing; his tones went down sweeter than the maple syrup on my French toast.

Our second surprise was a group of young children from one of the local Catholic grade schools.  They were there today to ride out with us an their way in to school.  It was great seeing the enthusiasm these kids had for riding their bicycles.  It really seemed to make their day to ride out with a peloton of goofy looking folk in spandex and funky shoes.  And if it did make their day, I’m glad, because those were some of the nicest, most polite, and charming kids I’ve run across in a while.  Really the only downside to this event was that none of the kids riding with us had helmets.  Now, I don’t want to get in a debate about the efficacy of bike helmets or mandatory helmet laws, but if these kids weren’t wearing helmets because they can’t afford them, then next year I’d like to help the Tour du Rouge secure the donation of some helmets for the kids.  Gotta help protect those little noggins so they can soak up the lessons in school, you know.

And so we rolled out of Maria’s, kids nestled in safely between a couple of groups of tour riders, and we slow-rolled until the kids turned off to their school.  That’s when we picked up the pace and worked our way down to Avery Island, home of the McIlhenny Tabasco plant.

Tracy and I, chilling at the Tabasco Plant

Tracy and I, chilling at the Tabasco Plant

Once we reached Avery Island, the riders had a couple of options, yet again.  They could either rest outside for an hour or so, or they could go into the Visitor’s Center for a tour of the plant and a presentation on Tabasco and its history.  I opted for the tour because I’d never been to the plant before (hell, this was only my third day ever in Louisiana) and, well… because there was air conditioning.  Normally, I’m not a big fan of air conditioning, but on this tour it started to feel mighty good.  I guess riding for hours in the heat and humidity can do that to a fella.

IMG_0780

Even Tabasco can't be made without a little help from Ohio

After the tour was a quick spin ’round the McIlhenny Country Store for a taste of Tabasco ice cream and the newer Tabasco sauce flavors (the Sweet & Spicy is actually quite good), and a quick visit to the head before we were back on our bikes and headed for Morgan City (it was the usual crew, me Ross, Rick, Brad, Mike, Dave and Tracy).  First we headed northeast for a bit until we hit New Iberia.  Here I was a little sad that we didn’t pass New Iberia High School, made moderately famous by their cheerleaders who appeared on an episode of MTV’s Made.  Once we rolled through to the middle of New Iberia (a fairly charming town), we turned southeast onto Old Spanish Trail Headed for our next rest stop at Burleigh Park on the outskirts of Jeanerette.

This part of the ride was, in a word, lovely.  Smooth streets flanked by beautiful moss-covered live oaks provided shade and eye candy for miles on each side of the rest stop (yet another fantastic stop manned by wonderful volunteers, thanks again guys).  Really the only downside are the two flats we had on each side of the res stop, Mike’s about a mile before the stop (a loud, ringing blowout) and mine, not quite three miles away from the stop.

Lunch in Franklin

Lunch in Franklin

A few miles after the park, we hit St. Mary’s Parish and you would have known something was up, even without the sign. because the second we left Iberia Parish, the roads roughened up for us quite a bit.  Dear St. Mary’s Parish.  Please pass a bond measure and patch up LA182 by next May.  Thank you.

And so we rolled down LA182 (which eventually smoothed out a bit) for about another 13 miles, my energy draining the whole way, so much so that I was in danger of falling off the back of my group as we neared Franklin, our lunch stop.  Fortunately, a second wind and a well placed traffic light allowed me to pull back up to Rick, Ross, Brad, and Mike as we turned into our lunch spot, a beautiful shaded area along the water.  There, were were offered delicious sandwiches served on some huge croissants, with tasty lemon cookies and chocolate chip cookies for desert.  Those cookies were so good that I swiped an extra one for the road and tucked it into my Camelbak.  It was larceny most delicious.

Really?  Not the "War of Northern Aggression"?

Really? Not the "War of Northern Aggression"?

Post lunch we only had 25 miles left in the day, with a tailgate stop at the Patterson Air Museum just outside of Morgan City, so you’d think it would be easier than it was.  Unfortunately, along the road to the Air Museum, lunch started sitting heavy in my belly and my legs didn’t feel like pedaling into the moderate crosswind we had as we approached US90.  Thanks to Mike for pulling me along for a mile or so until we approached the turn onto 90 where we rested a bit as we waited for traffic to clear and I could catch my wind.

As we waited for the eastbound traffic to clear enough for us to cross into the median, a Louisiana State Trooper pulled his car onto the shoulder just ahead of us and waved us over, wanting to know what was going on.  We filled him in on the tour, and its goal of raising funds for the Red Cross, and he thought that was pretty cool.  And when we told him we were headed into Morgan City for the night, he asked if we were going to ride along 90 into town. When we told him we were, he just laughed.  ”I ride a lot around here, but y’all are crazy!” he told us.  ”They don’t even look out for us on the side of the road, they sure as hell ain’t gonna stop for you.”  And with those words of encouragement he wished us luck and watched as we rode out onto US90.  You know what, he was right.  We were crazy.

The traffic on 90 was the ugliest we had all ride.  Cars and trucks zooming by, ostensibly going the speed limit of 55, but they all seemed to be a bit closer to 70 if you ask me.  Even though the shoulder was quite wide, and relatively debris free (though we did have our obstacles to avoid), I’m still happy we had just five miles to go to the air museum, and that five miles was with the wind at our backs.

If my legs were still tired from the previous miles, the fear center of my brain overrode that, and we held a steady 21-22 MPH pace all the way into the Museum parking lot.  There it was a quick refill of the bottles and a trip inside the museum to take advantage of the air conditioning and the indoor plumbing.  Once we had removed and added the appropriate liquids from our systems, our group decided to try and time trial the last seven miles into the hotel in an effort to beat Team Jackass (who were still enjoying the AC at the museum) to the finish.  Honestly, I was happy to push the pace just so we could get off the highway faster.

Our course in from the museum involved a three mile stretch along 90, followed by an exit ramp leading to LA182 and then a medium sized bridge over Berwick Bay before a short jaunt through the city into the hotel.  Once we were up to speed on 90, I don’t think we dropped below 24 MPH until we hit the bridge.  We were feeling good and flying, and we were going to whip Jackass’ tails into the finish when from behind me I heard “Fucking grates! Flat!”  Yep.  Mike got our third flat of the day when he caught his tire in one of the expansion joints on the bridge and got snakebit.  And so we stopped on the side of the bridge while Mike changed his tire just in time to see a pair of Jackass riders roll by us.  Slightly dejected at having lost yet another race against an unsuspecting opponent due to a flat tire, we nonetheless pushed on to the hotel looking to finish strong.  As it turns out, we still beat most of the Jackass riders into the hotel, and we had plenty of ice cold Abita Brown waiting for us, so it wasn’t a total waste.

Also of note this day was the post-ride dinner.  We had it in the hotel, with a buffet offering salad, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and bread pudding.  And while the food was delicious (more gumbo, please!), the highlight was the zydeco band that was playing that night for us.  Bright, lively music, and stage banter that’s probably gotten them slapped by the ladies at most of the finer venues across the south.  The band was a hoot, as was watching Dory and Victoria work the washboard for a few numbers.  All-around great fun; too bad I was too exhausted to enjoy it for the full evening.  Instead, I pulled my old man card and headed off to bed with dreams of Gonzales up ahead.

Final numbers: not really sure, as I forgot to get pictures of my computer, but they were somewhere around 77 miles, 4:30:00 elapsed time, and 17.1 MPH average.

Day 3: The Century of the Century

So you’ve just ridden 94 hard miles, including a brutal, windy 35 mile stretch that you never fully recovered from, what do you get to look forward to after that?  Well, if you’re on the Tour du Rouge, you get to look forward to waking up an hour early so you can set out on a nice century ride into Abbeville!

It was actually a wonderful morning: cool, clear, and weak yet favorable winds.  We headed out north, riding through a bit of the neighborhood business area before turning to the east along a slightly less busy road (albeit one with deep ditches along the sides and no shoulder) before turning north so we could cross over the waterways that feed Lake Charles and eventually work our way into Abbeville.  It was at this turn towards the north that we had what might be the most excitement of the day.

See!  A real century.

See! A real century.

Shortly after we turned north on Guillory Street, with me sitting towards the back of the group, I heard a cry of “HOLE!” and looked up in time to see what looked like an interpretive dance on wheels where Rick was playing the part of a bowling ball, and Dave, Tracy, Mike, and Donald playing the part of bowling pins.  Apparently, what happened was Mike first hit a sunken (and very well hidden) manhole cover, and called out the obstacle just in time for Dave to hit it and redirect his front wheel into Mike’s rear wheel.  As we all know what happens in that situation, Dave’s bike went out from under him as Mike wobbled away.  This of course set off a chain reaction which sent Tracy down in an very nice controlled slide; Donald doing his damndest to not go over his bike (he pushed down so hard on his handlebars, he pushed his Ergostem down from a rather vertical position to all the way forward and down), still ending up with a bloody knee; and Rick, seeing Dave’s bike shoot left, veering to the right only to wind up rolling right over Dave’s outstretched arm as Dave was launched the opposite direction of his bike (of course if I were Dave, I’d much prefer Rick run over my arm than my pretty, pretty Colnago rig).

Fortunately for Dave he went down in a softer patch of dirt, and not the hard blacktop, and suffered just a bit of road rash, some bruises, and appeared to have the wind knocked out of him.  While he was recovering, I stopped traffic while the others hauled all of the gear out of the road and tended to Dave (I’d like to say thanks to all of the drivers who patiently waited for us to clear the street and make sure Dave was out of harms way).  Shortly thereafter, Alan and Dana rolled up and surveyed the damage, making sure Dave was OK and calling for the SAG guys to come and get the affected bikes roadworthy again.   A bit of wheel truing and stem adjusting later, Dave and the rest of us hopped back on our bikes and headed back out for the day; calling out damn near every crack in the road for the next 15 miles to our first rest stop.

From here on out, the ride consisted primarily of long eastbound stretches with the occasional turn mixed in and nothing particularly exceptional to note.  The lunch in Mermentau was quite nice, noshing on Quizno’s subs underneath the Railroad Avenue bridge crossing whatever waterway that was that eventually feeds into Lake Arthur. It was there at lunch where we learned that Dana had been in a spill that day as well, bloodying up his knee and elbow and tearing up his new Tour du Rouge jersey.  Fortunately for the entire group those were the two worst accidents of the entire ride and they caused little more than road rash; much better than the previous year where a number of riders found themselves in ambulances on the way to a hospital for repairs.  Good riding guys!

After lunch was a quick 10 mile ride to a tailgate stop at a post office in Morse, which was only notable for the heat and lack of shade, as well as a big old snake in a ditch just short of the post office that was chasing after something with a purpose (most likely lunch).  From there it was another 22 miles to our last stop of the day at the Kaplan High School stadium parking lot.  This is one stop I was most grateful for as my left calf had been threatening to cramp up and my energy was waning quickly for about five miles before we got to the stop.  And what a stop it was, those volunteers were great there, offering to fetch us any drinks or snacks or ice cold paper towels that we needed to recover so we could sit and rest.  It’s volunteers like that that make rides like the Tour du Rouge such a pleasure to ride.  I can’t thank them enough for coming out in the heat to help us recover and have our fun.  If it weren’t for them, the last nine miles might have been murder for me to complete.  As it was I still managed to drag ass the final three or four miles, slowing down our group, especially as we approached the outskirts of Abbeville.  Fortunately for me and the rest of the group, we got caught at a stop light at Park Avenue, just before we had to climb yet another bridge over some more intercostal waters.  That brief stop allowed me to catch my wind and stretch out my back enough to get across town and into the Sunbelt Lodge without much more discomfort.  Thank heaven for small favors.

Dory unloads the good stuff

Dory unloads the good stuff

After a bit of rest, a bit of beer, and a “shower” in our room (I couldn’t figure out how to get the water to come out of the showerhead and had to keep bending down to get water from the tub faucet — fortunately, my roommate, Keith, another Ohio boy, told me how to do it after the fact, something that will come in handy if we stay here again next year), we packed into the vans and shuttled down to Comeaux’s Cafe for some tasty pork chops, gravy, and bread pudding.  After dinner we had a great time listening to all of the riding groups sing a song about themselves (including Dana’s audience participation number that may end up becoming the official theme song of the ride in years hence), and then capped off the evening with a speech from (IIRC) the head of the Lake Charles Red Cross chapter, reminding us all why we’re doing what we’re doing.  From there, it was a shuttle back to the Sunbelt Lodge and a night’s sleep before an optional early rise the next morning.

Final numbers: 106.65 miles, Elapsed time 6:10:07, average 16.97 MPH

Day 2: It Was the Best of Rides…

…it was the worst of rides.
So the day started out really well: a good night’s sleep followed by cool weather and light winds, and the road out of Beaumont was quite pleasant. Hell, even the climb over Pleasure Island Bridge was, well, a pleasure.  But shortly after we left the comfort of the Pleasure Island rest-stop, the day took an ugly turn.
It started not long after we (Rick, Brad, Ross, and myself) paused to rescue a turtle that was sitting in the middle of TX82 (given the number of smashed turtles we saw on the road that day, we almost assuredly extended its life).  Now, you might think that Mother Nature would appreciate us saving one of her creatures from an untimely end, but she must have misinterpreted our actions as thwarting her plans, because not ten minutes later, about two miles from the Texas/Louisiana Border, we turned right into a wall of wind that dropped our speed and sapped our energy.  It was so bad that by the time we had reached the Sabine Lake Bridge that would take us into Louisiana, I had more trouble going over it than the far longer and steeper Paradise Island Bridge we had crossed a few miles back.
From that point on, it was just a long, brutal slog of about 30 miles along LA82.  For a long stretch of this slog, the eastbound side of the road had been scraped, pending repaving (it might be much nicer next year).  And so not only were we battling the winds, but also the bone rattling ride over the artificially roughened roads.  Luckily for us, at this point (and shortly after I had taken my pull), the SAG-Wagon with the BIke Barn trailer caught up to us and gave us a nice draft for about 6-8 miles before pulling away and leaving us to battle the wind once again.  About the only downside to that “motor-pacing” section, besides their pulling away, was that the guys right up at the bumper, where the draft was the strongest, refused to rotate out of position and let the rest of the group get some much-needed rest for their legs.  Still, even sitting at the back of that pack I got a much needed draft for a few miles, without which, I may have had a much harder time reaching our lunch destination.
Right after the SAG-Wagon pulled away, taking its draft with it, I and a couple other guys (sorry, I was too tired to even remember who it was) pulled over to make an impromptu rest area, letting our heart-rates and breathing settle some and waiting for Rick and Brad (who had made their own stop a bit back and were rescued by someone on a tractor cutting the grass who tossed them a couple of bottles of ice cold water) to catch up.  Once those two restarted and reached us, we headed out again, moving slowly and sloppily down the road in a pair of loose echelons, each of us pulling for 50-60 seconds before gassing and dropping to the rear.  We rolled on like this until about two-or-three miles from our lunch stop when we caught up with the group ahead of us (I believe it was the Chris Express), who had just withered in the wind and were riding at about 10-12 MPH as we rolled up on them.
Actually, as I was pulling our group at that moment, I hadn’t noticed that I had actually rolled through them, and not just up on them until I was nearly a quarter mile past them.  At that point, I decided to keep on pushing the pace (to a roaring 14 MPH) until I caught up to Adam, who was another eighth of a mile or so beyond me.  By the time I had caught him I was utterly gassed, worse I still had no idea where our lunch stop was; all of the buildings in the area seemed to stay a constant distance ahead of us, no matter how long we pedaled.  And pedal we did.  I don’t know why Adam was still going so hard, but the only reason I didn’t drop my pace to the level that my body was screaming for was sheer ego.  I had pushed hard to work my way up to Adam’s side, and I sure as hell didn’t want anyone behind me see me slow or stop once I had.  Of course, they didn’t see me race away either, as Adam did once we finally spotted the Red Cross Hummer parked outside the little white Apache shack where we ate our much needed and hard earned sandwiches and chips, and rested as long as we could before heading back on up the road to Hackberry and then Sulphur.
Honestly, I don’t have much to say about the ride up to Hackberry other than to say when the wind was with us it was fine, and when we turned into the wind, it was another sip of hell.  Beyond Hackberry, it was a bit of a blur.  I was feeling better than I did going into Hackberry, but all I wanted was to get into the hotel and rest.  The wind, the distance, and the sheer stupidity of my not following my nutrition plan with anything approximating fidelity led to me wearing down about as far as one can without getting SAGged.  Once we reached the outskirts of Sulphur, I got caught at one street light and rejoiced for the rest.  Farther up I just missed getting caught at another light and cursed under what little breath I had.  Things were made worse when my odometer rolled past 92 miles, the theoretical end of this leg, and the hotel was nowhere in site.  I had known, from what everyone was saying at the last rest stop, that I still had another two miles to go, but I still held out hope that they were all wrong.  Finally, I approached the final intersection where I was to turn off onto the road that would take me to the hotel.  I twas just in front of this intersection that I spotted a Sonic and had to fight, with damn near every fiber of my being, the desire to pull in and get a Route 44 Lime Slush and a cheeseburger.  The only reason I didn’t was because I knew the Holiday Inn and its cold beer beer were waiting just a minute’s ride up the rode.  And so I swallowed my desires and humped my way into the hotel parking lot where I gladly flopped in a chair and gobbled down two mini ice cream sandwiches and a big ol’ PB&J sandwich.  The ugliness was over, and I could turn my attention to dinner that night and our upcoming century ride the next day.
Final numbers: 94.33 miles, 5:50:57 elapsed…it was the worst of rides.
So the day started out really well: a good night’s sleep followed by cool weather and light winds, and the road out of Beaumont was quite pleasant. Hell, even the climb over Pleasure Island Bridge was, well, a pleasure.  But shortly after we left the comfort of the Pleasure Island rest-stop, the day took an ugly turn.
It started not long after we (Rick, Brad, Ross, and myself) paused to rescue a turtle that was sitting in the middle of TX82 (given the number of smashed turtles we saw on the road that day, we almost assuredly extended its life).  Now, you might think that Mother Nature would appreciate us saving one of her creatures from an untimely end, but she must have misinterpreted our actions as thwarting her plans, because not ten minutes later, about two miles from the Texas/Louisiana Border, we turned right into a wall of wind that dropped our speed and sapped our energy.  It was so bad that by the time we had reached the Sabine Lake Bridge that would take us into Louisiana, I had more trouble going over it than the far longer and steeper Paradise Island Bridge we had crossed a few miles back.
From that point on, it was just a long, brutal slog of about 30 miles along LA82.  For a long stretch of this slog, the eastbound side of the road had been scraped, pending repaving (it might be much nicer next year).  And so not only were we battling the winds, but also the bone rattling ride over the artificially roughened roads.  Luckily for us, at this point (and shortly after I had taken my pull), the SAG-Wagon with the BIke Barn trailer caught up to us and gave us a nice draft for about 6-8 miles before pulling away and leaving us to battle the wind once again.  About the only downside to that “motor-pacing” section, besides their pulling away, was that the guys right up at the bumper, where the draft was the strongest, refused to rotate out of position and let the rest of the group get some much-needed rest for their legs.  Still, even sitting at the back of that pack I got a much needed draft for a few miles, without which, I may have had a much harder time reaching our lunch destination.
Right after the SAG-Wagon pulled away, taking its draft with it, I and a couple other guys (sorry, I was too tired to even remember who it was) pulled over to make an impromptu rest area, letting our heart-rates and breathing settle some and waiting for Rick and Brad (who had made their own stop a bit back and were rescued by someone on a tractor cutting the grass who tossed them a couple of bottles of ice cold water) to catch up.  Once those two restarted and reached us, we headed out again, moving slowly and sloppily down the road in a pair of loose echelons, each of us pulling for 50-60 seconds before gassing and dropping to the rear.  We rolled on like this until about two-or-three miles from our lunch stop when we caught up with the group ahead of us (I believe it was the Chris Express), who had just withered in the wind and were riding at about 10-12 MPH as we rolled up on them.
Actually, as I was pulling our group at that moment, I hadn’t noticed that I had actually rolled through them, and not just up on them until I was nearly a quarter mile past them.  At that point, I decided to keep on pushing the pace (to a roaring 14 MPH) until I caught up to Adam, who was another eighth of a mile or so beyond me.  By the time I had caught him I was utterly gassed, worse I still had no idea where our lunch stop was; all of the buildings in the area seemed to stay a constant distance ahead of us, no matter how long we pedaled.  And pedal we did.  I don’t know why Adam was still going so hard, but the only reason I didn’t drop my pace to the level that my body was screaming for was sheer ego.  I had pushed hard to work my way up to Adam’s side, and I sure as hell didn’t want anyone behind me see me slow or stop once I had.  Of course, they didn’t see me race away either, as Adam did once we finally spotted the Red Cross Hummer parked outside the little white Apache shack where we ate our much needed and hard earned sandwiches and chips, and rested as long as we could before heading back on up the road to Hackberry and then Sulphur.
Honestly, I don’t have much to say about the ride up to Hackberry other than to say when the wind was with us it was fine, and when we turned into the wind, it was another sip of hell.  Beyond Hackberry, it was a bit of a blur.  I was feeling better than I did going into Hackberry, but all I wanted was to get into the hotel and rest.  The wind, the distance, and the sheer stupidity of my not following my nutrition plan with anything approximating fidelity led to me wearing down about as far as one can without getting SAGged.  Once we reached the outskirts of Sulphur, I got caught at one street light and rejoiced for the rest.  Farther up I just missed getting caught at another light and cursed under what little breath I had.  Things were made worse when my odometer rolled past 92 miles, the theoretical end of this leg, and the hotel was nowhere in site.  I had known, from what everyone was saying at the last rest stop, that I still had another two miles to go, but I still held out hope that they were all wrong.  Finally, I approached the final intersection where I was to turn off onto the road that would take me to the hotel.  I twas just in front of this intersection that I spotted a Sonic and had to fight, with damn near every fiber of my being, the desire to pull in and get a Route 44 Lime Slush and a cheeseburger.  The only reason I didn’t was because I knew the Holiday Inn and its cold beer beer were waiting just a minute’s ride up the rode.  And so I swallowed my desires and humped my way into the hotel parking lot where I gladly flopped in a chair and gobbled down two mini ice cream sandwiches and a big ol’ PB&J sandwich.  The ugliness was over, and I could turn my attention to dinner that night and our upcoming century ride the next day.
Final numbers: 94.33 miles, 5:50:57 elapsed time, 16.12 MPH average time, 16.12 MPH average

…it was the worst of rides.

Dave and Mike getting ready to ride.  That's Dory in the middle.

Dave and Mike getting ready to ride. That's Dory in the middle.

So the day started out really well: a good night’s sleep followed by cool weather and light winds, and the road out of Beaumont was quite pleasant. Hell, even the climb over Pleasure Island Bridge was, well, a pleasure.  But shortly after we left the comfort of the Pleasure Island rest-stop, the day took an ugly turn.

Left to Right: Rick, Ross, and Brad

Left to Right: Rick, Ross, and Brad

It started not long after we (Rick, Brad, Ross, and myself) paused to rescue a turtle that was sitting in the middle of TX82 (given the number of smashed turtles we saw on the road that day, we almost assuredly extended its life).  Now, you might think that Mother Nature would appreciate us saving one of her creatures from an untimely end, but she must have misinterpreted our actions as thwarting her plans, because not ten minutes later, about two miles from the Texas/Louisiana Border, we turned right into a wall of wind that dropped our speed and sapped our energy.  It was so bad that by the time we had reached the Sabine Lake Bridge that would take us into Louisiana, I had more trouble going over it than the far longer and steeper Paradise Island Bridge we had crossed a few miles back.

From that point on, it was just a long, brutal slog of about 30 miles along LA82.  For a long stretch of this slog, the eastbound side of the road had been scraped, pending repaving (it might be much nicer next year).  And so not only were we battling the winds, but also the bone rattling ride over the artificially roughened roads.  Luckily for us, at this point (and shortly after I had taken my pull), the SAG-Wagon with the Bike Barn trailer caught up to us and gave us a nice draft for about 6-8 miles before pulling away and leaving us to battle the wind once again.  About the only downside to that “motor-pacing” section, besides their pulling away, was that the guys right up at the bumper, where the draft was the strongest, refused to rotate out of position and let the rest of the group get some much-needed rest for their legs.  Still, even sitting at the back of that pack I got a much needed draft for a few miles, without which, I may have had a much harder time reaching our lunch destination.

Half of the Pleasure Island Bridge, with my bike in the corner

Half of the Pleasure Island Bridge, with my bike in the corner

Right after the SAG-Wagon pulled away, taking its draft with it, I and a couple other guys (sorry, I was too tired to even remember who it was) pulled over to make an impromptu rest area, letting our heart-rates and breathing settle some and waiting for Rick and Brad (who had made their own stop a bit back and were rescued by someone on a tractor cutting the grass who tossed them a couple of bottles of ice cold water) to catch up.  Once those two restarted and reached us, we headed out again, moving slowly and sloppily down the road in a pair of loose echelons.  Each of us took turns pulling for 50-60 seconds before gassing and dropping to the rear.  We rolled on like this until about two-or-three miles from our lunch stop when we caught up with the group ahead of us (I believe it was the Chris Express), who had just withered in the wind and were riding at about 10-12 MPH as we rolled up on them.

Do I look like I'm half dead?

Do I look like I'm half dead?

Actually, as I was pulling our group at that moment, I hadn’t noticed that I had actually rolled through them, and not just up on them until I was nearly a quarter mile past them.  At that point, I decided to keep on pushing the pace (to a roaring 14 MPH) until I caught up to Adam, who was another eighth of a mile or so beyond me.  By the time I had caught him I was utterly gassed, worse I still had no idea where our lunch stop was; all of the buildings in the area seemed to stay a constant distance ahead of us, no matter how long we pedaled.  And pedal we did.  I don’t know why Adam was still going so hard, but the only reason I didn’t drop my pace to the level that my body was screaming for was sheer ego.  I had pushed hard to work my way up to Adam’s side, and I sure as hell didn’t want anyone behind me see me slow or stop once I had.  Of course, they didn’t see me race away either, as Adam did once we finally spotted the Red Cross Hummer parked outside the little white Apache shack where we ate our much needed and hard earned sandwiches and chips, and rested as long as we could before heading back on up the road to Hackberry and then Sulphur.

Left to right: Chris, Jon (don't call him Paw Paw), Victoria, Chris, and Terry

Left to right: Chris, Jon (don't call him Paw Paw), Victoria, Chris, and Terry

Terry, Jose and Mike catch a rest at Holly Beach

Terry, Jose and Mike catch a rest at Holly Beach

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about the ride up to Hackberry other than to say when the wind was with us it was fine, and when we turned into the wind, it was another sip of hell.  Beyond Hackberry, it was a bit of a blur.  I was feeling better than I did going into Hackberry, but all I wanted was to get into the hotel and rest.  The wind, the distance, and the sheer stupidity of my not following my nutrition plan with anything approximating fidelity led to me wearing down about as far as one can without getting SAGged.  Once we reached the outskirts of Sulphur, I got caught at one street light and rejoiced for the rest.  Farther up I just missed getting caught at another light and cursed under what little breath I had.  Things were made worse when my odometer rolled past 92 miles, the theoretical end of this leg, and the hotel was nowhere in site.  I had known, from what everyone was saying at the last rest stop, that I still had another two miles to go, but I still held out hope that they were all wrong.  Finally, I approached the final intersection where I was to turn off onto the road that would take me to the hotel.  It was just in front of this intersection that I spotted a Sonic and had to fight, with damn near every fiber of my being, the desire to pull in and get a Route 44 Lime Slush and a cheeseburger.  The only reason I didn’t was because I knew the Holiday Inn and its cold beer were waiting just a minute’s ride up the rode.  And so I swallowed my desires and humped my way into the hotel parking lot where I gladly flopped in a chair and gobbled down two mini ice cream sandwiches and a big ol’ PB&J sandwich.  The ugliness was over, and I could turn my attention to dinner that night and our upcoming century ride the next day.

IMG_0754

Sweet relief!

Final numbers: 94.33 miles, 5:50:57 elapsed time, 16.12 MPH average

Day 1: 89 miles for free Shiner!

The Place: Holiday Inn, Beaumont; room 730.
Let’s get one thing straight, this is going to be short. We just had dinner, and I’m tired, as in, I’ll be asleep by nine tired.
We did just shy of 89 miles today. The weather was fabulous: light winds, mostly from a favorable direction, and the heat and humidity were relatively low. The roads were mostly smooth, give or take 10-12 miles of chipseal that vibrated my arms deep into numbness.
Average speed was about 18.5 MPH (exact numbers will come later), and I, shockingly, would have come in as a part of the lead group were it not for a flat, two miles from the finish. Of course, I would have been nowhere near the lead group had they not suffered from a series of flat tires themselves.
At the end of the line: Free Shiner beer, free massages (and I don’t mean to complain too much here, but I did get what I paid for there), and a verdict from the bike mechs that I need to get a new rim for my front wheel (though probably not until I get home).
Geh. After that, a shower, a good dinner at the Spindletop Steakhouse, and now a big crash in energy leading me to wrap up this day’s review right here.
Good night.
ADDENDUM:
OK, now that I’ve rested and had time to put all of this together, here’s the day’s details:
The day started out pretty tame, as we worked our way out of the Sheraton North Houston parking lot behind our police escort and began our path towards Will Clayton Parkway.  Once we reached Will Clayton and we lost our escort, the pace picked up a bit as the roads started clearing of cars and we headed towards FM 1960 across Lake Houston; it was on this part of the ride that I got mixed in with the faster riders of Team DRAFT, Team Jackass, and the Chris Express, and more or less flew (for my fat ass) over the bridge across Lake Houston and down Fairlake Lane to the first tailgate rest-stop.  It was at this point that I realized I’d never be able to keep up that pace for the entire day, and pulled into the rest-stop to recover my wind and fill my protein bottle for fuel to get me to the next rest-stop ZZ miles down the road.
Sadly, as I stopped to fill my bottle, I missed some of the big excitement of the day as the riders who skipped past the tailgate got to mess with a live water mocassin in the road.  Reports are that he even lunged at one of the riders’ legs as they passed by, but I’ve yet to confirm that story.  Needless to say, if anything lunged at me that day, I neither saw nor felt it.  What I did see, however, was the nucleus of the group that I would spend most of the tour riding with as we sort of grouped up on the way to Dayton for the first time.  This group featured Ross and Mike, with Mike’s GPS letting us know when the turns were approaching, and I believe Tracy and David had been it that group as well.
It was a quick stop in Dayton, long enough to grab a couple of pickles, a bit of Gatorade, and a refill of my protein bottle before pulling out again and heading for lunch in Devers.  For this leg, which ran almost exclusively along US90, passing through Liberty, Ames, and Raywood, we also picked up the brother-in-law pair of Rick and Brad, who would also be a part of my riding group for the majority of the tour.  With Rick, Brad, and Mike setting the pace up front (and me sucking wheels and air in the rear), we burned up US90, eventually puling into Devers Elementary School for lunch with an average speed of almost 18.7 MPH so far for the day.  Now I understand that that’s a nice relaxed pace for some of the folk on the ride, but for me these days, that’s damn near flying; sadly, it would go to my head a bit after lunch and cause me to do stupid things.
It was after lunch, when I should have been sitting back a bit and letting my body digest, when I lost my head a bit.  We had set out again on US90, and for some reason, we all forgot how to ride as a group.  Some people fell back (Brad started to cramp up a bit at this point, IIRC), some shot ahead (like Ross and myself), and some maintained their pace from the previous leg (maybe a bit under that pace).  As I shot ahead and turned south onto FM 1009, I caught up with Rick, who had also started the leg strong, but then decided to hold back and wait for his brother-in-law, and I had the lead group – a mix of DRAFT, Jackass, and Chris Express – in my sights.  It was here that all reason shut off in my brain, and rather than slowing the pace and reforming our group, I decided I could make a solo effort to catch that lead peleton full of horses far stronger than I.  For miles I kept them in my sights, dumping energy into my pedals and sweat onto the pavement, on occasion I would even get a bit closer to them; and then we turned into the wind.  As FM1009 turned up towards the north to reconnect with US90, that giant pack of riders just started creeping further and further towards the horizon as their drafting allowed them to maintain their pace far easier than me, a lone rider with no shelter from the wind.  By the time I had rejoined US90 in Nome, that lead group was gone over the horizon, and I was spent, only able to catch and pass those few unfortunate riders who flatted along the route.  And by the time I pulled into the rest area in China, I was utterly gassed, and took an extra long rest break, waiting for Rick, Ross, and Brad to roll in and rest up before heading out for the final leg into Beaumont.
At the start of this final leg, Brad was experiencing problems with his foot and leg, and Ross had shifted into his slower gear, and we spent the first couple of miles slowly rolling down the road, but it wasn’t long before everyone got their second wind and we started hammering once again.  As we shot down Old Sour Lake Road/Phelan Blvd, we passed (quite to our surprise) that lead pack who had stopped for yet another flat tire.  This only served to add a bit of giddyup to our step as we had hoped to beat that team of horses into the Holiday Inn.  Sadly, our hopes were dashed when yours truly caught a flat in my rear tire just two miles from the finish, and we helplessly watched as the other group passed by while I was getting my repair.  No worries though, this isn’t a race, and frankly, I was proud to have finished as close to Team Draft and the other as I did (it would be a long time before that would happen again on this tour), so there wasn’t even a bruise on my ego after that flat.  Besides, the extra delay in getting into the Hotel parking lot just meant that the Shiner waiting for me would get just a little bit colder.
From that point on, it was the aforementioned beer, massage, bad news on the rim, and trip to the Spindletop to gorge myself on salad, rice, and catfish, before heading back to the hotel for some wonderful sleep before Day two, which would take me into Louisiana for the first time in my life.

The Place: Holiday Inn, Beaumont; room 730.

Let’s get one thing straight, this is going to be short. We just had dinner, and I’m tired, as in, I’ll be asleep by nine tired.

We did just over 89 miles today. The weather was fabulous: light winds, mostly from a favorable direction, and the heat and humidity were relatively low. The roads were mostly smooth, give or take 10-12 miles of chipseal that vibrated my arms deep into numbness.

Average speed was about 18.5 MPH (exact numbers will come later), and I, shockingly, would have come in as a part of the lead group were it not for a flat, two miles from the finish. Of course, I would have been nowhere near the lead group had they not suffered from a series of flat tires themselves.

At the end of the line: Free Shiner beer, free massages (and I don’t mean to complain too much here, but I did get what I paid for there), and a verdict from the bike mechs that I need to get a new rim for my front wheel (though probably not until I get home).

Geh. After that, a shower, a good dinner at the Spindletop Steakhouse, and now a big crash in energy leading me to wrap up this day’s review right here.

Good night.

ADDENDUM:

OK, now that I’ve rested and had time to put all of this together, here’s the day’s details:

The day started out pretty tame, as we worked our way out of the Sheraton North Houston parking lot behind our police escort and began our path towards Will Clayton Parkway.  Once we reached Will Clayton and we lost our escort, the pace picked up a bit as the roads started clearing of cars and we headed towards FM 1960 across Lake Houston; it was on this part of the ride that I got mixed in with the faster riders of Team DRAFT, Team Jackass, and the Chris Express, and more or less flew (for my fat ass) over the bridge across Lake Houston and down Fairlake Lane to the first tailgate rest-stop.  It was at this point that I realized I’d never be able to keep up that pace for the entire day, and pulled into the rest-stop to recover my wind and fill my protein bottle for fuel to get me to the next rest-stop 16 miles down the road.

Brad and Dave relaxing after the ride.

Brad and Dave relaxing after the ride.

Sadly, as I stopped to fill my bottle, I missed some of the big excitement of the day as the riders who skipped past the tailgate got to mess with a live water moccasin in the road.  Reports are that he even lunged at one of the riders’ legs as they passed by, but I’ve yet to confirm that story.  Needless to say, if anything lunged at me that day, I neither saw nor felt it.  What I did see, however, was the nucleus of the group that I would spend most of the tour riding with as we sort of grouped up on the way to Dayton for the first time.  This group featured Ross and Mike, with Mike’s GPS letting us know when the turns were approaching, and I believe Tracy and David had been it that group as well.

It was a quick stop in Dayton, long enough to grab a couple of pickles, a bit of Gatorade, and a refill of my protein bottle before pulling out again and heading for lunch in Devers.  For this leg, which ran almost exclusively along US90, passing through Liberty, Ames, and Raywood, we also picked up the brother-in-law pair of Rick and Brad, who would also be a part of my riding group for the majority of the tour.  With Rick, Brad, and Mike setting the pace up front (and me sucking wheels and air in the rear), we burned up US90, eventually puling into Devers Elementary School for lunch with an average speed of almost 18.7 MPH so far for the day.  Now I understand that that’s a nice relaxed pace for some of the folk on the ride, but for me these days, that’s damn near flying; sadly, it would go to my head a bit after lunch and cause me to do stupid things.

Mike and Rick (well, Rick's hand)

Mike and Rick (well, Rick's hand)

It was after lunch, when I should have been sitting back a bit and letting my body digest, when I lost my head a bit.  We had set out again on US90, and for some reason, we all forgot how to ride as a group.  Some people fell back (Brad started to cramp up a bit at this point, IIRC), some shot ahead (like Ross and myself), and some maintained their pace from the previous leg (maybe a bit under that pace).  As I shot ahead and turned south onto FM 1009, I caught up with Rick, who had also started the leg strong, but then decided to hold back and wait for his brother-in-law, and I had the lead group – a mix of DRAFT, Jackass, and Chris Express – in my sights.  It was here that all reason shut off in my brain, and rather than slowing the pace and reforming our group, I decided I could make a solo effort to catch that lead peloton full of horses far stronger than I.  For miles I kept them in my sights, dumping energy into my pedals and sweat onto the pavement, on occasion I would even get a bit closer to them; and then we turned into the wind.  As FM1009 turned up towards the north to reconnect with US90, that giant pack of riders just started creeping further and further towards the horizon as their drafting allowed them to maintain their pace far easier than me, a lone rider with no shelter from the wind.  By the time I had rejoined US90 in Nome, that lead group was gone over the horizon, and I was spent, only able to catch and pass those few unfortunate riders who flatted along the route.  And by the time I pulled into the rest area in China, I was utterly gassed, and took an extra long rest break, waiting for Rick, Ross, and Brad to roll in and rest up before heading out for the final leg into Beaumont.

At the start of this final leg, Brad was experiencing problems with his foot and leg, and Ross had shifted into his slower gear, and we spent the first couple of miles slowly rolling down the road, but it wasn’t long before everyone got their second wind and we started hammering once again.  As we shot down Old Sour Lake Road/Phelan Blvd, we passed (quite to our surprise) that lead pack who had stopped for yet another flat tire.  This only served to add a bit of giddyup to our step as we had hoped to beat that team of horses into the Holiday Inn.  Sadly, our hopes were dashed when yours truly caught a flat in my rear tire just two miles from the finish, and we helplessly watched as the other group passed by while I was getting my repair.  No worries though, this isn’t a race, and frankly, I was proud to have finished as close to Team Draft and the other as I did (it would be a long time before that would happen again on this tour), so there wasn’t even a bruise on my ego after that flat.  Besides, the extra delay in getting into the Hotel parking lot just meant that the Shiner waiting for me would get just a little bit colder.

Sunburn and Shiner

Sunburn and Shiner

From that point on, it was the aforementioned beer, massage, bad news on the rim, and trip to the Spindletop to gorge myself on salad, rice, and catfish, before heading back to the hotel for some wonderful sleep before Day two, which would take me into Louisiana for the first time in my life.

Final numbers: 89.11 miles, 4:50:32 elapsed, 18.40 MPH average

A couple of notes about my numbers for the ride:

1) They usually include the time and distance associated with pushing the bike to my hotel room.  This is usually around 0.1 miles and a minute or two of time, so it’s not too worthy of note.

2) I was coming in consistently about 1-2% higher in mileage than others on the ride.  I double-checked the wheel-size setting on my computer, and it’s set to the recommended value for 700c x 23mm wheels/tires like I used, so I don’t know what the deal is.  I need to find a measured mile and do some calibrating, I guess.

Day 0: The long night before

Day 0:

Americam?

Americam?

The place: the Sheraton North Houston, room 823. I’m sitting on the bed, watching the Cavs claw their way back into the opening game of their playoff series with the Celtics, and thinking I should maybe stretch a bit. Really though, I just want to watch the Cavs win and go to bed happy, because I’ve got a big day tomorrow. Tomorrow the Tour du Rouge begins.

This is what I’ve been waiting for since last October, what I’ve been raising money for since December, and training for since February (though, honestly, not as hard as I should have). It’s actually a little hard to believe that it’s finally here, since it’s always been something that’s so far in the future. Now all I need to do is make it through the night.

I’m pretty sure I can sleep. I’m tired. I feel tired. I’m just worried that I’m going to be restless tonight and that I’m going to wake up tomorrow exhausted and have to drag ass all the way into Beaumont. Whatever… at least I finally get to ride in the Tour du Rouge.

Also, Go Cavs!