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

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