The Cinereal 600k
I love the GLR rides. They are beautiful and incredibly challenging in terms of terrain and, at least this year, weather. The 300k had no rain, but had almost 100 miles of heavy headwinds and cold temperatures, the 400k had rain and cold temperatures, and this ride, well, frankly it was the best of the bunch and that doesn’t mean it was a flowers and sunshine.
As a randonneur, especially in a PBP year, I like good challenges early. If one is going to the Grand Event, one doesn’t really want to be experiencing anything for the first time. PBP is notorious for wind, rain, heat, cold, and just about everything else. However, having done a bunch of 1200ks, I’d also point out that that is the case for just about any of the multi-day events.
I had ulterior motives for riding in the form of my friend, Lisa, who 1) had never ridden in Wisconsin and 2) was going to her first PBP this year and who, as a resident of San Diego, perhaps had less experience with the rolling terrain and rain than the average Midwesterner. Sure the SD brevet week had some nasty weather, but 2 wet, cold rides in the day does not familiarity make. There are all sorts of different odd things that can happen with bad weather – particularly at night. It might sound like I am a sadistic friend, but really, if you are going to experience all night riding in lousy weather, you don’t want to rely on your first good experience with it to be at PBP. The last time she had done something like this had in fact been marred by a now famous crash on the Jarbo Gap in the Gold Rush, which is how she wound up meeting me in the first place. I love the circularity here.
|Lisa's Bike - New Gear
|Summer Knight - Minus a bag
So even though there was a major chance of rain for this ride, in the end, it was the best training ride we could have come up with. Both of us were already qualified so risk taking was the entire point. This was a trial run for a slew of new equipment, bags, racks, rain gear, lights, clothing, fitting, etc. as well as a first for traveling with a bike on a major airline. As for me, this was to make a grand total of 2,600k in a 30-day period – that is a truckload of riding – a serious test of my ability to recover.
After a bit longer than expected drive to Delavan, we readied the bikes for the ride. The first, and worst, discovery was that I had omitted my front bag from packing the car. That included my inhaler, medication, SPOT tracker, and my cue sheet mount. Yikes! I would not have a cue sheet for an entire 600k. But I reasoned SpinBob was on the ride, Lisa had a cue sheet window and a Garmin, though I wasn’t certain how up to date the route was since she had gotten it from RideWithGPS and not the semi-official one from the GLR site.
The ride was again to start in a gentle rain, but this time, the temperatures were to stay very stable in the 70s for the entire ride; winds were to be light to non-existent. That was a blessing since gentle rains and clouds would keep the heat down and I’m still mentally recovering from the heat in Florida. The grey day brought out the vibrancy in the greens and as we rolled out of Delavan, I marveled at how much the corn had grown in a mere two weeks! I managed brief introductions with SpinBob who then zoomed off on a speed mission, the first of my backups for no cue sheet disappearing into the distance.
|That is a lot of colors....riding out of Delavan
Lisa and I enjoyed a pleasant pace almost precisely the same as my pace 2 weeks earlier. This allowed us to chat and enjoy the scenery as the rain started to lighten and eventually lift. We pulled into Edgerton and made quick work of the stop. Another rider was just in front of us wearing a green jersey. I never did catch his name, but we wound up leap frogging with him all day. I mentally named him “Green”.
Lisa and I both share a common interest in creating our own ride food. We had an array of rice cakes and homemade bars. This dramatically decreases control times and, at least for me, I get more even digestion by eating a little continuously and avoiding big sandwiches or meals at controls. I also can’t eat peanuts which pretty much nixes most traditional ride fare. I had made 3 different kinds of rice bars for this ride. I had about 10 of them with me on the first 400k of this ride. By the time we hit the second control at Verona, they were half gone! Ugh. Most fortunately, Lisa had the same number and offered to share.
The rain largely ended after Edgerton and we easily rode the rollers to Verona through Stoughton. Here, I made my first navigational error in missing the turn on Pace St. Going through Stoughton was new this year so I assumed the failure of the GPS to point it out meant that we had last year’s route loaded. There were some significant differences between the 2 years that I thought I would have to keep in mind. We lost a few minutes, but not too much, retracing our steps.
Between Verona, another quick stop, and Sauk City, Jim and Bob were manning a secret control at the top of a long descent that is a climb for the Ironman Route. Despite the gray day, the tri-riders were out in full force and as we descended the hill, we passed bike after bike grating their way up. We paused to take pictures since this was a new state for Lisa and she was additionally trying out a point and shoot camera that allowed her to take photos without stopping – a skill I had spent quite a bit of time developing. One of my favorite climbs is on this section and I was feeling abnormally peppy on climbs. I suppose riding 2,000k does eventually do something for one’s thighs – even lame ones like mine. But early in a 600k is no place to be making time.
At Sauk City, we pulled in and had some soup and a slightly longer break of 20 minutes. At 95 miles, this signals the start of the larger climbs into the Baraboo area. Not that we hadn’t already been climbing. At this point, three riders that had started an hour late caught up looking a little breathless, but happy. I gathered that they were somewhat new and I look forward to seeing them in the future.
Lisa and I left a bit after Green and another rider wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey – I never caught his name either but mentally named him Blackhawk. The grey day kept on, but with no wind, we continued to enjoy the ride, pausing for pictures at some of the very lovely, sweeping views of the Baraboo bluff. The route was even more powerfully alive than 2 weeks previously and you could almost see the plants in the fields pushing towards the sky.
The 3-stage ascent of the bluff on Freedom Road and Happy Hill Road is among the most difficult on the GLR rides. I have literally heard one man’s voice quiver in fear at the mere mention of Freedom Road. Personally, I like it because it has multiple tiers, a view mid way and a fabulous descent. At the top of the second section, we paused with the sweat dripping off us. For those randonneurs not in our particular gender and age group, whenever that happens, there are multiple reasons, one or more of which might be true: 1) You are working your a__ off 2) You are having a hot flash and 3) Your companion is having a hot flash and you are sympathetically having one yourself. I’m pretty sure all three were going on, though who was sympathetic might be up for grabs. I briefly thought I was back in Florida.
|Top of Freedom Hill
|The View from Freedom Hill
We arrived in Baraboo again at nearly the same time as 2 weeks previous. Both of us had been eating on the route, so we skipped subs and instead continued on to Lodi, which promised a bit better fare. At this point, Lisa had eaten only 1 rice cake to my 9 and gave me 3; in retrospect, that should have really set a loud bell off in my head but only resonated at a tinkling. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I had gotten up at least part of Freedom Road first; that NEVER happens.
We took off out of Baraboo and passed the circus museum and headed for Devil’s Lake. This was probably my favorite visit to the park.
|At Devil's Lake
The grey day had kept most people at home and the lake was serene and almost deserted but for a few fisherman and hikers. We stopped on the shore to take some photos. The grey weather had really started growing on me, though I again noticed that climbing was going slower for Lisa than I had ever seen it.
|Riding in the Park
I put it down to travel, jet lag and lack of familiarity with the route. I’m inevitably slower on routes that are new – there is too much to see to rush.
We stopped at the Merrimac ferry and I had some popcorn, the salt really appealing. Lisa had an ice cream. BlackHawk and Green both made the ferry with us and when we got to the other side, both Lisa and I picked up the pace to Lodi. I kept wondering about what the weather might do and asked her to check when we got to the control. It was around 7 when we got there and I bought some lemonade, watermelon to share. I’d been munching my way through my bag though my primary sugar supply was untouched. I’ve found that rice cakes excel at maintaining my blood glucose even and spare the drain on my liver – total bummer they can’t go to PBP. Being that my liver is just about the only digestive organ that works well, I strive to make its life better. I felt better at 230k than I had at 100k.
|At Merrimac Ferry
From Lodi, there were a couple of rollers out of the Wisconsin River Valley and we gained a bit of time on this section arriving in Columbus just after dark – a bit behind my pace two weeks ago but still in the window. The weather was still quite nice and we looked to be on track to finish up around the same time. But the forecast also called for rain after midnight.
|Sunset outside Columbus
As we left Columbus in the dark, the lack of a cue sheet and the darkness caused problems for navigation. My computer, adjusted again for my 650B wheels, was off by MILES – about 4 for every 40 miles. That made figuring out where we were on a cue sheet that neither one of us could see easily difficult. To make matters worse, I usually ride this route with SpinBob, who likes to ride in front and navigate, in the dark so the landmarks that I relied on had not sunk in. We inevitably went straight where there should have been a left to stay on the road. This blew about 20 minutes as we stopped and puzzled over where we were, asking a guy with a dog for directions eventually. Losing time in this manner was not really what we were looking for.
Fortunately, River Road, despite some possibilities was not flooded from the previous rains. We eventually caught the other two riders and were together for at least a few miles. Long enough to be together when the inevitable hecklers showed up in their pickup truck to harass us for riding at night. Really? How is it that all these guys drive white pickups? Is it some kind of strange advertising? After all, we all know that serial killers favor white vans with no windows. Random jerks keep with the white, but go for the flatbed.
The section just before Lake Mills is marked by large, plop-like glacial features called drumlins. Just as we arrived, the first major plops of rain arrived on cue. I stopped and rolled down my rain legs, grabbing my rain jacket and just getting it zipped as the sky opened and absolutely poured! I haven’t been in rain like that since the Gold Rush. Gee what a great friend I was for dragging my friend out into the path of the Kraken. Fortunately, she had new rain legs. Putting on rain pants would have been a project on the road and we had so little time before the deluge she’d have been soaked to the bone before they were on. Love rain legs, so easy to deploy….
The two of us enjoyed the benefits of stellar lights and rain gear and we continued to be able to ride at a decent pace despite the pouring rain. 5 minutes later, both men were nowhere to be seen. That had not been my intention, but I figured they would catch up. The rain was a bit cool but the temperatures continued to be warm and though I was a bit sick of it, we got to Lake Mills without an issue at about 12:30. At this point, air conditioning was freezing so I went inside with cards to get hot chocolate while Lisa checked the weather and sent a text to Shaun. The clerk looked at me like I had 3 heads. I’m not sure I was interpreting correctly, but there seemed to be disdain in her voice, “it sucks that you are riding”. I had her sign the cards, paid up and left the store as quickly as possible giving her what I hope was a cheery goodbye. The cocoa turned out to be a nice break and the guys again pulled up as we left.
Leaving Lake Mills, we were on what I thought was a new route and the rain and darkness made things difficult to see. We turned at the correct turn onto what we thought was Mud Lake Road, but somehow missed a fork where Mud Lake diverges from CTY A. About 10 bonus miles later, we were back on the route, the sleep stop now considerably shortened. This also ensured that we would ride in the zombie hours – which is notoriously bad for me. Another person would not have taken this as well as Lisa did.
So we passed the guys, again, which surprised them. But at this point we were on a mission. Unfortunately, the proverbial clock struck 3 and right on time, my brain decided that sleeping was a great idea, no matter what the weather. I proactively did caffeine and I know that a 5 minute nap would have fixed it, but in the pouring rain, that just wasn’t happening. I was so wasted-sleepy that my tongue loosened as if I’d drank about 8 shots. Lisa now knows WAY too much about me. Fortunately, there is that old randonneuring tradition that what happens on the ride STAYS on the ride. Otherwise, I may have to change my name and move to Brazil. I think at one point, she might have been truly frightened, but I eventually did manage to wake myself up.
By the time we got through Whitewater and back to the room, we still had about 3 hours in the bank. I threw off all my wet clothes, set an alarm and used a blow dryer on the wet brevet cards while eating. Lisa took a shower (I think) and crashed like a rock. We had an hour and a half of sleep and she was so far into REM that I practically had to shake her to wake her up. The rain hadn’t let up at all and we ate what we could, refilled the food on the bike and departed at about 8:30.
|Riding away from the Kraken!
As we started, it absolutely poured. Fortunately, I knew the 200k better than the 400k and it was easy navigating to Brodhead. It let up and I was briefly hopeful, but then it poured even harder. To add insult to injury, a quarter mile of the route was gone and now a big pile of mud.
|Damn, I cannot see without my glasses
Lisa, in mountain shoes, had an easier time of it and I wound up trudging in tall grass since my cleats would have been very hard to clean out after walking in mud.
Then a miracle happened. It stopped raining and a white line showed up on the horizon! We both paused at the same time and took the same picture of the black clouds now receding into the east as we continued west. Within 15 minutes, the sun made an appearance and it heated up to 80 degrees. The rain had left us both a bit worse for the wear and, though I was still climbing better, both of us were equally awake. A subtle idea started working its way into my thoughts. A couple of riders passed us having waited out the rain. We paused for more pictures and got to Brodhead to see 2 other bikes at the control. Here, I bought a couple of Mighty Mango juices and Lisa got some really nice potato chips that I clumsily dropped on the ground. We ate them any way – 5 second rule.
|Rollers on the way to Brodhead
I also realized that I had forgotten sunscreen and it was downright sunny. We had an extra stop at the Piggly Wiggly for about a gallon of it – the only size for sale. We only had 15 miles to Evansville and those miles were fun. We rolled in, had some ice cream and rolled out quickly since Oregon was also not far. We had a nice chat but something was clearly off. We pulled into Oregon later than either of us thought. Another quick stop and as we turned onto CTY A for the last 50 miles, the idea I had been tossing around suddenly crashed into my frontal cortex like a freight train. Aside from a couple of ice cream cones and a few bites of fruit, when had I seen Lisa eat any simple carbs or sugar at all? I had actually eaten at least a third of her supply of rice cakes the previous day and I was pretty sure she had finished with some extra.
|House in Evansville
|Bucolic Roads of Wisconsin
She hadn’t gone for lemonade or anything really sweet besides cocoa the night before. I knew she had real concerns about blood sugar, but I was suddenly reminded of my first ride with IronK in which she languished in frustration on hills despite having some major muscles. I reached into my sugar stash and selected my current favorite, a gel pack of Vermont maple syrup (the good stuff). This ride was about experiments after all.
In 5 minutes, we were going about 17 miles an hour and she was back to being the woman who beat the living crap out of me all winter. I’ve seen some epic comebacks, but this one tops them all. For an hour, the length of time that 30g of sugar lasts, we cruised along at our fastest pace for the entire ride. I could kick myself for not getting it sooner. It had been a silent bonk all the time: the kind where you eat just enough sugar to keep your brain happy, but not enough to ride well at tempo. I had battled the same phenomena 10 years ago when I first really started doing distance.
We pulled into Edgerton, catching a rider we hadn’t seen since Brodhead who looked at us with shock at how fast we had to have been going. We left before him having purchased lemonade and after some additional sugar.
The last 28 miles were done at about 15 mph, the same pace as the first leg of the ride. Despite the weather and the challenges and having a bit shorter sleep stop, Lisa still had her fastest 600k by 6 minutes.
|Selfie at the finish -
Having read Lisa’s blog, I know that she could sense something in my puzzlement at our pace.
I was never frustrated at us going slow, my main worry was that, far from a simple case of not eating enough sugar, her situation was the same one I faced last year: the onset of a chronic illness. At one point, she asked me why the End of World climb in Arizona so terrified me but Freedom Road was a personal favorite when Freedom Road is by far a more difficult climb. I spent quite a bunch of needless time explaining that the End of the World will always be the place where I realized that my body was sick with something that I might not ever recover from. Freedom Road was the climb after 3 months of hell that convinced me I had finally beaten it. I feared the reverse might be true for her. To solve a puzzle like hers on this ride, before the same thing happens on PBP and destroys a dream, what better use of my time could there possibly be?
It isn't everyone that has a friend willing to fly halfway across the country to ride their bike with you. Riding with someone for a long time can change you in subtle way that take a long time to understand. I know that I am a better climber for knowing Lisa. I'm also not sure that either of us would have made it through without the other. I shudder to think what riding alone in pouring rain with limited access to a cue sheet would have been like. There is a satisfaction that comes with being able to share an experience instead of just live it. That is what makes friends from riding partners.