After dealing with a nasty wind the day before, what would I do the next day with an outdoor temp of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 40 mile per hour winds? That’s right: ride again.
I contacted my friend Josh and agreed to ride with him to a little town south of us called Paoli. Paoli is about 10 miles south of where we started, but getting there involves traveling down one road, looping around, and heading back; in reality, the ride is over 30 miles.
Here’s the thing: I had never ridden out in the country before. That means that the whole concept of cars flying by you at 60 miles per hour (mph) was a little new for me… actually, they do that in the city, too, where the posted speed limit is 40 (so maybe it doesn’t matter). I didn’t really think about it much; I just followed Josh down one highway out of town and out into the country.
Along the way, while waiting at a traffic light, we met another rider. He rode up next to me and asked where we were headed. I told him Paoli. He responded, “three riders is better than two.”
Josh warned him that we were slower, especially since I wasn’t as seasoned.
The rider responded, “that’s okay, I’m out for an easy ride anyway.”
Yeah, it was going to be easy for him with me tagging along.
We continued south along the highway, out past civilization, and into more country. I knew it was country because I could smell the manure recently spread across the fields, and the roads narrowed from marked lanes and shoulders to two-lane marked highways. The flat brown fields to the left and right were dark, still recovering from the snow and rain they withstood all winter, sucking in and gripping the moisture. We sped past those fields.
But the wind sped past us. Being as windy as it was, riding at a moderate pace was challenging. Josh and the other rider got into a steady pace line. I fell behind, afraid to crash, and taking a constant hit from the wind that my spokes wouldn’t let through. I just kept thinking, “man, this is rough; I ain’t never ridden in anything this strong before.” Josh later warned me that the spokes, at a decent speed, generate enough surface area for the wind to push you. Despite the wind, I would have benefited from riding in a pace line with the other two.
We zipped south into some fairly hilly areas, turned right, then right again, then left, and down along yet another hill (I was relying on the others to know where we were). Even heading south, into the wind, traveling downhill, I could still feel wind slowing me down.
I finally felt some relief, though, as we made it to a three-way intersection and turned west. Instead of riding into the wind, it would be off to our left. Pedaling definitely felt easier. We continued along and headed south a bit more. Before I knew it, though, we were turning into Paoli.
We basically rode through one tiny section of town. There’s a cheese shop to the right, closed by this time of the evening. We barely passed it before turning north onto a quiet, two-lane, beat-up country road that sped passed some farms. Although a little bumpy, it was nice to slow down a bit and recover from the beating we took riding into the wind. Now the wind was behind us.
Josh then warned me of a couple of big hills. The other rider took off and sped up the first one before I had a chance to brace myself for what was in store. Josh was right: that first hill was mean. Then it was downhill, just enough to pick up a little speed for the next hill. That second one practically did me in; I felt like I barely made it up that hill. But I persevered, thinking about just making it. It wasn’t until later when I started letting defeat set in: “Okay, if I can’t finish, at what point do I throw in the towel and call Kristen to come and pick me up?” Fortunately, I didn’t give up easily. the remainder of the road wasn’t bad.
We made a turn and ended up passing a tavern and a restaurant in nearby Verona. As we passed the tavern, I thought, “if I gave up now and just stopped for a beer, could I justify getting a ride home?” Chances are that it would not have. The beer would’ve gone down easily, but it certainly would’ve affected my ability (or lack thereof) to get home on the bike. Past this corner, we rode under an overpass and headed back towards the way we came.
We turned onto a stretch of flat straightaway. Josh yelled, “Okay Brian, just get your chain on the big chain ring, the smallest cog, and give it all you’ve got!” Despite my tired state, I did just that; I shifted up on the front and kept pedaling. Then I dropped the back until it wouldn’t go any further. I smashed those pedals with anything I had in me: 23, 24, 25… pushing harder, huffing as much as I can… 28 mph. This was the fastest I’ve gone without going downhill outside on the bike (I’ve hit 31 on the trainer). Josh looked over and asked how fast; I looked down and yelled the number. “Good job, and all of your own power!” I still had some ride in me.
We then headed north on the same highway that led us out of town. We hit one small hill, and I gave it what I had. Suddenly, my right leg cramped. It wasn’t crippling enough to stop me, but it was enough to slow me down. As we continued riding, I clicked my foot out of the pedal and tried to stretch it a little. Later (and closer to home), the other leg cramped up. All I could do was try rubbing them whenever we were coasting, but I struggled with every pedal stroke.
I nearly revelled in seeing the first traffic light in a few miles. The third rider took off; gone at the same spot from which he joined us. Josh and I sat at the traffic light; I could catch my breath for a very brief moment. The light turned green, and we were off again.
We rode up the highway that led us from the city and finally crossed over the freeway into town. Riding into town, I almost felt like we should receive some commendation for making it this far. This was probably one of the toughest rides I’ve experienced so far. But we still wrangled through traffic the same way hundreds or thousands had done before. We finally found a quiet, residential spot where I asked Josh to stop. My quads were tight with pain, and I had to get off and stretch. We stopped for a couple of minutes so I could stretch out the tight thigh muscles, but they weren’t going to let up easily. I just needed some pain relief, and the little bit I could pull out helped.
Josh doesn’t live far from where we started. We rode back the way we started. We split up at our meeting point, and I was on my way home. Three miles later, I rode up to the sidewalk and looked down on my computer: 32.06 miles. Not my longest ride (that occurred October 21, 35.72 miles), but definitely my most challenging.