Friday, August 17, 2007

Day Two: The Century

Day Two: Baraboo to Columbus (107 miles)

(View the route)

With the horrors of Popsicle Hill and a day of breaking my body into the routine of biking for hours on end behind me, I felt somewhat less trepidation about the hundred miles that lay ahead of me. Bright and early Friday morning (well, not so bright, because we rose before the sun), riders emerged from dew soaked tents out on the grounds and from sleeping bags on the gym floor of Baraboo Middle School.

I stumbled outside and found my now dry bike shorts and sports bra hanging on the cluttered clothesline, then shimmied into my spandex-ridden outfit for the day. I checked in with my knees—amazingly, the braces (which have earned me the nickname of Bionic Woman, I should add) seemed to have done their job. Very few complaints were being issued; just the usual creaking sounds. I took that as a good sign.

After a small breakfast, my riding buddy Katy and I rolled out for the day, trying not to think about just how far we had to go. We passed one woman on our way out of town who was watching over a garage sale. She waved and asked us how far we were going. I shouted “300 miles overall!” and this elicited a great whoop and clap of the hands. “That’s great! Good luck!” she yelled back as we pedaled away grinning.

Katy and I know each other from before the ride and had been keeping each other company on the first day. Along the way, we’d begun to meet a few people with similar paces and senses of humor, and the second day would see the solidification of what would come to be known as Team Takin’ It Easy. We weren’t the fastest riders, nor were we the slowest, but by the end of our just-over-100-mile day, we decided that getting things done and having a good time was more important than speed. Plus, I’d been told by a very wise person indeed that riding with a group was far more fun than riding alone. Truer words were never spoken.

First there was Bri: I noticed her on the first day at one of the pit stops when she took off her bike helmet and revealed an awesome mohawk. I was jealous. I complimented the excellent ‘do and she mentioned wishing she could have brought a razor along on the ride to offer the same hairstyle to her fellow riders. I admit, had she brought one, I probably would have done it.

Next we had Alison, the youngest of our crew, who I’d met a few weeks prior on the Devil’s Lake training ride. It turned out that we had a few friends and a minister for a father in common, too.

Michelle, another member of our team, suffered some sort of trauma to her lower body late in the ride but somehow managed not to complain and not to drop out. She rode through the whole thing with us, telling interesting stories and disowning the rebellious body part that was giving her guff.

A ride leader from many of my earlier training jaunts around Madison, Jamie proved to be a steadfast rider and member of the team. She’d actually done the ACT Ride before, so proved to be a good resource as well.

And then there was Dave. A member of the ACT Ride steering committee and Katy’s proud father, Dave could have easily outpaced all of our green-in-the-saddle butts. Instead, he opted to ride along with his daughter and her erstwhile gang of biking misfits (that’d be us), following behind us up the long, hard hills and setting a solid pace on the flat stretches. I can’t say enough how thankful I was to have him as part of our group.

That wise person I mentioned before? My boyfriend, who insisted that, regardless of your biking acumen, it was better for your morale and overall mental health to ride with a group. There were more than a few hills, long stretches of monotonous cornfields, pouring rain and sore body parts that might have been too much for me had I been going it alone. But Team Takin’ It Easy kept me sane and motivated.

I would be a horrible jerk if I didn’t mention the crew, as well. Crew, bless ‘em, were responsible for keeping us well-fed and thoroughly hydrated all along the route. They drove up and down the roads we used, sweeping debris away, offering rides or water or snacks to those in need, and blasting loud disco music and cheering wildly for us every time they passed. I can’t stress enough how important the crew was to our success and good spirits.

But back to that 100 miles. The Route Queen (I’m terrible and have forgotten her name), the woman in charge of planning out our journey each day, had chosen mercy for our century. The stage was flat, thank heavens, with few real hills to break our spirits. Instead, we were gifted with one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever been on. The weather cooperated, too, with bright blue sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-70’s and a light breeze.

We spent a long time riding down a road that ran parallel to a levee. There was almost no traffic to contend with there, only the occasional patch of roughed up road. We chatted and took in the scenery—some sort of nature preserve—as we headed toward the towns of Portage, Pardeeville (surely a happenin’ place), Beaver Dam, Horicon and others.

The lunch stop was in a shady park and we arrived around one in the afternoon, feeling a little crestfallen that, after all the effort, we were only just over halfway through with the route. I found myself the nearest massage therapist and plunked down onto the table. I’d been expecting my knees to be my biggest problem on the ride, but it was my lower back that proved to be my enemy. I’d been having a hard, constant pain there all day, and it had gotten so bad that it was starting to feel cold or numb. I had the masseuse work on it for a bit and then went to wolf down some food.

Let me note that I am normally a fairly healthy eater. I’ve been a vegetarian for years and have made a point to learn good nutrition so that “vegetarian” didn’t turn into “only eats junk food.” I gave up soda years ago, don’t eat things like Doritos, try to go organic and local as much as possible—all the good, responsible things a person ought to do for their body.

And don’t get me wrong, the food provided for us on the ride was great—veggie subs and sandwiches, salads, Clif Bars (so, so many Clif Bars), bananas and oranges. But there were also bags of Cheetos, Doritos, pretzels and Laffy Taffy. After so many miles, my body positively cried out for these things. I gave in. Normally I don’t even like the taste of that stuff, but on that day, it was glorious. I licked the processed cheese dust from my fingers with relish. I felt better.

Ten miles at a time. That’s how we’d take the rest of the day (and the ride). If I thought too much about the total mileage that lay ahead, I’d surely psych myself out. So we all concentrated on “just making it to the next pit.” Ten or fifteen miles, we could manage that no problem. We were warriors! By around mile seventy, I suddenly found myself really and truly believing that I could finish a freakin’ century.

We biked down quiet country roads, past golden wheat fields and brown and yellow corn. Vast stretches of bright green soybeans and alfalfa lined the roads, too, right along with more cows than I could count. This is Wisconsin, after all. Somewhere along the way, we went through a Mennonite community. A man was steering two huge, beautiful work horses at the end of a plow and working a field of corn and he waved back to us as we went by. I saw who I presume was his wife in the backyard of their house, putting identical pair of pants after identical pair of pants on a clothesline to dry. Down the road a little further, a group of men were working together to build a dairy barn. I marveled at their ability to wear long pants and shirts while working under the afternoon sun and was thankful for my own super synthetic and breathable outfit (and lack of that level of religious piety).

By the time our little crew rolled into the final pit stop of the night, we were in high spirits. It was later than we’d hoped for, but we were going to make it the whole damn way. As it turned out, we were just minutes ahead of the caboose riders. A decision was made to wait for them so that our whole big group could ride into camp together. And so we headed off toward Columbus en masse, cheerful and exhausted from a very long day of riding.

By the time Team Takin’ It Easy reached downtown Columbus, we’d gotten a little bit ahead of the caboose again. We waited at an intersection for them to catch up and someone had the brilliant idea of lining our bikes up (there were something like ten or twelve of us) against the curb like motorcycles do, front wheel facing out to the street. As the caboose caught up and rounded the corner, we each took turns pushing off, one after the other, in a crazy sort of Esther Williams (on bikes) tribute. It was a pretty awesome thing to behold, I must admit.

From there, it was only a mile to Columbus High School, our camp for the evening. And as our great big caboose came down the driveway, all of the riders (who’d likely been in since much earlier) lined up to form a long gauntlet of clapping and cheering to welcome us in for the night. It was incredibly moving and more than a little gratifying.

Justin, Katy’s husband and a good friend of mine (and guitarist in my band), and her mom had come out to meet us all that night. It was good to see a few friendly faces, especially since they were so tolerant of the great stinking messes we’d all become.

After the tearful and somber arrival of Rider Zero, we all retreated inside for dinner (showers would have to wait, as it was already just after 7:00 and there was only so much dinner time left). Club 5, a local Madison gay nightclub, had provided an extremely satisfying taco bar for our meal and I made short work of it. The most wonderful culinary surprise of the evening, however, came in the form of various freshly baked pies courtesy of Monty’s Blue Plate Diner in Madison. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I stuck around long enough to hear the nightly announcements, working slowly and happily at the eating of my enormous meal and reveling in the fact that holy shit I just biked 107 miles in a day! There was a segment of the announcements called Random ACTs of Kindness where people could relate stories of people who’d done something nice for them that day. One after another after another, riders and crew stood up to talk about another rider, crew member or random citizen who’d gone out of their way to do something good.

My favorite story was of an older fellow who lived behind one of the pit stops we’d made. He came walking over late in the day, towing a wagon full of juice and snacks, and offered to donate it to the ride. When asked who they could say it came from, he just said “From the Zander family.” The people in charge of the pit stop were so touched by the gesture that they did some sleuthing to find out who this kind gentleman was so a thank-you card, at very least, could be sent. In doing so, they also discovered that the same man had made a similar gesture when another charity ride had come through town the previous week. It made me smile.

Once the long good vibes session finally wound down, we dispersed to take showers and bed down for the night. The next day would bring what now seemed like a measly 85 miles of riding, so I went to sleep confident in the knowledge that surely, after a century, I’d have no problem doing that.

And then the rain clouds came.

Next up: The Day the Drought Broke


bri said...

route queen = lora wilkinson

if you believe in an all mighty being, believe that lora wilkinson was a gift from said being as a thank you for being awesome.

Emily said...

Bri, you come through once again! Thanks for the name to accompany the almighty title of Route Queen. She was indeed awesome.

Jacob said...

Emily, I haven't a clue as to why biking long distances brings out long-lost Cheetos cravings, but as a fellow vegetarian healthy eater, I can relate...

Awesome post.


The Lost Albatross