Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Day the Drought Broke

Day Three: Columbus to New Glarus (84 miles)

(View the route)

Morning came, and once again I marveled at my body’s ability not only to rise before the sun but just to rise at all, considering the trials I’d been putting it through. My sit bones, as nether regions are so quaintly referred to in biking lingo, were pretty sore, my joints a bit stiff, but overall I was still amazingly able to move. In fact, I was beginning to notice that my body actually felt better when riding the bike. A sort of land sickness was starting to set in when I wasn’t pedaling, a strange almost dizziness that compelled me to cut pit stops short and keep going. I’m told this isn’t unusual, and some of my riding companions reported the same strange sensation.

So it was back on the ol’ Surly, ready for another day. We’d be heading south toward Waterloo and Stoughton, then west into the beery goodness of New Glarus (if you’re not catching the reference, consider yourself deprived and check out their brewery).

I’d almost forgotten that it’s Saturday, the weekend, and more people will be out and about. As we rolled into our first pit stop of the morning in the tiny town of London, my eyes get a welcome site: my boyfriend, Nick, is sitting against a chain link fence, reading a magazine and waiting. I smothered him with a smelly biking hug and then introduced him to my riding buddies. In addition to making the trek out to meet me, he was also kind enough to readjust my saddle, which was in a rather uncomfortable upward tilt that was having a really unpleasant effect on my…err…unmentionables.

Too soon it’s time to get going again, though, so we say our goodbyes and he joined the group of merrily growling pirates (the pit crew) as they wished us well on our way. It was cloudy and cool that morning, a nice respite from the buckets of sun we’d been getting, and so far there was no sign of rain and so we were upbeat as we headed off.

The next pit stop was in a familiar place: Fireman’s Park in Waterloo, where I realized I’d been, years before, to see the fireworks with a friend of mine who was originally from the town. We were given delicious grapes and other goodies by the crew and I looked around at all the different outfits people had on. It was Disney Day, so there were Mickey’s and Minnie’s, a Princess Jasmine, pirates and other assorted interpretations on the theme.

The clouds were gathering as we pulled into the lunch pit in Stoughton. My back was acting up again, but instead of going straight to the (wonderful, amazing) massage therapists, I decided to gird my loins, as it were, and call upon the services of the chiropractor. I’d never been to one before and didn’t really know what to expect, other than lots of popping and cracking. Frankly, the idea of having my bones pushed around seemed a little intimidating. But I was in dire enough straights to try it out, and I’m glad I did.

The fellow doing the work was friendly, efficient and, from what I could tell, very skilled. He pushed, pulled, yanked and popped—including my neck, which was always something that frightened the hell out of me but which, in this case, felt amazing. It was a good decision, and helped me get through the rest of the day without major complaint from my back.

As I lay there on the table, though, I began to feel the light pitter patter of raindrops on my skin. Nothing terrible, I thought, we could totally keep riding without problems. And so we went, onwards as always, feeling relatively limber and upbeat about the rest of the day.

The drizzle slowly turned into a not unpleasant rain shower, but we kept going. The rain wasn’t cold or driving and our bikes didn’t seem to be having too many issues with the slightly slick roads. Still, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic when we rounded one country road corner only to be greeted by an ear-piercing blast from an unseen air horn. Some very clever person indeed had hidden themselves in a stand of pine trees off to the side of the road, and was tooting said horn with wild abandon as each rider passed. Which, considering the slippery conditions, seemed like (sarcasm alert) a really great idea!

After awhile, I stopped noticing how wet my butt was. But when I came up behind one lady whose back end was completely free of water and debris, I was a little jealous. She laughed and said, “Makes me glad I have the saddle bag! It blocks all the spray.” I looked forlornly at my own bag, perched on my handlebars, useless in the fight against bum soakings.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, still about eight miles out from the next pit stop, my bladder started to take issue with all of the water I’d been exposed to. It started to nag. I ignored it. Seven miles to go. It nagged harder. I tried to think happy thoughts of dry desert dunes. Six miles to go. Oh God, those bushes sure do look inviting, maybe I’ll just pull over if it gets bad and…no, the area is crawling with wild parsnip. Damn. OK, keep pedaling. You can make five miles without resorting to using your chamois pad (which, hey, is already wet, so who’d notice, right?) as an emergency…no! Too much dignity for that. Four more miles. Each pedal stroke is jarring my bladder, making it angrier and angrier. Rain water is splashing all around me. Oh God oh God oh God. I’m praying now: just a few more miles, make it crawl back up, just for another minute!

Finally, just as I was about to run naked into the nearest open field, I saw the pit stop pavilion on the horizon, a beacon of bathroom bliss. I pedaled like I’d never pedaled before. As I sped down the final stretch of road, jumped off my bike and made a mad dash for the ladies room, I heard someone proclaim that “that was the fastest dismount I’ve ever seen!”

Desperate times, desperate measures.

I emerged a much happier and more relaxed woman, finally able to pay attention to the fact that the crew manning this particular pit had decorated and kitted the place out as an impromptu rejuvenation spa, complete with facials and hand massages. Plus, there was the most adorable tiny dog to play with. I plopped down in a chair and gratefully let one of the crew ladies give me a hand massage. It was wonderful. It was (duh duh DUUUH) the calm before the storm.

As Team Takin’ It Easy was getting ready to head out for the final stretch of the night, the rain started to come down in earnest and the air cooled considerably. A very kind crew member offered to let me wear one of her extra bike jackets, and as I’d foolishly left mine in my luggage that day, I gladly accepted. It was this bright yellow jacket that earned me the nickname “Torch” from Bri, but I was happy to have it.

We were pedaling into a driving rain now and were relieved when our route had to take a detour on the Badger State Trail. While packed limestone is not ideal for road bikes, the thick covering of trees overhead kept us relatively shielded from the wind and wet for the duration. The flat trail gave us a chance to rest our legs a bit and to do some talking, too. It was a good respite, because once we came out on the other side, it was back into the thick of it for us.

The rain was coming down in sheets. After a little while, my jacket was keeping me warm but not dry. My brain started to switch into battle mode. Me against the elements! Bri and I started dogging each other up and down the hills (well, to be honest, she was much better at them than I was), cheering each other on and swearing up a storm of curse words that rivaled the pitch and fury overhead. She was cold, I was tired, we just wanted to get into New Glarus and get dry. But there were still hills to be conquered, so I yelled “Let’s just get this motherfucker done!” and a bizarre sort of adrenaline took over.

The rain came down and we kept pedaling, slowly up, faster than was probably safe down, forward toward our destination. This was the test. Not the century, with the beautiful weather and lack of hills. That took determination and an ability to overcome the mental fatigue that can come from such long distances, yes, but now the conditions were terrible, the hills beastly, the miles long (84 is nothing to sniff at), the roads dangerous. I don’t mean to sound dramatic or like this was something worse than it was, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one hell of a challenge to keep going and not flag down the sag bus.

As our drenched, bedraggled team finally rode down the hill that led into New Glarus, my glasses so wet I could hardly see, the sense of accomplishment was palpable. We’d beaten the weather, the miles, and the sag bus. We didn’t get swept (which can happen if you take too long and/or the conditions are deemed bad enough, which they were certainly bordering on). We’d made it the whole way!

A crowd was gathered, as usual, outside of the high school where we’d be camping for the night. They lined up underneath a protective awning and broke into cheers as we came up the driveway. The wonderful medical crew had us bundled up in tinfoil looking space blankets before we could shiver twice and our bikes taken care of. Someone showed cold-hating Bri to the showers right away. I fetched my gear from under the tarps and went about setting up for the night, still feeling a little dazed.

By the time the caboose riders came in (and they, too, made it without being swept), the rain had eased up and Rider Zero was rolled up the driveway, dry.

The terrible, needle-like showers that night felt improbably amazing. Afterwards, dried off and dressed, I felt exhausted but exhilarated. I ate, got a massage, listened to announcements and tried to find a place to dry out my shoes. We all stood, fighting off tears, as the mother of Mike McKinney (long-time news anchor, activist and gung-go ACT rider who died last year) got up and gave a speech about what the experience of the ride had meant to her. Suddenly it sunk it: tomorrow was the last day. After all the miles, the hills when I thought for sure my legs were going to stage a mutiny and fall off, the new friends, the endless rows of corn…it was almost over. And the idea of doing it all again next year seemed less absurd, less impossible. The ride had meant more to me than I had expected.

But it wasn’t over just yet. There were still 45 miles left to ride out of New Glarus and toward Madison. And they weren’t going to be easy.

Next up: My Brain and My Bike Break Down


Alphonse SALAFIA said...

Bonjour, Good morning

your blog is very nice. My english is bad sorry. My blog is http://lamanodelluomo.blogspot.com

it's possible links my blog and your blog ? thanks

Cant Sit Still said...

I was the hand massage therapist that day. How fun to read all of this from your perspective! Thanks for posting it...

The Lost Albatross