The Flower Power Ride out in Muskogee, OK was supposed to be my first century. Turns out, that was not gonna happen.
I had been watching the weather all week. The more I watched it, the worse it seemed to get. It was like seeing a woman across a bar – the closer you get, the worse she looks. By the night before, chance of thunderstorms was up to 70%, and winds were looking to be about 12mph out of the NE. Temperatures had dropped too, so that by the time we would be starting it’d be mid-50’s at best.
But, I was determined. Not bright, but determined. I packed up everything I needed the night before, including extra food in case I got back late from the ride and they closed up support. The ride started at 9am, and they would be wrapping up support between 3-4pm. That means on a 100 mile ride, to get back by 3:30pm, you’d need to set a 16.5mph pace (given only 30 minutes total rest time with 6 hours of riding). That was my goal.
When I started out from my home in Broken Arrow, the weather was pretty bad, and only got worse the further down I traveled toward Muskogee (about 45 min. away). By the time I got there, it was coming down pretty good, the temp was not anywhere near what I’d consider rideable, and lightening was very visible. But, I got there early. The ride wasn’t starting for another hour plus, so I waited around, stretching and keeping a close eye on the weather.
Moreover, I kept looking at the 65 mile ride map versus the 100 mile ride map. Both these rides took very similar paths. The only difference is that the 100 mile turned a little sooner, taking off about 5 miles from the beginning portion of the 65 mile ride. And at the half-way point rest stop of the 65 miler, the 100 turns off and has an additional 35 mile loop. As much as the weather worried me, that loop worried me too. There were no rest stops, and I kept hearing horror stories about the climbs further up the hills on that loop.
Then – THANKFULLY – Bret and Ronnie showed up from Team Superior. They were planning on doing the 65 mile ride, and finally the facts stacked up against my initial insanity. First, the weather and road conditions were looking really bad. Second, the route was sounding harder than I could handle. Lastly, I didn’t have anyone to ride with on the 100, and with the weather and roads the way they were, it would’ve been a bad idea to ride solo – one nasty crash out on those back roads and who knows when I’d have been found.
With 9am rolling around, and the rain switching to only a light drizzle, everyone started their roll-out prep. By this time, with the rain getting light, the wind started picking up. As I mentioned, it was blowing out of the North-East, which happens to be the direction we spent half the day traveling. Finally, with everyone lined up and some slight grins (or grimaces) at the task we decided to take on, the Team Crude bus blew their air horn (think freight train, only louder) and we were off!
Within the first mile, I knew this wasn’t going to be your typical group ride. When riding with a large number of people, you tend to try and build smaller groups that line up together in pace-lines or pelotons. But with the road being as soaked as it was, if you lined up directly behind someone, you ended up eating water and mud. So drafting wasn’t fun, and was mostly avoided. This means everyone was pulling, which makes for a much more tiring ride.
About 5 miles in, we had out first (and thankfully only) accident. There was a right turn, and just prior to the turn was a wood bridge. There was no way to see the bridge until you were right on top of it, and no indicators or signs anywhere letting you know. The wood was drenched. Bret and myself made it over, but Ronnie’s tires slipped and he went down. Fortunately not too hard, and not too fast. And even more fortunate was that Ronnie was okay, and his bike was mostly fine with the exception of his rear wheel needing some re-truing. Given the conditions (and some of what came next) I believe we got off pretty lucky.
About 15 miles in, we crossed a dam with some gorgeous views of the valley we had entered and either the Verdigris or Grand river. And here came our first serious challenge (besides the weather and bad signage). The next climb was about a mile long, and pretty steep. The entire distance probably averaged 5-6% grade, though portions were higher. I can honestly say this is where my interval training has really helped. It helps your work at your maximum for longer periods of time, and helps you get used to recovering after a hard output. In other words, perfect for hill climbs, though perhaps not for mile-long hill climbs (we were all hurting near the top).
We rested up a bit at about mile 20 or so, second rest stop. It was shortly after this rest stop that things started to get dicey. The three of us rolled out and after some flat street we got a nice down hill, and we’re rolling at a real good clip – I’d say mid- to high-20’s. Couldn’t really check my speed much with the turns and wet roads. Out of nowhere, it looked like the road ended up ahead. There’s a sign that practically looks like a U-turn, and says 20 mph. In a car on a nice, dry day maybe. On a bike with slick roads? I don’t think so. Bret seemed to handle to turn ok, and Ronnie comes through it as well. I’ve got almost zero break pressure and felt the bike wanting to slip out from me. I made it through, but that sure got the heart pumpin’.
Was it over? ‘Course not. Still flying down hill, we see another sign that says something about “low water passage”. Later on talking to the guys, I don’t think any of us thought much of it. We round a corner to find a torrent of perhaps 1-1.5′ of water flowing across the road. The road turns slightly right, the water is flowing left and slightly towards us, and we’ve got zero time to compensate. We take the plunge, and I came across more drenched from that water than I’d been from all the rain and roads before. Ronnie said we shoulda brought our cyclocross bikes. Felt like the only thing missing was the running portion for this particular triathlon.
At this point, Ronnie dropped back and switched to the 50 mile route (his wife and son were rollin’ the 30 miler). Unfortunately, this didn’t save him from the Wormhole. We’ll get there in a second. Bret and I kept on, and went up and down these massive rollers that just refused to end. We hit the next rest stop around mile 38 or so and took a breather. Powered down some Gatorade, bananas, and some great cookies. 🙂 I was tired, but feeling pretty good, because I knew that we’d start heading South and West – meaning we’d finally have a tail wind. We rolled on past the next rest stop cause hey, we got the wind at our backs and some pretty flat terrain now, right? About 4 miles past that rest stop things were about to get sadistic.
Remember I mentioned the Wormhole? Well, turned out to be a hill with a ridiculous grade. And not just one hill. You start up the first hill, and the street turns South and starts to level out a bit – that’s when you see that the hill you just wrecked yourself climbing was small and shallow compared to what I can safely described as something very wall-like in nature. Standing wasn’t an option – the roads were still pretty wet and the rear tire would slip under the pressure. Bret and I ended up down in our granny-gears, weaving across the road.
There was a beautiful, long downhill afterwards, but honestly it was hard to enjoy since I was focusing more on not passing out. The rest of the ride was mostly just rolling. Long, smooth miles.
A little over 65 miles, 4 hours moving, about 20 minutes resting. Did I learn anything from this ride? Yeah, quite a bit:
- Having good riding partners makes a massive difference.
- Hills are usually worse than they seem.
- Rain + downhill + sharp turn = new pair of shorts.
- I wasn’t ready for a century.
The last one might seem disappointing, and at first I was. But I took my own advice that I give to my daughter about her soccer games. I said to her “Do your best. That’s it. If the other team plays as hard as they can, and you play as hard as you can, and you lose? Then it’s okay. Because that’s competition.” She smiled.
Moreover, that’s life. Set your goals high – don’t worry about “setting yourself up for failure” or disappointment. Yeah, you might fail, so what? I’d rather fail trying to achieve a lofty goal than succeed at being mediocre. In everything you do, don’t leave anything behind – you can’t take history with you.
Two weeks: Tour de Tulsa.