Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The gloomy mist turned into a light rain as we neared our staring point at the tiny Happy Joe's just off highway 151 on the northeast corner of the small Iowa town. The fine mist returned as we rolled out of town hoping the England like weather would break and turn into a beautiful day like the rest of the unseasonably warm spring had been.
The pace was social as we forged our way north into a slight headwind while the spray from the water soaked roads made drafting less then desirable. Shortly after the aptly named Roller Coaster Road the pavement showed some signs of drying as the mist ceased and the light fog began to break. We enjoyed so great views as we neared the bluff town of Balltown sitting at the end of Ridge Road. The long gradual climb to town provides a panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley as well as Illinois and Wisconsin. We three veterans enjoyed this forgiving approach to the hilltop turnaround and remembered years this scenic road was closed and we were forced to go in and out on the more hilly and less scenic Horseshoe Road. We also knew what was waiting on the southern trip.
I am not sure how Horseshoe road received it's name. Maybe the visual of standing many horseshoes in a row would give you a good idea of the profile. Another possibility could be the horses needed special shoes to climb the hills or stop at the bottom. Either way after 7 different times over this road going south or north I know what it means to me. We are going to descend really fast and ascend really slow on three "major" climbs before we hit Epworth. This is where the race would break into the contenders and pretenders and leave rides scattered to fend for themselves for the next 80 miles to the finish line. Luckily we were only riding 100 today not 200.
The three long, steep climbs were just as I remembered them. All you can do is just set a nice steady pace and grunt it out, and wish you had a bigger gear in the back. During the race this is where you decide if you want to push it to keep up with the lead group and risk blowing up and a very long ride back to Dewitt or do you climb at your pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible. On this trip I chose to let Bill and Paul go up the road and I hung back with Jean. Unlike race day I knew they would wait at the top to regroup. Afterwards I wish I had pushed it a little harder on at least one of the hills.
Epworth was the planned stop for the day at the 57 mile mark. Jean's wife is from Epworth so he knew where the BP store, just two blocks off the route, was located. A quick in and out and we were on our way south with the hills and the wind behind us. At this point you can breath a little sigh of relief knowing the big climbs are over but the problem is you still have 75 miles of riding. On this ride we only had 43 so it did seem like the end was near.
The thankful light breezes pushed us along at a nice pace over the next 25 miles to our turnaround at the race 50/150 mile sag stop location. The only break was a quick flat tire change by me just before the turnaround. Bill was not too happy to learn that we had to turn around and head back into the wind for the rest of the ride to Cascade. He mentioned something about finding a stick.
We plodded north, rotating regularly, over the undulating terrain counting down the last miles. Our trip was interrupted again by a mechanical problem with 15 miles remaining. This time it was a little more serious then a flat tire. As Bill rotated behind me and in front of Paul his rear skewer brushed Paul's front wheel and bent a spoke causing the wheel to have a significant wobble. Paul was able to stay upright but the wheel was gently rubbing on the fork. Luckily I had a multi-tool with a spoke wrench and was able to take some of the wobble out so we could continue.
We finally rolled onto Cascade 6 hours after departing. Once the roads dried the weather was fabulous for riding with the temperatures staying consistently in the low to mid 60 the entire ride. It was a great training ride that provided Bill, Paul and I a reminder of just how tough this hilly course can be. For Jean it was an eye opener. He later said that words cannot describe the course even though I had tried several times since he had mentioned the race would be fun.
I look forward to the challenge that competing on this course always brings. There will be some very talented riders and I hope to hang with them as long as possible. Whether solo of with a group this is one of my favorite ultra-distant rides in area.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
This year will be my fifth time entering this event that is one of the toughest 200 mile road rides in the mid west. The race attracts ultra-cyclist from all over the mid west. Years past have seen RAAM racers toe the line as final preparations for the big event in early June. I am sure this year will be no exception.
Jim Amelung's course record of 20 mph average has stood since 2003 with many coming close to besting it. A group of riders with a helpful weather day might have a chance if they can stay together and keep the pace steady. No support is allowed but there is three bag drops along the way for restocking. Quick transitions are required if the record is going to fall.
Nice spring weather might help make this the year for the record to fall. There are a few strong riders in the area that will be doing RAAM, as a team or solo, that have participated in the past. Looking at results from the few races that have taken place, already this year, Kurt Searvogel of Arkansas looks in prime shape to give it a run. If anybody from Team Bacchetta decides to enter again this year that will add some horse power especially on the "flat" and rolling sections. Paul Carpenter, a solo RAAM racer, hopefully will be making a start. Paul is like the energizer bunny he just keeps going and going and going.
It should be fun, as always, and I look forward to the speed of the rolling hills leading up to the suffering on the big climbs. Many of these riders I only see at events like this a couple times a year so it is good to hang out and see how the fitness is coming along. This event happening just three weeks after my Trans Iowa start should either put me in great shape of still wiped out. We shall see.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
I ended the year with 13,000 miles, which was the goal. The 2012 goal is a little lower with travel for work and crewing for RAAM cutting into the riding. My mileage has been pretty high the last few years so cutting back for a year will be a nice break.
2012 has started slow due to the fact that I spent 5 of the first 7 weeks of the year in Northern China for work. The trips were two weeks then three weeks. I was able to ride an exercise bike at the hotel but the boredom, heat in the "gym" of 75-80 degrees and the poor quality of bike left me short on miles compared to previous years. I used some of my free time to do a little cross training. Some core strengthening, push-ups, some weights and a few other varied workouts. My goal was to try to offset the pounds I usually gain when my meals are paid for at restaurants. I managed to lose a little the three week trip. While in China I kept reading how nice the weather was in Iowa. With the mild winter I could have had more miles to start the year then ever before. Instead I had my worst January in many years. Now I have to try to catch up with my riding buddies. Oh well, life is good.