He created a Facebook event for the ride and invited a bunch of people. There were a few yeses and several maybes, and as the ride got closer I started to worry a little about being able to keep up with a new group of people. I mean, typically I can't keep up with my teammates, either, but we've ridden enough together that I know how that's going to go. Mentioning to Mickey that I was nervous about keeping up, he joked that they could tow me.
As it turned out, he wasn't the only one to have that idea. My friend Dave was thinking along the same lines.
|"Storms could contain damaging winds." Awesome.|
In the end, I was more nervous about this ride than probably any recreational ride I've done. I was worried about keeping up, about storms, and about the distance, which at ~120 miles would be my long ride for the year and 70 miles longer than anything I've done since June. Still, my FOMO is strong, and I knew if I backed out I'd be thinking all day about where the group was, what they were doing, and how lame I felt for sitting at home.
In the end Sunday morning saw 4 of us committed to the ride and me headed to St. Charles with plans to roll out at 7 (which, I was informed, meant "don't show up at 7 and still need to get all your stuff together"). I met Dave V and Mickey there, and we did indeed roll out at 7. After asking if I was serious about the towing thing (Answer: "Sort of...maybe..." I was torn between really not wanting to be dragging far behind everyone and somewhat embarrassed at the idea of needing to be towed on a flat trail) Dave had researched and put together a towing system for his bike with the understanding that it might or might not be used.
As an aside, I recently did that "Random facts about me" meme that's been floating around Facebook lately. My #9 fact was "I'm almost always the slowest on in any group I'm in, which just tells you what awesome friends I have to still invite me along." This ride was a textbook example of that. Not only to invite me along, but also to take the time and effort to put together something to possibly drag me along, too... I'm not sure how I got so lucky, but I'm pretty much surrounded by really great friends.
Despite the towing system attached to Dave's bike, I was still under the illusion that I'd manage on my own. We made good time on our way from St. Charles to the Weldon Spring trailhead where we were meeting Dave B (yeah, I know...a total of three other people on this ride and two of them have the same name. That should make for interesting reading.). We were all in good spirits, hoping for good weather but feeling prepared for whatever Mother Nature brought us, and as the wind gusted in our faces we mentioned a time or seventy, "Well, at least it isn't windy out."
|Mickey in the lead. This is pretty much what we saw for the rest of the day.|
Being towed helps in a few ways. First, of course, is the fact that you're getting an assist from the tow-er. Just as important in my case were the other facets. I'm pretty chicken when it comes to drafting. Being up too close to the person ahead of me makes me nervous and I tend to hang back, which lessens the benefit of their draft. The tow also makes me work harder to keep up than I probably would under my own power; not wanting to see that rope stretch and make the lead do more work is a powerful incentive to pedal harder. Finally, being connected to another rider makes the places where I slow down way more than than my partner (crossing roads, crossing bridges, etc) very obvious.
It also requires a certain degree of trust. There's plenty of room to pass between the Katy Trail gates, but it was a very different experience to come through them with the limited sight lines that come from being right behind someone else. Road crossings were a leap of faith, too, and one of those places where I clearly slowed down much more than Dave did (and because of my wide swing to get a better look at the road swung around like a slaloming waterskiier a time or two).
There were a couple funny things at this stop. First was a sign on the bridge where we were stopped that instructed trail users to keep their pets on a leash, and it made me laugh because the dog leash in the picture totally looked like the bike tow. Then Dave B. told me I was better to draft behind than another friend of his because I'm big. I'm sure that, as he explained when I looked at him in dismay, he meant because I'm TALL, but I totally flashed back to a similar comment on one of my first organized rides.
Dave B opted to try being towed for a while here, so I kept up as best I could until it was my turn again. Almost as soon as we'd started up again I regretted not using the bathroom myself, so I was very glad for another stop in Marthasville (~ mile 38) until realizing that the trailhead bathrooms were closed for the winter. It's not like I can't go on the side of the trail, but it's nice not to have to. Looking at the nasty cloud over us, Dave B. took the time to put his electronics in baggies.
Despite bright sun, we hadn't been riding more than a few miles when it began to sprinkle. The rain was so light that at first I thought Dave's camelbak valve was dripping and being blown back at me. Mickey slowed and asked, "Do you think we want to put our rain jackets on before we get all wet?"
"No," I replied, "Mine really doesn't breathe, so I'll get all sweaty in it anyway. It's warm out...the rain will feel good."
Everybody else was OK with this logic, so we continued on without adding a layer. Within minutes, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, and rain fell like a million icy, wet needles being blasted at us. It wasn't just soaking us; it hurt. Pretty quickly, we were all pulled over digging out our rain jackets, and once again we had learned the lesson not to listen to me. Honestly, though, my biggest regret is that I didn't have a waterproof camera so that I could videotape the storm. It was raining so hard...all you could do was laugh, wipe your glasses, and try to see where you were going through the deluge.
The storm only lasted 5-10 minutes before blowing over. It luckily hadn't produced enough rain to soften the trail, so we cruised along like before. I jumped back on tow, and we spent pretty much the rest of the ride riding around and over debris left by storms and wind.
During one such stretch, Mickey was in the lead with Dave and I behind him and then Dave B. Looking past Dave's shoulder, I noticed a tree across the trail. Expecting the guys to slow for it, I was a little surprised when they kept their pace. OK...I thought...I guess they can see more than I can and we're going over/through it. Actually, neither of the guys noticed the tree until the last minute. Both of them hit the brakes. Caught off guard, I didn't stop fast enough, ran into Dave's bike, and uttering the girliest cry ever, hit the ground.
|If you're not bleeding, you're not trying hard enough...or so I hear.|
The tree was a bit of a wake-up call though. Before the ride, I'd worried about lightning and storms and rain and riding against the wind. I hadn't considered wind knocking over trees. Dragging our bikes over downed trees wasn't a big deal, but having one land on our heads would have been another story.
We hit one more decent rainstorm on the way to Hermann, this one leaving the trail much wetter and coating our bikes (and legs) in a layer of gray grit. The bigger story, though, was the wind. I don't know what the speed was, but it was brutal. It was easily as bad as the wind in this year's Dirty Kanza, if not worse. At least in Kansas the uphills gave us some shelter from the headwind. Out on the flat Katy, we were completely exposed.
|Dave V, making it look easy|
|Dave B. getting ready to make the turn to the highway.|
|Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff. Actually, you can pretty much just assume that he took all the pictures. It was nice of him to take my blogging responsibilities so seriously|
|Actually, there wasn't any drama involved in crossing the bridge except that it was very windy.|
Our crew at lunch!
Dave V., Mickey, Dave B., me...and the guys who pulled their truck right up in front of where we were taking a picture and then got conscripted into playing photographer.
It was pretty great to get to sit down and eat. I enjoyed every bite of my hamburger and ridiculously large order of onion rings, but the salad I'd ordered (because having fries and onion rings just seemed silly) didn't do a lot for me. As hungry as I was, I think I was one of the last ones to finish eating because...um...I might have been talking a lot. Go figure.
I charged my phone and hung my long-sleeved shirt in the sun to dry while we ate. I'd changed out of it way back at Weldon Spring, but it had gotten soaked during the deluge. We filled our camelbaks in the very small bathroom sink and then, somewhat reluctantly on my part, got back on our bikes for the return trip.
After re-crossing the still-windy bridge and making a quick stop for Dave to get some chain lube (he's a stickler for bike maintenance, bless his heart), we were back on the trail and finally had the wind at our backs. It was a pretty glorious (there's that word again) change, but unfortunately the tailwind was not pedaling my bike for me. When I caught up, Dave, who'd tied up the tow strap in anticipation of not needing to play engine for the next 60 miles, had it back out and ready for use. I have to say, despite the fact that I was the slowest, weakest one of the group, none of the guys ever made me feel bad about needing help or making them wait for me to catch up. Any eye rolling they might have done was out of my sight.
Within the first 10 miles of our return trip, Mickey got a flat. Definitely the fastest rider in our group, he sent us on ahead and would catch up once he had his tire fixed (twice, as it turned out). Knowing he could make up plenty of time on us, I grabbed onto the tow and we cruised down the Katy, talking training and Strava and whatever else you talk about when you're on a long ride with a captive audience.
Mickey caught up with us before mile 90. I think maybe I'd gotten off the tow while we were riding along waiting for him, and maybe Dave B. got on around this point? It's all kind of a blur. I caught up with the guys in Marthasville (~38 miles back to where we'd started now) and then we pushed on again. We had to lift our bikes over/around downed trees in several spots, trees that were definitely not down on our morning trip. The damage just reinforced how lucky we were with our timing to have missed the most dangerous parts of the storm.
I had fallen behind the guys, but then weirdly had my fastest 5 miles of the day as we pushed towards Augusta. At one point, I looked down at my Garmin and it was reading in the 20's. My back was hurting, so I'd get down in the drops to make it feel better and then remember, oh crap...sit up tall and catch the wind!
The closer we got towards home, the darker it got. I had my headlamp in my pack but didn't want to mess with it until I had to. I was hoping to catch up with the guys again before full dark, if only because then they wouldn't be putting further distance on me while I messed with my headlamp. Looking at the very pretty sunset (and thinking that I'd seen the sunrise on my way there), I thought how surprisingly dark it was for around 5. I know the days are getting shorter, but wow.
And then I realized it. Yes, I was still wearing my sunglasses. Taking them off bought me almost 30 minutes more daylight, and by the time I caught up with the guys where they were waiting after Klondike Park, it was definitely time for the headlamp. Everybody had way better lights than I did, so with Mickey ahead of me and the Daves to my left it was almost like driving with headlights. They easily could have dropped me at this point but instead stuck near me, which was really nice, especially because the trail was absolutely littered with debris. Sticks and branches were all over, some of them good-sized, and the biggest fallen tree yet blocked the trail near Matson Park.
|Not my light. You can tell because you can actually see the ground.|
I'd like to say that I took the ride so that Mickey and Dave could get back sooner, knowing they could ride far faster without me holding them back, and that's true, but it's not the whole truth. I was sore and tired and really didn't want to ride that last 16 miles. That's not particularly mentally tough, which is annoying. You'd think I'm humbled so often on the bike that what I can't do wouldn't surprise me, but I must have amnesia, because I keep getting re-humbled. :)
All in all, it was a great day. In retrospect, probably not the smartest decision to go, but it's a fine line between epic and stupid, and you miss out on a lot of cool stuff if you worry too much about where the line is. I'm happy with the shared memory of dragging on jackets in the pouring rain and war stories of 35 mph headwinds. Shoot, I even came home with some battle scars. :)