Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 32: False flat from hell

Day #32) July 14, 2011. Wakeeney, KS to Colby, KS: 91 miles in 7:01 hrs.

Wow, this one really wrecked me! I knew yesterday when I kind of began to get the mental vibes going to do this ride that what with the forecasted heat index that this was going to be one that I’d have to get done by noon at the latest. Otherwise I’d be SOL!

Holed up in that little efficiency last eve, and just didn’t even have the motivation to go very far for dinner, so I ambled over to the adjacent Chinese restaurant to the motel. I think the people who own the motel own the restaurant. And glory B – it was a buffet – albeit a very small one but everything was on the spot good. All for 7 bucks! Went back, checked the local forecast and then hit the bed at 8pm in prep for a potentially very long day. I had to get going as early as possible.

Got up at 3:20 am and began the ritual: forced my sore, dead ass out of bed, made motel room coffee, worked for 1 hr checking emails and responding, packing the yak, drinking coffee, forcing food down my stomach (in this case a big chocolate muffin and some raspberry Danish), packed my street cloths into the front pannier, packed my cell and wallet in my fanny pack, packed my cameras in the handlebar bag, put on my kit, shut off the TV, turn the lights out, leave the key on the desk, pull the door shut, and hop on the bike in the dark.

That’s it, like groundhog day, every day, same process. I’ve been able to keep this going for 32 straight days - and I’m feeling it for sure. So I got on the road at 4:45 am, in a warm slightly moonlit morning. The forecasted high for today was given at 103 degrees. Got my headlamp turned on and headed out of town to get on Rt 283 N. This had to be my favorite part of the ride today – flat, fast, cool, and dark. It’s just such a peaceful feeling riding in the dark out here, with the empty, treeless land just stretching off into the black abyss on all four sides of me. Makes you feel so insignificant, so little. It’s very humbling. Once in a blue moon a vehicle would pass me, but generally it was just me on the road all to myself. And the funny thing is that you really cannot anticipate anything more than just several hundred feet ahead of you. If there’s a climb, you just kind of feel it and shift to an easier gear. If there’s a descent, same thing, all of a sudden you’re careening down the road and keep shifting down until you feel some pressure on the pedals.

But with the descents in the dark, I kind of brake way more than usual just to be on the safe side. If an animal or something in the road is in front of me I want to have some time to react. The road was in great shape, and only when crossing creeks and rivers did the road kind of bugger up a bit with some bumps. Other than that I had zero problems with the road surface. The traffic has been able to see me from what I can tell, about a quarter mile back. That vest and the luminescent stuff of the packs really pop under vehicle lights.

This section of road was darned near flat to gently rolling and I made great time to the town of Hill City, getting through the first 25 miles in about 1:40 hrs. That made me think that once on Rt 24 W, with the forecasted cross tailwind out of the SE again and flat road, I’d be able to just sail on in to Colby and nail a very fast and furious 90 mile ride. But let me tell you something that I learned on my first cross country ride, the one I did across Canada: Two things – Always expect the unexpected and Never expect anything. On today’s ride I broke both of those tenants. Because when I’d gotten to Hill City I began calculating my ETA into Colby based on the super fast ride I did to the west yesterday. The wind was more out of the east yesterday and the terrain was just pool table flat. I expected a carbon copy of that today.

NOPE! Turns out that Hill City is at an elevation of 2185 feet. And guess what…Colby is at an elevation of 3156! That’s a gain of almost 1000 feet in 66 miles of riding. And let me tell you…I felt each and every mile of gain! It started out from Hill City as these rollers where the road would drop down to cross a drainage and then climb back up again. And it did this for 32 solid miles – down to cross a stream or river and back up to a little summit, and then right back down again, over and over and over. I not only couldn’t get a rhythm, but the wind was more out of the south today, and that almost felt like a bit of a cross headwind. So instead of the 14-15 mph that I’d expected, I was struggling to stay at 11! Some of these pups were just brutal to get up, causing me to go OTS and down to like 7-8 mph. This was a LONG, lonely stretch of highway, and it just kicked the living heck out of me. I still cannot believe that I was lulled into a state of bliss by yesterday’s ride!

So my new strategy was just survive the day and don’t cook the legs, not for a 90 mile ride with temps predicted to be in the 100’s. Took the climbs nice and steady. I was determined to not cash out the day in Hoxie, KS, 58 miles in. I had psyched myself up for 12 hrs to go 90+ and that’s what I was going to do. The ride to Hoxie was a total painful grunt. And believe you me, once I got there I had a few stray thoughts floating around in my head, tugging at me to bag it at this little fleabag motel and call it a day, relax in the AC, eat food, drink ice cold coke….and on and on. Just think of 34 more miles of those relentless hills ahead of me, that was not a pleasing thought. And the cool weather for the day was over. Once in Hoxie it was about 9am and the heat was already beginning to build. I fought off the nagging vibes and hit a little grocery for an ice cold coke and a couple of Delmonte fruit cups. Downed the stuff in 10 min and back to the road.

And again, I was wrong to expect the same thing I’d just ridden. No more rollers, just this 34-mile false flat the just NEVER stopped going up. It’s my belief that I gained each and every one of those 1000 feet in this particular stretch of riding. God was it hard. This was a stretch of nothing but corn fields as far as you could see. Kind of reminded me of the state of Nebraska - corn, giant sprinkler systems, giant pumping systems, and a road that just kept going up. It was insane how much it was going up.

I was just trying to crush the pedals to keep a good speed. And the bad thing was that the cross headwind, and then these semi trucks passing me in the opposite direction, that was just slowing me down to the point of tears, especially the semis blowing by in eastbound lane. I mean it was like a wall of wind just stopping me dead in my tracks, slowing me by a solid 2 mph each time they passed. Now I did get a good bump from the westbound trucks, and I shifted into a bigger gear and just accelerated each time they went by to kind of counter the negatives I was getting from the eastbound traffic. But honestly, once you boiled it down, the draft of the westbound trucks barely even helped me.

By 10:30 am it had to be in the 90’s temp wise, and I was beginning to feel it. My legs were glistening with small rivers of sweat running down to my ankles and my arms were dripping sweat onto my legs. Tried not to look at the mileage signs and the mile markers because when you do that time just stands still. I made it a point to only look at a sign or mile marker once I was 1.25 hrs from Hoxie, feeling like that would be the half way point. And it was indeed, but man, to know that I had another 1.25 hrs in the saddle on that crushing false flat in the wind, in the heat and humidity, with the semi tornados, that was just tough mentally. About 6.25 hrs into the ride I could see a big water tower way the hell off in the distance, and I knew based on previous days that that signified a city – Colby to be precise. But let me tell you, it’s so flat out here that you can see something like that and it’s still 30 min to an hour off! The water town I saw coming into Hill City, took me twenty minutes to get there once I saw the tower!

BUT…the good thing was that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news was that my legs were just toast. I had nothing left from hammering on the first 24 miles of that false flat. So I just shifted up to easier gears and spun HC (high cadence). By then I know I’d done about all I could for the day, and once I got into Colby I’d be totally hammered. That ride into Colby, watching that water tower ever so slower getting bigger on the horizon, that was just crazy hard. Then I began to see the signs for businesses along I-70, just past the water tower, but again, they had to be a good 20 min away. And they were!

Gradually more businesses began to pop up along the road. And then finally I’d made it into town. You don’t know how good it feels to see the Corp. sign for a place you’ve struggled to ride to all day. It’s satisfying, relieving, rejuvenating. It’s rewarding! Limped into the middle of the city and saw this little dive, just my style, for 33 bucks of a night, but there was zero food places around. And I wasn’t about to walk a mile or get back on this bike in the 100-degree heat to go find a place to eat. I just continued on to the jcn with Rt 25, which runs right under the interstate. Went south on 25 to where all the motels and food places are. Found a Motel 6 at a pretty good rate which was right next door to a Chinese buffet and a Subway and a beer store. Now THAT was worth suffering those 34 uphill miles for!

I must have just let the shower run over me for 20 min, while I drank like 4-5 bottles of ice water. Washed my kit in the tub as I showered (another ritual) and then threw them in the drier while I went to the Chinese buffet.

Back here at the room in the AC I’ve been working for about 2 hrs now. Feel much, much better. I’ll tell you, that ride really took it out of me today. And I’d kept telling myself during those last 30 min or riding that tomorrow will be an easy day. And it will! I could make Colorado tomorrow with another big day, but I’ll settle for about 40 miles shy of the border and relax a bit.

Well, more work to do and time is fading fast what with a 8pm bedtime. Enjoying a couple ice cold beers I’d put in the mini frig. Watching the tour on versus and life is good again.


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