Saturday was the Ohio Randonneurs 400K ride, which started in Blue Ash, OH, a quiet suburb in northeast Cincinnati. The start was warm - in the mid-60's, but damp. It had rained during the night, and the air was heavy with moisture.
There were 24 starters on this ride. I knew many of these folks from the previous two rides this spring. It's funny how you can get to know someone, not really by talking much, but by simply riding along side them for a long time. We left the hotel at 5:00 am sharp. Bonne Route!
We tore through the streets of Blue Ash, and were quickly in the country, descending steep hills at too fast a speed for me to feel comfortable. Fortunately, my new rear tire, a Pasela Tour Guard, punctured. Fffft, fffft, fffft the tire went as I quickly tried to get out of the way of the people behind me. I stopped by the road side, unsnapped the headlight, only to find that the noise was not from leaking air, but from the clear plastic covering on the Pasela tire stamp. It was coming partly off, and hitting either the seat stay or the rear brake as the tire rotated. I pulled it off, spun the tire, and all was good.
I worked my way down the rest of the hill, and was able to catch up to the riders in my speed range at the next hill. For some reason, I am always excited during the start of any group ride, and I was probably more excited for this ride than any other. I bombed up the hill, only to realize too late that it got much steeper as I climbed. Not having a triple chainring crank on this bike (my Trek), I had to jump off the bike when I couldn't breathe fast enough. A moment of panic set in as I thought I might either hyperventilate or pass out, or both. I walked to the top, with several other people, and we continued on.
Being a flat lander, I thought I could power up any hill. I quickly learned on this ride to shift into the lowest gear going up these steep hills. They are so long and so steep, and I don't have the leg strength or the lungs to ride like the Schlek brothers up these hills.
As the morning wore on, it became more damp, and began to mist heavily, which gradually turned into a light, steady rain. The route generally paralleled the Ohio River to the east. I left the camera in the bag for the first 100 miles, until after we left West Union, a very small town at the far eastern part of our route. There, it stopped raining and misting altogether.
Here's a photo of Paul, with whom I rode much of the first 120 or so miles. This was taken shortly after leaving West Union, heading back to Blue Ash. From Blue Ash, then we would head to the north, then back to Blue Ash to finish the 400K.
Over near West Union, there was very little crop land. Mostly pastureland. Some of the flatter fields, I think, must have been tobacco fields in the past, because I saw many tobacco barns.
Al and Ron on Chicken Hollow Road.
Paul had been having trouble with his left pedal working its way out of the crank arm. The first time he hand-tightened it as much as possible, then asked the cashier at the West Union controle for a wrench. She handed him a pair of Vise Grips, and he was able to crank it down tight.
I was enjoying riding with Paul, but I had to ride faster than him on the hills because of my smallest chain ring. If I had a smaller chain ring, I could have stayed in the saddle and ridden up more slowly. But these hills (especially the ones on Chicken Hollow Road) were so steep that I couldn't stay in the saddle and keep pedaling. I had to stand in order to maintain what little momentum I had. This meant I could climb the hills at 7 to 8 mph, and Paul was considerably slower. When I got to the intersection with US 68, I stopped to wait for Paul.
After what seemed to be a very long time, I thought I might head on up US 68. I looked back one last time. But no Paul.
Doug, Ron, and Al came up and said Paul had stopped at a farm to ask to borrow a wrench for his pedal. I decided to ride on and abandon Paul, which I felt bad about doing. I would want him to go on if it was me who was having trouble. I didn't have a wrench, so I couldn't do anything anyway.
Here's a photo of my trusty steed. I put a plastic bag over the Brooks. I bought a new, longer stem which allowed me to raise the handlebars even with the saddle.
This little goat-path of a road is Schwalle Road, and it was, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the ride.
There were trees, then pastures. I don't know how two cars pass on this road. But it was really cool, and I was a part of the countryside here.
The skies started to lighten as we got to the United Dairy Farmers (UDF) store in Georgetown. The worst of the climbing had been done for the day. What a relief!
I decided to head out by myself, ahead of Al, Ron, and Doug. There were a few other folks who got here before I did, and they were lounging inside. Being a newbie randonneur, I am wary about taking too long at any stop.
Just after I turned on Eden Road, the clouds left, and the sun came out. This is what Adam and Eve must have seen. Our leaves up north are still just coming out on the trees, and here is lush greenery everywhere.
I shed my rain jacket to absorb some rays on my nekked arms. I put new handlebars and a new, longer quill stem to help ease the suffering of my stiff neck. I'm glad I did this last week, because while my neck got pretty sore, my left shoulder didn't bother me as it had on the 200K and 300K rides.
Here's an old forage barn. Many barns were in disrepair, as they are most places in the midwest. Modern agriculture has no use for old barns. Today hay is baled into 600 lb round bales, or 1200 lb rectangular bales and is stored under what look like big picnic pavilions, or in big pole barns.
Here's an old tobacco barn. I didn't see any tobacco planted anywhere, and I think many of these old barns are used only for storing machinery. I don't know if tobacco is even grown in this area anymore.
As the sun started to settle in the west, it became overcast again. I rode through a lovely little valley on Round Bottom Road.
After this photo, the skies quickly clouded up and a storm unleashed buckets of rain. I made it back to the hotel which was the next controle, where I dried off and put on rain tights, a long-sleeved jersey, and my wind vest. Since the rain had stopped, I stowed the rain coat in the rack trunk, and headed off into the night, alone again.
Navigation became my chief concern at night. I had to focus more on the cue sheet at night, as I was really worried about getting lost in the dark. I didn't want to ride any more than I needed to. I did end up running off the course in two different spots. Fortunately on this last stretch I didn't get too far down the road before I realized I was off course. Each place I went off, I was able to find my way back to the place where I erred.
As I finally made it back to the hotel, a robin began to sing. A cheerful welcome to my arrival at last. I took a quick, hot shower, hit the bed, and zonked out.
The next morning at 9:00am, I had everything packed and headed out, but stopped when I saw Al loading his bike. We talked about the ride, how hilly it was, and how difficult. He was wondering why he was doing this. After all, he drove down from central Michigan to do this. I couldn't tell him why I was doing this either. It doesn't make sense to ride all day and all night. He had pre-registered for the 600K, but he said he wasn't sure he was coming back. I told him I wasn't sure either.
On the way home, I began to think about why I am doing these long rides. At first, it was to prove to myself that I could do a long ride. But this ride was different. It was much more difficult, and even though I didn't feel like quitting, I've been in other situations where I've quit after investing the smallest fraction of energy I put into this ride.
This time I was able to get a different perspective about the people and about the things most important to me. Spending a really long time in the saddle gives a you a great opportunity to get away from your worries. But the irony is that it gives you a really great opportunity to wallow in your worries - worries which you can do absolutely nothing about when you're a long way from home on a bike, in the middle of the night.
I left Blue Ash with a profound sense of gratitude for my wife and daughter, who have been very supportive of me spending large amounts of time away from them in order to train, and to come over to Ohio to do these rides.
Like Al said, these rides don't make sense. But, I bet he'll be at the 600K ride. I think I will be, too.