Monday, February 20, 2012

Wisconsin Hills 3: Return of the Thighmaster

I love this permanent.  It's beautiful, the countryside is unique and every time we go to ride it, another road is closed for construction and forces a re-route on to some new gem.  As Gary says, "I've been working on this for over a year, one of these days, I'll get it right".

The latest forced set of changes were caused by the ever expanding construction on N, which should really rock when complete.  Without a good way to get east, Gary decided a small loop in the middle to Dunnville would solve the problem.  That of course takes out 10 miles of flats (the only ones) and replaces them with 10 miles of walls.

We have enjoyed the 4th warmest winter on record and virtually no snow.  This has made it much easier to ride all winter as opposed to last year when I seriously considered modifying training wheels into skiis for the bike.  Routes with sanded ascents and descents on feet of snow is really getting up there.  Of course, we haven't had zero snow, so that means that we have pavement that looks like a sandbox.  All climbing must be done sitting (or your rear wheel spins).

The forecast for this day was for lows in the high 20s to highs around 40.  Turns out that we rolled out around 7 at a balmy 18 degrees.  The first 30 miles or so start with steep rollers (temple hills).  I uniformly suck at these no matter how fit I think that I am; but at least they got me warm.  The frost was think and we had lots of sun, as such we both remarked that this was probably the best day to ride in February.  It had snowed about 5 days previously, but a big melt had come shortly afterwards: big patches of snow but lots of bare, frosty spots abounded.  There was a fair amount of wind blowing from the south too which made for headwinds on the first 60 miles.

The first adventure was Spot the Wonder Dog.  Temple hills are enough, but having a dog chase you on temple hills is somewhat a different experience.  It became clear quickly that Spot was a playful dog and just really wanted to come along for the ride as he gleefully jumped and bounded around close enough to shoot any tempo to hell.  After a mile, we stopped, not wanting to lead him further away.  He was singularly unimpressed with our "go home" suggestions, but after a couple minutes, his owner showed up in van to drive him home.  Bye Spot, have a good day!

Since the repaving job on Q finally got finished, we got to remove one of the previous detours.  The New Q is indeed a beautiful, and now beautifully paved, road.  We came to Knapp and I had ice in my bottles which I dumped it in favor of hot water.   The ascent on Q out of Knapp has no shoulder, is twisting, and has many cars.  Fortunately, a new section with about a mile of gravel is now replacing a dangerous 19% grade.  Okay, it is being replaced by a mile of gravel leading to another 19% grade climb that is 2x longer; the hills score major points on my cold thighs.  On the plus side, when you do half mile climbs that steep sitting down in winter, you are treated to views that are otherwise invisible through the leaves.

On CR-X, I forgot myself and briefly attempted to stand while climbing.  I nearly fell over as my rear wheel spun on the sandy surface.  This section, while very beautiful, also included several new hills on the way to Dunnville at the confluence of the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers.  I recongized the area as one I had bonked on years earlier in the summer.  It's always a special feeling when you get to ride by a place you previously lay passed out on; at least my fitness has increased, here I was still pedaling and it was 50 degrees colder.

Dunnville itself is a tiny town that was previously the seat of the county and one old building remains.  Apparently, sometime in the 19th century, bandits from Menomonie showed up and stole the county records so as to provide a boost for that town.  How totally wild west to steal the county seat from a town.  Why don't we have really forthright politics like that today? 

We finally completed the Dunnville Loop and were back in Downesville for the control.  Downesville is a small town in every sense of the word.  It doesn't even sell gas.  However, the entire place was filled with cars which was definitely odd.  We stopped for lunch/receipts and asked why all of Dunn County was in Downesville.  Why its the annual Ice Fishing Contest was the reply, "we have 2 ponds that are just frozen enough".   So most of Dunn County was squatting on frozen ponds and the bikers are crazy? 

By the end of our lunch, temps were in the high 30s.  I switched to thinner gloves, but kept everything else, it was still nippy.  The south wind was decidedly friendlier on the way back to Knapp and I really enjoyed this stretch.  The winding road along the Red Cedar River and the climb back into Knapp are big highlights.  The only real ice we encountered was the descent into Knapp, I unclipped and carefully picked my way across while Gary simply pedaled over it.  No fear of falling has its advantages.

We got to Knapp around 4 with about an hour of daylight left.  Since Knapp is down in a valley, we had one more big climb to get out.  At the top, gentle roller awaited all the way back to New Richmond.  We switched our lights on before coming into Hammond, a control, and had about another hour of night riding.  This last stretch, on flat roads with beautiful, twinkling stars and no traffic was another big highlight.

One does not do winter perms as a time trial or to set records.  Our finish was about 12:35.  The temperatures sort of flirted with the 40s, but the sun is really what made the ride.  In the far north, we are subject to solar deficit disorder, meaning we are all cranky from being in the dark for months.  To be outside in the sun all day in February at 40 without snow is a rare thing indeed.  Gary beat me up every hill, no suprise, he is the true thighmaster.  It just re-enforces the axiom that randonneuring is about me having my ass handed to me by members of the AARP.

Gary's wife, Debbie, had prepared the family chicken wild rice soup for our arrival.  That, along with some sort of greek chicken thing from the New York Times that Gary had made himself was a delicious end to a fun day. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

RoadPixie and GearBob vs. The Fog

It has been an appalling amount of time since my last entry in September.  During that time, I rode 1200k in permanents and a 200k in Arizona.  All those rides were really something.  One was in San Francisco on bike I borrowed from a local rando.  Minnesota has had the biggest stretch of good weather in the winter since I have lived here.  I haven't even needed studded tires.

I had one permanent route that I had never ridden.  A 300k that is about to become a brevet route.  GearBob (not to be confused with SpinBob) wanted to finish his R12 with a spectacular finishing ride.  So he called me up about riding it.  We thought with the good weather, we would just wait for a sunny day in the 40s and it would be a snap.  Groundhog Day was fast approaching and the beautiful weather was rolling in.  A foggy start and then sunshine, 40s and no wind.  What could be better.

So we started out with temps just around freezing at 7:00 AM to avoid any overnight icing.  It was a foggy start, no doubt but, hey it was going to burn off.  We headed down Minnetonka Blvd and turned down Baker Rd for the first rollers of the day.  I am planning on getting a new frame and the builder had put a 130mm stem with a 17degree pitch pointing up to see if I could potentially have a little bigger frame.  Bike looks weird, but riding with GearBob is good for me: he knows all about such things.

As we moved through Eden Prairie, things were going well except that it seemed a bit cooler.  Sure enough my little thermometer read 28 degrees, down a couple.  That was puzzling, temps were supposed to be in the mid 30s by that time.  On the other hand, the fog was still in force and we started noticing long icy fuzz starting to grow everywhere, including on my hair!  There really wasn't any ice and the riding continued to be pleasent.  We pushed on to the first control, Belle Plain, at about mile 40.

At Belle Plain, I changed my Toasty Toes and had a brat, chocolate milk, a power bar and some gatorade.  Reading that sentence actually makes me feel really ill now, but at the time it was great.  The ice crystals at this point were about an ice long, hoarfrost on the trees outside.  If you have never seen hoarfrost, here is a picture:

photo of hoarfrost taken by unknown person, road pixie stupidly forgot her camera
We rode out of Belle Plain and had a beautiful climb out of the Minnesota River Valley.  Once on top of the bluff, the ride turned distinctly flatter with a slightly east wind that pushed us along.  This was a little dull with the fog blocking our view to the Nature Area, but passed pretty quickly.  As we rolled into Green Isle, the fog lifted and temps soared.  Up to 40 degrees we went without a cloud above.  We could, however, still see the fog bank to the northeast.

We turned onto County 15 and wound our way through the sunny day through Glencoe and up to Hutchinson.  This was a really nice stretch.  Though the road isn't really interesting for about 13 miles, the shoulder is about 10 ft across and 2 people can easily chat.  We had some really nice conversation and Hutchinson, mile 80, was in sight.  We rolled into the Econofoods and proped the bikes up in front of the large windows of the deli section.  A 93 year old woman with a walker congratualted us on our ride.  She had been a rider up until 84, she looked like she had some miles left in her too.  It was only 1:30.  We were on a pretty good pace to finish around 10-11:00 pm.

I had a huge chicken salad croissant, a Naked Mighty Mango and a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy.  Pure heaven!  We filled bottles and were really excited to get back on the road.

And the fog rolled in....

Just outside town, there it was waiting for us like some kind evil John Carpenter movie.   Our nice warm temps dropped at least 10 degrees in about as many minutes.  We put our coats back on.  Here things got interesting.

We some missed a turn somewhere.  Of course, the fog was so thick, it was impossible to see which direction was north.  Visibility was limited to a few hundred yards.  I turned on my strongest lights.  GearBob has super bright generator lights too.  We were lit up like Christmas trees.  We stopped a car and got some directions but as we continued on, we werent totally sure where we were still.  Suddenly, a local appeared out of nowhere.  He offered to show us back to the route.  What luck!

Turned out it wasn't quite as helpful as it could have been.  His pace was much quicker and both of us expended way too much energy keeping up.  In addition, we knew even less about where we were when he suddenly had to return to Hutchinson and said, "just take the next left".  Oops.

About 45 minutes later, I waved a car down.  We were way off course.  To get back to our route, we had to go almost 8 miles out of our way!  But finally after 2 hours of milling out, we found it.  There is nothing quite like doing bonus miles and then realizing you still have to finish.  And now we would be out very late indeed.  The next section, it turned out got distinctly hillier.  Were it not for the fog, it would have been very beautiful.  Alas, it wasn't.  Bob's stomach wasn't doing very well either, he was nibbling, but still trying to keep up.  The Annandale control was still 20 miles away.  The sun then set, we were still 85 miles out and it was 5:30 pm.  10 pm was not going to happen.  I started pondering internally whether we would make the 20 hour cutoff; but at Cokato GearBob was emphatic, this ride was going to get finished on time!

As the darkness set in along with the fog, I was glad I had so many lights.  Bob kept dropping back as we went over big rollers.  Finally, we turned onto Cty Rd 24, less than 3 miles to the control.  We were both hungry, wet and kind of cold.
At the Holiday Station, they were giving away free pizza.  Score!  I ate a couple pieces along with the famous Little Debbie Double Decker Oatmeal Cream Pie and a super concentrated Monster thing.  Within minutes, wings sprouted from my back and I was really to roll.  GearBob unfortunately did not fair as well on the fare.  He was to suffer dearly for his lack of vision!  At one point, while my mouth was full of sugery cream, an older gentlema walked in and exclaimed, "who is crazy enough to be out on this on bikes?".  All Bob could get out was, "I sure wish it wasn't me," with a big smile.

It was a quick 20 miles to Monticello, and I did my best to pace Bob.  I hate to watch a rando fight with their digestion.  We have all been there and its the mark of a fine one that they perservere.  In fact, it started to feel warmer.  The temperature was still 30, but the fog was gone for good.  I could see the countryside (well a little better, it was still dark).  That part of the ride is really nice and goes by Lake Maria State Park.  Too bad all I got a really good look at was the sign.

Monticello is an area with lots of options for a control and we opted for Culvers, a local fast food chain.  I had a hamburger, fries and root beer.  Bob had a burger and started feeling better.  We had 45 miles to go.  It was about 9:00 pm and the deadline was 3:00am.  Plenty of time.

I really enjoyed the next 2 legs.  The ride to Delano via Rockford is a lot of fun rollers and is even nicer when you can see it.  Rockford is right on the Crow River and the river was somehow comforting as we crossed.   We made it across the train tracks just in time to avoid a long wait and life was good.  We had a few minor setbacks but rolled into Coborns in Delano

I have to say the guys at the Coborn's was just astounded to see people on bikes roll in at midnight on a school night no less.  Bob changed socks and I had some vitamin water and another oatmeal cream pie.

The last 25 miles were both long and short, happy and sad.  The occaisional Christmas light still greeted us as we cruised through town.  It's always both happy and sad to finish a ride.  But the temperature started dropping again and I have to say the chocolate milk and yogurt at Cub Foods was delicious at the end.  We made it just a shade under 19 hours.

So GearBob has an R12 now.  It's a big accomplishment.  This is the second time I have been able to ride with someone finishing that particular award and it is always something special.