first ride – the long story (FVP)

[ Fox Valley Permanent – take 1, start time: 8:30 am, Dec 17th, 2011 ]

Here is my first ever ride report story. You can finish it in a week if you read a section every day 🙂

=== Pre-ride

Friday night, I reset my daily cell phone alarm to 6:20am, but forgot to undo the ¨weekdays only¨ option. Luckily I woke up on my own saturday morning at ~6:50am, feeling good.

Looking out the window I saw the first snow of the season falling. And I smiled at the trick nature played on me, as until then I thought I picked the best weather to ride my first permanent. My wife was up & asked if I would still ride, to which I answered ¨Oh I will ride, I am just not sure if I should change the tires or not¨. Snow was fresh and seemed to be no more than half an inch. Forecast anticipated no snow after 10am & my route was going ~100km south. I decided the 28mm Grand Bois tires that were on my bike should be fine.

I drank a glass of milk & gathered the last pieces of gear while my wife quickly got ready and fed the cats. We were on the road at ~7:15am. Ride starts at a coffee shop in downtown Naperville. I decided it was a bad idea to postpone breakfast till we got there. So we stopped in Wicker Park before getting onto the highway, for bagels and coffee to eat in the car.

My wife said it would take 45 minutes to Naperville from home. It might have, had I let her drive. We arrived at the start point at 8:30am, my official start time. I still had to (in the order of time consumption)

– mount the front tire – was quick with quick release
– pump up rear tire – was relatively quick with floor pump
– attach the handlebar bag – I had taken it off the bike to try restoring its boxy shape
– lube the chain – though I knew there was no time to wipe the excess lube
– attach the seat bag – bike does not fit in our car with this bag on
– replace spd pedals with platform pedals – with toe clips/straps already attached
– wait in line inside the coffee shop to get a receipt – seemed to take forever

Then I kissed my wife (who while reading a draft of this report said she is pretty sure there was no kissing), started rolling & replied her with a sour ¨Honey, don`t ask me anything now!¨ when she asked if I knew where I was going. It must have been 8:56 am.

=== Naperville to Batavia

Once on the bike, my face and eyes were cold quickly. A few blocks later I hit the railroad crossing & randomly spread sunscreen on my face while I expected to hear a train to approach. Also put on security glasses for wind protection. I did not hear a train approach. The truck driver waiting on the other side of the railroad decided to back up and park on the side of the road. And the bars came up after a minute or so. All these were a bit awkward, but I had no time to wonder. I rolled on.

Right before the right turn onto Batavia Road, I decided ¨T¨ meant traffic lights, so I turned back, up the tiny hill, back to traffic lights. While waiting at the red light, I decided ¨T¨ meant T intersection, so I turned back, down the tiny hill, back to the right turn onto Batavia Road. I remember two plow trucks pass me on the opposite lane on Batavia Road. Between the two of them, they were nicely covering & plowing the entire lane. I thought it was a tough job to drive that truck so close to the curb, at that speed.

At the Fermilab gate, security person stepped out of his hut & kindly told me to stop at all stop signs. ¨Sure¨ I said. I stopped at 3 or 4 intersections, but at least not solely to keep my word, there were actually other vehicles at two of those intersections. Leaving the Fermilab campus, I had to walk my bike around the closed gate on thicker snow.  Walking felt good as I had been pushing into the wind on the last stretch.

Time was now almost 10am & I was working even harder to meet the first control closing. As I was spinning as fast as I could with my head down, I saw my front tire was shooting forward a good amount of slushy water which then flew either direction to land on my feet & calves. I decided I would need a front fender like those on the constructeur bikes often shown in Bicycle Quarterly magazine. They need to go over the top of the tire, & extend somewhere near the 2 o`clock position to keep my pants and shoes dry.

I rolled into the first gas station, slowed down riding onto unplowed snow, stopped when a car came around the corner, and walked my bike with quick steps up the sidewalk trying not to slide and fall so early in the ride. Once free of the bike, I ran inside, grabbed a bag of peanuts & explained the cashier that I quickly needed a receipt for its timestamp. The cashier was familiar with what I was doing & was very nice as well. Timestamp on the receipt showed about half a minute past the cutoff time. Oh well.

Once receipt in hand, I realized my feet were cold, almost hurting cold. I slowly ate a banana nut bread with chocolate milk, while my feet warmed up to regain feeling. While I waited for the restroom to free up, I fought with my booties to stretch them over the wide & thick soles of my hiking shoes. My booties were on & the guy in the restroom was still busy, so I left, about 24 minutes after I arrived.

=== Batavia to Plano

Once on the bike, my face was cold quickly, as I forgot to properly put some lotion at the control. I smudged some while riding. I knew I had to average a decent speed, decent in my capacity, to meet the second control cutoff. I also knew I could not push too hard too early. Ate a green mojo, sipped more of the coffee that had travelled all the way from Wicker Park inside my thermos bottle, that was to be sipped all the way down to Plano actually.

Unlike all other parts of the route, Tilman trail was not plowed, naturally. I could still maintain 10-12 km per hour or so, and trail did not last very long anyways. I came across a dog walking his lady owner, another dog walking a man who pushed his kid in a stroller.

Trail was protected, but now the south wind was very noticeable. Past the first control till the southern end that is Ottawa, route is mostly a combination of south and west stretches (or so I thought). Going south was into a headwind & you had a crosswind going west. However wind speed was pretty much constant, with no gusts to throw me off rhythm.

A while before I climbed a bridge over a highway, I passed a field where there were hundreds of geese. And a while before that, going a slight down slope, I closed my eyes and wanted to keep them closed. This must be how people fall asleep on their bikes during PBP, I thought.

The route now had that out-of-nowhere feel, especially with snow covered fields on both sides of the road. Before a left turn east, a car parked in the driveway of a farmhouse. The pregnant woman coming out of the passenger seat waved at me, I smiled and waved back.

A little while later I stopped on the road side, found my balaclava inside the seat bag, waited for the approaching car to pass by and tucked the balaclava underneath the zipper of my pants. It was much better immediately. I decided to buy some windproof briefs for next time.

On another southerly stretch, I ran out of coffee in my thermos bottle. I had filled my regular bottle with hot water in Plano control, but that was ice cold by now. Soon after, I came across a bar on the right side of the road with a few cars and trucks parked outside. I was hesitant to walk in there, but I guess I was more hesitant to ride thirsty, so I decided to enter. Inside was a bartender organising utensils or wiping or glasses or doing some similar chore, LCD tv behind the bar showed Butler men`s basketball team beat Purdue 50-something to 20-something, and 4-5 older men were drinking on my right at the bar or around the pool table. Two uncles at the bar took notice of me
finally when the bartender went inside to fill up my thermos with coffee. They asked where I was headed, and asked if I was from Canada after hearing my unusual pronunciation of the word ¨Ottawa¨. As I paid the $3 for coffee, the talkative uncle told me to be careful and ¨don`t turn in front of a semi¨. I nodded, wished them all a good day and left.

I arrived across the street from the second control in Plano, with a minute or two to spare. Across the street was a BP station which was supposed to be an Amoco according to the cue sheet. Not knowing they are the same thing, & with adrenalin enhanced stupidity, I spent a minute or two looking around for a second gas station & then finding a building number to verify the address. While waiting in line to pay for a hot tea, my wife called & I hung up. I paid for my tea & once again the timestamp on the receipt showed about half a minute past the cutoff time. Oh well.

Looking at the bathroom mirror, I realized my on-the-bike sunscreen application looked like haloween make up. I called back my wife. She did not seem to understand why I wanted to continue the ride even though I had been late for both controls. I got my tea. The cashier lady who was now cleaning the coffee stations commented that it was so brave to be riding in such a cold weather. I might have said something like ¨i guess there is a thin line between brevity and ..¨. I ate another green mojo or two, & took off 16 minutes after I arrived.

=== Plano to Ottawa

I started to enjoy the ride more as I knew I had better chance of meeting the cutoff for Ottawa control, simply because it was a longer leg & I had spent less time in the last control than I did at the previous one.

Somewhere in the first half of this leg, route takes a road that starts as gravel. I enjoyed the gravel as snow had partially filled potholes & my tires were doing a good job smoothing the bumps.

Little after that gravel section after climbing a somewhat steep hill, I felt like eating the banana that I bought at the start point in Naperville. First bite felt like a scoop of ice cream & afraid of discomforting my stomach, I spitted it out & threw the whole banana away with an urgency. Banana swinged off a tree branch and travelled a few feet back towards me before touching the ground. I thought that was pretty funny.

Before I hit the two long stretches to Ottawa, I climbed up a few short hills which required my lowest gear. And then came the two long stretches. Quick turns give you a false feeling of progress, and long stretches do the opposite. However my biggest worry was not about progress. Another rider had completed the permanent a week ago & was chased by a dog for 1/2 mile on one of these two long stretches. I did not know which stretch, let alone an approximate location.

At the end of the first stretch, I noticed a dog start barking and sprinting from behind a farmhouse on the right side of the road. Talk about adrenalin rush, next thing I noticed was a car passing me. My bike computer showed 34 km per hour & I did not hear the dog barking anymore. I kept up my effort for maybe another half minute or so before I dared to look back. The dog was not in sight.

As this dog did not chase me for 1/2 mile, I was still unsure if I met ¨the¨ dog or not. About midway on the second long stretch I saw in distance two houses across from each other, and a dog crossing the road from one yard onto the other. I slowly came to a stop. There was no escaping this dog, it was right by the road and looked totally unoccupied. I watched for a while. Then the dog sat in a way that seemed like the call of nature. Not knowing much about dogs, I thought this could be my gap of opportunity, so I started my sprint. But no, the dog was not that busy, it stood up as I approached, came by the edge of the road with graceful quick steps. To my surprise it stopped, sat and watched me pass. Quietly, not even a bark. Such a nice dog!

On one of the last stretches into Ottawa, at a four way intersection, two ladies waved at me from inside their car at a stop sign. I smiled back to their sincere faces. I think they too are cyclist or have cyclists in their families. It was open control in Ottawa, which meant the gas station control was optional, and I could go to a sandwich shop instead. Jimmy Johns appeared suddenly as I approached a right turn onto a major road. I rolled onto the parking lot & then walked my bike onto their patio, where the tables dined on in fair weather were now locked up. Time must have been ~3:30pm.

Inside was a group of teenager girls, a sports team of some sort, perhaps at a post-game meal. They took turns at looking at me staringly. I cleaned up in the restroom and got a big sized sandwich, coke and chips. I sat by the window where I can see my bike. I noticed the rear tire looked the way it should look when I am on the bike. I planned on leaving soon after 3:58pm, which was the cutoff time for this control. That gave me 20 more minutes. However couple bites and sips later, the rear tire was flat. That did not make me happy, though I felt lucky to get a flat at a control rather than on some random road.

Wrapped up my leftovers and stepped outside to fix the flat. That`s when I suffered greatly from lack of planning & technique. I took off the wheel and leaned the bike on its side trapping it between the patio fence and tables, and making it hard for myself to reach both bags. I jumped over the bike and lifted it a few times before I found and gathered my tire levers, pump and spare tube. I found pieces of glass in two different cracks in the tire. Tube had a small puncture under the second crack. I removed the glass pieces & my hands were now pretty cold, as well as dirty, as the chain lube had spread all over the tire and rim.

The girl cleaning now the empty tables inside was nice enough to let me continue indoor, behind the table at the very back, next to the patio door and bathroom. I cleaned inside the rim as well as I could and finished the work. I left the bathroom sink cleaner than my hands and put some lotion on my face. I attached two tail lights on my seatbag and screwed the headlight in place before leaving at ~4:30pm, a full hour after my arrival.

=== Ottawa to Yorkville

Next turn back into residential streets of Ottawa came quickly, and I missed it. When I was back on track, it was about ~40 minutes past Ottawa control closing. Luckily the south wind had not subsided and with that push I did not worry about my time deficit. I was not worried about the dark either, as my new dynamo hub and headlight combination provided more than enough illumination. My little flashlight was easy enough to switch on and off with gloves on. I could take out of my jacket pocket relatively easily when I needed to check the cue sheet or bike computer.

What was I worried about then? Initially, I worried about another flat. How hard would it be to patch a tire with cold, numb hands with flashlight between my lips? Would that make me quit? If I quit, then what, how do I get back? How stupid was I to take only one spare tube on a 200km ride? But that worry quickly faded when I realized I will have to cross ¨the dog¨ again on my way back north. Would the dog be indoors now that it is dark outside? Or will the dark only help the dog notice me sooner?

Well, I think the dog noticed me sooner this time. I had paced myself on the approach in anticipation for a sprint. And soon after I started my sprint, the dog started barking, and was almost surely running towards me. Once again, some adrenalin and blurry memories later, I heard the sound of dog`s paws hitting the asphalt not so far behind me. And again, a car passes, from the opposite direction this time, and made the dog retrieve. I did not ease up that quickly this time, afraid that the dog would come back and sneak up on me.

I was truly enjoying the tailwind now. The view of asphalt flowing under my headlight made me feel faster than I really was. I tried to keep a constant effort which might have been easier now that there were less distractions compared to day light.

At some point I rode again by the poles, carrying power lines(?), extending on the east side of the road for half a mile or so. I could hear their buzz more clearly now thanks to the silence of late afternoon, and the denser freezing mist. A distinct buzz came from each pole and I mistook one for the hiss of a deflating tire. Another one imitated a lose headlight attachment. The freezing mist did not bother me beyond the inconvenience of having to rub a thin layer of ice off my cue sheet cover once in a while.

I diverged from the out-bound route, headed east towards the Fox River, did my flashlight-on, distance check, flashlight-off routine some more and descended in ¨downvillage¨ Sheridan.

Can you buy cigarettes from a drive-thru? In Sheridan, IL, you can. Across from the drive-thru local convenience store, there was the optional stop mentioned on the cue sheet. I stopped, ate a green mojo, checked my pace and decided to go in the gas station store for a bathroom break & coffee refill.

Not long after I left Sheridan, or so I felt, I arrived at Yorkville control, about 20 minutes before its cutoff time. They had no seating so I started eating my donut & drinking chocolate milk by the windows, on the corridor that lead to restrooms. I started chatting with the cashier man, or vice versa, about my ride and where I lived and where I was from originally. That lead to his telling me how he used to work for UPS, and had a chance to visit two cities in Germany and France where distribution centers were, and how tight the seats were on those cargo planes. I was drinking a pretty cold chocolate milk pretty fast in the heat of the conversation. I added some hot water to warm up the milk, which diluted the taste, so I drank it all at once.

=== Yorkville to Naperville

Once on the bike, my body felt really cold, and I shivered for the one and only time for the entire ride. I spinned faster than usual to warm up, and my torso was comfortably warm within minutes. My hands, on the other hand, got colder and colder. Although they felt dry, they must have been damp. There was an air dryer but no paper towels in the restroom of Yorkville control. Holding that cold milk bottle could not have helped either. As a result of desperation induced courage, I took my hands out of gloves and held them, one by one, up in the air to dry. It worked.

One serious mistake one can do navigating this section of the route after sunset is to take a left turn onto Lincoln Highway. The traffic light turned green & I took that left turn. As I was watching the ever narrowing shoulder for debris, a fleet of cars that had accumulated at the traffic lights started passing a few feet from me at high speed. The shoulder varied from a few inches to two feet. I knew I had made a mistake, as no other section of the route was anywhere near how crowded and dangerous this road was. However I was not sure if I could slow down and stop without moving into the busy lane. And I did not want to leave the shoulder, for fear of getting a flat tire. Eventually a cross road gave me the chance to stop and turn back. Shoulder was better on the opposite direction and I managed to get off this crazy road and get back on track in one piece.

Soon I arrived at outskirts of Naperville. And then to suburban townhouse communities with their distinctive curvy streets. Some houses seemed to be pushing the limits on how varied and bright Christmas decorations and depictions can be. Somewhere on such residential streets, after switching into a pretty low gear, I realized I was at the edge of bonk land. I stopped, did a quick math, and concluded that I had to maintain 20 km per hour average for about half an hour. That was not possible without some calorie intake. I ate, not in a human way, my leftover chips, and three big bites of sandwich which I warmed up in my mouth with the last three sips of coffee left in my thermos bottle. I resumed, hoping that no one had been watching me from inside one of these houses.

Disappointment of two long red lights was undone later by a wave of three green lights and I was soon riding my last block in downtown Naperville, like a possessed soul, just like how I started off in the morning.

Coffee house was much calmer now, and people seemed to be taking it slow and easy. I waited impatiently for the cashier to finish processing an order of two fancy-named coffee drinks. As I was paying for the to-go cookie I grabbed from a jar on the counter, I told the cashier that I needed a receipt as timestamp for my timed bike ride. When he heard I finished before the deadline, he said something like ¨there you go!¨ and told me to ¨have a safe ride back home¨. I thanked and explained that I was not going to be driving. The receipt showed 10:19pm, cutoff time was 10:22pm, and I had finished with 3 minutes to spare, yay!

=== Post-ride

I cleaned up and went up to the cashier again to buy an herbal tea, into which I dumped 4 or 5 packs of sugar. My nice wife came to pick me up. On our way back home, I told her about the ride, short of complete sentences and with occasional long pauses between words. I had a hard time falling a sleep even after a warm shower and a serving of my wife`s pasta with her signature sauce. I kept replaying the ride in my head.

Next day when I sat down to compute my ride stats, I noticed the brevet card showed the ride closing time as 22:38. I was certain there was a ¨22¨ somewhere in there, turns out I was wrong about its location. I did not have to sprint those last kilometers after all.

=== weather

S-SE wind at ~10 mph all day, light snow before 10am, no ice on roads, temps mostly in low 30s.

=== speed stats

leg    distance +excess   avg. speed   duration   controlRest
1                24 +                 20.6              1:10       0:24
2                36                    18                 2:00       0:16
3                52                    18.7              2:47       1:02
4                57 +1               19.5 +0.4      2:55       0:20
5                42 +8               16.9 +3.2      2:29
———————————————————————-
total:        211 +9               18.6 +0.8     11:21       2:02
rando:                                15.7 +0.7     13:23

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