“My methods of navigation have their advantage. I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
– Douglas Adams
If you have read any other post thus far, you are almost guaranteed to have read something about the wind here in Iowa. As my companion during last weekend’s ride mentioned to me, “only golfers, sailors, and cyclists in Iowa know the wind forecast each day.” The knowledge about the speed and direction is so important here because the wind consistently gets up over double digits and often spikes into the 20mph range with even loftier gusts. This weekend’s group of rides was of the 20mph variety with expected gusts closer to the 30-40mph range. With that in mind, I made a concerted effort to minimize any and all crosswind possibilities during my treks.
After the bike rides last week in some decent high-90-degree heat, I began to consider the benefits of leaving even earlier in the mornings for these longer trips. With this weekend’s weather forecast calling for similar temperatures, including a 97-degree Sunday, I wanted to put this idea into practice. By midweek, I start getting up at 4:30 instead of 5:30 to start adjusting myself to an early rise time. On Saturday, I got up at 2:50 with my sights set on leaving the house by 4am. I figured this would buy me the entire ride before noon, alleviating the majority of heat exposure (spoiler alert: I was right).
Another added perk was reduced wind speeds at these early morning departure times. I exited the house right at 4:00 and had Google maps all set up to take me to Waterloo and clipped in and pushed off around 4:08. I spent a lot of the week and the rides over the weekend planning out the July ride and these earlier departure times. The benefit of leaving as early as possible come July 18 may be extremely important for several reasons including the temperature and wind points I mentioned above.
Change of Plans
By about 9 am, I was at the point of the trip where I needed to heat west instead of north. I started that way, hoping the wind wouldn’t be at full speed yet and it was still quite a dangerous endeavor with the bike being pushed around quite a bit. So, I changed plans and instead kept heading north to Independence and even farther to Oelwein (no idea how one even goes about pronouncing that). I did a quick detour in Independence to test myself against the cross wind on a road with a proper shoulder for about 5 miles before continuing to Oelwein. When I arrived, I had just crossed the desired 100-mile mark. However, my wife and my ride was still busy and it would be at least two more hours before she would be in my general vicinity.
Rather than sit still for that time, I decided to do some more training. I turned south and went directly into the headwind. Interestingly enough, before departing, I had to stop at a convenience store for more water. While in line, the lady behind me said out of the blue “The wind must be terrible today.” I agreed and said I was turning South now so it would be even more fun. She wished me luck and I headed out into the nonsense.
It was such a ridiculous trek. I had to stop several times to answer the phone and give updates to my wife, to eat or drink, or in general catch my breath because the wind was just so pummel-y. I think my average total speed was under 10 mph because of all the stops. It was by far the worst wind I have ridden into. The 15 miles were good practice though because my biggest fear for the July ride continues to be to have to deal with a head wind like that from the east, meaning I will have to post up 150 miles in that type of punishing condition, which will sap mental and physical energy from me so quick. In fact, that is another reason to support the super early departure times moving forward. If I do find myself in a headwind, it’s not that I can’t do the ride; it’s just going to take much longer. The cross-wind is the dangerous one. The headwind is the annoying one. Getting up earlier will allow me more room for error.
Currently, I have a goal of a total time of 12 hours for each 150-mile segment of the Big Ride. Leaving earlier than 4am on July 18 will allow me some extra time if I am dealing with a headwind. I found myself calculating this idea over and over again in the course of my 224-mile weekend. I think the premise goes something like this: I am nearly 100% confident I can finish the Big Ride, but I am only 42% confident I can finish it on time. Finishing the ride is just a matter of pedaling. As D and I have begun to incorporate into our everyday lives, just keep pedaling. I have experience with all day rides (RTYD I and RTYD II) and rides that go into the next day (RTYD III) so I know that I can do that, I can just keep pedaling. It’s only when trying to get the ride in within a certain window of time that the doubt creeps in. Of course, other things could get in the way. A busted tire, a nasty spill, a stupid driver running me off the road, a bad leg cramp, or muscle strain, etc. But mostly it’s the ticking clock that I worry about and I can control that a bit with my earlier departure times.
When we got home, it was pretty much stretch and get to bed to do it all over again. I would end up leaving slightly later, closer to 4:20 the next morning to head off towards Cedar Falls. I was facing the same ridiculous wind and so I decided to continue along the bike trail that would take me all the way to Waterloo even though a large section of the trail was unpaved. I figured an unpaved trail in the trees was an improvement over a no-shoulder road in the middle of a wide open field where I’d get hit by the brunt of the wind.
Sunday’s ride did not go as well as Saturday’s had. I had a tight stomach all morning, something I haven’t had much of in recent rides, but am quite used to from past rides. It has me thinking a lot about eating post-ride. I spent part of my week last week confirming the route for the Big Ride, including finding out places I can get food once I arrive at my nightly AirBnB. I am still debating what the best type of food will be to eat before bed and after getting up as the days rack up. I need something that goes down smooth, has enough carbs, and doesn’t sit heavy the next morning. The debate continues for this.
In addition, I had to deal with an unpaved trail for several miles on Sunday’s ride. All in all, it was not too bad. Although I did have to literally climb through a downed tree because the path was on the top of a hill with steep slopes on either side. It reminded me of the several rides done with D where we find ourselves climbing through brush to get to the other side of a downed bridge, or rolling our bikes over piles of construction gravel to continue on our way rather than double back and add 15 miles to the trip.
One last minor issue was having added miles to the trip because the path was out. The extra five miles was no big deal, but it did screw me up in relation to my water supply.
On Saturday, I carried 118 oz. of water and 40 oz. of Gatorade with me and had a rest stop picked out about 50 miles into the ride. With the cooler morning temperatures, I didn’t even need to stop at the rest stop for a water refill. Instead, I continued and only got a refill at the 100-mile mark in Oelwein and even then, I only got more because I was turning around and biking another 15 miles.
Given that I am switching my water strategy to carrying less and stopping more for refills to help cut down on weight I need to carry, I decided to take 34 oz. less water and 20 oz. less Gatorade. I stopped about 60 miles in on Sunday and refilled my water and got more Gatorade. I would have been golden if the extra five miles weren’t tacked on. Luckily, I had my insulated bottle reserve to hold me over in the heat as I pedaled the extra distance. This shouldn’t be a problem on the Big Ride because I have rest stops planned every 20-35 miles. I will just need to be cautious about not trying run down my supply to the bare minimum every time before stopping.
In conclusion, this past weekend’s rides mark my first ever completion of back-to-back century rides, a pretty big milestone in prep for the Big Ride. The next few weekends will all be back-to-backs with more distance added on each time. Next weekend, I will aim for 125 and 100.
The Great Cycle Challenge
The challenge is going well and I am on pace to complete my mileage and donation goal. At the end of June 11, I was still in first place in Iowa in terms of mileage (disclaimer: at the time of posting, I am now in second place. Kudos to First Place Guy but I’m coming for you.)