Monday, June 10, 2013

WOW in the wet

I am eastbound, cycling into a quartering crosswind, attempting to draft while avoiding the rooster tails of the others in my group. We're about 35 miles into a 50 mile ride. It has been raining since mile 5.

We pass a farm where a hog confinement is being unloaded into a waiting semi. In my life I have loaded thousands of trailers with tens of thousands of hogs. I know exactly how warm and dry it is inside that building.

I'd rather be out here.

The Wellness on Wheels ride is an annual charity ride that takes a loop through the north central part of Sioux County. Generally intended as a rec ride, the two lengths (35 and 50) also serve as training ride for local riders prepping for RAGBRAI. Climbing is minimal, and the ride is fully supported with food at three stops, and SAG wagons patrolling the route.

I arrived at the start about 6:15, where about dozen riders were signing in before the 6:30 departure (an 8:00 start was also available). Typically the ride draws about a hundred riders, but the 100% chance of rain kept many away.

I saw a few familiar faces, and after filling out the (I-won't-sue-if-I-get-struck-by-lightening) waiver forms, I joined up with a group of four and rolled out. Heading west out of town,  we were immediately confronted with a deep dark blue horizon that could only mean rain. Two of our group immediately announced that they had no intention of riding in the rain at all, and would turn around if (when) it began to rain. We were all dreading that first roll of thunder that would immediately end our ride.

As we approached our first turn (look for an ethanol plant) the first sprinkles began. True to their word, two of our group turned around and headed home. I suppose when one has been doing rides like these for decades, the need and desire to ride in the rain begins to fade.

The remaining two of us continued north. After riding together for a few miles through increasing rain, I jumped onto a passing group. We rolled into Rock Valley under light but steady rain. I dismounted and started heading for the cooler full of food. Then I learned that the group I was with was on the 35 mile loop, while a group just heading out was on the 50 mile route. I quickly remounted my bike and tagged onto the departing 50 mile group.

One of the reasons for wanting to do this ride was the chance to ride with experienced cyclists who would (among other things) hold me to a slower pace. All my training rides are around 16-19 mph, which I cannot sustain for more than 30 miles. I have finished every ride longer than 50 miles utterly wasted because I always start too fast. B sticking with a group, I hoped to hold a more sustainable pace.

As we exited Rock Valley, the rain increased. The group was mixed, including a cyclist who had never rode more than 40 miles before, and another who was preparing for her second cross country tour. We held to a 14-16 mph pace as we turned towards Doon, the second town on our ride. This leg was quite pleasant, spent most of it talking and getting to know the cyclists in the group.

By the time we reached Doon, we were all soaked through. We were the lead group for this route, and the person responsible for bringing food and water had not yet arrived. A few calls through ziploc bagged phones, and the food was on it's way. This part of the course actually looped out before returning to Doon, so we decided to head out and reload on food on the return trip. We hustled on out, motivated by the thought of something to eat, and our quickly chilling bodies during the brief minutes of the stop.

While riding, I actually was quite comfortable. The jacket I wore eventually became saturated and ceased to keep me from getting wet, but it still kept me from being cold, and a light pair of gloves kept my hands from going numb. The dynamics of the group helped as well. Say what you will about the people of NW Iowa (boring, too conservative, narrow minded, etc.) they're incredibly stoic when it comes to enduring bad weather. No complaints were heard. If a person decided to drop out, they said so, wished everyone else well, and headed home.

Two of our group decided to return to Rock Valley rather than continue. The remaining riders were the cross county rider, and a college prof on his first 50 mile ride. A crosswind began thrashing us with the rain, which continued to come down steady. We set up a staggered pace line trying to keep a tight group despite the wind.

Even though this leg was only a few miles, it felt like the longest of the ride. We were just over halfway, we were soaked, barely staying warm, and alone. For all we knew, we were the only riders still attempting the course. The remaining miles would be all facing a growing wind, and rain that showed no signs of lessening. The rain was pouring down at this point, and running down the road in rivers. I think the concentration required by riding in a group kept me from dwelling on the fully deteriorated conditions. By myself, I don't know what I would have done.

Then came the turn south. Somehow, knowing that we were now getting closer to home helped my mood. We continued our staggered pace line, swapping every mile or so. We remarked that passing cars had been very respectful  I supposed the oddity of three riders riding nearly abreast (taillights ablaze) in the pouring rain was enough to get their attention.

Hull came up sooner than expected. We stopped long enough to pound bananas and granola bars, and I quickly texted "Hull. Wet." to my wife, before getting back on the road. The work of bucking the wind kept us warm, and I knew the distance remaining was now falling towards the single digits. The virtue of the slower pace showed as only now did my  legs begin to feel tired.

Sioux Center came up almost as a surprise. We pulled into the parking lot, got a photo of our drenched selves, and headed home to a very welcome warm shower.

Total Mileage: 55
Ride time: 4hrs
Average speed: 14.6

(I apologize for the lack of photos, but the rain meant the camera absolutely stayed at home.)

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