Monday, June 02, 2014

Horsey Hundred: Century Failure

Let's go straight to the bottom line: my Kentucky Century Challenge campaign is over.  To be successful, you have to complete all four constituent rides.  You can't miss on any of them.  And I've missed on the Horsey Hundred.  I completed only 72 of the 104 miles of the century route there.  No free jersey for me!

How did this happen?  Well, it's a mixture of my stupidity and some non-performance by the Bluegrass Cycling Club.  I'll tell my side of it.  I'm guessing they won't tell theirs.  But let's start from the beginning.

This time, I lodged in a palatial Courtyard by Marriott, thanks to a Priceline deal.  The ride started out from Georgetown, but my hotel was in north Lexington, about 10 quick miles away by I-75.  No matter how posh the facility, though, it just wouldn't be the same without my two-wheeled aluminum and carbon fiber roommate.

We both slept well.  I used the bed, which was excellent.

The century and the 78-mile riders went off at 8 am.  Here's the street, in front of several Georgetown College buildings, about 15 minutes before that time.  The weather was flawless: about 70 degrees, clear skies, practically no wind.

A few minutes after I collected this image, a car inched its way through this crowd.  Very, very slowly.

The first rest stop was only about 13 miles in.  Seemed odd to me.  It had plenty of food.  I should have had more appreciation for food being present; later, that wouldn't be the case.  This rest stop was at a church in the small town of Midway; adjacent was an old cemetery.  In hindsight, that was a little bit of an omen, too.

One of these stones MUST say "Jim Wetzel's 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge, RIP."

Lexington, Georgetown, Frankfort: this is the heart of the bluegrass region, thoroughbred country.  I rode past seemingly endless rolling green pastures, bordered by very neat four-rail wooden fences and elderly-looking stone fences.  Many Horsican-Americans were present.  They tended to be far away, though, as the vastness of their pastures allowed them to keep well aloof from the two-wheeled human pests who infested the roadways, wearing goofy-looking helmets.  Here are some horses, out enjoying their morning ...

Yes, these were full-sized horses.  But they were far away, and the focal length of my phone camera is ... well, very short.

... and here's one of my fellow cyclists, likewise documenting them.

I think she had a more reasonable camera.

Mile 25, and a second rest stop.  The last one I saw with anything to eat.  Also cemetery-equipped.

I didn't check these stones for my name, either.  Should've.

About 42 miles in, we were routed past the front of the Kentucky Statehouse, in Frankfort (of course).  It's an attractive building.

I must admit that I was so busy keeping track of the pavement route markers that I didn't realize the city I had ridden into was Frankfort, until I got here.  Obliviousness, thy name is "Wetzel."

Third rest stop, 51 miles in.  Notice the great bounty of food available.  There were ... pickles.  Also pickles.  And some pickles.  Nothing else.

The line in the background is for water and pseudo-Gatorade.  It is a long line, the end of which is well out-of-frame.  Notice also the tiny little table which allegedly held food before they "ran out."  Anyone ever been on a supported ride?  Ever see so little space for provision?  Yeah, me neither.

Now, I don't know about you, but when my fuel tank is empty and I'm looking for some energy food, pickles are always the first thing I think of.  Or maybe not.  This rest-stop famine situation struck me as a Bad Thing, since we'd had 26 medium-tough miles since the last stop, and another 21 miles (of unknown difficulty) to the next.  Oh, well, I thought, nothing I can do about it; might as well get going.  I should add that, while there was both powdered imitation Gatorade and regular-type water available, there were long lines for both.  There was also a sign saying that if the time was 1 pm, and you were there, you would no longer have time to finish the century and should start following the 78-mile route markers.  The time was five minutes to noon when I read this.  I was bewildered; I'd started on time and had been keeping a decent 16-to-18 mph pace (when actually rolling), and I would have thought I should have an ample time margin in hand (as in, more than a mere hour).  Between the sign and the long water lines, I looked at the two-thirds full bottle on my bike and thought, that's enough to go 21 miles on; I'm getting out of here.  This turned out to be a bad mistake.  Live and learn ... or, sometimes, die and learn.

The next 21 miles were all hills.  None of them were quite as steep as the toughest ones I'd seen at the Redbud Ride, but they were pretty steep (I'd say up to 15% slopes in places), and they would climb constantly for long distances, often approaching a mile.  Then you'd get a steep, scary downhill, and then immediately start another long, punishing climb.  Basically, no level road to give you a chance at recovery.  By mile 60, I had drunk all my water, and by mile 65, I had "bonked:"  dehydration, loss of electrolytes, probably low blood sugar, no energy.  I kept having to make roadside stops (at which I'd ordinarily drink water, but I was out) just to catch my breath and occasionally take a picture like this one.  The route was still very scenic, but I was ceasing to be able to appreciate it.  I was starting to get leg cramps and making very slow progress indeed.  The thought of the rest stop at mile 72, presumably with abundant food, kept me moving ... sort of.

Again -- this is absolutely knock-your-eyes-out gorgeous country.  I'd have enjoyed it much more if I'd actually been alive.

I limped into the 72-mile rest stop with my left leg cramping almost continuously.  I got down in the grass and did a lot of stretching.  Then I went to the food area.  There were orange quarters and ... you guessed it, pickles.  I drank the powdered Gatorade mix as if it were good, which it wasn't.  I ate the equivalent of several oranges in the form of quarters.  I ate a pickle.  I filled my water bottle.  I sat around for a good while, stretching and resting and trying to convince myself that I could make it without the bananas and peanut-butter sandwiches I'd been hoping for.

The fourth stop was the Jack Jouett house, built in 1797.  Mr. Jouett was a hero of the American Revolution, credited with saving the lives of a number of Virginia legislators, including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.  I just wish he'd left me a bunch of bananas somewhere.

I got on the bike, and had the left leg cramp up on about the second pedal stroke.  I stopped and rubbed it for a minute, and started out again.  Less than a tenth of a mile down the road, both legs cramped at once and I nearly dumped the bike.  At that point, it was obvious: to ride like that in the vicinity of any automobile traffic was too stupid an idea even for me.  I can just see having both legs lock up while screaming down one of those 35 mph downhills, with maybe a car coming the other way ... much potential for ugliness there.  So I walked the bike back into the worthless rest-stop area and made the call for the SAG vehicle, so that (for the first time ever, anywhere) I could make the Ride of Shame back to the start.  Which took quite a while, by the way; the driver had been asked to make a backward sweep of the portion of the course we'd already traveled, to check for any riders who might be broken down or injured at the roadside.  Of course, he did it much faster by car than I'd done it by bike, but 72 miles still takes a couple of hours to drive.

This really was a completely new experience to me.  I know about being winded.  I know about being tired ... very tired, even, as I was at the end of the Redbud. Those are conditions that are subject to one's will.  You can tell yourself that you need to crank a little bit, and you can do that.  You're not happy about it, maybe, but there's no question that it can be done.  But you get yourself dehydrated, and low on blood sugar, and it's a very different situation.  It no longer matters what you think would be a good thing to do.  Your motivation is irrelevant.  You've become a machine, with an empty gas tank.  The machine doesn't run, and that's all there is to it.  I'd read about "bonking" before, but had never experienced it.  It's very different from anything else.  Having now bonked, I know now what it is; it's a condition nearly as definite as a broken leg.  Absent the cramping, I could and would have finished the ride, even bonked, although it would have taken me several more hours.  The difficult hills, I was told, were behind me, and from the Jouett house back to Georgetown was (net) downhill.  But, even as much as I hated to quit -- and I hated it pretty comprehensively -- leg cramps aren't something you can argue with.  They don't listen.

Now, here's the thing: a lot of this is my fault.  Even given the rest-stop famine, most of those who set out to ride the century finished it.  I believe these were the folks who carried multiple water bottles and their own fuel, in the form of energy gels, energy bars, and suchlike, on their persons.  I should have been doing the same.  I also made a severe error in judgement by leaving the mile 51 stop without filling my bottle (and my belly) with water.  However ... the Bluegrass Cycling Club, as the sponsoring organization, collected the unprecedented sum of $65 from each rider as a registration fee, and that's about twice what any other ride I've been on does.  They claimed they would provide rest stops with food and drink, which they failed to do.  A "supported ride" is supposed to include food, drink, and SAG support; this was both the most costly and most poorly-supported ride I've ever experienced, and that is a disagreeable combination.  The riders I talked to were all angry about this; the ones who'd ridden the Horsey in previous years said that the provisioning of the stops had been excellent in the past, and that this was also the first year of the high registration fees.  In my mind, the BCC bears at least half the responsibility for the end of my Century Challenge campaign, and I cannot feel well-disposed toward them as a result.  It certainly increases my appreciation of a club like the Cumberland Valley Cycling Club, which puts the Redbud together for half the registration fee, provides plentifully-provisioned and fun-themed rest stops, and even manages a complimentary, advertising-laden T-shirt.

So, where do I go from here?  Well, I'll likely ride the June 21 Preservation Pedal anyway, because I'm already (non-refundably) registered for it.  The fourth Kentucky century, the Hub City Tour,  looks unlikely to me at this point: I mean, what for?  But I'll decide on that later; it's scheduled for, I think, sometime in September.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your disappointing experience. Bet the Horsican Americans were properly sympathetic regarding the neglect and abuse you suffered at the hands of the operators. Your pictures are beautiful and I hope you are recovered. Nothing will compensate you for the disappointment, but nothing will break your spirit, either. You and the Horsican Americans have that in common!

Anonymous said...

My comment didnt get posted so I am trying again. Kentucky is a beautiful state. Great pics. You are inspiring to all of us so keep up the great work! I look forward to seeing and hearing more of this good stuff!

Mimi said...

Jim, I was sorry to read of the disappointing end to your ride and I don't blame you for being angry at the sponsoring organization. I don't ride or run, but my daughter and SIL are marathoners and I have some inkling of how deficient the BCC was, especially when it comes to provisions. (Pickles!)
I know also how diligently you must have trained--you didn't just wake up one day, decide to ride, and hop on your bike ten minutes later.
To end on a high note, though (writes Little Miss Sunshine), as usual, I'm in awe of your writing skill. Even more than your photos, your narrative took me into the country through which you rode, which I'll surely never see in life. Thanks for that and I'm so glad to see you back on the blog.