Monday, May 25, 2015

In Which I Make My Peace With the Horsey Hundred, and Get My Perspective Restored

You may remember me complaining about last year's Horsey Hundred.  Oh, I was a bitter boy.  I failed to complete the ride, and thus failed to complete the Century Challenge.  Yes, I was ticked.  I was sure that I'd have made all 102 miles, instead of the 72 I did complete, if I'd been properly supported with food and water.  And so on, and so on.

I went back this weekend, and I did complete the 102 miles.  Actually, due to my peer-pressure weakness and some random foolishness, I completed 111 of the 102 miles.  I took an unprecedented 10.5 hours total elapsed time to do it, of which slightly over eight hours were spent in the saddle with the bike moving.  (The other 2+ hours were spent at the rest stops: eating, drinking, stretching, and so on.)  I learned a few things.  One is that the Horsey is the most difficult of the Century Challenge rides, and certainly the toughest ride I've done so far.  I learned to appreciate the Bluegrass Cycling Club, as they bounced back convincingly from their embarrassment of last year and demonstrated that they do indeed know how to put on a first-class major ride.  I learned that, of the couple of thousand riders that participated in the Horsey, only 84 completed the century route; apparently, most everyone rides one of the shorter tours (distances of 25, 42, 62, 82, and 102 miles were offered).

And then, before I left Georgetown this morning, I was talking with a BCC club officer and learned something else: that everything about the Horsey, and the Century Challenge, that had seemed so important to me was actually quite trivial.  Sadly, that lesson cost the life of a fellow cyclist whose name I don't know, who was snuffed out by a drunken redneck and his pickup truck.  As the news story shows, not only did this maniac cross to the opposite side of the road to hit the cyclist head-on, catapulting him over the cab and landing him on the bed cover, Mr. Drunk decided to head back to the trailer park where the cops caught up with him.  God only knows what he planned to do with the body, but it wasn't just a body -- yet.  The cyclist died at the hospital.  Maybe if Mr. Drunk hadn't tried to escape, a critical few minutes, better spent, might have saved his victim's life.  Or maybe not.  Still, compared with that, nothing that comes after this point is really worth my writing, or your reading.  I'll write it anyway, because that's what I do.  Whether you read or not is, as always, up to you.

I got to Georgetown on Friday, having elected to stay in one of the Georgetown College dorms.  This was so inexpensive an option that I chose to stay two nights, so that I could sleep there after the Horsey and travel back, rested and refreshed, on Sunday.  At the packet pickup, I immediately appreciated that many riders were doing the Horsey.

The packet pickup line in the Georgetown College gym was ... ample.

Once I'd picked up my dorm room key, I saw that I'd been assigned room 304 in Flowers Hall.  My keen powers of observation soon told me that Flowers Hall is occupied, during the academic year, by female-type students.  I could tell this because the bath (and shower) room was completely lacking in urinals, and each stall had a little mailbox-looking thing that I decided not to investigate further.  It was a fine place, though.

My Georgetown College home-away-from-home, Flowers Hall.
The Horsey had made it clear, both on their web site and in an email, that people staying in the dorms had to provide their own bedding.  I must have had more important things on my mind, because I didn't remember that notification until I saw the beds in the room.

I thought about sleeping this way.  For a few seconds, anyway.

Fortunately, my phone and Google Maps showed me that Wally World was seven minutes away.  It probably took me ten, but there was some traffic.  I'm sure my wife was happy to see me bringing home a set of cheap sheets, a cheap blanket, and a cheap pillow for a twin-size bed.

Ahhh, that's more like it!

Saturday morning was cool and cloudy.  Later, the sun came out.

As it gets close to eight o'clock, the crowd of riders moves into the street.  Yes, I remembered to start my GPS bike computer this time.

The first stop was in a small town called Midway.  This would be the most crowded stop, as it was common to all routes, and early enough in the day that the riders were mostly in one body, more or less.  The BCC arranged for many port-a-potties, which is good.  But the line was still quite long.  Lucky for me, I typically don't need to urinate make Number One before about the 50-mile mark.  By then, there tends to be little or no line.  Sorry, I know ... Too Much Information.

Lots of people needed to use the facilities.  It took 'em a while, too.

In some ways, Kentucky seems like a much older place than does Indiana; I'm thinking now of the prevalence and apparent importance of cemeteries.  When I've been riding in the London area (Redbud and Thriller rides), I've noticed that half the roads seem to be named for the cemeteries that they lead to.  The one at the Midway stop had an informative marker:

There was a street on the Georgetown College campus that seemed to have been named for this same E. Dudley Brown.

At the town of Switzer, we had a rest stop, with another picturesque cemetery adjacent to the North Fork Baptist Church.

Too many cemetery pictures?  Maybe so.  But, creepily enough, I kind of like cemeteries.  Especially pretty ones like this.

At the Switzer stop, we also had live music, made by The Giants Across the Water.  They played bluegrass (how else?), and also some bluesy sorts of songs, including one about some "people from the northeast" who came in and told folks they'd "pay 'em for their min'rals."  That's when they found out what it meant that there was such a thing as coal, and it didn't seem to have ended very cheerfully.  True dat.  The young lady played her violin part of the time, although here she was singing.  Not pictured is the mandolin player, who was taking a break.  I enjoyed them.  I probably enjoyed them for too long, in terms of finishing the century in a timely manner.  But, you know, sometimes you got to stop and smell them roses just a little bit.

The mandolin player's on break, but you can see his instrument atop the boxes at right.

In Frankfort, the state capital, we rested at River View Park.  (The "river" in the name is the Kentucky River, which our route followed fairly closely for twenty miles or so.)

There was a boat-rental business here at the Frankfort-area park that seemed pretty busy.

I saw a couple riding a tandem at this stop.  When I saw their jerseys, I just had to photodocument.  They were in a "Cat in the Hat" motif, and the couple were identified as Thing One and Thing Two.  Just right for a couple on a tandem, I thought.

The jerseys did not specify who of the couple was Thing One, and who was Thing Two.  Probably smart not to.

Shortly after Frankfort, I extended my century.  As you may be able to see on the map generated by my Garmin, I made a left turn that meanders off for several miles before dead-ending.  This occurred when the front riders in a local pack that I was part of for a while made that turn with shouted comments of "wow, we almost missed that one!"  I didn't see any route marker calling for a turn there, but I also turned, thinking I must have snoozed past it.  Somehow, though, my gut was telling me that I shouldn't have turned, but I was being a herd follower.

My ride grew a couple of side spurs.  About nine miles' worth.
Eventually, those same lead riders met me coming the other way, reporting that they had reached a T intersection where a turn was necessary, and there were no route markers to say which way -- thus, we were definitely off-route.  This was bad news, especially since those wasted few miles (which get doubled, as one retraces the path) had included a lengthy, punishing climb.  So, we had lost time, added distance, and added even more fatigue.  It was a little disheartening.  I should have had the courage of my convictions and listened to my gut (it's big enough!).  Well, you live and learn, and pay the tuition.

At Millville, the stop displayed the Time Sign of Doom.

As I photographed this sign, I was there, and it was nearly 1:30.  I blew it off.  After all, it didn't say "pretty please."

As it happens, I accidentally obeyed the sign, out of stupidity.  Note the route markers in the photo above.  When I left the stop, I somehow forgot that I was following the green markers for the century route, and followed the orange ones (the 82-mile route) where they diverged.  It took me about a mile before I realized that the markers I was seeing were not  green.  So, I again reversed course and headed back to the place where I should have turned right, and did so this time.  As we sometimes say in golf, "that  isn't going to make this hole play any shorter."

As I remembered from last year, there are several climbs after Millville that are quite challenging.  The Horsey doesn't have any hills that are very steep ... but it does have climbs that more than make up in length what they may lack in steepness.  Example: on the Redbud Ride, one encounters Tussey Hill, with its 22% gradient.  That's a climb-off-and-walk-the-bike kind of steep hill.  But it's over and done with pretty quickly.  I was just looking over my Garmin data and saw that one of those post-Millville climbs gains 337 feet in altitude over a 1.26-mile distance.  That's a rather modest 5.1% average gradient.  But it lasts a mile and a quarter.  Then you give back all 337 feet in one scary, whistling downhill that doesn't rest you at all -- just heats up your brakes -- and then you start the next interminable climb.  The road will snake around, left, straight, right, left again ... the one constant is that every time you see another piece of it, it's still  going up.  That's the stretch where last year, without food and water, I bonked and cramped my legs.  That didn't happen this year.  But it did drain my gas tank pretty extensively.  At no point did I walk my bike, as I saw some others doing.  But I surely considered it, a few times.

I won't dwell extensively on the rest, which was a pure survival exercise.  I'm going to acquire one of these cloth liners I've seen others wearing under their helmets, because I had a lot of trouble with sweat being collected by my helmet and being perversely channeled down into my right eye -- the left, somehow, was untroubled.  Sweat is salty and stings, when enough of it runs into your eye.  I had to stop several times and use my water bottle to rinse out that eye.  Another lesson learned.

Late in the ride, I got a chance to get up close and personal with some Horsican-Americans who were hanging out at their fence.

I explained to this fine individual that he or she was the finest horse in all the world, but that I had no apple or sugar cube to offer.  He or she was graciously willing to put up with some face-stroking instead.

I hadn't been there at that fence more than 30 seconds before I began to acquire company.  Those horses are chick magnets, believe me.

After I apologized to "my" horse that I had no treats to offer, this lady spoke right up and said that she did.  I didn't see what she dug out of her bag, but it seemed to generate some equine enthusiasm, whatever it was.  She collected a modest crowd of Horsican-Americans.

Just as I was getting into Georgetown, on Lemons Mill Pike, with about 108 miles showing on my Garmin, two things happened.  One was that my right leg began some tentative cramping.  I knew I only had a couple of miles to go, so I told it to shut up and keep working, which it did.  I also rode past a small forest of flashing blue lights on police cars.  The only thing going on that I could see involved somebody with what appeared to be a surveying instrument.  I remember thinking that it didn't make much sense that anybody would be doing survey work on a Saturday after 6 pm, where there didn't seem to be any construction, especially with a bunch of cops standing around watching.  Sunday morning, all became clear: that was the investigation of the scene of that drunken redneck hitting and killing the cyclist.  Of course, I don't know what route that man was on, but no matter which one, he was within a couple of miles of finishing when his career was suddenly ended.

It does make you think.

At the Century Challenge check-in, I was doing a different sort of explaining about the mileage on my Garmin.  I'm hoping that, at the Preservation Pedal next month, I simply do it right and show the correct mileage.

I suggested to the check-in lady that she could maybe give me ten miles' worth of credit toward the Preservation Pedal.  She was kind enough to pretend amusement ... but no advance credit was forthcoming.

I suppose there's any number of lessons available from the cyclist's death, and I don't know that I can say what the One Big Lesson is, nor even whether there is  One Big Lesson.  I toyed with the notion of concealing the event from my wife, who sometimes tends to fret about these things, but I didn't, and she handled it with commendable aplomb.  I think she evaluates risk well enough to know that the most dangerous part of any of my bicycle trips is the trip, driving there and back.  But I do remember talking to her a couple of weeks ago about how I thought cycling was kind of an ideal way for me to spend my time, since it offers me all the cardio conditioning I can use, and also gives me a tiny little chance of leaving this life nearly instantaneously, on the front end of someone's car.  That seemed, and still seems, to me to be a better alternative to handing in my lunch pail at age 85 or 90, drooling and crapping myself in a nursing home and consuming megabucks of basically futile medical care.  Still ... I imagine how that must have been for the man who was killed, and what I feel is pity.  Even assuming the best for him -- instant unconsciousness until his actual death -- he must have had a second or so before the actual impact in which he saw it coming.  And what a terribly-bad second or so.  No doubt, there are worse deaths.  But every death is theologically offensive.  We weren't made to die; we all do, but it is always a shameful and pitiful thing.  The sin of Adam, echoing down through the millennia.

I'm very glad I went back to the Horsey.  Not the most enjoyable ride; the toughest one I've done, and I now feel that I have a close idea of what my limit is, physically (I'm guessing I could have made maybe 125 miles in that terrain, if I'd had  to, and given a few more hours of daylight).  Still, I'll be proud to remember having done it.  And please, Preservation Pedal ... I won't complain if you're an easy one this time.  It'll be okay.  Really.


Mimi said...

Your powers of description are awesome, Jim: I felt I was riding with you--maybe clinging to the handle bars or clutching the back fender. Congratulations on your completion of a grueling test of will and strength. So sorry about the person killed, but with your permission, I'd like to quote your remark on death. Thank you.

Jim Wetzel said...

Thanks so much for your kind and generous words ... and of course, you're welcome to use them in any way. This morning I am, if anything, simply more disturbed about the death. The news story, and the photo of the back of the truck, both made clear that the rider landed on a bed cover. How does a body not roll off when the truck makes a turn? I think the only possible explanation is an incredibly ugly one: he was hanging on. Screaming? Suffering? Good Lord, Mimi, it doesn't bear thinking about. May he rest in a hard-earned peace.

Vickie said...

I spent last week chasing an 8 year old up an down a mountain in Alabama. I was exhausted, and now I feel like even more of a wimp. I'm sorry to hear about the rider's death. If it's not your time to go, even a drunken redneck won't be able to take you out. If it is your time to check out, nothing will stop him from doing the deed. Might as well enjoy the ride, taking all reasonable care to avoid volunteering for the final trip. And thank you for including the Horsican-Americans in your account!