“Hey, does that feel good on your legs?”
We paused at a really interesting old farm house, probably early 20th century, to stretch the feet once more.
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“Yeah, it kind of does, like a campfire”
I have ridden in all kinds of conditions. I once finished a 200k in a snowstorm during rush hour. I’ve been in lightning, tornadoes, hail, rockslides, and epic heat. But until Saturday, the route had never been on fire.
Now I have seen it all.
Truthfully, the fire was only a small part of a really nice ride. Let’s face it, no one remembers rides where everything goes perfectly. So some spice is very nice to have. This particular 200k is sort of a season opener for me. My original plan was to do it on the tandem as a populaire with IronK. However, as it worked out 1) she wasn’t confident her backside was up to 70 miles yet and 2) she had surgery the day before to finally remove her chemotherapy port. So she had good excuses to stay home and pet cats. Most people were doing the 200k so 2 days before the ride, I upgraded.
Of course it just wasn’t challenging enough to ride 200k less than a week after finishing an amazing 600k. The Summer Knight (my rando bike) wasn’t even back from San Diego. So I hauled out the Princess and made plans to drive both directions in one day. It was only 3 hours to the start so if I left at 4:00 AM, I would easily make an 8:00am start. I figured 10 hours to ride it and three hours driving back. I’d be home around 9. Gee, what a masochistic twit I am sometimes.
So I got up at 3:00AM, drank coffee, ate breakfast and cruised for Ames, IA. At least there was absolutely no traffic on the way down and I got to see a very nice sunrise. Minnesota was just on the cusp of spring and dry as a bone. Iowa had seen some more rain and is generally a few weeks ahead. By the time the sun came up, the grass was much greener than my still-dead front lawn.
I had plenty of time at the start. The forecast had no rain, but it was only in the low 40s with the high forecasted in the high 60s. I had brought an extra jacket just in case. Besides, it had pockets.
I did the registration and saw some people I hadn’t seen in quite a while. There was Scott, who I had ridden a very hot 400k with a couple years previously. I hadn’t seen him in ages and he had a different bike with wider tires and a very rando friendly setup. Marlin, who I had also ridden with years before was also there. About 30 people were crowded at the start. There was even a recumbent tandem trike – not something you see every day. The RBA, Greg, is a super nice guy and I enjoy his routes. He had the travel bug even worse than I do – he may be up to about 30 states in the American Explorer.
|Ride Briefing - Greg and some midwesterners dazzled by the sun|
After registering, I realized my jacket was just going to overheat me. So I threw it in the car and locked up.
We had a ride briefing and rolled out right on time. There was a fast group planning on doing the ride in under 8 hours. I would not be riding with them – though I can appreciate the body it takes to do such a thing. I pulled out behind them with Scott right behind me. Without the jacket, I rolled up to about 15 mph to stay warm.
The wind was from the south-southeast and was already revving up. Flags were approaching taught by 8:30 as we rolled by small farms. The route took us east to Nevada (that’s Na-vey-da, by the way) then we turned south for about 15 miles as the start of a big loop. Turning south right into the wind dropped the pace a bit, but Scott and I stuck together and eventually settled into something in the 13-14 mph range, it was early in the ride – good pacing early in the ride makes for a nicer “later” in the ride. The wind was picking up fast. Forecasts were for 25-30 mph gusts in the afternoon: a real Great Plains kind of day.
|Scott - It's only 40 degrees|
In contrast to my paranoia about being too cold, Scott was wearing shorts and short sleeves. He has an interesting strategy of dressing for the temperature exactly in between the high and the low forecasted for the day. That way, he may be a bit cold at the start, but won’t overdress. I may try this sometime. Though I am not sure that I would wear shorts and short sleeves at 55 (which was halfway between 40 and 69 degrees). We came down the first descent, which offers some really nice views at about 15 miles and I started taking more pictures.
As we chugged along, we started smelling smoke and ahead we could see the swirling, smoggy evidence of a fire ahead. IronK used to participate in controlled burns so I knew that it couldn’t be one of them (they have very tight rules for how strong the wind can be). I figured it was someone getting ride of something in the backyard, though with a strong wind, they picked a terrible day.
|Approaching the fire - seems kind of big...|
The cloud got larger and larger and pretty soon we could see the smoke rising over the road. Hmmm, that doesn’t generally happen and there really were not many houses around in this area. As we got closer, it became apparent that this was not a normal situation. “Hey, is it just me or is the route on fire?”
I’d been having horrible issues with my asthma since returning from California. This really wasn’t going to help much.
I had no clue how to get around it and with grasses being so low, I didn’t think there was much chance that it would jump the road, so we just pressed on through the smoky cloud. It lasted for about ½ mile to a mile, the flames high out farther out in the fields were there was more fuel from the previous year’s tilled corn stalks. I did my best to not breathe. Big flames from a distance did not capture well on the camera, but the effect was kind of surreal with big, blackened areas coming right up to the road. The bulk of the fire was paralleling the road due to the wind direction. The thermometer on my bike also climbed about 15 degrees very quickly….
|Seems kind of hot....|
We came up to a line of houses to find the fire burning merrily in their back yards. Lucky for them the strong wind was from the south, not the west.
The info control was just ahead. I wondered briefly what the ruling is if you arrive at an info control and it has burned up, but it was outside the fire zone. We stopped for a snack, to write down the answers to the control questions. A bunch of other people behind us pulled up noting how miserable it was to ride through the smoke. I would wind up using my emergency inhaler about 6 times on this ride, which is a lot for me in one day. But having a full-blown attack in the middle of nowhere in Iowa was not on my plan. The wind meant dust and particulates too.
|Seems like it's on the road|
A couple of miles later, we started angling west as we rounded the loop. The next 15 or so miles were with a rapidly growing cross wind, so the pace picked back up. With no more fire to worry about, we moved along enjoying the brisk morning and a big sun in the blue sky. Not too dry and they hadn’t really started fertilizing fields, so enjoying the scenery was easy. You can see for an awfully long way when the trees are barren, but in many places tiny buds were also pushing their way towards the sun.
|About a 10 mph wind|
We turned onto the High Trestle Trail to begin enjoying a substantial tailwind. This is one of my secrets to enjoying the wind: whenever it is a foe, it will at some point become a friend. Effortlessly pedaling at 20mph to Madrid (that’s Maee-drid) was a real spoiler after 20 some miles of headwind. The first control was at the Flat Iron Bar a bicycling bar (unique) right on the trail.
We arrived there at the 48 mile mark around 10:30-11 Scott went ahead to get a drink and I rummaged around shedding layers. At this point I also realized that my wallet was now sitting in my jacket pocket back at the car. This was to be a no money ride. That was a brief panic and led to no photos being taken. Fortunately, I hadn’t cleaned out any of my bags since California. I had tossed 3-4 rice bars in that morning and low and behold, I had two bags of Lisa’s date-oat bars. Sweet! I figured that should get me through the 200k, though it might be tight.
So I pulled off the bottles and went up to the bar. The tender gladly signed my card and filled my bottles with water without any money. Midwestern sensibility, or maybe it was my legs (nah, they still look a mess).
Scott was outside and we were saved from starvation by a friendly guy who offered us homemade cinnamon rolls in exchange for us taking pictures of his cycling group. He was injured and was providing a food stop. Wow, they were good too. He had apparently been working on the mysteries of yeast for a while. And he took our picture too. About 4 riders showed up just as we were leaving – leap frog, rando style.
|Lucky find at the bar|
Substantially refreshed by cinnamon rolls, we crossed over the High Trestle Bridge. Spectacular in the day, it’s even more spectacular at night when lit up. This is a high point of the scenery of the ride and I always enjoy going over it.
From the other end of the trail, we once again started stair-stepping north west and the wind was an ally. We descended the second of the three “dips” on the route and my legs were feeling the previous 600k as we climbed up to Ogden on the other side. At least I wasn’t going to surprise myself by suddenly being a great climber.
|Scott and an impecunious Pixie|
At Ogden, Scott loaned me enough to buy some juice and we tanked up on water for the next section to Story City. We had another 10 miles of tailwind and would then have about 45 miles of cross and headwinds to finish out the loop. The wind was gusting heavily now and it was after noon. Along with juice, I had a rice cake and a date nut bar. The 25 miles of cross wind were going to be a long way.
|Entrance to the High Trestle Bridge|
During the next 10 miles, I got to hear a more detailed account of RAGBRAI, which I have never actually done. RAGBRAI is a ride across Iowa and has a reputation for being a giant kegger, but Scott has done it and apparently there are serious cyclists there too (or at least ones not doing the kegger part). They leave in the early morning while everyone else is sleeping it off. Maybe someday….
Tailwinds in the flats are a bittersweet feeling. On the one had, they make one feel as though conquering the world is simple. Minimal pedaling nets 20+ mph gains in a 20 mph tailwind. But alas, always there is the knowledge that the turn is coming. And so it did.
We rounded the loop at Pilot Mound to find the wind a bit more feisty than when we last left it. This was to be a long 25 miles. Traffic showed up on and off which was also surprising. There were some times that we almost had to lean sideways to stay up and this section was somewhat of a slog, but we made it through with a couple of brief stops for Scott to stretch his toes. He has PBP plans as well and is working through all the picky fitting details. I kept eating date-nut bars to offset the extra work.
|The Wind in the Willows|
A couple miles outside Story City we briefly turned north and the now-tailwind became still as we moved at about the same speed up the road. The other problem with tailwinds is that when you match their speed, you can get hot very quickly on a nice day and I was sweating when we turned into Story City and the control.
It was around 3:40pm and the wind was at full strength. Flags were taught on the lines and rippling hard in the gusts. We got the cards signed and finished off our food in preparation for the last 20 miles of headwind. I also got a text from Lisa, who is going to be paying a visit in June for the GLR 600k. My phone kept telling me it had no signal (or maybe it was lying). I couldn’t tell whether it was working or not.
|An Iowa Tradition|
So we pulled out of Story City at around 4. Over I35 and onto the back roads once more. It seems like the same headwind was around last year, though not as strong. We passed through Roland, a very nice Scandinavian town and lamented the state of the wind. Truthfully, we only had about 10 miles of it as we stair-stepped back to Ames.
|Interesting old farm house - 19th/20th century|
The last 3 miles were more tailwind, but I had some gas left and we pulled into the Quality Inn just before 6. Still strong and glad for a nice ride.
Many thanks to Scott who made for a great day on the bike and to Greg Courtney who always has fun, laid back rides that are far more scenic than Hollywood would lead you to believe.
|Big Finish - See you in May for the 400k!|
The drive home was pretty awful. Even with eating well after the ride, I was beat by the time I got home to the Twin Cities. Next time, I’m getting a room.
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