Swans in Oz: Training with the Birds and the Wind from Hell

Most of the time I don't write up training rides.  But this one was different.  I haven't had my schedule coincide with Shredder's all summer, and he loves this route.  Of course, even he hadn't done it in weather like this.

For 2 weeks Minnesota endured a heat wave of titanic proportions.  Something like 10 days above 90 with dew points in the 70s, severe thunderstorms that brought no relief, nights in the 70s, etc.  I could have roasted a rack of lamb in my car during the day.  This past Sunday was the first day without major heat and humidity for a long time and all the cyclists were drooling over the weather report as though it were made of fudge sauce.  Finally, an end to the oppressive heat was in sight!  Of course, a front strong enough to push heat like that away must have some juice of its own: this one had wind.

I got up at 5:30 am and readied for a 7:00am start.  Course' about 5 'til 7, I got a phone call - "are we meeting at 8" asked a somewhat caffeine deprived voice?  We didn't leave until 45 minutes later.  I have to say, needing arm warmers and knee warmers was quite odd after practically wanting to shed my clothing for the past 2 weeks.  As we pulled onto the main road, the wind was already strong.  The loop we planned would take us northwest for about 50 miles, then north for about 15, then back east for 20, due south for 30 and angle back in for a total of 138 miles.  All the hills were to be in the latter part of the ride.

We stopped at 8 miles at a Caribou coffee in Wayzata.  A town right on Lake Minnetonka, Wayzata is one of those lovely lakeside towns that could be the setting for some kind of tv show on Scy Fy: everyone is just too beautiful and rich to not have something weird going on "just underneth".   But the coffee is good.  At that point, the wind was already a killer and it was 8:30am.  Thinking back to the wind on Day 2 of the Cascades, I suggested that we reverse the loop.  Do the hills first in the wind and leave that 50 mile flat part for the return (when we would have a tail wind).  Shredder agreed, he hadn't ridden this ride in reverse before.  I still maintain this was a sound tactic.

So we wound northwest out of Wayzata, past a golf course (anyone thinking devil worship here?) and out onto the western rollers to Delano.  This section is basically rural with many hobby farms whose cows and donkeys look like they eat better than I do.  The wind was getting quite a bit worse, but otherwise, the weather was perfect: 60s with bright sun.  Then "pop goes the tire".  Shredder lives up to his name once again.  As we pull over and yank the rear tire, he first tries to convince himself that the stem just wasn't screwed on well enough.  We pump it up with my road morph and hear hissing from a huge hole that needs a boot.  "This is a brand new tire!" Of course, when you have brand new tires is always about the time you ride through a massive glass field.  We boot the tire and get going again, stopping in Delano about 2 miles later.  It's here that I make my first mistake of the day: failing to estimate just how long it will be before we have another stop.  It's about 10:00am and we fill bottles, I eat a Skor bar.  I think we will be stopping in Rockford, not realizing it's only 5 miles up the road and that we won't stop there.  I also have only one package of Clif Shots.  We are heading into a section with about 20 miles of heavy cross winds followed by 25 miles of heavy headwinds.  Should have eaten up half the store.

After Delano, we wind north to Rockford.  Rockford is another pretty town right on the Crow River.  We pass Lake Rebbeca Park, which is always very pretty.  Thanks to the many thunderstorms, everything is lush and overgrown.  I am sad to see that one of the roadside farms has hacked off their overgrown arbor.  Last summer, it was full of grapes and plums that hung over the road and were a nice snack.  None of that ever again, instead we see only a worn fence.

It's River Days in Rockford and we can just smell the saturated fat as we ride into the park alongside the Crow River.  There are all kinds of food options here, but I breeze right by (must have still been full from the candy bar).  A church group is singing a hymn right in the middle of it.  Shredder warns me to avert my ears, lest I burst into flames (evangelicals sometimes don't like us lesbians).  I try to be nonchalant in my spandex.  As we pass the various stands, I am struck again by the Stephen King'esque booths.  One is actually full of dolls just staring into space, the old fashioned kind with the moving eyes.  Now that is something you just don't see on every bike ride.

We climb out of Rockford on a steady hill and see a juvenile bald eagle circling on the wind.  The river valley had been a shelter from the wind, but it's back in full force now.  We press on for about 10 miles passing farmland and wetlands interspersed with each other.  Before farming, this area was probably crane territory and it still has lots of birds.  It is here that we pass our first batch of swans.  The road is north-south and sits atop a levy with water coming right to the edges.  2 full sized Trumpeters, one banded, float serenely on the water with 6 large cygnettes.  They are within 20 feet and are unconcerned about us: must be the spandex.  We stop and watch them, amazed at how big the cygnettes are.  Probably all of them will at least take off on the migration.  I have a thing for swans being somewhat of an ugly duckling myself.  Course, I'm still waiting for the "turn into the beautiful swan thing"  maybe that comes at 50.  The swans finally glide off into the cattails and we continue on.  We amble our way around, side stepping the town of Buffalo Lake and staying on nice rural roads with rollers.  The wind is so strong that it keeps us riding tilted.  We stop at Bebee Lake for free water (but no food).  2 days ago we would have been swimming here, but the lake is rough and only a few brave souls are out on the beach in a 20-30 mph wind.  One water skier makes about 5 attempts and gives up.

We are approaching Monticello and I am getting hungry and ready to stop.   About 3 miles out of town, Shredder suddenly turns left.  "We don't actaully go through Monticello," he says,"the next town is only about 25 miles and the easy part is over".  The wind hits me dead in the face and I nearly stop from the resistance.  I wonder how long the next 25 miles will be.

The answer is: long.  This is a hilly section with large rollers, at least the rollers give some break from the windiest part of the day (it's now noon and we have managed only 40 miles in 4 hours with the strong winds and 3 stops).  It's very pretty though with more wetlands, though there are white caps on some of the bigger ones.  I eat my Clif Shots and wonder about how long this can feel.  But I amuse myself by appreciating the sights.  I am careful here though, my hamstring starts feeling the pressure of the climbing coupled with the wind: this was the combo that eventually tore it to pieces in the Cascades.  I vow this will be different and back off as needed.  As we crest a hill, vultures are near motionless in the air at about 10 feet as they swarm some roadkill.  I haven't seen vultures up that close in flight before; it's a real treat.

It's about an hour and a half later that we hit Clearwater Lake and turn south.  The wind is so strong that flag poles are bending.  Clearwater is a large lake and it's full of 2-3 foot swells, not a boat in sight on the water.  We wind around it, bending the bikes to stay upright.  Annandale is still 5 miles aways and we continue west fighting the wind as we go.  Fluffy cumulus clouds skip through the sky.

It's about 2:15 when we chug into Annandale.  I haven't been to this town and on a Sunday afternoon, most of the bars are closed (there are at least 6 of them on Main Street).  We find a Holiday gas station, which appears to be the local hangout du jour.  We stop for food.  I was famished.

If you have never been starving in a gas station, you can't really appreciate how good truck stop food actually is.  I got a chicken salad sandwich, a big bag of potato chips, V8, peanut butter cups and, on a whim, a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie.  It's  a few minutes later and I peruse the wrapper of the cream pie.  The thing is the size of a 3 inch oatmeal cookie.  BUT, it has a whopping 410 calories!  I read on, 66 grams of carbs, 15 grams of fat (4.5 staruated), 3 grams of protein and 8% of my daily iron requirement for a low, low price of 75 cents.   This is even cheaper than a quart of chocolate milk (which I have also been known to drink).  Sure there's enough saturated fat to up my cholesterol count about 10 points,  but fortunately mine is only about 140 anyways. 

We chow outside on a picnic table.  I eat everything and try to call IronK (she's on her 3 round of chemo and it's time for those pesky mental tests to make sure the chemicals are eating her brain too much).  I leave many messages, but she doesn't call back - kind of odd.

At least we only have about another 5 miles of westerly travel. Then the wind should become our friend.  At Annandale, we are at around 64 miles and it's taken almost 6.5 hours to get there.  My legs ache from the effort and I do some quick yoga to stretch them.  We take off again and just outside of town, we see our second batch of swans.  This set is also just near the road, hidden in a gulch.  They have 5 cygnettes all beginning to turn white.  Really cool to see.

We pass a really cool motorcycle sculpture at a farm about 5 miles down the road.  The farm is off a roller and usually Shredder just whizzes by (going the opposite direction).  But we are climbing into the wind and we take a short break to admire it.  Then we finally turn south for 5 miles and head back east.

If you have never fought wind and suddenly had the tables turn, it's a real treat.  We went from working hard to make 12 mph to easy cruising at 25.  Of course Lance probably rides at these speeds in the wind, but I imagine that I have a rocket mounted on my chainstays and feel good anyways as we begin the trip back.  It's just outside the town of Cokato that I nearly encounter death by schnauzer.

Dogs hate me.  I don't know why.  This one came out of nowhere through a soybean field. Ususally, I just speed up and as soon as I hit the property line (e.g. the territory), they quit.  Not this one.  It just kept coming and fast.  I looked over my shoulder and it was catching up quick.  About this time, we hit a big grinding roller.  Not really what I want to sprint on.  Of course, the dog is still going so I go too.  I race up the roller, he matches my speed (this dog must be on crack).  Shredder starts laughing, I tell him that it's his responsibility to slow down and get bitten for me, the whole chivalry thing.  The dog is with us for nearly a mile.  Finally, we got to the top of the roller and outran him at 20 mph or we would never have gotten rid of him.

We stop for water and I try IronK again, and again.  Then I get a call from another friend who has also been trying to reach her.  Where can she be?  I get another V8 and marvel at the nicely decorated bathroom.  It's the only gas station I have ever been in with artwork and mood lighting in the ladies room.  Outside is drama in the form of a hot roded 60s' Plymouth.  The owner is attempting to get it started and asks Shredder to watch it while he is away.  We marvel at this car; it has a massive amount of rust, a harness for a seat belt, the speedometer is mounted outside the car, the hood is bolted shut with what looks like some kind of rube goldberg device.  There is no muffler and the exhaust is just sticking off the side of the car.  Eventually, the owner returns with a portable battery and gets it started.  The car lurches out of the parking lot and onto the street like the transmission is about to go at any second.  There are times I really wish I brought my camera.

We have only 50 miles to go and a tailwind. But I am nervous about not reaching IronK.  It's 4:30 now.  We cruise in the tailwind for another half hour before I can't take it anymore and call BigG to do an emergency home invasion.  These things we can do with cell phones now.  He and Barb go over and finally rouse IronK out of her chemo-induced stupor.  She finally calls me:  wow was she out of it.  It's hard to see her so wacked out, but the relief is huge.  The oncologist added a new anti-nausea med which apparently works by inducing 24 hour slumber.  I guess that kind of works.  I give her the mental tests, takes awhile, but she can still add.  BigG says she sounds out of it but she is okay and I can enjoy the tail wind home.

And the tail wind is glorious!  We cruise 50 miles in only about 2.5 hours.  I am briefly charged by a herd of cows (they must be collaborating with the dogs), but otherwise the pavement is good and my legs are doing okay as well.  We are back home by 8:00pm, about 12 hours total with a really big negative split.  I ice my hamstring later that night.  It's still not up to snuff but the PT is helping and I am pretty sure the damage won't be permanent. 

Next weekend is the Apple Valley 400k.  This was my first brevet ever, so it has sentimental value.  No Shredder this time, he has vowed to never do another brevet, but at least one friend from the fleche will be there so it should be a good time.  Let's hope for just a little less wind.
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