I don’t know what I was thinking going into last week’s final “official” gravel ride from Healthy Habits Bike Shop. Many of the guys said it was going to be an easy pace. Uh huh.
We started a half hour earlier because the ride would be 30+ miles vs. our typical 20ish. The shop filled with excited riders, some I’d not seen join us before, but when we gathered out back I was immediately concerned with one who’d brought their fat tire bike. We were facing sustained head & cross winds of 25 mph gusting up to 37. It was not a night for fat tires.
As we rolled out on the Bettendorf Bike Path, the lone fat tire rider realized their misstep and returned to their vehicle. This made for 13 riders, and it would take me about as many hours to cease being pissed off over how hard we rode.
I was on my Sequoia whose wheels I’d adorned with LED lights in preparation for an upcoming night parade. Apparently they looked cool, giving off a Tron’esque vibe, but looks don’t cut the butter, and they certainly didn’t cut through that wind.
Our typical route out of town takes us roughly three miles along paved bike path and another two miles on road shoulder before we actually reach gravel. When we passed under the I-80 overpass, riders started to stretch out. By the time we hit gravel, I was the caboose.
And that’s how it was for the duration. Angry thoughts began raging through my head — “This is BULLSHIT!” “What the fuck am I doing out here?!” Eventually turning into self-defeating no-helpers like “I don’t belong out here!” and “I should just quit,” peppered with some mind-murders of Zoran and Bruce, who were at the front, pushing the pace.
Dan, manager of Healthy Habits, was the first to encourage me to draft, yelling over the wind, “Stay just left of my rear wheel,” which would allow me to conserve some energy as he served as a wind block. But as soon as we hit a slight incline, I’d fall off a mere inch and BOOM! the wind would knock me back and all the way across the other side of the road.
At one point he shouted, “We need to get you arm bands! Your jacket makes you look like the Michelin Man! Bahahahaha!” That’s when Dan became Victim #3 in my mental, homicidal rampage.
Then a Chinook flew overhead. Wh, Wh, WHAT?! Yes, a huge, giant, military helicopter. WTF?!!!! Of course I was too busy focusing on not getting blown into a ditch to actually look up, but then again, it was dark, so . . . yeah, helicopters.
At every turn, the group stopped and waited for me (they’re gentlemanly like that) and for a bit, I’d be able to hang until one of those huge gusts had its way with me. After a particularly bad one, Karl who was riding his MOUNTAIN BIKE (yeah, he’s pretty bad ass) hung back and played windbreaker, but as soon as we turned and had a tailwind, HE GONE!
And one would’ve thought once we’d fought all those miles into the wind, our final miles with a tailwind would be glorious reward, but I was completely spent. How did I lose my cycling fitness so fast?! It’d only been 7 weeks since Ironman Wisconsin, but holy hell, my legs were smoked.
As if we’d not gone hard enough, the boys grabbed that tailwind and dropped the proverbially hammer, their taillights quickly vanishing into the night until we regrouped at a truck stop. (Sidenote: When the ride uploaded to Strava, I’d earned 12 achievements including a QOM (Queen of the Mountain) along this first stretch of tailwind gravel. And I snagged that QOM with a minute and a half to spare. REALLY?! On a night like that, when I averaged 13.2 mph? I know the previous QOM and she ain’t no slouch! This was PROOF the pace need not have been this crazy!!!!)
Jacob was kind enough to hang back with me from the truck stop as we rolled along the streets of west Davenport back to the bike path and Van’s Pizza where the crew stopped to refuel.
I opted to by-pass the carbs and ride back to the shop with Vinny, the most relaxed 7 miles of the ride. Through our chatting, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to feel a touch of gratitude for my healthy body. But it wouldn’t be until I arrived at work the following morning when I could “process” the prior evening’s BS with Dan and Bruce that I’d stop being so ornery. When I brought up all the Strava achievements that not only me, but EVERY other rider but Bruce got, he offered to ride gravels with me — Bruce on his fat tire and I on my Sequoia. I replied with a flat, “Thanks.”
But neither Bruce nor Dan suffered my angst for long. Basically I needed to suck it up and reflect on the hard truth that such conditions and paces will make you a better rider. And this point was proven during my lunch hour when siting at the bar in the shop, I started reading an issue of Bicycling magazine in which a pro rider offered advice on keeping up with fast riders.
Leah Thorvilson, winner of the 2016 GoZwift Academy, said, “Plan to get dropped. You don’t always want a slow or no-drop ride–explore your comfort zone and get out of it. Look for a group ride in your area with a pace that’s challenging, but within your ability and a route you know in case you get dropped.”
(Dan later admitted to leaving the magazine open to that article. SERIOUSLY? I’m that transparent?!!!)
Today, I read a blog post on professional mountain biker Kyia Anderson who gave similar advice: “I learned really quickly that the faster you descend the better, as that is the only way to keep up with the group I started with.”
So I guess I need to swallow my pride and take on the tougher rides. Apparently my nearly 2 months of rest since IMWI is done.