Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ride Across Indiana

Guest post by Keith

On Saturday, July 18, Mac and I completed our long anticipated Ride Across Indiana (RAIN). This annual event is organized by the Bloomington Bicycle Club, and typically attracts over one thousand challenge-seeking riders. The route covers 160 miles and begins at the Illinois/Indiana state line west of Terre Haute, and ends at Earlham College in Richmond, near the Ohio border. Participants are given 14 hours to complete the timed event, and although it is not a race, many riders treat it as such given that they are racing against the clock. The fastest, elite riders can complete the route in about 6.5 hours. Those of us who are not superhuman take considerably longer. Here's a picture of some friends from the club who finished in about 8 hours (photo by Klaus Rothe):

I have completed the ride twice on my own for the past two years. To my surprise, Mac told me in the spring that he wanted to do the RAIN with me this year. He agreed to train with me on the tandem and on his own bike as often as possible, and we put in hundreds of training miles over the past several weeks. I told Mac that if we could complete a century ride in hilly Southern Indiana, then we’d know we were strong enough to complete the much flatter RAIN route, most of which uses U.S. Highway 40. The weekend before RAIN, we completed the very hilly Nashville 90, riding through thundershowers in the process, and so we felt reasonably well prepared for the grueling trek across the state. Here we are departing for the Nashville 90:

Kim drove us and our bike to Terre Haute Friday afternoon, where we checked into a hotel room. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening helping to process riders through registration. We needed a good night’s sleep, and headed back to our hotel room around 8:30. After a while, I discovered that the asthma inhaler we packed for Mac was empty and called Kim to find out how we could get a replacement inhaler—it would not be wise to embark on a long bike ride without this emergency medicine. After a flurry of phone calls from Kim, a dedicated CVS pharmacy technician, and a nurse who had once treated Mac, we hopped on our bike and sprinted to the nearest CVS pharmacy and arrived just minutes before closing time. We had our medicine, but now the hour was late and we really needed our sleep.

The starting line was about 9 miles from our hotel, so Mac and I planned to depart early so that we could be at the line for the 7:00AM starting time. We were running late, but got to the line with a few minutes to spare. The start of the RAIN is very exciting—and a bit dangerous—as hundreds of tightly packed cyclists jockey for space and position. Terre Haute police normally escort the riders out of town at about a 20 mph pace, but for some reason, they didn’t show up this year. Thus, the starting pace was unusually fast, with bikes flying through town. We kept up, for the most part, averaging 19 mph through the city, until some of the hills outside of town slowed our pace. Here's a picture sent by a friend (Klaus Rothe) of the starting line:

For the first 32 miles, our average speed was much faster than I had anticipated, at well over 18 mph. I had expected us to average 15-16 mph, as Mac’s power delivery as a stoker is less consistent than my power as the bike’s captain. He pushes hard up the hills, but tends to ease up on the flats. Tandems can be exceptionally fast on flats and down hills, but struggle going up hills, so I had hoped to make good time whenever the terrain was favorable to make up for all the slow climbs.

At about 32 miles, our front derailleur broke. I pulled over to assess the damage, and decided to just remove the part from the bike so that we could continue the ride. Earlier in the ride, we had stopped to lend a tool to a rider who needed to tighten his saddle, and now, we were in need of a tool that I could use to cut my shifter cable. Many riders offered help, but none had the right tool, so I decided just to tie the cable out of the way and fixed the chain onto the middle chain ring. From this point on, our ride would be slower because we lacked the ability to use our hill-climbing small ring and our big downhill ring.

The unseasonably cool weather was welcome, from my perspective, but Mac was a bit cold most of the day, and we neglected to bring along a windbreaker. I began to think about where along the route we could acquire a windbreaker. There weren’t many shopping centers along the largely rural route, but fortunately, there were yard sales. I noticed one with several tables full of clothes and a collection of children’s bikes, so I pulled over. The proprietor was really surprised to see any of the hundreds of cyclists that had been steadily streaming by all day actually stop to shop! For a dollar, we picked up a light jacket that fit Mac well enough to keep him comfortable the rest of the way. We even felt a few rain drops shortly thereafter, so the short delay was worthwhile.

At around the 50 mile mark, Mac became curious about the purpose of the mile markers along the side of the road. Because I had recently changed tire sizes, and forgot to re-calibrate the tandem’s cycling computer accordingly, we decided to use the mile posts to check our computer’s accuracy. We discovered our computer logged slightly over 1/100th of a mile more with each mile, which meant that by the time we arrived at the finish line, we expected our computer to show an extra 1.6 to 2 miles. Not a huge error, but one that would certainly add up over time. Here's a view from the road as a group of riders head toward Indianapolis (photo by Klaus Rothe):

Mac looked forward to the rest stops because he could fill his pockets with snacks and munch along the way. A rider of my size could expect to burn somewhere between 6500 and 7500 calories to complete the route, and Mac probably required around 3500 calories. Thus, we consumed a lot of energy-dense food throughout the day, but there really is no way to keep up with what our bodies needed. Any deficit was made up by burning fat reserves (hopefully) and not muscle. Unfortunately, we were too slow to grab the limited number of Payday candy bars at the second rest stop—those are really popular cycling treats. Maybe next time. Our lunch stop took us about 45 minutes—a bit longer than intended, but it felt good to take a break from the bike. And we contemplated finding a mechanic who could fix our derailleur, but decided that even if the right part could be found, which was unlikely, the service time required would not leave us enough time to officially finish the ride. So we pressed on stuck in our middle ring, relying on the 9 speeds in our rear cog to cover the rest of the state.

The volunteer fire station in Dunreith was our last rest stop, and one of my favorites. The volunteers there are always very nice and provide frozen treats and plenty of encouragement to weary riders. With only about 28 miles left, why would we want to quit now? Mac declined every opportunity I gave him to just call it a day and have Kim pick us up. He would tell me, “Just go!” Other riders were impressed with his tenacity and endurance, and helped to keep us motivated. We especially enjoyed being cheered on by groups of kids along the way, some of whom would give us high-fives. Another group had fun handing out cups of water to riders as they zoomed by.

Finally, we were nearing the finish line. By this point, our overall speed had ratcheted down to a 15 mph average, but our pace picked up during our last 10 miles, and we finished strong, at a little over 13 hours. Of the over 1300 riders that were expected to start, we placed 1107 and 1108. It’s not clear how many of those actually started the ride, but we were proud to have finished. Mac kept saying he wanted to ride a few more miles to actually cross into Ohio, but I was exhausted, and I know he was, too. Our butts were sore, my knees ached, and I was famished from the calorie deficit. We were grateful that Kim and Ethan met us at the finish line with dinner. We showered, and ate our dinner in the car while Kim made the long drive back to Bloomington. Maybe next year, Mac can try the ride on his own bike?

Thanks to Jim Lang for the above finish line photo, and to Ethan and Kim for the others.

And the best part? Kim made us a fabulous cake!


Kelly said...

YAY for you two! What great pictures!

Hootie said...

What a great adventure! Good for you two. That is certainly an impressive feat of accomplishment. :)

Love all the photos too.

Steph said...

I am sooooooo impressed! Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Mac, you sound like a Tri-NOrht X-C runner in the making. If you can finish this race, running a Middle School race will be piece of cake. Nice, smart, compact kids. What an exciting narrative; the race sounds like a great experience. You are so lucky to have parents who support this extraordinary effort. MKP

Cynthia said...

Awesome accomplishment Keith and Mac! We love the smiles at the finish line. Congratulations on an exciting ride.