Sunday, September 12, 2010

She ain't heavy, she's my Surly.

One year ago this weekend, I DNF'd at a local century. After going way off course, I had to call for directions to the closest rest stop, get there, then wait for one of the volunteers, a very nice guy named Bob, to drive me the last 20 miles. I wasn't hurt, didn't have a mechanical. Oh, I had other excuses, a bunch of them, I started the course way too fast, I bonked. I got lost and did a bunch of bonus miles, but inside I knew that, despite all that, I just didn't have it in me to finish that ride that day. I had just quit. It was a long drive back to the start.

My any road, any ride, bike is an olive drab Surly Long Haul Trucker with SKS fenders, a Brooks B17, 40 mm Schwalbe marathons, a VO Campagne handle bar bag up front on a nitto mini rack and a hard leather, former military, binocular case as a seat bag.  For the non bike addicted, just picture a military green bike with thick tires and small squarish luggage looking bags attached front and rear. It looks like it could ride through pretty much anything. It pretty much can. It also looks heavy. It kinda is. Especially when compared to the bikes that are around me when I ride her. I call her Esmeralda.

This weekend the century was being held again on the same course. It would make a good training ride for the 400k. After using last week's midnight brevet to get a feel for a midnight start, my plan was to use this ride to get a trial run at riding a course where the first and second controls were at miles 50 and 100, give or take. Since the century had rest stops at miles 54 and the finish, I would stop at those and skip all the others.

I don't ride Esmeralda with a bike club. My cycling interests lead to fast touring and now brevets and my life commitments lead me to ride at odd times. So it is a rare occasion when we are on a ride surrounded by folks whose bikes are lean, pared down road machines devoid of any bags or racks or fenders or lights. Since I was using the century as a training ride, Esmeralda wore her full brevet gear. Bags and racks and fenders and lights, and I carried water, food and self-supporting extras. She looked like a workhorse at a horse race. To get to the start, I rode the 10+ miles from my house figuring that was the "rando" way to get there. Plus, if I rode back, the total distance for the day would be close to a 200K. After checking in, it was about time for the century riders to start.  We found a place off to the side near the back of the front of the line and waited.

A man walked out from the crowd and asked me, "Is your name Neville?"
"Uh, no. It isn't."
"Did you ride this event last year"
"I think I gave you a ride near the end. I was a SAG driver. I recognize your bike. When I saw it I thought, that bike looks like a tank! Then I thought,I know that bike!"
"That was me. Luckily, I don't think I will need a ride this year, I've been doing a bit more riding since then; but thanks again."
We exchanged names and pleasantries. He was volunteering again this year. I thanked him again, not knowing what else to say.

An announcement said the century was about to start. The sound of clicking clipless pedal waved through the crowd. I put one foot on Esme's Grip King platform pedals. Then we were off. The riders quickly stretched out into a narrowing line, curving around the first turn. My plan was to ride a controlled consistent pace. I promised myself I would resist the temptation to try and pass anyone in front of me just because they were there. The pace picked up for the first 12 miles. Intermittent traffic lights acted as equalizers, negating early leads and allowing heart rates to settle down. My bike computer was not working - lost wheel magnet- so I was riding on estimated time and my heart rate monitor. Based on those, the pace was faster than the plan. Damn. The last thing I wanted to do was start fast and fade. As I rode past the first rest stop, I moderated my pace a little.

"That's a nice bike. Have you ever put it on a scale?" The question came from a rider on an aluminum frame bike with a carbon fiber fork. I picked up the pace a bit to see if he could catch up. Slightly out of breath, he did. I replied. "I'm not sure how much it weighs fully loaded, but since I usually strap weights to it, it's lighter than usual." Then I picked up the pace again.

Although the rest stop at mile 54.7 would be my first, it was the third on the course.  At the second, I rolled up to the head to answer the natural call, then jumped back onto the course.  Along the miles, pacelines and echelons formed merged and dissolved like bubbles in a lava lamp - everchanging consistent and unpredictable. The summer of hilly brevets made this year different.  Recent experiences on named double digit  incline hills made these lumps and bumps seem tame.  I kept pace on the uphills and even gained on some riders. I arrived at 54.7 ahead of my schedule. Some of the folks there were from the fast group at the start. In fifteen minutes, I would rehydrate and eat enough to keep going but not enough to have to slow down to digest a heavy meal. Then off again, leaving some of the faster riders behind.

"That bike looks heavy! How much does it weigh?" The question came somewhere near mile 60-something as we were working up a hill. 
I looked back to see a carbon fiber frame drafting just off to my left. What I thought was, its light enough to be ahead of you. What I said was, "It weighs a lot less than I do." 
"That's a fact" he replied. I surged and opened a gap between us.

The next rest stop was a rolling stop, just long enough to refill my camelbak and answer yet another call from mother nature. Each skipped rest stop leapfrogged me ahead of faster riders. Inevitably, some of them overtook me. Small pacelines would pass and I would jump on for a while, but defer to the heart rate monitor when it came to effort. This was not a sprint, I still had a ways to go and I had not yet passed the point of last year's DNF. In my legs, I could feel the affect of the pace, last week's brevet and the week of bike commuting in between.

"What are you training for?"
"Excuse, me?" The question caught me by surprise.
"Well, I saw the bags and figured you must be training for something. How much do you think that all weighs? Are you going on a tour? How wide are those tires?"
"Sort of." He seemed genuinely interested. On this section of the course, our pace matched so we formed an impromptu paceline and chatted.

 Riders continued to merge and drop and pass. The rider and I separated in the mix. A red light on a busy road gave a reason to stop. The next rest stop was just ahead at mile 90. A drop of hot liquid salt dripped into my right eye. I blinked and blinked away the burning.  The camelbak was empty. I sucked warm dilute Gatorade from the water bottle. 10 miles is less than my daily commute. I don't need a rest stop to ride 10 miles. Hell, I don't need water to ride 10 miles.

With four miles to go, I looked at my watch. The next hour of the ride would end in 15 minutes. If I could ride about 4 miles in 15 minutes, I could finish the ride on the hour and have a nice solid century time benchmarked for the future. At the beginning of the day, 4 miles in 15 minutes would have been no big thing. Now, 96 miles and thousands of burned calories later, I wasn't sure. With no way to accurately judge speed, I began to ride faster. The last four miles of the course took us on a closed to car traffic MLK Drive. I pushed hard with one eye on the clock. Just 10 minutes, you can ride hard for 10 minutes. Five more minutes. C'mon, five more minutes you can do this.  When I came to a stop at the finish, I looked down at my watch. One minute to spare. 

Walking around eating a slice of post ride pizza and thinking about the day, I decided that from now on, whenever someone asks me how much my bike weighs I will add a pound to the last number I gave. So if you ever ask a guy riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker how much his bike weighs and you hear 50 or 60 pounds, you might just be talking to me. 

After a bit, I remounted and rode Esmeralda 10+ miles home. Cause that was the rando thing to do. 


  1. Great recap!
    I like your potential answer to the next person who asks how much your bike weighs: "I decided that from now on, whenever someone asks me how much my bike weighs I will add a pound to the last number I gave."
    I ride a 17 year old MTB with 26" wheels and the racks and fenders, and I also get that question!