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The Dog Days of Summer

by on July 21, 2011

This Ride: 125.4 miles
Month: 706 miles
2011: 4,075.9 miles
Total since 1/1/2010: 10,195.6 miles

That was the hardest 200k I’ve ridden. (8 down, 4 to go for the R-12)

Those who know the route might think I’m kidding.  My “elevation correction” Garmin readings show 398 feet of climbing.  The difficulty had nothing to do with the climbing or lack thereof.  It had to do with the ride conditions themselves.

Mike B & I planned this 200k last week.  Mike is at the beach with his family and I wanted to do a weekday 200k.  Mike offered to accompany me if I rode the “Eastern Shore – Reversed”route, known within the SPP as Wallops Island for it’s start there.  We planned a relatively early start time of 6:00 am.  We would have started at 5:00, but both of us had considerable travel time.  As it was, I went to bed early Tuesday evening and got up at 2:15 am for the 3 hour drive to the start of the ride.  Once I arrived, I changed into cycling clothes in the Royal Farms restroom, Mike arrived, and we pushed off just a little after 6:00.

Mike & I rode the first 10 – 15 miles abreast, chatting it up and enjoying catching up with one another.  Then, having said all we “needed to say”, we decided to pick up the pace a bit to get as many miles in as we could before it got hot.  The forecast was for the low 90’s with a slight tailwind developing for our ride back.  We each took 5 – 10 minute pulls on the front while the other drafted, increasing our speed to between 19 & 20 mph pretty consistently.  This felt pretty good.  The day was sunny, there was more shade than I expected, and the pedaling was steady.  We watched for signs of the southerly breeze with every flying flag and watched for the grasses to begin to stir along side the road.

We reached our first timed control just 13 minutes behind the opening time … and we were 9 minutes late getting started.  My mood and energy level was high.  We simply anticipated a great day.  I recall Mike commenting that we might even have to wait some for the next timed control to open.  We refilled the water supply we had drained and pressed on.  As the temperature rose, we made sure we remained hydrated, ate some, and I took e-caps every hour.  I didn’t need to be reminded.  Sweat was dripping off my nose and chin.  My sweatband became completely saturated and ineffective.  Everything I had on was soaked.  I couldn’t have been wetter if we had ridden through rain.

By the time we reached the turnaround point in Cape Charles there still wasn’t any significant breeze,the temperature was 90 degrees and the humidity level was pretty high.  All that had conspired to slow us down a bit.  We noticed too, along the way that the road surface made a huge difference in the effort and the speed we were able to hold.  That chip seal road surface is rough and really had an impact on us.

At the control in Cape Charles, we took a significant break.  We reached it in good time, but not anywhere near the opening time for the control.  We each needed more water and some food.  The air conditioning felt amazing on my completely wet body.  There really wasn’t anywhere to sit, so we simply paced back and forth in the air conditioning.  We shared a chicken sandwich and prepared ourselves for the return.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I relied on Mike to pull for a greater percentage of the return than was fair.  The heat was getting to me.  I had thoughts of abandoning the ride, quitting the R-12 attempt, and at one point when we passed a small family cemetery I commented to Mike that I might as well lay down there for as long as necessary.  We were going slower.  I was watching my heart rate, and was attempting to keep it below 150.  That became more and more difficult, especially when the promised tailwind turned out to be a quartering headwind and the temperatures continued to climb.  I have experienced chest pains in temperatures like this when I was in my 30’s, complete with left arm numbness during a 4th of July run in Iowa.  I continued to monitor any signs of chest pain, and probably monitored myself right into feeling a slight twinge.  Recalling that a SPP rider died of a heart attack while riding with the group, I resolved to make sure I didn’t repeat that.  When my heart rate climbed to 150 and I couldn’t bring it back down, I invited Mike to stop in some shade for a rest.  Mike was gracious enough to do this … fairly often. We pressed on.

At the control with 22 miles to go, we stopped again for plenty of water and some food.  Our bodies probably warmed the Exxon station up a few degrees as we soaked up the air conditioning.  Mike and I purchased a gallon of chilled water each, filled our now empty water bottles and camelbacks and still had about a quart of water to pour directly on our heads to help us cool down.  The temperature was 98.6 … that was air temperature, not body temperature!  No wonder this was an effort.

During the last 22 miles, we stopped in the shade at least twice more (or was it 3?), finding those places where the shade and the breeze combined to maximize cooling.  Our goal was in sight, but we still played it smart.  This was hot, and we ground out the miles.  We took advantage of any descent we found, and were amazingly slow on the climbs back up out of the “canyon”. (Remember, there was 400 feet of climbing over 125 miles!  These climbs were probably 20 feet.)

This route is notorious for dog incidents.  There wasn’t a single dog encounter during the ride.  It was too hot.  We did encounter 4 deer at an intersection on the edge of a corn field.  Two ran down the lane perpendicular to our route, but two ran along our route.  We watched them leap back and forth across the ditch along our path for about 1/3 of a mile (about 100 yards ahead of us) until they found a wooded area to enter.  That was fun.

The final few miles, the pulls were a mile or less each, and I was never so glad to see a Royal Farms in my life.  After negotiating dangerous and chaotic traffic in the parking lot, we shut down, loaded up our bikes, and offended everyone in the Royal Farms with our stinking sweat drenched bodies.

It took 20-30 minutes to cool down enough in the air-conditioning to change out of cycling clothes into something dry and suitable for driving home.  We consumed fluids, protein, and a few carbs while waiting to return to normal.  I then climbed back into the car for the 3 hour trip home, and arrived at about 6:30 pm.  By 8:30 I was in bed.

I do have some injuries as a result of this ride.  My chamois cream completely washed away at some point in the ride, and I’ve got some “hot spots” as a result, one in a place that I never would have expected.  I have some hand numbness in both hands yet this morning.  As I fatigued, I put more weight on my hands than I should have, pinching the nerve.  I originally planned to ride a recovery ride this morning.  I slept instead.  My legs feel good.  I don’t have muscle soreness or real fatigue.  I think I recovered overnight pretty well.

The bike gets a new chain and cassette today, and it won’t be ridden until at least Sunday because of schedule conflicts.

Look for Mike’s report later.  I’ll be interested to  see how he describes this ride.  His blog is Chesapeake Sailor.

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