If you don’t follow that math, it’s understandable. But if you take a geezer-squad of three guys 67 years young (two of them precisely that age) and one of 74 years, and put them on bicycles out to prove nothing, you get: an 83 mile ride in the beautiful hill country of Texas. Actually, Don Bynum (the effervescent organizer of epic rides and teller of tall tales) thinks he is in my Will and is trying to kill me, or, he is my training coach for the upcoming MS-150 ride (Houston to Austin) in mid-April. By the way, for anyone who might be reading this and is not familiar with the hill country here, check out the National Geographic “Road Trip” Hill Country, Texas.”
Don had talked about this route before and I thought him to be nuts. All doubt has now been erased but, alas, I joined the insanity voluntarily. On a day with weather custom-ordered for a long ride, we gathered for the “breakfast of champions,” huevos rancheros at Cazadores mexican food cafe in Llano. Many jokes about the ride being bean-powered! We departed the Llano courthouse square shortly after 9:00a.m. and made our way to FM 2323. The initial objective was U.S. 87 just NW out of Fredericksburg. A mere 34 miles and a distance Don and I frequently ride. Joining us were John Chalmers and Don Senzig.
With not a cloud in the sky and temperatures starting to climb through the 50’s we began cranking Southward. The traffic was light and quite polite in giving us wide berth — which is a really good thing. Gently rolling hills were no challenge for these four riders. Before even reaching our first big rest stop at Prairie Mountain we saw deer bounding across the road ahead — five of them with graceful leaps over the fence on one side and another once across the road in front of what must have seemed to be a strange group of contraptions.
Then a red-tailed hawk was spotted perched high atop a utility pole, scanning the terrain for brunch, and then gazing at us until we approached too near. I was about to pull up to pull out my trusty DROID X with its 8mp camera when he had had enough. He was a big one and we enjoyed watching him take flight in that graceful way they do.
We resolved to stop about every hour and that usually involves just pulling off to the edge of the roadside. (p.s. click on any thumbnail for the larger image) A little water, maybe a gel shot like a Honey Stinger, or in my case, pulling off the now totally unwanted extra clothing with which I had begun.
With my Osprey Raptor 14 hydration pack (now lugging 3 liters of water) I had plenty of room to stow the extra clothing. After kicking the tires to make sure nothing had fallen off, we mounted up (or in Don’s case on the Catrike, fell in) and resumed cranking the pedals.
Speaking of cranking. I had read and heard from experienced riders (one of which I hope to be one day) that the faster pedal speed was good. Jennifer had given me a pedal cadence sensor for Christmas (which mounts on the frame and counts pedal rpms) and it had been paying off for me as I can see the cadence display on the Garmin FR-305 sport watch. In December I usually had a cadence below 70 and now have usually been above 80-85 and frequently 90 rpms, averaging near 80.
After that first stop we began seeing (read “feeling”) more climb. Nothing radical, just an overall steady ascent. As can be seen from the elevation profile, there was much more to come. We knew that, at least Bynum and I did because it was part of our New Year’s Eve 2010 ride — now whether there was full disclosure to our other riders, I can’t say.
A few more hilltops and the Prairie Mountain Community Center, former site of the Prairie Mountain School soon came into sight. That is about 11:15, some two hours (and 20 miles) into the ride and a good place for the hourly stop. Prairie Mtn has an interesting history with the school — take time to read the plaque.
You can see from this profile how we had begun the real ascent. By Prairie Mountain we were definitely into it, having already gained over 500 feet in absolute elevation, not to mention the many ups that followed the downs. Newton had it backwards: what goes down must climb up again.
We had about 14 miles to go at this point — now for the character-building portion. At about mile 30 we hit “the hill.” In December I rode the whole thing but have to confess that this time — having in mind the remaining 53 miles — I walked about the last 1/2 of it. Conservation of energy.
“The Beast” as I have dubbed her looks on the profile to be darn near vertical. Trust me: it looks that way from the saddle of the bicycle. It did not whip me this time, but with 53 more miles to go, it definitely did intimidate me! By the time we reached U.S. 87 we had climbed 1100 feet in absolute elevation gain and probably twice that in total climb.
As you can well imagine, just a mile or so North of the U.S. 87 junction this was a most welcome sight. I pulled in there at 1:07 where Don S. and Peggy (Don B’s wife and our SAG support) were waiting with John. It’s the Hill Top Cafe and we enjoyed not only a welcome rest, but a really great lunch. I had a spinach salad (think complex carbs = energy) with an interesting and yummy dressing and candied walnuts. Different, and really good along with three glasses of water laced with Elete electrolyte drops. We pulled out of the cafe at 2:11 to a joyous downhill run (well, mostly, remember that all that which goes down has to come up again) Northward on U.S. 87 toward the turn to Castell.
Riding along a U.S. highway normally would not be a good idea but this stretch has a really nice, paved shoulder that for the most part is almost a narrow lane equivalent. Although fast, the traffic was courteous and we got over on the shoulder each time so it was thoroughly safe. That was a nice stretch after the hills because it is overall downhill. On one long hill I hit 37.5mph coasting. We dropped 835 feet in elevation on that segment of the ride when we turned Eastward toward the Castell General Store in beautiful downtown Castell, Texas.
For some inexplicable reason I did not get a picture of us there — probably oxygen deprivation of the brain. Here is a photo from last October during one of the Tour de Longneques jaunts. We took a fairly short rest here due to a growing concern about available daylight. We lit there at 4:08 and pulled out at 4:21. There was a bit of lingering discussion about making this a beer stop and calling the SAG wagon, but testosterone ultimately prevailed and away we cranked — and I noted that my average rpms on the pedals was well below 90 even after we got warmed up. Castell to Llano is 18 miles, a ride we have done a number of times. But never on the back end of 65 miles. This segment was uneventful, albeit slow, with a generous rest stop along the way. The gently rolling hills were occasionally tougher than rides past, but pleasant with the lowering sun dropping in our wake. I kept chasing my long shadow that stayed out in front of me, never to be caught.
I pulled up to the courthouse square at about 6:10pm with the late afternoon sun bathing the courthouse in that lovely, soft light with a hint of orange. Even partially masked by the barren trees of winter it stood tall — and was a most welcome sight.
Some time back in the fall (and note that I had only been riding since August), Don set out a goal for us to do a Century ride (100 miles) which we attempted on New Year’s Eve, only to be killed by The Beast, wind and a too short daylight period. Somewhere along the way, having become afflicted with the same lunacy, I resolved to ride my age on my birthday. Don and I shortly thereafter discovered we share the exact birthdate (he is older by a few hours) and not knowing if March 2 would be an available day, we did our birthday ride earlier. That was 71 miles and we were right proud of our accomplishment. Fortuitously, my trial this week finished early, Don had planned this ride, and thus our commemorative birthday ride resulted in 83 miles for our 67th! The following elevation profile tells the whole story in a nutshell:
The other fun picture is a screen shot of the Garmin Oregon 400t which rides along on my handlebars. I don’t use it so much for the mapping on it as for the additional data, over and and above what the FR-305 does.
It tells the overall story from a time/speed/distance point of view but then there are the other stats.
Also riding on the handlebars is the Garmin FR-305 sportwatch which is what I use the most while riding as it has a real time display of pedal speed, heart rate, average speed, various times and instantaneous speed. I then download that into the SportTracks program which keeps a log of rides and does a lot of data accumulation and analysis. Here are the numbers from that.Distance: 82.83 miles Total ascent: 2624 feet (837 feet of which was the 15 miles after Prairie Mountain)
Time: 6:18:24 Avg Heart rate: 135 (max 161) Avg cadence: 75.3 Avg speed: 13.1 (max 37.3) (fastest 5 mile split avg 18.3, slowest 6.6mph)
Avg power: 123.8 watts (max 683)
Calories burned: 4458
For the undeniably curious data freaks we have the “activity documentation” that is output by SportTracks with charts and graphs and maps and more numbers that you can digest:
And finally, one might ask why, at this age and only cycling (except for boyhood bikes) since August, and for someone with a thoroughly responsible day job, would a person do this.