Saturday May 21, 2011 started sorta early… 4am! I had to get up that early to get myself ready and drive from Lake Buchanan, to Blanco, about 60 miles. I had preregistered to ride my Catrike Road racing hammock in The Real Ale Ride, a cycling event of significant proportions. My registration packet was waiting at the Real Ale Brewery in Blanco, Texas. The drive is usually a very pretty one, but at 5am it was just a dark drive. All this effort was focused on being there, t-shirt collected and instructions read, ready to roll out on the 65 mile course at 8am. 65 freakin’ miles in THAT area! Ouch.
Blanco is a really special little town about 40 miles west, out into the beautiful Texas Hill Country, from the urban mess – complete with high-rise cliff dwellings in downtown – that Austin has become. Blanco State Park is on the Blanco River on the south edge of town and a few blocks north is a classic late-19th century Texas Courthouse Square. Thirty years ago a real hardware store operated there and I sometimes would think wistfully about chucking the whole high-tech rat-race and buying that hardware store as I drove past on my way between the DFW area and the San Antonio area. I had baroque fantasies of having customers who had a clue how to use the products I was providing. But I didn’t do that and now I am going to Blanco for a cycling event with considerable endurance challenges even for men half my rather advanced age. At least I am not sitting on a bench by the square dribbling tobacco juice down my bib-over-alls, cussin’ about the weather, and waiting to die. Hell, a look at the Blanco Chamber of Commerce web site makes me doubt that anyone who owns bib overalls is likely to even be seen on the square! It’s a busy little town! On the same Saturday as our ride there was a classic car show, a live (professional, 6 or 7 different bands) music concert to raise money for the local high school band, Blanco Market Day (and old-fashioned rural market day on the square), and a host of other interesting events. Clearly, with over 1,150 riders, The Real Ale Ride is the big kahuna for this weekend. Maybe Blanco is just not sleepy anymore. It is still very beautiful.
Upon arrival I got a great parking place on the grounds of The Real Ale Brewery where the ride would start and finish. Everything was extremely well organized and some silver-tongued devil had talked a whole bunch of local folks into coming out at 6am and working everything it took to make the experience just great. I went to the registration desk and got my t-shirt, complimentary energy gel, numbered bib (I was number 406 ), and tickets for two free beers and some food after the ride. Then it was time to go through my pre-ride rituals (mount eTrex GPS on right steering arm, camera on left steering arm, put on SPF80 sunblock, put on Garmin Heart Rate Monitor strap and Garmin FR305 wristwatch/heart rate monitor/gps/moodrock, put on cycling shoes being careful to not tighten the strings, check the inflation of all three tires and inspect the tires for blisters/cuts/foreign objects…, put sweatband on my head, take two Endurolyte capsules and a Honey Stinger, find a goat to sacrifice (oh, ooops! Shouldn’t have told you about that!)
I then set out for the starting area to see if I could find any other recumbents. William Wicker, who has ridden the Tour de Longneques a couple of times, and Dan Hansen, who was bringing his new Catbike Musashi, were planning to be there. We found each other and as far as we could tell there were no other recumbents out of over 1,150 riders. By day’s end surely there would a bunch of crushed prostates and other painful posterior components amongst the other 1,147 riders, but hey it is their choice.
The crowd grew as the folks on the 85 mile route ( at least 50 of them) queued up at the starting gate. We, less cycling-crazed, 65-milers lined up respectfully behind them, but rather proudly ahead of the 50-milers, 30-milers and 15-milers.
The 85 mile gang got off right on time at 8am. We were supposed to go 5 minutes later. However, some support vehicles had not gotten out yet, so we were held up for 3-4 minutes while a path was cleared through the throngs to get them past us and out onto the course where they were very welcome SAG and Medical support players. Finally we got off and the adventure was on. Due to the wide track on my Catrike Road, I was delayed a little getting out onto US281 to head south toward downtown Blanco and our first turnoff at the River Road. I try to give folks on prostate crushers extra room, out of respect for the suffering I know they will endure before the day is over. Once out on US281, I was able to use the excellent downhill performance of my 3-wheeled racing hammock to quickly catch up with first William and then Dan. Dan was the first rider in the 65 mile group to make the turn onto River Road.
Watch the video of the start of the 65 mile group and some of the “catch-up” down to the turn onto River Road.
Once we turned off US281 and hit the first little climb, the prostate crushers were passing us up in droves, but 4 hours later, many of them would be catching a sag wagon home with pained expressions on their faces.
About 3/4 of a mile west on River Road, we took a left, crossed the beautiful clear waters of the Blanco River and started climbing on CR102. Until we crossed into Kendall County, it was a workout; then it became a workout on the roughest chipseal surface I have ever seen. Somebody sold Kendall County some material with HUGE rock chips. The ride was brutal, not to mention how much rubber that surface had to be chewing off our tires (which makes some nasty black rubber residue that, if it ever rains again, will not help our rivers stay clear.) Still… at least it was paved.
The climbs and descents on that Blanco to Kendallia leg were fun and challenging . The scenery was just beautiful. I love that part of Texas. As for challenging… the picture below shows the map, with revelant info for that segment marked.
As indicated on the map above, we bottomed out at at about 1,311 feet when crossing the Blanco River just southwest of downtown. Then we climbed. Four miles later we crossed the first ridge at 1,599 feet. That was all climbing, with much of it at grades between 4% and 8%. Then we got to do some upping and downing that got sorta stressful for brief moments. Garmin’s Training Center Software graphs the max grade from the segment shown from the 1,412ft elevation with a 12% maximum grade, not the 10% I put on the annotated map (sorry, old eyes). The data I get on graphs is filtered and I remember very clearly looking down at my FR305 GPS (the source of this data) and seeing 16% grade for a few seconds. 16%! No wonder I saw really fit looking people walking their bikes up that hill (and many more before the day was done.) The rest of the ride to Kendalia was just a bunch of steep short climbs separated by shorter, but also steep descents until we crested at 1,628 feet a couple of miles north of Kendalia. Right after that the first rest stop came up. I decided to forego it as it was crowded.
Just on the west edge of Kendallia I stopped briefly for a water bottle change, a Honey Stinger, some almonds and 2 Endurolyte capsules. Then it was onwards to Sisterdale. But Sisterdale is well defended against invading cyclists coming from Kendallia. There are some serious climbs, each preceeded by a wild, but straight, descent.
I believe that Dan had gotten away from me by the time I got to Kendalia, and William was not far behind as he passed me while I was snarfing down almonds at the roadside.
On this leg there were some good-sized up and downs, several of the big ups were at around 10% grade, so it was a lot of work. I caught up with William a mile or so after he had passed me. We rode near each other for 6 or 7 miles, then I think he may have started over-heating because he wilted on the climbs and I pulled away and did not see him again until I was about to leave the Sisterdale rest stop. A couple of the descents produced speeds in the 40-41 mph range and I captured one of those on video.
Click to see the video.
The Sisterdale rest stop was well organized, had 8 or 10 people working it and some were even standing out by the road grabbing upright bikes as riders would arrive, then holding the bikes while the rider got food and liquids and hit the port-a-potties (and there were plenty of those) and came back to step right back into the saddle with encouraging words from the volunteers who would then clap and cheer as each rider departed. Some riders took a left turn on the north edge of Sisterdale and did the 85 mile route, rejoining us sissies who only did 65 miles 15 or so miles up our shorter loop. The rest of us proceeded north. Many, I suspect, did not know what lay ahead. There were a couple of real steeps, but the big bugga-boo was one of those “4 or 5 percent forever” climbs. From the mile 34.0 point we climbed from 1,445 feet above sea level to mile 38.1 where we passed through 1,950 feet. That is only a 2% overall grade, but not to worry, from 36.1 to 38.1 is a 4% average grade. From 34.0 to 38.1 there is not one foot of descending. I passed 6 or 7 cyclists who were walking their prostate crushers up that hill. At the rest area after the top (which was a mile or so on) the SAG patrol said they were being busy. They also told me that after I had come across the Kendalia to Sisterdale segment, there had been several people who asked to be picked up and never made it to Sisterdale.
A few miles after leaving the rest stop after the long grinding climb, I came to where RR1888 comes down from Luckenback and where the 85 milers who had survived for about 65 miles rejoined us wimpy 65-milers. We had a bit over 20 miles left to ride. Some thought that it would be “all downhill” into Blanco. WRONG!
We went down through a couple of significant valleys, each followed by a climb back up and over a significant (and in one case MORE significant) ridge. Going down one of the descents, sorta unnerved a group of 85-milers who were apparently making about 35 mph. I had to move into the opposing lane to pass them at just shy of 45mph. I hollered “On your left!” as I approached, but I think they thought I was kidding. At the next rest stop one of them wandered over and said, “Dude! You scared us to death! How fast were you going?” I guess they had never seen a Catrike Racing Hammock in action before.
I pedaled steadily on to arrive back at the Real Ale Brewery well before the 3pm deadline (when they would quit giving out free beer), but was too tired and dehytrated to enjoy a beer so I bought a tropical fruit slush from a vendor who had set up in the parking area and sat in a shady spot savoring it and the ride for a few minutes before loading up and heading, exhausted but happy, back to Lake Buchanan.
The 65.58 mile ride took me 6 hours, 5 minutes, and 41 seconds. My average speed of 10.8 mph overall, including time at stops, was better than I have done on rides of this length/difficulty in the past. Garmin Training Center estimates that I burned 4,912 calories, so I can have a beer sometime this week, if it sounds REALLY good. My maximum heart rate was 151 Beats Per Minute (bpm) and my average for the whole ride was 124. Clearly my physical conditioning continues to improve, hopefully increasing my life expectancy my at least as much as those high-speed descents I keep doing are decreasing it. In March, riding the Fort Davis Scenic Loop, my average speed was only 8.8mph, though it was a 13 mile longer ride and at high elevations and with some difficult climbs. Any way I look at it a 2mph improvement on a ride of at least similar difficulty has got to be progress.