Last Saturday (May 18 2013) about 1,500 of my closest friends and no tellin’ who else joined me for The Annual Blanco Festival of Manly Suffering, AKA The Real Ale Ride. Three of the group I normally ride with were to participate this year. Doug Miller – age 71, John Chalmers – age 69 and myself also age 69 met up at the Real Ale Brewery as the sun was rising. A few minutes after we had “commenced to be fixin’ to git ready” to go abuse ourselves in public, Doug introduced one of his neighbors who has been riding with him some (Sally, but I have forgotten her last name). Doug was gonna ride the 80 mile route, Sally was doing the 30 mile route and John and I were doing the 65 miler. The map below shows all the various routes that were being ridden.
To clarify how to read the map… we all started in Blanco at the Real Ale brewery, shown in the upper right corner of the map, and rode down the route shown in pink (the 15 mile route) to the point that the 30 mile route, shown in yellow, took off to the south. At that point the 80, 65, 50 and 30 mile riders took the yellow route southwest towards Kendalia. At the point that the green route heads south and the yellow route turns back north the 80, 65 and 50 milers continued towards Kendalia on the green route. At Kendalia the 80 and 65 milers turned west on the 65 mile route, shown in red, while the 50 mile riders went south then looped back to Kendalia and back, eventually, to Blanco. Upon arriving at Sisterdale, the 80 mile riders headed off further west then north to loop up through Luckenbach, while the 65 milers headed north toward The Horrible Hill, then on north until turning east toward Blanco on FM1888 and then being rejoined by the 80 miler riders. The 65 mile route involves approximately 4,000 feet of climbing, which is why it merits the Manly Suffering descriptive. The 80 mile route climbs a little more, with one truly hellish ascent past the bat preserve at the Old No 9 railroad tunnel. Only Doug was up to that one this year! Not bad for a 71 year old guy! The graph below shows the elevation profile for the 65 mile route.
I realize that for non-cyclists most of this detail is boring, but for cyclists, understanding the route, including its challenges is very important. So, couch potatoes please bear with us. Maybe just reading it will raise your heart rate above the level of “the undead” as you slump on the couch watching American Idol in a semi-daze or nodding off as drool runs down your chin as you try to watch Dancing With the Goat Herd, or whatever. The version of the map below shows elevations at various points along the route as well as locations of various bike wrecks and my two blowouts. My three chain jambs are not noted, nor is the location at which one cyclist dismounted and waded off into the bar ditch for a “nature break” and found a rattlesnake instead (and got a helicopter ride).
Things seemed better organized than on my two previous years of participation. They got the 80 milers going within a couple of minutes of the scheduled 8am time. John and I rolled out five minutes later as they released our 65 miler group. We had agreed that we would each ride our own pace and join up at the various rest stops. As soon as I got out onto US281 headed south, downhill, towards downtown Blanco, I eased over into the turning lane and kicked my speed up to 25-30 mph so I could get past the other 65 mile riders. On the Catrike I know I am quick downhill and will be slower on the climbs. I also know that by the time we have ridden 4-5 miles the group will be spread out, reducing the risks of riding shoulder-to-pedal amongst the prostate-crushers (my term for an upright bike) while they weave around shoulder-to-shoulder around me.
As I neared the turn-off which we would take to get from US281 over to Blanco CR 102 I realized that I had failed to start my timer/calorie counter/heart rate monitor/… so I did it then, about 1.5 miles and 6 minutes or so into the ride. As a result the calorie data is off a little as is the average speed. I have manually corrected the distance and time.
Crossing the Blanco River on Blanc0 CR102 at about 1,305 feet, we began the climb to the southwest to cross at least two ridgelines and get over to Kendalia. Only 2-3 miles out that segment I came over a small hill and there, about 50 yards ahead… IN THE ROAD…, lay a guy that looked to be about my size. He was lying in the northbound lane with his head toward the ditch and his feet near the centerline. A crowd stood around him. A couple of bikes in a pile in the ditch suggested that two riders had gotten together and this guy had gone down hard. I could see a ride medical vehicle approaching so I just went on past.
About three miles farther out there is a nasty hard right turn that is on a concrete low water crossing which is almost as slippery when covered with dust as when wet. It was dry, but as I started a short descent towards it I saw several riders accelerating from behind me and was able to signal them that this is a really bad turn and they backed off. Good move. As we started into the turn itself we saw several bikes, including a tandem that had gone off the outside of the turn and crashed in a group. At least one rider was down and the others were pretty bloodied up. They had plenty of help so I kept going. Another couple of miles out I crossed the ridgeline and could see down into the Guadalupe River Valley which lies below and to the south of Kendalia. Not long after that came the first rest stop/aid station on the 80/65/50/30 mile routes.
I stopped at that point to wait for John, who I had not seen since passing him just outside the brewery. I was a little concerned because, between the rider down in the road and the big crash I had done the chain-suck (twice) and had lost about 15 minutes repairing it and some of the resulting damage to the rear deraileur.
After a 4-5 minute wait John came rolling in looking a bit tired. He normally leads me much of the way on our longer rides, so to see him dragging was just not normal. We stayed at the rest area for another 4-5 minutes to let John cool off and recover a little, then headed on towards Kendalia. As before I rode at my own pace and quickly left John behind (really unusual.)
At Kendalia we turned west towards Sisterdale and a couple of miles out I came upon Doug with a ride mechanic stopped repairing a blowout on Doug’s rear wheel. Doug waved and said to keep going, so I did. That Kendalia to Sisterdale segment goes up and down like a roller coaster at Six Flags. Relatively steep climbs involving a gain of 150 to 250 feet happen over and over. And so do descents, but the descents last a few seconds at speeds topping 40mph. The descents are exciting and the climbs are exhausting. On one descent I topped 42 mph. Later, I thought how glad I was that it was not at THAT moment that my rear tire blew off the rim.
Once in Kendalia I got more water, took some supplements, and got a mechanic to file off a burr that had been put on the cage of the rear deraileur when the front did its great “chain-suck” north of Kendalia. Shifting had required lots of nursing to avoid lock-ups in the rear (not a happy thing to have happen). Sometime during all this Doug came through and I missed him. About 15 mintes after I arrived, John rolled in, looking even more whacked than at Kendalia, so we just took a nice long rest with lots of water and electrolytes. After John had rested and cooled we rolled out north from Sisterdale, heading for the dreaded Horrible Hill. I took it easy, keeping John in sight in my mirrors for a couple of miles then slowly pulled away. At the base of The Horrible Hill I pulled off to wait for him. He came grinding in shortly, not looking like he was having as much fun as usual. We took another short break then headed up the hill. This hill is not the steepest climb made that day, by far. It is however 3 miles of unrelenting climb during which the road climbs 454 feet, with about half that amount in the last mile. I was pretty happy to see that I was climbing at 4.5 mph, up from about 4 last year and that I did it with my heart rate staying in the middle 130s as it had at the slower pace a year earlier. Progress! About 2/3 of the way up I glanced at a mirror to see where John was and saw him carrying his bike off the road and over toward a shady tree (fortunately that tree did not have a snake hanging out under it.) I knew he would go over and cool off then resume the climb, so I continued and crested at 1,946ft above sea level. That was 454 feet above the start of that final climb and nearly 700 feet above the elevation at Sisterdale. OUCH!
I knew there was a rest area in about 2 miles, so I thought I should get on into it and ask that they radio for somebody out on the course to check on John. Nice thought. Just as I started to pick up speed my rear tire blew off the rim and the tube blew with a bang like a 12 gauge shotgun going off. I was up to about 15 mph and on a gentle descent on a tadpole trike with no rear tire to act as a rudder to keep me straight. Braking was gonna be a hoot since those are on the two front wheels and could cause a sudden turn and flip me. Working the brakes VERY gently and adjusting them to steer, I managed to get the bugger stopped in about 100 yards. A few minutes later here came John. I waved him to go on to the rest stop.
As I was replacing the tire and tube a ride mechanic materialized and helped complete the task. He suggested inflating to a lower pressure ( the tires are rated to 145psi and I had taken it to 140 that morning). So we took it to 115, and I thanked him and started off again for the rest stop. About a mile later “BANG!” another blow-off on the rear, this time on a steeper descent and at about 20mph. That got hairy, but years of racing Laser class sailboats and flying airplanes in instrument conditions have wired me to deal with moments of sheer terror very calmly and then wet my pants, if necessary, afterwards. It took about 200 yards of delicate braking, weight shifting, speaking in tongues and deep breathing to get stopped this time. I was sitting trying to figure out what the hell to do when the mechanic showed back up. When the mechanic came into the rest stop and I did not show up within 3-4 minutes John had asked him to go check, knowing that since it was mostly downhill I would normally been flying down the hills fast enough to already be there.
The mechanic checked the rim, remounted the tire, put in a new tube and inflated to 110 this time, but suggested maybe I should be cautious with it. I rode into the rest stop and soon after I got there John rolled out then 3-4 minutes later I took off after him. It took me about 4 miles to catch him. He was beat and asked if I would call Peggy, who we knew was somewhere nearby, to come pick him up. John headed on while I got Peggy on the phone. She headed west on FM1888 from Blanco to meet us on our way in. I quickly caught up with John and passed him as I went on to Rest Stop 8. I knew John was VERY used up because I had caught him so easily both times AND kept my descents below 20mph while doing it. That was frustrating because the fastest descent of the ride was between those two rest stops. I know I could have gotten over 50mph had I not been concerned about having ANOTHER Schwalbe Durano tire blow off the rim. I had resolved to get a different tire of a different brand immediately. Too many Schwalbe problems have plagued me since upgrading to my current trike with its tiny (16 inch) front wheels and giant skinny 700c rear wheel.
While I waited for John at Rest Stop 8, Doug rolled in from the 80 mile route. Doug is consistently the fastest rider in our Hillybikers cycling group and rarely fades, but he was clearly cooked. I called Peggy again, this time arranging for her to go to the rest stop to pick John up. He was not wanting to ride further to meet her.
Doug and I rode on to Rest Stop 9, seeing Peggy on her way out to pick John up, then being passed by them as they drove back into Blanco headed for the brewery and the post-ride goodies covered in our $60 registration fees. Eventually Doug and I got in and then discovered that they had run completely out of beer and were not bringing more out of the innards to the brewery. They were out of condiments to go with the BBQ sandwiches we had paid for and closed up the place that was handing out Italian Ices within minutes, though there were still people coming in off the road.
This was all VERY disappointing. The ride had been so well organized and supported and then they decided they had dispensed all the beer that they wanted to and closed down. There was not enough food! There was a great deal of bitterness expressed as more riders limped in off the road. It is incomprehensible to me that after we paid a hefty entry fee and were issued tickets for two beers, one sandwich and one Italian ice as our reward for the effort of the ride (and it is really looked forward to), they just stopped serving stuff. The Brewery MUST have had more beer inside.
Darn it, the promotional t-shirt even says:
“UP THE HILLS
Down The Beers“
on the back!
Oh well. Bicycle Sports Shop is a quality outfit, but they need to offer very public assurances that they have resolved ways to fix this with their partners if they want people paying to do this ride in the future. Real Ale Brewery wounded some previously loyal customers in the area and it will be costly for them to get them back. I was disappointed but a bunch of people clearly understood that they had been cheated out of something that they had paid for. That is NOT good business; it smells more like how government behaves.
Sooooo. The sad ending to an otherwise well run and really fun (including the manly suffering stuff) aside, the ritual recitation of numbers from the ride follows:
Distance 65 miles, Average speed 12.0mph (European readers can translate to KG/fortnight if it pleases them). Maximum Speed 42.1mph. MaxHeart Rate 163 bpm. Avg Heart Rate 130. Average Cadence 77 rpm. Calories Burned 4363. Water Consumed 7 liters (and I still ended up 6 pounds lighter the next morning as I was a bit dehydrated). Oh, and the high temperature was around 91 degrees (30 something in Celsius). Beers available at the end of The Real Ale Ride=0.
For reference the ride reports on my two previous rides of this event can be seen at:
now for “the other stuff”.
The 2013 Real Ale Ride brough my year to date riding to 1,221.8 miles which has burned approximately 76,765 calories. I have so far not hit my monthly goal of 350 miles “very often” hence I am NOT at the 1,750 miles shat I should be at by the end of May. Gotta get pedaling more often.
Get off your backside and do something vigorous! You owe your kids and grandkids the effort.
I am 69 years old, did this ride and absolutely approve this message.