Sunday, May 13, 2007

Iowa Mini RAAM

The ride from Ft Collins to Davenport was intended to do two things 1) get me to Iowa to pick up the minivan that we will be using as a follow vehicle during the race, and 2) let me get some consecutive long days of riding in to see how my body would respond and how my diet would work during some pretty long, but not RAAM-long days. The picture below is me and my bike loaded and getting ready to leave Ft. Collins during a brief break in the rain.

The ride was 900 miles long. My ride time was 44.25 hours. I did it in five days; so just over 20 mph average speed (for actual ride time, clock time was probably 6-8 hours longer). The ride was four long days to start and a really short day to finish. The weather was really bad for the first three days, but I felt pretty good, even after 4 consecutive 200 mile days, and didn't have any major problems.

Day 1: I had hoped to leave by 8am but it was 42 degrees and raining so I decided to wait a bit. By 10:00am it had stopped raining and Tim and I were ready to leave. Tim had planned to ride about 30 or 40 miles east with me and then turn back for home. 5 miles out of Ft Collins it started raining again. The picture below is Tim putting on his raincoat. In the next 10 miles it got a LOT worse than this...

Ault, CO is about 15 miles from Ft Collins. By the time we got to Ault the temperature had dropped to the high 30's, it was pouring rain, and we had a huge headwind...basically it sucked. Oh yeah, and there was lightning...just for fun. But 15 minutes after Ault we were through the storm and it was sunny and near 50 degrees. That's pretty much the way the day went. I rode through five different thunderstorms of varying degrees of intensity and scariness. If I could get out of the storms into a store or whatever I did, but sometimes on the high plains there just isn't a lot of options...except pedaling really hard. I raced one storm at 30 mph for an hour. That was a one hour TT 6.5 hours into a ride. Not really what I wanted to do, but seemed better than getting struck by lightning or sent to Oz by a tornado. The race went to the storm as it beat me to the grocery store in Haxton, CO by about 5 minutes.

I had hoped to ride through the first night, but about an hour and a half after dark another storm came with wind, rain, and lightning and I stopped in Imperial, Nebraska for the night. I was a little disappointed at having to stop the ride short, but when I got into the motel room I turned on the Weather Channel and felt pretty lucky about getting that far. There were reports of tornadoes all over the place and some ridiculous number of lightning strikes. A tornado had touched down near Sterling, CO about an hour and a half after I rode through there. The forecast for the next day didn't look much better. I'd ridden 197 miles in 9.5 hours (ride time).

Day 2: It was cloudy and cool when I started riding, but at least it wasn't raining. I had a steady tailwind and covered the first 100 miles in 4 hrs 8 minutes. I'm pretty sure that was the fastest 100 I've ever ridden. Over the next couple hours the weather changed a lot the wind moved from due west to due east and it started pouring. I heard thunder, but never saw any lightning. The last 60 miles took longer than the first 100. I got to Hastings, NE right at dark and never considered going any further in that kind of rain. I didn't realize how cold I was until I stopped riding. I stayed in a nice & clean $30/night motel and ordered a pizza for delivery. I'd ridden 209 miles in 10.25 hours.

Day3: I got up at 7am and looked out and it was raining so I went back to sleep. Got up again at 8am and it was still raining but I decided to start riding anyways. It rained lightly but steadily for the first 7 hours. Around Crete, NE so much dirt had been washed onto the road that I had to stop several times and get water from a puddle with one of my water bottles to hose down my drivetrain because it sounded like I was grinding parts with all the grit and sand in there. There had been a huge amount of rain in the area.

As I crossed into Iowa on HWY 2 it cleared up and got pretty nice for the first time. I had decided to take HWY 2 instead of HWY 34 because I didn't feel like fighting more crosswinds to go north to get on 34. This turned out to be a minor mistake. I got almost to Shanendoah,IA and HWY 2 was closed due a roadway being under water at the Nishnabotna River...something like that. I talked to a couple other people about possible re-routes and they only knew of a way that was going to go south into Kansas and I didn't want to go that far south. I back-tracked to Sidney, IA and (eventually) ended up at the Sheriff's office where they told me that they thought I could get through to the east on HWY 34, but weren't too sure because that was out of their county. Anyhow, I headed north and got to Red Oak, IA right at twilight to see a road closed sign. Disheartening for a minute, but as I was approaching I saw that there was a detour to another bridge only a mile or so south. Here is the approach to Red Oak, IA...
It turns out the Town of Red Oak had some serious flooding and there were a lot of people forced out of there homes. A couple of them were in the hotel I stayed at. I felt bad about thinking that the rain and flooding had caused me problems when there were people flooded out of there homes. I'd ridden 218 miles in 11 hours.

The only thing close to a problem that I had happened on this trip. Riding through the rain and all the road grime resulted in a lot of sand and grit getting into my clothing, especially in my shorts. this caused a slightly painfull rash at a lot of the seams. I washed the clothing pretty good that night and things got better the next day.

There was a BBQ place right next to the hotel which I saw as another data point. The people were really nice and friendly, but the BBQ was...not so much.

Day 4: It was beautiful right from the start. The roads in Iowa don't really have a lot of paved shoulders so I rode the white line as close as I could. There was also a lot of truck traffic on HWY 34 which made me a bit nervous, but I never had a horn blown at me and everybody gave me as much room as they could, so it wasn't too bad. Probably also worth mentioning that my legs were a little tired on the second morning, and a little more on the third, but after that they were about the same on the fourth and fifth mornings.

I felt like I was riding pretty good and the day went super fast. The only things that really stands out is the pizza that I had for breakfast at a gas station and an awesome blueberry-raspberry Slurpee that I had in some little town. Oh yeah, and I got chased by too dogs. I generally don't run from dogs, but I was going downhill pretty good when they came after me so I kept going. Those suckers chased me for a mile at about 30 mph!!I had thoughts of riding the rest of the way that night, but without a decent shoulder I really didn't want to be on the roads past dark. So I stopped what I thought was 75 miles from Larry and Noreen's house. I'd ridden 212 miles in 10.5 hours.

Day 5: The first 20 miles were really nerve-racking. No shoulder and constant dump truck traffic...lots of crosswinds making it hard for me to hold the white line. I was wishing I'd have done this section in the dark when at least there wouldn't have been the dump trucks. After Muscatine it was a really nice and quiet ride along the Mississippi River. It ended up being only 63 miles and took 3 hours. I was done at 11:30 am.

Overall the ride went very well. I felt good. Didn't have any vehicle traffic/problems to speak of. Some of the riding, particularly eastern Co and Western NE was absolutely great (minus the weather) with smooth roads, big clean shoulders, no traffic, and a tailwind. That's about as good as cross country riding gets, I think.

I spent the rest of the day at Larry & Noreen's watching birds on their feeders and a geriatric raccoon on the squirrel feeder. Saw a bunch of ruby-crusted crossbills, red-headed woodpeckers, hummingbirds, morning doves, and cardinals. Here's a couple pics...

The next day I drove back to Colorado...the ride was WAY more fun than the drive.


John said...

Hey Jeff,
It's great to read about your rides from here at the South Pole. You had more variety of weather and scenery in 5 days than I've experienced in the last 6 months! Currently it's dark and -81F.
Good luck, John G.

J. Oatley said...

...dark and -81F and for some reason I'm a bit jealous. Thats not right. Stay warm, John.