Thursday, August 13, 2009

Great Lakes Randonneurs RUSA Anniversary Ride, 2009

Just got home from Illinois . . .

In the latest edition of American Randonneur, President Lois Springsteen pegged it for me when she enumerated a few of the reasons some of us ride: “travelling to other regions to do some exploring . . . [and] . . . find new scenery and make new friends . . .” The RUSA Anniversary ride sponsored by the Great Lakes Randonneurs (GLR) on August 8th provided such an opportunity.
Ever since RUSA ride schedules were posted on-line last fall, I’d been looking forward to this event which corresponded with my “summer” vacation this year. Judging from the lead-in picture lifted from the GLR web site, I thought there was a good chance that this group of folks would turn out to be a fun bunch. Indeed, they were!

The ride seemed easy enough on paper. A relatively flat, west-east, out-and-back course across northern Illinois starting at the Forest Preserve outside of Hampshire, IL, a western “suburb” of Chicago.

The route passed through ever-so-gently rolling farmland . . .

. . . and miles and miles of corn and soybeans sixty-eight miles to the turn-around control in Byron, IL.

Experience tells us that things don’t always turn out as we plan. In this part of the country, there is always the possibility of strong winds whipping across flat, treeless farmland. But that was only the half of it. There remained one thing for which the locals could not prepare this year. Because the month of July had been the coolest ever on record, there was no time to acclimate to the sweltering weather on ride day.

And there it was: forecasters projected a triple-digit heat index. Unfortunately, they’d gotten it right. They’d also predicted 15-20 mph winds blowing in from the SW, translating into head winds until the turn-around in Byron. Right again. Lastly, they’d warned of possible thunderstorms until 1 PM. We got a break on this one, the only thing they’d missed. The rain stopped just before our morning launch, while the upstart wind dissipated the fog.

That’s South Carolina riding buddy Tom B on the left and brother Bill on the right, both vanquishers of the Tar Heel 200. Tom has completed several Morrisville, NC, brevets.

Then came the all-important pre-ride instructions you hope your riding buddies are listening to in case you weren’t paying attention. Of note, the official cue sheet had been changed the day before, causing me to hurriedly exchange the one I’d downloaded from the web site a week earlier to the one provided at check-in. Not to worry, however, since GLR volunteers had been busily marking each of the turns that morning with bright orange arrows painted directly onto the roads. I guess they wanted to make sure no one had to rely on a corn field as a directional landmark. The reason the cue sheet had changed was because the DOT had been busy, first asphalting and then dumping gravel over several select roads the previous week. The cue-sheet updates didn’t mean that we would altogether avoid travelling on graveled roads, just that they’d be kept to a minimum.

Speaking of corn, notice the corn leaves pointing our way. I hope that’s not pop corn! Do you see the cooling towers of the nuclear energy plant in Byron, IL?

Here is a closer view.

Here is the deceptively flat route. It was especially great to see Tom B come barreling down one of these “hills” on the return toward me on his fixie with a big grin on his face, shouting huge words of encouragement: “It’s much faster on the return!” Thanks, Tom! Holding onto those words, I pushed a little harder toward Byron.

At the Byron control, I wasn’t sure if the heat was making me delirious or what. But if you look closely at the sign on the bar across the street from the control you’ll see a reference to a particular part of a Tom turkey’s anatomy that distinguishes him from hens. And I’m not talking about non-edible items like wattle or beard. It appears they’ve dedicated a Festival of sorts to it. Last October, it was reported that the Turkey Testicle Festival in Byron, IL, drew some 5,000 people—mostly bikers (not spandex wearing cyclists)—and raised $25,000 for various charities. Even the local sheriff supported the event.

Talk of the Festival amongst our group provided a welcome distraction from the sweltering heat and humidity. Taking a longer-than-usual break to cool down, our group of six took turns icing feet and femoral arteries with a bag of ice, something I’d learned from the Texas randonneurs.

Our new friend Mike (on the left) recounted fascinating randonneuring jaunts in Wisconsin and Illinois with the great Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo, sharing some of their riding wisdom. Mike also told an interesting personal story about how a bag of pretzels got him back on his feet so that he could finish a brevet after a severe leg-muscle cramping incident that occurred early in his randonneuring career. He’d been leading a pack of six riders when he cramped shortly after the half-way point. One guy in the group pulled over, surmised that Mike was dehydrated and gave him a small bag of pretzels. He told Mike to eat them and rest in the shade before continuing. Later, after getting back on his bike, Mike purchased a big bag of pretzels which he completely consumed, chasing it with fluid. It saved the day. The hydration triangle: carbohydrates, salt, water.

Following our shadows home on graveled road, knowing it’s in the bag. What a wonderful feeling! We got in before dark in spite of a “late” 8 AM start.

It’s true that randonneurs get a huge rush from completing brevets. We know this because it incites reports such as this one. But this is not the entire story by any means. One hundred and twenty-nine miles provides ample space to reminisce about the many supportive randonneurs whose paths we’ve crossed and to whom we are grateful.

For the present, thanks to Tom, Bill, Mike, and all the other riders, the GLR folks, including those who were busily marking the route the morning of the ride for this out-of-towner on vacation. Let’s ride again!


skiffrun said...

Nuclear plants not "in" Byron, but "near" Byron.

Born, bred, and raised in the Rock River Valley.

skiffrun said...

Oh, interesting tid-bit about those nuclear plants: when they were being built, starting in the mid-to-late 70's, they were referred to as the "Oregon nuke plants", at least by people in my town and guys I had gone to high school with who got summer construction jobs there.

Think about that: nuke plants employing college kids during their summer breaks to be part of the construction and INSPECTION teams.

Anonymous said...

Great pix and report. Thanks, Dean.


dean furbish said...

Riding right beside the cooling towers under the shadow of their plumes was a real gas, literally! Shadows from the clouds danced over the road. The clouds not only blocked the sun but had a cooling effect on the area directly beneath. What an experience---being cooled by a nuclear plant cooling tower on a hot day!