Monday, April 20, 2015

Illinois Incursion: 150 gravely spring miles

As part of his preparation for the TransIowa race, Michael had announced another "long training ride," meaning about 240 kilometers (150 miles), a significant portion of it either on unpaved rail trail
or gravel roads. In theory that sounded like something right up my alley -- except that it was barely April. I had gotten in a good amount of riding in the previous weeks but am of course still not in
the greatest of shapes this early in the season. Combine that with the vagaries of April weather, and suddenly the ride looked a little daunting. Once I saw, though, that the weather forecast was about as
good as it can get at this time of year, I committed to the ride.

Jacob and Tyler on one of the first gravel roads we reached

Maybe the collapse of Wisconsin road funds will get us similar roads closer to home some day...

Incursing Illinois with me were Michael, Jacob, Tyler, and for part of it Steve. We have all ridden together before, and I think the size and constitution of the group was just right for such a long ride. Steve and I met up with the rest of the group at 5:20. The sun wouldn't be up for another one-and-a-half hours, and it was cold. I was only wearing thin wool gloves on my hands and wool socks in my summer shoes on my feet, making for a somewhat miserable experience. On the upside, there is something magical about riding into the dawn on a spring day. Frogs, birds, and the occasional rabbit were already out and about, and once we got into the country, a thin layer of hoarfrost covered the fields and wooden bridges on the Badger State Trail. Despite the heavy rain during the previous days, the trail was in not-too-bad a shape. Still, ruts, holes, and fallen branches did require our attention, meaning that I didn't take any pictures during the first couple hours of the ride.

Jane Adams Trail

In Monroe we made our first convenience store stop and also left the Badger Trail. Instead, we rolled along on country roads, which meant a faster surface but also the beginning of some rolling hills. And a dog: Jacob and I were a bit ahead when we spotted a black lab coming towards us from on the farms. It didn't look particularly threatening, but you never know. So we stayed alert and kept an eye on our new companion. He just kept running along and along and along... Only once we got to a farm with more dogs, maybe 2 kilometers down the road, did he get distracted enough and let us continue by ourselves. Soon after crossing the border into Illinois we also hit the first gravel roads, which were in pretty good shape and fun to ride on. The Jane Adams Trail then led us to the turnaround point, Freeport. We stopped at a—well, not that great gas station, where Jacob and I were immediately approached by a toothless guy in a car who wanted us to buy lottery tickets for him. Uh yeah.

The beautiful city of Freeport, IL...

...offers great amenities for the driving population.

Gravel roads + tailwind = bliss

Now turning north, we had a great tailwind for most of the way back to Madison. I felt great and couldn't resist upping the pace a bit. Our little group got spread apart and reunited a couple times until we hit the final rest stop, the Piggly Wiggly (for those of you not from around here: yes, that's the actualy name of a supermarket chain) in Brodhead. Tyler and I hammered along, doing some nice paceline work whenever we had a stretch heading into the wind. I knew the pace was too far in the red zone for me, but with "only" 70 kilometers ago I threw out common sense and kept going hard. We were pretty close to Madison when I started fading. Tyler kept disappearing into the distance and I finished the ride at a more leisurely pace and a coffee stop at Barriques, clocking in at 235 km on what was my earliest-in-the-year-ever 200+ kilometer ride.

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