October Riding

October Miles: 202
Percentage of Monthly Goal: 121%
2009 Miles: 2,218
Percentage of 2009 Goal: 110%

October is the riding month that Stephanie and I had been planning for all year. We had signed up for the Livestrong challenge in Austin, planning to do the 90 mile route through Texas hill country. While we didn’t do the 90 — for various reasons that I’ll get in to soon enough — we made it to the ride, really enjoyed the event and had a great time in Texas. We’re almost certainly going to do it again next year, maybe in San Jose instead of Austin. Fletch wants to do the ride as well, which I think is pretty cool.

First things first about the trip: a bunch of people helped us out with the event. Stan loaned us bike boxes for the trip, Erich and CLV loaned us their truck so we could get to and from the airport with our bikes, Randy and Karen put us up in their beautiful loft and loaned us a truck while we were in town, Jeni hung out with Fletch while Stephanie and I did the ride, she met us at the finish, drove us around all the day before the ride and put us up for the last night of our stay, and she, Jason, B., Jesse, Julie, Boris and Tanya schlepped out to the Salt Lick for lunch on Thursday. Add to that the big bunch of folks who donated their hard earned greenbacks to the LAF. We are truly overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and family. You’re all the best. We’re lucky to know you.

Out trip started out way too early on a Friday morning. Throw everything in Erich and CLV’s truck, turn up the Elvis station on the XM, get almost to the freeway before we remember that we forgot Fletcher’s phone, drive home to discover that no, it’s in his pocket, hit the road again to LAX, check the bags have breakfast get on the plane fly to Denver have lunch and a beer fly to Austin and see this at the airport:

Which is pretty strong, greeting wise. Randy and Karen picked us up from there, showed us around town, helped us drop off our stuff and then took us out for dinner and beers. Stephanie and Fletch have met them just once before, and I think I’ve seen them maybe two or three times in the last ten years, but family really is family and we had a grand time hanging out with them. From there we went back to their place, they took off for their ranch, and we turned in for the evening.

The next day we had a nice walk around Austin. We went on the obligatory pilgrimage to Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, where Fletch got to see some of that Lance guy’s TDF jerseys.

We had a leisurely breakfast in town, walked around some more and then met up with Jeni for the drive out to lunch. Since her research trip in 2008, Stephanie has been telling us about the Salt Lick and its many wonders. It did not disappoint. Great food, great company, we got to see people we haven’t seen in years. Hard to ask for more than that.

From there, Jeni took us on a quick spin over to Dripping Springs where the ride would start the next day. Always handy to get the lay of the land, especially with a 7:45 start time. (We aren’t morning people.) After that we went back to Austin, had the obligatory pasta dinner, and turned in early. (Although we were serenaded by the good people of Austin re-enacting “Thriller” right outside of Randy and Karen’t window.)

We woke up obscenely early the next morning to make the start time. Dropped Fletch off with Jeni, raced over to Dripping Springs, parked the car, rode to the start line and holy crap this place is a zoo!

We were part of the Fat Cyclist team that won the fund raising competition — Fatty raised over $780,000 for the LAF this year — and were entitled to start at the very front of the ride, but since we were late, we just hung out at the back of the 90 mile group and rolled out with them.

Now, a ride like this isn’t something to take lightly, as clearly indicated by me doing the serious face before the start:

Stephanie also was taking things very, very ser… no, actually she was just having a good time.

And the obligatory couple shot:

We were really excited to do this ride together. It was a bit of an early anniversary celebration for us. (Our 3rd wedding anniversary was just three days away.) We don’t get a ton of time to go on long rides together, and whenever we do it’s a really good time.

The start of the ride was along highway 290, which the good people of Dripping Springs had kindly closed down a lane of for us. It was a bit of gridlock along that part, but it opened up soon enough.

When I originally looked at the ride — in particular the elevation profile — I thought that wow, it looks almost exactly like the rides we do out here. In terms of distance and elevation, it would be like riding from home to Rancho and back. Not a huge deal. What I failed to consider is that the Texas hill country has that name for a reason. While there are hills here, there are also flat stretches. Not so much in Texas. The other thing I failed to consider is that Stephanie has been training really hard for the last few months, so while we rode at about the same speed in the summer, she’s cruise along at about 5mph faster than I do now, especially on hills. (And as you’ll recall, there are only hills in that part of Texas.) So the ride was more… challenging than I expected it to be.

That said, we reached the first “power stop” together and one of the other riders was kind enough to take our picture.

The race organizers handed out “in honor of” and “in memory of” bibs for people to write dedications on. Stephanie’s, for example:

There were also “I am a Survivor” bibs worn by cancer survivors. They were pretty inspiring. Strong, in a “I’m not taking any shit off this disease” sort of a way. This was my favorite:

Ten miles or so down the road was the second “power stop,” which was kind of crazy because it happened right there on the road. This was the only poor logistical decision I saw the entire day, so that was cool.

A few miles after the second stop, things took a turn for the worse. Towards the top of a climb, my rear wheel stopped. Completely. Brakes were fine. Tire was fine. Stephanie touched the hub and it was burning hot. Not good. Funny thing is that, relative to the normal road rider, I was carrying every tool under the sun. I had spare tubes for both my and Stephanie’s bike. Spare spokes. I could tighten pretty much any part of either of our bikes that might come loose. (Including crank arms, which have come off on us during rides before.) I had more or less everything I needed to completely service a bike. But I wasn’t prepared for a wheel failing.

After fiddling with it for a bit, the hub cooled down and we decided to give it another go. That lasted maybe a quarter of a mile before the wheel made a horrible high-pitched noise and stopped spinning for good. One of the ride’s on-course bike mechanics stopped by and chatted with us for a bit. Eventually one of the SAG wagons picked me up and took me to the next power stop where there was a mechanic with a full set of tools.

Note the morbid onlookers. (The guy in the Mellow Johnny’s jersey had three spokes go out on a cattle grate, which ended his day.) After a few minutes he was able to get the cassette off the wheel, gave the never welcome pronouncement of “you’re screwed” and offered his condolences to my ride. “Shit happens” was the best that we could collectively come up with to explain why a wheel with less than 2,000 miles on it would just stop working.

The other two riders with day-ending mechanicals were anxious to get back to the start, so Stephanie and I had a brief talk, decided that she’d finish the ride and I’d get the bike to the car and meet her at the finish. I took the camera with me, so she doesn’t have any pictures of her ride, but she had a great time. At the next rest stop she met Philly Jen, the Team Fat Cyclist co-captain for the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge. They rode the last 30 miles of the 65 mile course — because she spent so much time with me and my mechanically-challenged bike, Stephanie missed the cutoff for the 90 mile course — together and had a grand old time.

Here’s Stephanie coming down the home stretch to the finish:

One very cool thing at the finish is that Eldon Nelson, aka the Fat Cyclist, was waiting there to try to meet as many of the Team Fatty riders as he could. We’ve been following his blog for a while, and it was really cool to get to meet him in person. He runs a mean cycling team and does great work getting people motivated. We were proud to be even a small part of his great efforts.

We hung out at the finish for a while after that, then headed to Jeni’s place for dinner and to catch up. It rained that night, thunder and everything, which was a fun change of pace for us. We had one last Salt Lick meal in the Austin airport before we left, and the flight home the next day was wonderfully uneventful.

Oh, and Stan told me yesterday that the Surly is ready to roll again. I’ll probably pick it up this afternoon.

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