This year I had done a lot of off road riding as training, but not any real long distance riding. I had trouble finding the time to ride for 7 or 8 hours. Instead I tried to ride as much as I could during the week and at least get in 3 or 4 hours on the weekend days. Indeed, my most recent “century” ride was back in October, at the Santa Fe ride near Gainesville.
So I had confidence to a point. I knew my legs were strong. The off road riding (mostly in Hal Scott, fighting a Strava KOM war with a contemporary, but that’s another story) had resulted in new power records. I knew I was as strong as ever. My weight was an issue, as I had not gotten down to my goal, but still, I was lighter than the day I started last year by a few pounds. The weather looked promising too, with tailwinds predicted for most of the ride. The predicted high temperature was 88, which was fine for me. I prefer warmer weather. (Note: The weatherman was wrong, we got well over 90 and even passed 100 in a few spots. This ended up being a major issue.)
My normal Saturday routine is to get a ride over to Cocoa Beach, check in to the Fawlty Towers, and hang out the rest of the day with my buddy Darren Hill. Normally we go get a snack, join the Blue Hammers for a beer and finish with a pasta dinner at Brano’s. This year things were a little different as Darren was spending the day with his daughter. So instead of arriving early, I got there late, and missed packet pickup. What’s more, I couldn’t raise Darren on his cell phone. Turns out he was on the beach with Indiana (his daughter) and left his phone in the room.
Kathleen and I passed the time at a place called Long Dogger’s, which had some good local beers, including a “Florida Lager” which I enjoyed. It’s a nice place and I will probably visit again some time.Eventually we got back in sync. It was nice to meet Indiana, who is a beautiful, intelligent girl, which really surprised me coming from Darren. (I’m kidding. ha ha. Darren is an intelligent guy.) We had the traditional meal at Brano’s with the Blue Hammers and got to sleep around 10:30.
I had a restless night’s sleep. Worrying I guess, as I knew I had to get up early and go pick up my packet. As a result I beat the alarm and got up around 5:50. I headed down, got my packet, some breakfast and went out to the beach.At 6:11 am I stood on the beach at Alan Shepard Park and put my toes in the water of the Atlantic Ocean. I put them in the Gulf of Mexico at 5:46pm. About an hour later than I planned, but I am getting ahead of myself.
The ride started at 7am. The first 11 miles were held in check as a Neutral Start (see sidebar below). Once we got past I-95 the speed erupted, and rather quickly.
Initially, I attempted to stay with the speed demons, but once it got up over 28 mph I realized that I would pay for that expense of energy later in the ride. I found myself between groups doing 24mph down 520. While I was waiting for traffic to make the left turn on to Nova Road another group caught up to me. I enjoyed riding with them at 19-20 mph for the next hour or so, conserving energy.Nova Road was an experience this year. There was fog in the area and a nearby brush fire (Hal Scott Preserve I believe) was mixing with it, making it very thick but with a very pleasant wood fire smell. It was not enough to be unsafe, but made the ride very cool, both figuratively and literally. Quite memorable.
Some time before the first SAG at mile 33, a faster group caught up with us and worked their way by us. I merged in with the faster group, which was averaging 21-22 which was right in my wheelhouse. After the SAG it was a smaller group containing some Seminole Cyclists (including Tony the Tiger), some JHOPers (Monica Phillips), and others I didn’t know by name, or at least not yet.
One feature I really liked this year was the option to put your name on your number bib. Since most people did display their bibs on their back, it allowed us to begin conversations. It also allowed me to find Ted Hudspith, who I was supposed to ride with. I didn’t know him before today, but my “XFL roommate” for the last three years, (Darren), had arranged it for me. He thought we would be about the same speed. (We finished together so I guess he was right. Oops, getting ahead again.)
Once we got past Kissimmee there is an interesting part of the course called “The Red Bricks of Doom”. It’s a brick road, part of the Old Tampa Highway that is a “shortcut” between 17-92 and Ronald Reagan Parkway (RRP, between Intercession City and Champions Gate). Now there are people who complain every year about this section. The street is not in good repair. There are old bricks and many potholes. Some even stay on 17-92 and ride straight up to the RRP intersection. I even asked the group I was with, “Is this the place we can go straight and avoid the bricks?”
In the past, I’ve disliked this section. However this year, I have been practicing on my Cyclocross bike in Hal Scott Preserve, which although flat, has a lot of bumps, ruts and holes. I guess I’ve increased my road skills by doing so.
Well either by accident or by providence, I found myself on the Red Bricks of Doom once again. But I wasn’t slow. Not this time. I accelerated through these bricks. I left my group, passed another group and caught up to a group in front of them. My Strava account shows I averaged 18.6 mph and hit a max of 24.6 through the segment. I enjoyed it very much this year, thinking about my Hal Scott efforts the whole way.
Many of the Seminole Cyclists with us stopped shortly after at a private SAG. I continued on with a reduced group. It was a mixed blessing, as they picked up the speed to 24-25mph. While I was able to keep up with them for a while, I was expending more energy than I thought prudent. I started a pattern of dropping off the back, only to catch them at the next red light. Worked pretty well as we worked our way through the Champion’s Gate area and started heading west along RRP.
A decision had been made to keep “the group together” at a slower pace for the first 11 miles, until we got out of the Cocoa area. I know the intent was safety, but I can’t help but think the reason the police escort held us to 18-22mph until past I-95 was also for convenience, as it is easier to escort a pack through lights than various groups spread out. It’s certainly not safer for the cyclists, especially going down the far side of the causeway bridges. It caused a lot of heavy braking, bunching up and possibly a crash or two as well. Obviously the slow speeds, combined with anxiety and expectation caused a lot of tension in the pack. “This can’t go on too long” I said to myself, “This group is aching to get going. We have 168 miles to cover.” As I expected. right after the escort pulled off, the restless group accelerated to speeds above 30 mph, and also as I expected, moments of chaos ensued. Interestingly enough, the driver of the lead deputy car was my friend Steve Salvo, a retired deputy and long time member of SCFW. We had a great discussion afterwards and he and the team will be looking in to some different options for next year. He mentioned possibly spliting the fleet in to a fast (25mph?) group and a slow (18-20mph?) group.
Once we crossed US27 RRP became Deen Still Rd. I don’t know what this area is called but it starts not too far of the I-4/US27 interchange. It travels through “nowhere land, central Florida.” The nearest named area I can see on the map is Polk City to the south. Along this road we cross the James Van Fleet Trail which is right about the mid-point of the ride. SAG 2 is at this point and almost everybody stops here at mile 88. Following this stop I realized that the “Ted” I was riding with, was Ted Hudspith, and we also had a third rider trading off with us, Nick Urena (I don’t know how to make the tilde mark over the n, sorry) from SCFW.
The three of us worked well together for quite some time. We even stayed together when Ted got a flat. Even though it cost us 15 minutes, we felt we could make it up. Shortly after that Nick, who is a strong rider, began having “saddle issues”, which isn’t unusual on a long ride. He was struggling just to give us 17-18mph on his pulls. Finally he waved us by and slowed down to go on his own. I didn’t see him again and I hope he managed to finish the ride.
Ted and I traded off up until the hills. When we got to the first steep one, I was discouraged that Ted dropped to a very low gear right away. I wanted to keep our speed up over the hills, even though it would take a lot of our reserves. In retrospect he had the right idea, but I didn’t know that then.
Anyway, I wanted to maintain a higher average speed through the hills so I set off on my own. This worked great for about 20 miles and suddenly it wasn’t great. I started getting cold sweats. I was feeling nauseated. The “Check Engine” light had come on. I got some water from a passing D2 Cycling support vehicle (who were excellent this year, thank you) and pulled over when a hill in front of me told me “NO. You aren’t going up this until you rest.”
Sitting in the shade for 10 minutes or so, many people asked if I was all right. “Yes just resting. I’m OK” was my response. Ted caught up to me here and I gave him some of the water I got from the D2 support van. He pressed on and assured me that I would catch him when I was rested.
I pressed on, but didn’t catch him. In fact, at mile 146 I came to a dead stop again, sitting in the dirt in some shade by the side of the road. This time, an angel disguised as one of the SAG wives gave me an ice cold can of Cola. It was exactly what I needed. It cooled me down, and refilled my sugar reserves. I’m getting better at nutrition, really, but today, combining the distance and the unseasonable heat (my Garmin read 109.8 degrees while riding) I guess I got a little behind on hydration and sugar reserves.
A little irony, just at the top of the hill where I stopped? That’s where SAG #5 was. I was less than a quarter of a mile from it and didn’t know it. Note to self: Review the cue sheet and know where all the important landmarks are next time!
So back to the ride. Although I was by no means 100% I was able to proceed up a few hills and pass by Ted, who told me he was struggling but felt he would make it. I stopped at a 7-11 and bought some chips, (Pringles Original if I recall) for the salt. Even though I only ate three or four of them, I was able to continue. I didn’t see Ted ride by but he must have, because I caught up to him on the home stretch, with about 5 miles to go. He was still struggling into what had turned out to be a nasty headwind, but I told him to grab my wheel and I pulled him in to the finish.We finished together at 5:44 pm, 44 minutes later than I wanted, but still better than last year (5:49). I kept riding and went straight out to the gulf to touch the water at 5:46pm, so mission accomplished.
There was a huge “Bon Fette” party going on in the park shelter but I wanted none of it. I was having trouble breathing and still felt pretty lousy, My lovely wife Kathleen was waiting for me, helped me load the bike and off we went. We stopped once for gas on the way home and I grabbed some ice water and a Gatorade. It was about an hour in to the drive home before I could take a full breath without pain.
I finished, yes, but looking back, I won’t do that again. If I blow up, overheat or whatever you want to call it, in the future, I am going to pull over and wait for help. I’ve finished the ride before. I’ve hit goals. I’m not proving anything by pushing too hard anymore. I’m 60 years old now and that’s just too much of a risk. It’s a week later as I write this paragraph and I am still recovering from the ride. My lesson from this year? “No More Heroics.” It’s really not worth the risk.