Wednesday, July 29, 2015

GTDRI '15: Part 3- Slow Cookin'

Winding our way slowly up out of Elkader
With a bit of a snap to my pedal strokes, now that all was right with the world, I was looking at the toughest part of the course with a bit more optimism. However; let's be real here- The day was very hot, the Sun was beating down with perhaps the greatest intensity that it will have all year, and there was little to no wind. The hills? They would be steep, long, and unrelenting. There would be a few highlights along this section, but we all realized, I think, that we were about to get punched in the face, and the going would be slow. Hey.....where do you think the name for this ride came from anyway! 

So, with that reality facing us, we moved on out of Elkader under an unrelenting Sun and climbed up and up to the highest elevations we would reach for the course. We stopped a few times under whatever shade we could find, just to drop our core temps when we had a chance. Lance was heard on several occasions praising slight puffs of air as being the best thing since sliced bread. was ridiculously hot. When you get that warm, you can feel an ice cube's vapor from a mile away, or so it would seem.

When we approached Ironwood Road, which has unfortunately been paved since we did the route twice in '09 and '10, Jeremy started in on how there was no way he was riding Impala Road. Now, this road has a pretty well known reputation amongst Northeast Iowa cyclists. It isn't a long road- maybe two and a half miles- three miles long? But what it lacks in length it makes up for in roughness. Typically this road, which bombs down the side of a steep, tall hill, is most like a mountain bike trail than it is a road. The bottom, (which technically speaking is a different road, I understand, but we're going with "Impala Road" anyway), runs along the Turkey River, and depending upon flooding, could be benign, or really a mess. Who knows what we'd find there, but first, there were some other things to overcome before we even got to that infamous dirt road along the Turkey River.

Imperial Avenue was another B Level which was a great escape from the Sun and a fun road to ride up. 
There were some giant rollers featuring steep climbing just before the dirt of Impala Road. 
There was Imperial Avenue to tackle, which is a fun bit of B Level Maintenance road. It climbs an entire mile, mostly shaded from the Sun, and makes for quite a grind, but at least there is shade! Then there is a bit of Imperial Avenue that has gravel that comes back out to Ironwood Road that has a brutally steep climb. We all stopped to gather ourselves up here for the monster that is Imapala Road.

Imapala Road is more than just about a B Level Maintenance road. It has a gravel section about two miles long, and there is not one single meter of it that is flat with the exception of a bridge deck at the bottom of a steep ravine. So, by the time we reached the beginning of the dirt, which is at the summit of another grunt of a climb, of course, we were obliged to "chill out" a bit. Now, it needs to be said that Jeremy managed to talk a couple of the other riders out of doing Impala Road, for fear of the roughness of it. This would come back to bite them later on, as we will see!

So, anyway, we were taking our leisure under the shade of a crab apple tree and munching on Sun-ripened apples from another tree nearby. After a brief spell, we all managed to get back onto our bikes and bomb down the dirt, which wasn't quite as gnarly as in years past. It would seem that someone had actually been doing a bit of maintenance on this road! A bit of water erosion prevention was evident, and a lot of the rubble noted on the upper end in years past had been cleared off. Impala Road still wasn't easy, by no means, but it was fun. The lower regions being mostly affected by storm damage and rutting of the Amish folks wagon wheels.

We kind of took over the convenience store in Elkport, much to the chagrin of the locals, it would seem. 
We met those who by-passed the goodness of dirt at the bottom of Impala Road, and then we made the next stop in Elkport where there is a very rustic, but decently stocked convenience store. Most importantly, they had very cold air conditioning and chairs to sit on! No one really made any sign to oppose staying here as long as we wanted to. The heat was really dictating that we take care of ourselves in order to complete the course. With so many Garmin computers on the ride, we had temperatures recorded several times during this stretch of well over 100°F with a maximum reading, (that I know of), topping out at 113°F!! So, you can imagine that we were really getting slow cooked out there. It was all we could do not to turn ourselves into a casserole for wild beasts to eat out on the side of some forgotten gravel road!

The right turn on Hennipen Road. You can see the riders on the left in the distance at the foot of the big climb here. 

At the top of the Hawk Road climb. We were all super cooked!
Leaving the convenience store behind, we embarked upon the last difficult bit of the day. We had about 28 miles to cover, but it would be a slow, really tough, 28 miles! First up was Hennepin Road's big climb out of the Turkey River valley. Then even more climbing after a descent on Hawk Road, which is long, steep, and unrelenting in its brutality. That was enough to stop us at the crest of that climb for an extended period of time to cool off. Oh yeah, did I mention that wasn't even 5 miles of riding?! Sheesh! Maybe we would end this ride in the dark after all. It was rounding past 5:00pm already, and we had been at this almost 12 hours so far. I was pleased that I was riding, and doubly so that I had a 24T granny gear! I used it quite a lot during this period.

I noted while I was resting on Hawk Road that my upper calves were "crawling". Like I had parasites underneath my skin. It was odd, and it looked like something from an alien freak show, but I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. I suppose my electrolytes were depleted and my muscles were freaking out. I started to drink liquids in earnest.

Looking back down Hawk Road the way we came up. 
I finally got up and motioned that we needed to move on. We weren't going to get anywhere seated there! Plus, the next bit was going to mark somewhat of a personal milestone for me. It would be the first time I had been at the spot where I was hit by the truck last year. I wasn't really sure how I would feel about that, and I was eager to push by that spot to "get it over with", as it were. I climbed up and down some roads for a bit. We stopped again under a shade tree where a big German Shepherd dog came bounding out to say "hello" to us and it was quite friendly. A lovely young lass came out from the nearby farm house just then and assured us that the dog was friendly. Derek asked her what the name of the dog was and she replied that it was Jake. I think it was Marty, but someone retorted, "Oh, like Jake from State Farm!", in reference to a humorous advert on T.V. here. It was a lighthearted moment during a fun, but brutal afternoon. We eventually made our way down the road, and as we turned onto Fantail Road, I found myself at the tail of the line.

I was determined to get to the top, and past the "spot", but my legs had other notions. Cramps! So, I hoofed it up the road, Jeremy did as well. I also noted others off their bikes, but some actually did make the climb and disappeared over the hill where I was laid in the ditch by a white Silverado only a year before.

Tony and Jeremy recounting the details of an event that happened a year ago at this very spot in Clayton County. 

When I reached the "spot" I saw Jeremy, Tony, and Marty waiting there. Jeremy and Tony were the only two here this time that were there last year and witnessed the crash. I laid down and rested, since I was cooked again, and tried to relax. Really, all I wanted to do right then was sleep, since I was dog tired, but Marty and Jeremy were asking if I was okay, insisting I keep hydrated and eating. I was okay with drinking, but eating? I had kind of a sour gut by now and nothing sounded good at all. So, I drank, but I didn't eat.

Oddly enough, the scene didn't really hit me one way or the other. Quite frankly, I think it was because I was so consumed with merely existing and trying to get it together to move on that the past didn't matter. I really didn't even ruminate on the crash and my experience one bit. Eventually we were moving up the road again, and I gingerly pushed against the pedals expecting a "lock-up" to occur at any moment. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and perhaps due to my taking of two Gu Energy Endurolyte caps, it didn't happen again for the rest of the day.

The last highlight of the day for all of us was Bixby State Preserve road.
I kind of had a second wind through here as I went on ahead and turned up Firefly Road, which in years past was a B Level, but now is a C Level road. There was no gate, so I dove into a weedy two-track and out the other end to take a short left jaunt to "Fortune Avenue" which is the backside of Bixby State Preserve. Well, here was a conundrum. The road was closed to traffic, and the barricade was only set up so as to prevent autos from descending the long, steep down hill, which as I recalled, was pretty rough and rocky. Well, it was all of that and maybe a bit more than that. Ruts were big and deep, and the rocks were chunky, ledgey, and loose in spots. Of course, we went down it anyway. Jeremy and the others that avoided Impala Road came down this as well, not knowing what they were coming in to, and ended up riding a road far rougher than Impala Road was after all! Ha! That'll teach ya to short cut the route!

Well, then there was the beautiful climb out of that ravine, and then on to Mission Road towards Strawberry Point. It is only a seven mile jaunt to town from the turn out of Bixby State Preserve, but it seemed to take forever, and now I was running out of steam. I stopped along with Marty and Derek and downed some gummy bears. Then I got going again. I made it back to Strawberry Point a little before 7:00pm and headed toward a convenience store to grab a Coke. Inside I saw Lance and his daughter, Josie. Lance asked kindly if I'd sit with him while his wife went for their car, since they were done, and Joe, their companion, could ferry my truck back as well. So, I kindly accepted that offer, and with 106.75 miles in the books, I finished my GTDRI for 2015.

Tomorrow: Some comments, a gear review, and final thoughts on the GTDRI '15.

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