Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life - The Long Trip To The 2011 Keith Berger Crit, Part 2

(This bit covers Day Two through Day Four of the long trip to the Keith Berger Crit)

On the Day Two of our long drive to the Keith Berger Crit, we got off to a slow start. We spent way too much time in Chicago in the morning with our hosts (with one of the couple leaving for work).

The third host Dexter, with the hosts' trainer (not mine).
Yes, they're riders too, and we've ridden with them.

It was just too much fun, we had too much stuff to talk about, and we spent way too much time there, first eating at a great breakfast place, then doing some insanely difficult puzzle until about 11 AM.

Then, suddenly, all of our "you're going to be late" internal alarms collectively went off (ours and our remaining host's), and in a few heartbeats the Missus and I were back in the car, Nina chirping her directions at us, on the way to Wisconsin.

We'd never been here, either of us, so it was new territory for us. (To clarify things I'd been to Chicago a few times, traveling there all but one time by car).

Cruise control set, with some minor detours (hint: don't take Route 45 going north out of Chicago, stay on I94, especially if the traffic lights on 45 are out), we headed north and west.

It got pretty remote, I have to admit. When you see those large gizmos that water a gazillion square feet of fields at a time, you know you're out in farm country.

Veins. I lack the veins of a "real" racer.

This is the kind of thing you do on a long drive - take pictures of your veins while sitting in the navigator's seat. The Missus glanced over for a moment and wondered what I was doing.

"Taking pictures of my veins. Normally they don't pop out, but right now I have a vein."

(As a general rule, when we drive, we don't look at each other when we talk. The driver always looks forward, and since it's impolite to not look at a person that's looking at you, the passenger also looks forward, eliminating the social instinct the driver may have to look over. This way the driver can drive, talk, and still be aware of what's going on. If you're ever in a car with me then this will explain why I don't glance over now and then if we're talking.)

We found our "inn", a quaint place named the Crystal River Inn, in Rural, WI. Yep, that's for real, Rural, WI. The hosts are a great couple, Robert and Deb, and they were really, really nice to the Missus when she first made reservations.

Of course at the time we didn't know that they have bird feeders in the yard, a Flicker living in a dead tree nearby, a creek running by the Inn, and that Robert lived in my parents' home country for a while, and, best of all, he's a cyclist!

We didn't have nearly enough time to chat with the kind hosts with all of the family stuff we had planned. We checked in, changed, and left for the dinner. More family, a reunion with the Missus's mom and stepdad, and we all had a good time.

The next day we had nothing planned until the actual wedding, in the early evening. The Missus figured it'd be a good time for me to get a ride in, loosen the legs prior to Sunday's race. As she pointed out, Friday would be the last day to ride since Saturday would be a monster drive out from our present locale in Wisconsin to some town, to be determined, in eastern Pennsylvania.

Breakfast before the ride. I had pancakes and sausage too.

Properly motivated, I headed out on the bike. The ride ended up really quiet, with me planning on doing about an hour out before heading back to the Inn. I got my bearings straight after that hour or so of riding, headed in a roundabout way home for another half hour, then realized things didn't seem right. I checked my phone, asked Nina where I was, and she gave me the bad news. Cheerfully, of course.

I'd ridden another half hour away from the Inn.

And, because it was a wedding in the evening, not just some get together of a less significant magnitude, it was all downhill and tailwinds on the way out. That meant I'd be fighting my way back to home base, going up various short climbs and pounding the pedals into a headwind.

To sum up my situation in a sentence:

I hadn't eaten since our 9 AM breakfast, it was coming up on 1:30 PM, I was lost about 90 minutes away from home base, and we had a wedding to attend at 5:00 PM.

My leisurely ride suddenly notched up to a jersey-defending, break-chasing, must-make-it-at-all-costs hammerfest. The farms became Belgian, the crosswinds the vicious crosswinds of the shore lands, the manure smell... well, the manure smell was just like any other farm country, and the hills the steep Alps. My bike transformed into a team bike, the aero wheels fitted not to weigh down the bike but to help domestiques like myself chase down breaks with enormous time gaps.

With 90 minutes to go, it meant the "break" was 9 minutes ahead (at a minute per 10km the chasers can bridge).

I had a lot of work to do.

Of course, in the real world, I was still a bit lost. I tried to zig zag my way back, avoiding the super busy and very narrow main roads. I had to ride on one super busy road (with no shoulder and a well-ignored 55 mph speed limit) for about a quarter mile, thankful when I could finally turn off onto yet another quiet country road.

I still had time to sight-see, kind of.

The bears in the woods are fake (black smudges to the right), but they made me do a triple take.

I made it back in time to relax, finish sweating, shower, and dress in some respectable clothes. The evening flew by as we went to the wedding, a nice outdoors one by the water. It was all great, nice, fun, and then we headed back to the Inn.

We decided we'd try and do about 15 hours of driving Saturday, leaving us with less than 4 hours to the race. I actually tossed around the idea of doing the full 20-ish hours at one shot, then sleeping in a bit before heading out to the race. It was definitely an outside shot, but I thought that if we could make it by 2 AM or so then we should try. If we wouldn't be able to get to sleep until some insane hour, like 4 or 5 AM, then it'd be out of the question. Regardless we had to stop at a decent hour, like 10 PM or so. If we could get a decent night's sleep, at a decent scheduled hour, we'd be relatively fresh for the race.

Sorry, I'd be relatively fresh for the race. The Missus would probably be a bit groggy, as she was doing most of the driving.

Saturday morning we set out extremely early, our hosts up with us to make muffins, coffee, and to hand us some musette bags, if you will.

We had some fun with Nina the Navigator before we left the area. Most of the roads around Rural, WI were "county roads", labeled with letters. Our favorite was County Road OO, or "County Road Oh-Oh".

Nina, ever so polite, wasn't sure how to say it, so she's very carefully tell us to turn on "County Road Oh-Oh, County Road Oooh," the latter pronounced to rhyme with "moo".

The Missus and I would giggle every time Nina said "Ooo" so we purposely turned the wrong way a few times (to top off the fuel tank) to hear her tell us to get back onto "County Road Oooh".

With that out of our system we set out for real. We ran into traffic in Chicago, heavy traffic, and decided to try a feature of the DroidX navigator that I don't quite get. I'm guessing here, but it seems like when I use the navigator, our carrier Verizon will use my GPS movement to judge whether or not I'm traveling at a reasonable pace. If I am a green dot shows up in the corner of the screen. If I'm at a standstill then the dot turns red. If I'm somewhere inbetween, the dot becomes yellow.

Coincidentally the roads get overlaid with color too. Green when traffic is moving well, yellow when it's a bit slow, and red when it's bad.

I'm guessing that Verizon gets each phone's speed and GPS location and makes a guess at traffic speeds on the map. It's real time traffic, with the bands of color quite localized, literally from block to block in the city.

Well, in Chicago we ran into some heavy duty red bits, where it took us about an hour to cover 2 miles. After mulling over some ideas I decided that trying out the red-yellow-green bit of the navigator couldn't hurt, meaning taking local roads that weren't red. We exited the highway (the Missus was driving), and started zig-zagging our way down the green/yellow roads parallel to the highway.

To our immense surprise it worked.

We skipped all the traffic, hopped on the highway south of all the red stuff, and got back up to cruising speed. Incredible.

Much of the middle of the trip ended up just boring, amusing ourselves with average speeds, drafting, tactics, and such. For some reason I felt totally exhausted, and by default the Missus did much of the driving. I put the full size pillow to good use, laying unconscious for bits of various states, the Missus just plugging away at the miles.

When I recovered some of my senses I finally decided that making it home in one shot would simply be impossible - at our rate we'd have to drive until about 5 AM to get home. We'd be totally wasted and I'd be a zombie at the race. Although I hadn't been vocalizing the possibility of making the straight shot home (once I took over driving duty I'd just "keep driving" after it got dark), I finally accepted that we'd be stopping in Pennsylvania somewhere.

Where was the question, and since we had no better reason to stop in one place over another, we decided that we'd stay in an interesting sounding town. As we started to get towards the end of Ohio we had to think of a place to stop. I started listing out the names of the towns on the map, and, using the trusty DroidX browser, started looking for places to stay.

We wanted to stay in a weird sounding town, so the regular ones (Wilkes Barre, which Nina pronounced "Wikes Bar" due to a Navigator misspelling) were out. The one we finally selected: Mifflinville.

Since this town obviously belonged in a Harry Potter story, we decided to hunker down for the night there. Maybe we'd see some mail owls or flying cars or people running through walls. Whatever, we called ahead, got a pleasant surprise at the rate, and rolled in at just before midnight.

Having left at about 6 AM, we'd been on the road for about 17 hours (we lost an hour due to a time zone change). Alert but fatigued, we settled in for the night.

Tomorrow we'd drive the rest of the way back to the Keith Berger Crit. Booyah!

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