519 miles in 7 days. Isn’t that incredible? I had no idea at all I could achieve such a thing. It was hot. Ridiculously hot for the first 4 days. The highest handlebar temp recorded was on Monday, 127F.
Our truck set out around 11:00 on Saturday morning. Once loaded, we were quite full. We had a total of 5 people in our truck, which was just about the limit without pulling a trailer along with us.
We began in Sioux Center Iowa, at Dordt College. Beautiful campus and plenty of space to set up a tent. Did I mention it was hot? Well, the fan I brought for my tent didn’t seem to be working. Turns out it just needed a penny cut in thirds at the contact points in order to run properly. And thankfully I had friends to help figure that out. I probably wouldn’t have managed that on my own. And I truly did need that fan!
Each day had quite a few miles attached to them, and each day had a meet town about halfway through. We’d all gather at the meet town to regroup and relax and get a little lunch.
On Monday morning we met Aunt Betty, who had kindly made us some chocolate chip cookie bars. These were warm and fresh out of the oven, and well appreciated as we’d already been riding without breakfast and we were hungry!
Monday was also a day in which I spent a ton of time with 3 friends riding at a slower pace and stopping to dump water over our heads to keep cool enough to finish the day. Toward the end of the day we stopped at a very small bowling alley and had a late lunch. Then cheers were in order. We finished out a tough day in a headwind, but had a good time getting there.
On Tuesday I embarked on my first ever Century ride. Over 100 miles. I did this with 2 other riders on my team. We left at 6 am and decided to take it easy all day. We set up a bucket list of stuff we’d like to do, see, and eat. On my list was Mr. Pork Chop.
I snapped a quick photo of the biggest pork chop I’ve ever eaten, got back on the road, and 4 miles later was hungry enough to gnaw off my arm. So I decided a smoothie and a slice of homemade rhubarb strawberry pie was in order. It really did hit the spot!
At some point during the day we broke off for the loop to make this a century ride, and snapped a photo once we got to the halfway point on the loop. The loop meant that we got the opportunity to descend and then climb back out of a river valley 4 times in one ride. And it was hot! The descent was great fun, but the climbing was quite a challenge in the heat. Persistence and an easy pace were my key.
This day was successful, but I do not think it would have been attainable without the help from my friends. The day was super hot and very windy. We spent the bulk of the day riding straight into a headwind, and without those guys to block that wind, I may have given up. They are also much stronger riders than I am, and were kind enough to slow down and make this an achievable goal for me. On the other hand, my need to keep the pace slower did make it so they didn’t waste all their energy early in the day, making it an attainable goal for them as well. In the end, I had 105 miles on Tuesday under my belt. Never once did my determination to finish my first century ride wane. Not even for an instant.
Thankfully that evening we had a host home, with a lovely spread of food. I just loved staying in the host homes, the AC was a fantastic bonus, and meeting the people opening their homes to us was lovely.
Wednesday was another tougher day. Again with the heat, again with the headwinds. I was really suffering quite a bit from riding so many miles on Tuesday but still bound and determined to ride every single mile. I stopped in Clemons at the fire department to regroup and took a shot of one of my favorite parts of all the tour. All the water! It was so miserably hot that I’d ride through any water I could find, be it lawn sprinklers, water hoses, children with rather high powered squirt guns, or something like this fire department set up. At this point in the day I had about 15 miles left. The first 5 were tough, pretty steep hill climbs into headwinds, but the reward was great. about 10 miles of rollers just as I like them. The kind where I can stay in my top gear and roll right up the other side and over the top for miles and miles. Some of my favorite miles of the week. I rode Wednesday alone, quietly riding along and enjoying an introverted day. It was very satisfying. It also gave me the opportunity to meet some other teams and ride with some other people. I very much enjoyed it.
Wednesday evening we stayed in a conference center. We were fortunate there, because a huge storm rolled through that evening. 70 mph winds, a bunch of rain, even hail. While we were worried about the camping contingent of the tour, I must say I couldn’t have been happier to see a storm in all my life, as it meant we’d finally get a bit of a break in the heat. And that was, thankfully, the case.
I didn’t get any photos on Thursday, but it was a pretty good ride! Another day of rollers and cooler weather. The mileage for the day was supposed to be 85. We then had a host home off route, so we all gathered together to head out there. We were told it was about 5 miles off route. Well, with my sore tired muscles, I just couldn’t keep up with the team. I got a bit behind, and everyone thought I was still there. I rode a bit over 5 miles and didn’t see anyone waiting at a turn off, and ended up quite distressed. This was my low point in the week. I pulled up my navigation system, but didn’t think it was correct. Finally the team realized I was no longer behind them, and sent someone back to collect me. Turns out the host home was another 10-12 miles away, making that ride my second century ride of the week. A completely unexpected and accidental century. By the time we got to the host home I was so tired, so worn out, so sore, and so over extended socially that I just needed some quiet time. I found myself a quiet space and managed to have some quiet time away from the group which did help.
Friday dawned even cooler than Thursday and mileage was short. My body sure did need a break so I wasn’t too upset about that. It was yet another day of severe headwinds, as the wind had switched to blowing in from the north, and we rode north all day. Our first stop was Mt. Vernon, home of Cornell College.
Because the day was cool and the mileage short, I do believe we had more riders on the road that day than any other day. It was full! I saw yarn bombing in Mt. Vernon, as well as sheep sculptures. I was too lazy to snap a shot of these however. It was also hilly there, very beautiful It felt like a tiny piece of New England in the middle of Iowa. But upon leaving this beautiful town, I set out to battle headwinds. I buckled down and rode, and at some point an older retired machinist began to talk to me. He was a pleasant gentleman who’d had a heart attack last year. He chattered on to me and told me his stories and he just made the time fly. We blew through 2 towns without me even noticing, until I saw a sign that my end town was only 3 miles away. Where did that day go? It was early and all my teammates were far behind in various towns enjoying themselves, and here I was at the end town already. What ever am I supposed to do with myself before finding camp? Luckily I saw a sign for a winery, so I rolled into town determined to find the winery and treat myself to a nice meal. It was packed when I got there, but no one wanted to sit on the patio. So I took a spot on the patio and ordered dinner.
I had a pasta meal with salad, and a lemon tart. It was quite a wonderful treat and I spent more than an hour enjoying it. Knowing it was my last night in the area, and knowing that after 70 miles I’d be done with my adventure, I decided to organize well for the next morning and get an early rest in order to get an early start on Saturday.
Saturday dawned very cool. I packed up early and hit the road early. Being 70 miles from my goal made me even more focused than usual. I had also at that point ridden through the pain and come out on the other side. It was one of my best riding days. Beautiful hills, beautiful views, I just couldn’t wait to get to the river! I stopped for my final typical Iowa meal,
and then the 4 of us left headed all the way to the river took off.
Once we got there, we got a snapshot of the 4 of us.
And then I made it to the river for my tire dip!
519 miles in 7 days, far more than I even imagined I’d achieve. I’ve never been in so much pain in all my life. I’ve never tried anything quite this physically epic. I was fortunate to have the support of my friends, of the people in our truck, allowing me to take the time to put in that many miles. Technically I should have driven the truck one day, but they allowed me to shrug off my duties and go for my personal gold. What I lack in skill I made up for in perseverance. I just refused to quit no matter how bad it got. And meanwhile, through the pain, continued to enjoy my time in the saddle.
We then packed up the truck, found a super secret shower spot, and had some dinner on the river. That too felt well deserved no matter how eager I was to get on the road.
If there is one lesson I learned from all this, even if I knew it before, it solidified, it would be that the toughest hills show me the best rewards. Literally and metaphorically.
Sunday was a day of eating, sleeping, laundry (serious biohazard!) and more sleeping. The equipment is now packed away, the tent has been aired out, and life is back to the normal summer routine. I have to work, and clean Bug’s room while she is gone, and make dinner, and do all the stuff I’d normally do. It feels kind of strange to have had such a significant event and then for it all to be over so quickly.
And yet, already, my focus is beginning to shift. I feel myself calming quite a bit. Preparing for a relaxing vacation, and getting more inspired about knitting again. As significant as last week was for me, it wasn’t the most significant life event, and it won’t be the last physically epic activity I attempt. But now it is time for a little break.