Monday, November 07, 2005

Texas: The Finale

Texas: The Finale

Saturday morning dawned at its usual time, but wasn't witnessed as early due to the concert the night before. Over a leisurely breakfast, we hatched a plot to drive out to the start for the ride the next day to scope it all out and get a feel for what we'd be facing. I wanted to time approximately how long it would take us to get to the start, so I could work backwards to determine when we had to leave the hotel.

We had passed Decker Lake Road on the way into Austin. The event center was just off of Decker Lake Road and we found the entrance quite easily. The tents were set up already and there were some people wandering around, but it was fairly quiet. The drive to the start had only taken 20 minutes, but we'd been warned to get there early to avoid the traffic jam just before the start. The plan was to leave the hotel between 5:30 and 5:45 the next morning to get there before the crowds.

Since I was hoping to have Mom meet me in Elgin (pronounced with a hard "g"), we drove to that town next to determine where she could set up. The ride course was going to have us pass through Elgin on both our outgoing and incoming trips. We were not prepared, however, for the Hogeye Festival and BBQ that was taking place in the center of town that day. We got all snarled up in the traffic being detoured around the center of the town (where the rest stops would be the next day). The air was filled with the tangy smell of BBQ sauce, and the carnival rides were filling the air with screams. Apparently, we missed the perfect opportunity to attempt to catch a greased pig and test our hog calling abilities. Instead, we beat feet out of town as quickly as possible.

We returned to the hotel armed with the information we needed for the next day, and comptemplated what to do for the rest of Saturday. A brief consultation with a map of the city turned up the Zilker Botanical Garden.

The Isamu Taniguichil Oriental Garden was the highlight as far as I was concerned, but it's probably an unfair judgement since we were seeing the gardens in the fall. We also wandered through the Mabel Davis Rose Garden, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and Pioneer Village a bit. If you'd like to see more of the gardens, visit Zilker Botanical Garden.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for an early dinner/late lunch, and then called it a day so I could get my stuff together for the ride the next day. I called the hotel desk for a 4:30 a.m. wake up call for the big day, and it was an early-to-bed evening.

The weather through most of our vacation in Texas had been in the 90s and sunny. It continued to be sunny, but Saturday night a cold front went through the area. This was, in fact, a good thing for me because the heat had been getting to me--my northerner blood can't handle all that heat in the fall. The temperature Sunday morning was refreshing, but not too cold (for me).

The wake up call came VERY early Sunday morning, and it was extremely tempting to roll over and drift off again. After a little stumbling around in a daze, I managed to find a granola bar and a banana and get a little coffee started in the room. The hotel's breakfast service wouldn't fire up for another two hours, so we'd squirreled away some breakfast in anticipation of this.

As planned, we were out the door shortly after 5:30 a.m., and we followed several other people heading for the event. It's not hard to identify cyclists in their cars because of the bikes dangling from all varieties of racks. We followed a long stream of cars, but never really got bogged down in heavy traffic. As a matter of fact, we ended up with a fairly close parking spot and had time to eat our granola bars in the car before everyone else around us started their preparations.

Now you might think that "preparing" should be a simple process of dragging the bike out of the car and hitting the road. In actuality, there were a few other things that needed to be done. The front wheel needed to be reattached to the bike, brakes checked, wheels slowly spun to check for rubbing against the brake pads, and tires pumped to optimum pressure. That was just the bike. I have a mental "after" picture of myself that helps me remember all the stuff I have to bring along with me, and it usually saves me from forgetting anything. Before you start to worry, it saved me this time too.

With all the bits and pieces in place, it was time to waddle up toward the start and get the lay of the land (the waddle comes from a combination of cleat and inflexible sole on the bottom of the shoe). Cyclists are an interesting breed. Not a one of them likes to be the first one to line up, so all but the most wet-behind-the-ears riders will hover in the general vicinity of the start without really committing to it. Mom and I joined the hover of some 4000-5000 riders as we all repeated the brake checks, fiddled with this and that piece of equipment or clothing, and most importantly, looked impassive and unimpressed about the whole process. It's a fine art, and only a careful study of the masters over numerous years will properly train the newbie cyclist. Of course, I've long since perfected the art...ahem.

Around 6:45 a.m. there seemed to be an unspoken but understood consensus that it was time to slowly make our way into the lanes--exuding indifference the whole time.

The parking lot we were starting from had lanes separated by grassy areas with a few small trees. The lanes had also been delineated by caution tape, and I took up position along one edge of the lane so Mom could continue to hang with me until the real start. She'd be able to stand up against the tape in the grassy area to avoid being slowly rolled into/over/around/through by sleepy cyclists when we finally left.

And then we did what we do at the start of every big ride...we waited. Lance was to have made a speech to get things started around 7:10, but didn't get at it until something closer to 7:30. he made some general, "thanks for being here" comments, and he read the mission statement of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Then Mike Ward (former guitarist with the Wallflowers, and now working with Ben Harper, and also a children's book writer--of "Mike and the Bike") climbed up on stage in full kit (cycling clothes) to play the National Anthem on his little guitar. It was all going very well until the electricity cut out just before "And the hoooooome of theeeeee braaaaaave." There was a pause for a few moments while 7,000+ people held their breath and waited for the power to come back on--twas not to be. A few people lamely chimed in with the missing line, and there were applause.

The announcer turned the microphone over to Robin Williams (who rides this event every year), and he did a minute of usual Robin Williams stuff--very funny, but I hadn't had enough coffee to be able to focus my mind to retain it. Then it was time to go.

Now you might thing that, at this point in the proceedings, things sped up a lot. Not so, grasshopper. There was quite a bit more standing around and waiting while the lanes were released one at a time with a 3-minute pause in between the start of each lane. You simply can not release 7,000 riders all at once and expect anything but gridlock. We were going to have to share the roads with traffic, and the organizers needed us thinned out so we didn't hog the full width of the road.

I finally got to start around 8:15 a.m. or so, and Mom said it took about another half hour for everybody to clear out. She'd struck up a conversation, in the meantime, with a woman who turned out to be the owner of the business that made all the Livestrong jerseys.

So while she was having a nice chat, I was settling into the ride and enjoying the morning. The crowds of riders on the roads were still pretty thick despite the staggered start, and it would remain that way for the rest of the day. There were quite a few people wearing tags with "I'm riding in memory/honor of...", and there were many others wearing "I'm a survivor" tags. I wasn't wearing a tag, but the day did not pass without thoughts of grandma and Aunt Marg; without thoughts of Ky and Kristen; without an awareness of just how many people have been affected directly or indirectly by cancer and the chaos it leaves in its path. The Ride for the Roses is a triumphant roar for more people than just Mr. Armstrong, and it was great to see and experience it first hand.

I was very suspicious of my performance through the beginning of the ride because my speed stayed very high, but I didn't feel like I was working very hard. I was enjoying the benefits of riding in a group--not just the occasional draft, but also the collective energy.

The Ride for the Roses is comprised of several rides in one. There are different distances and the route markers indicated cutoffs for the shorter routes (of 25 or 50 miles) early in the ride. I was intending to ride the 100-mile ride, but as I said, my pace was higher than normal, and I hadn't realized exactly how hilly Austin is.

The organizers of the ride had set a time cutoff at the 35-mile rest stop of just two hours from the start--that's an average speed of 17.5 mph. For those of you who aren't really familiar with relative speeds, Lance probably rides that distance at an average speed of 20 mph and still has energy to burn and would refer to the experience to that point as a casual club pace. For little ol' me an average speed of about 14 or 15 mph would allow me to still have energy to burn over 100 miles. By the time I reached that time cutoff, I'd averaged 15.7 mph (according to my bike's computer) and I made it with just 15 minutes to spare. You might have noticed that my math is off based on the average speed necessary to make the cutoff. Well, they start the clock for the cutoff based on the last rider over the start line, and I'd started somewhere in the middle, so I had about a half-hour advantage. In addition to this, the organizers were fudging the timing a little at the cutoff to allow a few more riders through.

Taking the above factors into consideration and adding to them the fact that a wicked northeast wind had developed--a headwind on the departure for the 100-mile course, or a tailwind on the departure for the 75-mile course--I decided to ride the 75-mile course. Let it not be said that I'm not willing to work hard, but there's working hard and then there's bludgeoning yourself for the fun of it.

Our plan for Mom to meet me in Elgin half worked. I ended up beating her to the stop on the way out, but she was there to greet me on the way back. I also picked up some Gatorade from her.

There's a story behind the flamingos. When Mom belonged to a ski group, they set up a little rest stop with flamingos and a mini section of white picket fence around their rest area. She got a kick out of it, so a couple of years ago (when we went to Georgia to see the Tour de Georgia) we bought some flamingos and took them with us. The flamingos remained in the car and never made an appearance by the side of the road. They came with us to Texas, and I thought perhaps their fate would be the same--always luggage never roadside decoration. I was wrong. She had them all set up and every cyclist that stopped was eyeballing them and having a bit of a chuckle. Those are some very well traveled flamingos.

All that was left was to finish the ride, which I did without any further ado. As always, I was glad to see the finish line and cross over it to the applause of thousands...ok, hundreds...ok, tens.

Texas is a great state to visit, and you can tell from my babblings that there is plenty to do.

Thanks for reading!

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