Today was a long day, 176 miles, with the threat of thunderstorms with us all day. This kept the temperature reasonably cool (low 80s), but we had a persistent quartering/cross wind for most of the time. Luckily for us we ended up being about ½ hour behind three storm cells that went through just ahead of us as we crossed Ohio. We had some wet roads, but didn’t get rained on ourselves. 40 minutes after we got to the hotel it poured, drenching the last finishers.
Randy and I got up extra early to hit the hotel breakfast buffet at 5am instead of the usual 5:30. This change to the morning schedule somehow resulted in us not being ready at 6am when the ride started. Normally we can get this all done in ½ hour, but today we were the last bikes out of the lot. Clearly we need a consistent structure to keep us on track. I don’t know how we are going to settle back into normal life in four days.
Our route today took us from Greenville on the western border of Ohio, through several small valleys and rollers, onto some flatter plains then down through the heart of the Hocking Hills, south and east of Columbus, and on to Athens, close to the Ohio River and West Virginia. As more than one rider said, the Hocking Hills section would be a fun ride with fresh legs. It was very pretty, with small streams and numerous little valleys, but getting into and out of the valleys required some tough climbs, in the 10-15% range. My legs were pretty toasted by the time we got to the last rest stop, nearly through the hills. After a nice break, Randy and I sailed through the last 24 miles pretty quickly.
The composition of the groups for each day’s ride is always a little flexible depending on who has more energy and when people start, but most riders are settled in to riding with the same people most days, or on their own. Randy and I are usually riding together often with other riders. Today we were on our own most of the day, which worked out very well. Randy is riding very strong. He is focused on testing himself for a solo RAAM (Race Across America) attempt next year. I hang in there with him for most of the time, but today wore out for a bit through the Hocking Hills before coming alive for the last leg.
The stage is now set for the last big challenges of the Elite Tour – 2 days of mountains through West Virginia. Our climbing will exceed the toughest days in the west, with 12,000’ and 15,000’ days coming up. I am thankful to have my triple crank and plan to be patient on the hills, working at a dieseling pace.
As we are entering the final stretch of the Elite Tour, we are starting to think about how we are going to return to ‘normal’ life and what impact this experience will have. As I look at each of the riders that I have gotten to know, everyone has had to deal with some tough issues along the way, whether they be mechanical, physical or mental. Nearly everyone has gotten through the mechanical and physical stuff and continued on. Mentally this is a very tough group of riders. Some are faster, some are slower. Most ride in a group; some choose to ride on their own. Each of us has our own reasons for signing up for this challenge. For some, completing Elite Tour may be a culmination of bicycling experiences that Elite Tour will be a capstone, primarily personal, to emphasize a pinnacle in their bicycling biography.
I think for most of us, bicycling is such an integrated part of our lives that the Elite Tour will likely represent a high point, for now at least, that stretched us and forced us to work harder than we thought we could to complete each day’s challenge. After this, there will be more rides and more challenges. Some of us may choose less demanding cycling tours or riding experiences in the future. Some of us may go even further down the road of ultra marathon riding. RAAM (Race Across America) would be the next step, but it is a big one.
Whether Elite Tour is a watershed event for a rider or not, it will be an experience we will not forget. Knowing you have completed this very demanding event does give you an insight into your own fortitude and persistence. When I was 28 I rode the 1979 PBP event. I had no idea how hard it would be (it was really hard!) but it did change my outlook and confidence on what was possible if you just went ahead and did it. Now that I am more than twice as old, I don’t think Elite Tour will have the same personal impact, but it will be a part of my experience that will be treasured.