The epiphany : "Ride of Silence" AAR

Yesterday was the "Ride of Silence". It's an international ride in memory of fallen cyclists and as a statement to motorists to share the road with cyclists. But for me, the event has the opposite effect.

I get it.

Last night I rode my tour bike. Practically, it's more comfortable on a slow roll but also it's set up to be seen. I have a reflective flag and some VERY bright lights on the back. I also wore the most bright and obnoxious jersey / shorts combo I own with the knowledge that he upright position of my tour bike makes my silhouette more visible. Also the stickers on the back of my helmet glow in the dark AND reflect "cat eye" style along with the other hyper-reflective stickers on there. In twilight conditions I'm a freaking laser light show to a headlight. I stayed in the back knowing that I was probably the most visible rider in the pack and drivers would see me.

My position allowed me see the whole group. Something about my background is I spent 20+ years part-timing where my job was to keep irresponsible people safe in spite of their best efforts to not be, so I notice things. And a few things I noticed can be seen in the pic I've attached to this post. In our group of about 15-20, several people were riding damn near the center line most of the ride. Many were riding 2-3 across, holding hands (romantic, ok...) or otherwise taking up the whole road.

What the picture DOESN'T show is behind us, where there were 3-4 vehicles backed up terrified to pass the group. This isn't the first year I've seen this happen, last year I routinely broke the "ride of silence" rule by screaming "CAR BACK" so we didn't cause a major incident.

Let me address one other concern. "This is on a suburban street." This is where I felt safest to get the gopro out to get a pic or two. One segment had us on a pothole infested 45 MPH main road. We caused a traffic jam behind us, and several cars roared past us by going over the double yellow line. Frankly, circumstance and luck prevented major injury last night.

And I get it. I get why motorists hate cyclists. We're a slow moving object on the roads, and a lot of cyclists do just this. They don't leave room for the vehicles to pass, and if they choose to they break the law by jumping double lines or having to pass too close. And a lot of these people are ignorant, or they know better and just flaunt it.

I'm debating what, if anything, I can do. Last night I was too busy trying to keep the group safe by keeping my head on a swivel, signaling to drivers, and doing a LOT of catchup when my being in the back of the pack meant I missed a green light the leader made. I also know from experience that pointing out these problems when they happen never end well, because the reaction is defensive not progressive. (The "I do what I want" defense is common, as is the "Ok MOM." reaction) Group rides like last night are the exception, not the rule, but I can see why the friction exists because of these anomaly rides.

The best solution I can think of is making videos about road safety, because that's what I do. the hope being that they get spotted, and shared in the void of youtube. I find that people are more receptive to ideas when they're not in the moment, and they don't feel threatened that their fun is at stake. It's also possible to be a LOT more diplomatic outside of the moment and you're not trying to save them from being run over by a truck.

But I get it, I get the hate. But I also get that it can be changed. Drivers could learn that cyclists are just "slow cars", cyclists could learn now to share the road. I also get that the point of the event is to make a statement to drivers that we belong on roads too, but there's a difference between making a statement and making an unnecessary disruption.

We begin in 3 days, and I'm not ready for this.

You ever get that feeling before an event...  "I'm not ready."  I got that, right now.  Pretty badly.  And it's very justified.

The brief history.  I've decided to enter into a few 62-68 mile events this spring figuring I wanted to try out some more remote gravel style events.  And I knew I had all winter to prepare.  And I did what I could, and it's not enough.  Past expirence, and this last weekend is proof of that.

The truth of things is I can't "Zwift" more than 1 hour, 2 if I really endure the bad pain.  (different than "good pain", you know what I mean.)  So my indoor rides have been 1 hour of riding, and then 45 minutes of setup/teardown.  Oh, umm, because of my living arrangements, running "Zwift" in my place is like furniture origami.  I only topped short of creating a "Murphy Bike".  (I'll be pleased if any of you get that...)

I tried some outdoor rides, and well...  that was memorable when I could get out there.  Not a great winter for cycling, and I was trying to ride.  It doesn't help that my gear isn't "winter" rated.  At best it's "chilly" rated.

Now combine that with trying to dial in a gear combo that works for me, and yeah it's frustrating.  The other day I did a 40 miler into that port-a-potty tipping wind, and ended up full body sore.  But I was also trying a backpack with 3L of Nuun mix to prevent frozen bottle syndrome.

Bright side, water stayed warmer.  Down side, it made my back, shoulders and arms absolutely ache because of the weight of it and the foul weather gear on my back.  Not worth it, looking at alternatives.  With less than 4 days to go.

And speaking of that, alternatives.  The rule of thumb is to not change ANYTHING 2 weeks before an event, right?  I just bought a new saddle.  The absolutely stupidest thing I can do, but it has to be better than the stock one, and more comfortable than the road saddle that doesn't like the gravel bike.

And lemme see, changing the outfit, adding leg warmers then knee warmers than thermal layers, trying to work a wind layer that doesn't make me a 1-man portable sauna system, trying "wind proof" socks (they exist) and helmet / bandanna / cap combos...

And dammit, I can't get comfortable.  There's no combo of anything that feels "right".  According to "Zwift" I'm wattage stronger, but I certainly don't feel it.  And now it's WAY too late, 'cuz I do know that "cramming" workouts in will only hurt me on the day.

So I've got 4 days to figure out....  everything.  Like how to store water on a self supported 62 mile ride without freezing.  I've got some soft sided coolers from the roadtrip, I might be able to cram some kind of hot-hands and foil thing in there.  I can also pull a trick out of my bag, in that the ride goes through 2 towns and I might be able to get warm water from a gas station.  I'm watching weather reports like a hawk and planning to stuff a weekender bag full of stuff.  Need to get out on the new saddle to test it.  And oh yeah, my normal "day job" too.

There's an old idea, I wish I could tell you where it came from but it's a mindset I'm gonna be carrying for the next month of events.  "When your bow is broken, notch the arrow and fire anyway."  I'm going to the events.  I'm going to "race".  I'm probably going to finish in the bottom 5%.  But I'm finishing it.  Mostly because the point isn't to win, it's to compete and prove that an old, broken, big slow guy can do it.  And through that, some other old, big and broken person might say "ya know...  I could too."

So no, I'm not ready.  But here we go anyway.

Dissection of a DNF

Tour De Cure, Chicagoland, 2017

I took this picture in a SAG vehicle yesterday afternoon.  I attempted the 100 mile route of the Chicagoland Tour De Cure on Sunday.  I made it 87 in before I SAGged out.  you don't always get to finish gloriously.  But a lot went wrong, some I could control, some I couldn't.

Start line, Tour De Cure Chicagoland, 2017

Start line, Tour De Cure Chicagoland, 2017

I knew the temps would be tipping 95F (35C).  What I didn't think about was the wind.  Looking at the weather history, it was 18 MPH (28.9  KPH) SSW wind, sustained.  The pavement was baking, the wind wasn't cooling, it was like riding in an oven for 5-6 hours.  They provided ice for water bottles, the ice would melt in 15 minutes and the liquid inside was warm in the mouth.

I think I may have gotten a heat related problem too.  There was a while I couldn't drink fluids at all, which I wrote off at the time.  I also suffer from a bad case of "athletic denial".  I could break my ankle, and keep playing the sport because "It's not too bad."  (which, incidentally, I've done...)  So when I asked the volunteers at a rest stop "Do I look ok?" I really NEEDED to know, because I'll keep going out of stubbornness.  I ended up taking an hour at one stop becasue I KNEW I was hurting from heat illness.  But even then, I pushed through it.

this is what I look like waiting for my body to cool down...

this is what I look like waiting for my body to cool down...

The final straw was the clock.  I knew that the finish line closed down at 4 PM.  I was at mile 85 at 2:55 PM.  Simple math, I needed to average 15 MPH, into a roaring headwind, in heat, not stopping at the last resupply, to finish on time.  It wasn't going to happen.  A SAG vehicle came up behind me (I must have looked bad, they had the passenger window down and did a VERY slow roll behind me), I flagged them down, we racked the bike and I took the ride back to the start.

The factors I could manage, I did.  I had PLENTY of Nuun, and invented a new flavor (21 oz. of water, 1/2 tablet of Fruit Punch, 1 full scoop of Nuun blueberry/strawberry  performance, quite tasty!)  I packed light food, even if I didn't use all of it.  I had sunscreen & sun sleeves to manage UV.  But I can't manage my physical size.  6'4" tall and 280 means I just can't shed heat.  Oh yeah, and diabetics can't physically manage the heat as well as everyone else, so that's a huge factor too.

...because salt stains are sexy...

...because salt stains are sexy...

I'd like to think that if 1 factor was different, I'da made it no problem.  No wind, no excessive heat, speed up my rest stop down time, I didn't have to deal with diabetes, something?  But that's wishful thinking.  The weather was the same for the other finishers of the 100 mile course, I just didn't make it.  It's a matter of learning now.  It's already forcing me to make new plans for the tour in August, but I think that might be for the better.

There is an epilogue to the story, I did get a finishers medal.

finishers medal

The SAG vehicle dropped us off at the parking lot.  I dumped everything in my car, and went back to claim a few things.  I happened by the finish line, and there was one woman still giving out medals to the stragglers crossing the line just before 4.  She asked me if I had gotten one.  I said I hadn't, and she handed me one.  I told her "I didn't finish."

She tapped my "Red Rider" jersey, the jersey that only the diabetic riders wear, and said "You earned it."  I'm in a mixed mind about that.  I don't like "participation awards", but I also get the sentiment.  Had I just opted for a metric century, I'da finished.  So I take some solace in that.

Re Rider Banner

Redemption will come in June, on the 22nd I'll be riding the Milwaukee Tour De Cure event, I'm signed up for 70.  And since it's so close to home, I'm planning on biking out there, riding it, and then home.  The route is one I've done several times, so I know it well.  So I'm hoping to have that glorious finish, using what I learned from this one.

In the meanwhile, the event staff were great!  There were no problems, the SAG vehicles were VERY visible, there were no water shortages, so technically it was flawless on the rider's end.  The weather?  Well, they can't help that.  So thank you to the staff for putting this one on.  See you all in Milwaukee!

Ride of Silence, 2017

Ghostbike, New Berlin Trail, May 2017

Ghostbike, New Berlin Trail, May 2017

One of the local rail trails has an occasional visitor that seems to come and go.  I was doing an extended Midnight burner ride when I saw it was back, and got a photo of it which you can see above.  It's the Ghost Bike of the New Berlin Trail.

For people unfamiliar, a "Ghost Bike" is a memorial of a fallen rider.  It's usually placed by friends or family of the deceased on the place where a rider died.  In this case, her name was Brittany Barnstable.  She was 15.  According to the news reports she had entered the crossing without stopping, and was struck by a vehicle.  That was in 2013.

The ghost bike appears and disappears through the season.  I used to think it was the city taking it down but I found older pics of it and it's the same bike.  So without knowing the real case, I'm guessing it's family that puts it in place as a memorial.  But most people who drive past it never really see it.

So sometimes, we have to do something a little more visible.

Ride of Silence 2017, Brookfield, WI

Every year the "Ride of Silence" is that something.  For the last 14 years riders assemble on the same day to ride, silently, in memory of fallen cyclists, and to show drivers we're on the roads too.

Wheel and Sprocket hosted several events, and I went to my closest store in Brookfield, WI.  There were about 20 of us there, give or take.  After signing in, we had a reading of "the poem" and we went.  I hung nearer to the back, mostly because I've done hte most to make myself as visible as possible with reflectors, lights and a DOT orange / day-glo reflective yellow triangle on the back of my bike.

Our route wasn't that long, about 6 miles.  I think it was cut short of the original because of tornado watches and the "sheets of rain" we had suddenly drop on us.  The last half mile wasn't a slow procession as much as a "quick, get back to the store before we get hit by lightning".  The group hung out at the shop for a while before we all packed up and went for home.

For me, the ride was a little more personal.  In this upcoming summer I'll be doing a lot of highway miles out of necessity.  Someone asked me what I'm most afraid of on my summer trip, and it's Montana.  For a long time they had no speed limit, but now I see it's down to 80 MPH on some highways.  That's assuming they're doing the legal limit.

Even at 55 on a rural road, I'm a very tiny thing to see when a driver has the horse blinders on.  And I can do everything right, and still get hit by a distracted driver as they grab their phone, coffee, or even just look down for the thing on the floor.  Hell, most drivers don't even think a cyclist should be on the road with them in the first place.  Even if, according to the DOT, a bicycle is a vehicle and belongs on the roadway.

And that's a problem, because cyclists need to be on the roads as much as anyone else does.  Not everything is connected by trails and sidewalks.  (And, fun fact, many cities have laws on the books making riding a bike on the sidewalk illegal.)  Cyclists really don't ask much, just that drivers give us a little more space, and let us go about our business.

Wow, this got really soap-boxy really fast, didn't it?

I don't know the final numbers, but the Ride of Silence went off all around the world.  And I think we'll keep doing them until we no longer see ghost bikes on the side of the road.