The Tour de Shawnee takes place in Olive Branch IL. I’ve been thinking about doing the TdS since it started 4 years ago, but the problem is that by the last Saturday of October I’m far more interested in mountain biking than road biking. In fact this year I hadn’t even considered going, until Snakeman started riding again and expressed interest in doing a “pay ride.”
We had pretty much decided not to go, overcast skies, temp in the 30s, and high winds were making this look more like a torture session then a bike ride, but Snake called me with an updated weather report Thursday night. It was going to be sunny, still cold, still windy, but he said withe sun shining he could handle it.
Southern Illinois is kind of a big place and there are parts I’d never been too. When we of the southeast talk about “The River” we talk of the only river that has the prestige to be known as simply “The River” the Ohio. When people of the southwest talk of Rivers they are of course referring to the mighty Mississippi. Today we took a tour of the Southwest side.
Alexander County where the ride took place is perhaps the poorest County in IL. They actually had their Deputies Patrol Cars repossessed in 2009. It is Home to Cario IL. At one time Cario was a booming river town, now its a ghost town. 26% of the people here are below the poverty line, and it happens to be the most racial diverse county in Southern Illinois. Years ago when Snake was on a 200 mile ride to Missouri he passed through Cario at about 2 AM, his group was chased out of town by a gang of youth throwing large rocks.
Today I stayed out of Cario by avoiding the 100 mile route and sticking to the 65. I had formed a strategy for this ride, I was going to take no prisoners, show no mercy, ride at 100% until I was spiting up blood and chocking on lactic acid. I was going all out. Caution to the wind!
The ride began with a nice opening ceremony, the National Anthem, and even a big banner. We rolled out of town and the low 40s temperature was cutting into my toes and hands. My body was safely tucked away in my Castelli Sottile jacket. A large paceline formed with a few riders off the front. I began moving up the right side of the road and thinking “what the hell am I doing.” I’ve become to lowest of the low, a guy who goes to charity rides thinking he’s at a race. I got to the front of the paceline to see it was being pulled by a tall man sitting bolt upright on a Surly with flat bars, he was like a big steam engine.
I had heard rumors that a “KILLER HILL” was near the beginning so steep that riders couldn’t climb it. This came from my buddy Jim, and while I respect his opinion, I just think my hill gauge has been re calibrated after riding actual mountainous places where there is real elevation changes, so I payed little head to his warning.
Well guess what, it was a killer hill, but I had somehow played my cards correctly. I had gone off the front at the beginning of the climb and while the riders behind had to negotiate the disentegrating pace line I was free to fly, and fly I did, until reality came crashing down on me like a boat anchor. My lungs were burning from the cold air and my legs were burning from lactic acid.
I was passed by several riders, but able to reconnect on the descent. Now this is just a word of encouragement for the “big guys” who might read my blog. When I weighed 275 I would have been grinding up this hill in my granny gear around 4 miles per hour. Now that I’m down to the 228 I was grinding up in my middle ring going 8 miles per hour. When I looked around no one remotely my size was even close. It doesn’t feel any different, but its nice not to be huffing and puffing while everyone rides away.
When we got in the flats I realized these skinny guys were at a disadvantage to me, the head winds were slowing them down much more then me, after hanging out in the draft for ten minutes to recover I took a pull on the front.
We made out first stop at Thebes, a town that seemed to be built on a massive hill. The TdS had excellent stops, the people were friendly and the food was great. I enjoyed home cooked snacks and breads. This is the way rides are supposed to be. Many rides I’ve gone to they throw out a package of generic cookies and some Gatorade. I reloaded my calories on cookies and bread then headed out again.
A pattern began to form, single riders and groups would leave rests stops then get swept up into a peloton that would slowly gather up every rider in front of it like a snowball down a mountain. There really wasn’t a choice, the wind was fierce. About half way through the ride I finally hit the Southern leg and found a massive tailwind. When I saw the Peloton creeping up behind me I decided to fight and went full bore. It was like something from the Tour de France. Every time I looked back they were bigger. I was about to surrender when I saw a photographer on the side of the road. I gave one last dig and crested this hill with the peloton baring down on me. If it looks like it looks in my mind it’ll be the coolest picture of me ever.
We turned the corner I was experienced something else I’ve only seen in the Tour de France. Getting caught out on echelons. An echelon is a riding formation that is employed in stiff crosswinds. The rider in front creates a draft that is about a foot or so to his right or left depending on wind direction., so riders form a staggered paceline. You’ll see riders on flat stages of le Tour stagger across the road and when there is no room you’re CAUGHT OUT.
I allowed the group to pass me up and hooked up behind to recover after my time trial. We turned a corner and it was like hitting a wall and when the echelon formed to be on it I would be way over in the other lane. When I tried to keep up without the aid of a draft I started getting massive cramps up and down my legs. I had to back off, but I lucked out, just about when I was out of range to get back on we turned back to the tailwind and I was able to boogie back up.
I was drinking Hammer Perpeptum today, the stuff is amazing, its like rocket fuel, I had an steady level of energy and never felt hungry on the ride. Problem was I neglected electrolytes. I swallowed a banana and never had a cramp problem again.
This is getting long, better wrap it up. As the day wore on the weather improved, but the wind was the real killer on this ride. The terrain was awesome, lots of climbs, lots of flats, lots of scenary. The stops were great, the people were great, the Chilli at the end was great the other riders were great. Big A+ for the Tour de Shawnee!