Arrive Alive when you Ride 45 (mph)

“A bicycle does get you there and more.  And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive.”   – Bill Emerson

Our first ride across Texas was a big experiment.  It’s not that we didn’t know what we were getting into when we began, but we quickly realized that there were a lot of things that we were discovering as we went along.

Our system of taking turns on the bikes helped spread the work load among all members of the team.  Being relative newbies to the world of cycling and long-distance riding, our system of taking turns was perfect for us.  By the time that we reached Texarkana, several of us wished that we had ridden more individual miles.

The training for BRAT2 was much more intense in the semesters leading up to the ride.  By the time that we packed up and headed to Brownsville for the start of BRAT2, I had personally logged 2,500 training miles getting ready for the ride–about 10 times more than what I had done preparing for the first ride.  I was ready for the 925-mile ride.

It took five days using our leapfrog method of riding to get to Abilene from Brownsville.  By the time that we reached Paducah, Texas on the first day past Abilene heading north, we were down to the final two days on bikes.  Several of us, having ridden consistently for the previous six days, were feeling strong and wanted to log some big miles in the last two days.

From Paducah to Wheeler, it was 103 miles.  From Wheeler to Liberal, Kansas, it was another 125 miles.  Riding together as a group on those two days would allow for big miles and two shots at century rides.

On the day heading to Wheeler, we began experiencing sections of hilly highway roads.  On one particular stretch during the afternoon, we began a descent down a long hill toward a riverbed.  After experiencing several similar hills along the ride, three of us decided that the downhill might give us a chance to hit some record speeds.  We had regularly topped 30 and 35 mph on the ride and in training, but we were hoping for something faster.  Once we realized that we were approaching a nice-looking downhill, we clicked into the hardest gears and began accelerating to our top speeds.

A line of three of us hit 41 mph on that downhill.  Watching the speed slowly and consistently bump up on the Garmin as you roll quickly downhill is exciting and a tad bit terrifying.  Knowing what a 40 mph crash could do to your body and bicycle causes a heightened state of alertness as you speed down the hill.  It’s exhilarating.

Starting at the back of the line of the three riders in my speed pack, I was also the heaviest by 40-50 pounds.  Gravity and momentum eventually took over and by the time we approached the bottom of the hill, I had to squeeze the brakes to keep from riding into the back of the two in front of me.  Topping 40 mph was momentous, but knowing that I could have gone even faster was a tad disappointing.  The disappointment was offset a couple of hours later after completing the entire distance from Paducah to Wheeler–103 miles and my first century.

On the final day of riding, two others wanted to attempt a century day.  We had 125 miles to ride from Wheeler to the finish line in Liberal.  Even with sitting out one section of the day’s ride, it was still possible to log 100 miles or more for the day.  If the entire ride on the final day had been as nice and easy as the first 34-ish miles from Wheeler to Canadian, I was thinking that a back-to-back century would be in my future.  Pleasant temperatures and a wind from the southwest helped push us north.

The best part of the morning ride was a super-long downhill into Canadian–which sits down in a wide canyon with long hills into and out of the town on each side.  Like the previous day, we could sense that a long and potentially fast downhill was ahead of us.  Coming into Canadian from the south, there is a high point in the land with a number of radio and transmission towers on it–which was a good signal that significant downhill was over the apex.  And there was.

On this downhill, I jumped out in front of the pack of riders and pushed and pulled hard on the pedals to get up to speed.  The shoulder was wide, but it was rough and littered with road trash.  Being at the head of the pack, I could choose my line through the debris and push my speed as high as possible.  By the time the Garmin registered 41 mph, there was still a considerable length of downhill still ahead.  The smooth right lane of the highway, just a couple of feet to my left, was beckoning me to slide over and potentially pick up additional speed.  I knew that our support car was somewhere behind me and blocking the right lane of the highway (which had two lanes heading north) and that it would probably be okay to slide onto the highway from the rough and bumpy shoulder.  Instinct, however, told me that I should first look over my shoulder to be certain that the road was clear.

Once I topped 45 mph, the thought of taking my eyes off of the road in front of me to glance over my shoulder seemed like a tremendously bad idea–perhaps the worst idea in the world at that time.  At that speed, I also kept a pretty tight grip on the handle bars to make sure that my hands wouldn’t slip off from the jolt of an unexpected bump–that would also be REALLY bad.  Like the previous day, senses of excitement and danger made for an intense and exhilarating experience.

By the time we reached the bottom of the miles-long hill on the edge of Canadian, we all had to stop and relive the experience with each other.  Everyone on the team who made the plunge into the town hit a personal speed record that morning.  It was a wonderful start to our last day of riding and our century riders were 1/3 of the way to their goal for the day.  The road out of Canadian to Perryton would be more challenging.  More on that later.


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