|Larry, Curly and Moe|
The forecast called for low 40's at the start rising to mid-50's by the finish. A few days before the ride, Kevin and I exchanged emails on the all-important topic of what to wear - too much gear and you overheat, not enough and it's brass monkey time. This provoked much sniggering by my spouse who thought we were like a couple of teen-age girls planning for a party - "What are you wearing?" "My new pink sweater" "Awesome!"
Came the day and we were joined by Lee and Larry. Lee is of course a stalwart Mule and well-known to followers of this blog. Larry is an old friend of Kevin's and a highly experienced rider, having been a racer when younger, and since then he's taken on just about every famous climb in Europe and the US. He's also the only member of this particular peloton who actually looks like a cyclist, being very slender and having gobs of bling.
Of we went on a gloriously sunny but admittedly chilly morning. The wind was out of the north and freshening, which meant a hard pull on the way out but a fun cruise home, at least in theory. Kevin led out as always and looked very strong. We managed to keep the pace at a manageable 17-18mph and I felt pretty good. We took a quick break in Bernardo and I got a bottle of water at the feed store, then promptly dumped out half of it while bending over to pick up the cap I had just dropped. Smooth.
Back at it and we're cooking along in fine style. I always enjoy the next section, it's very rural and scenic, with some small-ish climbs. I was lagging on the slopes as usual and Larry offered some advice - sit as far back in the saddle as you can and gear down to keep your cadence up - and it seemed to help. Pretty soon we were back on FM949, the main road between Bernardo and Cat Spring, and it always has some traffic, so it was single file and no chit-chat. The last time Kevin and I rode this section, there was a rig drilling right by the highway. Today the rig was gone but there was a small production facility and a flare stack with a decent flame going. Clearly they found something.
Into Cat Spring and it was time for a decision - the new, longer route or the standard? Kevin felt fine and so we decided to go for it. We reached the new turn and Larry told us he had been down that road about ten years ago and he hoped they had resurfaced it since then. Sadly they apparently had not, the surface rapidly became terrible, with big holes and one wash-boad section that damn nearly dumped me. I apologized profusely but the guys laughed it off.
When we finally got to a better surface there were lots of trailers, and as always with trailers come dogs by the dozen. Fortunately none of them were really evil, they were just looking for a run, but you never know. For some reason they all chased Larry, the fastest, leanest rider - I would have been a much better lunch and far more easily picked off.
The Bellville water tower appeared and I looked for my turn-off but couldn't see it on the Garmin. Larry was pretty confident he knew the route into town and he and Kevin pulled ahead. Sure enough we soon found ourselves on the main drag, very familiar as it's on the MS150 route, but definitely not my plan. We stopped at the Valero to (ahem) strain the spuds and regroup.
I frantically scrolled over the map on the Garmin, trying to redeem myself and get us back on the route. Larry suggested that we start out on Route 36 and then head south. Sure enough the GPS confirmed that we could do just that, so off we went. 36 is quite busy and we had wanted to stay off it for as long as possible but this seemed to be the only option. I subsequently realized that Map My Ride had us going cross-country here!
We were picking up a tail-wind and made good pace on 36 until our turn-off, about a mile down. This road was also suspiciously wide and well-paved, and sure enough it had a lot of traffic too. We were fairly quickly back on the standard route, with the dreaded Alpe De Sealy section in front of us. Kevin took off like a rocket and was pretty quickly out of sight. Larry vanished too, but Lee and I stayed together. I was working about as hard as I could on the climbs but nothing more than I expected. But I was glad to get to the end and rejoin Kevin and Larry.
We made the turn onto 36, and with a tailwind and a very smooth surface we were soon flying along at 20+mph with no real effort. After a few miles the three domestiques began to pull ahead but I was happy enough to let them go. We made it in with an average speed of 16.8mph for a 56 mile ride - somewhat more than I expected, thanks very much Map My Ride - but it was a good ride in good company. I was ready for my nap, though.