The ride was initially uneventful, with me fighting to stay with Kevin every time we turned north into the breeze. We made the turn onto Kulow and I was surprised to see that the Confederate flag normally fluttering bravely over a farm building on the corner was not there. Instead we got chased by a small puppy with big ideas - presumably "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" - which spooked Kevin a bit. He's still gun-shy from last weekend and is a bit skittish in the turns anyway.
A little further on we reached the spot where the road dips and crosses a small stream. The road is usually dry but there had been enough rain for the creek to rise and put a good 6 inches of fast-moving water across it. I didn't fancy riding through so I picked up my bike and forded in cyclocross style, getting both shoes full of water in the process. Kevin rode across but didn't get away with dry feet either.
We got to the usual stop at the feed store in San Bernardo but it was closed. I took the opportunity to wring a little water out of my socks. Under overcast sky it was pretty chilly but my feet actually didn't feel too bad. While we were refuelling Kevin spotted a flight of large, long-necked birds that could only be sandhill cranes. They were flying north, we were heading west but would turn north in due course, would we get a better look at them?
Into the back country and another canine assault from an unexpected area. A loopy-looking weimaraner came galloping out through a fence but was clearly only looking for a run and gave up the chase at the end of his territory. We were more concerned about "Dog Alley", a property a few miles ahead where we've had run-ins with far more bloody-minded mutts on several occasions.
In fact it was anti-climactic when we got there. We pre-loaded our sprint, zipping by at 22mph, but the hell-hounds were not to be seen. We reached the turn for Cat Spring and a few miles dead into the wind. Kevin took point as always and I tried to hang on, predictably falling back on the climbs.
Just outside of town we saw the sandhills again, on a small stock pond. We pulled over but couldn't get close enough for a good shot without spooking them.
Through Cat Spring and to the Crossroads Tavern, another regular watering hole that was also closed. Kevin needed to pump ship and I could have managed one too but we couldn't find a discrete spot to do so. I was running low on water but Kevin, just like a good domestique, had a spare bottle of water for me.
On to the "climb ev'ry mountain" section, with the wind actually helping for once. Kevin was incredibly strong on the climbs, tearing ahead of me in his big ring but being good enough to wait on the flats. I was managing OK by dropping from the big ring to the middle ring (I have a triple), but there's one section that needs the granny ring and I was worried about throwing my chain, as I did in the Park during the MS150 this year. Sure enough, I went for the granny and locked up the drive train. I just got my foot out of the cleat before falling over and had to flip the bike over to free the chain, which was jammed in between the frame and crank.
Kevin came back to see what was up and we started out again together. I had enough in my legs to get up the climb from a standing start in the granny ring but didn't risk going back to it for the rest of the ride. Got to get that fixed!
We finished out the hilly section comfortably enough and made the turn onto route 36, for a blissful seven mile downwind run on a smooth surface with a wide shoulder. We hit 28 mph on one small descent without really trying. A good way to finish a tough, cold and eventful ride.