All organised rides have Sag wagons, vehicles that patrol the course offering assistance to those that need it, and rides in for those who are too tired to finish. No-one really knows why they're called Sag wagons - some say it stands for "Support And Gear" - but we've all experienced a sagging sensation during a ride. There's no shame at all in sagging but it's been a point of pride for me that I've never sagged on the MS150, despite really wanting to a few times. However, I've had to get a ride in due to exhaustion on several occasions now, the most recent being yesterday.
It was the first day of a four-day weekend for Kevin and me and we had previously agreed to ride twice, Thursday and Saturday. We're both getting pretty bored with our standard trundle around Hempstead, so we opted for the Sealy ride instead. Taking on the toughest ride we do in the fall and spring run-up to the MS on July 3rd in Central Texas was perhaps a little ambitious, at least with hindsight anyway, but what's life without a little challenge?
On the way out of Sealy a small dog decided to stretch his legs a little and kept pace with us while staying safely on his own territory. Kevin yelled "Go home!" at him a few times but I was impressed by his form and was more encouraging. When the mutt got to the end of his yard he peeled off with a few token yaps and went back to his morning nap. As it turned out, this was a good omen for a ride that is often enlivened by canine assaults. The usual suspects didn't materialize, perhaps as Kevin suggested because we were two days early and they weren't expecting us.
We got to the turn onto the road that runs into San Bernardo, both feeling surprisingly tired after only 15 miles. This section starts with a longish downhill run which is where we often see the more exotic birds that have featured in previous blog posts, such as the caracara and the scissor-tailed flycatcher. Nothing on display today however, presumably because they had all migrated north like sensible creatures.
I was glad to make the usual stop for water at the feed store in San Bernardo, where for once we weren't made to feel like lycra-clad yuppies from the big city (another benefit of a Thursday ride, the grumpy old git wasn't working and we got his nice wife instead).
Once more onto the pedals and the most scenic section of the ride, with some much-enjoyed shady portions. The real hell-hounds, who favour the silent approach, lurk along here and we were ready for them, but they didn't emerge from their lair. We got back on to the main San Bernardo - Cat Spring road and Kevin called an audible, suggesting that as we were both struggling, we could modify the route to avoid the hilly section. This would cut down the mileage and make for a more tedious route, so I foolishly suggested that we continue as planned, a call I would come to regret.
The run north into Cat Spring was very tough for me, with a few punchy climbs on a very rough road. We reached the standard second stop at an odd little convenience store/diner/gas station on the north side of town, where we are usually also made to feel like pariahs. Sure enough the first words out of the proprietor lady's mouth were "We've only got one Gatorade". The state motto of Texas is "Friendship" but this lady had apparently forgotten it. But we jollied her along with self-deprecating humour and that broke the ice.
And so onto the hills! I managed reasonably well on the first few but then we ran into construction and some slow-moving vehicles that we couldn't really pass. As a result we had to climb the toughest section practically from a standing start. I shifted down into my tallest gear and had to grunt it out, with no cadence or spinning, just forcing the pedals down on each stroke. My computer showed 7mph when I crested the second rise and I wasn't surprised. For once Kevin was behind me and actually not in sight, most unusual for him. I pulled over to wait, frankly glad of the break, and then started back in case he'd had a mechanical or something worse. I really hoped he would appear before I started on the down hill as I did not want to climb that section again and thankfully he did. Caught flat-footed like me, he didn't have the momentum to spin up the hill as is his normal style and had stopped to regain his composure.
That was the last time I had to wait for him! The climb had pretty much depleted my reserves and I was suffering pretty badly. We finished out the hill section and made the turn onto Route 36, where I requested a quick break to lie down for a minute or two, a clear sign that I was done for the day. After a minute or two I got up (with the help of Kevin's strong right arm) and got back on the bike.
Route 36 is a major road with a wide shoulder and an excellent surface, and we expected a partial tail wind to blow us the last seven miles home, but I was blown and asked Kevin to sag me in. We found a shady spot on a side road and I hit the dirt. Kevin put a water bottle within reach and gave me his last energy bar, then headed out for the rescue. Sadly his warning about fire ant mounds fell on deaf ears and I soon became aware that something was nibbling on my neck and shoulders. I was too tired to move but I shuffled around a bit and they stopped, presumably bored with chewing on me.
Although I felt absolutely awful it was quite pleasant to lie in the shade with the sun coming through the leaves of a tree and the occasional cool-ish breeze. After a little while I realised my phone was ringing but by the time I found it and picked up it had gone through to voice mail. It was Kevin of course and he sounded quite relieved when I called him back. He was back at the car and on his way.
The cavalry arrived and we loaded up (not much help from me, I have to say). Back in Sealy, Kevin stopped at a gas station for emergency supplies - chocolate milk (the thinking rider's recovery drink) and cheese-flavoured popcorn (for the salt). These worked surprisingly well and by the time we hit Katy I was sitting up and paying attention.
What did I learn from this misadventure? That I'm not Lance Armstrong and should not take on tough rides when it's 90+ degrees, that it's good to ride with friends who are prepared to take care of you, and that when one of those friends suggests making the ride easier I should listen. Oh, and that super-domestiques like Kevin are worth their weight in gold.