When I was young I did a LOT of biking.
Not like the biking I do now – nowadays where I have a great bike, perfectly adjusted and fitted to me, and where I ride with proper technique and cadence and train specifically to do better and maybe have more structured riding.
But just unbridled enthusiasm to ride wherever and whenever and as far as I wanted to, regardless of what kind of crappy bike I was on and whether it was rain, shine, or night (but not snow). I had a certain route and rode twenty-six miles a day, every day when it was halfway decent and usually when it was rainy or cold too, but when I wanted to ride somewhere else I would go no matter what. Fifty miles was a lot on a single speed cruiser bike (and not a brand new one retro one like is popular now, but a real antique) or a three-speed, but was no big deal it seemed. As I got older I became interested in cars and other things and of course my biking suffered, dwindling to an occasional ride once in a while right before I got back into it once again.
When I did get back into biking, more serious biking, it took me awhile to work back up to a point where I could ride fifty miles at a stretch like I did as a kid. But once I did I could also do it much faster than when I was toddling along and taking all day when I was a kiddie.
And one of my goals once I got back into biking more seriously was to be in a bike race. It started out as a casual goal, but then became something I was moderately interested in doing. I’m not fast, far from it, mediocre at best unless I really push myself and – frankly – I don’t have a lot of interest in pushing myself THAT much. And even when I do it isn’t as good as some cyclists ride just on a normal training run. I think pushing your own limits is good, mentally and physically, but past a certain point seems to suck all the enjoyment out of it for me, except for specific training days.
Yet I still wanted to be in a race even if I didn’t do well, it was eventually kind of a major goal. I just wanted to do one, and that was it. But since my wife had no interested in it I was on the fence about actually trying one.
So a few years ago I decided to enter a small charity race because I could bike it and my wife could run in the corresponding running race. The race didn’t have all that many people in it but there was everything from an uber-serious looking older guy in a skin-tight aero outfit on an uber-expensive bike and a young local triathlete in peak physical condition on an equally expensive-looking bike to some serious-looking cyclists in various full bike shop kits down to a couple of people on hybrid bikes and various in between.
I didn’t figure I’d do well against the mid-range people and certainly not against the two top-looking riders but in that race I actually came in third place. Even though it was a somewhat small race I felt pretty proud to pull it off and stay ahead of some of the riders who looked like they really knew what they were doing.
That was a bike ago (as we sometimes measure things in cycling I suppose) and I found that I also was interested in maybe doing the Sackets Harbor Spokerride, which has been around for many years. It too is a charity race, no racing license required, and draws a fair number of riders. My wife began biking a few while back and so we did the Spokerride last year together. The Spokerride for Life is a great charity, benefiting the American Cancer Society and Samaritan Health and some other charities. We had fun, and rode together the whole way. It almost wasn’t held last year but due to the diligence of a number of people and especially one man perhaps; it was hastily organized and went forward.
So this year we decided to do it again, me with my new Kona Esatto endurance bike this time around. The 2016 Spokerride benefited the Volunteer Transportation Center, the LiveStrong Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and Samaritan Health and other organizations.
The Volunteer Transportation Center was the primary sponsor this year, and was something I had not heard of before. It consists of certified volunteer drivers who give rides to people who don’t have cars or any other ability to get to important destinations like doctor’s appointments and other essential things in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties. Coincidentally one of my old friends drives for them and was one of the volunteer traffic people on the fifty mile Spokerride race. Without volunteers something like the Spokerride couldn’t be held. At left is a pic of some of the volunteer flagmen from the race.
Other charities and sponsors were:
Samaritan Health is our local hospital and health organization with offices and doctors all over the area.
The LiveStrong Foundation offers support and community programs to cancer survivors, caregivers, and loved ones and for those with cancer, and partners with institutions and policymakers to improve the way we fight cancer. Of course the organization has been tarnished a bit by the Lance Armstrong scandal but this should not detract from all the good they have done.
The American Cancer Society is the national organization that works to prevent and help treat cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service.
This year’s Spokerride, like the ones before, was held on the last Saturday in July starting and ending in the beautiful scenic Sackets Harbor, New York. This was the fourteen running of the Spokerride and is organized by Jeff Wood, with the registration going to North Country Against Cancer.
Despite the dry year we were keeping our fingers crossed for a good day, of which we got. The day had a bit of wind (as most days around here do) but nothing real bad, and it was warm but not blazingly so. A few people from our Jefferson County Facebook biking group were there but not many, but in total for the races there were just under a hundred people in the thirty mile race and around sixty-eight in the fifty mile. Not the best turn-out but considering the hot conditions and our typical north country apathy it was pretty good, I thought.
It was better organized this year (they almost didn’t have it last year as I mention above), Jeff Wood and his volunteers do a great job but definitely better this year than last. A new timing company too, which was good – Auyer Racetiming. We’ve done a number of running races and I thought I knew all the timing companies around here but these guys were a different one than I had seen before, and had peel-off timing tags with the race number on them that goes on the bike, as well as a conventional number for the person’s shirt and a few incidental ones for the helmet and such. Funny thing – a day or two after the race I went for a ride and had forgotten to take mine off for the entire ride.
On the day of the race we got there plenty early to pick up our timing stuff and t-shirt, get our bikes off the Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier and ready to go. Everyone else was getting set to go also, with a lot of serious looking bicyclists, as well as some not-so-serious looking ones, with ages from young to old.
Unfortunately my wife and I had somehow gotten our wires crossed and I didn’t realize that she had signed up for the fifty mile while I was signed up for the thirty mile. A big disappointment for me as I thought we’d ride together but on the other hand I could really crank out some extra speed if I wanted to.
I saw an occasional somewhat familiar face from riding around the area and passing various bicyclists over the years, and there were lots of different kinds of bikes, and accessories to check out.
At the starting line we could hear a drone overhead (from Horizon Aerial Media, see video at the end of this post), and a short distance away in line a guy with an unusual elliptical-bike (see photo below, left a few paragraphs down).
The race started and the woman in front of me tried to get into her clipless pedals, swerving all over and back and forth and almost falling over – preventing me and some people near me from passing her. Finally she got her feet in and started straightening up, and myself and a few others quickly passed her. Those without skill with getting into clipless pedals should stay out of the way I believe, as they are a hazard to anyone around them. And a hazard to themselves when they need to get out of them.
I sped up a bit, safely passing people as time went by, including my wife who soon would be taking a right hand turn on her fifty mile course while I went straight.
I love riding alone, I think it’s the best way to ride. But once in a while I crave riding in a group just for fun. While this race wasn’t really group riding it was similar, at least until the lines of riders stretched and fast riders pulled forward and slow riders dropped back.
After a short distance I came up behind a couple of women riding who were riding a bit faster than I normally ride for casual riding and I paced them for a bit, until a hill when I passed them and somewhat later they passed me. I again paced them.
It was a bit faster than I normally ride if I am not training specifically or sprinting for something, but I figured I could maintain it pretty well anyway. I passed the elliptical bike after a bit (see photo below, left). My wife said that he and she jockeyed for place for a while before she passed him.
I never did find out how long I could have paced the two riders who I was pacing (though looking at the results it seems they were only seconds ahead of me by the end) because I felt a burning, stinging and sharp pain in my inner thigh. I ignored it for a moment but it seemed to be heading toward blinding so I looked down.
There on the inner thigh of my biking shorts was a bee, with its stinger firmly embedded in my skin through the lycra. I thought I could see a little wiggle of its body as it tried to shove it in further, but that could have been the wind. Or my imagination. But it did hurt like hell, especially in such a sensitive place. Did I do anything to the bee to deserve it? Not that I know up, I didn’t brush it off another part of me or my bike or rub my hand across it as I had my hands on the hoods for the entire beginning of the race, except for shifting.
Perhaps it had been brushed off someone ahead of me, or had bounced off a bike or person. Whatever the reason it stung me it seemed like it was giving it an extra good go at it.
I probably gasped or maybe swore, I’m not sure. I brushed it off hastily and as quickly as possible, which seemed to make it hurt even worse. Afterward, looking closely at the sting site I could see that maybe brushing it off had pulled part of the stinger out and a little pit of skin around it. Even two weeks later it still looks nasty and is healing, see photo at right.
I tried to ignore the pain, as I had been stung many times before by bees.
In fact, when I was growing up on the farm; during two consecutive years we had run over a bee’s hive while haying, both times I had been on the wagon and of course the bees came after me en mass. I can’t think of much more terrifying things than having a dozen or more bees attached to my face stinging me all over. The feel of their hairy feet and bodies and stings against me still haunt me sometimes, if I get stung especially.
So a single sting, while just painful, still brings back those memories. And damn that was painful! Ignoring the pain didn’t seem to help and I slowed down significantly, trying to hold a speed but kind of not caring as much.
Eventually it began to recede, quite quickly actually. But I had lost a lot of positions and a bit of my drive to regain anything.
By then I had almost reached Smithville, which has a couple long hills. I regained a number of spots because I have some fair hill climbing abilities (from regular hill training) but quickly lost some after getting back on the level again.
Over the rest of the race I regained a few spots here and there, got passed by a few people here and there, but gladly lost some more positions as I had short conversations with a few people along the way. One very interesting dude was a former bike mechanic at the now-defunct Blue Cat Cycles bike shop, he admired my bike and we talked a bit about the race and things. He still did bike work on the side and I vowed to myself to find him after the race to get his number, unfortunately I never did find him again. He had just been getting back into biking more so I had to leave him behind after briefly riding together for a bit. Really I hated to as it was fun to ride with someone. Same with a few others who I briefly had short talks with. I regained any spots I lost each time, and occasionally got to say at least an occasional greeting to others I passed. One gentleman was riding a Motobecane which I was admiring, as I own a different model of Motobecane myself. I came up beside him and was going to ask him a bit about the bike after I mentioned I owned one also, but the long hill we were climbing was obviously causing him to use his whole breath so I just surged ahead and continued on.
As I got to the last five or six miles I decided to have a bit of fun and used my knowledge of the area/roads to try to gain a few more spots, and keep ahead of a few people who alternately gained and lost behind me.
I got caught at the stop sign passing across Route 3 onto the northerly side of Jericho Road. After that I knew that it was a bit of a stretch to the top of the hill with a slight incline and that I could pump it out at full speed, and somewhat rest a bit after going over the crest of the hill and then increase my speed for the rest of the hill, a level part, and then another downhill. I figured if there were flagmen at the stop sign at the T near the end of the hill I could blow through it at nearly full speed, have good momentum for the slight climb onto the Evans Road and then ride like hell down the long hill before the curve – the curve of which is about forty-five degrees but gentle enough not to require that I slow down. Surprisingly it worked and the guy in front of me glanced back and then went onto his drop bars and full horizontal to try to stay ahead and gave it a constant high cadence pedal.
I did too and while I didn’t overtake him on the hill he had sapped his strength some it seemed, for the slight incline of the curve and the level but rough black top of the rest of the road to the corner of Route 180. So I was able to pass him with a quick greeting between the two of us and I sped up near the corner when I saw that the volunteer flagmen had traffic on 180 stopped. I knew I had some good speed and momentum from speeding up on the straight-away but increased it a bit, on the corner I dropped low with a knee down to counter the centrifugal force trying to pull the bike back up and got around the corner and up onto the steep hill on lots of momentum and a medium gear, me standing up on the pedals for the rest of the hill. I nearly caught another guy in front of me on the hill.
On the last stretch into Sackets, the Military Road (one of a number in Jefferson County), I knew there would be a good number of gentle hills and I wouldn’t be able to gain much more. I passed a few people but the guy who had been ahead of me going up the hill and for some distance before that and whom I had set my goal on overtaking alternately sped up and slowed down as the hills came and went, so I never got close enough to think that I had a chance of passing him.
At that point I figured I had my tiny bit of ‘racing’ fun and I obviously wasn’t going to overtake the guy in front, and there wasn’t anyone else between us nor close enough behind at that point, so I just paced the guy ahead for the rest of the race, probably a good quarter of a mile or so behind him. A few times I poured on a bit of speed for some downhill areas but generally just held a pace.
At the finish line lots of people cheered (as they did for everyone) but just as I was passing through the finish line some idiot was shakily riding back through it in the wrong direction, and I do mean shakily. Compounding this finish line salmoning was the fact that he couldn’t figure out which side to pass me and he weaved back and forth in front of me a few times. I thought I might hit him and there wasn’t a whole lot of space to get out of the way, as the finish line thing had barriers and things around it, and would I really have to stop right in front of the finish line for this guy? Fortunately he finally picked a side and weaved his way past. Sheesh.
You can see the guy in my photo at the right.
By the way, most of the shots that I have posted in this blog entry are HD screen grabs from my Garmin Virb action camera which also doubles as an instrument panel and backup trip logger. Great device.
Afterward I put my bike on the car rack and changed my clothes, grabbed my meal ticket and went over to the awards tent and food truck (Johnny D’s) and got my meal (I selected pulled pork and pasta), watching the other riders coming in from the two rides. [pullquote]I didn’t know it at the time but I had come in thirty-sixth place, out of ninety-seven – better than smack in the middle; which for me was pretty good and better than I had imagined I was going to finish. I’ll take it.[/pullquote]
I chatted briefly with a few people, including an older dude who was quite interesting and was a long-time rider. Later one of my wife’s friends came along (she didn’t enjoy the ride as well as I did and was pretty tuckered out) and we ate and sat and waited for my wife to come in, occasionally checking the unofficial times that were posted on a board nearby.
After my wife finished her fifty and we had secured her bike, she had her lunch and we sat and watched the awards, some of the elderly long time riders get some amazing times! And of course the young guys and middle-aged make some crazy great times. The two guys who came in first and second on the fifty mile are two people who I follow on Strava – two guys who I am glad to see do so well, as they seem like good sorts and always seem perfectly willing to chat a bit about their rides on Strava, and put a hell of a lot of work into their biking.
Sackets Harbor was also having their Sackets Harbor War of 1812 Living History Weekend that day and the next, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to check them out but I did see a lot of people in period costumes wandering back and forth and I kind of wished that I had headed over there as a bonus to the day.
All-in-all a pretty good ride and day, I did a bit better than I had thought that I would, met some interesting people, saw some cool bikes and kits and bike equipment, and did it all while donating to some great charities. Though I didn’t get to ride it with my wife, which was a bummer.
Generally I like to ride alone and now that I have done a few charity races over the last few years I probably will stick to my solo rides for the most part, but I encourage everyone to do a charity ride or race to benefit any of the many great charities these events benefit.
Spokerride 2016 Photo Gallery:
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