Cycling around Lebanon, Illinois. May 7, 2016
Saturday arrived early in the morning and whispered promises of great things. Jeff and I awoke and began readying ourselves to ride the Tour de Stooges in Lebanon, Illinois. We had ridden it last year and had a mostly positive experience and we were looking forward to riding it this year.
The start time for the event was advertised as anytime between 8 and 10 a.m. We arrived at the Lebanon High School sometime near 8:30 to find all the parking lots full. We were directed to street parking and found a great spot on a shady street. After parking, we headed to registration where we saw Shon Hargis and Tony Filarski. We chatted with them, registered and headed back to the car.
Once at the car, we prepared to ride. We prepared the bikes. We prepared ourselves. We took a couple more swigs of coffee and took a selfie. Shon and Tony rolled by us looking strong. We knew that would be the last time we would see them on this ride. We took a moment to pray and set off for our ride about 10 minutes behind Shon and Tony.
Our ride began with an uphill as we slowly made our way through town then passed a small park finally heading north and leaving Lebanon behind. The sun was bright and the day was warm. Our spirits were high and we felt strong. The ride had several distances for a rider to select. The beginning of the ride had all the routes riding together. Three miles into the ride and many novice riders were standing beside the road resting, walking their bikes or struggling with the small hills. I applaud them for being out there trying something new. Seeing them made me reminisce about our early days cycling when 5 miles seemed a huge distance. We continued our travels and found the first rest stop at the corner of Blackjack Road and Lebanon Road
The rest stop was busy. People covered the grassy corner. People were in line at the porta-potties. People were in lawn chairs. People were in line for the snacks being distributed by a Boy Scout troop. People were lying in the grass recovering from their exhaustion. People meandered. People remounted bicycles. People were everywhere.
We entered the melee and put our bikes on one of the racks provided by the ride. I love it when the ride takes care of little details like that. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about things which are indelicate, but this is one of the only places where I have seen porta-potties that flush. We made the necessary stop then sampled the snacks. The Boy Scouts were serving my favorite ride snack: oranges. After we finished our sweet oranges, refilled our water bottles and took a couple of photos, we headed north on Blackjack Road.
As we followed Blackjack Road we passed a few people and found we were soon alone. We turned west and followed a loop of several short, steep hills. We rode near Collinsville on this loop and then turned back to the east. I was riding well and felt strong. I was pleased at my ability to ride the hills. The time in the gym and at Cycle 1 had been worth it. We rolled along and finally had some company. A man dressed in tie-dye, wearing a bright do-rag on his head, riding a fixie bike with a kick-stand began gunning for us. I’m not sure why, but I felt him struggling to overtake us and it annoyed me. I continued the pace I had set for myself, knowing that I was going to ride 64 miles, not the 28 he was most likely doing. Eventually, he did overtake me and then Jeff, although he was working very hard to do it. I did feel sorry for his poor 10 year-old son who was suffering in trying to keep up with his dad. Once around us their pace slowed. We caught them at a busy intersection and decided to stop for traffic and water and to give them a chance to get a good lead on us. We didn’t feel like playing leap-frog. A few more hills and we were back to the corner rest stop.
I was ready for the stop. I was hungry and haven’t quite mastered the eating on the bike thing. They were out of oranges, so I had a banana from the rest stop and a protein bar from my bike bag. We refilled water bottles and snapped a photo then headed down the road feeling good.
We were rolling along doing well. The sun was shining. It was the day of which the Chamber of Commerce boasts. We were moving along pretty well when we came to Route 4. We needed to pause for traffic and then we continued on our way. I commented that last year we had taken much longer to reach this point. I commented that last year I remembered struggling with this hill and being much more fatigued. I felt great. We reached one of the biggest climbs on the route and Jeff promised me that we would have an amazing decent. I climbed and downshifted and climbed and made it to the top. Yes, this was going to be fun. I started my descent. I shifted into my big chain ring. I was in the first third of the hill when I was hit between the eyes by some type of flying bug. It then bounced off my face and hit my neck where it stuck to me with its stinger. I could feel it clinging to my neck with its stinger. The pain was intense. I could do nothing, but continue my descent and let the tears fill my eyes. I can’t remember crying from an injury since about third or fourth grade, but I was whimpering now. I was also angry because this hill should be fun, but all I could think about was the literal pain in my neck. I felt the bee fall off my neck, but he left his stinger behind. I struggled to continue. Jeff was far ahead of me and clueless to my pain. It seemed the harder I tried to catch him the faster he became. I finally caught him and yelled at him to stop. He did so immediately and I almost ran into him. I then yelled at him not to stop so soon. This could have been a Stooges move and might have been funny if I hadn’t been crying. Jeff took his credit card out of his wallet and scraped the stinger out of my neck. The pain lessened. I think cycling can teach us valuable life lessons and this incident taught me two: 1. keep your forward momentum even when you are in pain 2. I will never, and I mean NEVER, get a neck tattoo.
We continued our forward momentum and made our way through some rolling hills to Route 160. Again, we needed to pause for traffic, but managed to make it across the busy road to the next rest stop which the locals refer to as Frogtown. I didn’t see any frogs there. Instead we were welcomed by volunteers under a Tour de Cure tent which was positioned in front of a U-Pick strawberry stand. The volunteers were cheerful and helpful. They gave me ice for my neck which helped immensely. We ate a snack, chatted, refilled our water bottles and then headed toward our next stop in Trenton.
Trenton is a town we are familiar with from riding the D.A.R.E. ride they host in the fall. Much of our route was the D.A.R.E. ride in reverse. It was interesting to see the route in reverse. You see more when you have a change in perspective. We were riding well and making good time even though we were starting to encounter some wind. The sun was getting hot and I was feeling the need for some shade. We made our way in the hot sun to Trenton and found ourselves in heavy traffic. The traffic demanded our full attention and we thought we knew the location of the next rest stop so we went to that location: The Dairy King.
We arrived at the Dairy King and I was surprised to see no rest stop signage. I realized that I had seen no route markings for some time. Perhaps this wasn’t the rest stop. I didn’t care. I was hungry and thirsty and desirous of air conditioning. We entered the Dairy King and saw another rider. We entered the line to order when I thought I would ask the other rider about the discount we were supposed to receive. I’m glad I asked. I suppose with the traffic we had been distracted and missed our turn. He showed us the rest stop behind the restaurant. We left our bikes in their care, received coupons for a free meal and re-entered the Dairy King.
We ordered our food and had a seat. The restaurant was busy. It’s listed as fast-food, but everything is made to order. 20-30 minutes later, we received our food which was delicious. We spoke with a volunteer who told us to take our time the rest stops would be open. He also told us they would be taking down this rest stop, but not to worry, our bikes would be safe. We had no reason to doubt him and ordered ice cream. It occurred to us they were taking the water. I went out to see if I could get water before they took it away. I was too late. The whole rest stop was gone except for a bike rack with our two bikes and a lone volunteer babysitting our bikes. I offered to take the bikes to the front of the restaurant so she could leave. She politely refused stating that she had signed up for this. I explained to her that we planned on sitting at one of the outside tables with our ice cream and there was no need for her to babysit our bikes. She acquiesced. The volunteers were all very friendly and helpful.
We ate our ice cream and after a long break headed back out on the bikes. We were optimistic that it wouldn’t take long to make the next rest stop at Summerfield. We started this section riding strong and fast. I was hopeful this section would improve our overall average. As the route changed direction, we realized we had been helped by a strong tailwind. We turned into the wind and it became a headwind. We slowed dramatically. I tried to work on my pacelining skills and draft off Jeff. It helped, but we were slowed down to a miserable 6 mph. I was doing everything I could. My speed was slow. My heart rate was high. I was in the red. The sky however was dark blue and getting darker.
Jeff and I discussed the sky. It was getting darker and darker to our north. To the south it was still a pretty light blue. I was encouraged by this until Jeff explained we needed to go north. On the positive side, I wasn’t worried about sunburn anymore. Another positive was the fact we hadn’t seen any lightning and we were still dry. We kept pedaling west into the wind. Our pace was slow. The clouds were building fast. I was praying they would not unleash any lightning.
We fought for each tenth of a mile until we finally reached the point in our route where we were to turn south. We consulted with each other. We turned worried eyes to the clouds which appeared to be building a giant wall and decided to go off route. Instead of turning south we continued west along the 48 mile route. We were at mile 49 of our ride. We fought the wind and passed a couple of farms until we connected with Dressel Shoenne Road.
We turned north onto Dressel Shoenne road. We were no longer heading directly into the wind, but the quartering wind was still fierce. The sky in front of us also looked fierce. It was turning from dark blue to black with patches of green. It was building a wall in front of us and lighting up with bolts of lighting. We were in the middle of a prairie: no trees, no houses, no barns, no grain bins, no people and really not even a ditch in which to lie if that wall decided to be a funnel. There were just two fools on bicycles riding in the middle of a plain beside telephone poles. Rolling lightning rods we were.
I told Jeff I was scared hoping he would say something comforting. Instead he said, “So am I.” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. We were discussing what to do. The wind was getting stronger and the lightning was becoming more frequent. Up until now, we could see the lightning, but hear no thunder. Now, we were seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. The storm was getting closer and we were heading for it. We were within 2 miles of the next rest stop. We were trying to make it to that rest stop hoping there would be people with cars who could SAG us out of here. The horizon had a line of houses on it. We made that our goal. Fear is a gift. It gives us adrenaline. Adrenaline makes us pedal harder. When I thought I had nothing else to give the fear enabled me to pedal harder and moved the bike faster. My heart rate was at the alleged max. I kept going and Jeff was beside me. The air was looking thick with dust and the clouds were looking green. We were not going to make it to the rest stop. There were some people outside one of the houses along the road. We decided to ask them for help. Jeff and I are not people who find it easy to ask for help, but desperation drives us to do things we wouldn’t under normal circumstances. Jeff approached the man in the yard who tried to ignore him. We would have gladly sheltered in their barn. The man was not willing to show us any hospitality and told us Summerfield was just down the road we needed to go there. I could see the wind picking up the dust in the field and make its way to us. Jeff estimated we had 3 minutes before the front reached us. He was still trying to talk to the man and reason with him when I saw an open garage door. Although it went against everything in my nature, I pointed it out to Jeff and we made our way two houses down. We dismounted the bikes on the gravel drive and ran for the garage just as the wind hit. I don’t know that I have ever been outside in a wind that hard. I actually didn’t know if I could make it to the garage. I was struggling to have any forward momentum. Jeff was running ahead of me and for a moment I didn’t think I would make it to the garage, but the wind slacked for a couple of seconds and I made it into the garage wondering what the owners of the house would think about two gritty cyclists entering their home uninvited.
The owners of the house were much more hospitable than their neighbors. We stood in their garage until the worst of the storm was past. Then the man (they never told us their names) took Jeff to get our car while I stayed in the house with his wife. She was involved in watching the Cubs game. It was a bit awkward and I felt incredibly dirty with road grit sitting in her pristine house. I felt like a street urchin in a castle. It is amazing how the dirt and grime doesn’t bother me when I’m riding, but when I come indoors it is unbearable. After what seemed like an eternity, Jeff returned with the car. We loaded the bikes and headed for home.
All in all, it was a good day and a good ride. I would definitely do this ride again. I was prepared to do the last one-third of the ride unsupported because we were riding late into the day and the ride had advertised SAG and rest stops closed at 3; however, the volunteer told us the rest stop would stay open until we made it there. With that in mind, I would have expected someone to do a route clean-up and come looking for us when the storm was imminent. As a courtesy, we called to let them know where we were and did not receive an answer. So, I was disappointed, but not angry.