Superman Ride 2016
“We aren’t going to make it,” I said to Jeff who was putting our red car into drive.
“It’s going to be tight,” he replied as the car stopped at the end of my mother’s short driveway.
It is hard for night owls to make these morning lark bike rides, but we were trying. We were heading from my mom’s house down Route 45, through Carrier Mills, and Stonefort, past Vienna to Metropolis, Illinois for the 2016 Superman Bicycle Ride. This cycling event is held in conjunction with the Superman Celebration and is sponsored by the Metropolis Kiwanis Club. We hurried down the road; Jeff driving and eating a banana, me braiding my hair and eating a protein bar, both of us drinking copious amounts of coffee.
We motored into the park at 7:42 a.m. and found our usual parking spot to be taken. We circled around and found a spot. Several cyclists were making preparations for the ride. Our pre-ride rush began in earnest. We quickly readied ourselves, but felt we were too late to head to the starting line. We decided to wait nearer our car for the procession to pass us and we would enter the melee and start the ride. We waited… and waited… and waited. Evidently, we had time to get to the start. We had no idea what was happening at the start line; but eventually, we saw Superman. No, he wasn’t flying, he was riding in the back of a pick-up truck followed by a large group of cyclists. Here we go!
We entered the chaos and rolled across the highway with the usual suspects: club-jersey-dudes, superhero-jersey dudes, overly-tan-and-proud-of-it girl, dad-dragging-son-along-for-the-ride guys, loud-talking storytellers, don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-a-serious-cycling dude, reclining-recumbent man and various others. They all have 2 things in common: they are cyclists and they are passing me.
I don’t care they are passing me. I feel good. The sun is shining. I’m on my bike. My goal is to make it back to the car. I would like to be faster than I was last year, but I am not overly concerned with time on this particular ride. Jeff and I have not been on the bikes much since the Tour de Stooges in May. It feels good just to be out on the bikes again. It’s a challenging ride and my goal today is making it up “the big hill” and finishing the ride.
We wind our way through Metropolis. We are nearer the front of the pack than where we usually start a ride. It is nice. There are no dropped water bottles, squirrely kids or baby trailers hauling pets. I am slower than many and cautious. Chain Reaction Cycling Club surrounds us and cuts me off from Jeff. They are riding very confidently when the pack in front of me comes to an abrupt stop. I am thankful for my slower pace because I don’t need to come to a full stop to avoid the obstacle of rummage sale shopper parking. One problem with rides that coincide with town events is the residents of the town see the festival as a great time to hold a rummage sale. When people see a rummage sale they lose their minds. They ditch their car and park haphazardly blocking the road if need be, all in the name of a bargain. So if you find yourself rolling through a town holding a festival, beware of rummage sale shoppers.
We make it past the helter-skelter parking of the rummage salers and leave town. Once we leave town, I breathe a little easier and the riders string out a little giving us more room to maneuver. The Chain Reaction Cycling Club had earlier surrounded us leaving Jeff riding several yards ahead of me. I found myself riding next to a man in a Captain America jersey. He looked lean and strong with silver hair and a medium tan. Perhaps he was in his early sixties. He made conversation and I learned he was from the Metropolis area and had been involved in cycling in his younger days, but had fallen out of the activity when his children were younger. Now that the nest was emptying, he was attempting to cycle again. He was not as old as I first thought, perhaps mid to late 50’s. He conversed with me for a couple of miles and then he said goodbye and pedaled on ahead of me.
I caught up to Jeff and we rode the rolling hills out of Metropolis without much conversation. We pedalled through some rollers one of which was a little challenging. I thought I had crested the hill and shifted into my big chain ring to find I still had a great deal of resistance. I mentioned this to Jeff and he informed me that we were still in fact going uphill. Everything in my vision told me we were going downhill, but everything in my legs let me know it was definitely uphill. Some call this a “false flat.” I call it “liar, liar, quads on fire” hill.
Soon we found ourselves in the little community of Round Knob, which is basically some shade trees in front of a couple of houses where the road makes a T. We stopped for traffic before turning onto New Columbia Road. I misjudged the terrain and found myself struggling with an uphill instead of the flat I had imagined. This allowed a group of fellow cyclists to pass us. One of these cyclists was on a mountain bike, and appeared to be quite strong. He took his hands off the handle bars and pedaled a great distance with his hands behind his back much like a speed skater. At first, it was impressive, but then became annoying. I don’t know why this annoyed me, but it did. After a couple of miles, it just felt more like he was showing off than riding that way because he truly enjoyed it. His pace slowed and we eventually passed him. Then he would gain momentum and pass us. I was praying that we would be rid of him, but he stayed with us for miles until we came to the first rest stop.
The rest stop was a corner lot in the middle of nowhere. The front was an unshaded lot with a small drive bordered by a white, board fence. About half-way up the drive in front of the fence was a bright blue porta-potty. A small line of cyclists were lined up in front of it. A small, red barn was at the end of the drive and a dozen cyclists clad in high visibility clothing of various shades milled about drinking water and eating snacks. We dismounted our bikes and leaned them against the barn which provided some much welcomed shade. Nearby a group of mostly female riders stood in the shade of the barn and chatted. I overheard one of them say she had arrived at the ride at 7:10. I knew we would never be friends. I wasn’t hungry, but the salt from the offered pretzels hit the spot. I had worked up a sweat. I finished my 24 oz. bottle of plain water and then switched to my 24 ounce bottle of electrolyte water. After that, I made a trip to the bright blue porta-potty. I was dismayed to see it was sitting in the sun. Even though, it was only 9 in the morning, the sun was strong. If you have ever felt the heat inside a porta-potty on a hot summer day, you know it can be overwhelming and it was. A tip to event organizers: try, try , try to get some shade for those blue vertical coffins.
After my trip to the blue box, I needed to refill my water bottle. I went back to my bike to fetch my water bottle as an older woman in a bright orange shirt rolled into the rest stop. She made a production of asking where she was and flirting with several of the older men sitting in chairs and sucking wind; among them was Captain America. He looked beat. I made my way to the water coolers and made a point to avoid the Powerade. The men were dubious of my decision and I told them that Powerade just doesn’t help me much on a ride. In my experience, Powerade and commercially prepared Gatorade don’t do much but cause stomach cramps on a hot day. The bottled versions are just flavored high fructose corn syrup not actually giving the drinker useful electrolytes. I usually carry two bottles on the bike: one has plain water and the other has an electrolyte mix. I typically blend in one tangerine-orange, sugar-free CamelBak tablet into one 24 ounce water bottle. It gives me the electrolytes I need on a hot day without the sugars that I don’t need.
After taking our rest, we left the stop and headed down the long, flat road. The road was bordered on each side by flat farmland. Soon we found a few homes as the road again made a T. Much to our dismay, our new road had a fresh coating of fine chip. We made our way through that fine gravel for about half a mile when to our delight it turned back to pavement. As we made our way down the paved road, the road was subtly gaining elevation. Ahead I could see a bright orange spot on the road. At first, I thought it was a cyclist; then I decided it was a road sign. We were cycling well and feeling good. We pedaled along and the orange spot was still ahead, but I was able to tell that it was, in fact, a cyclist. We were moving closer to her and “the big hill.”
Every ride seems to have a “big hill.” For some rides in the Bootheel or central Illinois “the big hill” is the ramp over an interstate. For other rides, it is, in truth, a challenging hill. For this ride, the hill known as Teague Hill is truly a challenge, especially for me. I became nervous about the hill. I was mentally defeating myself. I forced myself to calm down and reminded myself that I had ridden this hill on two other occasions. So why couldn’t I do it today?
I kept pedalling. Orange Shirt was ahead of me by a great distance, but I was closing the gap. We were rounding a curve and climbing up a small hill when I heard, “Going slow, but on your left!” It was Captain America. Good for him! Captain America passed Jeff and then me and we all three made it up the small hill to the plateau before the “big hill.” Orange shirt was climbing “the big hill.” Captain America slowed, I passed him and began my ascent. Jeff asked me if he could go on up the hill and I said he could. I was starting to struggle already. Orange Shirt had made it a fourth of the way up the hill when she suddenly stopped, dismounted her bike and began walking it up the hill. I kept pedaling. I could hear Captain America behind me. He was coughing and I could tell he was struggling. I would have been concerned about him, but I was too busy keeping my forward momentum. The hill became steeper. I began to zigzag up the hill. It was taking all my willpower to keep the pedals going round, but round they were going. My speed: 3.2 mph. Still, it was forward movement. My heartrate hit 180 bpm. I was breathing well. I was still alive. I kept going. Orange Shirt was nearing the top. I felt a small change in the grade of the hill and the pedaling became a tiny bit easier. I could no longer hear Captain America. My speed was increasing: 4.5 mph, 5.8 mph, 6.7 mph, 9.2 mph. I was nearing the top. On the right side of the road were two driveways. It would be tempting to stop at the first driveway; however, that would be a mistake. The hill was flattening out, but there were still yards of uphill. The second driveway marked the crest of the hill. I would have liked to stop there, but Orange Shirt had stopped there. She was watching me intently. I chose to pedal on. Jeff was not in sight. I reached the second drive when Orange Shirt jumped on her hybrid and tried to pass me. No! Not today, Orange Shirt, not today. I left her behind me and saw Jeff ahead of me. I caught up to him and caught my breath. I was happy with the short amount of time it took me to recover from the climb. We continued cycling.
We continued cycling along the mostly deserted highway and found a few rollers. Here we encountered some of the fastest riders. They were riding the 100 km route and passing us. They were just super-awesome. As they flew past us, they yelled encouragement, “Great job! Keep it up!” “You’re doing great!” etc. The thing I have found about these super-awesome people is that they are usually super, awesome people. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. Most of the elites aren’t laughing at you. They are rooting for you. I have found this to be true in skiing, running, weight lifting, and especially true in cycling.
We continued on along the ridge and with each roller I was losing a little bit more energy. Then we came to the part of the ride that scares me more than any of it: the descent. Everything that goes up must go down. We had a long, steep climb. Now we had a long, steep downhill.
Downhills can be terrifying. My max speed was 30.4 mph. Jeff was way ahead of me. Yes, I rode the brakes. I told myself not to overuse the breaks, but found myself squeezing them on the way down. Still, I can tell my bike handling skills have improved. I never truly felt out of control; and once I felt in control, I let go of the brakes altogether and let the bike roll down the hill. While downhills are terrifying, they are also a blast. I am becoming more comfortable with gaining speed and was a tiny bit sad when that part of the ride was over.
Once we were down the hill, we faced a headwind. I was losing my will to pedal. I kept going. I pedaled through a few more rollers and caught sight of the next rest stop. I was hot and tired. I was looking forward to a break and some shade. Jeff was well out in front of me. I pedaled slowly, but steadily toward my destination. This rest stop was at the top of a hill and offered a gorgeous view of the surrounding farmland with young corn plants popping out of the earth in neat, tidy rows. I followed Jeff’s lead and rolled my bike toward the small red shed in front of us. Jeff was placing his bike against the wall of the shed. I was 15 feet behind him when in my peripheral vision I saw a flash of orange: Orange Shirt! Was she trying to beat me to my spot beside my husband? I quickened my pace and claimed my rightful spot along the wall next to my husband’s bike. She picked up her hybrid and placed it beside me, almost on top of my foot then rested her bike on its kickstand. She has a kickstand! Why is she trying to beat me to the wall? Hot, tired, in need of food were all appropriate descriptions of myself. Grumpy might also have applied. We spent the next few moments in a bizarre social encounter. I stood with my back toward her ignoring her as hard as I could. I’m quite like a cat in that way. She kept making noises to get attention. It wasn’t long until she asked me a direct question about the map. I started attempting to answer her question, when my husband began interjecting. I used the moment to exit the scene without much social grace. Probably not my finest moment as a human being, but I am human. I gave myself a much needed time out and went to the back of the shed away from all other humans. I let myself breathe, feel the cool breeze and drink the rest of my 24 ounce electrolyte water bottle.
It wasn’t long until I felt better and Jeff came to find me. He told me he had seen our friend Shon and Shon was making the claim that I had won the drawing for the new bike. I couldn’t believe it. I never win those things. I guess we should have gone to the start line. Shon had won the bike carrier.
We chatted with Shon and had a snack. I switched to my plain water bottle and finished all 24 ounces of that. The sun was strong and I was thirsty. I had packed a small tube of sunscreen and we reapplied sunscreen before beginning the third leg of our journey. As we stood near our bikes applying sunscreen, Jeff drew my attention to the newly arrived SAG vehicle. Captain America was emerging from it. Better luck next time, Captian; better luck next time.
There was no sign of Orange Shirt as we left the rest stop and headed down the road. The sun was at its zenith and beating down on our heads with its full strength. I felt good as we traveled through the gently rolling hills. Soon we were catching up to a group of 3 cyclists: 2 wearing lime green and 1 wearing white. They were stopped at the top of hill looking at a phone. Jeff inquired if they needed help to which they replied, “No, we’re just old and out of shape.” We moved on down the road. Soon the two in lime green had caught us. Once again, we were in a game of bicycle leap frog. Their leader could beat me on the hills, but I could beat him on the downhill and flats. This turn of events did not please me. Eventually though, the Limeys tired and we left them behind.
We continued back toward Metropolis. The sun was getting hotter. This was the earliest I had ever reached this part of the ride. As we neared town, the traffic became heavier. Most of the drivers were very courteous. I was getting hotter, my heart rate was rising and I was developing a mild headache. We were now within 8 miles of our destination and I had hoped to make it all the way back without stopping, and I was trying to buoy myself up and dig deep for determination to finish without stopping. This is when I remembered there was one more long, steep hill between me and my goal. I knew I needed a rest before I could climb it. My heart rate was hitting 170 and I was feeling drained of my energy. We stopped at a lovely church with welcoming shade trees. I rested, stretched, drank a copious amount of my electrolyte water. My heart rate decreased 20 points. I was feeling better. I would have liked to rest a bit longer, but Jeff stated he did not want to get behind the Limeys again.
We coasted to the end of the church parking lot, but we were not fast enough to beat the Limeys. They waved as they slowly rode past us. We waved back, but I think there were inward screams inside each of us. We entered the road with the Limeys ahead of us. The road was becoming heavier with traffic.
It didn’t take long to catch the Limeys. They were pedaling slower and slower. White shirt was riding with them again and he seemed to be the weakest link in a very weak chain. Because the traffic was becoming heavy, it was too precarious to pass them. I was actually having trouble pedaling as slowly as they were. I also stayed behind them because the little “big hill” was looming. Previously, the men would pedal slowly and then give an all out push to get up the hill and pass me on the uphill. This hill, beside the golf course, was full of dangerous minivans so I decided single file would be in everyone’s best interest. It was difficult to stay behind them when I wanted so badly to pass. The first Limey was about halfway up the hill, White Shirt was about a third of the way up, the second Limey was starting the ascent, I was behind Limey #2 and Jeff was riding behind me. At this point, White Shirt stops without warning in the middle of traffic. Limey #2 also stops. Limey #1 stops at the top of the hill. CAR UP! CAR BACK! Somehow, Jeff and I keep going avoiding everyone. It is taking all I have, but I make it up the hill. The Limeys and White Shirt are behind us. It is the last we see of them.
We continue onward. The sun is high and the shadows are short. I was counting on having shade on this part of the ride, but it was not to be. We ride past the golf course, past several riders stopped in the sparse shade and through a lovely suburb heading back toward the park. I am hot. We take a short pause at a stop sign and I drink as much electrolyte water as I can. We continue into town. No shade is to be had. We make our way through Metropolis. It is uphill once again. We are passed by a senior citizen who shouts encouragement. We catch up to him at Route 45. We pause for what seems an eternity waiting for the traffic to clear enough for us to cross. We all three make it across the intersection. The senior and Jeff were much more graceful than I was, but I made it into the park.
We entered the park and rode to the main shelter. THERE WERE STILL PEOPLE THERE! In all my past years of riding, I have been one of the very last, if not the last, in from the road. This year, there were many riders still out on the road. That is my personal victory.
I also was victorious in winning the give-away bicycle. I took a victory lap around the park. My heart rate was still high and I needed to wind down a little bit. Jeff loaded the bikes in the car. His bike went in the trunk. My bikes went on the carrier. We cleaned up and changed clothes in the park restroom. FYI: make-up remover towelettes are the best thing to remove chain grease from your leg. They are also good for removing sweat, sunscreen and road grit.
Once changed, we headed to Paducah and refueled at Red Lobster. After that we headed to see Hutch and Martha at Bike World. The bike was too big for either of us. We traded the XL Cannondale Quick for a large Raleigh Cadent 2. We said goodbye to Hutch and Martha, made a trip through Dairy Queen and headed toward my mom’s house near Harrisburg. It was a great day!
This is a well-organized ride with friendly hosts. The snacks aren’t the best: cheap packaged cookies, packaged snack crackers, apples and bananas. Bring your own protein if you need it. The rest stops are well stocked with the snacks they have, water and bottled Powerade. Every rest stop had porta-potties. The park had flush toilets. T-shirts are available to those who pre-register and they are a nice tech fabric. The roads are in great repair and lightly traveled. SAG support was readily available. I would definitely do this ride again.