We are home safely from Austin.
First, the ride:
I bought my first real bicycle less than three months ago (July 23, to be precise). It took more than a month for me to learn how to ride it, change gears and cranks, and learn how to use those darned clip-in pedals. So, you can say I'm very much still a novice.
In training for this year's "Ride for the Roses" in Austin, my fiancee and I did not do any rides farther than 35 miles. The "Ride for the Roses" offers several distances; bikers can go 6, 25, 40, 75, or 100 miles. We had signed up for the 40-mile ride, well within our training. (It should be noted that my beloved is an experienced biker and triathlete.)
But then, Saturday night in Austin, we heard Lance Armstrong speak to several thousand fans at the convention center. It was, as one might expect, deeply moving. (It occurs to me, parenthetically, that Lance Armstrong is one of only two men younger than myself whom I deeply admire -- the other is my brother.) By the time we left his talk, which included a fine Q&A session with many cancer survivors, my fiancee and I had made a typically impulsive decision: we were going to ride the full 100 mile distance the following day.
And that is what we did. According to most folks, the route we took was actually over 100 miles -- 101.58 seemed to be the consensus of those with accurate computers on their bikes. The ride was made tougher by hot and humid conditions, and by a terrible headwind that we battled for most of the last forty miles. (The sort that is so powerful that it forces one to pedal downhill). I made it tougher on myself by refusing to ride in any "pacelines". I get scared when others are too close to me, so I battled the winds all by my lonesome most of the way. (I can see this is a fear I need to get over quickly). Many riders dropped out due to the heat and the wind, and many more of us were infuriated by the fact that two of the aid stations ran out of water -- in the middle of Texas Hill Country, miles from any store.
My body held up remarkably well. I can report that riding 100 miles is very similar to running a marathon, except that one recovers much faster from the former than the latter. At the end, there is that same sense of exhaustion, agony, and frustration; the final miles seem to take so very, very long to complete. As soon as I finished the ride, I laid the bike in the grass and curled up in the fetal position next to it, dry-heaving away. (Many solicitous types gave me water and bananas, and soon, all was well.)
Still, to be able to finish a 100-miler in relative comfort (save for tiredness and foot cramps, of all things) is a sign that my fitness level is reasonable. It was almost three times as far as my longest previous ride, and was much more than I expected to do just eleven weeks after buying my first bicycle and seven weeks after first learning to use pedal clips. I'm quite pleased, especially with the fact that I have no soreness today.
Now, on Texas:
Austin was magnificent. I know I have several readers who are Austinites (or is it Austinians). (Amanda, Michelle, Elizabeth -- I hope I'm not leaving anyone out!) Y'all have a beautiful, friendly, humid city! It was our first-ever visit to Texas, and my fiancee thinks we ought to start looking for places to live out there. (I'm not quite so swept.) The highlights of our trip were watching the bats fly out from the Congress Street bridge, and having a wonderful, post-ride romantic dinner at the superb Mansion on Judges Hill. I recommend both experiences.
The rural country through which we rode was also impressive. (I noted we visited, at various times, the following counties during the ride: Travis, Bastrop, Milam, Lee, and Williamson -- the very names conjure up all sorts of cowboy images.) I saw political signs everywhere, but very few referring to the presidential race (which is likely not much of a contest in rural Texas). Instead, folks in these small counties seemed very interested indeed in elections for judges, commissioners, and constables -- signs with the names of candidates for those offices were ubiquitous, even on small back roads. I found that heartening -- I like a place where local races are seen as more vital than national ones!
With two weeks out to the national election, there is much else about which to blog. I'm swamped with work, but hope to weigh in with a few thoughts on the Windsor Commission Report and the crisis in the Episcopal Church soon. My initial reaction as a liberal is one of cautious relief, but I need to read more.