After several dozen years of serious cycling, I was hit with an interesting revelation this past weekend. When it comes to riding, it's not always the challenging terrain or long distances that separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls), but the weather! In mid August, I rode a two day tour under a scorching sun with 90 degree temperatures relentlessly draining bodily hydration faster than I could refill my water bottles. Not exactly the most comfortable of conditions, especially over the course of 150 miles, but you push on. By contrast, I participated in another tour a few days ago wherein I experienced the exact opposite conditions; two days of riding under NO sun with 50 degree temps and relentless headwinds smashing in from seemingly every compass point, all while mocking sprinkles of rain threatened to explode into biblical storms around each turn. But, once again, as tough as conditions like this may be, you push on.
Either way, count me in!!
So, what were these crazy bike tours I felt so compelled to ride? Well, the first was the MS150 'Pedal to the Point' tour, of which I cycled in for the last 14 years, but since I already wrote about that ride in a previous post, I'd like to chat up the second; the Ponte Vino Giro!
The PVG is a young tour, having only just completed it's fourth year, and draws roughly 100 riders, give or take. The challenging route starts and finishes each day at the beautiful Geneva-on-the-Lake Lodge, winding its way along the breezy Lake Erie shoreline and through the rolling hills of Ohio wine country.
I arrived at the lodge late Friday afternoon. The partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures were just the first indications of the kind of weekend it would be. After checking in, I decided to walk the grounds. A newly paved bike path encircled the property, affording great views of Lake Erie, and proved to be a pleasant, if not chilly, way to pass the time.
Later that evening, a simple meet-and-greet had been set up by the ride organizers, and it was here that I met Bonnie, Joe and Dave, accomplished riders and the people I would hang with the rest of the weekend. Now, it should be noted that, for whatever reason, this particular tour seems to draw a much...uhhh...older crowd than other tours I've been on. For example, the Pedal to the Point tour will have cyclists ranging from rambunctious teens to the Buckeye Card crowd. Even the night rides I participate in have a good smattering of youthful riders. However, of the 73 cyclists in the Ponte Vino Giro, I was considered, at the ripe old age of 43, one of the young whipper-snappers!! Now, if you're thinking my chest swelled a bit at this fact, think again. I can assure you that any cockiness I may have revelled in was quickly and embarrassingly squashed the next day as I discovered my apparent 'youth' was no substitute for experience, and some of those 'old timers' handily left me choking on their dust throughout the weekend!
But I digress. ;)
Saturday morning started off with my new friends and a hearty breakfast. We contemplated the 62 miles of flat to gentle rolling terrain that awaited us, looking forward to an easy day. Both Bonnie and Joe had cycled the PVG before (riding this year on a tandem bike) and assured Dave and I that today's ride would be uneventful. Had they only known.
Once outside, the howling Fall winds and cool lakefront temperatures were already stirring the pot, and the overcast sky threatening to break open at any moment further depressed the mood. Bundled up in layers of clothing and a wind breaker, I started out on the course solo. All seemed to be going well...until the first rest stop. Now, it is customary on long tours to provide riders with maps, or cue sheets, to guide them through unfamiliar territory. More importantly, however, are the arrows painted on the road at each necessary turn. Most riders use the arrows exclusively as trying to read a cue sheet while pedalling can be difficult and distracting. Sometimes the arrows at each turn are bold and plentiful. Sometimes they are not. (Do you see where this is going?)
After arriving at the first rest stop, I checked the cue sheet to see what lay ahead. I had ridden 15 miles, with another 35 to go before lunch. Satisfied, I tucked my cue sheet away safely, hopped back on the bike, and started on the next leg of the ride. Within minutes, and completely unaware, I blew right past the first turn arrow. It would prove costly. After fifteen minutes of riding in a straight line, a little red flag suddenly went up. Immediately, the voice in my head started saying things like, "Where the @$%# is everyone?" and "Why haven't I seen any @$%#ing arrows on the road yet?" I've learned over the years that this voice is very wise, so after 3 1/2 miles of going the wrong way, I turned around and headed back. I prayed to God I would find the proper turn before the 'old folk' caught me in this major cycling faux pas. How do you live that down? Seven unintended miles. Unfortunately, I caught the turn at the same moment a gaggle of riders was coming the other way. Awkward. I kept my head down and blew past them, hoping cataracts and the lack of any short-term memory would prove my ally.
Not far from this turn, the ride began to reveal some of it's hidden treasures. In addition to this being a tour through wine country, it also passes over some historic covered bridges. The first of those was a beautiful wooden bridge in what I learned was Ashtabula, Ohio.
Continuing on, I began to settle into a rhythm and enjoy the countryside views. Although the wind was still stiff, the temperatures began to warm slightly as the sun had managed to peak out from the clouds. This was enough to brighten my day. You see, unlike the Pedal to the Point, which brings in over 2,500 riders, the Ponte Vino is a small tour, with significantly less riders. What that means to a cyclist is that much of your day is spent alone. Miles and miles of empty road can click by before you encounter another human being, so on a day like today, even the rays of sun can be a welcome friend.
After another hour or so of riding, the second rest stop crept into view. By now, the clouds had started to thicken again and the temperatures began dropping to their early morning lows. As I pulled up to the rest stop, the unthinkable happened. There was one girl working the stop and about three riders getting ready to head back out onto the road. I began to dismount my bike, recounting at the same time my adventure of the Unwanted 7 Miles, when suddenly the horizon started to tip rapidly. Yep, you guessed it, right in the middle of retelling my already embarrassing story, I committed the second greatest biker's faux pas, The Big Fall. For some reason, my left foot would not release from the pedal cage, and as my right leg was already swinging around off the bike, I had no support or balance whatsoever. I slammed into the ground with all the grace and majesty of a giant redwood unceremoniously chopped down in the bowels of Yosemite. I lay in the street in front of four dumbfounded onlookers, wishing a giant semi would just roar by and end it all. Fortunately, being the aforementioned youthful 'whipper snapper' I was, I quickly recovered, cracked a joke, and carried on the conversation as if the fall never happened. Saving some face, I needed to continue on.
Around 12:30pm, and after 57 miles on the bike (the last 20 miles error-free), I arrived at lunch. Interestingly, this stop was also the location of the next historic covered bridge, and it was a big one. In fact, it was actually on this bridge where lunch was served. So, starving, cold, and still shaking off some residual embarrassment, I headed in for a well deserved break. Moments later, I was joined by my friends Bonnie, Joe, and Dave. This was the first time I had seen them on the route and was glad to be "reunited". We sat and chatted about the day's ride thus far, and I told them all about the thrill of getting lost. I conveniently left out the part about The Big Fall, knowing that too much laughter at my expense might damage what little reputation I had.
We devoured lunch, anxious to get back on the road as there were only 10 miles left to ride. After a few minutes of snapping off those obligatory pictures of the area (including one of my new cycling friends), we rode off as a group towards the finish. It was during this final 10 miles that all of my "old-timer" comments came back to bite me in the ass. As I mentioned earlier, Bonnie, Joe, and Dave, although being several years my senior (but not old by ANY means...hee), are very accomplished riders, and I found myself struggling on several occasions just to keep up. At no time was this made more apparent then when I had passed up Dave on an overpass and made the humorous remark, "Out of the way, Old Man." Within moments of uttering those ill-advised words, Dave was but a small dot in my vision as he, along with Bonnie and Joe, tore past me as if I were walking on stilts! When I eventually did catch up again, I politely recanted my remarks. A hearty laugh was had by all and the first lesson of the day was effectively driven home. It's people like this that make biking such a trip!
By 2:30pm, we finally arrived back at the lodge. Thanks to my unplanned detour, I clocked in at exactly 70 miles for the day. We hit the showers and spent a few hours recovering in our rooms. As part of the package deal with this tour, the organizers planned a nice pasta dinner for us at Debonne Vineyards, about 30 minutes up the road. We (and by we, I mean 16 of us) jambed into a large mini-van, looking not unlike a gang ready to illegally cross some foreign border, and headed out for the winery. I must say that the dinner was delicious, and the combination of great food, great company, a party-like atmosphere, and multiple bottles of wine was a great way to cap off a long day of riding.
But Day 2 was just around the corner, and that's when the real riding would start!