Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 34 - Gravel, Schmavel

Oklahoma sunrise!

Shout out to Sarah for titling my blog for me! The destination today was Spearman, TX, a tiny town with a windmill theme. The SC2SC alumni warned us that today's ride would be the toughest of the summer due to traditionally windy ad got weather. We were a little nervous, but we set off at a confident pace. The sunrise was absolutely gorgeous over the Plaines and we stopped a few times to take pictures. I have never seen such a pretty sunrise before. 

Unfortunately, we hadn't even gotten to mile 5 before we spotted lightning and were forced to pull over and wait out the storm. There wasn't much cover so we just sat in a ditch. We joked that we could maybe take shelter underneath some grass in case the storm got bad. We took turns screaming and cowering underneath whatever weeds we could find just to make each other laugh. It wasn't long before the storm passed and we got back on our bikes, but we had been delays for at least 45 minutes, which isn't good on a 96 mile day in Texas. 

A bunch of us waiting out the storm

The crosswinds were already blowing strong by the time we reached the state line at mile 15. We took a lot of pictures and a few people even climbed up the sign! It was so much fun and a great excuse to get off the bike for a few minutes. 


Ethan and Curtis enjoying the view from the top of the sign (yes, I had to climb it!)

We battled the cross winds and everyone was still feeling pretty good by first lunch. The terrain had changed again from rolling pasture to arid chaparral. Rangelands stretched as far as the eye could see dotted with cattle. The cows around here are very skittish and will take off in a stampede as soon as your get to close. It's kind of fun watching them run in a big herd. 

The first obstacle of the day was a gravel road. Riding on gravel is tricky on a road bike because the tires are so skinny that every rock sends you in a different direction. It is also difficult because road bikes don't have any suspension so you feel every single bump in the road with your hands and butt. We biked down this gravel road for 7 miles, over cattle guards and into extremely strong headwinds.
It took us an hour because we could only go about 7 mph. The gravel road winded through cattle pasture and went uphill several times. I was riding with Emma and her and I laughed out of the absurdity of the situation. Why???? We kept asking each other. One time, we were stopped by a farmhand who asked where we were going. Neither of us could remember the town we were headed to. "We don't know! All we know is we have to keep pedaling!" 

Josh coming over a cattle guard. 

Eventually, we got back on a real road and it was the smoothest road I have ever ridden on. There was a downhill and I went a blissful 42 mph without even trying. It was a such a relief for my body after the harsh gravel road. We had second lunch and the weather was now really starting to get hot. The winds had not died down. 

After lunch, we only had 27 more miles to go. "We can do this! Lets crush these next miles!" Eliza, Emma, and I said as we rolled out. However, it wasn't a mile before we turned onto an even more brutal gravel road than before. Deep, loose gravel covered the road and we gripped our handlebars tightly to stay in control. The crosswinds made it impossible to hold our bikes straight and every time we got blown too far to the shoulder, the gravel would shift and threaten to throw us off our bikes. "Oh no no no no!" said Eliza as she fish tailed, trying to find a place on the road with the shallowest cover of gravel. It takes so much concentration to navigate a bike in such conditions. We were soon mentally and physically exhausted. But we couldn't give up! We joked and laughed until we almost fell off our bikes. Eliza started belting our the Star-Spangled Banner (which is now everyone's favorite song to sing in adverse conditions.) we also channeled some Celine Dion with a rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." After 6 miles of relentless wind and struggling to keep my bike upright, my wrists were about ready to snap. All I wanted to do was let go of my handlebars for a second's rest but I couldn't without risk of losing control of my bike. But the end was near! Up ahead was a paved road!!!

Battling the gravel!

We met up with Ethan and Curtis after the gravel was done. We complained about the gravel and then looked at the road ahead. "Let's shred these last 20 miles!" said Eliza. So for the next hour and a half, we worked together in a pace line to pull everyone home. The wind pushed against us the entire way and our bodies had had enough. The sun beat down on us as we struggled to hold pace at 13 mph. Signs directed us to Spearman and we followed them wearily. I had to turn my cycling computer upside down to avoid checking the mileage every half mile. 

Finally, we limped into town and found the church we were staying at. We looked at each other, laughed, and then fell asleep on the floor for a while. The hosts here are amazing. They fed us we and even took us to a local pool to cool off and go swimming. It was so refreshing!!

Today's ride was probably the most physically and mentally taxing thing I have ever accomplished. I am so proud of my team that we all supported each other and rode in strong. Lots of people fell on the gravel today and got right back on their bikes to continue pushing on. It is amazing the determination and perseverance of the people on this trip!  I love them all so much.

Tomorrow is a new day. I've got to get some sleep. Thank you all for reading! Goodnight!

Rachel coming up a hill out of Oklahoma

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