The route Dad’s drawn up for our 90in9 Challenge reminds me of rural trick-or-treating. Who knew you could burn up 90 miles without ever leaving familiar childhood terrain?
Trouble is, our course needs to change even before we begin, because in my haste to make up for the unforeseen delay of getting a sick kid over to Grandma’s, I somehow managed to dash into a convenience store for provisions without realizing that what I really needed was gas.
So now we’re already stopped just 6 miles into this adventure to fuel up my van, the extra bike-toting support vehicle being driven by my dad. Traci’s fielding a call from her third-grader, who says she’s sick, too. I check in with Bob to report another unsettling discovery that happened just minutes before we hit the road: What I thought was a bit of nut shell in a cookie was in fact a chunk of my hardest-working molar. I threw it away before my tongue caught on the weird rough spot were it fractured.
So now while Traci’s trying to figure out what to do about Monroe, I’m wondering: Is this a dental emergency? Should we call this whole thing off?
That’s what my husband’s suggesting over the phone.
“Look, you’re already attempting a distance you’ve never come close to before,” he says. “And now you’re going to have this tooth pain to deal with the whole way.”
But it doesn’t really hurt all that much. It’s more psychological queasiness than anything else. And so, while Traci’s arranging for Grandma to fetch the second sick kid, I make a “mental toughness” adjustment: I’m going to pretend this tooth incident hasn’t happened yet. I’m going to pretend it happens later in the trip, sometime this afternoon, and that my dentist’s office has already closed up early for the weekend. Nothing to do at that point but press on, right? So that’s what I’m going to do, even though we’re only 6 miles underway and already behind schedule.
We’re riding in the dark, with the van lights to guide us and alert traffic to our presence. The plan is to get the windiest sections dealt with early on. We’re peddling west toward Uncle Dan’s farm, 17 miles from our starting point at my parents’ house. We’re not even taking the full brunt of the wind yet, but it’s already enough, in the 29-degree darkness, to seriously mess with our toes.
This must be why real cyclists wear those funny little shoe covers.
“We can’t possibly get frostbite from this, can we?” I ask.
“Oh yes we could!” says Traci. She’s suffering even more than I am, in her new lightweight running shoes that are all meshy and breathable.
We pull over to add a second pair of socks — I take mine off my dad’s feet — and we start up again. With the wind hitting us even indirectly, we’re only managing 8-10 mph, and we’ve already stopped twice.
We stop again at the end of Dan’s long driveway, 17 miles into the course, and Traci pulls a pair of jersey gloves over her shoes that make it look like she’s got claws. It would make a hilarious photo, but we’re already so far behind schedule I don’t want to bother.
It’s getting light now, and we’ve got a short stretch with the wind behind us that brightens our mood as well.
“You know, when we finally get all this wind out of the way, we’ll make up a lot of this time,” Traci says optimistically.
We were going to head straight up to Zanesville, until we realized there are no public restrooms there. So now we’re zig-zagging over toward Ossian instead, taking the full force of the wind in doses.
Finally we arrive at the Ossian Deli for a pit stop. We’re just over a third of the way done and managed to make up some time, though this pit stop will put us behind again. My toes are feeling better and I’m ready to ditch my jacket. I’m shocked how soaked the liner is. So now my insulated running top turns out to be damp as well, along with the down vest I had on underneath. I pull on two more long-sleeved running tops over the first one and put my vest back on, hoping the moisture will work its way to the surface and evaporate.
We thought we were done with the wind, but now Dad informs us we’ve got to go due north another 3 miles to get in our mileage. But Traci refuses.
“It just takes too much out of me,” she says. “It’s not worth it for just 3 miles.”
Have I mentioned she’s riding my dad’s mountain bike? This is another snafu in our disorganized venture; I thought Ben was going to fix his road bike so Traci could borrow it, but he ran out of time. Dad’s got smooth tires on his bike, at least, but it’s clear that she’s peddling much harder than I am.
We head east toward into Adams County while Dad studies the map behind the wheel, trying to plot a course that gives us 6 more miles (since we’re losing 3 up and 3 down) while getting us across the St. Mary’s River to the Ohio border. The wind’s hitting us indirectly but in a good way now, and we’re getting 12-14 mph, which is about typical of our so-called “training rides.”
Eventually we cross U.S. 27 and now, for the first time, I’m on an unfamiliar road. It’s hilly, and Traci’s grumpiness returns.
“I think it’s about time we turned this into a relay,” she says.
We had thought at some point Dad might ride along with us for a few miles, which is part of the reason we brought Traci’s bike along as a spare. That plan didn’t involve Mom staying home with a couple of sick grandkids, though, so Dad retrenched to designated driver duty. But now Traci practically orders him out of the van to take her place, and he complies willingly enough — asking only that she give up a pair of socks to replace his pair now on my feet.
We’re at mile 49 when he takes over the second bike. This is a huge milestone, because soon I’ll be able to think, hey, only 30-some miles to go. Even 39 miles sounds a lot better than 40-something. My brain is awfully fuzzy right about now, but Dad’s happily plunged into his role in the big adventure and yaks away about all the people he knows in these parts, customers of his when he was still president of the local bank.
Finally we get to the Ohio border, just another country road, and we turn south.
“Hey,” he says, giddy as a 10-year-old, “ride over on this side of the road so you can say you‘re in Ohio!”
I roll my eyes, even as I appreciate the energy this almost 70-year-old guy is injecting into an increasingly grueling experience. My fatigue increases exponentially over the next few miles as Dad and I continue to work the problem of how to add more mileage to the course without taking us into the wind any more than necessary while also hitting at least one more restroom in this sparsely populated area.
Pleasant Mills, it turns out, has only one apparent commercial building, a bait shop, and it’s closed — perhaps permanently. So now we either cross over into Ohio onto a busy highway toward Willshire or ride into the wind 7 miles to either hit Monroe sooner or Berne, farther south, later.
Dad’s still fairly cheerful about this hassle, trying to figure out if he can use the van to draft against the wind without sucking in a fatal mount of carbon monoxide. I just put my head down and ride, thinking, how long can this possibly take?
A good long while, it turns out. We’re going about 6 mph now, a definite low point in a journey that was never very fast to begin with. At one point I look up and see that Dad’s given up on drafting and is now simply hitching a ride, holding onto the van’s open window and letting it pull him along as he chats with Traci, who’s beginning to revive behind the wheel.
“See that grain elevator over there?” he says. “That’s right across from the convenience store in Monroe.”
As if to wipe away any encouragement this was meant to offer, he adds, “Kinda reminds me of when I was running the Fort Wayne marathon, and I’d see the tall bank buildings off in the distance. They looked so close, but it took forever to get there!”
Eventually we pull up to the Marathon station. Seventy miles down, 20 to go. My thighs, neck and butt are sore, but nothing is debilitating yet.
“I can do this,” I think as I wait for the restroom to open up. Turns out we’ve arrived just as it’s being cleaned. I’d be freaking out about this, except in my fuzzy state I somehow believe we’ve already blown our original goal. Apparently, I will later discover, I confused the time I was hoping to be done — 2 p.m., which would make resuming my various mom tasks the rest of the day much easier — with our 9-hour deadline.
If I’d just done a simple math check as I stood there waiting to pee, I would’ve realized that a 6:20 a.m. start plus 9 hours equals 3:20 p.m. But I was fixated on a fierce desire to simultaneously acquire and drain some liquids, while also scanning store shelves for something salty. It would be a full 25 minutes before we hit the road again, this time with Traci back on the bike.
Heading south toward Berne, it felt like we were flying — 14-16 mph, which is really all we could expect given our limited training and 70-plus miles on the road. It felt great, but I knew I couldn’t keep it up. And as far as I knew, there was no point. It was already coming up on 2 p.m. Now, I thought, it was just a matter of finishing.
There was still an extra 6 miles to account for, plus a strong desire on our part to avoid riding 8 miles back into the wind to our starting point at our parents’ house. Our solution: Turn the 1-mile kids’ course of the Swiss Days Race into a mini -marathon. We’d go round and round this same neighborhood for our last 13 miles, then ride a couple of blocks for a glorious finish at the giant Swiss-replica clock tower built during perhaps Dad’s shining moment as bank president, just as he retired amid much hoopla as Berne’s Citizen of the Year.
At first it’s a huge relief to be off the rural roads and riding these familiar streets. Then it becomes tedious, especially when we round the corner into the diminished but persistent wind.
“It’s a good thing we’re not worrying about the time,” says Traci, who’s losing steam again on the mountain bike. She doesn’t realize the only reason I’ve ceased yapping about the deadline is because I mistakenly think we’ve already blown it.
Six laps done, seven to go.
Seven laps, six to go.
Round about Lap 10, Dad informs us we still have a bit of distance to make up: The official race course has a 1-block overlap; by not accounting for it we’ve been a block short each lap. So now we’ve got to add 11 extra blocks, plus the two to the clock tower.
Faced with this news, Traci hitches a ride, letting the van pull her a few blocks the last couple of laps. Finally we peddle over to the clock tower and climb off our bikes.
I can’t believe my legs still work at this point. My butt’s sore, but not excruciatingly so, as I feared. My neck, site of a pinched nerve about this time last year, is aching but still functional. I’ve forgotten all about my dental emergency.
“Well, you did it!” Dad says. We look around for someone to take a picture of all three of us, but there‘s no one in sight.
We load up our bikes and head over to McDonald‘s Swiss Café so Traci can get the peppermint mocha coffee she’s been craving for miles. I get a vanilla cone and a black coffee, and Dad gets an iced tea.
Was it worth it? Having gone 90 miles, should we have pushed on for the full century?
Yes, and no, at least in my book. This 90-mile thing these last couple of years has been fun and meaningful in a highly personal way. Just like the 90 pounds those miles represent, some flew by and some took an agonizingly long time. In both cases, I‘m not sure I could‘ve done it without the support of my sister, who started out as my unofficial personal trainer and then became my training partner.
It might be fun to try a century ride sometime, but that’s not what this was about. If we’d been looking for a cycling milestone, we would’ve attempted something more within our range. Without the 90in9 angle, there’s no way we get anywhere close to a century.
But now, having done this … well, who knows what we’ll think of next?