Expensive Organized Rides

As I sat indoors on an unseasonably cool, gloomy day today, it occurred to me that an organized ride is coming up that I was thinking about doing this year. I got out the laptop and jumped onto the ride’s website.

Oh, no! The ride was Saturday — and today is Sunday! That’s what I get for “thinking” about doing a ride, but not adding it to any kind of a schedule, and holding off on registration until I’m “sure” I want to ride it. I just — forgot.

I wonder, though, if that forgetting was any kind of a clue that maybe I really didn’t want to do the ride in the first place. I’ve written before about my ambivalent feelings toward organized rides — how they’re a way to get an expensive t-shirt. Then I changed my mind, and rode a few in the ensuing months. I enjoy the camaraderie of riding in a large group, but without the hassle of being in a pace line. Mostly, when I do organized rides, I keep to myself or stick with only one or two friends.

Waiting for the start of an organized ride early in the morning.

Waiting for the start of an organized ride early in the morning.

There’s another ride coming up in May that I haven’t done for several years, and would enjoy doing again. But when I looked at their registration page, the $60 entry fee put me off. It seems that what used to be $25 rides — $30 if registering on ride day — have now ballooned into costly ventures. I don’t know about you, but I think $40 is about as much as I care to pay if I’m going to join a t-shirt ride. I know it’s expensive to put them on, to provide the expected food and maybe drink at the end. I’ve volunteered as staff on a couple of rides, and I think I have an appreciation for the effort it takes to put one of these together. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

I’ll be passing up that ride in May, although I might do another one within a week or two of it. This time, I’ll make up my mind early, and be sure to get my registration taken care of — before the price goes up.


The Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred

The Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls, Texas, is considered a must-do ride for people in this region of the country. Over its 31-year history, it has grown into what it bills as the largest ride of its type. I’ve always wanted to ride it, because…well, it’s just one of those events you’ve gotta do. This year, the stars came together for me, and it turned out to be one of my cycling highlights. My good friends Russ and Debra have been going to the HHH for several years. They rent a recreational vehicle to have complete independence over the weekend. When they invited me along, I jumped at the chance. Several of us joined Russ and Debra. Their friend Toni took the 350-mile ride up there with us.

Bike Noob, Toni, Debra and Russ ready to hit the road. Russ said this unit was the smallest available at the RV rental place. (Click all photos to enlarge.)

Yeah, we were living in the lap of luxury for this trip. Our friends and fellow club members, Jerry and Maggie, met us in Wichita Falls, along with Nancy. Even in a bus the size of ours, that many people bunking in created some interesting living conditions.

When three bikes are stowed inside, traffic patterns are a challenge.

We carried Debra and Russ’s bikes on an outside rack. When we got to the RV parking area, they were coated with road dust. An early order of business was to get everything shipshape.

If you want a clean bike, call Debra.

The weekend is about everything bike. A big bike expo crowds the convention center. Ride organizers put on a carbo-loading spaghetti dinner the evening before the ride, and then we went outside to watch some of the criterium racing that was part of the weekend.

Just some of the people at the spaghetti dinner. Service was available for four hours.

Sanctioned criterium races ran Friday evening and Sunday morning. A 100-mile road race was also part of the weekend’s events.

The weather forecast is always on everyone’s mind as ride morning breaks. Because August in Texas is hot, hot, hot, the ride starts just after 7 a.m. That meant 12,000 cyclists got up at the crack of dawn, and many (including yours truly) headed back to the arena for a big breakfast. Then, we rode a few blocks in the dark to the starting area. We all grouped in the starting grid for the second group of 100-milers, even though only Nancy, late arrival Barbara, and I intended to ride the full 100 miles. I thought I had Russ talked into joining us, but he opted for the 100K along with the others. Tandems took off first, then the official start came at 7:05, for the fast 100-milers. Our group was held back until 7:25 before we got the go-ahead.

Looking back at some of the starters about half an hour before the cannon sounds.

And they’re off! (Photo from the Wichita Falls Times-Record.)

The only similar experience I’ve had on a bike was at the MS 150 from Houston to Austin. The group didn’t really start to thin out until well after the second rest stop, 20 miles into the ride. Nancy, Debra, Toni, and Barbara got well ahead of Russ and me right off the bat. The two of us rode together until we reached Iowa Park, about 10 miles out of Wichita Falls. There, the route made a left turn and crossed some railroad tracks. Just as we made the turn, the gates started coming down and we could see a long freight train heading our way. Russ shot across the tracks before the gates lowered all the way. I was trailing, and had to make a split-second decision. I decided to go around the gates — something I’ve never done in my life. Good thing the freight was moving slow.

The split between the 100-mile and the 100K routes came soon after. I was torn when I saw Russ turn off on the 100K route, but I plunged into the 100-miler, and soon picked up a nice paceline. The southeast wind blew briskly at our backs, and pushed us along at around 23-24 mph.

I had planned to limit my time at rest stops to about five minutes, but it was apparent that that wouldn’t happen. At rest stop 2, the first one I used, I stood in line for food, then stood in line to refill my bottles, then stood in line for the porta-potties. It took almost a half hour before I was back on the bike. Barbara and I had agreed to meet at that rest stop, but I couldn’t find her, so I got going again. She sent me a voice mail minutes later that she had waited around for me for 10 minutes, then assumed I had gone on ahead and hit the road. We didn’t see each other again until I caught up to her at the 74-mile rest stop. She had had two flat tires, which slowed her down. But she was just leaving as I arrived, so I never saw her again for the rest of the ride.

The landscape in North Texas is featureless. But it’s the mostly flat ride that attracts so many first-time century riders.

The Bike Noob still going strong at about 60 miles. Honest, I do not normally ride with my elbows locked.

Oilfield services is an important industry around here. This is a pumpjack graveyard.

The sun broke through the overcast skies at about 1 p.m., and the day heated up quickly. It wasn’t Hotter ‘n Hell, but the strong wind made it windier than all get out. Even so, one rider I talked to at a rest stop said his Garmin was showing a surface temperature of 107-111 degrees (41-44C). Obviously, that was because of reflection from the road surface.

By now, the route had turned east, and the wind was hitting us from the right front quarter. It made the going tougher, but I could still keep up a 15 mph average. I stopped at every rest stop to top off my bottles with ice. As the day wore on, ride organizers set up new rest stops at closer intervals — so you never had to ride more than five miles without a break.

I was starting to slow. My butt was sore on the saddle, but I could see lots of other riders stand up to shake out the soreness as well. The SAG wagons did a land office business. Actually, I saw my first load of riders sag out at about 38 miles into the ride, which amazed me. Why sign up for 100 miles if you can’t do half of that? But now, after 75 miles, it seemed that I was passed every 15 minutes by another pickup pulling a trailer loaded with bikes and a bunch of guys (always guys) in the back. And a lot of these guys looked like they were real bikers, too — big guys who probably went out too fast and couldn’t finish.

At Burkburnett on the border with Oklahoma, the route turned south  onto the I-44 frontage road, and dead into a strong wind. Cyclists dropped to their lowest gears and made slow headway. I caught up to Roy Jones from San Angelo, whose blog — “Pedal Pushers” — I read. “This isn’t any fun anymore,” he said.

Despite the rest stops every five miles, the scorching sun and the fierce wind forced cyclists to rest whenever possible. Some just stopped along the roadside and stood over their bikes, heads drooped into the wind.

“You okay?” I asked one.

“Yeah, fine,” he barked back. He didn’t look fine.

The route was wide open, with no shelter from either sun or wind. A clump of trees off in the distance beckoned. They turned out to be part of a roadside rest stop along the Interstate, but worn-out cyclists filled it. Many flagged down passing SAG wagons, but they were all full, and wouldn’t take on anyone else. I got back on my bike and slogged ahead.

Worn-out cyclists make their own impromptu rest stop under shade trees along I-44.

The effect of the wind and all the stops showed itself while I was at the next-to-last official rest stop. A volunteer strode through the tent, and announced that if we wanted to finish the ride, we had to leave the rest stop immediately, or be sagged out. Heck, I hadn’t even had a chance to get one of the sno-cones they were handing out there.

After another three miles, we hit Sheppard Air Force Base. This has always been a treat for the riders, and this year for the first time in a long time, the 100-mile ride was routed through the base. A highlight was riding past a collection of jets — a B-52 bomber, F-15 fighter, T-38 trainer, A-10 Warthog — cool stuff. A little farther down, the cadets lined both sides of the street, cheering for riders and high-fiving.

Cadets at Sheppard Air Force Base hand out water and cheer on riders five miles from the finish.

Five more miles to go. I passed a few more riders and turned onto the same street we had left earlier that morning. I turned into the convention center area, passed under the big balloon arch, and was handed a medal signifying my accomplishment.

It was a bittersweet feeling. I intended to finish this century strong, unlike others I’d done in the past. But I didn’t put in enough really long training rides, which hurt my endurance. The wind was something no one could prepare for. My on-bike time: just over seven hours. But I crossed the finish line nine hours and 39 minutesafter starting — pretty miserable. My average speed over the last 20 miles couldn’t have been more than eight miles per hour.

Still, this was a great event and I’m glad I finally did it. Many thanks to Russ and Debra for sharing their RV and the rest of the gang for putting up with me. Thanks also to Development Counsellors International — the marketing group for Wichita Falls — for comping my entry fee. I’ll be back — but it might be for the 100K next time.

Armadillo – Turkeys and Chickens and Skunks, Oh My!

The Armadillo Hill Country Classic is the Austin Cycling Association’s main fundraiser every year. It’s a nice supported ride starting from Liberty Hill, northwest of Austin, and I like to ride it if my schedule lets me. I’ve done the 50-mile version the past two times I’ve ridden it, and was looking forward to do the 60-miler this time around.

The day was darn near perfect. The 105-mile ride had to be shortened to 90, because two cattle guards on the long route were under water from recent rains, and those roads were impassable. The long riders set off at 7:30, a half hour in advance of the rest of us.

The 105 and 85-mile riders get a 7:30 a.m. start from Liberty Hill High School, and I found myself in a poor spot to get a good shot.

Temperature was about 63 degrees (17C) at the start, and what wind there was wasn’t a factor. The day was sunny and bright. We started out on the familiar roads, and held together as a large group until the first rest stop at seven miles. I was surprised at the large number of riders who made a stop there, since our group was the 43, 50, and 60 mile riders. I wouldn’t expect anyone with the experience to go that far would need to stop so soon.

We’ve had some decent rainfall over the last week, which caused the route shortening, but the rain also is producing one of the finest crops of wild flowers I’ve ever seen. The roadsides were carpeted with them.

The colorfully-named Mexican Hat (foreground) and Indian Blanket.

But in my careful preparations for this ride, I forgot one detail: to check the batteries in my camera. Right after snapping this shot, the camera died. You’ll have to use your imagination to visualize the scenes I depict.

Yours truly, caught in mid-ride by the on-course photographer.

Shortly after the flower pics, we turned onto County Road 284 — one of the worst stretches of chip seal it has ever been my misfortune to ride. It shook my jaw, rattled my teeth in my head, and sent irritating vibrations (not quite painful, but almost) to my feet and hands. That was the longest three miles I’ve ever ridden.

My first rest stop was in the only town the ride visits: Bertram, pop. 1300, about 23 miles in. The rest stop here is a good one, as rest stops go, and I was glad to get some relief, a quick bite of food, and to top off my water bottles.

Some miles past Bertram, the route split, with the 60-milers going to the right. This brought me onto a part of the course I’d never seen before. Maybe it was because this area was new to me, but it seemed more “rural,” with houses and small ranches spread far apart, and a winding narrow country road. I got to the rest stop at the “Dillo Door,” where the 105-milers had to pass before 10:30 in order to be allowed onto the long route. I passed the rest stop and turned onto the 60-mile route.

It wasn’t long before the road took a turn that surprised me. Even though this ride is in the Texas Hill Country, the roads are mostly flat, or easy rollers. But a real hill loomed ahead. It compared with “Hail Mary Hill,” that I have struggled with on rides close to home. I stood and pedaled in my 34 x 28 granny gear, and finally crested the top.

As I eased my effort and continued along, two wild turkeys flew onto the road ahead of me, stopped, and started walking in the same direction I was going. The huge birds finally realized I was behind them, and they flew into the underbrush on the other side of the road, where I could see them walking away as I passed.

Just a few minutes later, another varmint crossed ahead of me. This time, it was a skunk! He was closer than the turkeys, and I had to swerve wide left to avoid him. As I pulled even, he raised his tail and took aim. I pedaled for all I was worth. I don’t know if he got off a shot or not, but in any case, I was untouched.

I turned onto the road to Oatmeal, and passed their iconic sign. The rest stop at the top of a nearby hill was a welcome sight, and it even had some chairs to relax. From here on out, it was back home on the roads we’d headed out on.

My bottom was starting to protest, and I decided I’d stop at each of the remaining stops, if for no other reason than to get off the bike and walk around for a minute or two. But at the next to the last stop, as I wandered over to the food table and found to my delight that they had some nice salty pretzels, I also found some critters milling around my feet. It seems a small flock of chickens weren’t going to be bothered by bikers and tables and ride volunteers, and were intent on picking the ground for any stray Clif Bar crumbs. My cell phone camera doesn’t do them justice.

Some of the chickens at the next to last rest stop. They’d walk right up to my feet and peck around if they thought they could get some goodies.

I knew I was 14 miles out from the finish, but my computer showed that I’d already traveled 49 miles. So the 60-mile route was really going to be 63 miles. No biggie, but now I just wanted the ride to be over. I had hoped to finish at about 12:30 p.m., for roughly a 15 mph average once rest stop time was figured in. Looking at my watch, it seemed that 1 p.m. would be a more realistic finishing time.

See ya later!

A nice tailwind let me cruise at 25-26 mph for several miles, and then the rollers — and that horrible chip seal on County Road 284 — slowed me again. On the outskirts of Liberty Hill, I passed some tired-out riders, then crossed the railroad tracks and turned into the school parking lot. I was done. The time was 12:49. That gave me an average speed of 14.4 mph, which I decided I’d be happy with.

Cars were sparse in the parking area, and I could change clothes in my front seat without risking anyone getting a look. A little glitch with the post-ride food caused me to wait a little longer, but I eventually got my burrito, a cup of iced tea, and hit the road home. The temperature was still only 75 degrees (24C) and I had been comfortable throughout the ride. A good route, with great support, and a mix of flora AND fauna — it’s no wonder I try to make this ride every year.

Rest Stop Food

Now that spring is here, lots of us are contemplating organized rides. Which ones should we do? What do we look for on a ride?

One Bike Noob reader recently contacted me with a report about a 120-mile organized ride that left him underwhelmed. I’ll let him tell the story:

“The thing that really struck me was the low quality of the food at these stops. This was a pricy ride, with no obvious charity beneficiary, so you’d think they would have provided decent food on the road. I mean, I’ve been on some centuries, t-shirt rides and so forth where they ran out of stuff, even water. Those things happen. But, this one seemed like the food had been obtained by sending someone who’d never ridden before into Sam’s Club. There were bananas cut up and orange slices, so it wasn’t all crap. But, aside from the fruit, at most rest stops, there was only oreos and potato chips. Some of them had these uncrustable PB&J sandwich things and one had the real cheap, sugary granola bars – you know, the ones about the size of your index finger. One rest stop had these GU shots, in the original packages so a small percentage of riders got more than they needed and the rest, none. I say that as an early rider who got the package with a half dozen of the things, but they were too sticky to share on the road, except with really close friends.”

This rest stop manned by volunteers (not on the ride at issue here) appears to be well-stocked with lots of choices.

Hm. I’ve been on rides where they’ve run out of food, too — but I only experienced that because I was riding so slowly that I was among the last to get to a rest stop. This fella has a legitimate gripe, I think. To continue:

“Each item that they had was something that some rider could be craving at that particular moment, but they didn’t really add up to the sort of fuel that you need to ride long distances. Cookies are good, but you get a lot more mileage out of oatmeal or fig newtons or something like that, even chocolate chip, than oreos. I carried a Clif bar and a Snickers Marathon, but they were more for emergency purposes. I didn’t expect them to provide the bulk of my fuel. I realize that the various energy bars are more expensive than vending machine snacks, but if you are charging $70 for a tee shirt, a meal and sag service, it seems like you could come up with better food options, or at least some variety from stop to stop.”

Our reader wonders if he had just been lucky on other organized rides he’d been on. Are situations like this par for the course? Or, was this ride as  “sub-par” as he imagined?

In my experience, the volunteers who man the rest stops put a lot of effort into providing the kinds of foods cyclists need. However, I’ve noted that in many cases, the food is very predictable and lacks variety. Chunks of banana, orange slices, peanut butter & jelly quarters, and the bad Gatorade that’s mixed up in bulk are pretty standard these days. If you come across a rest stop with cookies, especially home made ones, that’s a bonus. Rest stops with fig bars are a pleasant discovery. And as our reader says, if you’re paying a hefty price to take part in the ride, you really shouldn’t have to rely on a Clif Bar or some other energy food you carry yourself.

What’s been your experience? Have you been on organized rides where the rest stops are substandard? Where the food doesn’t take care of your energy needs? I’d like to hear your tales.

The LBJ 100

Spring must be here. We can tell, because it’s time for the LBJ 100 again. This would be the third year in a row Pat and I have ridden this one. It starts at the ranch of former President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas, and is a fundraiser for the preservation of the ranch’s history. It’s also a scenic ride and well supported, and seems to grow in popularity each year.

The Bike Noob anticipates a good ride.

Although I had ended last year’s ride suffering from slow slogs up endless hills, and had pledged to ride only the 42-mile route this year, I felt that I was in better shape and decided to tackle the 62-mile route (100k — hence the name of the ride. There is no 100-mile version). Pat would once again do the 30-mile ride.

The forecast had looked promising all week, with temperatures at the start expected to be in the mid-50s (12C). What hadn’t been predicted was the dense fog that settled in during the early morning hours. Prognostications that it would burn off by the 9 a.m. start proved inaccurate.

Some of my fellow Circle C Ranch Cycling Club members inch their way toward the starting line, which is still partly obscured by fog.

The ride starts on the runway of the ranch, behind the house. When Johnson was president, he would fly into the ranch on a small jet, which is still housed under an awning nearby. The ranch is operated by the National Park Service. We were a little late getting to the start, and heard the air horn go off to send the 85 and 62-milers on their way while we were still halfway up the runway. I caught up with some friends from my bike club, just in time to hit the bottleneck past the former “Texas White House.” The crowd of riders was in good spirits, and accepted that they would be dismounting and walking, instead of making a brisk getaway at the start.

Cyclists file slowly past the “Texas White House” just after the start of the ride.

The road past the house is a major bottleneck. We walked our bikes. But I heard no complaints.

Once we cleared the house, and the cattle guards in front of it, things opened up a little. I fell in with my friends Rick and Penny, and we soon caught up with another familiar rider. It was Pat. How she got ahead of us was a mystery, but she must have skirted the crowd at the ranch house. We said our hi’s, passed her, and moved on. We stayed together for about the first six miles or so, but Rick gradually pulled ahead out of sight. I, in turn, got well ahead of Penny. Then I ran into a problem I’d never had before: When I shifted my hands on the handlebars, I clipped the edge of my cyclocomputer, and it fell off the bike onto the road. I stopped, put the bike on the side of the road, and walked back to it, hoping none of the oncoming riders would roll over it. None did.

The delay allowed Penny to catch up to me, and we rode together to the third rest stop — but our first of the day — in Willow City. Willow City is a small hamlet, about 24 miles out from the LBJ ranch. The roads in the area are popular with cyclists, but also with motorcycles. We saw a large group of them today. On the way out of Willow City, a Porsche passed us in the oncoming lane. Then another. And another.

“The Porsche club must be having an outing today,” I remarked to Rick, whom we had caught at the rest stop. We didn’t count them, but guessed there must have been 30 in an unbroken line, adding their presence to the crowd in Willow City.

Beautiful downtown Willow City.

Penny heads for the Willow City rest stop.

By now, the field was well strung out. We were on a 17-mile stretch of road from Willow City to the easternmost point of the ride, in Sandy. It features lots of rolling hills — none terribly difficult, but they do take their toll on riders. This is where I first ran into trouble last year. But last year, it was sunny and warm. This time, the fog still hadn’t completely lifted. It had covered my sunglasses with a film of moisture, so I took them off and rode with my regular glasses, which didn’t get wet as quickly, for some reason.

Bluebonnets along the road.

When we got to Sandy (It must have been a town once — there’s a Sandy Cemetery, but not a building to be seen now), the rest stop was a welcome sight. Recent rains have eased the drought Texas endured last year, and the crop of bluebonnets — the state wildflower — is excellent. A carpet of bluebonnets decorated the rest stop, and provided a major photo opp for many riders. There’s just one problem with the rest stop at Sandy: From here, the ride turns back west, and is more uphill than down. I knew I was in for the most challenging part of the ride.

Prickly pear and bluebonnets coexist behind the Sandy rest stop.

Left: Celebrity biking dog Oleta relaxes with a friend while her owner is off to replenish food and drink. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the man in the shot is Rick Ankrum, the author of biking blog texbiker.net.
Right: She can make the idea of drinking pickle juice palatable. I had one.

This is where I ran into trouble the last two years I did the ride. I left Sandy before the rest of my group, knowing that they’d catch me anyway. The still-cool temperature (and I hope, my better conditioning) left me feeling much better than I did at this point before. But I was in one of the lowest gears of my small ring as I hit the long uphill section.

A typical look at the rollers we faced during the ride. The chip seal roads made it hard to hold the camera steady.

Rick and Joe, the president of our club, passed me easily about four miles out from Sandy. Penny and Joe’s wife, Judy, caught me at the next rest stop when I stopped to refill my water bottles. I had neglected to do that at Sandy, and was doing a much better job of drinking regularly than I do on most rides. Judy got out in front a way, and Penny and I slogged up the endless hills.

“Ya know,” I said to Penny, “my goal coming into this ride was to do this section better than I did it the last two years. And I am — but it doesn’t feel any better.”

Then, it happened again. I moved my hand position, brushed against the cyclocomputer, and it flipped off onto the road. Once again, I had to stop and walk back to retrieve it. Penny had been a little bit ahead of me, and so didn’t know what had happened. By the time I was ready to get going again, she was out of sight.

A nice, long downhill leads into the final rest stop, and I rounded the corner into it with elan. Penny and Judy were just about to pull out when they saw me.

“Don’t wait for me,” I told them. “I’m refilling my water bottle. You two go on ahead.”

I was hoping to catch them during the last four miles of the ride, but was never able to do it. So, I think I have the dubious distinction of being the last of our club to finish. By the time I got through the food line and found a place to sit in the big tent at the finish line, most everyone else had left. Pat had pulled the car closer to the tent than where we had parked it originally, and I scarfed down the sausage wrap and potato salad and spinach salad — good food!– and we packed up to head home.

Pat had her own assessment of her ride. As she described a particularly tough hills section to me, I said it must have been only on the 30-mile route, because I didn’t recall anything like that. “That’s right,” she said. “I was riding next to a guy who had done the 62 and 42 in previous years, and he said that part of the 30-miler was tougher than anything on either of the longer ones.” She doesn’t ride a lot of hills, and was plenty sore that evening.

I’ve ridden a little more this year, and done more hill work, so I thought I was better prepared for this ride than in past years. I was, but at the end, I was still worn out. Pat drove the 60 miles home, and when we got there, I flopped on the bed and slept deeply for two hours. Then I woke up rested and refreshed. As my baseball hero, Ernie Banks, used to say — “Let’s play two!” I’m ready to go out and do another one.

Those Fall Rides

Temperatures here in Texas are finally starting to moderate. Our overnight lows are positively fall-like, with overnight lows expected to plunge to 68°F (20°C) next week. And when the weather changes like that, we can look forward to some of the better organized rides of the year.

Okay, I’m being a little sarcastic here. But the good rides do start up again in the fall, and I realized too late that I haven’t been pointing toward any of them. For two of the last three years I’ve done the Outlaw Trail 100, which is on October 8 this year. I’m going to pass on it this time around. I just don’t have the mileage base that would allow me to finish 100 comfortably. I’m sure I could finish it uncomfortably — I just have no desire to. Another century I’ve thought about trying is the Waco Wild West in Waco. But that’s in late September — too soon for me.

Realistically, the time to start planning on those fall rides is in mid-summer. Last year wasn’t a problem because our weather was moderate by Texas standards. This summer has been the hottest on record, and while it’s been easy to get in some good hour-and-a-half to two-hour rides early in the morning, anything much longer than that gets you into the really hot temps of the day. I have no enthusiasm for that. So my mileage has suffered this year, my time in the saddle is down, and my overall cycling fitness ain’t what it used to be. There’s always next year.

However, there might still be some rides worth attempting. A couple in November offer possibilities. The Tour de Gruene (green) is a weekend-lomg event in New Braunfels, Texas. There’s a race, an individual and team time trial, and a recreational ride along the scenic Guadalupe River. Maybe the river will have water in it again by November. It’s a ride I haven’t done, but have been thinking about trying. Another is the Austin-to-New Braunfels “Wurstride.” It’s a good 60-miler, and was the scene of my first metric century four years ago. I haven’t been back since. It might be time.

So, getting started to prep for these rides at this late date means I have to build my mileage again. My “long” rides this summer have averaged 30-40 miles. Time to extend that distance. They say a 10 percent increase each week will do the trick — both in weekly mileage and in the length of the long ride.

And what the heck. I declared at the beginning of the year that organized rides no longer held much interest for me, and while it’s true that I’m not crazy about shelling out 50 bucks just to ride with sag and food stops, I can still do those same routes on my own — just making arrangements to be self sufficient. But I like the group ride. The atmosphere is fun, I get to see folks I don’t see on the bike that often, and I get to ride routes I don’t ride that often. I’ll probably do at least one or two of the better ones around here.

How about you? Do you have a favorite must-do fall ride? When and where?

Riding Across A State

Now that RAGBRAI is over, I’m thinking about getting into a ride across state myself. What’s RAGBRAI, you ask? It’s the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa — the granddaddy of all the cross-state rides.

Cyclists dip their tires in the Mississippi River, the traditional way to end RAGBRAI.

In all, about 40 states have some kind of cross-state ride. They’re pretty neat, because they offer a chance for cyclists who do not tour on their bikes to sample a long-distance, multi-day trip. Typically, these rides offer sag support, medical attention, bike repair, meals, and rest stops. A day’s ride can be anywhere from 40 to 100 miles, but usually run about 60 miles.

Most of the time, riders will camp at a large group campground each night. Some rides make arrangements with area motels to take cyclists who are not the camping type.

One of these years, I’m going to do RAGBRAI. The 2011 version has already wrapped up. Their website is already anticipating next year’s ride. The catch is, RAGBRAI is so popular, it limits the number of cyclists who ride the whole trip to 8,500 — and fills that quota with a lottery. So you might not get in.

But there are other options if you don’t. Most of the other cross-state rides aren’t as famous as RAGBRAI, but worth considering nonetheless. Here’s a sample.

California Coast Classic: Sept. 17-24. An eight-day trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw (Michigan): Aug. 31-Sept. 4. Five days from Lansing to the tip of the Lower Peninsula, with an option to continue up to Sault Ste. Marie.

One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada (OATBRAN): Sept. 25-Oct.1. Starts and ends in Lake Tahoe.

Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee (BRAT): Sept. 11-17. The 22nd annual. Overnight camping in state parks. Figure 8 loop west of Nashville.

Tour des Trees (Virginia): Oct. 2-8. Ride from Virginia Beach to Washington, DC and plant trees along the way.

These are all still scheduled, so if you want to ride one, act fast. Most of the cross-state tours seem to happen in spring, especially June. Some worth considering are the Oklahoma Freewheel: June 10-16, 2012; south to north across the state; Biking Across Kansas; Great Annual Bicycle Adventure Along the Wisconsin River (GRABAAWR); June 16-23, 2012; Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN). You can also cross a state in one day in the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN), which goes from Terre Haute to Richmond — 160 miles.

The idea of crossing a state appeals to me — much more than riding across the entire country. I’ll be putting several of these on my bucket list. If you’d like to scope out even more options, the fine touring blog Biking Bis has a whole section devoted to them.

Have you ever done one of these cross-state tours? What do you think?