Jeff Hemmel overcomes thoughts of smooth legs and Gatorade to set a new record.
Once upon a time I rode for pure enjoyment. But today, whether I like to admit it or not, I’m sometimes fueled by outside influences. The chief offender? Longtime readers may know it’s my bike computer, a seemingly innocuous device that I just can’t help but paying attention to…especially when I’m solo, on one particular 30-mile stretch of road that has become my own personal measuring stick.
The other day I won the battle with the computer on this stretch of pavement. The back-story, however, is much more interesting. Here’s what really transpired…according to the digits of my favorite companion.
0:00:00 Attempting to establish some new benchmark for time wasn’t in today’s original plan. My itinerary initially called for a 45-mile ride north that would include climbing several large bridges. My riding partner nixed the idea in a 1 a.m. email detailing how he needed to take his dog to the vet first thing due to a bout of “volcanus.” Wisely, I don’t ask for details…
00:09:19 The road is mildly busy, but soon I leave the morning commuters behind and begin to enjoy the somewhat open road that leads out to the park. It’s an island, situated at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Many days the wind is blowing relatively strong. Today, it’s surprisingly calm.
0:20:25 Early on in a lot of rides my legs feel heavy. This one’s no exception, but I’m hoping my “sensations,” as Alberto Contador would say, improve soon. I’m also hoping I ate enough for breakfast. Hey, is that bacon?
0:22:01 My early start has limited my fluid intake, and I’m already dying for a sip of Gatorade. Problem is I go with water in my first bottle for roughly half the ride, and save the Gatorade in the second bottle for the last half. As a result, bottle Number 2 currently contains mostly just a scoop of powder, and lots of ice cubes. It won’t be drinkable for a while. I munch on a Clif shot block instead, and wonder if all these sugar cubes are the reason I’ve recently gotten my first cavity in about 40 years.
0:26:39 Decision time. My ride resembles a backwards J…if that J was drawn by a five-year-old who skewed the top, horizontal line to the right and dragged her pencil across the page to add a dogleg. That means in about 30 seconds I’ll be approaching a T. Usually, the huge flag that flies at this intersection makes the decision for me. I tend to go into the wind first, reasoning I’ll suffer now, but make up for it with a lengthier downwind run. Today the flag’s not flying, so I agonize over this ridiculously simple detail for the next 29 seconds.
0:27:08 Seemingly without making a conscious decision, I check for traffic, notice there’s not a soul in sight, and roll left through the stop. Quickly, my speed drops below 20 mph. A little background? My best solo time out here has been a 19.6. Today, I want that 20.
0:32:17 I reach the first turnaround and loop back in the direction I came. Usually when I’ve been heading into the wind, this marks the point of the ride where things get suddenly quiet. Panic briefly sets in when I don’t notice any real difference.
0:36:12 Back to the intersection and headed straight, paralleling first the Bay and then the Gulf as the road doglegs north. Looking at my legs pumping up and down, I find myself daydreaming about how good they would look smoothly shaved. For this thought alone, non-cycling friends would likely kick my ass.
0:38:59 Would I trim everything first with an electric razor and then shave, or just lather up and go? Maybe they still make that Nair stuff, but for men? I notice my speed is dropping into the 18s and mentally slap myself back into action…
0:43:00 I’m feeling a definite headwind. It’s bad news, as this stretch roughly parallels my route home. I swap my bottles, and start to break into the Gatorade supply. It’s still icy, so the mixture’s not right, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.
0:46:02 I’ve been purposely avoiding checking out my average speed, but the pacer arrow on my computer goes blank for a moment, a telltale sign that I’ve just seen my current average — 19.8 mph.
0:47:11 Once again I loop through a turnaround and head back in the way I just came. Testing my legs, I bump up the gears and then spring up out of my seat, churning the pedals hard. My butt appreciates the break.
0:56:00 Back to the intersection, I turn left and head out the way I came in. This will be the longest remaining stretch, and my last real chance to improve upon my time.
1:07:05 Again I see the pacer arrow go momentarily blank at 19.8 mph. Time is running out on gaining those last few tenths. I swig a little more Gatorade, reposition myself on the seat, and push harder. Suddenly I remember that on my previous best I drafted for a brief section behind another rider. Damn those leg hairs…they’re creating wind resistance!
1:13:42 I crest the top of one of several bridges, and note how beautiful the sun has lit the water and shorelines of a sheltered inlet to the west, the red and green channel markers reflecting off the mirror-like surface. In one brief moment of clarity, I remind myself to appreciate the beautiful, if flat, place I call home.
1:13:59 Pass over a large stain in the road that about a year ago was fresh road kill. Wonder why no one ever cleaned it up…and ponder how much of the remains have splashed onto my water bottles over the past 12 months. So much for beautiful thoughts…
1:17:16 Approach my first stoplight in about an hour, and pray it will be green, as I have to make a left-hand turn and need every spare second to achieve my goal.
1:17:37 It’s red. I come in hot, then brake relatively hard, trying to avoid any moments of coasting. Looking for any advantage, I decide to pour the remains of my original water bottle over my head, blasting the liquid through my helmet vents with a lasting squeeze. The driver beside me recoils in horror at the middle-aged guy in Lycra reenacting the splash scene from Flashdance.
1:17:40 Feel a refreshing, dare I say almost icy blast of coolness drench my head and drip down my back…and realize I just doused myself with Gatorade.
1:19:01 As I approach the drawbridge leading home, the procession of cars beside me miraculously clears. Once again I jump out of the saddle and push forward, actually increasing my speed on the uphill. I’m hoping oncoming motorists see my straining muscles and half-zipped jersey and think German ace Jens Voigt…and pray they’re not thinking German crooner David Hasselhoff.
1:22:52 As I fly down the beach road at 25 mph, my eyes are smarting from the strange, sticky yellow sweat that has begun to cloud my vision. Note to self: wash helmet before next ride.
1:29:43 Finally pass my driveway, and resist the urge to claim it like Cavendish. By the clock I already know the result, but I check the average speed just for the satisfaction — 20.0 mph. A personal best.
But obviously, there’s much more to the story than that…