The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
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Tour de Misery
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By Matt Gholson
Feb. 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

With only a few weekends before the Dirty South 100K its becoming obvious that I need more seat time.  Last year I was getting more outdoor riding in at night, but I rode the 100K without riding many longer rides before hand.  I was really hurting before it was done.  I wanted to be more prepared this year.
The first sign this was a bad idea was the cold, it was upper 20s around 9AM when I was supposed to meet Luke for the ride.  I called Luke to see if he wanted to wait a bit before heading out.  The second sign was that Luke would have been OK with just pulling the plug since it was so cold, but he was happy to meet me at 10AM.
I pulled my Nashbar Touring Bike from the trainer and got to work getting it ready to ride outdoors.  I had to change pedals, and since I don’t have a nice long pedal wrench I almost always cut my knuckles on the chainring when taking off the drive side pedal.  I tried to turn the wrench from a different angle and cut my knuckles even worse.  Hmm, maybe that was a sign.
I put a new chain on my touring bike and I waxed  it with Paraffin first.  Stupid I know, but I wanted to test it out.  I got geared up and got underway, as soon as I began pedaling hard the chain skipped on the cassette.  ”Hmm.  Maybe I should just go home,” I thought.  I decided that it wasn’t skipping to bad and it would probably get better as I rode.
Luke's ready to TOUR with this rig.

Luke’s ready to TOUR with this rig.

I met up with Luke and got to see his rig fully kitted up for Tour Divide.  He’s been riding it fully loaded to get used to the weight, and he’s recently switched over to Salsa Woodchipper bars.  It’s a unique ride.  He’s been focusing on riding gravel roads to get ready for the long grinds that will be required for the Tour.  We headed out of town with my bike skipping in about half the gears.
The first interesting part of the ride was the descent down Jenny Ridge, its a short and super steep grade that we were dropping down and our first taste of gravel for the day.  The recent ice storm and freeze thaws had turned the gravels into wet mush.  It was a good idea to keep your speed in check on the way down.  About 3 miles down the road I went to check our mileage and realized my Garmin was longer on my handlebars.  The 4th signal this ride was doomed.
IMG_0010Luck was with me, we rode back and found my Garmin on the side of Jenny Ridge, no worse for flying off my bar.  One of the biggest improvements they made the Edge line of bike GPS’s was improving the mount.  It’s very easy for the Edge 305 to seem like its on, then fly off on the first big bump.
About when we had rode to where I realized my Garmin was no longer with me I got my first flat.  It was on the back where I run a 28mm Vittoria road tire.  I’ve done lots of rough gravel riding on this bike and this was the very first flat I’ve had on it.   I couldn’t find anything in the tire so I put in a new tube and we were underway in a  short time.  I completely ignored the 5th sign.
The next challenge was Tom Dick Hill, a rode I’ve went down several times but never climbed.  Its about 250 feet in about 3/4th of a mile and super steep.  The only reason I had continued the ride was that bike drivetrain was pulling in the 2 lowest cogs so I knew I could make the climbs.  I was in my granny gear and having trouble turning the gear over while Luke seemed to effortless spin up the climb with his weighed down mountain bike.
Now we were in the sticks and riding rough and wet gravels with lots of big hills.  The constant elevation changes required lots of shifting which is slow and annoying in my big winter gloves, and since my drivetrain wouldn’t pull half the time I just gave up and spun up the hills slowly in my granny gear.
We were on the exciting and challenging Appel road and I got my next flat,  a classic double hole pinch flat, probably from the high speed gravel descending. I patched it and aired the tire up, but either it had another hole or the patch didn’t take because it was losing air.  I found the tiny hole from my first flat and patched it and we were underway again.  (Ed. Note:  He’s totally left out the drama and wide range of profanity that was invoked during this repair.)
At the top of the next climb it was time to stop for flat number 4.  I found another tiny hole in the tube and patched it.  If I owned a cell phone at this point I would have probably called someone to come pick me up.
Layers of gravel dirt

Layers of gravel dirt

We got on the rail trail at Stonefort and it was like riding in quicksand, or wet concrete which I guess is almost what it was.  I was breathing hard and my legs were killing me and we were riding about 10 miles per hour.  It was awful.  Luke explained that he had been riding the saturated and soft rail trail alot lately because he wanted to find the most physically and mentally grueling riding he could to get ready for 15 hour days on the Divide.  I can’t imagine any riding worse then gridning through this slop, at one point when the trail climbs I couldn’t take it any more and went out to the highway.  Luke matched my pace for awhile on the rail trail.
I think I may be a bit depleted after this ride.

I think I may be a bit depleted after this ride.

When we got back to Harrisburg I realized how happy I was that I did the ride.  I had figured out all the things that needed to be fixed on my bike.  My aching back and neck told me what I needed to work on in regards to my body.  The ride was on a large part of the Dirty South course so I got an idea how epic and hard the ride was going to be.  I made it home in time to get to work, so, great ride, even if all the signs were against it.  I also got to see what 2000 miles
before March will do for a rider, Luke made it look effortless.

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