To Austin, Day 3
I'd previously thought that I might stay in Georgetown tonight, 40 miles north of Austin. That would be a 90-mile day. That's still a long day, but a lot shorter than the 130 miles it would be to go all the way to Austin. 130 miles wouldn't be the longest ride I've ever done, and generally wouldn't be such a problem, but I was worried about not finishing before it got dark outside. As it worked out though, my friend in Georgetown wasn't able to give me a place to stay, so I was gonna have to make it happen. Fortunately, there was supposed to be a tailwind, getting stronger as the day went on.
After staying up late, I only managed to get going and on the road at 7:30 in the morning. Initially, I was going into the wind, but only a light one. Flat, quiet roads. Cold. I was wearing nearly everything, but it still wasn’t. About half an hour later, I'd warmed up and shed a small amount of clothes.
During the day, I kept thinking about checkpoints to myself. If I could get to Temple by 11:00 AM, if I could get to Georgetown by 3:00 PM, if I can get on 360 by 5:00 PM...all of those, I should be in good shape. It would only really get dark around 6:00 PM. Almost 11 hours to work with. If I could average 12 mph, including non-moving time, I could make it.
I kept checking the weather throughout the day to see if anything was changing. If I was going to make it, it would only be because of the tailwind; that would make or break my day. Mostly uneventful day, though. Stopped every hour or so to eat a small snack, sometimes ditch one article of clothing, sometimes check the weather again. Every time I did, it seemed to say the wind would get stronger a little later. First it was 11:00 AM, then 1:00 PM, then 3:00, then 4:00, then 5:00... It also kept saying light rain was coming, but thankfully, that kept getting postponed too.
I made it into Georgetown around 2:30 PM. Only 40 miles to go, and all tailwind! I was gonna make it. I spent a little extra time in town checking out the Southwestern University campus and the town square. Then it started feeling colder and I put my jacket and shoe covers back on. Not much later, I felt a few drops. Just in time! By the time I left Georgetown, it was after 3:00.
I had it in my head that Georgetown meant "almost there." 90 out of 130 miles, that's kind of true. But 40 miles is still a lot. And when you're constantly thinking "almost there," everything takes forever.
I finally wound up on Ronald Reagan highway, mostly a long, straight shot south from here. Rode alongside three other cyclists. I must've looked a little funny, with my panniers on my bike and a polo shirt. But hey, road cyclists are funny-looking to begin with.
I called my friend when I got on Spicewood Springs, telling him I'd probably arrive in about an hour. Got his voicemail. It still wasn't dark, but it would be soon. If it weren't cloudy, I would probably have another half-hour to play with. I was glad I had lights with me.
Once on 360, the "almost there" mentality kicked in again. It was a little more true this time; only 12 miles instead of 40. And all tailwind, though it still hadn't gotten any stronger than 10 mph. But hills. Lots of them. 360 was slow going, and once again, seemed to take forever. Halfway down, I stopped to put my lights on. I hadn't checked my headlight's battery before leaving Plano. It worked, but it was dim.
At long last, I turned off of 360 and into my friend's neighborhood, one of the very last turns of the day. About three miles from here, but two absolutely killer hills, both in the last 1.5 miles. I'd run them a couple times before, but never biked them, and certainly not on a loaded touring bike. When I got to the bottom of the first one, with 128 miles already under my belt, it looked like a veritable wall of asphalt.
Instinctively, my left had reached for my front shifter. Then I realized I'd gotten this far without using my granny gear.
"NNNNOOOOO!!!!!!" I let out in a gutteral roar. Only 1.5 miles left? Like hell I was gonna use my granny gear now! By all reasonable measures, I should have, but pride wouldn't let me. I stood on my pedals and focused on using every part of my legs, pushing through every part of the cycle. Pulling up on the pedals during the upstroke. Kicking forward at the top of the cycle. Keeping the bottoms of my feet level. And I kept my eyes ahead, giving myself small checkpoints to reach on the way up the hill: a tree here, a road sign there, and before you know it, I'm at the top of the hill!
I left it in a low gear at the top and spun a little bit, trying to cleanse the lactic acid out of my system before I attacked the next hill. I cringed as I coasted down the other side, knowing that every meter I descend, I'd only have to climb back up again. Once back at the bottom, I got to start it all over. Shift down, stand up. Keep your heels down. Shift your weight side to side over the pedals. Use the whole pedal cycle. Breathe. Keep your head up. Just get to that fire hydrant. OK, now get to the street lamp. Alright, now keep going...
My heart pounding like a jackhammer, I smiled as I crested the last hill. Just a quarter mile coasting down a gentle decline and I'm in like Flynn. When I got to my friend's house, he wasn't there. Had to call him again. He was out at dinner, so he told me how to let myself in the garage. Kinda sucked not to see him right away, but after a day like that, maybe it wasn't so bad. Had some quiet time to myself. I trudged into a shower, changed into comfy clothes, and helped myself to a snack, slowly going through every motion. Found my way to the couch and unwound. What a day. I made it.
from Austin New Year