Sunday, April 29, 2012

1979: First TOSRV

1979 TOSRV Patch
It was 9 PM Friday in Lansing, Michigan, and we still had a 5-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio. We had met at 8 to load bikes and be on our way. In 10 hours we were supposed to start riding. I had tried to get to TOSRV (Tour Of the Scioto River Valley) for over 7 years, and now it looked like it was all going to blow-up before we left Lansing.

I had moved to Lansing, (well Holt, actually) in the fall of 1978, and started a new job, working as a weekday prep cook. Turns out learning how to cook cream sauces and soups without scorching them had some value for my biking. After 4 years of working every weekend, I now had most weekends off. So I could finally leave town on Mother’s Day for TOSRV.

I also owned a pick-up truck, which made me among the most popular people to know in a college town. I had a “can you help me move” request almost every week. That is in part how, through a friend of a friend, that I fell in with group from the East Lansing Campus Bike Co-Op headed to TOSRV, but with no way to carry their bikes. I would haul the bikes for 1 friend and 5 strangers, along with my own bike, following a car load of riders to Columbus.

By 9 PM we had 7 bikes loaded in my truck. But only 4 of the riders; one more had to work late, and one had bagged it. We had no where to stash the “spare” bike, so it would spend the weekend in my truck, in Columbus. Finally, at 10, we decided I would drive on and the car would leave an hour later. We would meet in the parking lot under the Ohio Capitol building. Where we were sleeping would be worked out along the way, though it was agreed we would try to look for each other at the last rest area north of Columbus. This of course, is all pre cell phones, so once on the road, that was it.

At the time, I was still drinking Mountain Dew by the 6 pack, so I was okay driving most of the way. Riding shotgun with me was Paul, a friend of the friend, who I had met that night. He was a bike mechanic for the co-op and an extreme (okay, that term didn’t exist in `79) skate boarder who thought fun was a 60 mph mountain road descent, not luge style, but standing. We just chatted rides, riding and wrenching through the night. We did take a nap at the rest area, but decided to drive on without seeing the car.  Maybe 5 bikes would spend the weekend in my truck.
A pace line headed north to White Lake

We pulled into Columbus a little after dawn, and found the parking garage. We had been there about 15 minutes when the car load arrived. They had driven straight through, not having left Lansing until after midnight.

So I started my first TOSRV on just 2 hours sleep in the prior 24 hours. I picked up my packet, and I got my baggage tagged and on the truck assigned to my overnight in Portsmouth. But beyond that, the morning’s details blur. By 1979, there was no longer a mass start, but there was still a steady stream of riders heading south out of downtown Columbus. We dropped in and followed, and during the first 10 miles, the landscape transitioned from city to suburban and finally to rural farmland.

Without knowing it, I rode past first sag in Circleville that year, since the route stayed on 104 back then. So I was both sleep deprived and bonky by the end of the first 50 miles in Chillicothe. The lines for lunch were long, and smell from the paper mills made it almost impossible to eat. But after lunch came the best miles of the day, along Canal Road and the rolling hills in the narrowed valley. Spring flowers were in bloom, and we swooped under and over the paralleling rail road. In either direction, that stretch of road remains one of my Top Ten miles of riding anywhere.
In the hills between Waverly and Chilicothe

As we rolled along on that spring day after School House Hill, every rider saw the clouds on the horizon to the west, and the HAM radio caulk boards every 5 miles had said bad weather by Waverly at 75 miles. They nailed it. We came into the north side of town as the storm hit, and by the 100’s we stood with our bikes under store awnings for 20 minutes, until it passed and we could ride on. As we pedaled through the downtown, a 6” deep river of water flowed along the main street, through our wheels and splashed by our pedals. It was like my second DALMAC, just without the panniers trailing in the water.

Just south of Waverly, mud brown water was flowing over the dam spill way as we approached the White Lake food stop, a soggy mess after the 20 minute down pour. But 5 miles down the road, it hadn’t even rained. Pace lines of 20 to 30 bikes formed up for the last miles down the valley, until we finally saw the hills of Kentucky straight ahead as the Scioto flowed into the Ohio. We came at last to the two lane bridge over the river into Portsmouth, and found the busiest party store in Ohio that Saturday. It was selling out of both beer and ice cream sandwiches as the temps climbed into the high `70s.

I found the elementary school that was my overnight, at the top of a hill above the town, and then rode to the “official” CYO chicken dinner. Back at the school, our shower was a hose in a janitor’s closet (really). I finally went back and set up my tent on a baseball diamond, crawled in and started to pull my gear in. With that only half finished, with my head and shoulders outside the tent, I sprawled across my gear and closed my eyes for a moment. That was at 7:30, after 36 hours awake on a couple hours of sleep and riding a century. Almost 4 hours later I woke up still laying on my gear in the door of my tent, and finally pulled myself in and zipped up for the night.

With some new friends post ride in Columbus.
The next morning I was up early, breaking camp and loading my baggage on the truck. It was a mixed weather day, partly cloudy, breezy but not chilly. The pace lines formed again for the first miles up to Waverly, and then we worked our way through the rolling hills to Chillicothe and lunch. I did see Circleville that day, and then started the final 30 miles to Columbus.

It was on that final leg that I saw my coolest first TOSRV memory. A pace line of 3 guys came along, and the third rider had car battery and 10 foot whip radio antennae on the back of his bike. The rider in the middle was Charlie Pace, the TOSRV ride director. He was riding with a HAM radio escort to be kept in touch with the progress of the ride. They stopped at the last sag out, said some hellos and then rolled on, the antennae whipping back and forth as pulled out of the sag.

Finally back a the ride headquarters in downtown, I collected my gear and checked in, getting my first TOSRV certificate and gold seal for completing 210 miles. I had too wait for the rest of the bikes we had to haul, and wandered around the grounds of the capitol, having fun with my TOSRV t-shirt and some of the statues, before finally packing and driving back to Lansing. After seven years, I had finally ridden my first TOSRV, and while not the way I had planned it, was everything I expected. Looking back, while I had no idea how my life would change in the months ahead, I knew I was hooked, and would be coming back to Columbus for at least 1 more Mother’s Day weekend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

1974: First Century

My first century patch from 1974 - I was a real cyclist!
As I picked up more books and magazines about bicycling that first year or riding, it was not the racing that drew my attention. Growing up, anything with athletic competition had not gone well for me, and I shied away from it. Bicycle racing looked like just one more humiliation to add to the list. Bicycle travel and distance rides were what always captured my interest. And then I learned about this this ride called a century.

100 miles in under 12-hours was THE event in midwest club bicycling. I leaned that the “century” itself was then approaching 100 years in history. It went to the heart of “The Wheelmen” clubs of the 1880’s and 1890’s, where a century was ridden on 80-pound, single speed high wheelers over gravel and macadam roads. By the early 1970’s club century rides were being hosted all over the midwest, and you could find a ride or two every weekend from May 1 to the end of October, many offering just a century route.

After my first year of riding I was doing 50 and 60 miles rides on my own pretty regularly. I couldn’t get to one of the century rides, since I did not have my own car, and I would have to arrange to have someone cover my Saturday and Sunday morning paper route. And I was still just 16, and most rides required you ride with an adult.

In the spring of 1973, I learned the county American Cancer Society chapter was sponsoring a Bike-a-thon with 20 mile loops, starting from a church just south of Jackson. This was close enough that I could persuade Mom to drop me off and pick me up, and the start time allowed me to do this after my Saturday papers were delivered. And they didn’t have that pesky adult restriction stuff in any of the paperwork.

I was on my fourth year on my paper route, so I was well known and liked by my customers, giving me a captive audience for pledges. That first year I only discussed 3 or 4 loops, and over half my 75 customers pledged in 5 cents or a dime a mile. Riding 4 loops for 80 miles, I raised about $300. And I set my goal for next year.

I did a lot of riding that summer (1973), but never broke the 100 mile mark. The fall was my junior year in high school, and with running high school cross country, I didn’t look at any more rides. But in the spring of 1974, I picked the Cancer Society forms, and started collecting pledges, this time committing to 100 miles.

The reaction to 100 miles from my customers was really a surprise. They all knew I liked to bike. And I imagine that most of them had biked has kids themselves, but all on just around town on heavy coaster brake bikes. There were no “real” bicyclings in Brooklyn. And traveling a 100 miles is a big deal, a 2-hour car trip, a real distance. So most challenged me with “Can you really ride that far?”.  For a few, the pledges were almost a bet that I wouldn’t make it. I was getting pledges of nickels and dimes per mile. The local car dealer even pledged $ .25 a mile, grinning that he wondered if would ever have to pay the $25. When it was all done, with family, friends and customers, I was pledged up to $1.20 per mile.

The ride came up on the first weekend in June, and we drove up after finishing my paper route. One of my younger brothers and a friend also came along to ride a couple of loops. I started at 8:30, behind the lead group, and just began riding at a steady pace. There were sag stops of cookies, fruit and drinks every 5 miles, and most of the riders were only going for one or two loops. But I had a water bottle, and you can only eat so many cookies, and I began skipping the stops to save time. I was still on my first 30-pound steel bike, and riding in shorts and a basketball jersey, tennis shoes, and off course, no helmet.

Looping back to the start, they had sandwiches out by Noon for lunch. I only saw my brother and friend once or twice during the day. It works out that I was probably averaging 14 to 16 mph, finishing every loop in under 2 hours, riding mostly by myself. I saw a number of the “real” bicyclists from the Jackson Freewheelers on the ride; I did not know them yet, but they would become friends in the years and rides to follow.  I finished 80 miles by 3:30 and there were only a handful of riders still out as I started my fifth and final loop. I finished a little after 5, and then sat in the parking lot in the late afternoon shade, waiting for Mom, and casually wondering where my brother and his friend were. He showed shortly after I finished, with his own adventures, dog that a dog that him around the loop, and riding off the road and down a shallow embankment, with only few grass stains to show for his tumble.

I was none the worse for the wear, except for my sunburn. My back, shoulders and arms were blistered and peeling for the next week, and I never made that mistake again. I also spent the next week collecting my pledges while showing everyone my first 100 mile patch. I had hoped to have raised enough for the new bike prize, but $120 was only good enough for an honorable mention. Mom had a little bit of fit having to deal with the check for the cash from some of the pledges, since that much money was a big deal.

That was my last big ride on my first bike. I was signed up for my first long tour, DALMAC, at the end of summer, and was already shopping for a lighter bike. That first bike had served me well in two full summers of riding and my first century.  And in making the that magic 100 miles under the 12-hour limit,  I began to think of myself as a “real” bicyclist.