"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Going long

I've been itching some long miles, really long and slogging miles, since I came back from Georgia a bit empty-handed last February.

One of the best options for getting in a century out of Chicago is to head to the state line, as an extension off of the "Three Sisters" route that is popular on the XXX Racing team ride. My first experience with this wasn't until 2009 when Coach Randy led a fairly large group to the border last April. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day. Once past the spirited attacks through the rollers north of highway 21, aka Milwaukee Ave and onto highway 120, we settled into a pleasant rhythm, letting the base miles pile on like durable coats of paint.

We coasted through the Glencoe sprint, only to give it the afterburner in a scorching leadout train all the way down from Tower to B'hai Temple, where Cesar and Ed jumped out of the line, already moving above 30 plus, to claim the final hill for themselves.

I'd picked the day before Easter, April 3rd, as our "long day" this year. Coach was out of town for the holiday, and with racing both the weeks before and after, and then Asheville camp and the following recovery weekend, April was done. No matter then weather, April 3rd would have to be it.

So of course, the day could not have started out more ominously. The rain literally started to fall just as I stepped outside. I was dressed for wet success however, and undaunted, I met the small team contingent at Warren Park and we rode without incident, no drop, to Highland Park.

There, after coffee and some snacks, around 15 us headed north, unsure just how far we'd make it. I was stonewall set for going the distance, but rain came down in heavy, splattery drops. After leading out the University Hill sprint for some jittery newbs, we shed a few returners, more at the "Old School" turn off, and headed north into a driving rain.

It was Diddy, Tyler, Emanuele, an ex-pro cross country dirtbagger named John with calves the size of my thighs (and I'm constantly told I have the biggest legs on the team), one more who's name escapes me, and myself. We stopped at the Cemetery loop for a piss and to try to unsuccessfully get the contacts under my powertap computer dry - it hadn't been giving a reading for the last five miles or so - and I nervously thought I would get out-voted to press on. But everyone was still game, and soon we were splintering apart in "Three Sisters."

All I knew is that I'd attack John after the next roller. The next roller. The next one. And then we ran out of rollers. At the beginning he just put that chain in the 15-tooth cog and churned an 80ish cadence while trying to ride me off his wheel. For the entire set of rollers I was pegged at 178 bpm and couldn't coax myself to come around until Highway 120 was actually visible from atop the last crest. Once there I hacked up a wad of phlegm, fixed my computer, ate a bar, and we chatted for a couple minutes until Tyler rolled in, followed by the rest.

From there, after the next left turn off the east bound highway, it's straight north to State Line road. The rain came harder yet so did our resolve, and our smiles just got bigger, and our laughter louder. It was sideways as we came out of the truck stop on Randall Road, filled with hot cocoa and Snickers bars.

Soon we were rewarded, however. The crosswind was tough, and it took some resolve to stay together and not gap anyone, but by time we reached the paved bike trail at the North Chicago Metra station, the rain was gone for good, and the pavement had started to dry. 45 minutes or so later, I stopped at the entrance to Fort Sheridan to remove my rain jacket. And as we turned onto Green Bay road, we were bathed in warm sunshine.

Tyler led Diddy up to a flying John before Scott Road, and that cooked him, for then on Sheridan into Kenilworth it was just three of us. I tried a hard jump but the big man Diddy closed my gap and took the second sprint. One more roasted, for then it was just John and I going cat and mouse to B'Hai, and then cat and mouse with an indecisive minivan up the hill. Oh well, I took a cautious jump, cleared it and then gave it my all. I sat up, looked behind, and rolled off my armwarmers. It had to've been 70.

Slowly Tyler and Diddy regrouped with us, and we spun lazily back to Chicago through Evanston, a world away from the morning we'd started our ride in.

I headed straight to Susie's Drive-thru for a recovery meal that can only be eaten on days like this, even then requiring augmentation from my own fridge:

Oh, and that's not a tan-line...it's dirt.

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