This week was Week 9 of my training plan for the crazy ride "Duluth and Back or Bust!" The plan is to ride from my house to Duluth in one day (150 miles), rest for 1-2 days, and then ride back in one day for a total of 300 miles.
This week I'm on sabbatical in southeast Minnesota, and I so I've taken a few smaller rides here and there and been to the gym four times. But my main training ride, which I took on Thursday, was a 65.3 mile loop from Winona and back.
I took off from Winona around 11:00 a.m. and headed into a light head wind. The course took me through Prairie Island and up to the base of the bluffs near Stockton. From there the road really turned up as I pedaled to Lewiston which helped me to see just how out of shape I am, but which provided many opportunities for joy as the landscape was, at times, breath-taking.
When I reached the top of the bluffs, the 7-10 mph headwinds turned into 15-20 mph headwinds which essentially meant that, though the climb was over, the climb wasn't over! For those of you who are non-cyclists, riding into a stiff headwind is similar to climbing up a hill, and between the actual hills and the wind, I faced a lot of resistance for the first 30 miles of the ride.
At the top of the bluffs is the little town of Lewiston,and some time after I passed through it I could see the Saint Charles water tower way off in the distance. That structure gave me a sense of hope that soon the headwinds would be over, and a sense of exacerbation as it felt like I would never get there! But in good time, I passed through Utica and reached the outskirts of Saint Charles where I couldn't help but stop and take a pic of the town sign.
Once I rolled into town, I found a little coffee shop called "Cabin Coffee" where I stopped for lunch and a nice cold drink. As soon as I walked in the place I could tell that they weren't used to seeing people in spandex, or perhaps when they saw my girth they thought, "Some people shouldn't wear spandex." One way or the other, I endured the awkwardness and really enjoyed my time there.
After about 15 or 20 minutes it was time to head north toward Whitewater State Park which meant that I would no longer have headwinds but about 10 or so miles of crosswinds. Crosswinds can be as brutal as headwinds, but on this particular ride they were a welcome relief from the previous 30 miles. The shoulder was very thin on this section of the road and that was uncomfortable, but about 5 miles in I hit the top of the descent into Whitewater Park and I flew downhill - it was so fun!
I really love the Whitewater State Park and Elba area, so it was no chore to ride along this section of road. And to make things even better, the winds began to turn toward my back so that I picked up some cross-tailwinds. But soon I reached the turn toward Altura which, to me, meant one thing: I had ahead of me a two-mile gradual slope, followed by a two-mile climb up to the little town. But I was feeling pretty good, and after making the turn I had the wind at my back, so I just settled in, set a pace I could keep and enjoyed the ride up the hill. At this point I started to feel the sun a bit, as I've been training in cooler temps, but hey, no complaints here!
I reached Altrura at about the 44 mile mark, and continued to climb up 243 back toward Winona. I reached the peak in about 1 mile and then hit some rolling hills, but now the wind was fully at my back and I was moving along pretty quickly--that is, for an old, fat guy! I stopped in a little town called Rollingstone to drink some Gatorade and eat a bit, and then I set out for the last 13.5 miles knowing that it would be smooth sailing, for the winds were with me.
And therefore I reached Highway 61 in no time, after which I passed through Minnesota City, Prairie Island, and back into the northeast side of Winona. The riding in town was very fast, because the wind was still at my back. In fact, I was nearly able to keep up with traffic on flat ground!
I love finishing up a ride strong like this, and so I was overjoyed when I arrived at my starting place - a little coffee shop and Lutheran Campus Center called "Mugby Junction." And by the way, if you're ever in Winona, you've got to check it out, it's an awesome little place. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt. I could easily have put in more miles for the day, but alas, I called it a day and headed to my car.
Uh oh - although I've never done this before, I made the bonehead decision that morning to put my car key in one of the pockets of my cycling jersey rather than in my saddlebag. When I reached in my pocket to grab the key, it was gone and soon the gravity of that fact set it. Even if I had someone come and get me into the car, I wouldn't be able to start the car. It was 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and I didn't know what to do. So I called Kimmy and, long story short, after discussing all the options she made the amazing decision to drive all the way to Winona to give me her key, and then turn around a drive right back so that she could get a little sleep for work the next day. What a woman! What a friend! What an example of the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ! Oh how I love her!
In addition to bringing me the key, this allowed us to see each other even if for a few minutes. I'd only been gone four days at that point but we're close and we missed each other. So praise be to God, this boneheaded move on my part tuned out to be a blessing.
I'm so grateful to the Lord for this week's adventure, and I look forward to next week when I plan to ride for 85 miles or so on the Root River Trail near Lanesboro, Minnesota. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, because I'm really looking forward to this ride!