Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to TOSRV (for the first time)

Tyler, age 12, on his first TOSRV, 2005
It was the first big ride I ever heard about.  It was the early `70s and while to trying to find myself in high school, I was also trying to eat, sleep and breath bicycles.  I grabbed a copy of Sports Illustrated, not for the baseball or football (not even the swimsuits), but because I found an article about the bike boom, and Eddy Merckx, and this ride Mothers Day Weekend in Ohio that had 6,000 riders riding 200 MILES in TWO DAYS!  6,000 riders!  I wasn’t crazy or alone for wanting to ride.  That ride became something I had to do.  Of course, first I would have to get a nice bike and a driver’s license so I could get to Columbus, and ride my first century.

Started in the early `60s, The Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV or TOZ) is the mother of all midwest rides. It’s reputation is many fold, the challenge of back to back 100 miles days after as little as a month of decent spring weather.  The actual ride weather itself was always intimidating; wind, rain, heat, tornados and even snow.  Registering was a ritual of mailing a SASE in late January, with a rush to return the completed entry form before the ride filled in 3-4 weeks.  TOSRV is a collection of images of endless lines of riders streaming out of downtown Columbus and into rural Ohio, following the Scioto River, the railroads and the old canals, until you finally came to the Ohio River and floodwalls of Portsmouth.  Out of TOSRV grew legends of bad weather, Bikecentennial (which would become Adventure Cycling) and friendships that would last years.

Through luck, chance and jobs, it would be 1979 before I finally rode my first TOSRV, on a single bike, surviving Saturday afternoon thunderstorms and flash floods in Waverly, and falling asleep in the door of my tent in Portsmouth.  Over the next 11 years I would return to ride 5 more times, though now on a tandem, and each with a different guest stoker.  While not a tandem event, it is very poplar tandem ride; the challenging yet tandem friendly terrain, seems to draw couples, sport teams, and parent/child teams.  No official count is taken, but there are easily 150 or more tandems, and a triple or two.

For me each ride was different experience; the laugh when rider called car back after hearing the tandems tire buzz over taking him.  Pulling paces lines of 20 or more bikes. One year a guest stoker arrived the day of the ride 40 pounds heavier than our last ride the previous year, and our rear wheel barely survived the weekend.  A minor car accident and severely broken finger bone almost canceled me one year, but I was in Columbus and on the bike two weeks after the cast was off, and after 30 miles, captained the rest of the weekend. 1990 was a reunion ride of sorts for 4 of us now living or heading to 4 different states, and would begin a 15-year break for me.

Over the next 15 years I would move across the country and back, but always thinking about that Mothers Day ride in Columbus.  Finally, 2005 would be the year I would end my hiatus and for the first time I would have a family member join me, my oldest son.  Tyler and I had tandemed his first century a year and half before.  An accident in 2004 curtailed my cycling season and kept us from trying another long ride, though he was now able to do 50+ miles on his own.  Since leaving Iowa for Indiana, Tyler had wanted to replace our BRR father/son ride (Iowa’s late February, 20 miles and usually snowy ride season kick-off), and TOSRV seemed fine to him, even it was 10 times the distance of BRR.  At least snow isn’t “normal” for TOSRV.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, two pending spring centuries will focus your training.  I was regularly riding on the wind trainer just after Thanksgiving, and Tyler was soon doing likewise.  The family work out room soon hosted a fun contest with average speeds and times posted on a dry erase board.  (Youngest son Justin soon requested a trainer seat, but he will have to wait a year until we can accommodate a third bike.)  Midwest winter riding is always catch-as-can, with the nice days while you are at work, and snow or rain on the weekends, and this year was par for the course.  TOSRV’s mail-in registration and SASE were replaced with on-line registration, completed in early February. The four of us had a few family bicycle outings in, I was riding well on my own, and Tyler and I had a couple of training rides in. Then in early March I got very panicked call at work from my wife.  She was with in the emergency room with Tyler for x-rays of his right arm, which he had just injured in a fall during some horseplay at school.

Tyler had minor hairline fracture above his wrist requiring a cast that would be removed barely 4 weeks before the ride IF it set properly.  So out the door went plans for any nire progression training the spring. And would Tyler even still be interested?  The first thing he asked Mom in the ER when he finds out about the cast is can he still ride TOSRV?  The next few weeks are a roller coaster.  Tyler had been in cast and couple years before and had healed quickly.  Though he was frustrated, he took it easy the first two weeks in the cast.  Then with mild encouragement, he got back on Mom’s wind trainer mounted bike and rode 15 minutes.  Over the next several weeks his frequency and duration increased until he was riding up to 30 minutes at a stretch.  After talking to his doctor and thoughtful family discussion, Linda and I decide we could plan on the 50-mile day option and still make the ride, if he does not need a second cast.  And that was our first good news of the spring, no re-cast was necessary; but we were asked to wait 2 weeks to begin exercise.  He would have two full weekends to ride before our trip to Columbus.

The first training weekend arrived and we rode an easy 30 miler, with Tyler stoking comfortably in his wrist brace.  After almost 2 months off the tandem, he did quite well, and his wind trainer regimen has certainly helped.  More of a challenge is how much he had physically changed in the last year, now at 120 lbs and 5’ 8” tall (Yes, he is only 12!).  We don’t have a lot of time to experiment with saddles; one test saddle is rejected and we commit to his trusty Serfas youth gel saddle.  The next evening we joined a nearby training ride, and while we can’t hold the pace, but we are able to get in a flat-tire shortened 20 miles, for 50 miles in two days.

The next weekend is make-or-break if we are going have a chance to ride a century, so early Saturday morning we ride from home to the start of our club’s weekend ride.  Overcast and a cold north wind results in a light turnout of 60 riders, as we head out with the main group on the 54-mile long route.  This early in the spring, most riders doing the distance are already riding for speed, and we are soon off the back of the main and riding with other stragglers.  At the same time, we meet the spring headwind that is going to be our constant companion for the first half of the ride. Sometimes with small groups, sometimes alone, we have ridden 30 miles into  15-20 MPH wind to the turn around. Almost 2 1/2 hours of headwind grind are rewarded with 25 miles of tailwinds for the ride home in an hour less.  It is our longest training ride of the spring, and the one that really tested us.  We finish the weekend with 2 more rides and over a 100 miles total.  TOSRV will not be our fastest ride, but we are ready to go; if the weather is good, we will try for the centuries; bad weather and we ride the 50-mile days.

It’s now May 1, and I begin watching the Columbus 7-day forecast online; after the cool wet spring, it is finally showing a break in the pattern, with the jet stream moving north by mid-week, and mild 70’s pushing in. Friday arrives, and the bike is cleaned, the gear is selected and sorted, and the bags are packed.  A good example of how a 12-year old mind worksis that he is still getting the concept down that we won’t be returning the to van the first night, so no, the laptop can’t be brought along to watch DVDs; anything we need during the weekend, or the second day has to be on us and the bike, or in our duffle bags on the baggage trucks.  While I load the bike and gear, Tyler takes on prepping our minivan for the road trip; I find the front console is stocked with Reese’s Pieces (his), jelly beans (mine), two kinds of potato chips, and the cooler in reach behind the seat.  Our only disagreement is on Dad’s iPod tunes for the trip.

We have a nice afternoon drive to Columbus, talking about school, summer break, and odds and ends, just nice casual small talk between father and son.  We arrive in Columbus and meet two of the three friends I last rode with in 1990, Martin from northern Indiana, who picked up Dave from his flight in from Texas.  Between them, they have only missed TOZ’s a handful of times since 1980.  We all head for dinner, and Tyler is somewhat skeptical at first of the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, but he finds a chicken dish he likes and rises to the occasion.  Over diner we compare notes; why am I still riding the oldest bike (the 1985 Sovereign), what was STP (Seattle to Portland Ride) in Seattle like, how is riding in Texas, or Martin’s latest adventure in bicycle warranty replacements.  After 15 years and casual emails, the biking let’s us talk has though little time has past, and even Tyler is comfortable, chatting about his rides in Iowa and Indiana; his first century at 10-years old impresses two 100,000 mile plus guys in their late 50’s.  After dinner, Tyler and I drive into downtown Columbus to pick-up our ride packets and scout the morning drive to the start.  It is then back to hotel to lay out clothes, attach luggage tags, rider numbers, ice the CamelBaks for the night and scan the Weather Channel. As we turn out the lights and TV, early morning rain, clearing by mid-morning is now in the forecast.

At 5 AM the alarms go off, and we quickly shower and dress. The preceding week’s forecast had committed us to the century days.  Out comes the rain gear, though the sun comes up as we eat a quick Mc-breakfast before driving the 5 miles to the start.  Downtown, we find the parking garage, and load the tandem for the day.  Balancing duffels on our shoulders we make our way to the baggage truck for our assigned overnight.  Around us hundreds of other riders do the same, all watching the sun to east, but aware of the clouds coming in from the south and west.  Like the others, Tyler and I find another rider to snap our picture with the tandem and the Ohio Capital building in the background.  I give Tyler a hug for luck, we mount up and roll down the street, the last rays of morning sun disappearing as the gentle rain begins. I am back, and we are off.

May 2005 (Originally written for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine in 2005)