For my third consecutive year I decided to enter the Farmondo - the group ride put on by Tempo Velo bike club, based in Sterling, IL. The event is three separate group rides of different distances - 20, 43, and 80 miles. Each year I’ve participated in the 43 mile ride. It is not a race - not technically - just a group ride where you are timed, your time is rank-ordered against the other riders, and the information is then publically posted for the world to see.
I was excited for the ride this year because it’s my first year with my Catrike Expedition. I have been finding that the Expedition is faster than the Pocket that I’ve been riding the past couple of years, and I wanted to see if that would hold true over a longer ride (43 miles is the longest I’ve ridden thus far, and so far I only go that distance once a year - in this event), particularly over the hilly terrain that the Farmondo covers (if there is a hill around Sterling, they’ve found it for this ride).
So it was with that in mind that I headed out last Sunday morning with the trike in the back of my Honda Fit.
Knowing that there was rain in the forecast, and that the event ran regardless of weather, I’d purchased rain gear the day before and packed it up in the pannier bags. I also spent time the day before getting all of my lights on to the charger and setting up a new battery mount for my phone since I would be using it to track my ride stats and to listen to podcasts or audiobooks on the ride (in one ear only, of course).
Things did not go as planned.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
It’s about 45 minutes from my home to the starting point in Sterling. I gave myself plenty of time to get there, or so I thought. But while I was riding through Dixon - about 35 minutes from home - I realized that I had not taken any of the lights off of the charger. They were sitting at home, happily sipping electrons off the grid and, most importantly, not on the trike or in the car with me in any way, shape, or form.
After a bit of self-flagellation I mentally set this aside - nothing I could do about it at that moment; I certainly did not have time to go back - and continued on course.
When I got there I looked at the immediate weather, which was a light mist, and looked at the radar, which seemed to be offering more of the same going forward. I made the executive decision not to put on the rain gear (though I did keep it in the panniers), reasoning that I would get damp, but not so much so that I’d be uncomfortable, and not nearly enough to justify the trade-off against the bulk of the rain gear.
Then I hauled out the trike and started to get things set up - flag on (I almost always just keep that in the car, so I had it along) and went to hook up the battery for my phone and found that it was, well, also not there.
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I’d thought that I had put it in the mounting position the day before, but I must have set it aside while working on prepping other things. I say "must have", because finding it "not there" led to a search of the car to see if it had just fallen off, if I’d set it somewhere else, etc. But it was simply not present.
This offered up an interesting problem, given that it limited what I could do with the phone. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max, which has pretty good battery life, but GPS is a battery hog. I’d been doing longer rides without the backup battery tho, and it had come thru when I left the screen dark most of the time and just checked in on my pace periodically. This is what I determined I would do.
But processing that threw me a bit and, more importantly, slowed me down. So I found that, as I was walking the trike up to the starting line in the parking lot, they announced "riders ready?"
I was not.
I pulled the trike up to the side of the group and mounted. I did not have my helmet or gloves or glasses on yet. I reasoned thru my options, put on my helmet and clipped in, and put everything else in my sweatshirt pocket, figuring I could put them in as I rode. Because I was to the side and not in the pack, I let the entire group go by - I didn’t want to cut anyone off - and took my position in the absolute rear of the pack. It’s a timed event, so this didn’t seem like a problem. I’d be compared against my start and stop time, not my position in the pack.
All good, right? I rode forward down the first straightaway, just behind the rest of the group. I rounded the first corner, rode forward another hundred feet, and heard a "click" on the pavement.
I think anyone who rides regularly can tell you that you become accustomed to a certain array of sounds as a part of the experience. There is the sound of tires on water as you go through a puddle, of stones as the come up against a fender or the frame, and all of that occurs against the backdrop of the mechanical sounds of the machine.
The "click" was not a familiar sound.
I knew the sweatshirt pocket was not an ideal location for storing anything, being open on the sides. It’s not ideal in general, and even less so in the reclined position of the trike. But it was only going to be for a short time, right? Well, it was clear that I’d dropped something, though I wasn’t sure what.
I turned around and rode back. I passed the truck that brings up the rear of the group and said "dropped something" to him as he went by. Another couple dozen feet and I found my reading glasses (stoopid middle-aged eyes) there on the asphalt, miraculously undamaged. I picked them up and turned around and started pedaling back the other way, now behind that pace truck.
The beginning part of the race in Sterling crosses a four-lane section of Route 2 at a stoplight-controlled intersection. The police actually cordon that off for the riders. Unsurprisingly, however, when the pace truck went thru - visually signifying the end of the group - one of the two patrol cars, the one dealing with traffic to my left, or closest to me, pulled away. This left me stopped at the stoplight, and falling further behind.
The other officer had remained and saw me. After a cycle of traffic he very generously stopped and directed traffic to get me through the intersection ahead of the changing light and got me on my way (my enduring thanks to him!).
I was now far enough behind now that I could no longer see any of the group. After the stoplights they make a left turn through the neighborhood, which took them out of view. I’ve ridden this ride twice before, so I knew that was the case, but I honestly wasn’t sure which left turn the route took, and I’d been watching the traffic, not the group, while I’d been sitting at the intersection. That uncertainty actually caused me to briefly wonder if I should just pack it in and call it a day, but I took my best guess at it, and about four blocks later came across the pace truck, patiently waiting for me (my enduring thanks to him as well). A block or two later and I could see the tail end of the group having turned right at Challand Middle School and followed them. I felt much better actually having people in view.
I was also breathing pretty hard at this point, since my pace was a little higher than it might otherwise have been this early on, trying to make up for lost time and catch the group. And I don’t care how many times you tell yourself that your position in the group doesn’t matter because it’s an individually timed event, you still want to catch up to (and pass people in) the group. Plus, you know, I’d lost actual time by turning around and by sitting at the stoplight.
The Rest of the Ride
Once I got past that comedy of errors, everything started to level out and work just fine. To ensure sufficient battery life for ride tracking I opted not to listen to any audio on the ride. This made the ride a more meditative experience in some ways. I ride that way sometimes outside of this, but this was a long ride, and I usually like some entertainment as a part of things.
That decision allowed me a little extra battery life for some video and pics along the way:
The video is from mile 7 of the 43-mile group route. I’m probably going 14 or 15 miles an hour in that segment. And importantly, I think I’m gaining on someone (!).
If you like the scenery of the Illinois countryside (and I do) this is a lovely ride overall. It’s also interesting to me because your ride takes you past at least four cemeteries - one in the town of Sterling (where you turn left to stay on the route, I gambled, and turned out to be right, thankfully), and the others mostly tiny rural affairs that dot the countryside out here.
It did rain for the majority of the ride - you can see that the sky is steel gray pretty much throughout. My executive decision on the rain gear turned out to be a good one. I wore linen pants for the ride as well as a rash guard. Both sets of items have the benefit of drying quickly (linen is a great material for warm weather where you want to cover up rather than using sunscreen - I prefer it to spandex for riding). The only fly in the ointment was my cotton sweatshirt, which got very hot about four miles in, but I didn’t want to stop and lose more time taking it off. The upside to that was that by mile 10 it was so thoroughly drenched that it was no longer warm, so it ultimately worked out.
The folks at Tempo Velo always have a spread out for the end of the race - tacos made on the spot, beer and soda available (and the beer is always interesting - I had a Harp), and this year they had custard from Culver’s in the mix as well. It was a smaller group at the end this time, most likely due to the rain, but those who came and rode got to eat and drink well.
After the ride the results get posted online. It takes a little while for this to all get done, but once it is, it’s there for you to consider. My goal this year, and every year, is to do better than last. And as I mentioned, I also wanted to see how much the Expedition seemed to contribute to increased speed/decreased time.
Obviously, my muck-up at the beginning had an impact on my time. I turned around, I got stopped at a stoplight that the event timing expects you to simply be able ride through, and I spent the first several minutes of the ride futzing around with getting gloves on and such, which is not an ideal path towards increased speed.
So here’s the deal: I was faster than last year.
That 3:17:53 for this year compares to 3:20:46 last year. I’ll grant that it’s not a lot faster, but it’s still an improvement of nearly three minutes (2:52), all with a series of unintentional self-induced impediments along the way.
In terms of how much of it is due to the new trike, and how much is due to me, I’m gonna chalk most of it up to the trike. I did condition my way up to the ride distance this year, but my training was fairly similar to last year. My average speed for the ride, however, was up from 13.09 mph last year to 13.29 mph this year (according to Cyclemeter), and I was definitely carrying more weight in terms of both the trike (which is two lbs heavier than the Pocket) and the rain gear in the bags.
And despite all of the chaos, Cyclemeter, which tracks stopped time (the race timing does not - it’s all event time) finds that I was sitting stopped for less time this year than last. I didn’t purposely stop this year or last, so all of the stopped time both years was in situations where traffic required it - e.g. waiting at road crossings and such. So apparently I did have some good luck in there, even tho it didn’t feel like it in the moment.
All in all, and the comedy of errors aside, it was (and always is) a fun event. I was once again the only trike rider in the 43 mile event, but I was not the only trike rider that day. Another gentleman, with a Villager he’d rode in the 20 mile event, and I met and chatted for a few minutes afterward. It was good to see and touch base with a like-minded soul.
And good to put this ride down in the books.