It was now July and time for RAINSTORM. My training had gone well; I had lost weight, I was riding faster, climbing stronger and had better endurance than ever before. I thought I was ready and I was cautiously confident about the upcoming week. This turned out to be a great week of riding – even better than I had expected. I started to write a day-by-day description for this blog but I quickly realized this would be much too long, so instead I will outline some general notes.
RAINSTORM was very well organized, which made it a pleasure to ride. We stayed at state park lodges and hotels, with a breakfast buffet every morning and a dinner buffet most evenings (or restaurants for dinner within a walkable distance from the hotel). We had a ride briefing every morning during breakfast which highlighted where the most demanding hills were, where the best lunch and convenience stops were located and scenic things we would see on the day’s ride. We had two SAG vehicles on the road with us to provide water and snacks in places between towns, or to provide a ride if needed (like I needed on a three flat tire day). We were provided with printed route maps, turn-by turn directions, GPS maps were made available for the tour for download to bike computers and each turn on the road was marked with painted turn indicators (over 500 miles of road markings!) Our gear was transported to the evening’s lodging for us and left for us in a hospitality room. Most years there is also a bike mechanic who travels with the tour (although he was not available this year), and there were two masseuses who traveled with the tour to provide recovery massage (although at extra cost). Every need we might have was anticipated and accounted for, which meant we only needed to eat breakfast, load our bag on the U-Haul truck, ride all day, have dinner in the evening and then relax before going to bed early for the next day’s ride.
RAINSTORMers were a great group to ride with. There was quite a variety of riders. There were 40 of us in total, and some were very experienced and accomplished: a Race Across America veteran, Ironman triathletes, a state time trial champion (who was also training for her first Ironman – she would finish our 100+ mile rides and then go for a 5+ mile run!), RAINSTORM veterans (about half of the group) and veterans of other demanding multi-day tours. However there were also other riders like me: touring riders who had experience with single day endurance events and were looking for a new challenge. The riders were from across the eastern US – as far east as Baltimore, as far west as Iowa and as far south as Florida. It was easy to find people to ride with – by the end of the first day I had been adopted by a group of three riders from Iowa as an unofficial Hawkeye and we rode together for the rest of the week, and by the third day our riding group had expanded up to seven or eight riders each day.
The riding terrain was scenic and pleasant. There were some stretches that were flat fields of corn and soybeans, but most of the riding was through rolling hills on quiet country roads that occasionally went through small towns and villages and past small farms with an assortment of cows, horses and sheep. A typical day might include a rural covered bridge, or a ride along a ridge overlooking the Ohio River, or 150 year old rural towns. And there were always hills – sometimes all the hills you could possibly want.
Thinking of the hills, the riding was pretty demanding and challenging. My riding for the week was 616 miles with 25,000+ feet of climbing, and I missed 55 miles of hilly terrain one day due to taking a SAG ride to the finish due to multiple flat tire issues. Nearly every day had one or more challenging climb that was probably comparable to “The Wall” on Michigan Mountain Mayhem – sometimes it would be a moderate length (1 – 1.5 mile) gut-busting steep hill that included 15% - 20% gradients (the first two days had climbs like this at the finish!), and sometimes it would be a longer climb of 2-3 miles that required grinding our way up a long steady 4% - 7% grade. In addition to the big hills, nearly every day had a healthy serving of shorter steep rollers that demanded work to get over and that would take their toll through the day. It turned out that the longest ride (RAIN on Saturday) was the easiest day of the week. It was long (160 miles) but the road was at most gentle rolling hills with none of the gut-busting, leg-numbing climbs of the first five days. We actually joked that this was our 160 mile recovery ride to end the tour. I do not have a lot to compare with RAINSTORM, but I thought it was more difficult than Michigan Mountain Mayhem due to the demanding climbs every day. I talked to a rider who did DALMAC last year and he thought RAINSTORM was more demanding than DALMAC, and I also talked to another rider who has done Ride the Rockies multiple times and she thought that while the climbs in Ride the Rockies were much longer, RAINSTORM was more demanding due to the severity of the climbs. RAINSTORM was certainly challenging for me, and it was satisfying to complete the tour.
As I indicated earlier, RAINSTORM turned out to be even better than I expected it to be. It was more difficult than I expected it to be; if I had realized how difficult the climbing would be before deciding to do RAINSTORM I probably would not have done it. However, I also turned out to be better prepared and more capable than I realized. When I discussed RAINSTORM with Jeff last fall he told me that often riders seem to get stronger over the course of a multi-day tour, and I think this may have happened for me. However, I also I became more confident in what I could do as the week went on: in part because I came to realize that I had done similar things in training so I could have confidence I could do things that came up in the tour (thank you Fiona!), and in part because after a couple days of success in demanding riding I became more confident I could do what the next day presented.
I am already starting to consider what next year’s challenge might be. I would love to RAINSTORM again but I do not think I will have the training time needed available next spring, so this may need to wait until 2018. Maybe 2017 will be the year I do an unsupported tour, or maybe I will do a brevet series, or maybe I will find something else I can do in the fall that will be a suitable challenge. Jim Owens has already suggested I consider the Columbus Fall Challenge – 2 days riding between Columbus and the Ohio River near West Virginia with 220 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing with gradients up to 25%. This sounds pretty challenging, and is starting to sound intriguing…