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…


RAINSTORM 2016 - Part 1

Some of you know that I did Ride Across INdiana (RAIN – One way, One day, 160 miles) in 2014, and that this has been my most significant and most challenging ride to date.  While riding RAIN in 2014 I noticed some riders wearing RAINSTORM jerseys, and I could not resist asking what this was.  The answer was intriguing:  RAIN – Same Thing Only Ride More!  This was a tour that started in Richmond on the east side of Indiana, spent five days averaging 100 miles per day riding the hills of southern Indiana towards the Ohio River and then to Terre Haute on the west side of the state, and then joined RAIN to ride back to Richmond.  I filed this away in my memory as something that might be a good challenge in the future.

RAINSTORM emerged out of my memory banks in 2015 as I reached the end of a disappointing riding season.  I had no real goals in 2015 and my riding reflected this; I did not ride as much as previous years and the century rides I did were slow and tiring.  I decided I needed a challenging goal for 2016 and started to do some research on RAINSTORM.  This would be a real challenge for me – 670 miles and over 24,000 feet of climbing in six days.  I talked to Jeff about the possibility of doing this ride and while Jeff thought I was crazy for wanting to do this, he did not think it was crazy to think I could do it.  However, Jeff cautioned me about the hills in southern Indiana.  He used to send his race team there to train because it was more than just rolling hills, and I would need to be well prepared for this ride.

In September I decided to investigate more about RAINSTORM 2016.  My biggest question was:  how to prepare?  This would be bigger than anything I had done on a bike and I knew I needed a plan that was more structured than just riding more.  I talked to Jeff again, who recommended what you would probably expect:  ride a lot, find hills to ride, and in the spring make sure I did long hilly rides on back-to-back days – perhaps in northern Michigan where the hills are bigger than around Clarkston.  This was helpful but I was still concerned about my ability to prepare and be ready for RAINSTORM, so I decided to consider using a coach to prepare.  I had conflicting thoughts on this.  I was inclined to think that using a coach would be an indulgent extravagance.  However this would be bigger than anything I had ever done on a bike – could I prepare for this on my own?  If I used a coach, does online coaching really work?  I did some research on online coaching services, talked to a few coaches and came across Fiona Lockhart, a Carmichael Training Systems coach who had considerable experience coaching for ultra-endurance riding and who worked with a range of cyclist abilities that could include me.  I contacted Fiona, we talked about my riding, my goals and how she could help, and I decided that if I did this I would work with Fiona to prepare for RAINSTORM.  I had a discussion (negotiation?) with my wife to make sure she would tolerate the training time that would be needed and by the end of September I was committed, even though RAINSTORM registration would not open until January 1st.    

My training plan turned out to be more intense than I anticipated.  Fiona’s diagnosis of my 2015 difficulties was that my problem was not so much that I was not riding enough, but that my training (such as it was) lacked the intensity needed to be strong enough to ride hills.  To address this we started a plan that had a lot more interval work than I would have imagined doing.  I rode five days a week with a typical week having three intensity workouts (ranging from short, all-out intervals to 45 minutes at a consistent high effort level) to build strength and high effort level endurance, a high rpm - low effort interval workout to develop more efficient pedaling, and an endurance ride.  As we moved into spring we added longer endurance rides, back-to-back long endurance rides, harder intervals and hill repeats.  As we approached the end of June I had put in about 400 hours riding time since October (about double the time of the previous 12 months), and I was seeing real benefits in my riding.  I had lost 15 pounds, I was climbing more effectively, I got under 20 minutes for the first time in the club time trials, and I did Michigan Mountain Mayhem (which I would never would have imagined doing before) as one of my last training rides.  I was cautiously confident that I was ready for RAINSTORM, although I was still concerned about the hills over multiple days – especially the fourth day which was the hilliest day.

More to come in Part 2…


DALMAC 4 Day West ride report

In the days leading up to DALMAC this year, the forecast was calling for a very high probability of rain on days 2 and 3 (Friday and Saturday). The thought of riding an entire day in the rain and setting up and/or tearing down my tent in the rain gave me reason to reconsider the tour altogether. I discussed with my wife Joellyn, with my riding partner Steve, and with my mentor Joel. The verdict was in; suck it up and make the best of it. Steve said that we're mostly made of water. Joel said that in his 11 years of riding DALMAC it had never rained an entire day and he had never set up or taken down his tent in the rain. So much for historical averages.

I rode this year on the 4 day west route with my friend Steve. Other club members that rode this route included Joel, Paul, Dane, Greg and Wade, and Dan.

Day 1 (Thursday) took us from East Lansing to Vestaburg along a mostly-traditional route. The only difference from previous year's routes was taking the Fred Meijer bike path from Alma west to Vestaburg. The weather was absolutely perfect; clear, sunny, and only a light headwind. We rode 76 miles that day and reached camp by 2:15pm. Vestaburg doesn't have much in the way of evening activities, if you know what I mean, but the Riverdale Tavern offered a shuttle service to and from their fine establishment 4 miles to the east.

Day 2 (Friday) headed north to end in Lake City, west of Houghton lake. We teamed up with Dane this day and rode 100 miles, a century, or "centenial" as my wife calls it. Same difference. The normal route was 88 miles, so we only had to add 12 miles to get our "centenial". Well, we missed a turn along the way and inadvertently added 10 miles to the standard route. This meant that we didn't have to take the optional century route - we created our own in affect. Today was dry for the most part but overcast all day. We lucked out because the skies opened while we were having lunch in Lake George but the rain stopped before we got back on the road. Not only did we have a fantastic tailwind, but we had Dane pulling us most of the way. We finished the day with a 17.5mph average for 100 miles - 5:30 of riding time.

Day 3 (Saturday) the destination was Boyne City, some 91 miles away. Again, due to the small number of extra miles needed for a century, we took the optional route and rode 100 miles. As we were preparing to leave Lake City it started to rain even before we got on the road. Thankfully it was a quick and light rain. We shed our rain jackets within the first 5 miles but we did ride on wet roads most of the day. Again, we got lucky with a nice tailwind and avoiding the rain for the most part. We pressed on well past the halfway mark to stop for lunch at Short's in Bellaire. It was well worth the wait. Again, luck was on our side as we had no wait for a table on a holiday weekend at one of the busiest and most popular watering hole in the area. When we finished lunch, the line extened out the door and down the street. Re-fueled, we headed to East Jordan where we took a quick break at the fire station before starting our climb up "The Wall". Ending the day in Boyne City, we had minor sprinkles as we were erecting our tents. It rained on and off throughout the night.We had another 17+ average and sub five hour day.

Day 4 (Sunday). The final day, ending in Mackinaw City. With two centuries under our belt, we figured it couldn't hurt to finish with another. We set out this day a bit late, just before 8am, and headed south and west. Wait, Mackinaw is north, isn't it? It was a bit frustrating to ride part of the prior day's route backwards, just to get "extra" miles, and to discover some of the steepest rolling terrain I've ever ridden in Michigan. Much of the first 30 miles of today's route is part of the Michigan Mountain Mayhem route. However, after arriving dog-tired in Charlevoix and getting a cup of coffee, we got on the bike path and followed it all the way to Petosky and eventually Harbor Springs. Again, we stopped for lunch after the half-way mark, but Dane decided to plug away and feast soely on his stash of energy bars. Perhaps he made a wise decision, because after our stop, Steve and I were being "swept" along by the SAG crew who kept reminding us that we were possibly going to miss the bus home! All I really cared about was a shower at the end of the day. After the rolling hills through the Tunnel of Trees, we picked up the pace on the flats between Cross Village and Mackinaw City. Steve flatted at 85 miles, but we finished with 101 miles, a 6:30 ride time, and got our shower, box lunch, and a spot on the bus.

We surpassed our goal of riding centuries only the middle two days of the 4-day tour. We finished with 378 miles and developed some friendships and lasting memories. All the doom and gloom I was feeling prior to the tour (with the weather reports) has been replaced with pride, accomplishment, and conditioning.

Bicycle tours are what you make them. You can ride slow, stop often, take pictures, and smell the roses, or you can ride like the wind and press on, making few and short stops. Everyone has different goals. There were 490+ riders on our route alone, and over 1600 altogether. The average age of riders was 50.3 years. We saw riders at both ends of the spectrum, including a cute little 7-year old on the back of a tandem. We saw many familiar riders from previous DALMACs and other tours, and enjoyed re-kindling some 'little-while" friendships.

The TCBA does an incredible job at organizing this event. The roads are well marked, they have fantastic maps, and everything goes off like clockwork. If you've never ridden DALMAC, I encourage you to give it a try.

I can't forget to thank Steve's wife Alisa, who met us in Lake City and SAG'd for us one day until we arrived in Boyne City. Alisa gave us a "plan B" in the event of a thunderstorm. Alisa has provided us with SAG service in previous years as well. I hope that someday we can return the favor when Alisa rides her first DALMAC.



Assenmacher Invasion Ride


Above is a photo of the purple & yellow clad Rhinos that rolled out of Swartz Creek at 8am on Sunday morning.  Thanks to Rick, Tom, Paul, Steve, Chris, Dan, Pete, Fred, Jim, Joel and Bill for answering the call.




One Day Ride Across Michigan – Pete Newbury

John Connor and I rode ODRAM again this year.  In 2013 we cycled from Clarkston across Michigan on the day before, then I suffered on the long 145 mile ride back to Bay City.  So this year my wife (Janet) chauffeured us over early in the morning (another 3:30am depart like last week’s MMM).  We met Marty Score at the start in Montague - were there any other Rhinos on the ride? 

The typical prevailing wind direction is from the southwest, so the route is from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.  Except last Saturday we were treated to an easterly wind all day.  As we rolled out at 7:15am the breeze was only 5mph but as the morning progressed it increased to an annoying level.  Luckily the terrain rolls for the first 100 miles so we were able to take some respite during the climbs.  But as we approached the flat lands near Bay City the wind speed approached 15mph.  Normally a 10mph wind would not bother me, but 130 miles of head wind can become a bit testy.

About 10 miles into the ride we linked up with a couple of club cyclists from Cincinnati to share the work load and rode with them at a steady 19mph average until they stopped for lunch at 75 miles.  From time to time others jumped onto the back of our pace line but had to drop as soon as they were gapped due to the wind.  Later a group of 5 guys caught John and I on a hill.  They were also wearing club jerseys so we stepped on the gas to hang on over the top and asked to join their train.  Not sure if they were too happy about having interlopers but over the next 20 miles we earned our stripes and represented the Rhino colors well.  So much so, that as I dropped back down the line to explain our MacDonald’s lunch stop was just up the road thankful fist pumps were the order of the day. 

As many of you know, John’s secret weapon is pizza or burger.  Last year I was glad of the rest & recovery at MacDonald’s after 96 miles, so we planned to repeat this refueling stop in 2014 and meet up with Janet.  However I felt much stronger this year (no 150 mile Friday prologue like last year) so we fancied staying with the lads, but there’s no chance of John passing the golden arches and me passing by the wife.  So we enjoyed a delicious burger in the air conditioned restaurant and watched other cyclists struggle into the head wind until we had to venture back outside. 

John and I then drafted each other for the remaining 50 miles swapping leads about every two miles as we ate up the miles into Bay City.  We completed the 145 mile ride at 4:15pm, nine hours after leaving Montague at an average speed of 17.9mph, which was not too shabby.  Hopefully the wind direction will cooperate in 2015 and blow from the west.