Cycling on I-35 is not as sexy as you might think

First, before you send over a van to take me to the Austin State Hospital (formerly the “Texas State Lunatic Asylum” – I liked the old name better, I feel like I’d feel more comfy), I was not riding on the main I-35, just the frontage road.  But, there may be other details of my ride that may make you call the van anyway…

Lisa and I drove to San Antonio on Friday morning for a tennis tournament, and so for our return Saturday morning, I rode my bike back to Austin.  Those of us with transplants take big doses of immuno-suppressant medication to prevent transplant rejection, and so we’re also very susceptible to skin cancer (and cancer in general).   One study found that within 20 years of transplant, 27% of patients developed non-skin cancer and 48% of patients developed skin cancer.  Another study showed cancer occurrence in a transplant recipient being 35 times higher, and skin cancer at least 4 times higher (and I’ve seen claims that pushed this number to 50 times higher).   So all of this means that my ride starts as soon as there is a tiny spec of daylight, which in San Antonio on July 17, 2010, happened at 6:30 AM.

The crazy list of “supplies” for the ride home:

  • 4 bottles and a “hydration system” (fancy term for a specially shaped bottle that sits between the aerobars on your bike), all filled with Accelerade (better living through chemistry).  Note that only 2 bottles made it home, the first time I have ever left a bottle behind.  Never leave a bottle behind!  We lost two good liquid containers out there!  What am I going to tell their parents?!
  • 3 gels and 4 gus. If you’ve never eaten a gel or gu, I hope you can keep your streak up for the rest of your life.  To try it at home, combine 1 part vaseline with 1 part crisco and 1 part strawberry jelly.  Mash this together and you have some approximation of what this takes like.  Don’t ask me how I came up with this recipe and I won’t tell you.
  • Two Clif Bars for Emergencies, or just in case I actually wanted something resembling compressed solid food.
  • Jersey, biking shorts, helmet, socks, cycling shoes, arm coolers (arm coolers are basically a set of white sleeves that actually keep your arms cool in the sunlight as long as you’re riding with some pace)
  • Two lights, one facing forward and one on the seat post, two pairs sunglasses (one for the dawn, one for daylight)
  • Mobile phone, credit card, 20 bucks cash. You always need cash/credit in case of emergency, and in case there is jerky being sold along the side of the road.  And the mobile phone is of course in case I need to be rescued by Lisa.
  • Spare tube, repair kit, two Co2 cartridges to fill a flat. If I carry them, no flats.  As soon as I leave them at home, flats.

Finding a major highway shouldn’t be this hard

The ride started out with me accidentally getting on 281 South, which is not a highway a cyclist wants to be on.  The good news is that there were almost no cars there and a huge should.   The bad news is that it was dark and the tiny flashing light on my seat post could only be seen if you were shining a flashlight at it.   I took the first possible exit, and began meandering around a reasonably bad neighborhood trying to find the I-35 frontage.   A few times consulting google maps on my phone, and I found my way to I-35, only to have the frontage not exist.   Some more meandering, and I found the frontage, only to have it disappear on me again.   I asked a couple of guys working a cement truck, and after they kept asking me “are you really riding to Austin?” about three times, they helped me reconnect with the 410 North frontage which met up with I-35.   After that, I learned the patterns of merging highways and disappearing frontage roads, fully earning my Deputy Frontage Road Detective badge.

Enter 60 miles of monotony

By 7:30, I was out of San Antonio proper and hitting 20 mph, in the aerobars, and actually half-way cool in the breeze.   The next 60 miles would look the same, riding exit after exit, watching traffic, watching out for bad road conditions, drinking enough, taking salt tablets, eating a gel or gu, and staying focused on my heart rate and cadence.   The biggest improvement in my cycling is my cadence – from being a 75 rpm grinder to a 90 rpm spinner has gone well, though now I need to build strength and speed.  The next three hours, from exit 159 to exit 225 or so, would be a mental test of focusing on the ride and not making any mistakes.   It’s weird to think about “mistakes” on a ride, but pushing too hard during one segment, or not eating enough, drinking enough, or not seeing a crack in the road, can mean the end of a good ride and the beginning of hell.   You get tired of focusing, you want to wander, to let your mind go somewhere else, to go into autopilot.  But that’s where the mistakes happen.   The Ironman Arizona course is supposed to be mind-numbing and without variety, so this was great practice.

The “sprint” to the finish

Overall, for an 80+ mile ride, this wasn’t bad – I had a tailwind almost the entire way, the steep climbs were short, and I didn’t have to worry about directions once I left urban San Antonio.  Exiting on Slaughter lane I rode Congress all the way home, feeling excited that a shower and air conditioning were close.   Lisa had just arrived when I got home, and I hopped over to the quick-stop on the corner to buy 20 pounds of ice for a recovery ice bath, after stretching and getting some fuel and fluids in me.   Overall a great ride despite the lack of anything resembling scenery.

The run the next day

The biggest surprise was my run today – 10 miles at 9 minute miles, which is below my usual pace, and especially surprising after a long ride and getting a late start.  A couple of guys doing vineman in a couple weeks caught me and I kept pace with them for my last mile.   Instead of my usual death-warmed-over feeling at the end of the run, I felt great.   Must have been the Rounders’ chicken and garlic pizza last night…

One thought on “Cycling on I-35 is not as sexy as you might think

  1. Pingback: Crossing the Harbour Bridge « Journal of Bryan J. Rollins

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