Monday, October 6, 2008

Readers' Ride #2: Southwind Suicide-Ride

This past weekend was the occasion of the second more-or-less monthly Cycling in Wichita Readers' Rides, this one along the venerable Arkansas River bike path. Saturday's ride was an intimate one: no one was able to meet me at the southern terminus at Garvey Park, so on the way back home I took a quick sidetrip through O. J. Watson Park then took Pawnee back to the river. The park didn't seem to have any dedicated bike paths, but that morning there were only a few cars and some runners to contend with. It was a pleasant place for a leisurely ride.

Now Sunday's ride, on the other hand . . .

I have never before worked so hard as a cyclist.

I was pleased to be joined by Chris of Random Chaos (his take on Sunday's ride, the title of which accurately sums up things for me as well, though I didn't ride nearly the distance he did) is here). Admittedly, when I made my way up the embankment at 21st Street Park and felt the full force of yesterday's steady south wind, I was afraid neither he nor anyone else would show . . . and, truth be told, I wasn't so sure I should have shown up, either, as I contemplated the ride back home. Kansas' very name comes from a Sioux word that means "south wind," and I doubt very seriously that any other state name so closely and unambiguously unites signifier and signified as "Kansas" does. At any rate, it was certainly true yesterday. Anyway: Despite ominously warning me just that morning that if it was windy he wouldn't show, here Chris came a few minutes before 1:00, having ridden all the way from his neighborhood near Harry and Webb. What a man.

While we waited to see if others would show, we talked shop. Chris is a friendly, articulate fellow who, just as his blog indicates, is serious about cycling for practical reasons and is interested in doing his bit for advocacy by being a positive presence on the streets when cycling. He got into cycling back in February for fitness purposes; he's the owner of a schweet-looking Felt bicycle (a new-to-me brand) that, as he reports over at his blog, he's customized a bit.

At about 1:15, we headed out. At first the ride was pretty pleasant. Most of the path north of downtown was fairly protected from the wind, and so we could ride and talk as we did. But just south of Exploration Place the river and path run more or less due south, and it was for that entire distance that we rode directly into a wind that was never less than 15 mph and occasionally gusted so hard that it felt as though it briefly stopped my forward progress. Just north of the Harry Street bridge, I told Chris that I had to stop and rest a bit.

As we did, an older man came strolling up the path and "conversed" with us. Actually, that's not quite the word: Chris will confirm that, aside from his telling us that we were headed the wrong way (i.e., into the wind, and never were truer words spoken) and briefly telling us that he worked for Meals on Wheels, for the entire time (15-20 minutes) we were there he only told us riddles. Some samples of his wit: "Q: What did the fish say when he swam into a concrete wall? A: Dam!" "Q: What do you call pallbearers in Oklahoma? A: "Carry-Okies" ("Karaokes"). He was the Henny Youngman of riddles . . . except, not to be mean, I liked Henny Youngman more. We might still be there yet--he was certainly in no hurry to be on his way, that's for sure--if I hadn't decided that I had rested enough.

We set off again, and the wind was every bit as strong as before. I was soon worn out again, and as we approached the Pawnee Street bridge (about a mile south of where we had stopped to rest), I gave very serious thought to telling Chris that this was just nuts and we should bag the rest of the ride. But no, I told myself: we had just a couple more miles to go to Garvey Park; riding into this is good for building up endurance and strength; what commentary on my manliness would my quitting now offer up to Chris?; etc., etc. And besides: my legs, though a bit weary, still felt okay.

We rode on and eventually reached Garvey Park. As Chris and I chatted, I confessed that I'd almost called Uncle, and he admitted that he would have been okay with that if I had.

Men are weird that way.

The ride back, this time with the wind at our backs, was the stuff of what makes cycling in Kansas a pleasant experience 50% of the time. My bike felt like it had magically acquired a carbon frame like Chris's bike, and we zipped along until, at the Harry Street bridge, we parted company.

I told Chris that, weather permitting, I hope to continue scheduling these Readers' Rides through the fall and winter, with the next one for either the weekend before or the weekend after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, we'll keep a weather eye . . .

Thanks again for joining me, Chris.

1 comment:

MathDadd said...

On another blog I suggested using an MTB, which opens up enormous numbers of dirt and gravel routes, and then riding crosswind (or slant-headwind out and slant- tailwind back), which is feasible for any recreational ride here.

You can also do this on a regular bike on paved roads. For example 101st N is paved from Meridian east to El Dorado, and has very light motor vehicle traffic with courteous drivers. It's great for south and north wind conditions. Greenwich between K96 and K254 is not bad for traffic, and becomes very light north to Whitewater, for east and west wind days.

But for real fun, I've cribbed a lesson from whitewater kayakers and rafters. They can't paddle upstream.

Ergo, drive two cars with bikes on racks to a selected downwind endpoint. Park one car, and ferry the bikes on the other car to an upwind point. Unload the bikes and ride the wind back to the first car. Load the bikes on it and drive upwind to the starting point of the ride. Multiply cars and racks for group rides.

You'll get a great workout, because A, there are plenty of hills, and B, it's easy to ride fast enough to generate air resistance. It's a hoot.