Saturday, July 02, 2011

Riding here, there, and everywhere

figuratively speaking. That sounds much better than "I was lazy and then I got a cold or something and now I'm catching up."

So: the 23rd, we did the usual ride-to-the-market-and-back at a faster clip, 12.8 mph for 17.7 miles. Now, I did stop after the hill climb to let others catch up, so that could affect my overall speed a bit, but I doubt it'd be 0.5 mph.

The 25th was the N.I.T.E. Ride, a nighttime ride through downtown Indianapolis. Last year, this was the first organized ride I'd done, and it was pretty impressive: the sight of hundreds and hundreds of bikes streaming out of the area around the Velodrome and up the hill on Cold Spring was cool to see. We also did the Dinner Ride beforehand – a similar-length trip that circles through Broad Ripple so that you can stop and eat.

This year, the N.I.T.E. Ride started at IUPUI's Carroll Stadium (not inside, silly, it's not paved like the Brickyard), so the route was a bit different. 17.9 miles, about 11.2 mph, but we weren't really trying to go that fast anyway. It's a good thing, too, because our route took us along St. Clair, which has a stoplight approximately every 40 feet, and none of them are in your favor. (On the other hand, we didn't have to feel guilty about the car that couldn't pass us. It's not like they would have been going through multiple lights either.)

View Dinner Ride 2011 in a larger map

We went to Union Jack's for dinner; they have a decent-sized bike rack in the back, and we were able to lock pretty much everyone's bikes. (NOTE: Always take your lock. You never know when you're going to want to stop and leave your bike somewhere. I was surprised at the number of people in our group who had locks and didn't take them ... of course, it's easier to say this with a hybrid. I have plenty of space to loop mine around my head tube and keep it out of the way.) After a nice meal, we headed back to IUPUI to sit, watch people, and wait. Little did we know that that would be a recurring theme ...

If you've never been to something like Race for the Cure or the Mini, you have no idea what it's like to see a street filled with people waiting to start. I have, so wisely (I thought), I supported waiting in our comfy chairs in the parking lot for the bulk of the riders to get underway, and then we could swing to the back and join them. We didn't quite wait for the pack to move, and that was a problem.

The ride was supposed to begin about 11; because it was late and dark, we couldn't quite tell where the front of the group was, only that the blinking lights (you did remember your taillight, right? good rider) started to spread out a little more. What was troubling was that the rest of the pack didn't really seem to move much. 11:10, 11:20 ... still no real signs of movement. By 11:25 or so, we were starting to creep forward, but it was that uncomfortable middle ground where it's just fast enough that you don't want to get caught walking if it picks up, but just slow enough that you can barely ride before you have to get off again.

Finally, by about 11:40, we approached the start line, and we saw that they were sending off riders in bunches. Seems somewhat reasonable, I guess, if you think all people are going to ride at the same speed ... if you don't bother to sort them out beforehand, though, it's pretty dumb. So we finally got to start: we got on our bikes, began pedaling ... and quickly caught up to the group in front of us. Eventually we got a little open space, but it wasn't too long before we were back to walking. WTF? What was happening?

View N.I.T.E. Ride in a larger map

If you zoom in on the map, you'll notice that we head south on West Street and turn left onto Orr Plaza, then head north on Senate. That's the problem. Instead of taking us straight down Ohio, which is fairly wide and built for traffic, they funneled us down a narrow street with stupid concrete objects on each side that was also under construction. Keep in mind that this is, I don't know, barely a mile into the ride. We spent 40 minutes waiting to get started and we can't even get up to speed. (The sad thing was that they had one of the volunteers standing on one of the obstacles, which was good, but trying to make light of the situation, which was bad. Don't make them take the blame for your stupid course design decisions.)

Finally, after that mess, we went around the circle (Indianapolis joke: the fastest I've ever traveled around Monument Circle was on a bicycle) and headed up Illinois. It was at this point where we noticed a significant difference between last year and this year. In 2010, pretty much all the intersections were blocked. Cars simply couldn't cross. This year, there were plenty of intersections where that was not the case. There were even a couple of times where cars were actually on the course behind us. (Note: this is not unusual for a daytime ride, especially a longer one where you can't really block off 50 miles of road. It is unusual for a night ride.)

Other than the crossing traffic and the locals (in one block, a couple of kids were literally playing in the street, and if you want to know where the mom was, it looked like she was reaching out trying to high-five rides, rather aggressively ... one of us actually got smacked by her), and the poor road conditions (Marion County is, of course, short on tax revenue, so the roads are a lot worse than in Hamilton County), and the fact we were about an hour behind schedule, that part of the ride wasn't bad.

We finally made it up to Butler's campus, where the utter darkness of some of the streets (not surprisingly, streets in residential areas are not necessarily brightly lit at all hours) was countered by young, possibly intoxicated[1] coeds cheering us on. Naturally, this was my favorite part of the ride. Well, that and when we were encouraging other people to drink every time they saw a bicycle.[2]

The good times came to an end, though, when we came up to another giant mass of people. The organizers put the SAG stop directly before the entrance to the IMA, which doesn't sound like a big deal ... except that there's a narrow bridge we cross that allows no more than double-file traffic, maybe not even that, so not only was traffic backing up from that, it was backing up from people leaving the SAG stop as well. At this point, we knew the rain in the forecast was closing in on us[3], and given that it was a short ride, we decided to skip the SAG stop.

We also heard a couple of riders talking about skipping the IMA and heading down Michigan. This is the part on the map where we squiggled: the alternative, we thought, was to head down to 38th and turn right. Not a great idea, but with heavy rain coming, we didn't want to get caught in it who knows where, so we headed out with them. Naturally, one of the volunteers told us not to go down 38th because it was dangerous. (Hey, we ride out this way, we know the risks.)

BUT ... someone else remembered that there was another entrance to the IMA, and it might be unlocked. It was, in fact, and so we did go through most of the IMA (thus the squiggle), only without the mindless bottleneck. Why wasn't this the normal route? I have no idea.

Finally, we shot down White River Parkway, back to Indiana and onto IUPUI's campus, just as rain was starting to fall. We looked at each other, considered our general lack of hunger, and mostly skipped the dinner at the end. (Fazoli's, last time: not bad, but not worth getting soaked at 1:40 AM.)

18.2 miles, 1:47 (does include some circling), 10.2 mph. That is not a misprint. Horrible, miserable ride ... and the worst part is that they do not publish the route in advance. I'll do the dinner ride next year, but I won't be doing the N.I.T.E. Ride. This was the worst organized ride I've ever done, and frankly I can't understand how you can have a recurring ride like this organized in such a way that it makes you wonder if the people who mapped the route have ever ridden a bike or organized a ride before.

ANYWAY, end rant. Throw in another Thursday ride-to-market (17.6 miles, 12.5 mph; that's an estimate, one rider blew out a tire – yes, literally – and I forgot to start My Tracks when we resumed the ride) and a quick trip to a friend's house to feed cats (5.5 miles, 14.9 mph), and that's a touch over 75 miles. Not bad for 10 days, but a far cry from last year. Ah, to be less busy again ... just a joke. I'd rather make money than ride my bike.

[1] It's summer, a Saturday night, maybe 12:30 or so, and they're standing outside and cheering for people they don't know and probably can't even see that well. Draw your own conclusions ... (return)

[2] Note: do not do this. Now, if you drank every time you saw a tandem or a recumbent ... (return)

[3] Always travel with people in recumbents. They can do special things, like check the weather while riding. (return)

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