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Getting dropped on a no-drop ride

For those of you not familiar with the landscape of the Chicago area, south of the city there is vast, treeless, pancaked terrain as far as the eye can see in many places (we are the Prairie State, after all). So Chicagoans tend to think of our region as...contoured? We know that others scoff at our flatness. But there are a few places you can go to find an incline. Chicago itself has several ridges from what used to be the shores of lakes even larger than current-day Lake Michigan.

So I jumped at the chance to ride in the rolling hills to the northwest on Saturday with the tri club. About the only time I get to use all the gears on my bike is if we're at the arboretum. Open road without stopping and starting can be hard to come by as well. It was an "all skill levels welcome" ride to learn the route. A handful of us gathered at the meeting point and headed west for just under 40 miles. The group leader who organized the ride said at the start there would be a bathroom break at Mile 17. And that we'd be keeping the pace between 16-20 mph and nobody would get dropped.

And I'm definitely used to that on flats when I ride with my other local club. But with a lack of stoplights, the hills, the heat, and the fact I was riding with a pretty well-trained group of triathletes, I was struggling at Mile 16. The first 15 I was right in with the pack, having fun, and even got my new roadie up above 30 mph for the first time on some of the downhills. I found myself "off the back" just before the water stop though and was thankful for the break to fill my water bottle (lesson learned that, for me, 2 bottles on the frame is not enough for that distance).

The second part of the ride started along a river just feet from boat docks. The rest of the ride featured horse farms, giant mansions for wealthy exurb residents, and curving wooded roads. If I didn't have to keep up, it was enjoyable scenery. But this crew is a pretty "hammer it" on both the uphills and downhills. I'm much more of a noodle up, coast down kind of rider. Even if I like to sprint and go fast. So I was thankful when the group leader doubled back a couple times to show me the turns. And the entire group stopped at a few major intersections to wait for me. I hope there were no hard feelings. I don't mind them going fast. I also didn't feel bad at all about falling back. I'd keep up for a mile and then slowly find the pack disappearing over the next hill, into the distance, around the next curve, whatever.

It begs the question about what "no drop" means to you though. They certainly didn't leave me behind. But it also wasn't as fun when we spread out. It's definitely more fun to be in a tight pace line. When I ride with the bike club in the evenings here locally, we tend to take a more "leaders slow down" approach to make sure the last rider in line isn't being pulled to hard.

Then again, as we discussed on Saturday while waiting to ride, some groups don't even stop for a flat tire or mechanical issue. If you get dropped, you're finding your own way home. (Which, by the way, I was prepared for with my phone. I probably should have brought a cue sheet, too.)

By the time we made it back to the parking lot at the end, my 2nd water bottle was down to drips that I still needed to quench my thirst. I was praying for a water fountain somewhere in the park we use. I was looking forward to blasting the A/C on the ride home. Having used the pit toilet before leaving, I wasn't optimistic about my chances though. Someone else in the group suggested they saw a pump when we left...sure enough, it was an old-fashioned hand pump that it took 2-3 of us working for 60-90 seconds before it would produce a trickle-then-gush of water. One woman held her empty bottle out to catch it and it filled with a brownish liquid we all decided was maybe "better safe than sorry" about not drinking. Note to self if I ride there again, take a cooler for the back of the Subaru. Ice. Soak a towel. I was smart enough to already have a change of clothes at least.

Towards the middle and end of the ride, I'd noticed that the shifting was getting louder and less smooth. So on my way back home, I dropped my bike off at the bike shop for the initial tightening of cables and such. I'd told myself I would before the 50 miler in Minnesota. And I've been riding fairly often and fairly hard since I bought the bike. But I told The Mama that my lesson for our ride around Lake Pepin is going to be starting slower and taking a more leisurely pace. It's a touring ride--not a training ride--so we're going to be stopping often, getting plenty of water, etc.. My back was definitely not used to holding my body up for 40 miles and this Saturday's ride will be 10 farther.

* * *

When I got back, I had just enough time to shower before the babysitter arrived. We'd asked her to come watch the kids so that the parents could go up the street to the annual wine festival in town. We stopped and had a delicious, no-crying, adult discussion lunch before doing our tastings.

For $15 you got a souvenir glass and 7 wines to try. All of them local Illinois wines--many of them made with Illinois-grown grapes. It was an intriguing compare-and-contrast with our recent wine tour around Door County in Wisconsin. We buck the trend which is definitely non-serious, pun in label names, annoyingly sweet wines. We quickly learned in Door Co. to read the descriptions carefully, not go for the immediate "best seller" and sample several from one winery that fit our taste buds better.

Our strategy for wine sampling is that each of us gets a different wine in our glass so we can essentially drink 14 wines instead of 7. The entire afternoon we found maybe 1-2 wines...a sparkling almond and a very thin red...that we considered purchasing. But nothing was calling to us. Certainly nothing better than our favorites in a store.

I will say this. Points to local wineries for growing their own grapes. Door Co. often had that going against it by importing CA grapes. It feels like cheating. The one red I really liked was Australian grapes though still a family farm. In the end, we left having had a good time. But it wasn't about the wine. More about the people-watching and getting a chance to spend some time together.

Before heading home, we bough ourselves a treat from the local bakery. Including 2 giant, frosted ladybug cookies for the kids. Which was hilarious because the sun melted the frosting and they didn't really want the cookie if it was that messy. They more than made up for it with our first soft serve ice cream visit yesterday afternoon before The Mama left on her business trip.