Twenty riders started today’s HOWC. After a spirited romp on Jones Road and a pretty hard climb up 196th we were down to 14. The ride went off at quite a hard pace, more like the typical June ride than a ride in April, and I think the pace, as well as the nature of the pace, may have had something to do with the early attrition rate.
I always feel a little guilty at this time of the year when the ride goes at a pace harder than the ”strenuous” we advertise in the ride listing. In the summer, we list at “super strenuous”, and that entails 22+mph, and that “+” is key. I view the summer HOWC as kind of an open class ride, and it always seems to go just as hard as the strongest in the bunch want it to go. If riders can’t hang, I don’t feel so guilty if they bail early. I feel badly, though, when riders show up in the spring and can’t keep up with an elevated pace, knowing full well that they would have no trouble if we were riding the stated pace. Oh well, sometimes it’s just hard to make that happen. More on that later.
Jeff led today’s ride, and he was looking for a route of about 60 miles with a little less climbing than we normally do. The basic plan was: across Mercer Island/down the east side of the lake/89th through Newcastle /May Valley/148th south/Jones Rd/196th/SE Wax Rd/Soos Creek Trail/Renton/Rainier/Seward Park/back downtown.
Things were a little looser and a little more chaotic today than on a typical HOWC. Early on, people were missing turns after they rode off the front, mostly challenging each other as opposed to thinking as a group of 20. I don’t think it was the pace that split up the rest of the group; it was more the rolling through stops, and then bolting off hard, that produced the inevitable gaps in the peloton. Riders toward the tail of the group were forced to try and bridge these splits over and over, and I think that is what actually cracked some of the riders. If you don’t understand what I am talking about, try “sweeping” a hard paced ride. The tail gunner always works hard, even when the rest of the crew starts off from stops smoothly. Only the first person in the line has a clear view at a stop, and everyone behind is forced to pause longer to not only look for cars, but to see around the bikes that are ahead. This puts pressure on following riders to risk blasting through stops, and/or hammer to close the gaps that open.
Today’s ride reminded me a little of early rides that we did back six years ago when I started leading the ride. People were running stop signs and red lights, and we backed up some traffic as some riders were unresponsive to the “car back” calls being passed forward. We had a fair number of first timers today, and it’s understandable that they were not familiar with the things that we do on the HOWC that I think has made the ride a very safe hard ride over the years. Not all group rides seem to have safety as priority #1, and sometimes it takes new riders a little while to sort that out. Having twenty riders to keep track of (with some of them off the route at times) made it challenging for Jeff and I to sort out and keep track of the ride and riders (we try hard not to strand riders out in the middle of nowhere). The wrong turns, etc., caused a lot of extra stops. What I know to be true, after six years of leading the HOWC, is that new HOWC riders who return week after week become familiar with the ride protocol and become leaders of the pack.
One of the major reasons I joined Cascade and started up the ride was the fact that I looked around town and I couldn’t find a hard group ride that I was comfortable with. I’m sure they exist, but maybe I was looking in the wrong corners. In any case, I decided to start a ride and design it myself. It took a while to get the ride fleshed out, but that’s the great thing about being a CBC Ride Leader. You take the responsibility for the group, but you also get to make the rules. The HOWC is such a hard ride (especially in the summer months) that having to “manage” it takes away from the fun for everybody. Maybe I am just spoiled because in recent years the HOWC has mostly been on auto-pilot; we get such strong and skilled riders that the group just rolls along, and all Jeff and I are required to do is point out the route.
After a stop, Jeff and I decided to try the “remote re-group” approach that has worked well in the past, and that settled things down. Normally we ride together as a group on flat sections, and re-group at the top of longer climbs. Today we would give directions detailing the next 3-5 miles, and then name a point at the end for the next re-group. I rode near the front almost the entire ride today, and I immediately noticed a change after deploying this strategy. All of a sudden the pace slowed down, and rarely was there a need for the remote re-group as most of the time the group hung together! I’m not sure if riders were afraid of making a wrong turn and getting lost out on their own; more likely when the fun of trying to blast away from the group was removed, the ride settled in at a slightly softer pace.
We had two women show up for the ride. That Julie and Carol rode would not be a big deal, except for the fact that I don’t think we have seen a female rider on the HOWC for several years now. A while back, Sue would join the group frequently, and she always put in a solid showing. Both Julie and Carol were strong today, and Carol finished the ride. She succumbed a little to the Hurt Locker toward the end, but she put her head down, dug deep, and rode well. Sue, where are you out there? We need to have you back, and it would be nice to see other women join us. What’s the downside? If you don’t enjoy the ride, just leave and ride home.
Shane, a first timer on the HOWC, did a lot of work on the front. He has just moved to Seattle from Boulder. He’s a great guy, and people like Shane that are willing to sacrifice themselves pulling hard at the front for long periods of time…well, just like Armstrong appreciated Hincapie, we appreciated Shane’s effort.