In what I hope will become an annual event (for myself and Ann Arbor), I rode in yesterday's first Cranksgiving alleycat.
I've been watching Andy organize this event for weeks so I was very familiar with the hours and pains that went into it. This made it so much more delicious to see the race come off so well. He did a great job, making it possible for people like me to have a blast zipping around Ann Arbor on a pretty-damn-good-for-November Sunday afternoon and accumulating over 300 pounds of food for Food Gatherers.
I've never done anything even remotely close to a race on a bike, but this race -- one that brought in food for a local community pantry, one that catered to my independent streak by letting me choose my own route, one that comes at the end of a summer/fall of lots of biking, and one that happens right before I go in for hip surgery -- was not to be passed up. I had fun and I rode well: thirteenth out of a field of 42 or so, carrying an extra 6 pounds of food beyond the requisite amount needed to finish the race.
I had no interest in the potential chaos of the mass start (bikes on the grass, riders in the parking lot and then running to mount and ride off when Andy said "go"), so I held back to let folks clear and then head out. I won't bother with this strategy next time since a woman too busy trying to click into her pedals to look up still t-boned me before I'd even gotten on my bike. If'n I'm going to get crashed anyway, I might as well get out of the start faster!
I was with a few folks on the path out of the park -- right behind the fixie crowd on the dam and then behind (ever so briefly) the fast, fast boys on the path. From there I'd plotted a long, slow climb to my first checkpoint -- while others hit the broadway hill. Having lived about 1/3 the way up that hill many years ago, I was too familiar with its lung-searing grade to want to try it. No one else chose my route up, which was actually good... I could focus on finding my own pace. About 1/2 mile from the first checkpoint (the Busch's on Green), I saw a fox in the grass on the side of the road -- kind of a trip, since that is not really "country" out there. Almost stopped to snap a picture, but decided I was feeling good on the bike and I ought to actually focus on getting a decent time.
From the Busch's I expected to blast down Huron Pkwy to Whole Foods, but it was more rolling than it had seemed on the way up. I was in between a gaggle of fixie boys and a woman on tiny Felt which made it hard for me to focus on how fast I wanted to go, but then the guys stuck to the bike path on the east side and the woman took the bike path on the west and I took the road all by my lonesome. Other than a momentary freak over a bit 'o chain suck (like all the cool bike language I'm learning?) on a uphill with no shoulder (would not have been the best place to need to pull over for mechanical problems), I made decent time to the next check point -- the only store on the route I actually knew -- for my 2 pounds of rice.
I was feeling some moxie on Washtenaw and jumped off the sidewalk to take the lane and make the shift on to Stadium. Someone was trying to follow my lead onto the street and across lanes, but they seemed to chicken out and fall back at the Stadium/Washtenaw split -- not sure how they got through, never really saw who it was. At this point in the ride, with the two longest legs behind me and headed into town, I started playing fast and loose with traffic laws. When the light at Packard turned red on me, I made a quick right then left and cut through the back of the party store parking lot... I made generous use of the turn lane to beat traffic into the Kroger on S. Industrial... I blew through a couple of lights that had car sensors and never would have registered me on my bike anyway. I knew there was a shortcut from State over to the Busch's on Main, but I had only done it in the other direction and was not sure where to pick it up on the State side. Seeing some of my Ypsi folks were a bit ahead of me out of Kroger's, I decided to chance it. I found the cut-through, managed to not flat on the giant gravel in the construction area, and actually had a bit of a rest since this was not a dirt road to ride too fast on road tires.
I underbought at this Busch's -- too overwhelmed by the crowded unfamiliar store and jazzed at being more than halfway through the race to remember what my buying strategy was -- but got out fast and was able to game the light at Stadium and Main to head for Arbor Farms. Then I hit jello legs. I knew it would come at some point, but it was still annoying to find that on a fast road (and before Stadium turns north and gets really shitty) my speed was dropping to XX (actual numbers deleted for reasons of PRIDE) and my back end was dragging (bags were decently full of food at this point -- so there was a lot of extra weight back there!). I soldiered through and things got better when I stopped thinking about my legs and started thinking about the poorly executed attempt I had made to hop onto the sidewalk and avoid making a middle of the block left across 4 lanes of traffic. No danger in what I did, but I lost time and a team I'd passed before Busch's did it better and beat me to the store by moments (no worries, I passed them at the coop!)
Hmmm.... so now I'm at checkpoint 5, I'm riding in turn lanes, gaming lights, hopping the odd curb, and feeling a need to get in front other riders... guess it turned into a race for me at some point. Problem is, I need to ride like I was in that last 1/2 during the whole race!
Anyway, from Arbor Farms it was on to the coop where I had planned to fill the remaining space in my bike bags with an armload of pasta... only I couldn't find the frickin' pasta! It is a tiny store! Where the fuck is it? Ah well, a couple bags of pancake mix jumped into my arms and I could make the down hill to the finish at the park. Main St. was its usual ickiness and I had the hybrid Prius laying on the horn while riding on my ass... as if there were anywhere for me to go... there are no shoulders on Main by the river! I should have just taken the whole lane and forced them into the other lane. Anyway, that brought the heart rate up a bit too much and I hopped onto the sidewalk so I could take the turn into the park at a safer speed (flatting 1/4 mile from the finish would suck!) and *ack* there is a very dead deer! I couldn't help but look and my wheel kissed its tail as I went by... ick.
But then it was into the park and up to the northern parking lot for the finish. I was actually a tad disappointed in the amount of food in my bags -- they sure seemed heavy but once the food was out in a pile, it didn't look like much. Ah well, I wasn't going back and all that I had bought was good quality. Hey, I'd already done more grocery shopping in one afternoon than I have done in the last month! I feel good about my ride overall: six check points, 18.25 miles, 1.5 hours, and about a dozen pounds of food.
I lingered for the fire and post fire, drank some cider, and participated in the bike chat until my cold toes and grumbling belly said it was time for beer and pizza. A fine, fine day!