This past weekend was the annual Real Ale Ride, sponsored by (and leaving from) the Real Ale brewery in Blanco, TX. I rode this last year for the first time, and really like it: it's very scenic and probably the most challenging ride in the area (at least that I have done) due to the hills. There are plenty of them, and some nasty (short and steep grades, as well as multi-mile steady climbs). Plus, the ride ends with catered BBQ and two Real Ale beers back at the brewery.
The problems started before the ride itself. I tried let myself sleep in later on Saturday (it is nearly an hour drive to get there, and we were supposed to arrive by 7 AM) by loading up the car Friday night. As I started to take off the front wheel, I heard some metal on metal clinking noise. Looking down, I saw that one of my front wheel spokes was dangling free, totally unhooked from the hub. I worried that it was broken (I wouldn't want to ride on it then), but it looked fine. I thought maybe the spoke had loosened up enough to come unhooked, and that I could re-hook it, tighten it back down, and be all set. Nope. It turns out that it was unhooked because a whole chunk of the hub flange that the spoke hooks into was broken off.
I have no idea how or when this happened. I hadn't ridden the bike at all since the Austin Cycling Association Armadillo Classic a few weeks ago, and it definitely wasn't this way then. I assume it had fatigued to the point of almost breaking, and the actual break must have happened when I was loading or unloading it after the ACA ride. This makes me wonder about these Rolf Sestriere wheels, as I had to replace the back wheel 2 summers ago because of a crack in that hub flange, as discussed in this post from August 2007.
I considered bailing on the ride entirely, but Jen talked me in to still going, but riding my mountain bike. Rather than doing the 85 mile route that I planned, I thought I'd step down to the 50 mile route. I did the 65 mile route last year. Jane was riding with a bunch of T3 friends, and they were planning on doing the 85. The ride organizers published the routes on MapMyRide. The 50 mile route looks like this:
The plan was to ride with Jane until the 50 mile route diverged from the 85 mile route, and then be off on my own. Last year, the ride started markedly late -- late enough that the delay plus my slow riding forced me to do the 65 mile route, not clearing a checkpoint in time. The 85 mile route was to start at 7:30, with each shorter distance forming its own wave, staggered by 15 minutes per interval (7:45 for 65 miles, 8:00 for 50 miles, etc.). At 7:30, no waves had yet been sent. It looked like the organizers were running a few minutes behind, as last year. A bunch of people decided to go ahead and just go at 7:30 anyway, and we tagged along. We cruised right along, making pretty good time. The 50 mile route broke away from the 65 and 85 (Jane & Co. had decided to back down to the 65 mile route during this time) about 1 hour into the ride. I bid them adieu and was off on my own.
I expected to be riding pretty solo for quite a while: I had left with 85 milers (so ahead of the 50 mile wave), in and 85 mile group that left ahead of when the 85 milers were officially sent, and the real 50 mile group would probably ride somewhat slower than people who do the 85. Given this, I thought it might be a while before the fastest 50 milers caught up to me. I rode...and rode...and rode....and then started to wonder if something was amiss. I hadn't seen another rider in a long time (aside from a few individual riders that seemed to be random locals lacking numbers, rather than fellow Real Ale riders), and I also hadn't seen any Real Ale signs along the road. I had been riding on the same road for a long time, and so thought that maybe there were no signs because we were just supposed to keep trucking along on this road out a long ways before being sent on some sort of loop back around.
After about an hour of riding like this, I concluded I had screwed up somewhere. I pulled over at the next cross road and called Jen, who was still back at my house. I asked her to grab the route map included in the ride packet (it was still sitting out in the kitchen), and and we tried to figure out where I was. I could see that the cross street was West Ammann Road, but the road I had been riding on was not labeled. Without being able to tell her an intersection, she was having a hard time finding me on the printed map or by playing on Google Maps. I didn't even know what town I was in. I asked a passing solo biker (not a Real Ale rider) if he knew what the main road was that we were on, and he wasn't sure if its name either. By telling Jen roads I did remember seeing in the past, though, she concluded that I was well south of the official route. I started back the way I came, thinking that -- worst case -- I would get back to where the 50 diverged from the 65 and 85 and find the real route that way. Sure enough, several miles on the way back, I found the 50 mile route looping back onto the road was on, joining me up with the actual 50 mile route and other 50 mile bikers.
One downside to riding off route for so long was that there were no rest stops. I didn't stop at a rest stop until I rejoined the 50 mile route, and this was probably 3.5 hours into the ride. That was the only one I stopped at the whole ride, as I didn't want to waste any more time; I had no idea how far off route I had gone. I eventually finished (3912 calories later, or so the HRM watch said), loaded my bike into the car, and made my way back to the food. I had some brisket, sausage, potato salad, ice cream (given away free by some separate stand), some Sweat Leaf peach tea, and two Real Ale beers. They produce several beers, including a few that I had never seen (as they are not available in bottles). Their Rio Blanco Pale Ale is probably Jen's favorite beer, and they had plenty of that. I tried two of the draught-only selections that I hadn't seen before: the Roggenbier and the Dunkelroggen. Both were pretty good, or at least seemed to be after that ride! They also had a small keg of Ginger Soda, from which I pumped a glass. Pretty good drink for a sunny, warm (mid 90s, at this point) day.
When I got home, I messed around on Google Maps to figure out what I had done and how far off route I had gone. When I doubled back, I never did see (for certain) the turn that I originally missed. Looking at the route map back at home, I think that I messed up right where the 50 mile route diverged from the others in Kendalia: I took 3351, and it looks like I was supposed to take a turn for Edge Falls Road at roughly the same spot. The route map shows riders taking Edge Falls in Kendalia, which loops back onto 3351 several miles later, which riders then take north to head back to Kendalia. In my case, I never took Edge Falls at all, heading south on 3351 from Kendalia. I rode past where Edge Falls joined up with 3351, but being so early, there were no riders around to see at that intersection; it was pretty much a ghost town when I rode by the first time. On this map, I marked the excess south riding I must have done: from the 3351/Edge Falls intersection down to where I actually made it. It is 8.1 miles farther south than the southmost spot of the real route. Taking 3351 south looks to be slightly longer than Edge Falls, so I must have tacked on 17 or 18 extra miles beyond the slated 50...making my route longer than the next higher bracket (65). Oops.
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The next day, I took my busted front wheel by Bicycle Sport Shop to see what (if anything) could be done about the front wheel. A guy in service said that it would (in theory) be possible to replace the busted hub and respoke it...but that it didn't make much sense in this case, given that this wheel had been out of production for years, and so a replacement hub would be hard to find. Plus, this is an 8 year old wheel with thousands of miles on it -- probably not worth going to heroic lengths to save. So, I resigned myself to having to replace it, just as I had to when the rear cracked 2 years ago. When the rear cracked, I replaced it with a Bontrager X-Lite. I expected to replace the front with another X-Lite, bringing me back to finally having a matching wheel set again. As it turns out, the X-Lite was redesigned (and improved) in 2008, so the new front will be a generation newer than the back one...but unfortunately also a different color. The 2007 model on the back is black. The current generation X-Lite is an anodized pewter color.
One thing that totally sucks: in searching for information on the X-Lite, I found an eBay listing for a previous generation (2007) Bontrager X-Lite clincher...being sold by Bicycle Sport Shop! They were liquidating back inventory, presumably trying to rid themselves of the previous generation model. Too bad; it was cheaper ($230) and still new, whereas the current generation has an MSRP of $400. The coupon included in the Real Ale Ride packet for 20% off at Bicycle Sport Shop is going to come in handy...