How I Squandered my Spring Break
A Tutor on How Not to Ride Your First Century. Namely, Solo, and With Two Others Immediately Following It.
by Jeff Viniard
Spring Break was looming large on the horizon. I had plans for the summer, and thus needed to play it cheap, which was feasible because, unlike many of my classmates, I had no desire to make a pilgrimage to some Gulf Coast den of folly and debauchery. What's an indigent college student with wanderlust to do when his friends are going native down South and gas prices are experiencing truly inspiring levels of growth? Of course, the sensible for any student is to hop on his trusty steed and pedal his way home, alone, on back roads, they way they did it back in the Old West, or something. Besides, I needed to be back Sunday night for a meeting regarding said summer plans, so I figured I could cut classes Friday and arrive in style.
So I made my plans, drawing up a cue sheet from the truly wonderful online gazetteer UK puts out (http://ukccy.uky.edu/~maps/), my Hoosierland gazetteer, local knowledge of Murray, Evansville, and Louisville, and a ride from Louisville to Leavenworth I'd done the previous summer. Not having any GPS/mapping software, I'm got a nice rough estimate from mapquest of about 300 miles for the route. The route would leave Murray the first day, cut across Land Between the Lakes, then swing northeast through Dawson Springs to pick up US 41 at Madisonville, then straight north to end day one in Evansville. Day two would be mostly one long haul on IN 62 from Evansville to Corydon, entering into hill country somewhere about St. Meinrad. It would then continue up Corydon Ridge Rd., hop on IN 62 long enough for me to bid my farewells, then left on Quarry Rd. and Old Vincennes Rd. for one long, harrowing downhill into New Albany, followed by some surface street navigation including a jaunt on Hwy. 131 (the horror…), crossing Second St. Bridge, then a ride on River Rd. hopefully before it got too dark. Route having been worked out, I printed up a cue sheet, double checked it with maps, then laminated it for (hopefully un-needed) waterproofing.
When I left school Friday morning, I had already overslept by thirty minutes, and didn't get in the saddle to about 7:30. No matter, I was traveling light. I had ditched my rack and bike lock, losing about eight pounds off the bike, and was carrying two tubes, two spare spokes, a tire pump, and my trusty, rusty multitool, along with a capilene top and bottom, and a rain shell. Making things even lighter, I'd forgotten both to fill my water bottle and grab my cue sheet on the way out. An auspicious beginning to a suspicious enterprise, I'd say. It seemed as though I might steer clear of debauchery this week, but the folly was going to be pretty hard to miss.
I stopped off in Kenlake after a nice warm-up on the broad shoulders of newly cut Hwy. 80 to fill up my bottle and prepare myself for dual bridge crossings. I'd ridden these bridges before, and remembered with trepidation the gap between the road deck and guardrail that looked as if might swallow bike and rider whole without so much as a hiccup. I made quick time across the bridges and rolled on into Cadiz, KY
to ask for my directions to Dawson Springs. Stopping at a gas station to inquire of the cashier, I was referred to the congregation of Good Ole Boys in the booth by the window. Surprisingly, this crowd was receptive to the inquires of the lycra-clad interloper, and a lively conversation followed:
Old Man: Well son, you just gotta run up to I-24, go north on that there road, then go on east on The Parkway ‘till ya hit it.
Me: I can't do that, sir.
Old Man: Well, why the not?
Me: I'm on a bicycle.
Old Man: A bicycle. What the heck you ridin' one of them things for?
Me: It's a vacation.
Old Man: Sounds like a terrible vacation to me.
Where's the love?
I finally got my directions and rolled on out of Cadiz. My fear of getting lost eventually gave way to the idyll of getting lost in such wonderful riding country. Gently undulating hills under sunny skies in the first fifteen miles gave way to mild climbing through the forest near Pennyrile Forest SRP. A fast descent off a ridge brought me into Hopkins County and Dawson Springs. I rolled into the first restaurant I encountered, a greasy spoon as it happened to be. Calling a friend from Murray to ask how his day was going, I found out he was approaching Dawson Springs and would be glad to dine with me. This ended up being one of the best experiences of the trip, sitting down to a meal with a friend whom I had resigned to not seeing until many, many miles had passed. Sort of like getting your desert right after your salad. But I digress.
Thus fueled with prime riding foods like French fries and fried fish (bah), I rolled North through more rolling hills on Hwy 109, then turned right on Hwy 70. Between here and Madisonville, the rolling hills I was so accustomed to gave way first to swampy bottomlands, then to climbing reclaimed land from coal mining. I had never noticed either of these features in my numerous trips down the WK Parkway, which goes to show the vast superiority of the bicycle to the car when it comes to enjoying your surroundings. One window down can't beat no windows at all.
I hit Madisonville, took a break to rehydrate, sit, and stock up on powerbars, as it was around three and I could feel intimations of my energy waning. The next leg could really make that day, as I could make good time from Madisonville to Henderson with a tailwind and flat roads. I did, surprisingly, making the trip in right at two hours. I also had one of those “A-ha!” moments telling me I had been on the road too long. I had been traveling over some bumpy, uncomfortable patchwork of a road for several miles when I rounded a corner and beheld a black ribbon stretching off into the distance. After a moment of utter tranquility, I simply thought “Wow… that is sexy.” Just one of those signs I had been riding too long.
Anyhow, I hit the outskirts of Henderson as the sun was noticeably setting in the West. As I had forgotten my cue sheet, I had to ask for directions as US 41 becomes limited-access for several miles before opening up again in time to cross the Ohio River. I crossed west, then North on Elm Street until I was reintroduced to 41. With yet another fearsome bridge looming immediately ahead, I stopped in Audubon State Park right before the crossing to make the necessary mechanical/mental/physical/spiritual preparations. I made good time over the bridge, however, thanks to that wonderful motivator of fear. Nothing like a procession of irate motorists rolling by at sixty to get the old adrenaline going.
I ditched that road ASAP after hitting Indiana and approached University of Evansville at dusk. I locked up the bike, went to the cafeteria, and did the sensible cyclist thing, ordering six pounds of pasta and a cluster of bananas. I got a cheeseburger in return. But who cares? I was sitting down on something other than my saddle while eating for once. I slipped upstairs in my old dorm behind a few residents, made my triumphal re-entry to Hale 2-East, regaled my friend with tales of the day's tribulations, and was promptly asleep on some couch at eight that evening.
I didn't oversleep Saturday morning, but certainly wished I had. Nobody woke up (or stayed up, possibly) to see me off. Again, no love. But riding was tranquil for those first two hours or so. This was fortunate, because nothing else went well. I started out the day nice and saddle-sore from the day before, missed one turn, and thought I missed another one, only to backtrack to find out I was on the right road the whole time (IN 62 goes straight through Gentryville, not right, FYI). I wasn't exactly banging on all four cylinders that morning.
I hit Dale, and took a break for breakfast, dining on nutri-grain bars and chocolate milk. Both tasted great, but the latter didn't sit too well on my stomach. Oh well, it gave me an excuse to sit down (near a bathroom, no less) for some time. But the riding out of Dale was wonderful, with smooth roads, rolling hills, and low traffic. I found my stride and the miles melted away past St. Meinrad, though I had a brief rain scare after getting dusted with rain for a few minutes. I haven't been riding long, but I know enough about my gear and being cold and wet to know I'd be SOL real quick if I got wet. Fortune smiled upon me, though, and I just had wet roads for the rest of the trip.
The rolling hills gave way to long climbs as I proceeded East. I dropped into the granny ring and stayed in the saddle for these, not even bothering to spin, just turning over the crank as slow as possible. I never got too tired, though, and made it into Leavenworth around three. I resisted the temptation to eat at The Overlook, and opted just to go to the General Store. They make a mean turkey sandwich, though, so I didn't regret the decision. I rolled through Corydon and said my farewell to companion, IN 62, which had taken all the way from Evansville (one thing I'd take away from this trip is that I personify roads entirely too much).
Corydon Ridge road brought me from Corydon to the bluffs above New Albany. My route from here in would take me on Quarry Road and Old Vincennes Road, two roads that I remember unfavorably climbing the last summer with loaded panniers. They were just as fun descending as they were painful ascending, but had acquired a few changes in the time between my last ride and the present. This materialized on Old Vincennes in the form of liberal amounts of gravel strewn in the corners, along with a torn-up patch of road for me to bunny-hop as I was tearing down the final hill. Yeah, it knocked my wheel out of true a bit, but I'm running disc brakes, so it was only a minor problem.
Riding along the surface streets in New Albany, I noticed I was losing daylight fast. It must have been near six anyhow, and I wanted to at least get back to my home state before the sun went down. I took my time going across Second Street, thanking whoever had the common sense to design a bridge crossing for people other than motorists. After crossing the Bi-State Memorial Bridge in Evansville, I don't think I'll ever complain about plates in bridges again. Once again, this subtly pleasant experience gave way to some dismay, as I realized I was about to experience River Road at night by bicycle. The views were quite lovely, and it would have been downright romantic if it weren't for all the traffic and whatnot. I hauled once again, spinning for all I was worth. Somehow, I managed to travel that road as far as… ahh… just past the Chick-Inn. I lost the name now, confound it.
At any rate, I turned off River Road, crossed 42 onto Wolf Pen Branch, and bonked. That figures, right about ten miles from home. Just completely died. In the words of Kurt Elling “Nevermind the kin, I was gone kith, solid gone.” My legs froze up, I got a case of the shakes, and everything just kinda stopped functioning well. But I got past Springdale, so at least I didn't have to worry about traffic. I rationalized, in my addled state, that since I'd ridden Wolf Pen Branch a few times during the day, I'd be able to ride it at night with lights. It worked, so some degree. I couldn't really see that well out of the beam of my headlight, and had to sort of follow the vague outline of the road for my strategic planning, so to speak, and the beam of my headlight would keep me out of the potholes.
It worked nicely; my post-bonk wallow in discomfort became a silent commune with just me, Maria (my bike), and the road. The only sounds were the cold breeze coming across the farmland beside the road, the almost-unheard whir of my chain, and the musical hum of tires upon the pavement. Frost said it best:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Of all the song motifs, famous quotations, and lines of poetry that had ever popped into my head, only in my delirium would something this fitting come into mind. I could have passed on for some considerable time dwelling among the moonlight and sodium lamplight in the neighborhoods, avoiding Highway 22, but I knew mom was worrying (of course). I made it in at 8:43, fourteen hours to the minute after leaving Evansville that morning.
I was received the encomiums of my parents dutifully, though my drooping eyelids probably cut them short. I carried Maria upstairs, surgically removed my cycling shorts, and imploded upon the bed. People told me I got up the next morning and went to church. I simply do not remember this. My memory does pick up Monday morning, with mom rousing me to proclaim she just ordered a dump-truckload of mulch and needed (demanded) help spreading it. Not exactly a recovery ride, but surely in the spirit of things. By the numbers, I spent 24 hours and 43 minutes of saddle time over 37 hours. Surprisingly, I don't have any mileage figures, as the darn cyclecomputer was out of commission for the trip. I guess I'll have to ride it again.
Mileages Assume Start at corner of 94 and 641 in Murray, KY.
Stats: 273 mi, Cumulative Climb: 16311 ft, avg: 60 ft/mile
Day 1: Murray, KY to Evansville, IN
Head EAST outta town on Hwy. 94
|44.4||R||at SPLIT to Hwy. 128|
|47.5||X||Hwy. 126, becomes Hwy. 672|
|82.3||L||S. Main St.|
|129.2||X||US 41, over the Ohio river TRAFFIC|
|131.3||L||S. Harlan Ave|
|131.5||R||Lincoln Ave. (I stop at U of Evansville and stay there for the night. Otherwise…)|
|TRACKS 4 blocks past Expressway|
|R||Oak Hill R|
|R||Morgan Ave/ IN 62 (There's a super 8 a few miles down Morgan, right before Green River Rd.)|
Day 2: University of Evansville to Crestwood, KY
|0.25||L||Weinbach Ave RAILROAD AHEAD|
|1.75||R||Morgan Ave/ IN 62 (Long Haul)|
|30.7||L||IN 62 becomes Hwy. 231 before Gentryville|
|39.1||R||IN 62 (good place for store stop)|
|Continue on 62 through St. Meinrad, across US 41, through Leavenworth (store stop/lunch), and into Corydon. There's a bike shop on IN 62 just past the town square. Otherwise:|
|95.3||X||Hwy. 337 to E Walnut St.|
|9.9||S||Walnut St. becomes Corydon Ridge|
|111.0||R||Old Vincennes Rd. GRAVEL, BRAKE CHECK|
|117.7||L||Old Hwy. 62|
|118.5||L||Hwy. 131 TRAFFIC|
|Bike Shop L at Ryan Ln. Otherwise:|
|120.0||R||E. Brooks Ave.|
|120.5||L||N. Randolph Ave.|
|120.9||L||W. Harrison Ave|
|121.0||L||S. Clark Blvd.|
|River crossing ahead, tire check, etc.|
|123.8||U||Turn back onto 2nd St under bridge.|
|142.5||L||as Hwy. 329 Byp. Splits off|
|144.9||L||Hwy. 146 TRACKS|