By Em Matteson
For days the forecast for Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021 included rain. Noooo, we thought, just hold off for another day or at least be done by 7 am. On the days before the ride, signs had been placed at strategic locations along the route. Some of them were to notify drivers to expect riders along the road, and others were to guide riders along the route. Before it was even light outside,a truck full of supplies pulled into the parking lot at the SAC museum. It was the first time in several years that the Great Plains Bike Club had hosted the Heatstroke century ride from this Ashland location: about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha. After a flat, lackluster 2020, the club has been inching its way back to normal activities in 2021. Following months of bad weather in the early part of the year, the club began emerging from its COVID cocoon, putting together a “sag stop” in the spring. There was no route for this activity, riders just needed to stop by the rest area near the recently completed GPTN Connector Bridge and grab a doughnut and some water. Making reappearances in 2021 were the ride from Lincoln to Wahoo, the Ride of Silence, the Fancy Pants ride, and an ice cream ride from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo to Southpointe. The city of Seward came to life with its Fourth of July celebration, and the club put on the Firecracker Fifty ride with assistance from volunteers from Seward’s Living Word Lutheran Church.
Heatstroke is the club’s biggest ride and we were anxious to get it right. We were armed with plenty of food and water, and about three dozen volunteers to handle the details. Shopping for food and other supplies was no easy job, because stores were out of this and that. Substitutions were made for some items and it was necessary to make more than one trip and stop at several different stores to find others. Because of the pandemic, we tried to find individually packaged food items. But we did not neglect the bananas and pickles!! Many of us were newbies at putting the ride together. We drove the more experienced and outgoing board members crazy with our “how to” questions.
Cars with bikes on them began filling up the parking lot as supplies were unloaded from the truck. Other vehicles arrived with food and ice. Amid the organized chaos, the truck from Bike Rack found a spot to set up for doing last minute bike checks, repairs, and if necessary, even rescues, throughout the day. Tables and canopies went up and volunteers began arranging the t-shirts, caps, and registration materials. Riders stepped up to register, fill their water bottles, and make final preparations for the ride. As Garmins began beeping, sag stop volunteers loaded their vehicles to head for the sag locations on Church Road and at the Lied Bridge, where riders would be able to refill their water bottles and grab a snack. A third remote sag, at Greenwood, was being manned by volunteers from Lincoln’s Boy Scout Troop no. 456. The Greenwood SAG was also a stop for the handful of gravel riders who had signed up for the ride.
Officially registration started at 7 am with the ride start at 7:30. But true to form, some riders left before the scheduled start time. Temperatures were cool and skies were overcast as my daughter, Tracy, and I set off on loop number 1. Riders can do the three loops of the road route in any order and in any direction (in case someone wants to take advantage of tailwinds). We knew traffic would pick up near the outlet mall as the day went on, so we chose this 24 mile loop first. Our sag stop for this loop was by the recently repaired and reopened Lied Bridge. The trail leading to and from the bridge was a bit muddy but we only had to slow down a little. Unfortunately, parts of the gravel route, which consisted of two loops, were in bad condition due to recent rains.
By the time we got back to the main sag at SAC, it had transformed from a registration table to a food and water stop. We grabbed a snack and headed out for our second loop. This time we chose loop 3, since it was the longest: about 38 miles. After crossing the Lied Bridge a second time, we were soon headed west on Church Road. A bit of wind slowed our ride up and down the hills that end with a slight descent into Greenwood. In Greenwood we found a well run sag stop across the road from Baker’s Candies. From Greenwood, Highway 6 took us back into Ashland. By the time we got back to SAC, brats were sizzling on the grill. During our approach to the main sag stop, one of the toe clips on Tracy’s bike had come loose. The screw was hanging on, but the nut was lost somewhere on the road. A replacement was not found on the repair truck. So while we munched on our lunch, the repair was made with the help of a zip tie.
Our third loop, which was officially loop 2, took us back through South Bend, with its 4 exit ramps. By the time we got to Church Road the wind had shifted and we were able to take advantage of the rollers. We waved to invisible “fans” as we crossed the I-80 bridge. And one of them honked back! This brought on a slight case of the giggles as we headed back into Greenwood. The 35 miles of loop 2 weren’t quite enough to add up to 100, so when we got to Ashland we did about 1.5 extra miles out and back each way. It worked; we reached 100 when we got back to the SAC parking lot, where we were greeted by clapping and the clanging of a cowbell. Somewhere during our ride we did the calculations: a couple of previous Heatstrokes, a Spoke and Hub in Bellevue, a Homestead 100 in Beatrice, a Big Dam Bridge Ride in Arkansas, a couple of Tour de Kansas Citys, a Ride the Rivers Century in St. Louis, and a Bluff City Blues ride in Memphis, Tennessee made this the tenth century ride we had completed together! And this was one for the record books for another reason: we completed the ride in less than 7 hours of riding time: a personal best for us! Now it was our turn to cheer on other riders as they completed their rides, and then applaud all the volunteers (including my husband Esa) who made the ride possible.
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