A Lesson in Drafting

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA

My Uncle Dan became a widower in 2020. My mother was already a widow and the two of them faced the possibility that they would never see each other again. I promised my mother that if she could sit 12-14 hours, one-way, in a car, I’d make a trip from Pennsylvania to Florida so she could visit her brother.

Over the winter I started looking for a cancer charity ride and found the Pan-Florida Challenge. This was a 200-mile ride from Fort Myers to Sebring then Sebring to Tampa.

What follows are my observations. I have no complaints, just observations.

I checked in yesterday at a Brewery in Bonita Springs. Nice volunteers checked my name off a list and handed me a bag that contained stickers for my bike and helmet plus a bib with my number to wear. Also included were an event jersey and bib shorts that I ordered.

The event hotel was the Hyatt Place in Fort Myers. When I checked in I learned their breakfast was not until 7:00 a.m. We were supposed to check-in at the event by 6:30 a.m. I thought I’d pass a fast food restaurant on the way to the event but I was wrong.

My GPS with a saved location took me out in the country and I went by the entrance without realizing it. Mild panic set in as I was thinking I’d miss the start. My bike’s Wahoo computer had the day’s ride on it so I turned it on and answered yes when it asked if it should navigate to the ride start. And that is how I got to the event on time.

Start in Fort Myers

My biggest decision was what to wear. I had been given an event jersey but for two days which day should I wear it? If both, then I’d be trying to wash it later tonight. I decided to save it for tomorrow and wore my Rooster Racing Inc. kit today.

At the starting line I could see that only 3-4 other riders were not wearing an event jersey. I was fine with that because I would wear it tomorrow.

I wanted to do something very special for this ride. I had stem caps made for my bike to ride in honor or memory of cancer warriors.

Stem caps made for this ride

I would begin the ride in memory of my wonderful cousin, Kay Walborn. Kay died in 2018 from brain cancer.

We had to declare a riding speed before the event. The A group was 21-25 mph. The B group was 18-20 mph. The C group was 15-17 mph. I knew I could ride in the B group but for a recreational cancer ride I registered for the C group. I was prepared for riding 100 miles solo and 16-17 was an honest assessment. Honest.

Rooster Racing (Fort Myers)

The A riders were sent off first followed by the B riders one minute (or so) later. The C group was sent off and I was somewhere in the middle of maybe 12 riders when we reached the main road. Almost immediately I was in a group with two women, Lucinda and Kristine, and one man. Lucinda took a lengthy pull until I went to the front to take over. The guy dropped off and the three of us rode to rest stop one.

Breakfast at the start line

At rest stop one my priorities were change stem cap, refill bottles, grab something to eat, then roll on. But we seemingly grouped up, maybe all of Group C, and rolled out together.

A hill

I pulled out of line while on a country road to ride double file. I was next to Dave from Westfield, Indiana, when he asked me if he was riding on a flat. I looked and told him he was. He both called out “flat” and pulled off. No one came with us. I was with him for 10-12 minutes when his flat was fixed. Dave told me he was riding the Metric route and was turning around at that point. I was by myself.

Our event photographer caught in action

If someone else had stopped at least there would be two of us to “chase.” But I was ok by myself. And sort of enjoyed it. A SAG vehicle came by and the driver must have wondered what I was doing. I was beginning to understand this was a ride where people stayed together, much like the Saturday morning no-drop shop ride. And I was all by myself, through no fault of my own I will add. The driver asked if I was OK and I assured him I was.

Alone on the road (Old State Road 8)

At rest stop two the group was resting. I pulled in, changed a stem cap, grabbed some water and a bar, and off we rode. Into the wind. We were going mostly north and there was a strong headwind coming from the north. We stayed together, probably a dozen of us, with me dropping only once for a photo op. I quickly caught back on.

The railroad photo op (Dairy Rd and US 27)

And then the day would change for me. We came to rest stop three.

Rest Stop Three (just out of frame after the left turn) – Venus, Fla.

After quickly refilling bottles, eating half a banana, using the port-a-john, and grabbing a bag of trail mix for the road, I informed Lucinda that I was going to soft pedal until they caught me. I don’t do well standing around as lactic acid builds up and my legs feel like crap.

Rest stop volunteers

After 15 minutes and they still hadn’t caught me a vehicle came by and pulled right in front of me. I followed him closely – 18, 20, 22, 25, 28 mph – all into a wicked headwind. We did this for more than five miles until we caught the first group on the road. I went by two men then caught two women who had their own support vehicle. I felt good enough to blow by them and go ahead but was content enough to ride with them.

In the group

My ride partners for the final 20 miles were Laura and Kristina. Kristina was from New York City and visiting her parents. I asked her if she ever drafted a vehicle and she hadn’t. I went up to the car and encouraged her to join me. Eventually she did and then she was hooked. It was beautiful to witness. I tried to get Laura to draft but she finally revealed a secret. The driver was her husband.

Lake Placid, Fla.

We finished our 100 (99) and I went back to make sure it was 100. Then I went back again and found some of my group coming in. Lucinda had never ridden a century before and she needed to turn the odometer to 100 so she and I went out again to get the final mile.

Rest stop three

At the finish, for the third time, my support driver thanked me for knowing how to draft. He said he offered a couple other guys the same courtesy but no one knew how or would draft off him.

Barry at finish (and out of uniform)

At the hotel I found they did not have a reservation for me. I had inadvertently signed up for the 100-mile ride and not the 200-mile ride which I was doing. Thankfully our event director had an extra room to be used so that worked out ok.

At Rest Stop 1

Dinner was provided and was part awards and recognition as well. It was in a building between the Residence Inn and Tru by Hilton, right on Little Lake Jackson. Good food and great location.

Lake Placid, Fla.

I worried most about how my body would respond. Riding every day in preparation is one thing. But doing one-hour ride in winter of 14-15 miles is not the same as riding 50 and 60 mile rides. But I did ok. No twinges of cramps. My big question is how the second day, a hundred after a hundred, would go.

A view of Little Lake Jackson – off the deck of the dinner facility

What to wear. I may have missed it but saw no guidance on when to wear the PFC kit. Since I was riding for two days and had one jersey, I made the decision for the second day. I did this in part because I wanted to finish the 200-mile ride in the PFC kit. This is similar to Ride the Rockies where the cool kids know to wait until the last day to wear their RTR jersey for that year.

Laura and Kristina hitching a ride

I would say that today 90% wore a PFC jersey. They were either blue or yellow depending on fundraising level. But there was a special green one – for survivors. I only saw one ride, Lucinda, wearing the green. And tomorrow, I will be in green.

Kristina

◆ Everyone has a story. Some I made stem caps for. But riding for others empowers me and I talked to someone today about every single donor.


Note: Any names which may appear in this post on riders’ bibs that are similar to the names of people mentioned herein, are purely coincidental.