Yesterday, in beautiful Waco, Texas, home of Baylor University, I did my 21st bike rally of the year and my 417th overall. I’ve been going to Waco since 1989. One year, I went to Forney instead (because it was closer to my house), and three years ago, when Hurricane Rita caused the cancellation of the Wild West Century, I went to Crowley instead. (Truth be told, I was going to Crowley anyway.) So I’ve been to 17 of the past 19 Waco rallies. It’s a long drive (93.9 miles, one way), and I have to rise at five o’clock to make it in time, but it’s well worth it. The routes are scenic; the support is excellent; and the turnout is impressive. I have always thought of the Waco rally as second only to Wichita Falls in terms of how well it’s organized. Waco is one of the few remaining rallies with a 100-mile course.

Thinking that my friend Joe and his son Jason would line up with the tandems at the front, I situated myself behind the tandems but slightly in front of the fast 100-milers. I never did see Joe and Jason. This was odd, since (1) Joe always goes to Waco and (2) he hadn’t told me that he wasn’t going. I was worried that something had happened to him. But there was the command to start, so off I went. I figured I’d wait at a rest stop somewhere along the line, in case Joe and Jason decided to line up in the back. The weather at the start was gorgeous. It’s officially fall, but summer is still in the air. The temperature was probably in the low 70s when we rolled out of town.

I had no desire to go fast, like I did the two previous weeks (in Greenville and Bonham). Many people rode past me during the first few miles, even though I was cruising along at a good speed. I eventually fell in with a number of other riders, which kept my speed up. I had 20.3 miles after the first hour. I was surprised. I would have guessed that I had no more than 19 miles. My heart rate barely broke 120 during this time. A few minutes later, I came to the rest stop where I planned to stop. The route goes out and back at this point. While I was standing near the tables, eating a muffin, my friend James rolled up. James and I rode together in Greenville two weeks ago. I asked James whether he had seen Joe. “You mean the guy with black hair—and the boy on a tandem?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. James said he saw them at the start. That was wonderful news! A few minutes later, as I stood near my bike, checking the computer, there came Joe and Jason, around the corner. I heard Jason shout, “There’s Keith!” Joe indicated that he wasn’t going to stop yet, so I jumped on my bike and caught them.

I was delighted to be riding with my friends, just like old times. (We used to do the 100-mile course together, before Jason was born.) I gave them high fives as we rode side by side, and we quickly informed each other of what had happened at the start. I was shocked to hear that our friend Randy was at the rally, for Randy had told me by e-mail the day before that he wasn’t going. Something about a bike problem. I sent my standard reply: “Wimp.” Joe said Randy was doing the 100-mile course, which had already split off. I’ll be damned. Randy, who rode like a sack of potatoes at the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred a month ago, was going to give it another try. I told Joe that he must have gotten tired of being called a wimp. What better way to turn the tables on the old professor than to ride more miles than he was? I haven’t heard from Randy about his ride (he’s barely literate), but I assume he rode the entire 100-mile course. Then again, he may have wimped out and taken a sag wagon in. Randy is a great big sack of potatoes. I call him Mr Potato Head.

The out-and-back course was slow going, not least because we rode side by side, talking, most of the way. This meant no drafting. The road surface was rough, and, while the course was scenic, there were many turns. We also picked up a little wind on the way back, which slowed our pace. I rode 16.7 miles the second hour. When we got back to the corner, we stopped for refreshments. The muffins were gone by then, unfortunately. Also, there had been no water when I arrived the first time, only Gatorade and pickle juice. I asked the girls who were working the rest stop whether they had run out of water already. One said they had never received any. That’s not good. But there was water on hand by the time we got back. It was starting to get hot.

By this point, we were more than halfway through the 65-mile course. Next stop: the Mars factory. But first we had to get over a series of hills along a highway (on the frontage road). It’s hard to climb hills on a tandem, so I got ahead of Joe and Jason during this stretch. I figured I’d wait for them at the Mars factory. I passed quite a few people on the hills. Whenever I passed someone, I would turn and say, “M&Ms ahead!” This invariably elicited a chuckle or a laugh. One man passed me like a bat out of hell. When I caught him, a minute later, I said, “I had to catch you; I didn’t want you to eat all the Snickers bars.” If you can’t be goofy during a bike ride, when can you be goofy?

I rode 16.2 miles the third hour, which knocked my average speed down to 17.73 miles per hour. The wind was out of the southeast, so it hurt us for many miles during this part of the course. Finally, with less than 10 miles to go, we turned north, which meant tailwind. Ahh! It felt great. I averaged 17.27 miles per hour for the final 43:04, which gave me an overall average speed of 17.64 miles per hour for 65.6 miles. I’ll take it. I’d gladly trade speed for Joe and Jason’s company, especially after having ridden hard and fast the previous two weeks. We finished strong, shook hands, and headed for our respective vehicles. I told Jason to enjoy the baseball playoff games—and, like any decent human being, to root against the New York Yankees.

Here comes the statistical orgy. My maximum heart rate for the day was 156. My average heart rate was 124. I burned 2,198 calories. My maximum speed was only 28.3 miles per hour. What that means is that there were no big hills, just lots of small ones. The official high temperature for the day, in Waco, was 90° Fahrenheit. That came several hours after we finished. It was probably in the low eighties by noon, when we completed the course. I’m looking forward to cooler weather during the remaining rallies of the year. It gives the riding an entirely different feel.

How was your ride, Mr Potato Head?

Addendum: I did my first bike rally on 30 September 1989, in Seagoville, Texas. I’ve done 417 rallies in 18 years. That’s an average of 23.1 rallies per year. At that rate, it will be 25.2 years before I do my 1,000th rally. I will be 75.7 years old.