Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It takes two to be really crazy

Post Tombstone has been a blur, in a fit of confidence, I committed to riding the Gold Rush Randonnee in June.  With most of the 26,000 ft of climbing crammed into the middle 500k, it's a monster.  It's at altitude too!  So I resolved to do lots of hills.

As a result, I've been back to the Hills of Wisconsin, done the brutal GLR 300k (with 100 miles of 20 mph headwinds), and a relatively hilly fleche.  I've also been hard at work in the gym and paying attention to the advice of my gastroenterologist, the excellent GI Dave.  Finally, it appears that all my body parts are actually working.

The weather here in Minnesota has been an epic of pain and suffering.  It's cold, wet and generally unpleasant.  We are still waiting for spring; for now we are stuck in sprinter (halfway between spring and winter).

Last week, my frame builder, friend and soon to be wedding celebrant (really, he was ordained on the internet), Vincent, wanted to go for a spin on the tandem.  Previously, I'd never ridden a tandem with anyone but IronK, but she gave her okay.  After a 20 mile spin after work which included the very public demonstration that you cannot have the captain and the stoker dismount on opposite sides of the bike, Vincent declared this to be the greatest thing since sliced avocado. 

So we decided for our second ride, to do the second most challenging hill ride in the Upper Midwest.  Second only to Nelson's Folly, the Coulee Challenge in Black River Falls boasts about 9,000 ft of climbing and many of the hills are crazy steep.  The saying goes "if the road has the word coulee in it, the town has the word valley in it or the hill has a posted name, you are in for epic pain".  Fortunately, the weather in Black River Falls was to be dry, unlike the Twin Cities where it promised to storm non-stop.

So we got up and drove 2.5 hours west to BRF and got started at about 8:00am.  Dan, the permanent owner, was going to ride with us but appeared in jeans.  "I wasted myself riding yesterday and I've got nothing left".  Oh well, Vincent and I were still convinced that we would ride the whole thing at 30 mph.  "at least you won't have any rain", was Dan's parting comment.

So we took off from BRF with a light tailwind to the town of Taylor.  This turned out to be a most interesting time to ride in the area.  There is a large Amish community and I have never seen so many buggies on the road.  We totally dusted them too, but we waved and smiled to and said, "guten morgan".  Vincent thinks the Amish all speak German.  Not sure if they do or do not.  It could be that they all thought that we were German tourists.

We puzzled at the control, The Corner Store.  It appeared to be under construction.  Vincent was navigating and we spent at least 15 minutes running around trying to figure out that we were indeed at the wrong corner.  We finally found the right corner store; who knew there would be two corner stores in a small town like Taylor.  So far, so good, we were rolling along at about 17 miles per hour.

Then the hills stared.  We actually really enjoyed them and we had just cruised onto CR-C and were looking for Rogness Coulee Road (note: coulee in road name) when a car pulled up ahead.  "Secret control!" said Dan who was out with his two daughters, "and you are going the wrong way".  Oops.  Okay, maybe doing 4 bonus miles wasn't the smartest thing, but we got to see some nice ponies.  Dan pointed us in the right directions and made sure we got to the turn.

Rogness was the first time we realized that perhaps I should have overhauled the tandem over the winter.  When I tried to get into the small chain ring, it refused to go.  The cable was clearly not at the right tension, but adjusting on the fly just didn't quite work.  I also noticed an annoying click that started.

We passed across the Black River which was really pretty and stopped for pictures.  Then we continued on to Mindoro where we became confused and neglected to stop at the Mindoro Country Store thinking it was on the other side of the next hill.  Clearly, we were bonking since we weren't smart enough to read the sign.  The climb up the Mindoro Cut was beautiful and not difficult.  We took pictures at the top.  Vincent took lots of pictures; it's a perk of being a stoker.

Just after the whizzing descent down the cut, the pitter of rain started.  Just slightly annoying, the kind of thing that is easy to brush off.  We desperately looked for the store that we had passed 5 miles earlier.  Darn, no snack in sight.  It was only another 5 miles to the control in West Salem, we got there quickly and stopped at Linda's Bakery for lunch.  We had about an hour and a half in the bank, which was impressive considering the bonus miles, wasted time being lost and a host of attempts to fix the decaying shifting.  A cherry turnover, two baguettes, and a bowl of chicken noodle soup later, I was feeling better.  So was Vincent, although he was a little sad, being vegetarian, to be eating chicken soup.

I was less happy to see that the spitting rain had developed into a full fledged rain.  I put my rain jacket on and cursed myself for leaving my rain legs in the car along with my rain booties.  We still needed a receipt from the real control, a gas station and we pulled in at the gas pump.  No sense in both of us getting wet.  I bought some peanut butter cups and dashed out.  We started down the road water blasting both of us in the shins.  Then we turned around and went back to the Subway attached to the gas station to get plastic bags for our feet.  Those worked well; I also thanked my lucky soul that I wore all wool and at least brought some half fingered gloves.  It wasn't super cold, but rain and a headwind were not going to be warming.

The real hills started after West Salem and we were both sad that Vincent's phone had no signal.  The Lovely Linda likes her mid ride texts.  The shifting continued to degenerate and we spent quite a bit of time futzing around trying to avoid climbing in the big chain ring.  The scenery was gorgeous, bright green and even in the rain it was amazing.  We marveled how the rain didn't seem to be a big issue.  The downhills were quite tricky in the rain and in addition, they were still a bit sandy from the winter.

As we rolled into Coon Valley (note: valley in the name of the town), I was getting cold hands.  I asked Vincent if his were cold.  "Nope, the heat is just radiating off your *ss and I am toasty warm".  Gee, I had no idea!  I found out later that the stoker warming their hands on the captain's rear is a well-known tandem phenomena.

Cocoa and food in Coon Valley made me all better, though the rain continued in full force.  We made a quick stop of it and took off.  A very long, gentle climb later, we came out of the valley and cruised into Bangor.  Here we made a pit stop for water and to eat some avocados that we had brought with us.  Lloyd's Quickstop was being dismantled by the grocery store was open.  We unceremoniously dumped the tandem on the road too; the avocados must not have kicked in yet.  No one was hurt though, we just laughed, so did the guy in that pickup truck behind us.

PS: Vincent has great pictures.  I will post some when he sends them to me.

After Bangor, the rain stopped, it was hovering south of I90.  We finally stared drying out with 40 miles to go.  Then we turned on CR-E.  That was when Vincent noticed the bad link - on the synchronization chain.  Do you have a chain tool?  Oops, each of us thought the other one was bringing the chain tool.  Sure enough there was a bad link.  If it snapped, Vincent would be pedaling me home.  Since his phone wouldn't work, he really would be pedaling me home.  We debated whether to mess with it and finally decided to just avoid mashing any hard gears to avoid putting stress on it.

Unfortunately, directly in front of us was a sign that said "Tamarack Hill" (note: signed hill, bad news).  This is probably the biggest hill on the ride.  The first time I went up it was a month before PBP and I remember sweat pouring off my face blinding me.  I was in a groove and we were about halfway up when Vincent called stop.  His heart was racing.  I wasn't exactly feeling like a spring chicken so we caught our breath and walked the rest of the way.  You know it is a really steep hill when walking is challenging.

The descent was much more fun!  We cruised down at about 40 mph.  Riding downhill is a big strength for a tandem.  We finally rolled into Melrose a big before 7 pm.  I inhaled the peanut butter cups, the rest of my baguette and a quick swig of Snapple.  We sat down a few minutes to catch our breath and then realized we only had 13 miles to go!

Vincent continued eating on the back of the tandem.  `At this point, we passed an older couple walking in the evening.  "hey, the guy on the back isn't pedaling", they joked.  There is a beautiful pedal along River Road, rolling along the Black River.  We had fun and Vincent perked up.  We continued to pay attention to the chain.  The annoying rattling turned out to be the bottom bracket.

Just before the end of the road, Dan and his entire family showed up.  They wondered where we were, not having realized that it was pouring rain just to the south.  We finished just under 12 hours.  I considered that to be quite a feat all things considered.  The tandem survived, no animals were harmed during the riding of the brevet.  The stoker survived and is still convinced it was a good idea.  Now all we need is the bike to get an overhaul and for it to stop raining!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

600k of Therapy in Tombstone

With both the Gold Rush and LEL approaching faster than I would have liked, a major bout with vasculitis and colitis was not really convenient.  For those that are unaware of Henoch-Scholein Purpura (and really, who is aware?), it's a disease in which certain antibodies "stick" to the insides of small blood vessels in the lower legs- kind of like a big, red target for your T-cells (tanks of the immune system).  Having your immune system torpedo your legs causes large welts and swelling in the joints.  Exceedingly painful, even by rando standards; it's put me in the hospital and that is saying something.  Normally striking children under 10, Road Pixie is just young at heart.  Add that to my second autoimmune disease, colitis - it's months of suffering.  After the 400k in early March, both went crazy and I had finally had to relent to a tour of corticosteroids (the really expensive ones that don't help your fitness, but do cause your body fat to relocate to your head and neck).  

I'd been trying to ride the Tombstone for 3 years.  Every time, I would DNS or DNF over some medical problem (cancer, food poisoning) - the ride was cursed.  So as I languished in a snowy, depressing late spring with most of my plans completely in distress, I considered my perennial plan to do the Tombstone.  I had plane tickets and Lara was both in AZ and up to trying it - in the plus column.  Also, I had managed to finish the 400k without solid food and after a couple root canals.  Also in the plus column.  I was in the doldrums of seasonal affective disorder (where your personality shrivels up due to lack of any light) and on nasty steroids that I was hoping were not going to make me blind.  Should I cancel the plane tickets?

In the end, I decided, no way would I give up my fourth try at the ride.  Really, the weather would be sunny and warm (maybe some wind) and I had  a personal demon to slay here.  In the end, I decided I would either let my diseases run my life, or I would run my life.  So with two weeks to spare, I started running up and down the stairs at work to get ready (steroids also kill your immune system, so I can't be around children or in the gym when on them).   The stair therapy was probably good for me too - steroids make me cranky and with no sun and piles of snow, no outdoor stuff.

Lara and her friend, Dave, picked me up at the Tucson Airport.   We went to his house where he was nice enough to let me use his tools to put the bike together.   Lara's friend Susan was there as well, that's the Susan that runs PAC tour.  She has stories, but I digress.  We eventually relocated to the Super 8 on Cortaro Road, along with enough food to feed a small army.  This was to be the start/overnight/finish spot.  The Tombstone does a 400k out and back to the town of Tombstone, then a 200k loop to San Manuel on the other side of Mt Lemmon (other side and Mt are two key words that sentence).  We spent extra time getting ready and running around in pajamas in WalMart looking for reflective leg bands - they didn't have any.

Susan Reed, the ride boss, eventually brought some to the start.  I hadn't seen her since food poisoning knocked me off my bike the previous year.  Only 4 intrepid riders were at the start, but on the plus side for the feminists that gave the girls a 50% showing - when does that happen in a 600k?

For a ride that had all the trimmings of another disaster, I have to report that this wound up somehow being one of my better 600k rides.  The 4 of us sort of rotated around each other for both days.  Lara and I stayed close and she had a bout with the heat, but heat generally doesn't bother me.  What I thought would be a lackluster showing on my part, was pretty okay.  I felt great the whole time, no soreness in my legs (that was probably the stairs) and I did some mega pulls coming back from Tombstone.  In fact, I have a great shot of the rando re-enactment of the Gunfight at OK Corral.

Pecos Lara falls victim to Road Pixie's rando shotgun
Knowing that we were not going to be setting speed records, we had appropriately stashed water supplies at Sonoita and at the Road Runner Mart.  I had a mad cap adventure descending Sonoita pass when my front bag flew open and a pepperoni sandwich flew out and hit me in the face.  I somehow management to snatch the sandwich out of the air as it rebounded, calories are calories on a ride like this.

We stopped at our hotel room to refuel and get a little sleep.  We fought some ferocious winds the next day around Mt Lemmon and again ran out of water in Oracle.  We flagged down another cyclist to beg water and used a hose at the local church (if you can't get water from a church, there is just something wrong).  Looking back, I should have passed on eating too much in San Manuel and waited until I got up the final 10 mile climb to Oracle.  But taking it slowly, I made it fine.

Aside from one of us getting lost 15 miles from the end, everyone made it just fine.  I got a finish shot:
The big finish, note Road Pixie's silly knee socks to protect her trashed legs
The guy in the middle is Ken - going to the Rando Stampede this year.  John was our other companion (he made it in an hour later after being a little lost - it's the way of the wild, wild west).

This was a weird ride in that it clear lots of cobwebs from my head.  I had been so sick for so long so to finally accomplish something really turned things around.  I cycled off the steroids about 2 weeks later after some of the longer term medication started taking effect.  So this was the end of a first SR of the year and only halfway through April.  The ride itself was beautiful - well worth the time.  I was sort of sad to fly out of my last AZ ride of the winter season.  For wintering Minnesotans, the desert is a peaceful place.  I am always shocked by how epic it seems, how your eyes focus on things miles away instead of as here in the midwest where they focus on the streams and trees that are so close.  Perhaps that is what made it so psychologically liberating, I looked outside instead of in.

Will be back next year!