Monday, August 26, 2013

My London Edinburgh London: The Greatest Ride Ever

I had put this ride report off for awhile.  First I was in England for 10 days after the ride.  Then life got in the way.  But finally after a long hot Apple Valley 400k, many people seemed to be astounded I had such a good time.  Apparently, they read another rider's ride report.  I finally sat down and read that report.  I was horrified.  So this is report is to both set the record straight and to let everyone know what a fabulous ride this is; in many ways better than PBP.

First, I went into this ride with my eyes wide open.  I knew that riding with Bob was going to be a somewhat difficult proposition.  I knew he had horrible problems with not being able to sleep at controls.  I knew that he has a hard time not obsessing over time after 600k (hey, if I couldn't sleep at controls, I'd probably be the same).  But he was my friend and I do enjoy his company greatly.  I resolved that if he was not a good riding partner for me at any time (or I for him), that I would be sure to tell him that him finishing the ride was more important to me than me finishing it with him and that all of us need to ride our own rides that there would be no hard feelings.  My goal on this ride was that it was part of a well earned vacation; I had 10 more days with my mother and partner afterwards.  Every minute of this ride was precious to me.  I had never been to England and enjoying it was the whole point of doing the randonnee. Heck, I've done 5 1000+k rides in the last 3 years every one of them has been a lesson in geography, history and people-watching.  It turned out that this was the perfect ride and perfect weather (yes, really, I thought it couldn't have really been much better).  My mom's advice to me, "we'll be as close to the finish as we can, but do everything in your power to have a good time". She is a very wise woman.

The Greatest Sights that England has to offer

I decided to ride the prologue, starting at Buckingham Palace.  This was a first for the ride and in my mind, it set the stage for everything that followed.  The first thing that happened just before we lined up was that my brand new Planet Bike computer completely fell apart.  This wound up being the absolutely best thing that could have happened.  I had no speedometer for the entire ride.  I had a GPS that lost the routes (a recurrent theme with them - at least 4 people I met had the same issue).  That GPS had its viewer turned to on demand so that the batteries would last 24 hours.  I reset it between controls and just used it to check against the cue sheet when needed.  I advise everyone to do this at least once in their lives.  I spent all of my time with my head up looking at the landscape, the people, other riders, the sheep, the cows, the wheat, everything.  I had never realized how much time I had wasted looking at my computer.  I simply rode as fast as I felt like going, no more, no less.
Two non-functional computers for the price of one!
Not having one made the ride great

If you have never been in London, it's under construction, like for thousands of years.  They have many iterations of buildings, so London Bridge is the 5th generation, etc.  We passed Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, all the greatest sights.
LEL storms Parliment!
 I found out later that the double decker sight seeing bus uses much of the route.  Bob even had a go-go boy run into the street and "hump" his front tire.  Now that was a sight!

The prologue added 30k to the ride which was actually 1420k, so for me, a grand total of over 900 miles.  At Loughton, I picked up some nice baguettes and took pictures (I took several hundred pictures on this ride eventually - to see them go here ).  The organization was absolutely superb.  For a ride that was originally supposed to be 700 riders and turned into 1100, it was amazing.  I have to say that I wished I had more vacation; I had bad jet lag and absolutely no time to get over it before the ride started.  The extra day that I had had at PBP was very helpful; I won't repeat that mistake again.

Out of the control, we ran into Jonas, who we would ride with for the next 240 miles.   I have to say that you could not ask for more perfect cycling weather.  The first 150 miles is slightly rolling to pancake flat through farmlands and endless villages, some dating to the middle ages.
Riding along the canal - a perfect day
 Swans floated in canals, boats paddled on ponds, fluffy clouds dotted a perfect blue sky at 75 degrees; oh, and we had about a 20 mph tailwind (the whole time).  At the stop in Kirton, a middle school band played for us at the control and the food was awesome.  Really, I have no idea how they managed to get it so well done.  Food is included in the price so you don't have to run around with money at controls.  It saved loads of time.  Bangers and mash, fish and chips, cakes with custard, fried potatoes, meat pies, salads; I have never eaten so well on a brevet.  

As we left Market Rasen, we were filmed by a crew doing a documentary.  Much laughing and as the sun went down, we were in for a great ride across the Humber Bridge, at one time the largest single span bridge in the world.  
Bob on the Humber Bridge
Whoever planned the route really paid attention to making it both beautiful and balancing roads with sights.  We had missed the rain that hit the area earlier so though there were some puddles, no rain for us. 

In Pocklington, we again missed the rain by staying in the control while it did rain.  That stalled us a bit and Pocklington itself was packed with riders (the rider forum warned that it would be).  It would have made a good sleep stop so I can't fault people for going there.  Thirsk was still about 50 miles away.  And at this point, I think we had been spoiled by the tailwind, flat terrain and easy conditions.  It got much hillier after Pocklington, but the rewards were awesome.  After about 10 miles, we turned onto a curvy farm road, almost gravel, for just a couple miles.  Having done some gravel, I found it exhilarating rushing down the road with the clouds and moon coming out through farmlands.  Ed Boltz had joined us and was navigating so I spent all my time gawking.  After a few interesting turns through villages in the misty moonlight, we started what I can only describe as a time warp. It started with a huge 20 ft gated wall; I felt like I was riding in the middle ages.  Then huge (like 150ft huge) monuments started appearing.  After the tiny road, I marveled at how something so colossal could be off by itself like this.  The sight of Ed trying to pull his mounted headlight off the ground so that we could see the top was one of those moments I will always remember.  I found out later this was Castle Howard, the most famous baroque castle in the world.

Following the awesomeness of Castle Howard were some equally awesome hills: 17% grade down, then up with sand at the bottom kind of awesome.  I started working the hills, but had an unusual cramp and remembering that this exact kind of situation had ripped on of my hamstrings 2 years earlier,  I walked/jogged up the other side.  But we had moved to the zombie hours and the combination of jet lag and the long day had set in.  I'd gotten only a few hours of sleep the night before.  I wound up needing a short nap; I refuse to compromise on safety.  I also told Bob there was no way I would do that again; no reason to be sleepy on the road with so much time.  Hindsight is always 20/20, a nap in Pocklington would have been smart.

We got into Thirsk and promptly got lost.  Not wanting to waste time, I asked a parked cab for directions (it's a girl thing, all girls know cab drivers can find anything).  Melissa, the super domestique, was waiting with a room.  I gave up the bed to Bob, knowing that he has such a hard time sleeping and parked it on the floor.  Unfortunately, I was also awakened about 1 hour later when he couldn't sleep.  We wound up awake and packing far ahead of schedule, I had inadvertently had too much caffeine before the stop; a bad mistake on my part.  So we noodled around waiting for food and eventually left.  Bob had a time in mind, and we were two hours ahead of it.  I was feeling pretty good, even though my sleep stop had been anything but sleep filled - sometimes a good yoga pose is just fine.  However, at this point, he started worrying that our pace was too slow for him and that the first 400k time had been his worst of the year.   I closed my eyes and pulled up my speech; it was at this point, I started to mentally separate and my solo ride started - I would let him ride ahead and do his own ride; it's important if you are riding on a 1200+k ride that your keep your own mental state in good shape.  The greatest friends you have may not be the best support after 3 sleepless days.  We wound up leap frogging for many K before finally parting ways.

It's a Bob at the end of the rainbow
We had a whole 10 minutes of rain and a beautiful ride into Barnard Castle, getting lost only once and getting un-lost with some other people lost the same way.  At this point, we met Tom from Alaska who I ran into nearly constantly for the rest of the ride. We crossed Yad Moss (the biggest climb of the day) after an absolutely spectacular ascent along the river and a rainbow that sailed over the road and the valley.
Picture perfect valley approaching Yad Moss
 Down into Alstad and the famous cobbles!  The Gold Rush had left me without feeling in my left hand, so rooting around in my front bag was a problem; hard to open things with one hand.  Bob loaned me a gel and we rolled into Brampton just as night was coming on.  We had a big dinner and I spied my friend, Patrick, from the Gold Rush.  He was doing his big sleep at this point.  I still wanted to stay with Bob as his mood was improved so I laid down for a short nap and we were off.  

I'm pretty happy we did that because the trip to Moffat was one of the larger roads and it was nice to have NO traffic at all.  My rear was sore and I wanted to change my shorts (I had a spare pair).  I also wasn't' seeing much purpose in continuing through the zombie hours just to get to Edinburgh.  Time was just never an issue in this ride and there were almost no people on the road (we ran into only a handful).   I really thought about it, especially after changing shorts and decided it was time to separate.  I wanted a short nap and to get my first taste of Scotland in the morning.  A 2 hour nap would have me leaving at dawn.  I sat down and gave Bob my speech.  "Just ride away", I said, "have your own ride".  To my surprise, he said no, that sleeping here was okay; I slept like the dead for 2 solid hours - so well in fact that it would hold me with no sleepiness at all for almost 400k.  

So we began our ascent of the Devil's Beeftub (that may be the greatest name for a hill ever) on a breathtaking morning as we literally climbed out of the clouds.  I had to take tons of pictures and Bob rolled up the hill without me.  But just stopping and turning around to see the clouds as they swirled through the valley I was leaving was worth it.  It's one of those times when you feel as though you are a part of a greater world or part of the sky or both.  
Climbing the Devil's Beeftub - Road Pixie becomes one with the sky
The choppy hills of Yorkshire were replaced by long, engineered roads that wound through the green of the valley.  I had a long chat with an Englishman about politics of all things. He gave me a valuable tip: always take a break on the top of a hill.

I stopped at a roadside truck and had a Bacon Bap by Jan.
I passed on the roadside Haggis, note the Summer Knight in the foreground
 This is the English equivalent of a breakfast sandwich.  Oh so very tasty and I got two cokes for the road too.  I had fun joking with some Canadians with whom I had mutual friends. Small world.

So I rolled into Edinbugh (okay, maybe grunted is a better word, it's at the top of a big hill) with a big smile on my face to the best shower ever and my drop sack.  I changed shorts, socks, and felt great.  I saw Bob and gave him a big congratulations on making it halfway.  We wound up leaving together; I'm not sure how long he had been there.  

A Great Ride gets even BETTER

The next 50 miles are the toughest in the ride.  Scotland doesn't really have steep hills but they are long and since you can see everything, you get an idea at all times of how vast they are.  That tailwind was also now a headwind (for the first time) And there are sheep…
Don't be fooled - he's a killer!

For the record, one of the issues I had to deal with on this ride was active ulcerative colitis.  Many people who have this autoimmune disease get really demoralized, and with good reason; it sucks yangs.  I had been fighting with symptoms for the entire ride (it leads to anemia and is sometimes accompanied by a fiendish desire to visit the restroom RIGHT NOW).  I had one of those moments about 15 miles outside Edinburgh.  I was gawking at the scenery and the next moment, I just had to pull over and vault over a short fence.  Then just as the shorts where happily at my ankles; the worst possible thing happened: a sheep charged me.  If you have never been charged by an obviously miffed sheep (and really, he uses the field all the time so I can't think why sharing a problem), avoid it.  I did the only thing I could, throw up my hands and spin around to protect my head.  At this point, I was surely saved as apparently the sight of my moon was such that the sheep was terrified and ran away.  I hustled back to my bike in a completely weird state of mind and with a heart rate of about 200.

At this point, a bike pulled up with a "hi Michele, how's your ride".  I had my name on my rear bag so it wasn't a surprise.  I answered, "gee, I'm having a weird mental block".  "Hop on" was his answer and the next second we were whizzing down the road at god knows how fast.  The adrenalin from the sheep had just super charged me and I was feeling much better after losing a few pounds.  We passed rider after rider; it's the fastest I have ever ridden for the longest period of time.  The next thing I knew, we were at the control in Traquair and I thanked him heartily.
Only 653k to go?  Piece of cake!
 I had cake, porridge and a bunch of water, but passed on the Scotch.  Bob arrived afterwards (leap frogging as usual), he seemed anxious to go on.  I realized that my greater digestive health was at stake and just let him go ahead on the next hill.  

Over the next 25 miles, I would meet Carolyn from Seattle, riding with a Welsh man, Dan and Simon, from England and a host of other fun guys.  The route continued to please with rivers, forests, hills of such brilliance that I can't describe it.  It was a beautiful day.  At Eskdalemuir, I ran into Bob yet again and he had been resting and his mood was improved.  So we left and rode together once more.  At this point, it rained a nice warm rain for about an hour; which was followed by beautiful rainbows (every time it rained they appeared like smiles in the sky).  Our original plan had been to return to Thirsk where his drop sack was, but he absolutely shocked me by suggesting that we stop in Brampton at which point it would probably just be getting dark.  Sure why not?  We had a nice ride in, meeting Garreth an Austrailian now living in Edinburgh on the way.  It was crowded there; I was more interested in scheduling the sleep stop than getting my card validated.  They were running low on beds and wanted times, I didn't like to make any choices on Bob's behalf.  I let them pick a time and they suggested 4:00 am - I figured why not, but knew I usually sleep about 4 hours so I would likely be up at 3:00 or so.  Bob didn't want to change from 4 no matter how many times I asked; I really wanted him to be able to sleep finally - we were almost 850k in and no substantial sleep.  I also realized that a lot of my own mental energy was going into worrying about him.

I had a fabulous sleep, really the sleep accommodations were great.  Much better than any other 1200k I have done.  Plenty of blankets, ear plugs provided, towels provided.   I slept like a rock and was feeling great when I woke up at, big surprise, 3:15. I decided I would be ready and was fed up and ready to roll, we were out at dawn.   

Another perfect dawn
This was another absolutely perfect day for cycling.  I let Bob get a bit ahead and just before Alstad, I had a flat on the only long,steep hill in Scotland; he didn't hear me yell "flat".  I dragged the  bike back to the bottom (no shoulder).  A tack driven straight in, at least it was easy to find.  At this point, I found out that 2 of my 3 tubes had been stolen from my front bag!  Yikes! Fortunately, a sag cycle stopped and gave me a spare so that I wouldn't be down to patching.

The ride up Yad Moss was great, little wind and I passed a rider sleeping sitting up on a stone wall with his head resting on a post.  Then a fun downhill to Barnard Castle where I met up with Pierre, who recognized me from PBP (really small world).  Turns out Pierre and I would ride quite a bit over the next day.  I have to again credit the route planners, the alternate route into Barnard Castle gave a spectacular view of the castle itself.
Barnard Castle - It mocks me a second time!
 A ruined husk of a castle, I could just see it being catapulted by knights in shining armor.

Still strong, Bob and recouped for what was the last time and cruised for Thirsk.  This was somewhat of a chore and we had a wrong turn that added 2k.  There was also a detour in Middleton Tyne.  I had another flat (different tire) and this time, Bob stopped to use the hedge while I changed it.  We got to Thirsk and I asked what he wanted to do.  Our plan had been to go on to Market Rasen and have a sleep stop.  I had to make another emergency trip to the bathroom and when I got back and finally validated my card, the control worker asked me when the control closed.  That was bizarre, I had to look, 4 hours in the bank, I'd picked up nearly 3 in the last 150k - that gave me a healthy 36 hours until the cutoff with 420k to go.  They were placated;  they just wanted to know if I was riding according to a plan.

At this point, Bob had visited the mechanic to fix his decaleur.  He emphatically stated that we couldn't sleep at Market Rasen and that the control workers had told him we would DNF if we stopped at all.  I was floored and tried to convince him that was not true, but he would not listen. I knew that I couldn't stay with him and keep my own mental ducks in order; I have no issues sleeping and with a hot, windy day coming up, I wanted to have a different ride.  So I left and instead of eating at the control, I stopped at a tea shop in the next town and had a delightful ploughman's lunch and 3 apple tarts instead; sometimes, you have to put things behind you.  I was just starting up from having put my jacket on about an hour later when Bob came up behind me.  I tried to stoke his ego a bit by asking him to use his nifty new digital pressure gauge.  He did so and gave the odd quip, "if you have any problems, I won't help you".  I politely suggested that he just go ahead; I knew it was the fatigue talking.  I now understand that he hadn't been thinking clearly enough to calculate the time correctly, he thought he had many hours less than he actually had (we had about 38 hours with 400k to go).  But he had to ride his own ride.  Thankfully, another control worker down the road finally persuaded him that sleeping was a good idea.

It started to rain gently and I was worried about my rear tire at night.  Garreth, from the previous night, came up behind me and asked me I needed anything.  He wound up helping me switch to my spare, a continental, which was a serious bummer. Continentals are a pain to put on.  It took both of us to do it.  Garreth had not slept well at Brampton.  I offered to pull to Market Rasen and the next day in the forecasted heat and wind.  We would wind up being a team for the next 400k.

The ride back to Pocklington was again by Castle Howard.  
Monument by day - imagine happening upon it in the
misty night
This time it was light and I got to see the entire castle along with details about it's significance from Garreth.  We ate quickly in Pocklington with a pleasant, gentle rain.  It got a bit harder as we left and we stopped for about half and hour to try and help an Italian rider with a major mechanical.  About 8 people stopped, really the best side of the sport is the fact that so many will always try to keep people going.  We finally got a call through to the LEL organizers who sent someone to fix his bike (he later finished within minutes of me).

About half a dozen of us made our way from Pocklington to Market Rasen.  Pierre and severel other Frenchman, Garreth, our stalwart navigator and another Englishman.  There was quite a wind and I pulled my little heart out; we were a merry little group and made occasional stops to eat, micro rest, or use the hedge.  I really had fun, and it's a lot more uphill back to Market Rasen. We got in and had more fish and chips, potatoes, and food.  Both of us had bags here so Garreth retrieved them.  We made plans to sleep until dawn.

Garreth on the way to Kirton
Sleep stop at Thorney
Next morning, we were between shifts and it was the only time food wasn't aplenty.  I had left over french fries and a plate of jam (about a cup).  But I was chipper and happy.  Only 3 more controls to go.  But it was to be very hot, so we dumped all the rain gear and extra cold weather stuff - why carry what wasn't going to help us finish?  It was another beautiful morning and we laughed and joked with other riders on our way to Kirton.  Riding at a consistent pace, we got in still fairly early to a crowded Kirton and ample food.  Now for the last 200k through Lincolnshire and Exeter.  I had advanced knowledge about Exeter due to some British friends.  Still, it wasn't as hilly as Yorkshire.  Garreth hadn't quite recovered from the lack of sleep either.  We left and as the day heated up, we availed ourselves of the various towns on the way.  A coke and rest with a group of italians who cheered/laughed at my alley yoga, an ice cream stop and a very nice little nap in Thorney made for a fun day despite some hot weather.  

Arriving at St Ives - No sense on burning up when a
beautiful night is coming on 

We rolled into St Ives, only 73 miles from the end in the early afternoon.

At this point, we made what almost everyone said was a smart move.  The control workers said almost 100 riders were still behind us.  We had showers and another sleep stop.  No AC in England and no ice cubes either.  They were serving the fettuncine alfredo frozen which doesn't work as well as it probably should.  We left around 6:30 pm rested, fed and ready to roll. With the heat diminished and the wind quickly disappearing, the clear sky promised a fabulous night ride.  We caught up with a couple other Seattle riders and had 2 lovely stops for refreshments at groceries.  We also played Pub Legs, a fun traveling gams that involves counting the "legs" of the characters in the names of the pubs along the route.
Garreth on our mini break sharing his super salty peanuts
 At one point, I had another drop in my energy, the colitis bugging me again.  Garreth and I sat along the side of the road ate and chatted while I recovered myself. We weren't in any hurry, but I smiled as I thought of another 1200k and my friend, John Ingold and our push to the Gold Rush finish, "let's get'er done".

Exeter is very hilly, but we passed all kinds of villages, well lit and an amazing castle, also lit in the now windless night.  The short choppy hills reminded me of the last night ride of PBP, where I sometimes didn't know if I was going up or down.  
The rolling wheat fields as dusk comes on in Exeter
We rolled into Great Easton 28 miles from the end to homemade rice pudding, fruit and more food.  I ate a sandwich and filled bottles.  It was a warm night, we stopped once to put knee warmers on, but otherwise the road flattened considerably, one hill left.

Helllloooo London

Toot Hill Road is a rolling ascent up to a final descent a mere 10k from the finish.  As we crested the hill, the moon was high and the stars were everywhere and just at the top I could see a thousand brilliant lights and the whole of London laid out before me.  It was the most spectacular scene I have ever seen, made even more real by the knowledge of all the people I had met, and the Austrailian yelling "Helllooo London" as we whizzed to the finish.  No matter where the line was, the ride was finished right there.   

I never actually bothered to figure out what my time was, but it was about 114  beautiful hours long.
Garreth and I with our completed cards

Flickr Site of the Best of Road Pixie's Pictures

The almost-not 400k

I had originally planned on doing the Apple Valley 400k.  With so many wonderful rides around, I've gotten picky about what I ride and this is just about the only Apple Valley ride I really like.  It's very hilly but has great scenery and I saw an elk being born on it once in 2009.  You can't get stuff like that on just every ride.

Then the forecast was for wind all day and night and massive heat.  Well, I just can't go on a ride without some kind of inclement weather.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for storms.  The last few years, i have spent so much time out in the wind that it doesnt bother me anymore; in certain circumstances, I like a headwind and enjoy the thrill of getting in my drops and cutting through it; randonneuring is a lot of lemonade and I love lemonade.  The morning was also hectic as IronK opted out of driving to the start forcing me to change cars at the last minute and I left my water bottles in the wrong car.  Bad move on a day promising to be in the 90s.  I had no clue who would be on this ride except for one person  either and being in a rushed state is just not a great way to start a 400k.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Phil and Craig A at the start.  Craig and I had been on a flèche and Phil and I had done the route a couple of times.

Mike R loaned me the only water bottle I was to have on the ride, a small 20 ounce one.  I would learn to buy a Sobe since the bottle held well in my cage and refill when I ran out.  This actually worked really well.  The ride was also such that many felt the heat (growing up in the hotbox of Cincinnati, I also do heat and humidity pretty well), so there were lots of social stops at bars in between controls.  Though many might have not felt so well, it did get us into some places we don't usually go.

I also got to ride with a few others that I don't usually get to ride with.  The first 30 miles wre with Mike R, who was pleasantly chatty and had some interesting stories about touring he had done around the country over the years.  Rob had told everyone at the start that 20 hours was a good time which turned out to be a bit optimistic and at least a couple people really hit it hard early to later slow down or DNF.  I have zero expectation of going that fast so I dont really appear on Rob's radar for "good" time, but i consider it to be a differing definition; any ride is good (honestly the desire to finish even if you dont make the time is in my mind, the best definition).  Phil stuck with me and we took it easy and managed to stay together for most of the day.

About 16 miles later, Mark O approached going the wrong way "my frame is broken, I'm done" was all I could make out.  In defense of my definition of "good", he drove back to Rochester, got another bike, drove to the Plainview control and continued the ride for no brevet credit.  "Hey, I really was looking forward to this ride".  He had a great ride in my humble opinion and I got a chance to ride with him as a result.  A man I can respect, I've always thought enjoying being on the bike is the most important thing.  There were quite a few DNFs on this route and with the heat and wind, I can understand why.  My feeling is that you should ride until you are sure you just aren't going to enjoy yourself and return wiser and more experienced another day with the caveat that a little food and a little rest go a long way to changing your mind.  No sense in riding yourself to a dangerous situation; at least one person I know on another ride in the Twin Cities on this day wound up in the hospital with heat stroke.

In Cannon Falls, we did a pretty fast turnaround, the wind was starting up and the control was not a friendly place (to be fair, lots of riders were skipping buying something and just asking them to sign cards and use the bathroom - that is uncool in my book - I always spend $$ at controls).  Then off to Goodhue.  This section rolls quite a bit and I enjoyed it myself.  The road into Goodhue had been ripped up and was unrideable, but we managed around it on a nearby bike path.

The haul to Plainview was hot, windy and full of hills.  Okay, I actually like this section quite a bit.  Phil and I plodded along and finally got to the gas station for refueling.  Everyone there was amazed we were out riding.  I have to admit we were looking a littler peaked from the sun, but air conditioning and food sure found for something.  We rolled out for the last leg to the turnaround not seeing anyone else.

At Rollingstone, I was out of water and there was a small bar with lots of bikes in front of it.  It appeared that many were stressed over the heat and the bar was making a killing on all drinkable items (really).   I got a nice cold soda and some ice to refill my bottle.  Phil had a seat, the sweat dripping off him.  He wanted to stay a bit longer to cool off.

So I left with some others knowing that the next hill was a doozy.  Here I joined Craig from the flèche earlier this spring!  We regrouped at the top of the hill and cruised into Stockton for ice cream and (big surprise) food and water.  Many others were there including Mark O who despite breaking his frame had gone home, gotten another bike and was just riding for fun.  Alas, behind the station was another rider sick with heat issues.  But the heat of the day was passing.  Halfway done and now we should have a tailwind!

Of course, the tailwind just didn't seem as big an advantage as the headwind had seemed a disadvantage.  Craig, Phil and I stuck together and made an additional rest stop in Elba as the Cenex closed (no passing up water on this ride).  Laying around the gas station a couple other riders showed up, we hopscotched with them for the rest of the ride.

Back at Plainview with 100 miles to go, it was starting to get dark.  After subway and the requisite lights and gear, the three of us continued.   This was one of the nicest night rides ever.   Perfect temps and the wind picking up.  Just a beautiful night.  Phil had a flat and some digestive problems (I can so empathize with him) at the same time.  This was in Mazeppa and the bar crowd ploughed outside to great us and help us out.  I changed the tire, Phil got help from the bartender (what a guy).

At Zumbrota, we hit the new Kwik Trip for food and headed back to Cannon Falls.  Phil was tired and wound up stopping for a ditch nap (I might have been tempted to do that myself, but I was also thirsty yet again).  Craig and I continued on and I had to pause and change a flat of my own.  Not really all that fun in the dark.  Craig helped me change it.

We finally rolled into the finish for a pancake breakfast at Perkins!  This time it was late enough to avoid the bar close crowds but pancakes really taste good after a long, hot ride.

I am happy to report that Phil finished about an hour later.  Craig and I parted ways and I stopped at a friend's house to crash.  I never drive after something like a 400k.

This route is probably the only Apple Valley route I actually like.  The scenery is really nice and I like the climbing which is never gratuitous, though sometimes painful.  Next year, it looks like none of the Minnesota Rides are in my schedule so we'll see what new 400k rides can float onto the radar.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tempest, Zephyr, Inferno: Road Pixie Meets Joe Goldrush


I once asked one the Olsen brothers (the quiet one) what a good way to prepare for a 1200k was.  The answer, "ride lots of miles".  Truthfully, there is more to it than that.  For my third 1200k, I picked the Gold Rush and did absolutely everything wrong and had nothing but disasters in the weeks before the ride.

First, Pecos Lara, who I had been training with for this ride for months, was hit by a wild boar on the Texas Rando Stampede and was laid up with a bad hip.  What are the odds?

Second, my trusty Summer Knight custom steel rando bike flew off the car rack and hit the pavement at 50 mph (it was followed by my car running into the ditch and hitting a tree as I retrieved the pieces of the bike).  I pulled all kinds of pieces out of the parts pile and quickly rebuilt the Princess, but not enough time to micro fit everything an no good handlebar bag option.  Then to rub salt in the wounds, 3 days before I left for California, epic storms hit Minnesota and knocked out a quarter million peoples' electricity, including mine.  I had to pack in the dark.

The ride forecast suddenly changed: an abnormal winter low was blowing in.  Temperatures were forecasted to plummet, record rains were on tap in the mountains.  I re-packed in the dark.

The Start:
So I got to the start with John, who picked me up at SFO.  I had met him at the Tombstone with Lara back in April and he had given up doing the Great Divide Ride to do the Gold Rush.  We shared a room, 3 lbs of grapes, an entire watermelon and war stories before heading to the start at Tandem Properties in Davis.

Road Pixie and John at the start, are we nuts?  Thanks Deb Ford for taking this shot.

There was some serious energy in the air.  At about 58 degrees and grey skies, you didn't know if it was going to pour rain or not.  Winds were from the south (an advantage).  Testosterone was high too - it manifested as a giant pack of riders blasting out of the gates at 6:00 pm going about 25 mph.  Normally, I NEVER go out that hard.  This time, I must have been nuts.  I flew along with the crowd at break neck speed - okay at least it was my definition of break neck speed.  The forecast had improved somewhat and though the roads were wet in places, it did not rain for about 100 miles.

I stayed with John and I finally regained my senses about mile 53 and dropped off the crazy train with a guy named Alex, also doing his first 1200k.  The three of us stuck together until Oroville, but the Sutter control at 100k would come first.   Even having cut loses, I had set a personal best for 100k at 3:39 (gulp! that is so not what one wants to be doing at the beginning of a 1200k full of mountains).  At Sutter, I came to appreciate the sponsorship by Hammer.  Every control was loaded with bars, perpetual, sustained energy, and gel in ample quantities.  The 4H club and other local clubs also provided cookies, soda and smiles to everyone.

Rolling out of Sutter, we had 5 riders and gradually met up with others.  All these people would become constant companions on the ride.   There was Lothar, the Korean RBA originally from Germany and living in Maryland.  He was riding a rental bike he'd picked up the day of the ride.  There was Stacey and Greg, a couple on their first 1200, Martin, Manny, Kevin, Alex and Charlie.  We all made our way to Oroville quickly.  It was there that we saw the first casualty.

In the middle of town on a dark street were parallel ruts in the road.  I can only guess that these caught the wheel of one of the Japanese riders.  Emergency crews were there.  I found out later that he had broken a hip but was okay.

The Jarbo Gap
At Oroville, we stopped for food and rolled out quickly.  Here the climbing would start and it was about midnight.  Rollers out of the control for about 8 miles and then the ascent.  I was having some knee soreness which was a puzzler so I stopped very briefly and stretched.  Up, up, up.... Then the rain started.  Pretty soon it was pouring; I had to take my glasses off to see a little better (I'm quite nearsighted so that is saying something).  John had a flat behind me and I didn't hear in the rain.  I stopped at the top and waiting, the rain pouring down.  Finally, another rider named Charlie asked if I was okay and offered to guide me down since I couldn't see.  I followed his light down, but about halfway he swerved and before I could do anything, I hit a huge rock sitting in the middle of road.  Both tires hit, but did not flat.  I was thankful that I had 28mm tires and only 60 lbs of pressure.  Another rider hit was was probably the same rock with 23mm tires and double flatted.

At the bottom, Charlie and I spun the rear wheel and it seemed okay after adjusting the cheap fenders.  He went ahead while I got my head back together.  At this point, I was dutifully riding on the white line as the road was narrow along the canyon.  That proved to be a bad idea in the pouring rain.  First, I heard a roar, is that thunder?  Then I felt pings on my helmet, is that hail? Then a rock the size of a basketball hit the ground inches from my crank, no this is a ROCKSLIDE!  Another one hit my rear bag, bounced onto the rear wheel and I wobbled, but stayed up as it bounced off the fender.  I started riding in the middle of the road, getting over for the occasional car.

I rolled into Tobin at about 4:30 to hot food and many riders trying to dry out.  I saw Stacey and Greg and they took my picture.
Tobin Control with Greg and Stacey
There are just some great people on these rides.  This control was great and I took much better pictures of it on the way back.

I left with Charlie as dawn was coming and there was a lot of climbing ahead.

The Big Climb
The next 100 miles are almost all uphill.  But as I climbed alone along the feather river in the gentle rain, I was astounded how beautiful it could be.  The rain was at least a little lighter so clouds floated serenely above the greenery.  Trains run along the river and it was like being in my toy train set, only bigger!

After the turn to Greenville away from the river, I ran into Kevin and Manny.  I had to thank Kevin, whose artful cue sheet I was using.  I wound up on the same pace as them for about the next 100k.  At Greenville, I waved to Paul, the volunteer control worker whose wife, Ronaele, was also on the ride.  Small world again.  I find Ronaele to be incredibly inspiring - I think of her often when I have down moments.  One more info control and we rolled into Taylorsville, an Elks Lodge in a small town nestled in the high valley.  Here, I found myself abnormally un-tired and I had a sandwich, chips and as much as I could stuff in served by smiling 4Hers.  We pulled out and started the big climb up to Antelope Lake.

This was a beautiful climb, long, but the rain had kept temperatures down in the 70s instead of upwards of 90 which was more normal.  At the top, a forest fire had been through some years earlier and the barren landscape was crawling with new plants getting a start.  Manny proved to be king of rollers and the rolling hills on the top went quickly.  We hit the Boulder Creek Water stop, filled bottles and took off for the Janesville Grade with Roland, who I knew from the Cascades 2 years earlier.  We had a great time, even with the climbing.  Pretty soon we were at 6,400 feet, the top of the Gold Rush.  Then a few more rollers and the rain started back up.  Just in time for the descent down the other side of the grade.

IronK always makes me do grip exercises because she is worried I won't be able to hold the brakes.  I've always found that silly, until now.  Going down a double percentage, twisting hill in the rain for 7 miles with sand and bad pavement requires a lot of brakes.  I had no problems holding my brakes tight for about 15 minutes.

At the bottom, I met Patrick who had lost his cue sheet.  I gave him my spare (I always carry a spare).  He was to be a good friend on this ride.

Susanville, Decision Time
The rain paused coming into Susanville and I ate, changed my shorts and had a bit of a nap.  The recommendation had been that it was a better strategy to push on to Adin.  Which I did - but it was going to be about 2:00 am when I got there.  That's a lot considering I had already been awake for 36 hours.

I started up antelope pass with the guys, a double rainbow floated above Susanville.  The clouds were finally parting.  About 24 hours after it rolled in, the big storm was starting to roll out.
At the top of Antelope, it was getting cold and I blasted down the other side.  The next climb was long and I was feeling great so I skipped up to the top.  Kevin came up behind me, "I'm going to tell your RBA what a killer climber you are!" he joked.  "He won't believe you," was my response.  My asthmatic lungs must have really liked that spaghetti back in Susanville.  But I was about bonked at the top and Patrick loaned me some food.   We rolled into the Grasshopper control and I had some noodles to warm up.  The night was quite cold; the clouds were parting and the moon was coming out.

Patrick and I rode together as both of us were having trouble staying awake.  We talked incessantly about nothing, chewed gum, did caffeine and he eventually watched me nap for 5 minutes as we cruised down seemingly endless hills to Adin.  As expected, about 2 am in Susanville.  I decided to sleep until 5:30.  Another Elks Lodge, I had a sleeping bag and I pulled up some concrete.

The Turn Around
Since I decided to sleep until 5:30, cleats on concrete woke me up at about 4.  I decided that I might as well be riding, ate some custom food cooked by the many volunteers and left on my own for Alturas.  Not a soul was in sight all the way up Adin Pass and at the top I had a sudden sense of loneliness.  On cue, Deb Ford, on sag support stopped and gave me a pep talk and some cliff shots.  Both made me feel better and I made a beeline for Alturas.  This was a lovely, flatish section with some rather nasty expansion joints.

But I rolled into Alturas to be greeted by Rob Hawkes, who I remember from the Winters 200k.  Alturas was great and I had waffles, syrup and other fun things to eat.  I knew a big wind was coming so I was anxious to get to the turnaround, only about 20 miles away.  My shoulder was unexpectedly hurting, I had picked up a camelback at Alturas and it wasn't feeling right.  Someone gave me a massage that made it feel much better.  It's a little uphill but pretty flat to Davis Creek and the tailwind was disturbing.  I could sit up, hold my hand up like a sail and go about 25 mph.  It also felt as though I had water in my rear wheel.  I wondered if perhaps there was water in my frame from the storm.

I jumped off the bike at Davis Creek, took a picture, used the bathroom, drank a coke and turned my bike upside down.  A little water came out, but not a ton.  Puzzling, why did my bike feel so wobbly?
There was one rider at the turnaround and I offered to work with him in the wind.  His name was Todd.  We took turns in the wind, 1 mile each.  I think we might have picked up others at one point.  Todd was fading a bit and at one point I turned around to see him gone.  I slowed and finally rejoined him a bit further down the road.  We got back to Altruas before noon.  A group including Manny, Kevin and Bill Olsen were heading out.  I got a suggestion for stretching to help my shoulder.  Curious, my right butt was killing me and my left shoulder hurt.  Also my left hand was hurting.  Seems like a diagonal...

So I left with them, but my sore butt was really killing me on the  expansion joints.  I dropped off and did more stretching and massaged a little.  Roland came up, with sore feet and both of us walked up a bit of Adin Pass.  A wise person knows when NOT to jeopardize a 1200k.
Climbing Adin Pass

I finished the Adin climb and cruised back to Adin.  I had no more clothes so I ate more food an prepared for the ride back to Susanville, remembering that long descent that was going to be an ascent.  Right outside was John, who I had hardly seen since Jarbo Gap.  We decided to join back up and I availed myself of the time by eating more.

John and I left together and had a pleasant ride up to Joe Goldrush summit.  My asthma acted up just a bit and I used my inhaler.  We summited at dusk and with cold coming on, we suited up for dark at the top.  I had some tylenol for my shoulder.  The moon was high and the night clear.  No sign of the clouds.  After a long descent and a climb, we got back to Grasshooper almost exactly 24 hours after I first got there.  More noodle soup and both John and I were tired.  We decided to have a sleep in the Budget truck and laid down for 45 minutes. I should have realized that after all the pollen, laying down near someone else was a bad idea. I coughed until everything came up.  But I slept too.  I had to apologize to John for the racket.

We continued, just the two of us along a lake reflecting the moon.  Gorgeous, but cold.  We cruised along and finally reached the Antelope Pass summit.  It seemed quite a bit warmer on the other side and  we were spared an expected cold descent.  I also noticed again a disturbing wobble in my bike.  At the control, Dan, the RBA, took a look and noticed the rear wheel was off true.  I discarded the fenders fearing they would start rubbing.  I filled up my drop sack with as much as I could and took a nap.  I also strapped a pair of tennis shoes to my bike.  Neither John, nor I had plans to ride up Janesville Grade.  The steepness and length had me too worried about my hamstring which ripped on a steep climb in the Cascades a couple years ago.

The Easy Bake Day
John and I got started at a bit after 6, eager to get to the top of the grade.  I immediately wished I had been able to leave more things at Susanville.  As we approached, the rear wheel wobble was a bit worse.  Happily, no climb for it and the top of the Janesville Grade was the last big hill.  We loaded our bikes with water, it was already heating like crazy and the Grade faced the sun.

The hike up to the top was fine, in tennis shoes, I could walk nearly as fast as I could ride.  The best part was that I got to turn around and take pictures of the incredible views that I would never have seen had I ridden it.  I also actually saw how bad my wheel was getting.

At the top, John and I had some food and decided that removing as much weight as possible from the bike was a good idea.  I rode conservatively to Boulder and dropped everything except my reflective gear and things to change tires.  It was hot by this time.  But the big descents were before us.  So was a headwind!

We quickly went down, down and about 8 miles from Taylorsville, John seemed to clip out of his left pedal unexpectedly.   It was actually his left crank cracked in half.  He tried vainly to continue with one crank but we pulled over in front of the closed Genesee Store.

Fortunately, in not 2 minutes, a sag vehicle started by and I waved them down.  In it was Tim Sullivan, who had DNF'd due to bronchitis on Day 1.  After half an hour of fiddling, we pulled out with John on Tim's bike wearing Tim's shoes.  So neither of us had exactly the bike we'd started with.

We got to Taylorsville mid afternoon with heat guns going.  A quick stop for food and we were anxious to get to Tobin.

The next 2.5 hours were gorgeous and downhill.  If it hadn't been for that headwind and 105 degree temps, I'd have been singing.  I had to settle with humming.  A volunteer came by with leftover ice.  I had him dump it down my jersey.  We quickly ran out of water and for several miles, things were rather grim.  Then more volunteers showed up with ice and we made ice socks from my arm warmers.  John perked up and we continued on to a small store 12 miles from Tobin for cokes.  Nice break here, John was still trying to catch up on sleep and the people in the store were super nice and didn't mind 2 tired looking cyclists laying around their patio.  I took a picture of an old fashioned safe with a gold painted rock on it; at last, we found the gold.  Another 45 minutes put us into Tobin.

The Final Summit
At Tobin, we ran into Ken K from our Tombstone 600k - that makes 3 of the 4 riders all from the same 600k.  The heat has taken its toll and we decided on a 2 hour snooze; pointless to fight the heat.  A volunteer took us to a room in the resort after really tasty pasta; this was a great control.  I handed over my shorts to the volunteer to lay in the sun.  I couldn't change them, no drop sack, but at least the sun could kill anything and dry them out.  I switched out for a hand towel and slept with my feet up on a couch.  Extreme temperatures changes aggravate vasculitis and I could feel the itching beginning under my socks.  Having the feet up helps.  I was up early and availed myself of a hand towel to go and find my shorts.  Okay, that was a little weird, but I ran into Stacey who had a big smile.  "You saved my ride".  I was somewhat stunned, I hadn't seen her since night one.  "I was going to DNF at the turnaround", she went on,"then I saw you pulling those guys through the wind with a big smile on your face.  I couldn't quit after that and here I am!". It's the nicest thing anyone has ever told me on a ride.  What a pick me up.  I guess you sometimes never know; so it is always nice to say thanks.

Ken and others had also had a look at my wheel.  They had attempted to true it with no success.  Several spokes had apparently stretched that wheel had simply detensioned.  But we figured it could get to the end.  We left around 7:30 with Bob Lockwood, an SF Randonneur.  The three of us stuck it out basically until the end.

Forecasted temps for the Central Valley were about 120 degrees for the following morning so getting there was a priority.  The climb back up Jarbo Gap was beautiful with the setting sun; though I eventually had to open my rear brake all the way.  The woggling was just something to live with; at least only one more descent.

Okay, descending with a bad wheel at 35 mph in the dark with no rear brake is a little disconcerting.  I was happy when it was done.  Back we were in Oroville almost exactly 3 days after leaving.  I had some hand made quesadillas, more food and a nap along with John and our trio pulled out around 11:30 for the last 100miles.  It was still hot from the previous day, at least in the 80s.  Hydration would continue to be important.  We would also have to ride through the zombie hours.  Ugh.

The Central Valley Square Dance
The next miles were boxes over and over.  Hence the nickname.  With the flat lands, the fog rolling in and the bugs, it was certainly a lesson in agriculture.  Huge fields were everywhere.  The monolithic nature of the ag business was impossible to miss even in the dark.

The next few miles were long and we stopped for drinks at a service station.  The previous rain had really soaked the valley and the Mosquitos were having a field day.  The second to last control, a small gas station, had porta potty for visitors.  I rode over to be assaulted by biting ants all over the ground.  That gets a girl going!  Several riders were there and made navigational errors here; happily, we did not.  25 miles to the final control.  Humidity soared on the straight, flat Reclamation Road.  I thought it would never end in the misty, hot fog.  We laid down once and John walked his bike briefly to stay awake.  Kevin, Manny, and Martin were behind us and we finally rolled into the outdoor stand around 4:30.  I really wanted food, but was assaulted by Mosquitos.  The buzzing and biting on my swollen ankles.  It drove me nuts quickly and several of us cut the break short, literally driven back to the road. It turned out the big rains had also opened a sinkhole that swallowed CA110 so we had a detour and bonus K along a canal.  I was alone just as the sun came up and finally realized I wanted to ride back in with John and Bob.  The sun was just cresting and my knees were freezing so I sat down along the canal and watched the sun come up and warmed my knees.  I ate the small amount of food I had left. Several riders passed me.

John and Bob came by and we were off to Knight's landing, 17 miles from the end.  We stopped for fluids and the bathroom.  This was envigorating, must have been the electrolytes in the coconut water. we pulled out and hammered our way to the finish at 20 plus miles and hour.  Just in time to avoid the heat rolling in.  We had photos and a drink at the finish.  "As strong as you were at the end, you must feel pretty good about LEL, one month away." And I did.
The big finish: John, Road Pixie, and Bob - may we ride together again someday..
We did have to pedal back to the La Quinta Inn in rapidly ascending temperatures.  John took his truck and went back for the bags.  I checked in and sat in the tub with my legs covered in ice.  Boy, did that feel good.  A quick nap and we were off to the victory lunch.  Huge social hour and I got to say thank you to the constant companions I had had on the ride.  I also bummed some Advil to get rid of the expanding vasculitis (thanks again Deb).  I got my finisher's jersey; you only get a jersey in the Gold Rush if you finish the ride.  So it's one that will always be extra special.

This is a truly epic ride.  With 30,000 ft of climbing scrunched into about 400 miles, it is in a league of its own.  Strategy and riding your own ride were critical.  I've found that it is unique in a 1200k that you can do a ton of 600ks and still have to change the whole approach to the ride to have fun on a 1200.  That is, I think, their strength.  They are the reward for a thousand hours of training and a thousand personal examinations of how you are feeling at any given time.  Those were skills that I would certainly use again as I mentally mapped out LEL.