Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Great Southern Express: 1500k of brevet across Dixie


This ride was a different kind of grand randonnee than any I have ever done before.  Sure it was a big distance, but in all honesty, LEL was 1450k when all the K got counted so that wasn't the real issue.  This ride was an experiment in style where I tried some things I have never tried before.  Those experiments led to some fundamental changes in the way I ride, but also reaffirmed some of the philosophies that I have held for a long time.  It has take a long time to come up with a blog entry for this ride as a consequence - the ride was in September 2014.  But perhaps one worth understanding.

This was also the ride that pushed my lifetime total of RUSA kilometers over 40,000 and with it I achieved the Mondial Award, a goal 6 years in the making.  I don't usually discuss awards, but this one was unique.  I've always wanted to ride around the world.


The one thing that was odd about the Natchez Trace 1500k was that the organizers were very clear about the challenges.  Controls every 90 miles with mandatory bonus miles for additional food, no on route SAG or check in, no dinner on night number 1, and a route where my cell phone simply wasn't going to work at all.    I had also found out that I could no longer eat beans or peanuts.  I've been to that part of the country as a very young girl and grew up across the river from Kentucky.  The southern part of the country is stunningly beautiful and in many ways can be a trip through time to a simpler age, but that comes at the price of the convenience and variety that some of us have come to expect from modern living.  Things are NOT 24 hour on the Natchez Trace.  I am not a super star fast rider; with 279 miles to the first overnight, I had to plan on at least 24 hours meaning a 4:00AM arrival.  At least one other person I knew of dropped out of this ride due to concern about not being able to get the food they needed to complete. IronK looked at this ride and came as close as she ever has to using her veto powers.  She pointed out that I had just had surgery and no matter how well I was feeling, this was to be the longest ride I had ever done.

So we compromised.  I went to Pecos Lara, who has crewed RAAM, and explained the situation.   Looking at the roster of riders (a star-studded rando cast if ever there was one), I thought it was highly likely, I'd be doing lots of this alone.  I had a brand new body and no idea of my pace.  I had dietary restrictions piled up like dominos.  I also had a conversation with the RBA, I had no desire to saddle him with a peanut issue on an already challenging-to-organize brevet.  In the end, Lara would basically meet me at every control with the food and fluids I needed to make the journey.  That placated IronK who finally said yes.

An entire 1500k without junk food?  Inconceivable!

So while I was at it, why not see what eating better food could do for me?  There were only 2 cities of any size on 450 mile trek from Nashville to Natchez, Tupelo and Jackson.  Lara and I drove to the start in my Prius and stopped in Cincinnati for a day to pick up supplies and make overnight meals with my mom (who is a great cook).   We focused on pasta salads and incorporated ingredients that had less chance of spoiling.  People did get along without refrigerators for thousands of years and still do in many parts of the world.  Meals focused on cured meats, yogurts, hard cheeses and the tougher fruits and nuts.  I also stocked up on the custom sports drink that I use - it doesn't have any artificial flavors or colors and has very little flavor - I've always had a tendency to hate sweet flavors after 3 days of riding.
Typical breakfast, organic granola, bananas, and greek yogurt

I will also say that I knew I would have to approach this ride with a really clear head about pace.  I would simply have to ride my own pace whatever it was.  I figured I would be dead last anyway so I had better at least have lots of fun and enjoy it.

The Start

I'd like to say that the start of this ride was a picture of serenity.  But that just never happens.  The night before the ride started, biopsy results came in for my step father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer and my sister had a fall off the proverbial wagon and was forced into the psyche ward after a suicide attempt.  Lara was quite concerned that I couldn't focus on the ride; she was right too!  Fortunately, we were so well prepared that the only thing the ruckus caused was me to not be able to find my camera for the first half of the ride.

This ride started and finished at the home of one of the organizers, which I think was part of a farm.  The start was at 4:00AM in late September - there would be about 12 hours of darkness a night.  The darkness and the somewhat closer quarters made it hard to locate people and the start had a huge downhill for a mile or so to get to the Trace proper.

For those that do not know the area, central-western Tennessee is very rolling, but without major climbs.  The approximate route itself is thousands of years old, first forged by animals, then by toughened trappers, pioneers and 19th century entrepreneurs.  It basically avoids all the major climbing from the Gulf of Mexico to Nashville.  It is the longest National Park in the country but though it is very long, it is not very wide so the natural setting is sometimes a little deceiving.  No commercial truck traffic is allowed and there are very few cars.  The fact that there is no shoulder is thus not a problem.  There are no stop signs or traffic lights.
Yup, bikes get the full lane if they want it.
 I had never really realized how much time is wasted starting and stopping until I looked at my computer on about day 3.  Many thought the trace would be boring since there aren't any turns, but oh contraire, there were so many historical signs and points of interest, I would have a hard time NOT stopping at them.

Collinwood to French Camp

The hilliest section of the trace is the 90 or so miles between Nashville and Collinwood.  In the darkness, it was hard to pace on the rollers with so many people bunched up and no clue where I actually was.  After an hour or two of ups and downs, I found myself riding alongside one man with the sun emerging in effulgent splendor and a nascent tailwind.  I would actually wind up riding with Pete Dussel, one of the New York RBAs for about 300k.  Rising temperatures from just above freezing led to views of valleys with hills poking up from a sea of fog as the sun ascended.  And me without my camera... The two of us enjoyed a friendly chat and a not-so-pokey pace; we stopped for about 5 minutes at Jack's Branch (all water stops on the Trace have cool names) and we pulled into Collinwood (90 miles) at about 10AM - nearly a 6 hour century.   Here, a large number of riders were congregated waiting at the grill at the Exxon Station.  Lara was waiting with lunch already spread out.  As I hurriedly stuffed my face, she filled my bottles, added more snacks to my front bag and chatted up friends.  Lara is one of those people who is a natural talker - she knew half the people on the ride and met the rest at some point.  She had also upgraded from being my support to being a roving support driver.  The organizers had added roving support on the more remote parts of the Trace at the last minute.  That really helped out in making this ride a once-in-a-lifetime kind of ride - I would have never gotten to meet the many volunteers otherwise.  In true southern fashion, they were all kinds of friendly.

Sitting eating grapes at Collinwood, I was feeling great.  The tailwind was now picking up and I stayed but 20 minutes at this stop.  Pete's wife, Marcia, was doing a similar form of support for him (we were the only two on the ride with personal support) so I find it odd that we would wind up together.  But coincidences do happen.  I did some quick math and realized that at this rate, we'd arrive at French Camp, the overnight, at around 1:00AM.  That really didn't seem possible.

We pulled out together and began the flatter section of the route.  Collinwood was just north of the Alabama border and we paused for a photo op at the state line, chatting with other riders as the miles rolled by.  I was to see many of these folks on and off over the next 4 days.  The descent to cross the Tennessee River was particularly fun with a huge barge passing underneath and a full sun in the sky.  We stopped at the rest area just past for water and pressed on, the wind at our backs.  The rolling continued, though not nearly as steep as the previous miles.  These were the Freedom Hills of Northern Alabama.  The temperatures started ascending to a-bit-hot stage and we stopped at least once to get water from a ride water station.  The tailwind just kept going...the hills were incredibly green and the forest was the color of late summer, but not burned out the way I often think of it.  This was late September after all.

By 5:00 PM, we rolled into Tupelo, and the only traffic of Day 1.
At a little over 300k and 81 miles from French Camp, it was actually quite hot at this point and I pulled into the McDonald's parking lot where Lara and Marcia were parked.  Lara again took care of the bike while Pete and I cooled off a bit and I had a dinner of pasta salad, watermelon and other fun eats (none of which were actually from McDonald's).  Several others were here as well including Mike Fox, who I knew from Iowa.   Lara collected orders for Subway from several riders for the overnight since they didn't have the advantage of a carful of food.

Pete needed a bit more rest and I was anxious to get going so I took off with Mike into the now gathering dusk.  We picked up Vickie Tyer along the way - I've known Vickie for years.  Previous to this ride, our relationship was mainly forged having conversations late in rides that we can't actually remember (I at least have photo evidence that we were together for a time at LEL).  The three of us sped down the Trace and traffic disappeared as we left the vicinity of Tupelo.  It was 25 miles to Witch Dance, where we would be able to refill on water.  This was probably the longest stretch without a rest area.  Apparently, sequestration had led to a cut back in some of the water alongside the trace.  But the services that were there were immaculately clean.  The three of us stuck together for about 10 miles as the sun went down, but Vickie was on a recumbent and this was a flat section, I was digesting and our pace was just not similarly, we yo-yo'd our way around for a while still in sight of each other, but not really together.  The stars emerged and I was blown away at how stunning they were.  The moon had not yet risen, the Milky Way would shortly make its appearance in grand style.  You don't get to see something like that frequently and I had never expected it so far south.

We arrived at Witch Dance to the sight of a UHAUL crowded with riders.  One of the volunteers was making sandwiches.  I'd intended to use the facilities here but there were so many people and I was just not mentally prepared for the crowd.  Lara was there helping out with the UHAUL, though she couldn't provide me any assistance.  Another rider, SpinBob who was also on the ride, filled a bottle for me and I took off with some real vigor.   Certain situations can do that to me and perhaps thoughts of my family situation(s) were still boiling the blood a bit.  I still had to use facilities and it was now miles to the next opportunity.  We had been warned against using the side of the road.  In the dark, I pedaled for all I was worth to get to relief at Jeff Busby, about 40 miles away.

SpinBob and a couple from New Jersey eventually caught up to me and kept up for a bit.  I might not have been the most pleasant person to ride with since my bladder was doing most of the talking at this point.  I made some comment about riding my own ride instead of saying something more graphic like, "my bladder will explode at any moment if I slow down".  Needless to say, I rocketed into Jeff Busby like no one's business for final relief.  It was just on midnight and I didn't linger here either.  SpinBob and I wound up doing the last 15 miles to French Camp together, pausing only once for me to put arm warmers on.  We arrived a bit past 1 AM.  Astonishing!  279 miles in only 21 hours?  It hardly seemed to be me.  Of course, I was probably also the last randonneuse to arrive as well since I wound up being the only one on a top bunk bed.  I had an excellent dinner of more pasta salad, some deli meat, tortilla chips and coconut water.  Then off to sleep.  With lots of time in the bank, I figured starting at 7 would be fine.

French Camp to Natchez

I dropped off at about 2 and slept restlessly; it was quite cold and my top bunk was under a fan.  I woke at about 5:15 and quietly did some sitting yoga poses in my bed to wake up.  I did manage to nearly kill myself climbing down too.  A shower and my standard breakfast of fruit, greek yogurt and organic granola later, I was ready to go right on schedule at 7:00 am.  It was still quite cold but it was past dawn and I rolled out of French Camp alone continuing the trek south.  My legs felt stellar and my front bag was loaded with pannellettes (a homemade spanish almond cookie), grapes, bananas, nuts and some organic fruit chews.

Not more than half of mile from the turn onto the Trace, I saw a rider in front of me.  Catching up, I saw his jersey and realized he was from Cincinnati.
Jim from Cincinnati
 I spent the first 18 years of my life in Cincinnati so we started up a nice conversation on the topic of the city.  His name was Jim, we would wind up riding all the way to Natchez together.  Today's mileage was not nearly what the previous day had been: only about 300k for the day to reach the turnaround.  The terrain was substantially flatter and the wind was fairly calm in the early morning.

We would wind up stopping a couple of times to chat with volunteers and for water along the trace.  I ran into the riders from New Jersey again, another set of people to leap frog with.  It was a cloudless day and a perfect cycling day.  The trees had begun subtly changing.  Now magnolias dotted the landscape and we passed a cypress swamp, the bulbous trunks rising from the water reminded me of stories I read as a child about life in the south.
The large lake around Richland was a fun pedal was well; we flirted with the wind as we wound our way around the shore.  Traffic started to pick up a bit as we rolled into the Jackson/Clinton area.  This was one of the few times I would feel like traffic was "heavy".  Just outside Clinton, we ran into Bob, another rider from New Jersey but the encounter was short lived as a rare bump in the pavement threw his radio off the bike onto the ground.  We also met up with Andy Sorenson who I knew from both the Cascades and LEL.  I was surprised to be running into riders that typically are much faster than I was.

So we pulled off the Trace into the control at Clinton to a choice of stops.  I missed seeing Lara and we went to a deli instead.  She had seen me go by from the gas station and met us a few minutes later.  I bought some potato chips to get a receipt and to sign my card.  Again, I had a lovely lunch of one of my pasta salads and I supplemented with the salty potato chips and drank some Pelligrino carbonated juice that I like when it is hot.  We changed out food on the bike and I was off once more.  Next stop, Natchez!

The next few miles were fascinating.   Alternately, they looked like Iowa, Minnesota, France, all manner of places.  Rather than boring, we both agreed the ride was  like a chameleon, we saw different aspects of every other ride we had ever been on in every mile.  There were large tracts of farmland close to the trace, small streams, forests, magnolias and even spanish moss started appearing, languidly clinging to the trees.
 The moss itself took on an almost macabre tone in the twilight as the wind died and we put on reflective gear.  At this point, Gil and Chris (the two from New Jersey) reappeared along with 2 other men, Jan and Ian.  The 6 of us spent the next few miles riding alongside, more because we were just riding that way than by plan.  Then suddenly we hit a big downhill only to be waved down halfway by two people.  These were Lara and Michelle, the Mississippi RBA.  They were handing out directions - apparently riders were getting lost coming into Natchez.  Lara gave me the key to our room at the overnight; dinner was waiting for me on the desk.

We made it to the hotel at just past 10PM with an astonishing 9 hours in the bank - double the previous night.  As promised, there was a very interesting cajun spiced potato and catfish dinner.  I have no idea where Lara got it, but it was delicious.  I have to confess to developing a new skill of bathing and eating at the same time.

Spanish Moss
 Jim and I had decided to leave a about 5:30 so I set the clock for 4:30 and had a 5 hour sleep - more than I had ever had on a brevet.  This was a very nice hotel and the bed was to die for.   I'd been in a sleeping bag at French Camp so this was a treat indeed.
Michelle - RBA Mississippi at Natchez

Natchez Back to French Camp

The next morning, I got up and reloaded the bike.  Surprise!  I found my camera - it had been in my rack bag all the time with my spare tubes.  I slipped it into my pocket determined to make amends for having no pictures at all for the first half of the ride.

Leaving at 5:30 for the 300k back to French Camp had been in the name of keeping a couple hours in the bank.  We could have left a little later and been fine in hindsight.  But leaving now allowed us to experience the entire cycle of dawn.  If you have never done it, you should try to do this at least once in your life.
Dawn on the Trace outside Natchez
For me, the transition from the zombie hours to the dawn is magical and always has been.  The earth reawakens with only the smallest of lightening in the sky to start.  I've sat and watched many times trying to catch that exact moment when the darkness lifts and the stars begin to recede into the glow of blue in the sky.  I never feel like I ever see it, there is always some moment when I blink and it just happens.  This was one of the most amazing dawn cycles I have ever seen, riding out of Natchez, finally heading north.  We paused at one point to marvel at an entire field of spider webs all facing the sun and glinting with the dew as the rays of the sun struck them, a thousand tiny prisms.
Field of webs, hard to see, but they are there

Just at the bottom of the big hill we ran into Cathy, who I knew from LEL.  We would wind up leap frogging and riding off and on until she eventually decided to not finish.  But in the meantime, all of us marveled at the roadkill that had also appeared overnight.  I hadn't seen any one the way down.  Now it looked like a small army of armadillos had met their fate in some untold battle.  Must have been something in the air but having never seen an armadillo in the wild, I felt it necessary to take pictures.  I won't post them here.  Cathy said I missed the best one with the big tongue anyway.

Post roadkill, Vickie and some of her friends from Florida caught up to use and we were together for a few miles before they made tracks - riders from Florida are destined to be experts in the flats and this was the flattest section of the route.
Riders from Florida Approaching
At this point, Jim had a massive surge of energy and rocketed off - you have to take your energy bursts where you can.  I found myself alone and happily pedaled my way into Clinton through a headwind.

I was quite hungry hitting Clinton and availed myself of more pasta salad.  Lara had also managed to come up with a treat of a shake from somewhere which I downed like water.  Vickie was around at the same time along with several others.  I found myself in the middle of the pack for once.  About 5 of us left together and just as we left Clinton, we lost someone as a hub exploded out of nowhere.  I wound up dropping off and spending the rest of the afternoon riding along through Jackson and back to the Cypress Swamp.
Vickie, note BBQ Sandwich mounted above her rear lights
 There I would pause with a volunteer to refill my bottles.  The next section was also alone and I realized too late that I should have made another stop for a bathroom.  The next one was 20 miles away.  For the second time, I hit the panic button and sprinted the 20 miles for the duration of the golden hour before dusk.  Another crowd of riders was clustered around a volunteer but the despair was so great I took the bike straight up the handicapped ramp and leaped directly from the bike into the bathroom door.  Relief!  There was much laughing outside at my sprint and a group of 20 or so people formed a pace line for the last 20 miles to French Camp as the sun disappeared behind the trees.  I thought we would likely ride at 18-20 as a social group on the flat, smooth pavement and I took a turn at the front.  I dropped back and suddenly, I was pedaling for all I was worth to keep up!  The two people behind me had upped the pace to around 28 and Vickie and I dropped off and watched them disappear after about 2-3 minutes of sprinting.  Men!

The two of us had a nice pedal to the overnight with the stars emerging.  We got in around 9pm with only a couple hours of darkness.  One of the men from the pace line came up and apologized for unceremoniously dropping all the randonneuses in the group.  At least he was nice about it.  No harm done.  I realized at this point that I had 12 hours in the bank.  I had just returned to French Camp in the same 15 hours as it took to do the previous section.  And I felt great.  I had time to chat with Michelle, Lara, and another woman for a few minutes before heading to bed.  Since I had the time, why not get a full night's sleep?  This time, I took extra blankets to my top bunk and turned the fan off.  That and the increase in the nighttime temperature made for a much better sleep.  I slept in until 6AM - 7 full hours of sleep.  With a bit more yoga, a shower and another fine breakfast, I was off again at around 7.  This day would be shorter, 150 miles.

French Camp to Tishomingo State Park

The next morning I got up, got ready and left with Vickie.   We quickly met up with Jerry Phelps who may be the most well-groomed rider I have ever seen on the 4th day of a grand randonnee.  The three of us stayed together until Witch Dance (about 100k).  There we stopped to another UHAUL and volunteers who had picked up an abandoned puppy along the way.  He was exhausted and some of the riders had watched him being left behind by a car.
Volunteers at Witch Dance
Please find me a better home!
These are not recyclable!

The next point of interest was the detour for the few extra miles we needed to make 1500k to Okonogon.  Strangely, the riders from Florida passed us getting back onto the trace as we exited.  Odd, this wasn't an out and back; I realized after looking at the cue sheet that miles without paying attention do take a toll, many people did bonus miles here thinking that the stop in Okonagon was an out and back when it was a triangle.  This was the only time on the entire ride that I wound up fearing for my life.  Vickie got ahead of me since there was a furious headwind that direction and a recumbent rules in the wind.  The road had a limited shoulder and many logging trucks.  It was only 8 miles off the Trace to the control (a gas station), but about halfway, I felt a sudden surge and a roar next to me.  I realized too late the the logging truck next to me must not see me because IT WAS RIGHT THERE!  I swerved to the right into a sand pit and unceremoniously ground to a halt nearly falling to the ground.  It happened so quickly I couldn't believe it.  I'm pretty sure the driver never knew I was there.  The event definitely woke me up.  Jim passed me in the opposite direction and I tried to warn him he was off course, but he also was frazzled by the traffic and simply continued on.

At the control, I met Lara, Andy Sorenson and Vickie.  We had quick eats and griped somewhat about the miserable traffic.  We also checked the cue sheet again and were relieved that we didn't have to take the same road back.  The actual route was far nicer with few cars.  It also saved about 7 miles.  I was hooked on grapes at this point but the ham and croissant sandwich tasted amazing.  So did the pellegrino.

The next few miles to Tupelo were uneventful and we were so happy to be back on the Trace.  I hadn't realized how spoiled I had become riding without stop signs or cars.  It wasn't yet as hot or as sunny as the previous day, but it was quickly clearing.  The ride back to Tupelo was fun.
The tandem takes a break - traditional rando nap
I lost Vickie and Andy in Tupelo finding Lara again at the McDonalds.  This was the only point in the ride that my butt was complaining.  I opted to change back into my best shorts, sub standard shorts were not helping me finish.  I passed the tandem on the way out of Tupelo and waved.  Vickie and Andy had already gone on.  I set my own pace for the next hours all the way to Pharr Mounds
Vickie and Andy at Pharr Mounds
which are ancient structures built by Native Americans centuries ago.  The three of us then hooked up and did the last 25 odd miles to Tishomingo State Park, the final overnight.  Tishomingo was beautiful in the dusk and I was glad to see it in daylight.  It was very hilly though and the winding road to the camping area had some steep climbs, the only ones on the entire ride.  We rolled in at 6:41 PM, 12 hours in the bank, again.

Michelle and Lara were busy putting together a camp fire to make smores.  I sat with them eating my customized pasta salad and other food.  I still felt great and enjoyed sitting with them far more than in a crowded cafeteria full of men.  The night was getting chill again and I finally cleaned my plate and took a shower in the bunk house.  Vickie and I made plans for the last day.  We only had 150 miles to the finish.  The real debate was when to leave.  There would be a detour off the Trace as a bridge had been closed for repairs.  Though several might not have followed the detour, the Trace is a federal road and a ticket on it is a major deal.  Neither of us was in the mood to risk such a thing.  A family emergency for Lara had also come up and a coincidental bombing of the Chicago air traffic control antenna had left us with a change of plans: she would go with Vickie back to Dallas to get a plane to Arizona instead of returning to Minnesota with me.  The various factors and our huge time buffer led to a decision to leave at about 3:30 AM.  It was only 8:00 PM at this point.  If we went to sleep, we'd still have a full 6 hours even with the early start.

Tishomingo to Nashville

We met at the car at 3:15 and had breakfast.  The bikes were already ready.  We pulled out of Tishmingo at a bit before 4:00 AM.  Very few people were in sight.

I think one rider passed us on the Trace before dawn.  As we took the detour, we were concerned about getting lost.  We stopped at a gas station for additional directions.  A very nice man gave us complete directions and details including landmarks for the entire thing.  He then made me repeat everything back in its entirety - fortunately, I'd had enough coffee to accomplish said feat of memory.

So we took the directions and followed them exactly.   Sure enough, we did not get lost.  On we pedaled in the darkness, our progress seeming so slow compared with the previous days.  We had to stop for water again at the Tennessee River and the dawn started just as we were on the bridge.  Really a sight to behold.  We stopped to explore the Old Trace for a few minutes and rolled into Collinwood at about 8:00AM.  Lara was waiting for us.  The closest riders to us were 2 men that were about 10 miles back, the rest of the pack was still 40 miles back.  We had only 90 miles to go.  We got cards signed at a small hotel room rented as an additional overnight and took off at about 8:30.

The last 90 miles were fun for both of us; this was a hilly section.  It isn't often that recumbents and uprights ride together, recumbents are fast on downhills and tend slower on uphills through simple physics.  I had to immediately kick into my highest gear and pedal downhill very hard to keep up with Vickie.  That said, my climbing was ever so slightly faster except on the one hill that needed by lowest gear - Vickie had a minimum speed to stay upright that was faster than mine.  We passed waterfalls, overlooks and the many views that had been hidden by darkness during the start.  It also got a bit hot too.  We tried chatting up another rider but eventually realized that he wasn't actually on our ride.  There were many bikes out having fun on this day.  The odd thing was that in the 4 days we had been gone, it was suddenly fall.  Colors were starting everywhere as though we had ridden summer out of gas.
Suddenly Fall!

Our last stop was at Garrison, about 25 miles from the end.  I drank a bunch of water and stretched.  After over 900 miles of riding, I might have finally gotten enough riding for a week.

At the entrance of the Trace, we stopped to take pictures for a few minutes at the big sign.  Then we took the exit ramp and turned onto last road for the final climb to the finish.  Sure it was kind of sadistic to put a big, stiff climb in traffic at mile 930, but the finish was sweet!  Vickie and I rode to the finish side by side with someone taking a movie of it.  It was just before 4:30 PM, we had over 11 1/2 hours in the bank.  There was much shaking of hands and rejoicing.   We'd managed to stick together, despite our differences in bikes all day  And what a hoot too!  I got to hear all about riding in Texas - now I want to do the Stampede next time it comes around.
Two Randonneuse Teams:  Lara, Me, Vickie and Dottie.
Behind every great woman - there is an even better one

This was an incredible ride.  Not once did I have any kind of stomach or digestive issue of any sort.  That is an absolute first.  I felt like I could have gone on another 300k (I'm glad I didn't since the next day it started raining).  I know that the diet was a big part of that.  Having only gourmet food for 5 days of riding was something I will probably never have again.  And I still firmly believe that in order to finish these kinds of rides you have to be willing and abel to "eat the Twinkie" if that is what it takes to finish.  But those foods wear on your system too; they take a toll as time goes on.  And without someone like Lara to drive around with a cooler, it just isn't going to be practical for the long haul on most 1200k rides.  But at least now I know what I can focus on to make my life better if I want to continue this stuff.  It was so nice to ride without bleeding in my GI tract for the first time in lord knows how many years.

This ride saw the lowest DNF rate of any grand randonnee that I have ever been on; only a few could not complete.  Perfect weather coupled with a beautiful, low traffic route and so many volunteers made this a really special ride.  It wasn't anything like the initial description and the participation of at least 2 RBAs and two clubs made it an epic experience for everyone.  The sheer distances - 3 states (we were only a mile from adding a 4th) made this ride a logistical challenge.  Jeff Sammons probably slept a week after this.  I saw him at least 4 times on this ride.  More than I have ever seen any RBA on a ride.  Many of the volunteers drove and served people for those 930 miles.  Kudos to all of you.

So many thanks to Lara for sharing this adventure with me.  I couldn't have don't it without her.   My thanks also to Pete, Jim, Vickie, and everyone else that I had the pleasure of riding with.  Though many friends had to bow out, this did help me ride with others that I would not have otherwise met.

I am not a fan of the term "ride your own ride".  Though I do believe in the spirit of it, I think it is used to frequently to justify egotistical behavior (such as accelerating a pace line to 28 miles an hour without concern for the others participating in it).  I think I prefer the term, "ride the ride that brings you joy".   I have my own rules for the road, most of which are deeply personal and rooted in my own experience.  This ride was one where I followed them to their logical end.  But I might as well say that despite it all, I like riding with friends too.  This ride had a certain anonymous nature for me so if I am writing this blog to anyone, it is for those friends who were not on the ride.  Perhaps that is why it has taken so many months to complete.

My favorite selfie

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Grand Safari in the Urban Jungle – Brevet Week in San Diego


Post-Arizona, weather in Minneapolis took a turn for the frigid.   Sub zero lows (and highs) were rampant which is unusual for February.  Lack of snow and only marginal amounts of light leads the average Minnesotan to look and feel as though the walls are literally closing in.  People snap like so many icicles hanging on eaves.  I took a yoga workshop in the hopes that conquering the elusive forearm headstand might thaw the blood slushing its way around my brain.

So of course, I had to start planning a 400k in a warmer, sunnier climate; this is a PBP year.   At first, my plan had been to return to Arizona and do the Around the Bend 400k.  I had done the ride with Pecos Lara a couple of years back and knew the route, but this year, there were fewer people I knew riding and logistics were not working so well.  It was going to require rental cars, hotels, plane tickets, coordination – all those things my frozen brain didn’t want to do.  Then I got an email from Lisa who had elected to do Brevet Week in her hometown of San Diego at the same time. 

I hadn’t been to San Diego in years, but I recalled being a child there and doing a 10k running race through the mountains.  I also recalled being dead last and deciding Mt Everest probably had less elevation and that I would never do such a thing again.  During the Gila Monster, conversations with Lisa made think that, for once, my younger self had not been far off in perspective.  Clearly, riding in San Diego could be lethal.

So as I looked at the 2,800 feet of climbing in Around the Bend next to the 12,000 feet in the San Diego 400k and assessed my options (not to mention my pasty, white thighs), it was just obvious that I should buy a ticket to San Diego.  And while I was at it, why not get my 200k PBP qualifier done too (that ride only had around 5,500 feet of climbing).   I had the Sunshine 1200k to do in May and watching four seasons of The Golden Girls was probably not going to be adequate preparation for Florida anyway.  The masochistic region of my frontal lobe just quivered with anticipation.

And I would not be alone either….

The original plan was to ship my stuff to Lisa in advance, fly to San Diego on Tuesday, do the 400k and Wednesday and the 200k on Friday.  So of course Winter Storm Thor blew in to San Diego for Sunday and Monday (while she was doing the 200k and 300k) and then clocked my flight in Minneapolis on Tuesday.   When Lisa picked me up at the airport, I was already bonked and frazzled.  And her bike was in the shop after catastrophic brake failure on Mt Palomar during a sleet storm had derailed Monday’s 300k which had an impressive 75% DNF rate.  Clearly, neither of us was prepared for a 400k.   So we opted to switch the rides and do the 200k as a shakedown/recovery ride on Wednesday and tackle the 400 on Friday.  We dutifully notified the organizers and proceeded to start eating.

The 200k Taco Ride

A start time of 5:00AM has advantages and disadvantages.   The advantage was that 2 hours of jet lag made waking up at 3:00AM easy.   With bikes loaded into the mighty Mazda, we ploughed through the already-starting-to-be-busy San Diego rush hour at 4:00AM towards the start in Poway.
Typical Pre Ride Conversation - Tom and Lisa chatting away
There, to my great surprise, was another familiar face, Tom from Alaska, who I had ridden with at LEL in 2013.  The rando world is smaller than one can possibly imagine.  He had also downgraded to the 200k and would be another companion.

The disadvantage of the 5:00 AM start was that even the 200k would start in darkness.  We left a touch late after finding out that Monday’s monsoon had also left just enough water in Lisa’s light to require going to a backup.

The structure of the routes was in loops, so I would be riding the first 10 miles of this ride a total of 3 times for the week.   Rolling terrain with just enough traffic and traffic lights to prevent reaching a tempo made the route feel choppy for my insipid legs as my brain tried to absorb the rest of morning coffee.   I also eventually realized that the front brake was rubbing  - a problem I would struggle with all week.

We paused at the bike bridge at Lake Hodges.  The residual water from the storms had coalesced as mist on the lake and surrounding wetlands, visible now in the incipient dawn.  The effect was ethereal and I might have upgraded it to magical except for the busy 8-lane interstate running through it - welcome to California!  All the same, it was worth the time to take some pictures.
Traffic and Mist over Lake Hodges
At Bear Valley Road, the awesome power of California traffic reared its ugly head.  My first San Diego rush hour was to be a somewhat grueling 4 mile climb with fast moving traffic, construction and an erratic shoulder.   Lisa is a better climber than me (she has museum grade thighs) and I found myself spinning more rigorously to keep her in sights; this also got my brain and metabolism fully engaged.

The combination of traffic lights, a late start, hills and fiddling got us into the first control at 15 miles with a mere 10 minutes to spare! But Tom and another man, Alex from Canada, were still at the control eating.  Both Lisa and I have gravitated towards improving nutrition while riding.  I have too many digestive diseases and she is just smarter.  I had contributed my rando-improved panellettes (Spanish almond cookies).  She had contributed some rice/chicken bars.  We were thus able to blast through controls very quickly and I picked up a couple bananas to get my receipt.  It is also curious that 7-Eleven, which served for most controls, does not have public restrooms.  Without the ability to use restrooms or the need to buy and eat food, controls got really fast.

The four of us pulled out together into full-blown rush hour.  Cars weaved in and out of lanes, stopped suddenly and had a habit of taking right turns very unpredictably regardless of whether or not a bicycle might be traveling alongside.  For the most part, there were bike lanes in this area and I was thankful for that.  I hadn’t ever been on a brevet quite this urban before and the number of stops for traffic lights was impressive.  It didn’t help that none of us had a four-leaf clover – we pretty much hit every red light for about 40 miles.  The full-rush on San Marcos at Palomar Airport was a long, fast descent with 6 lanes of traffic and a left-turn halfway down.  We opted to simply pull over to the opposite corner and walk the bikes across the traffic.  I was thankful for my years of bike commuting in downtown Minneapolis; the ability to play in traffic was key for this ride.

Once we were out of the airport area, we descended to the Pacific Coast Highway with the ocean stretching out like a vast, blue carpet before us.    We stopped for the first info control and began shedding layers.  Temps had started down in the low 40s to mid 30s and were now rising rapidly as the sun climbed to mid-morning.
Stop along the PCH 

The next 20-odd miles to Oceanside were all along the PCH.   The waves were impressive on the left hand and I spent lots of time staring into the blue of the ocean that I have always found oddly comforting.  The urban jungle continued with yet more traffic sponges in the towns of Encinitas and Carlsbad.  Despite the lost time spent at lights, I got to actually spend time looking at the many interesting businesses and landmarks of Californian towns.  The area has a distinct flavor with few recognizable chains and many hand painted signs.   Leucadia will be taking prize for most distinctive with its proud motto “Happy the Funk Up”.  Sculptures and gardens dotted the concrete – green emerging into the otherwise grey sidewalk.  Tom and Alex got ahead of us during this stretch as we were delayed by a truck literally backing into us.

At Oceanside, the traffic finally calmed as we entered Camp Pendleton, a large military base.  Normally, riders have a choice of riding on either I5 or through Camp Pendleton, but major traffic on I5 had led to no options being available and who wants to ride on an interstate? 

The few miles through Camp Pendleton also had a great deal of construction, but it was manageable.  It was also very open and pretty with views of the mountains and the sea as well as what I presume to be remnants of old farms - and the occasional tank….
What kind of a draft would it be?
The final 12 miles to San Clemente were all through a park on a bike trail.  Campgrounds were still closed for the winter (Road Pixie laughs at the use of the word “winter” associated with highs in the 60s).   A gentle breeze was blowing since it was now about 10:15.  Surfers on bikes and skateboards started appearing on the path.  I hadn’t ever seen someone carry a 6-7 foot surfboard while skateboarding – it’s a sight to behold.

Lisa and I got to the control just on 11AM to find Tom and Alex relaxing.  Alex was on the 300k and wanted to move on, but Tom elected to stay with us and have lunch at a taco shop that Lisa knew of.  The three of us detoured slightly for the visit.  No one was really interested in pushing the pace or shortening the day.  I suppose we could have been channeling the surfers.
Skateboarding with surfboard, I can't even think of doing this
The taco shop was GREAT!  Minnesota is not known for latin food (ketchup is categorized as a spice here).  I ordered a large bowl of guacamole to share though I am pretty sure I could have eaten the whole thing myself along with my tacos. We sent a photo of the remnants to Shaun who responded with something like “hey, you missed a chip!  Don’t you know there are starving children in Ethiopia – go back and dig it out of the trash at once”.  It’s so very nice to find humor in the Oscar Wilde class.
At the taco shop
During our hour-long laze at the taco shop, a big north wind had cranked up.  Now we had 40 miles of tailwind back along the ocean.  There is nothing quite like cranking along at 18-20 mph without really working on a beautiful, sunny day next to the ocean with friends.  


There must have been some flowers blooming somewhere too because the smells along this were amazing: perhaps jasmine or maybe sage?  Whatever it was, as we passed back through Pendleton, the air was suddenly full of things that felt like gravel.  This turned out to be a swarm of bees!  It took me a full on 30 seconds to realize what they were and that, more importantly, they were still stuck to me.  We all pulled over and just as Lisa remarked how amazing it was that no one was stung, one fell out of my helmet onto my leg and stung me right on the thigh.  Ouch!  That was going to hurt.

We fully divested from the bees, who presumably returned to the flowers, and continued on.  Traffic was a little better and we seemed to make quite a few more lights returning south.  We stopped at a coffee shop somewhere along the line for a break and prepared for the last 30 or so miles.  I was feeling so relieved to be doing 200k instead of 400k that day.   Spending a carefree day with 2 fun people was something I would not have wanted to miss.
Lisa, Tour Guide Role
Tom from Alaska
The final big climb up the hill at Del Mar was another fun one with traffic and as we crested the hill, there was a sudden crunching sound and I rocked back on my seat.  That turned out to be one of my seat post rail bolts suddenly giving way.  The other one simply couldn’t hold it in place.  The seat was now pointed up at a 45-degree angle. 

I made it down the back of the Del Mar climb and we pedaled to the final control on Carmel Valley Road.  There I assessed the situation (and some other things).  If I tried to right the saddle and something didn’t work with the other bolt, I would have no seat at all.  As it stood, at least the saddle wasn’t moving.  We were only 15 miles from the finish.  How bad could 15 miles be?

I had just gotten all the feeling back in my left glute after 6 months of acupuncture and physical therapy.  Now I was faced with trashing myself again – who knew where the needles were going to have to go to fix me now!  Fortunately, Lisa had the answer, which was not to worry the only point down there is apparently for reviving a drowning victim.  At least I wasn’t going to drown on the ride.

The three of us left the final control and left for a lovely bike trail through a canyon to head back to Poway with Lisa, our local guide, leading the way.  With the seat pointed up, my quads really couldn’t be used so I was slower.  Had I been a man, my voice might have been several octaves higher as well.  We passed a beautiful stream where a mother and her son tossed breadcrumbs to ducks and turtles (yes turtles).
The 56 Trail

The trail led around and up and finally we crested onto a beautiful ridge where we turned down towards Poway. 
On top of the ridge
Unfortunately, it was a busy road and now we got to experience rush hour all over again.   Crossing I15 was a real treat and I wondered if we would ever get across the exit ramp.  Happily, in California, there are polite people who stop in the middle of an exit ramp to let cyclists through.  I had a near miss with a truck/trailer combination, but fortunately the only stars I would see on this ride were due to the chaffing.

The last stretch into the Best Western was the single longest 5 miles I’ve ever ridden and that is saying something.  I simply stood and pedaled at top speed for about half of it.  I got off my bike, used my inhaler and walked around bent over for a few minutes.

Many thanks to Tom and Lisa for a wonderful day of riding in the sun.   Good company makes all the difference.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a 400k.
Ouch!  Just looking at it takes me back....

Back to the Fish Bowl

A little known fact of nature is that Road Pixie is in fact a Pisces.  So are both Lisa and Shaun.  One house with 3 Pisceans should probably be considered some kind of fish bowl.  Just think of the creative things we could come up with if locked up for long enough….

At that point, we were too starving for doing anything but wanting to eat.  So we all went for Vietnamese, a personal favorite.  Many hours of chatter later, we got a nice and well-earned sleep.  It appears that I need substantially more sleep during my winter hibernation phase.

The following day was spent resting up.   I’d like to say that I spent it diligently organizing, planning a strategy and working on my bike, but frankly, I didn’t get out of my pajamas until after 3 pm.   

The 400k  - Do I have a metaphysical twin?

It has been said that the 400k is the ride that is most feared.  At 250 miles, it is the longest distance without a sleep stop.  And let’s face it, 250 miles is generally enough to elicit the “God, I don’t even want to drive that far” response from the general public.  But for some reason, it’s always been my favorite ride.  On a 400k you experience pretty much everything: day, night, hunger, sunrise, sunset, etc.  It’s the first distance where you really start hitting your limits and finding your stride as a randonneur.  It is a sublime distance. 

This 400k was different from any that I had ever done.  It was 2 rides sandwiched together: a 200k out and back to Lake Elsinore (which I had never seen) followed by a repeat of the 200k I had just finished.  This time, I would see the ocean at night.  And the day had quite a bit more climbing and less in the way of urban jungle.  

So once again, Lisa and I found ourselves lined up at 5:00AM in Poway.   We left a bit of food in the car, but the forecasted 70-80 degree temperatures limited what we could stash.    Tom was not returning for the 400k and I can’t recall how it happened, but the two of us were left alone in the darkness very quickly.  We had never ridden longer than 300k together; would the same similarity of pace hold in a 400k that had in the Gila Monster 300k?  Whether the rando community wants to admit it or not, riding with someone for 24 hours has a certain “intimacy”.  One can make friends that last a lifetime doing this stuff or annoy someone to the point of agony.   

We returned along the same streets as the previous morning and descended to Lake Hodges slightly ahead of the previous day in pacing.  Though the sky again had a fuzzy peach quality, the mist was nowhere in sight as we passed over the pedestrian bridge. We did not pause but instead enjoyed the freedom from traffic and a lot of frogs also welcoming the sun.

As we came off the bike path, we met another rider from Philadelphia who was happy to find local knowledge.  The two of us owe Lisa for keeping us on track as we weaved through the various bike paths in a park-like setting off Bear Valley Road. She has an impressive knowledge of the roads around San Diego and was happy in the tour guide role.   

Unlike the previous day, this route would take us through the inland north to Temecula, which has a considerable number of wineries.   There were far fewer traffic lights to stall us out once we passed Escondido and the terrain was marked by long, semi-gentle climbs.  Rush hour finally ended another cycle and our Philly companion disappeared up the hill, he was only doing the 200k anyway.  At this point, yet another rider came up behind us.  This turned out to be, Hector, a friend of Lisa’s who had started late.   The two of them floated ahead while I realized that I had not done a 6%, multi-mile grade since last summer.  Though I dropped off a bit, pacing behind them kept me working and by the time we reached Deer Valley, my legs had a vague recollection of what actual climbing was like.   I’m not a particularly good climber and one reason is that I lack the ability to really pace myself well on a grade as it changes, to conserve when I need to and push when it yields the most gain.  Those are skills that one has to practice and learn.   You can learn a lot by following someone who has the skills already but they can’t be so fast that they simply dust you.  You don’t get stronger riding with faster riders; you get stronger by riding with slightly faster riders.   Climbing behind the two of them definitely helped me become a stronger rider.  I also realized that the new seat post wasn’t set up quite right and my butt and back were slightly sore.  Bother!

As we descended to the first control, Lisa was ahead of me and started shaking her head.  It turned out that we would have matching bee stings for the week.  Unfortunately, the bee was still attached to her, trapped in the arm of her glasses.  It took a few minutes and tweezers to remove the poor thing that met its ignominious death on the pavement.  There were no issues with an allergy, but a full dose of venom to the temple was not going to be any more pleasant than one to the thigh and perhaps a bit worse.

The delay ensured that the many riders at the control would all leave before we did.   The next few miles were up Rainbow Canyon Road, another long, 6%-ish climb featuring a lovely headwind.  Fortunately, it was also particularly beautiful and I again pushed myself to nearly keep up with Lisa.   As we got closer to the top, the wind became a bigger issue than the climbing.  It turns out that living in the Great Plains does have some advantages in that when it comes to headwinds, I am in my element!   This wound up being the best of both worlds for both of us as the day continued.  But it was still actually uphill all the way to Temecula.

Temecula from the Descent

The descent into Temecula offers a stunning panorama of the valley with 2 large snow-capped peaks in the distance.  It’s a fun, swooping descent that brings you to a golf course and finally into the town.  We passed underneath the I15 for yet another traffic adventure, stopped for batteries and continued on.  Historic Temucula is fitted out like the old west and in addition there was a classic hot rod show going on leading to hundreds of restored classic cars parked and cruising around town.  On the other side were modern Temucula and Murietta more strip mall sprawl than Wild West and pancake flat too.  Flags were limp as we moved through unremarkable strip malls but the greenery of the surrounding hills was still striking, likely the result of the previous weeks’ storms.
Entrance to the Historic Downtown

Hot Rod Show
As we closed on the final 10 miles to the turnaround, the wind took a decided turn for the ugly from the northeast.   I had lots of fun pulling us through the wind – a skill I picked up in the many prairie permanents that I ride at home.  Beating the wind is a game in itself.   Though she professed to hate the wind, we again stayed together and I had a certain sense of symmetry: clearly we were both leveraging each other’s strengths.  We saw 3 or 4 riders on the way back, who had already made the turnaround.

We pulled into Lake Elsinore sometime past 11.  The tiny 7 Eleven had no food at all and I was thankful we had largely brought our own lunch.   My digestive system is finicky, but today my stomach was capacious and I basically ate everything I could get my hands on and then some.  We both picked up receipts by buying the same ice cream sandwich using the same logic: by choosing the highest calorie count that we could find in the tiny case.  Really, only light ice cream?  Wisconsinites would cringe at the thought!

After the windy slog up, the giant tailwind was certainly a help going back.  For 20 miles of flatlands, we sailed along at about 18-20 miles an hour held up only by the traffic lights of Murietta and Temecula.  The heat of the day was upon us and the wind was hot and dry, a full on Santa Ana wind.  As a Midwesterner, I find it humorous that Californians are excited by high humidity while we eschew it.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

It was about 3,000 feet of climbing in 40 miles from outside Temecula back to Poway.  With the tailwind, the climbing was distinctly hotter and I found sweat draining into my eyes.  I managed to actually keep up for a little bit too!  Rainbow Valley Road was a fun descent, more than making up for the toil it took on the way out and we pulled into the final control on this leg for more ice cream.   The next hill and the Deer Valley climb were both better than I thought they would be.  I could definitely feel my legs getting more used to the elevation.  I also had some nice conversation to take my mind off the heat (wow, was it hot for someone who was used to sub zero temperatures).   I ran myself out of water in Escondido, but with only 15 miles to go, we decided against stopping – we’d be stopping at Poway anyway.

We got back to the bike trail and Pomerado Road at 3:30.  The road was clogged with rush hour traffic, but I hit some kind of mini-energy bubble and this was a somewhat decent section for me.  The terrain is large rollers, a little like Hills of Wisconsin.  We pulled into the Best Western to end 200k at about 4:40.   I was absolutely parched, but no water or bathrooms were available.  I would be waiting for those two amenities.

Cards signed, we went to the car for a bit of food.  As expected, rather hot in there.   We pulled out quickly and headed for a grocery store.  I stayed outside with the bikes while Lisa went for water and some yogurt.  All in all, about 20 minutes to get through the line, drink and fill bottles, etc.  I chomped on dried mango and had both of my chicken-rice bars.  That was just going to have to hold me.  We departed on a repeat of Wednesday’s 200k at 5:21.

The traffic was no better in the opposite direction and I was relieved to once again be on the bike trail at Lake Hodges.  We stopped to listen to frogs and prepare for the night, donning leg warmers, base layers and reflective gear.  There were many out enjoying the trail at dusk.  Californians appear to not sleep; there were people to be found on the street all night long.

The climb up Bear Valley Road in rush hour #2 was no better than #1 on Wednesday, but I was better prepared for it mentally.  We returned to the 7 Eleven on Grand and paused only long enough to buy a bit of water.

The next 15 miles to the PCH were grueling.  It was dark, there was too much traffic to chat and I had the sense of being in an enormous game of Centipede.  I am used to riding rush hour in downtown Minneapolis, this doesn’t even compare.  At least the bike lanes made it manageable and by the time we made the descent at the airport, traffic was dying at least enough to get into the left turn lane.   I had an immense sense of relief when we hit the info control, counted zip ties, and continued onto the PCH.  Big surprise- both of us get very quiet when we are stressed; the conversation picked up a bit after PCH, though it would not be until Oceanside that we could really talk to each other.

As we finally came into Oceanside, it was getting on 9 pm.  Being in a different time zone, I was hit by a sudden wave of fatigue, it being past my bedtime.   Not wanting to be unsafe, we pulled into a Mobile station and Lisa bought some coffee, which I supplemented with Starbucks Via.  Some bugles, a little eating, a caffeine pill and some anti-fatigue capsules later, I was feeling quite a bit better and we pulled back into the now final throws of traffic once more.

Back on the base, there were few buildings, few cars and time to chat and check mental state.  To tell the truth, this was a fun part of the ride and it passed quickly as a result.  We were now approaching 300k – still on the same pace, now both getting hungry and the taco shop closed.   No surfers to slow us on the trail and we rode into San Clemente to crowded bars at about 11 pm.   Both of us were looking just about the same amount of tired and we ate as much as was appetizing.  The cold concrete outside the 7 Eleven was unpleasant so at least we didn’t waste much time.  The winds changed to an easterly direction and cranked up to about 15 mph.  Unusual and we would now have a headwind for most of the rest of the ride.

The night ride back Camp Pendleton was in a league of it’s own.  On the one hand, the sound of the ocean and the emerging moon glinting on the ocean was both beautiful and comforting.  On the other hand, the standstill traffic on I15 and the vast construction going on was like a mini-Atlantis in places.  We paused at a lonely spot near a gate in the park to rest for a moment only to be surprised by a lone white pickup truck with two men who looked at startled as we were.  I can only imagine that they were construction workers using the road to access the back of some of the construction.  The 4 of us stared at each other without saying a word - a surreal experience indeed.

By the time we got through Pendleton and back to Oceanside, it was after bar close and the streets were completely deserted.  The now sleeping jungle was completely different without cars and most of the traffic lights were stuck to green making progress much quicker.  We chatted most of the way back riding side by side wondering if the moon would get close enough to the waves for a picture.  Another rider, on the 600k came up behind us and chatted awhile.  He had taken a sleep stop at Oceanside and was now headed back to Poway.  We stayed together for a few minutes chatting, and then he peeled away into the darkness around Leucadia.

I had to admit that by this time, it was about 3:00 AM and I was tired and so was Lisa.  We stopped at the intersection at Poinsettia where we had turned onto the PCH 6 hours earlier.  It wasn’t cold, but the wind made it feel much colder and we stopped at a park for a short nap in the shadow of one of the buildings.  After 15 minutes, a park ranger pulled up to what was probably an odd sight of 2 women with legs flailing in front of them otherwise trying to conserve heat while unconscious.  Must have been the high end bikes with lights on, or perhaps this is just California and such sights are common; she just rolled by and left.  We got up, ate a little more, and continued on, only 25 miles to go.

Past Solano Beach and Del Mar we went, the ocean and the moon in somewhat of a dance, so near and yet so far away.  At the turn to Carmel Valley Road, I was a little sad to say goodbye.  I don’t get to see the ocean very often.

At the control we ran into the rider we had previously seen in Leucadia.  We picked up receipts and left quickly after eating a little more: only 15 miles to go, but mainly uphill.  There was no way for this not to be better than my previous experience since my saddle was not pointing straight up.  But it was very cold as we passed along the canyon and alongside the stream, no ducks or turtles in sight.

The gentle climbs back to Poway on the 56 trail were another interesting part of the ride; after Wednesday, it was simply going to be 100 times easier for me.  By this time, the sun was coming up and we were to be treated to our second sunrise of the ride.  But the last climb was somewhat long and tedious and I could sense our pace slowing.  So I did the only thing a real Pisces would do in such a situation, I brought up a subject to discuss that would get the blood going: medical politics and weddings.  Sure enough, we were quickly on the top of the ridge looking at a beautiful sunrise to Lisa’s great surprise, “I missed that whole hill”.   And they say I can’t motivate people!

We both just wanted to be done and darn, it was going to be rush hour, AGAIN.  Fortunately, this was a Saturday rush hour and not nearly so painful.  The last 5 miles were ones that we just wanted to be done and it was a relief to finally finish at the Best Western with a full hour in the bank; not my fastest 400k, but certainly both the hilliest and one of my favorites.


We realized at the finish that we had inadvertently been given the wrong pre-printed cards.  After much organizing of receipts and artwork on the cards we had, we finally came up with something that we hoped would work.  Frankly, we were fading a bit.  Getting the bikes into the Mazda was an adventure. 

My great thanks to Dennis Stryker and Greg Olmstead for organizing so many rides in one week.  Brevet week must be at least as stressful for an RBA as it is on a rider.  Lisa participated on every day of brevet week, riding almost 1000k in terrain much hillier than PBP, finishing with the hilliest 400k I have ever had the pleasure of riding.  Wisconsin, bow down to the superior climbing landscape!  My great thanks to Shaun as well, who is super cool for a guy and put up with a strange woman monopolizing his wife for 4 days.  He and IronK are destined for a night on the town.  Lisa and I both owe a great deal to the supportive spouses that keep us going.

Needless to say, this ride was a joint effort, each of us helping each other get through the many challenges.   In the middle of the night, when strange pickup trucks park nearby or when it is cold and doubts creep in, having a friend to share it with makes all the difference.  I’ve not found anyone else with so similar a style to my own or a better friend in the night and who else would risk their 400k on someone who could only train on a spin bike for a ride like this?   Perhaps I do have a twin.